Graduation Day

This weekend my baby brother graduates from college.


He’s worked so hard to train as an engineer, and he’s going to be a great one. I’m so proud of him. I can’t wait to see him decked out in all this regalia. (Regalia. Isn’t that a great word?)


It reminds me of this thing that was happening three years ago.

Kodak 083

Graduation always looks perfect and cheery on Facebook. And it is indeed an accomplishment to celebrate. But more than that, it’s an open door to a world beyond: a world full of unknowns.

At breakfast this morning, I was reflecting to my bro that it’s important to do something you love with your life. Yes, a certain amount of money is necessary to living. And no job in the world will make every single Monday your favorite day of the week. But to feel some passion, some fulfillment, some purpose in what you’re doing with your life, both on and off the clock? That’s important.

These three years of my life post-college have been full of the unexpected. There’s been confusion. Uncertainty. Heartbreak. Disappointment. But some of my cherished dreams have come true in more dazzling ways than I could have wished for. And I’ve stumbled over some new dreams that my college self didn’t even have the imagination to visualize.


So good luck, Daniel. I love you always, and I wish you a spirit of adventure for the unknown road ahead. No one can tell you what’s coming around the bend. But with trust, vision, grit, and a good classic rock soundtrack, you’re looking at a mighty fine roadtrip.


Inner Beauty Photo Shoot

Yesterday I had the privilege of photographing two lovely young women, both of whom recently graduated from college. (It’s that time of year when it seems like everyone is transitioning from one life stage to another!)

Kristin has a smile that could dazzle the socks off of you. She’s also got this incredible long blonde Rapunzel hair (not quite 70 feet long yet, but getting there).

Jasmine has these stunning eyes that kind of change color to match whatever shade of blue she’s wearing. And a great sense of style. I mean, seriously.

What I enjoy most about these ladies, though, is their personality and sense of adventure. I always enjoy interacting with women who exemplify a sense of inner beauty. You can’t always catch that sense of sincerity on camera, but occasionally it comes out. For instance, Kristin wasn’t afraid to play on the corkscrew fixture at the playground. No, sirree.

And Jasmine cleverly repurposed that pink scarf she’s wearing from another piece of clothing. You can’t see it in this shot, but she then repurposed it again as a dance ribbon.

Loveliest of all is the friendship between these two, which I’ve been blessed to participate in over the many years we’ve known each other.

Happy graduation, Kristin and Jasmine! Here’s to two young women who are beautiful, both on the inside and outside!

Next week I’ll be starting a series based on my family’s roadtrip around the American Southwest. Be sure to check back in for some crazy pictures, stories, and traveler tips! 

Definition: Twentysomething

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately where people I haven’t seen in a while stop talking. They look at me. They squint. Then they go, “You’re not in college anymore, are you?”

Nope, Toto. Not in college anymore. 

In fact, I’ve passed the 1-year mark since college graduation. I have over 12 months of experience living in the “real world.” And the topic of twentysomethings, “boomerang kids,” and the new, extended adolescence keeps coming up in conversation. Adults of the last generation often shake their heads when I tell them I’m living at home, cobbling together freelance English work. “That’s not how it was when I was growing up,” they say. “Kids moved out to go to college and never came back.” 

And we twentysomethings look at each other in desperate frustration. 

The thing is, we’ve been handed a different world than the one our parents grew up in. With digital technology making many human-powered industries obsolete and a global economy that’s in the tank, many of the jobs our parents inherited no longer exist. Opportunity has looked in the mirror and found itself slimmer. 

Life between college graduation and age 30 has always been fraught with decisions. But in this day and age, it’s even more charged with expectations and anxiety. Being a twentysomething can feel like setting out on a cross-country roadtrip with only a city map (or spotty satellite signal, if you take your GPS). You’re young, a little stupid, pretty naive, and doing ping-pong between immense enthusiasm and deflating depression. Most of your life experience comes from hearsay. And yet the decisions in these pivotal years set the course for the rest of your life. I find this quotation by Soren Kierkegaard, Danish theologian and one of my most-admired authors, very true: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.” 

This is the time when soap-bubble dreams, spacious and unlimited, start to pop or settle down into the more tangible, more limited suds of reality. To choose your life’s course, you want to be a little informed about what you’re supposed to be doing here…what life is about…how to be happy and find meaning on a road that can feel confusing, dangerous, and sometimes disappointing. 

So what do you do with a time when it feels like you’re blindly charting the course for the rest of your life? 

Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist writing for the LA Times, pounces on this decade of frustration and anxiety to scold twentysomethings for not growing up at a satisfactory pace (you can read the whole article here). Stop acting like kids and start passing the milestones that will make you an adult, she says.

And what are those milestones? “Make money, get married, buy a house, go to graduate school, start a business, save for college and retirement, and have children.” 

So life is about making money and wearing a ring on your left hand? Whoops. 

An article by economist John Kay paints quite a different picture of purpose (read it here). Forget racking up a fat bank account or having 10 kids. He says that happiness is reached only by a principle he terms “obliquity.” It’s like looking at faint stars: when you aim your eyes directly at them, they disappear from your vision. But when you look just to the side, focusing on something else, you can see them quite clearly. 

Kay quotes John Stuart Mill in saying that “aiming thus at something else, [happy people] arrive at happiness along the way.” To be happy, to enjoy this space of years we are granted, we need to not make “being happy” our goal. We must aim at something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our finances, our relationships, our legacies, in order to truly hit on what matters, what will satisfy the big, dark, frustrated hole inside most twentysomethings. 


Not that finding love or having a savings account can’t be part of that bigger goal. I caught an episode of the show “Secret Millionaire” last night and was inspired to see the enormous power for good in the hands of people blessed with wealth. But buying a house and saving for retirement aren’t like the hokey-pokey: they’re not what it’s all about. 

Kind of a paradox, isn’t it? In order to really be satisfied with life, we have to lose ourselves in working for something bigger. We’re whole only in self-forgetfulness. Jesus said almost just that: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” 

So yes, I’m a twentysomething, a year out of college, still living at home, learning how to make a living by my pen. But ask me what I’m doing that’s bigger than myself. Who knows? I might even ask you the same question. 


The Old Testament is full of stories of forgetting. It was a cycle: the Israelites, God’s people, would witness a miracle and worship Him. Then, after a while, they’d forget and go chase after other gods. Then they’d suffer for it and cry out to the true God for help. And then He’d display His power to rescue them yet again.
His continual command to them is to remember. “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done…Remember the wonders he has done.” (Ps. 105:1,5)

The word “remember” appears 166 times in the NIV. It’s the antidote to many ills: dissatisfaction, self-satisfaction, discouragement, arrogance, pride. It keeps us close to God by reminding us of His goodness and the times He’s been faithful in the past.
As 2011 draws to a close, I want to remember the times that remind me of God’s goodness—the successes, the mountaintops, the glimpses of assurance. Some highlights: 
  • In June, I graduated from college, probably the happiest person to go through that three-hour ceremony in the baseball stadium.
  • In September, I sat down at my computer to start a blog and launch a career as a freelance writer and editor. It was a leap of faith: I didn’t really knowing where I was going, but was trying to obey God’s call and guidance. Today this blog has almost 1,200 hits (thanks to all of you)!  
  • In October, I started tutoring (now have 9 students) and had an article and a poem published on Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices).
  • In November, I quit my babysitting job and started writing the second draft of my children’s novel (now up to 12,000 words!)
  • Two weeks ago, I received and completed my first professional proofreading project (I flinched at dangling modifiers for days). Now there’s another one coming my way!
These milestones remind me of God’s mighty power and tender love. Four months ago, I had no job and no confidence that I could make it as a writer. Now the elements of a writing career are sprouting up around me like crocuses. It is amazing to watch, because although I planted the seeds and watered them, God has worked (and continues to work) the miracle of growth.
I also want to remember the tough times of this past year, though. In between the milestones, there have been many dry days when I was too tired to write, had no income, wondered if I was doing the right thing at all, or if I should go out and get a “real” job. When I’ve felt sad and alone and sorry for myself, though, is when I have most desperately turned to God (just like the Israelites). When all other support crumbles, when the music dies and you’re alone in the quiet, it’s then that you really understand that God is the Solid Rock, all-sufficient and very present in trouble. Deserts are testing times: for growing and learning to depend, to rely, to trust. It’s in the book of Deuteronomy:
“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

It’s in the times of dryness that we learn if we’re really walking by faith, not sight. Sometimes you can’t tell until you experience blindness.
The main thing is, I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the lessons learned in the desert. And I don’t want to get deluded and think that I worked the successes for myself. God gave me the gift of words and has called me to use it for His glory and others’ blessing. He has opened doors of opportunity and given me fortitude to face the giants. And through it all, He has been incredibly faithful.
So I close the year with a prayer from the Psalms:
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1).

What do you remember as you look back on this year? 

A few quick notes:
  • No blog post next week: I’m going out of town. See you the first week of January!

  • I’ve signed up for an online blog class that goes through January and February. I’m excited to learn more about blogging, so keep an eye out for updates and improvements throughout the next couple of months! 

Measuring Progress

In the academic world, progress metrics are plentiful. I think that’s why many people never leave school. You go to class, you put in the work, you get the grades, the grades become GPA. Boom, you can translate your effort into a percent, a couple of honor cords, a piece of paper on the wall. And you get some self-esteem out of it, too.

In post-academic life, however, progress can be harder to get your hands around. You can count the hours you spend working, but how do you measure the fruit of those hours? For smaller endeavors, it’s not as difficult. Summer working retail = money for study abroad. But when you’re working towards a more distant goal, one that requires immediate investment for a very delayed payoff, how do you tell if you’re moving forward?

For example, let’s talk about writing a book (how funny! something I’ve spent quite a lot of time doing this week). What do you have to show for 8 hours of completely internal concept work that doesn’t translate into a paycheck or even a page count? Not instant gratification, that’s for sure. But if I’m ever going to finish the novel, I have to have faith that it will matter, and that it’s worth the present sacrifices.

In fact, I think some of the most important things can’t be quantified at all in the short term. Think about growing a prayer life or spending time with friends and family. You can’t measure your investment until you enjoy the final result: a sweet relationship with God or other people. Even though it can feel like wasted time in the right now, it’s much more valuable to do things that matter in the big picture than to be able to instantly prove yourself by the numbers.

Now, with all that said, this week God has given me some progress signposts that give me hope. My big-picture goals may still be far in the distance, but these are good reminders that I’m at least on the way.

1. Adding some great resources to my collection at the library sale

2. Applications from 2 new tutoring students (hopefully this isn’t what my hair looks like!)

Free Student Clipart
Source: Clipart Pal

3. Having lunch with my mom in mid-November rather than taking midterms

Source: Aqui

4. Writing “owner” after my name on an application for a tutoring business license

5. And last but not least, finding a perfectly-sized coffeepot to fuel my continued endeavors! 

10 Reasons to be Thankful for Post-Grad Life

This week was the 4-month anniversary of my graduation from college. While this new season has brought a lot of transition and uncertainty, I have also had numerous inspirations to celebrate this phase of life (students everywhere, take heart!) 
When I’m loving life, being thankful is easy, but the practice also helps dissipate melancholy when I’m not. So, because I need to remember, and because students everywhere need a reason to believe there’s life beyond midterms, here’s a chronicle of some things that have made these last 4 months good. 


Sunshine and sand beaches
Time to read books I choose

Time to cook 
Time to write
Time to play
Time to stop and smell the flowers (occasionally)
Friends who are also family in Christ
That being old and graduated doesn’t mean I stop having adventures
And that the end of school doesn’t have to be the end of being a nerd.

Whatever your stage of life, what are you thankful for today?

What are you waiting for?

Last Sunday as I was running out the door to church, almost forgetting my shoes in the process, I paused to watch something happening through the kitchen window. A bright-orange, brand-new butterfly was perched on a branch in the sunshine. It sat perfectly still, only occasionally adjusting the position of its wings toward the sun.
I remembered raising a box kit of monarch butterflies when I was in third grade. My brother and I fed the caterpillars leaves, watched them spin chrysalides, and waited impatiently until they emerged as beautiful winged creatures. I remember observing then that butterflies can’t fly immediately after bursting out of the chrysalis. Their wings are still curled up tightly. If they try to fly right away, they fall. First they have to sit and stretch for a while, letting their wings unfurl and absorb sunlight before they can take off. Their first job is to be still.
I’m not very good at being still. I’m goal-oriented and task-oriented; I want to move, act, write, and then quantify my progress with a spreadsheet of results. But sometimes, even when I’ve worked hard, life stalls in the starting gate. For me, sometimes that’s a blog post that won’t come out right. Sometimes it’s the address that still matches my mom’s, the still-anemic bank account, another lonely Valentine’s Day, an economy that doesn’t look kindly on English majors, or a novel that still looks like raw meat. You know the feeling? God, am I going anywhere? When is my life going to start? It’s like drifting in a ship at sea with no wind to fill your sails. Sailors call it the doldrums.
That’s when I hear Him whisper: Be still and know that I am God.
When my life is zooming along busily, He often gets lost in a shuffle of papers. Sometimes He has to put my life on hold to make me stop. Breathe. Remember Him. Knowing Him is the best thing in life. A job, an apartment of my own—those are things I want, but they can wait. When my pursuit of them gets in the way of my pursuit of Him, sometimes He has to tell the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still!”
Maybe waiting is actually a form of action when I’m waiting upon the Lord. It’s not the same as twiddling my thumbs for the wind to pick up. Times of stillness can be times of growth, opportunities to know Him better, necessary for my wings to unfurl in the light of His presence. Be still and know that I am God. There will come a time for flying, but right now my labor is to wait upon Him.
I choose today to be still, in echo of the words of the prophet Isaiah: I will wait for the Lord…I will put my trust in Him.

Image credit: HaarFager at en.wikipedia