Let’s Begin…

Featured

You know that feeling of sunlight sinking into your skin in the late afternoon?  That magical hour when everything around you has turned to gold, right before the sun dips below the horizon for it’s nightly slumber.  For a rare moment of solitude have you stolen away from all of life’s responsibilities simply to soak in this present stillness.

If you are anything like me, you recognize the calming effects nature can have on the mind.  You step outside, maybe to fetch the mail, or maybe to run around the block. Before plugging in those headphones, you take a minute and simply breathe in, then out.  You find yourself taking a few steps; it’s just you and the world around you. Suddenly, your heart starts beating a little slower.  That nagging headache floats away on the breeze.  Your ears tingle from that almost forgotten sound of leaves thrashing together as the wind picks up.

I have painted a simple scene that is likely a common one in the (semi?) average American’s daily life.  What is so special about stepping outside and breathing in fresh air once a day?  Key word: once.  Sure, the average person leaves their house and gets in and out of their car multiple times throughout the day.  Some of you probably even go for a run on a regular basis.  And that is fantastic (seriously, you should receive a medal!  I loathe running with a passion…I digress…)!  However, what I am here to spread the word about is a connection back to nature.

Hmmm…that sounds pretty mystical…I know, but stay with me!  I promise this blog is not about magic or wizardry!

I am simply an anything outdoors fanatic who holds firmly to the belief that nature was designed by the Creator to give everything that humanity would need to live – and live abundantly!  Nature surrounds us, freely offering health and joy for the body, mind, and spirit, yet we rarely utilize it – what is worse, we often destroy it.

This truth is too often suffocated by the negativity in our world, but I believe that connecting people back to nature is an important step toward the balanced, healthy life God intended for us to live!

Creation being therapy is a huge topic with many aspects.  That’s why I have started this blog! In a culture of cynicism, I hope to inspire people to connect with nature and the simple joys of life!

So, take a break from the news, the gossip, the music, and get outside!

Stay tuned for more in-depth posts to come!

Peace to you!

Featured Post: The Other Half of the Furcalo

So, I think it is high time that I introduce to you one of my best friends of all time (or as she would say, “part of the inner circle”) – the one and only – Kelsinator!

But before I go any further, a few general words…

As I mentioned in my last post, humans are intrinsically valuable because of their Creator; they are complicated in the most positive ways possible (intellectually, emotionally, philosophically, etc.).  How on earth am I supposed to share the HEART of someone without writing a book?

I guess all I am trying to say is that I will never be able to completely capture another  human being’s essence; nothing replaces knowing someone personally.  But I will do my best to give you the best introduction possible to each featured individual!

Now, back to Kelsinator!

Although I have known Kelsey since high school, our friendship got REAL within the dimly-lit, oh-so-cozy Furcalo.

The Furcalo is the affectionate term we have given to our living space.  And by “living space” I mean more than an apartment. The term Furcalo encompasses the warm bond between Kels and I; the sense of community we strive to offer to those around us; the action of opening up our home for others to come, feel welcome, and recharge.

I should also mention that we stole the Furcalo.  

Not our apartment, but the word.

One night, Kelsey, her brother, and I were driving through Amherst and I happened to notice a sign mentioning the building.  Me being me, I thought the name was hysterical and should be placed into public circulation where it rightfully belongs.  We began joking that we should start throwing the word into casual conversation and see if it would catch.

It didn’t.

It did however start a legacy in Kelsey’s and my life.  We are likely the only two people on God’s good earth who use this word frequently and as more than a name.  But that’s more than fine with us because it’s the principle that matters!

Now that you know where Kels and I are coming from, let’s shed some light on the other half of the Furcalo!

I have shared an apartment with this lovely gal’ for only nine months, but we continue to share much more than a living space; we share a soul space, if you will.23ED4B15-B9E8-4245-8BBC-B05360AB1BFFBefore I delve into some of her wonderful attributes, let’s talk about how Kelsey and I ended up going from acquaintance/co-workers to roommate/besties (important note: I use the term besties mockingly).

Kels and I worked at the same market together, but our shifts didn’t usually cross over.  But a few years ago, they finally did – for an hour, once a week.  In that short amount of time we ended up having in-depth conversations about a wide range of topics from wellness to faith to relationships.  Around this time I decided it was time for me to find my own place to live.  That’s when it hit me: Kelsey!

Kelsey is the kind of person who you meet and immediately sense is a reliable person.  So one day at work I broached the subject.  Kelsey’s response was basically “That sounds like it could probably work perfectly!”

That was sometime in the spring.  At the end of the summer we had found an apartment that was just as quirky and charming as we are (think no central lighting in the living room, wood paneling from the seventies, and a neighbor who never remembered who we were until the day we moved out).  Now, keep in mind that up until about a week before moving in, we still had not spent time together outside of that one hour of work a week.

So, how did we remedy that?  We drove out to the White Mountains in the middle of the night, all the while munching on banana chips, searching for an empty campsite for hours, attempting to relocate someone’s lawn gnome before getting caught, until finally deciding to sleep in the car.  Then we spent the entire next day hiking!

A week later we found an apartment and moved in!  And we’ve been friends ever since.

That’s just one story of Kelsey, but it is informative nonetheless.  It speaks volumes of who she is.

This girl has seen me at my best and worst, respectively celebrating my joys and inspiring me to the moon and back in my lows.  She is up for any and all adventures (like, seriously, nothing is beyond her capabilities).  She possesses a reserve of compassion for others that I strive to also bestow.  Somehow, she is able to balance spontaneity and caution; calmness and passion; logic and abstract.  Brilliant in mind, warm in spirit, and inspiring to watch, simply put, this girl is unstoppable!  I am honored to be within her “inner circle”.

There has not been one conversation that Kels and I have had that we don’t walk away from hearing exactly what we needed to hear from the other.  No matter what season of life or mental space I am in, she always has insight that I am lacking and encouragement that I need.  Through her example she has taught me resilience of spirit.  I have never met someone so (not annoyingly) positive in the face of adversity (like to any degree).

Now, Kelsey is pursuing her dreams in Philly and I am here in Western Mass (at least for the time being…who knows what God has in store for me down the road?).  But we still share that unique soul space that only sprouts from certain relationships.  The kind that spans distances and time, always picking up where you last left off, and is felt consistently even when one or the other is not in themselves consistent.

I will see her soon enough though – New Years in Philly!  In fact, she just texted me saying that we’ll have to keep up our tradition of a New Year’s hike.  I’m sure I’ll have something to say about that afterward!

Like I said earlier, I could write a book on probably every person I’ve ever met in my life.  But for now, a pamphlet will have to do.

I hope that after reading this post, you too will be inspired by this phenomenal gal’!

 

You’ll certainly hear more about her in future posts, so stay tuned!

Peace, all!

 

 

Make Sure You Read Between the Series!

Before we roll into a new series (I know you’re all just frothing at the mouth to know what that will be), I have an announcement!

It’s a small one, so take a deep breathe!

(Not really, it’s actually pretty significant becasue 1) all of my announcements are significant, and 2) because it has to do with real, live people that I know personally!  In other words, keep your ears perked!)cb00685e-ddbd-4b8a-bc6c-63730a01e2d2.jpeg

Between series I have decided to write a post featuring someone who has significantly impacted my life.  I have met so many diverse souls in my short time on earth thus far and what else would I do but write about them?

Some things to keep in mind while reading these Featured Posts…

These posts will be just a snapshot of the featured individual.  I believe that each person is created by God, and because of that fact alone, hold intrinsic value.  No matter how close or far this person and I may stand on the spectrum of likeness, they are a created being and I count it a privilege to have encountered them.

So try to read my Featured Posts with that mindset!  Read them not merely as an entertaining anecdote, but as if they are a biography of a fellow human being.  Because well, they are.

I hope that you derive much joy from “meeting” the individuals I feature, as I certainly look forward to introducing them to you!

With that said, stay tuned for the next post where you’ll meet the one, the only – Kelsinator!

Peace to you!

Future Me Will Be Much Cooler

I admire my mom a whole lot.  She is literally the coolest woman I know and I am happy to watch my personality take on some of her traits.

Growing up, I always thought that I would be just like her in the future: get married young, have kids young, finish school before I was a quarter of a century old.

Then the future came about and I now find myself at 25 years old, single (again), still in school, aaaand still working the job I have worked at since high school…

It would be easy to look at these “stills” and become depressed.  And honestly, I have my moments.  But all in all, I have been blessed with a beautiful life.  And I’m not just throwing the word “blessed” around because I’m a Christian (in fact, I actually struggle to use that word because of how casually it is thrown around in Christian circles.  So when I use it, I mean it.).

The beauty and the blessing lie in that God has used this path to show me something invaluable…

There is a reason that you are right where you are right now.

 As intelligent as I am (which is not very), at 25 I am totally sold on the fact that the Creator of the universe knows me inside and out.  He knows what I need and, most importantly, knows who best I can serve and love in this life.

God designed me with particular strengths, but He also created me with certain weaknesses.  Why?  So that His character can be showcased to the world. Even on my best day, God’s compassion, patience, and kindness far surpasses mine!

I’ve transferred four times, once to a college in north Georgia, one in Florida, and two in Massachusetts. There were plenty of good and bad experiences that arose out of each of these moves, but by God’s continual restoration, I am living free of regret or bitterness.

I have met people who have wrecked me, built me, taught me, shaped me, loved me, and healed me – just to name a few!

I have had countless  unique privileges to share the heart of God with people I would not otherwise have met if my life had stayed a little more “in between the lines”.  Like sharing meals in a halfway house with one of my closest friends.  Or helping strangers slaughter a pig for their project launch party because of a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

Then there are those experiences that “build character”, as my dad would say.  Like driving out to the Whites in the middle of the night with someone I had never spent time with outside of work…and then sleeping in my car on the side of the highway…and then waking up bright and early to hike all day.  Or like braving through the cold when the oil ran out a week before Christmas because roomie and I didn’t want to pay the fee for an emergency refill.  Or getting insanely dehydrated while hiking the Whites (on a separate occasion), barely making it off the mountain before dark, and hitchhiking back to our car.

So, while it can be easy to wish away the time for “better days” (you know, the ones where you will be a transformed being, eating more kale and practicing less road rage), it would behoove us to instead channel our wishing for the future into motivation and our view of the past into contentment.

Let me stick it to you this way…

While I know that Future Me will be much cooler, I can also remain content in knowing that God has brought me this far and used everything – my stupid mistakes, my pain, my trials – to grow me and influence others.  And that is something to celebrate!

But the celebrating doesn’t stop there!

Future Me and Future You will be cooler because we will have gained even more wisdom and reached even more people with God’s love.  We should be jazzed about that!

Growth is just plain ole’ a part of life, folks.

So breathe in every experience, encounter, and emotion.  Be okay with God using you where you are right now to grow you and to be in the lives of those around you and love on them!  And be excited about where you’ll be 3, 7, and 12 years from now!  Because you can trust that it is and will be exactly where you’re meant to be, serving who you’re meant to serve.

I think that’s a wrap for the Contentment Series, all!  Stay tuned for what is coming next…!

Peace to you!

Rainy Days Are For Seizing!

Hi all!  How is everybody fairing in all of this precipitation??

I for one, love the rain!  But even I am starting to feel a little soggy.  Especially after the epic camping trip my friend and I took this weekend.  We decided that October 26th (weather expected to produce high winds and rain, and possibly even snow) would be the perfect weekend for camping!  And it was a surreal experience, no doubt.  But long story short, I am pretty ready to just be and stay DRY for a few days.

Most people I have talked to are not fans of the rain.  So, I thought since we have been discussing the importance of contentment, I would share an excerpt I wrote about a rainy day.  Perhaps this little snapshot will shed some sunlight on your soggy souls and inspire you to seize these rainy days!

Enjoy!

Rainy Days Are For Seizing

 

 I let the surface of my skin sink into the windowpane.  

Rain pelts the glass.  It is a most gratifying sound.  I draw my hand up to the widow as well, drumming my fingers on the cool glass, silently training them to mimic the beat of the rain.

What’s out there?  And what am I looking for?

As if to answer my question, the rain drills harder through the air into the already-soaked earth.  I squint, trying desperately to see through the precipitation, between it, within it. As if one of these droplets of water harbors a message for me personally.

Before recognizing the urge itself, I find my fingers so recently drumming out an orchestra, now wrapped around the door handle.

The handle turns!

The door swings open in all of the grandeur it has earned in its old age – a metallic screech of rusty hinges.  It slams back into place behind me while I run forward.

The sensation of cold wet concrete shocks my feet when they hit the steps running down off the porch.  Just as quickly, concrete is replaced by grass. Grass, wet and slippery, that momentarily warms under my feet. That is, until these feet again float upward and forward, bounding down the hill.

 

Stay dry, all!

Peace!

 

 

 

Happiness is Fragile & I Break Things Easily

The number of times I have heard the words “This is why we can’t have nice things, Amber” is…well, I haven’t counted and I don’t really want to.

Bottom line: I am more reckless than I am careful.  Sadly, this reckless nature does not only pertain to objects (insert frowny face).  My recklessness reaches even the shores of emotional energy output, words, and boundaries.

I recognize this weakness in my character all too clearly.  I have prayed since I was a teenager that God would reveal to me the things in my heart that need to be burned down in order that He might rebuild them into something useful.

Be careful what you pray for, my friends, because God is One who answers prayers!

All joking aside, God not only hears us when we come to Him, He answers us.  Little by little over the years, God has broken me down in different ways.  But it is in those broken places where epiphany abounds!  Realization of our weaknesses is what creates space in our hearts for God to work.  Only when I realize how emotionally weak I am can I then ask for strength.  If I know not what is missing, I know not what to ask for.

Now, hold up.  What do all of these words have to do with contentment?

In my last post, I talked about how contentment comes from letting go of the idea that as humans we possess what it takes to survive this life.  I discussed that we have hope not in ourselves, but in a personal Creator who gives us the strength to be content.  I hope that you are still celebrating that wonderful news!  Or, perhaps you are still grappling with that concept.

Wherever you are at in this journey of finding contentment, I’d like to take us a smidge deeper into the ocean of revelation.  If that sentence scares you, I completely understand; oceans scared me quite a bit until very recently, so you’re not alone in your fear!  But please trust me, there is nothing more freeing than overcoming your fears, so dive in with me!DC934EFE-0545-4593-B92B-80C41471A402

My personal theory is that a big part of why we humans stray so far from contentment is that we are failures in life wayyyy more than we are victors.  Yes, even the girl who teaches Sunday school every week at church.  We hurt, disappoint, forget, use, abuse, and neglect ourselves and each other to different degrees.  And because of that I think we tend to get locked up in our guilt.  And then (and this is the worst part of all!), instead of letting ourselves get uncomfortable and humbled, we try everything under the sun to alleviate said guilt. Which in all honesty, usually only perpetuates this cycle of failure.

Wow.  This is wicked depressing.

Or is it?!

Today, I was listening to one of my favorite pastors, Matt Chandler.  Chandler was discussing the difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  Knowing about God is no different than knowing that Tom Brady has a model wife, doesn’t need an alarm to wake up, and rarely lifts weights as a part of his workout routine.  Knowing God means more than knowing a list of facts about Him.

Psalms 51: 17 declares that “a broken And contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  Chandler explicated this verse saying “The thing that God will never despise is the honest prayers of a man or a woman who might not be where they know they should be, but are crying out: I want more!  And He never responds with ‘Get to work, then!’  Ever.”

That is a powerful realization.  But again – what do these words have to do with contentment?

I think this is an excellent place to make the distinction between happiness and contentment.  I think we all know that there is a difference, but what that difference is is where things break down.

So what is the difference?

First of all, happiness is very fragile.  Happiness has many factors: time of day, time of year, financial security, relationship status, social status, personality…the list could go on.  Basically, happiness is an emotion.

Contentment on the other hand is more of a decision.  Now, I am aware that according to Dictionary.com, the definition for contentment does not include making decisions.  This is my own personal definition, so feel free to take it or leave it.

But think about it.  Being content does not come naturally to us as we discussed in the last post.  Contentment is a decisive act to let go of our frustrations and cynicism, and embrace all that God has freely given us, from the creative glory of nature all the way to what He did on the cross.

If we merely know about God, we know the story of redemption: God’s only Son came to earth to take our penalty of sin in the form of a brutal death on a cross.  But if we know God, we understand that Christ did not die on a cross for you and I to be happy.  Christ died on the cross that we might find true contentment in knowing Him.  All of our guilt and failures no longer have a home in our hearts.  Christ’s death on the cross has created a sacred place in our hearts for His powerful acts of grace to now dwell.  Take that in.  Dwell upon it.  Let it clean out your heart.  Allow it to be the powerful force that flows out of you to others!

Happiness is fragile, and I don’t know about you, but I break things easily.  Contentment however, is durable.  Contentment walks with you through the sleepless nights, long days, crappy jobs, friends who bail, plants that die, empty coffee mugs, and small bank accounts.

So instead of watching happiness shatter in front of you again and again, try holding onto something else: contentment.  Ask the One who created contentment to give you the strength needed to thrive.  He listens and He will answer you.

I hope that this post resonates in your heart!  Until next time!

Peace to you!e981ce7a-e6ca-4802-9449-c3d6228b4d12.jpeg

Contented Vibes

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)  EC628678-A8AA-4ADB-B461-660A9E3558F1

Hold.  The.  Phone.  So many things in that paragraph are anti-American!

Being content even while hungry?  I don’t know about you, but I get cranky when I’m hungry.  My boss always seems to sense when I need to take my lunch break.  Or maybe I give it away by storming into the kitchen to complain that a customer would like their loaf of bread sliced.  Who knows.  Either way, hunger can make our brains go haywire in a way that takes active self-control to not be the monster in all those Snickers commercials.

Being content while living in want? No, no, no.  Surely, whoever wrote this is either the figment of some ancient utopian idealist’s imagination, or a delusional man in denial of his own angst.

Sure, millennials love Bernie Sanders for his socialistic ideologies.  And wouldn’t that kind of society be great?  One where money was not the central focus of everything?  Of course it would!  But take a look at yourselves, millennials (yes, you too, Amber). We aren’t even content waiting long enough for our equal-exchange-fair-trade coffees to cool down (*important note: my favorite brand of coffee is Equal Exchange French Roast, so don’t feel bad).  How do we think we would fair with a different set of political parameters?  Not do be a Negative Nancy, but my personal guess is not well.

What about this part: Him who gives me strength?  Who is “Him” and why would I trust him?  We can’t rely on another’s strength to help us through life.  At some point, we all fail each other in some way.  I have been failed many a time.  Believe it or not, I have also failed others more times than I ever would have guessed in my younger years (I’m not actually that old.  I’ve simply been a philosopher since birth so I was always brooding over some matter or another as a child – including how often I would fail people in the future apparently).

Now that I’ve destroyed all of our egos, let’s get down to rebuilding!

Contentment is, I have found (like, pretty recently to be honest, because again, I’m really not that old), something purely magical.   Every day I watch customer after customer come in, ask for some doughnuts, struggle to swipe their credit card correctly through our machine (our store has finally upgraded to something so simple that it causes confusion.  Who would have guessed?), then walk out absent-mindedly.  It’s no better on campus either.  The sad truth is that people are becoming jaded at younger and younger ages.

But what I have found is that when I let go of my need to have every second of my life go how I want it to go, something magical happens.  Being okay with one less than ideal situation turns into being okay with whatever happens ( I mean, to an extent, obviously.)! Hmmm, that sounds too good to be true, Amber.

Well, reader, you are correct – it is!  Life is crazy, people are annoying, and we as humans tend to have destructive tendencies.

BUT.

There is hope!  And that hope came to earth in flesh and blood in the middle of a cold, dark night centuries ago.  This hope’s name is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”.

It’s wayyyy too early to start talking about Christmas, but it is always the right time to talk about hope!

I talked about the concept of letting go just a few sentences earlier.  And I’m sure you probably read that and thought “yeah, that sounds great!  I’d love to let go of my worries!  In fact, that’s exactly what Oprah talked about last week!”

Well, I’m glad that Oprah, along with many others, are on board with the concept of contentment.  There is no doubt  that as a society we need to move away from all the emotional toxicity that is so prelevant today.  However, what I have found lacking in many people’s lifestyle philosophies  boils down to this:  it leaves a personal Creator completely out of the picture.

This is no surprise.  And I in no way desire to put anyone down.  I do however, wish to challenge the status quo (or, that’s right – counter the culture).

The status quo says that if we simply dig down deeply enough within ourselves we will find a reserve of joy, peace, contentment, gratitude, and any other characteristic needed to get through life.

Question: have you found that reserve yet?  Because I have not!  Furthermore, I have yet to meet anyone on this earth who says they have indeed found it and whose life backs that statement up.

SO.  Why not try something new?

Because it’s hard!  And weird!  And then I might actually start to fit in more with you than my friends and I just don’t feel comfortable with that thought yet!

Believe me, I understand all of this.  I am weird.  And it is hard to shift away from what the culture says you should believe.  But I also know that I have never found such contentment outside of knowing the God who created me.

Knowing that I was created by the One “Who covers the heavens with clouds, who provides rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains” (Psalms 147:8) is a joy and a comfort.

But God didn’t just create me then leave me to dig deep into a reserve of inner-strength.  In Malachi 3:10, God tells his people “‘Test Me now in this…if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’”  3EA842D7-BA56-4592-B1BE-43F48647B519

You see, dear reader, finding contentment in this life is so much more than an attempt at overcoming your inner angst with emotional strength.  That is a sure fire way to burn out fast (Ha – honestly no pun intended).  We were created to find true contentment outside of ourselves.

Now that is a truly, radically counter-culture statement, is it not?

But as always, I challenge you to pursue that thought.  The thought that maybe there is Someone else who generously gives us the strength to be content, among so, so much more!

Until next time, peace to you!

 

To Be Enchanted

Hey all! Here’s another poem embracing the beauty of creation!  Enjoy!

 

To Be Enchanted

Emerald mosaic against a slate backdrop,

Shutes of unruly grass saturated in liquid

Forming translucent beads of

Excess life-giving water

That balance delicately, stubbornly

Atop these happy sprigs

Only to burn out by noonday.

Rays of gold which stream through

Puzzles of greenery;

Swaths of damp, earthy fragrance;

Clacking arms made of rough skin

But magnificent splays of neon fungi

Flare up, sprawling, across

Decaying logs littering the floor,

Pretending they are important tunnels

Connecting to vast other lands.

 

Mushroom steps winding up, up but

Never leading anywhere new;

Streams giggle and gossip

Accenting the continual

Cacophony of sound.

Birds serenading the trees,

And moss, and rocks, and sky.

 

The trees rejoicing in response

Arms lifted high,

Leaves tittering with anticipation

For the crescendo that

Sails upon the wind,

Ebbing and flowing

According to it’s shifting moods.

 

Not loud, a notch above a whisper,

Yet an explosion that crescendo brings

To the ears that will listen.

For to listen to the song of the woods is

To be enchanted.