Hat tip to author and blogger, Tsh Oxenreider, for the Commonplace Notebook idea. This is my own digital collection of inspiring and meaningful quotations about intentional living, faith, achievement, work, life, and more.
Please check back as I’ll continue to update this page…
Comparison is the thief of joy.
If you really want something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.
There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love.
I wrote this a few years ago, thinking about all the high school graduates out there who are moving on to college. These are a few words of advice from my own experience in college.
Jedd and I graduated from our (separate) Universities in 2005. Looking back, six things stand out in terms of the decisions I would make again in a heartbeat. Everyone’s experience in college is unique, to be sure, but hopefully these thoughts will connect with a few people and help them find their own way in this pivotal time of life.
1) Studying Abroad
My junior year, I did a summer school program in Florence, Italy and then a Fall semester in Paris, France to complete my French major. Having the opportunity to live and learn in those cities cannot be beat, in my book.
Although my best friend started her own study abroad program as soon as I returned from Paris, and we essentially didn’t see each other for all of Junior year, we both agree it was totally worth it.
Being a college student affords you some rare benefits for living abroad. One, scholarships and student loans can sometimes be applied toward a study abroad program, just like any other semester. Even if not, tuition in other countries is often lower anyway, so you end up saving money on the academic side that you can apply to weekend travel costs while you’re abroad. You effectively come out even compared to the cost of a normal semester- a lot of people don’t realize this. Also, many countries require visas for a foreigner to stay long-term, and you will often have easier access to get in with a student visa than if you were to try to get in down the road as a long-term “tourist.”
The point is, I 100% recommend taking advantage of study abroad opportunities while you’re in college. Jedd did not and says it is his #1 regret (although at that point in his life, just going to college away from Hawaii was a culture shock in itself). You don’t have to be a language major, either. Plan your classes out so you’ll be able to take a bunch of electives or work towards a minor during your semester abroad.
2) Taking Electives
As an undergrad, my electives ranged from Group Fitness, rock climbing, choir, and black and white photography, to calculus (yes, it was voluntary), Philosophy of C.S. Lewis, and Italian. I didn’t have to take any of these classes. But they were all things I was interested in, and it didn’t cost any extra to tack on one or two more credits per semester.
In my opinion, the value of college these days lies less in gaining concrete skills for a job and more in self-discovery and becoming a well-rounded human. Most technical skills you learn on the job anyway – they don’t even teach half those things in class. As long as you come out with a degree in your pocket, critical thinking skills, and some practical background knowledge, that’s about as far as college is going to get you for job-seeking purposes. Might as well pursue some things you’re interested in, too, while you have the chance.
3) Minoring in something interesting
Similarly to the electives point, I think you might as well get the most out of your tuition dollars by adding some minors. In my case, the core curriculum for all students required us to take four Philosophy courses, which got us more than half-way to completing a Philosophy minor. I believe we were also required to take two social sciences, which counted toward my Psychology minor. For me, nearly all of the additional credits I had to take were about topics that fascinated me anyway and could apply broadly to just about any field of work.
Note that I’m not recommending over-loading your schedule. I think it’s really important to keep a manageable workload and leave enough time in your week for socializing and spontaneity. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and lose energy to keep up with your studies. However, if you do have wiggle room in your schedule and it doesn’t take that much more effort to minor, then go for it.
4) Getting involved and work experience
College is about so much more than academics. And I’m not talking about parties. I landed some really cool on-campus jobs planning large scale student events or writing e-mails in French for my professor. I helped out with freshman orientation, led students retreats, sang for the non-denomination worship band, volunteered on the Relay for Life planning team, coached Special Olympics, read stories to second graders, etc.
I had so many different, amazing experiences on campus outside of the classroom. (But I wouldn’t have had access to them had I not been a student.) These types of structured activities allow you to test out your passions and interests, gain more skills (and confidence), and create awesome memories. Again, I’m not endorsing that you max out your free time with back-to-back activities but don’t waste your time sitting in your room staring at a screen all day, either.
5) Being myself
In my experience, peer pressure and cliques were a lot more prevalent in high school than in college. Although college students still gravitate toward other people who are like them, the boundaries between groups are more blurred and easier to cross. For example, it was no big deal for a jock to talk to a nerdy Star Wars fanatic and maybe study for a class they have together.
This is good news coming out of high school because you can let your guard down a little and be yourself. In fact, college is really a fresh start for you to be who you want to be. You get to choose the friends who are going to influence you over the next four years. You get to start new habits and project the person you want to be among your new community. Be intentional about it and be true to yourself.
6) Mission Trip
The final “best decision” I made in college was to go on a mission trip with my church senior year. I knew I loved to travel but I wasn’t so sure if going to developing countries was my thing. There was a Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic coming up, and I decided to give it a try.
That experience changed my life. I ended up interning with the organization in the D.R. for the following two summers (a total of six months), learned Spanish in the process, and discovered a sweet spot where my passions and skills could meet real needs in the world. Not only that, but it changed my whole view of the world and my place in it. I never saw things the same after that, and it put me on a trajectory toward other passions like global citizenship, advocacy, and international development.
A special note: College isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. I loved my college experience, although not necessarily for the conventional reasons of landing a career. If you’re not sure if paying big bucks for college is the right step for you, check out this new alternative school in Portland called Wayfinding Academy. It’s designed to help you find your own path and prepare for real life without the massive debt and cookie-cutter curriculum.
Every year I write a birthday post reflecting on something I’ve learned in the past year about myself (and thoughts about getting older). It’s a great way to see where I’ve been, who I am today, and hopefully reflects the person I am working on becoming.
Celebrating a birthday is hard this year.
In general, I’ve never been one to make a big fuss about birthdays, but recently I’ve seen them as a great way to reflect and give thanks for all the experiences I’ve had and thanks for all the people I’ve met that brought me to where I am today.
As you know, 2020 isn’t the year we all thought it would be and these days, it doesn’t feel appropriate to celebrate. But I still have hope that things will get better and that there are many reasons to “be thankful” (as my Dad would often say) amidst the uncertainty and challenges we all face.
Over the past year there has been a lot of important life lessons I’ve been learning, but none have been so clear and relevant than thinking about how I will live and respond in times like this.
I believe we are in a life season similar to that of Winter. Though on the surface the situation is challenging, this is a time to holdfast and establish strong, healthy roots ready to face whatever comes after afterward.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with plants this past year going from a person that couldn’t grow and keep alive anything to someone that can now say they’ve successfully grown and eaten their own tomato. In plant terms, I just germinated. I’m just getting started.
I have become obsessed with almost all things plants. It’s fascinating to watch something go from a seed to a full-blown food-producing machine or become a beautiful flower.
You learn so much caring for your plants and seeing how so many different variables affect its ability to grow. But one of the most amazing things to witness is when someone prunes a plant like an Artichoke or Hydrangea to the point where it almost looks like it has no chance to survive through the winter, only to return even stronger and healthier the following year.
Through the winter, these seemingly lifeless plants are very much still alive and growing in harsh and non-optimal growing conditions. More experienced gardeners will tell you that it’s actually healthier for these kinds of plants to be pruned. To an amateur gardener like myself, I thought these people were crazy. I had no idea how resilient plants can be.
We’re called to be this kind of resilient during challenging times. One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, wrote a book (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) about storytelling. He shares that good stories often require the main character(s) to go through challenges. How the character reacts and comes out at the end of these challenges is what makes the story compelling —their transformation. How will we be transformed and who will we become because of this current situation?
Winter is Here
From the very first episode of Game of Thrones in 2011, there is a warning that “winter is coming”. The whole premise of this fantasy story is that a great evil/death represented by Winter, ice, and all of its monsters are heading south.
Only a massive wall prevents them from entering the land of the living, those that live south of the wall. The living world is divided into ruling areas that must come together to fight against the coming winter. The show goes on for 8 years and 8 seasons of people warning and trying to unite to fight this evil. They continue to use the phrase “winter is coming”. In the final season winter finally arrives and the characters must face this truth.
Winter is back in our world today. We were given warnings that it would return and like the show, though some listened and took the warnings seriously, many did not and were ill-prepared to face it. Though Covid-19 is new, our world has faced these winter-like challenges before whether it was sickness, the great depression, and world wars.
What gives me hope is a reminder that we’ve come out of those challenging times, transformed and often times better. There were loss and hardship, but I also see how the world recovered and some things have gotten better that wouldn’t have had we not gone through these major events. I’m not saying that I like or hope we go through these kinds of difficult times. I’m saying it’s inevitable.
Krka National Park, Croatia
Establishing Strong Roots
Last October we visited a national park in Croatia called Krka. The best way to describe it is that it’s a beautiful river where the people of Croatia have built long walkways over the river at different sections. It feels like you’re walking on water. What makes it even more magical are the trees that come out of nowhere in the middle of this river as rushing, powerful water flows past them (see above). How is it possible that they can remain tall and anchored amidst the rushing water? The answer is their roots.
As I try to grapple and make sense with all the things currently going on and the uncertainty of our future, I can’t help but to think that this is a time when it’s important to grow strong, deep roots.
For me, this is reinvesting in the most important things to me like family, friends, and my faith.
It’s learning how to let go of well-laid plans and learning how to go with the flow.
It’s learning how to grieve losses of things we hoped for.
It’s learning how to fight for, support, and love on others (neighbors, strangers, those in need).
It’s doubling down on the precious time we have to be with loved ones that we wouldn’t normally have.
It’s trying to learn new life skills like cooking and gardening that are useful at any given point in life.
It’s reanalyzing, pivoting, and creating new dreams and goals.
When plants come back from a winter season they are never the same and neither will we be when this time, this season of life passes. My hope is that we’ll all be transformed for the better, ready and more resilient for the next time winter returns (because it will).
Take care everyone and hang in there. This too shall pass….
I’ve kept a personal journal fairly regularly since grade school. Being a practical person, most of my journal entries have simply been records of what happened.
In high school, I tried a different approach. I bought a big, textbook-sized journal and began processing concepts, trying to grasp new ideas by wrestling them onto a page in my own words. It was something I referred back to often and enjoyed immensely.
Recently, I’ve kept up a personal journal to record significant happenings and check in with my own well-being. I average making an entry once or twice a week, but I try not to worry about the timing. I’ve also used a combination of real notebooks and Evernote on my laptop to take notes on the various things I’m learning from books, workshops, etc.
Then, once a year, Jedd and I take time to do some intentional reflection during our Annual Review. This takes place every December. We look back on the previous year to analyze what went well, what we could do better. From there, we plot out our goals for the year to come.
The Annual Review has become such a useful and impactful practice. I realized I was craving more of that deep reflection throughout the year.
Even though I continue to journal fairly regularly, I haven’t actually been using the journal for deeper reflection. It’s been more of a quick record-keeping practice. As an introvert who processes thoughts internally, journaling is an under-utilized tool for better self-awareness and personal growth.
Every year (except last year – lol) I write a birthday post reflecting on something I’ve learned in the past year about myself (and thoughts about getting older). It’s a great way to see where I’ve been, who I am today, and hopefully reflects the person I am working on becoming.
As I was thinking about what to write for this year’s post I realized that there were a lot of good nuggets and truth that I wanted to remember from year #35.
“All is calm, all is bright.” It’s a delightful sentiment, though not typically how I’m experiencing the world these days.
That’s why I’m making it my motto for Advent.
Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, tends to hold a lot more anticipation and magic in childhood. These days, I struggle to find ways to make it special.
To me, Christmas has a “true meaning” indeed. It has nothing to do with Santa, giving or receiving presents, and it’s definitely not about shopping.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. A real live baby boy who changed the world. God walking on Earth. The man who was persecuted, whose body couldn’t be found in his tomb three days later, and who appeared to hundreds of people – people who became martyrs in dedication to his kingship.
It’s world-shattering stuff.
Worthy of pause. Reflection. Introspection. Action.
Every year I struggle with how to do this.
I don’t particularly enjoy tradition and ceremony for its own sake. It’s too easy to go through the motions.
It’s been an eventful year so far – we both turned 35 and celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with an extra dose of travel. With roughly 2 months left in my 35th year, I wanted to take another look at my “35 things to do in my 35th year” bucket list.
I was able to complete most of the things on my list without a problem. But I found that there were a couple things I resisted. One thing I’ve recently learned about myself, thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies, is that I am a Questioner. That means I only meet expectations that I have rationalized to myself are important. So I expect that the reason I resisted the 35 thank you letters task is because 1) I’ve never really appreciated the tradition of thank you cards in the first place, and 2) it was a popular birthday activity for others that I felt like I should do even though I wasn’t excited about it, and 3) it was overwhelming to choose 35 people and write 35 letters.
So I may end up replacing that one if I can’t find a way to align it better to my own style and personality. There are a few others I might need to adjust as well. Here is my current progress Continue reading “Michelle’s 35 Things Update”→
Ten years ago today Michelle and I stood before family and friends and committed to being life partners. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed and yet, there’s always a newness in our relationship as we keep working on being better individuals, and working through challenges to grow closer and stronger as a couple.
Time is strange. As a child, 5 minutes in timeout felt like eternity. Our wedding, now almost 10 years past doesn’t feel that long ago. And then there’s the instances where a major event happens in your life and all you can think about what life was like before and after that event. Such is the case with saying goodbye to my father last year. I think of life in terms of all the time that we shared together when he was with us and now, the time without him.
Just about a year ago we gathered with our dear friends and family to say goodbye and thank you. Somedays it feels like a lifetime ago. Other days it feels like just yesterday that he was here. I had an opportunity to give the “thanks” on behalf of our family. In the midst of all the things that were going on at the time, I didn’t think to save what I wrote and I threw away the only copy of my words. Or so I thought.
I was going to write my annual birthday post and low and behold I had actually copied my speech to share here (insert my tears here). Now it really felt like it was yesterday that I was talking with my Dad.
We try our best to keep his legacy alive each day and I tried my best to share what I thought he would want others to know — that you have a purpose and you are loved:
Seven years ago we made a life-changing decision to serve in the Peace Corps. We put in our notices at work, ended the lease on our apartment, and sold all of our furniture. We kept our winter clothes and yearbooks in storage with family and headed off to volunteer in Jamaica with the required maximum of two suitcases each.
Living with less was completely liberating. Not only did we have less stuff to keep track of, our weekly schedules in that rural Jamaican community were simplified, too. When we came home from work, we had time to read, journal, practice new recipes… In Jamaica, it was nearly impossible to get more than two real tasks done per day, so we became accustomed to a slower pace of life.