Braveheart, Camels, and a Baby Announcement

Back in January, I blogged about my top 5 goals for 2012. Along with reading through the entire Bible, finishing my novel, and reading Gone with the Wind, one of my goals was to be able to buy a car. 

Part of being accountable for goals is reporting on your progress.

So I think it’s time you knew…


Name: Toyota Corolla 
Weight: 2530 pounds
Length: 173.8 inches
Age: 6 years
Mileage: 92k
Personality: Amazing

That’s my baby (post title got ya, didn’t it?) As you might guess, I’m pretty excited. 

I’ve learned so much about mechanics, business, and stewardship throughout the search and purchase process. But all cylinders, gauges, gears, hoses, and gadgets aside, a car is so much more than a box on wheels. 

To put it in the words of Captain Jack Sparrow:

“It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is–what a ship really is–is freedom.” 

It’s come in different forms throughout history: a horse, a camel, a buggy, a bicycle, a stagecoach, a Model T. But getting your first one opens up whole new horizons. The opportunity to go new places, accept new work, and expand your reach is a timeless experience. 

It feels like progress, it feels like love, it feels like…

Do you remember getting your own first car/mode of transportation? What was that first taste of freedom like for you? 


When I was twelve, my family and I watched an island being formed.

The lava field on Hawaii’s Big Island looked like the surface of the moon. The black rock, brittle as glass, clawed at our shoes in a landscape where nothing lived. We stopped where the rock turned to a river: a slow ooze of hot lava, glowing dull red beneath its dark crust, hot enough to catch the tips of our walking sticks on fire. We watched it wriggle past our feet to the edge of a cliff, where it plunged into the sea in a waterfall of fire. There, beneath the waves, it was hardening, invisibly adding to the foundations of the Big Island.

Seven months into this freelancing adventure, I’m beginning to think about the cumulative effects of choices. The choices I make today don’t stand alone: they’re built on the choices I made yesterday and last month and last year. To move home after graduation. To pass up jumping for an immediate 9-to-5 job. To take seriously the gift of writing God has given me. All together, these choices start to form something: the new piece of land I am becoming.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” It is our cumulative, grace-guided choices that determine the people we will become. Making the right choices is easier when you have a precedent on which to build. It’s less difficult to see where you’re going next time you take a leap of faith.

But building a new island is difficult when you don’t know what you’re aiming for. When setting out in a new direction, the first choice (do I trust? Do I risk? Do I sacrifice?) is the scariest. Even the best of role models can’t project what results our choices will have. So when we decide to follow God’s call, to writing, knitting, homeschooling, ministry, or something else off the beaten path, it can feel like shooting off a cliff in a stream of hot lava, wondering if we’re actually going to build something new or just get swept away in the tide.

But, once again, when the first layer is laid, the next is easier–you’ve set yourself a standard to live up to.

A friend of mine demonstrated this a few weeks ago. She interviewed for two positions, the first less desirable than the second. After the first interview went well, she accepted a job offer there. Then, suddenly, she was offered a job at the second company. Instead of bailing out on her commitment to  #1, she turned down a desirable position in order to stick to her word.

Career-builders might scoff at her brave choice. But success is more than a ladder. In choosing to demonstrate integrity, my friend sacrificed immediate gain–but set a precedent for future choices and added another layer onto her island of character. When jobs vaporize and companies fail, that rock still stands.

Of course, there’s also a second way. It’s so natural that many people, especially those in my age group, opt for this one. It’s the easy way out. When faced with a tough choice to land a great job or keep your word, to indulge yourself or honor your family, to beat the established path or trust God to lead you in His way–many people just “go with their gut” and push the long-term implications out of mind. Like Scarlett O’Hara in the wonderful Gone with the Wind, we say “I’ll think about that later.”

But Rhett (always wise) comes back to her and says, “It’s hard to salvage jettisoned cargo and, if it is retrieved, it’s usually irreparably damaged. And I fear that when you can afford to fish up the honor and virtue and kindness you’ve thrown overboard, you’ll find they have suffered.” (ch. 43). It’s hard to go back once you’ve set a precedent of taking the easy way.

So what kind of an island are you building? If the choices we make today set a precedent, do you dare to take the leap, making choices based on vision, hope, faith? Will you start building from a blueprint you can’t see?

Life According to Road Signs

While on vacation the week after Christmas, my family and I drove the infamous Road to Hana. It’s a highway that follows the beautiful, rainforested north shore of Maui. However, “winding” would be the understatement of the century about this road. It is famous for its more than 600 curves (most of which are blind hairpins) and its 59 bridges, 46 of which are one-laners according to Wikipedia. According to me, that’s a generous estimate.

While my mom was dodging tourist convertibles and avoiding sheer cliff edges, I was taking pictures of the road signs. Road signs are something I always find interesting, because they can be read to have double meanings about life, guidance, and following God. But on the tortuous, sometimes terrifying, incredibly beautiful Road to Hana, their messages seemed heightened, especially when I thought about lessons I’ve learned during my last 4 1/2 months of freelancing. 
The road to the future can be winding (and sometimes the curves are blind).  

Sometimes you defer to the ideas of others with more experience, especially when you’re young. 

You don’t always get there as fast as you want to. 
Sometimes you run into roadblocks.  
But eventually you get going again.

And the journey can be beautiful.

Sometimes it’s just plain funny, too. Part of the adventure is learning to laugh, to find the humor in the midst of 600 hairpin curves. Sunshine sometimes comes in weird and wacky forms. Like these bizarre signs!   
“Why did the baby pigs cross the road?”  
“The sky coconuts are falling!” 


“A place named Haiku–maybe only 17 people live there…”

What weird, wise, or wacky signs have you spotted by the roadside?


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! 

Cooking Up Some Creativity

Cooking, for me, is like writing. More than just a way of putting food on the table, it’s play: from visualizing a new dish off a recipe card to shopping for a tantalizing array of colors and flavors to actually transforming the textures and smells of the ingredients into a beautiful, edible finished product. I have a few staples that I make over and over for their yum value, but I really enjoy the discovery process of experimenting with new recipes.
It’s a good thing, too, because I’m on the last three weeks of a 2-month gluten-free, low-glycemic diet (“paleolithic” for those interested), which my doctor ordered for health reasons. That means no flour products of any kind, almost no sugar, and limited amounts of any starch (brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.). Fun, right? It’s been tough to keep coming up with new recipes, but at the same time, it’s challenged me to try some dishes that push the boundaries of normal.
This week? Pumpkin soup. Normal was definitely pushed. 
I found the recipe in a stray copy of Sunset magazine. You can find it here (I skipped the pesto, though). 
The adventure started with the shopping. The Halloween pumpkins I was planning on using turned out to not only be the wrong variety, but were also all rotten and squishy on the bottom. Gross. Went to the store to buy a new pumpkin. While I was there, I also found a large nub of fresh ginger—something I’d never cooked with before! Threw it in the shopping basket.
Next up: no coriander in the house. Mom thinks it tastes nasty. So last Saturday, I made a visit to Penzey’s Spices in Palo Alto with my gourmet friends Whitney and Jordyn. What an amazing place! I’d never seen whole vanilla pods or knew that there were four colors of pepper before. When we were done making ourselves sneeze on the wonderful aromas of lavender, cinnamon, and ground ancho chilies, I came away with a mix called Balti, which included coriander and more ginger as well as some less familiar names, like dundicut chilies, fenugreek, and charnushka (hope you don’t get stuck with those on your next spelling test).
Assembling the ingredients felt like play, but the actual cooking felt like a long trek uphill: a bit like the writing process. It will be a long time before I attempt to peel and cube a pumpkin again. After an hour, I had a bowlful of misshapen orange blocks, but I also had a cramped right hand, two blunted knives and a peeler, and pumpkin shrapnel all over the kitchen. And I do mean all over.
Not to be beaten by a squash, however, I began to sauté the onion and ginger. Lots of ginger. Having never cooked with this science-fictiony brown root before, maybe I got a little over-eager. What was I going to do with a bunch of leftovers, anyway?
When the blended soup finally made it onto the table, the kitchen smelled great. That is, until the taste of gunpowder eliminated our ability to smell anything. All that ginger I’d gotten excited about? Plus the coriander-ginger spice mix? Whoops. Even yogurt couldn’t cool it down to safe levels.
I must say, my family is one of the most patient and longsuffering I know. They courageously finished their bowls, and didn’t even throw them at me. But the remainder of the pumpkin soup certainly traveled with me to Bible study on Wednesday night, where the adventurous Jordyn kindly took it off my hands.
I guess part of experimentation is making mistakes. When you try recipes that are off the beaten path, it’s a risk: not every one will be the next family winner, or even taste like human food. Some will be a constant circus of mishaps (e.g.: continuing to find flecks of pumpkin peel stuck to the window).
But it certainly keeps life from getting boring. Maybe I won’t be making this particular pumpkin soup again, but I’ll keep playing with flavors and textures. It keeps me from getting stuck in ruts (and certainly beats airline tickets for budget adventures).  
And maybe creativity feeds more creativity: the day after my pumpkin soup adventure, I wrote the first words of Draft 2 of my children’s novel!

What’s your latest creative endeavor? Successful or otherwise? I’d love to hear your story!

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!