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.

 

Something New

Confession: I am an abstract thinker.

Maybe you can relate!

In my experience, this abstract personality  means that I have loads of creativity (if I don’t say so myself) and loads of energy (check out my Instagram, I hike a lot).  But for all of that creativity and energy floating around in my body and brain, there is not a natural reserve of focus.  Channeling my creativity is an ever-constant journey of growth for me.  Sometimes I win, other times (many times) I lose.  But isn’t that all part of the fun in life?  Figuring out new ways to do life better?

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Well, today I have had an epiphany! In order to keep my writing more organized, I have decided to try writing series as opposed to random, lengthy posts.  Doesn’t that sound exciting?!

I have thought a lot about the value of experience in life.  Experiences are like individual photographs.  If you were to string up photographs from your life together on a wall, would they depict a meaningful life?  Or would they simply be random snapshots that don’t make sense together?

Experience is incredibly valuable.  But what gives them value is the way they fit into your life as a whole.  I recently have begun using this metaphor to frame my own life.  Is what I am about to endeavor fit in with the rest of how I am called to live?  If not, I put away the camera and save the film!

So, it’s the same with writing!  I want what I say to be meaningful, but often I end up saying too much, or even the wrong thing altogether.  In order to iron some of those faulty habits out, I will start segmenting my posts!  I will choose one topic and write however many posts it takes to work through it.  Once I feel I have sufficiently covered said topic, I will move onto the next!

The concept of a “series” is pretty self-explanatory, yeah?

Perhaps I will never gain a large following for this blog.  But I do not write for ego, or even to hear myself talk ( at least not always).  No, I write because I believe in what I am writing about.  And that is enough to fuel my writing.

So, keep reading!  Fist series to start soon!

Until next time, peace to you!

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Little Things

Little Things: things we unknowingly disregard as holding no purpose for us; things we simply take for granted; things we don’t prioritize, or unconsciously block out.  

By now, maybe you’ve gathered that I spend a lot of time noticing the Little Things in life, from tiny wildflowers, to the swirl of milk and coffee coming together in an iced latte!  

A college professor once commented that the power in my storytelling comes from my ability to notice these Little Things.  She said it was like I was looking out of a window on a rainy day, paying attention to a single raindrop running down the windowpane and then built a story around it.

 I have never before thought about my inclination towards details as a “power”, but the more I talk with people the more I have come to understand that details are pretty darn valuable.  00024A8A-0C5A-408F-AA5E-A469FE862C72

Not only are details valuable, but they are rarely pointed out or taken in.  As a culture, Americans are (generally, of course) consumed with the Big picture in life: obtaining impressive, wordy, double-major degrees, landing dream jobs, purchasing a Pinterest-worthy home, etc. You see where I am going, yeah?

So why am I droning on about being detail-oriented?  Obviously because I believe that being so is superior.  

Just kidding, we all have different but equally God-given strengths!  

I’m glad you asked though!

We’ve all heard the saying “Stop and smell the roses” so many times that it has become an annoying cliche (I completely understand as I also loathe cliches).  BUT. As with all cliches, it originated from a universal truth: slowing down enough to notice the free pleasures of life is a worthy pursuit. Believe it or not, life does indeed offer free and beautiful gifts to humanity each and every day!  

Now that I have spewed sunshine and rainbows out of every pore in my body, I will address the cynics in our midst.  Before I go any further let me just say this: cynics get a bad rap and this portion of my blog is NOT dedicated to cynic-hating!  I also think it is vital to mention that cynicism does not come tripping forth out of a vacuum. While I truly believe that the earth was created in such a way as to be life-giving, I also recognize that life doles some heavy freakin’  blows. To everyone. It does not matter how optimistic one may be, no one slides through life unscathed. Every person on earth becomes jaded at some point in life. It may hit some people harder and/or last longer; some people may never make it through the Jaded Phase of life and succumb to bitterness.  I myself am not immune to hardship – I understand where you are coming from, cynics!

Yet, I still firmly believe that God offers joy, peace, contentment, fulfillment, and healing to all.  But none of those gifts can be forced upon us. I once dated someone who bought me many material gifts that I did not ask for, yet withheld the emotional care that I longed for.  Those things did not feel like gifts, nor did they bring me any genuinely positive emotion.

God is not materialistic; He does not operate like an emotionally-manipulative boyfriend.  He does however present everyone on earth daily with the free gift of eternal hope. Not only that, but He offers us all of these smaller blessings as well! He hangs the black velvet sky with clusters upon clusters of diamonds, nightly; bejewels the fields with bright and happy wildflowers; breathes out lullabies on the breeze, tree branches clapping along in excitement.  And those are just things we can perceive with our senses! God has designed the earth to give humanity everything they could need to be healthy as well (we’ll talk more about that in later blogs though!).

So what am I actually saying with all of this?

I’m saying that as a culture, we need to start slowing down enough to smell the freakin’ roses.  There will always be reasons in this life to be sad, angry, disheartened, and afraid. But there are also many, many things to celebrate.   The first and most important step that you can take is choosing to look; train yourself to look for the gems lying around you. 

Life is joy, you just gotta pay attention.

Until next time, peace to you!

 

Farewell, Solstice

We are now just two days into the Autumn Equinox!  In my mind, this equals massive celebration!  I believe that every season should be celebrated – after all, Eccelesiastes claims that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted (Ecc. 3:1-2)”.

I’m sure that any farmers reading this are shaking their heads at how poetic the task of harvesting is presented here.  As I have worked for farmers for several years, I have seen this head-shaking many a time (I can just see my boss now).  I now understand that they are not killjoys; they are concerned for their livelihood.  So, I understand a farmer’s apprehension to the approach of certain weather and seasons.

But as for the rest of you civilians: why not try out a new -joyful- approach this year?4740fe08-0dde-4f8c-b5c7-0a3ef0167f2d-e1537837863853.jpeg

Call it your Equinox Resolution.  Oddly for me, fall has always felt like more of a ‘Restart’ button than say, January 1st, or even spring.  Perhaps it boils down to my being a perpetual student late into my adulthood (25-year-old still working on a bachelors degree) that lends me to feeling this way.  With the crisp air comes new classes, new professors, a new chance to change my slacker student ways (who am I kidding – last minute papers are my specialty.  Why fix something that isn’t broken?).

So, instead of focusing on what is to come – imminent cold and darkness – why not focus on the HERE and NOW!  Isn’t that what your yoga instructor has been patiently repeating to you each week?  I don’t even practice yoga (at least not in public) and even I know the importance of a present mindset.

But you do too, I don’t doubt that.  I think deep down, everyone is desperate to slow down and soak in the present.  But if we did that wouldn’t that be…countering the culture?

Yes!

Remember the catchy title I came up for this blog you’re reading?  Yeah, that serves a purpose!  As with all of my posts to come, I hope to challenge you to do just that.

So, let’s talk about sheep for a minute. 

My brother has worked on a neighbor’s sheep farm for several years.  Through the years Caleb has brought home story after humorous story of these sheep that he cares for.  Now, Caleb loves animals, including these sheep.  But even he recognizes that within the Animal Kingdom, sheep are not the Einsteins.  In fact, the Bible describes how Hebrew shepherds resorted to breaking the legs of a sheep who consistently wandered away from the flock.

That sounds drastic and inhumane in our culture today.  But let’s get uncomfortable for a minute and think about that.

No matter our personal beliefs or personality, we all have inconsistencies.  We all have habits we cannot seem to break and actions we seem to repeat, even when we know there will be a negative outcome.

What are some habits or mindsets in our personal lives that need their legs to be broken?

Today let’s focus on a fairly simple habit that most people probably struggle with: complaining.  Complaining is one of those fundamental traits that most parents want nipped in the bud early.  No one likes a complainer – especially not an adult one.

As someone who has worked in customer service for the past eight years, I have learned to anticipate the comments I will get from customers based on the season or weather that day.  New Englanders are notorious for talking about the weather, and let me assure you, it is no joke.  You would think that after living in an area for long enough, people would no longer act as if they might actually die from the rain, sun, wind, clouds, etc.  If its weather, it could end their lives in an instant.  It never ceases to amaze me that there truly is no appeasement for the vast majority of people.  In the summer, it’s too hot (I have lived in both Georgia and Florida – the two hottest, most humid states.  I’m sorry, Massachusetts, but you don’t know heat.).  In the winter, it’s too cold.  In the spring, it’s too muddy, and still too cold.  In the fall, it got cold too fast.  Like, people, do you really expect the seasons to act any differently than they have for your entire life so far?

Okay, I apologize for ranting…

But only kind of!  Because let’s back up to the beginning of this post.  Seasons should be a time for celebration! Every season is a new chapter in your life!

I was lucky enough yesterday to encounter a lovely mother and her young daughter while at a creamery with a friend.  The two of us were admiring the cows when suddenly, a young girl comes running over to us.  She was enthralled by my friend’s dog.  Just like that, we had made a friend.EB7E4A92-115B-489C-BED5-4BA64E101145

The mother struck up a conversation with us and we learned that they are originally from Israel, though had recently moved to the U.S.  The girl interrupted to mumble something about a sukka.  Confused, we simply nodded.  A sukka, the mother explained, is essentially a tent that must be built off of the ground and with some kind of opening in the top to see through to the sky.  This is a Jewish holiday to remember God’s care and protection of them while wandering nomadically in the desert for forty years.

I walked away from that conversation 1) incredibly grateful for such a unique and heart-warming conversation with complete strangers, and 2) introspective.

What a beautiful concept it is to celebrate specific events in your life.  Sure, we celebrate our birthdays.  And of course, there are the normal ones of Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.  And those are wonderful holidays to celebrate!  But I’m talking about celebrating things we may take for granted.  Like the fact that it’s fall and once again, hard-working farmers have harvested their crops in order to feed you; like its a rainy day in order that the earth can stay satiated; like the air has turned colder so that seeds can die and create new life in the spring!

There is so much to be thankful for, so much to celebrate in life!  Counter the culture for a change by slowing down and paying attention.  And you overachievers out there: take it a step further and celebrate what some might call “mundane”.

So, say goodbye to the Summer Solstice, all, and kiss the Fall Equinox hello!

And just in case you’re really struggling with it, here’s a little transition poem to perhaps get you into the spirit of fall…

 

Farewell, Summer Solstice

Just when we all begin to believe that

Our dream really will come true

You really will stay with us forever

You are gone

Like rapidly burning mist on the mountains

You are present with us

One moment

And the next

Without warning

Without even a hint of your leaving

You have faded away

Into the next season of Life

We have no say in the matter

No choice but to become

Swept up off our feet

And among all the other leaves

And flowers and warmth

Swirling about in a whirlwind

Of change

Before we can even begin

To accept this new reality

Suddenly, we notice a

Chill in our bones

A draft haunting the spaces

Between strands of hair

Those long hot days

Where night seemed never to fall,

Not fully anyway, with always

Just one beam of light

Remaining through the night

Illuminating just the edges

Of the world in silver.

 

Until next time, peace to you!

Symphony of the Woods

I’ve decided that along with my posts musing about the God-given purpose I believe each human is infused with, I’ll post my poetry too!  My poetry could either be better or so much worse than I think it is, but I won’t know until I get more eyes on them. So, here goes nothing!  First poem for the public…

 

Symphony of the Woods

Foot over root,

Soggy earth,

Cragged rock,

Mossy carpet.

Above me

Emerald leaves

Waving, dipping,

Ducking, bowing

From the breeze,

Soft, but domineering,

Unpredictable with

It’s shifting moods;

The rain too,

With it’s

Contrasting personality;

A pattern of

Consistent strikes

Against defenseless

Leaves.

Such abuse

Has never

Been lovely

In any other

Form.

 

Rewind

Yesterday I posted briefly about my purpose in starting this blog.  But who am I anyway? And why should you read the words I post here?  Well, let’s rewind the tape a bit and I will tell you a bit more about me and why I think what I write is important…

First things first: I believe in a personal Creator who made the earth and everything in it – inlcuding us.  Respectively, I believe that this Creator desires to know us and be known.  This is usually where I lose people.  But I hope that you, dear reader, will hang with me!  Because I also truly believe that as humans we were created for so much more than the lives we so often succumb to.  If the concept of living for more than just survival speaks to something deep inside you, then don’t ignore it (and hey, while you’re not ignoring it, keep reading my posts!). I want you to tag along this journey of words with me!

Second things second: I’m Amber.  Yup, that’s right, just like the tree resin that forms into a yellowish-brown gem.  My parents must have sensed that I would grow up to have this innate connection to the earth (go Mike and Cindy – you’ll hear about those savages Later on).

Okay, so now you know my name and the foundation of my life.  That’s a pretty good start – we’re friends now, yeah?  Cool.

Next question: what’s with the title Counter the Culture? And why do I use verbiage like “aura” and “spiritual”?  It’s kinda weird.  Like, doesn’t that make me a hippie?  Maybe!  But I think that labels are limiting.  For instance, I hate it when people call my beliefs a “religion”.  I believe in God, not a set of rules and traditions.  But I digress. Back to the title for this blog…

We live in a culture where everyone clings to a cause.  Everyone wants to fit in, yet stand out as a distinctive individual.  Everyone wants respect without doling it out.  These are confusing times and I refuse to believe that I am the only one out there who sees it.  But I also refuse to sit around and complain about it or worse, succumb to it.

By nature, I am terribly stubborn…aaaand rebellious.  If there is a line, I instinctively think “But, what would happen if say, I did cross the line?” For years I was your typical rebel without a cause.  But let me tell you, that is an exhausting existence.  I’m still pretty defiant, but I have discovered that there are right and wrong things to stand defiantly on.  It is good to be stubborn when it is the right matter to be stubborn about.

It is good to counter the culture.

As I said earlier, there are so many inconsistencies in our cultural mindset.  I peer into lonely eyes defeated by struggle or apathy every day and it breaks my heart.  There is so much more to live for than mere survival.  Believe me, I too was once so immersed in The Walking Dead series that I often confused the show with reality.  But readers, we are not actually living in a world overrun by zombies.  We have the luxury of choosing to thrive in life, not just survive!  And for a purpose!  We were not created to simply breathe air in and out daily.  We were created with purpose, passion, creativity and a soul that longs to know our Creator.

I have created this blog to showcase not my own brilliance, but the brilliance of a benevolent Creator.  Now tell me that right there is not countering the culture?  The concept of God is a divisive one, there is no denying that.  Yet, my hope is that my words cause no offense, but rather curiosity.  C. S. Lewis said that merely the curiosity of there being something beyond us is proof that there is.  I would agree and even challenge you to consider his words.

I hope by now you have a better grasp of where I am coming from and where I wish to go with this blog.  And hopefully, you’ll join me on this journey of countering the culture by living out the life we were designed for!

Peace to you!