New Spaces and Tidy Boxes

I’ve spent most of this summer in preparation. Buying apartment necessities for the space I haven’t moved into, signing tons and tons of papers for a job I haven’t started, and creating documents and lists of lesson plans for students I haven’t met.

I find myself with categorized lists, writing everything I need to get and every task I need to accomplish down on paper, on tidy lines in hand-made boxes on the page where I can control them. Somehow, I thought, if I have everything planned ahead of time, I’ll prove myself to be a successful post-grad that has it all together.

But in the midst of all the planning, I find myself wanting to stuff next year into these tidy little boxes. All of my lesson ideas in one box, the perfect way I anticipate relating to others in another box. I want to compartmentalize and prepare for how I’m going to eat perfectly, run all the time, find the perfect community, and be the best teacher every student loves.

To compensate for trying to make all of these uncontrollable things perfect, I’ve been obsessed with trying to create the textbook classroom right now. I’ve spent hours on Pinterest, weighing different organization strategies and attendance methods, creating and then deleting documents because they’re not good enough. I’ve scrolled through hundreds of pictures of classrooms, writing down how mine needs to look in order to create the best possible atmosphere for learning. I’ve worried about forgetting something and have tried to anticipate ever scenario that might arise in that space next year.

In the midst of a freak-out, I was in the car with my mom when she made me stop rambling and told me that nothing has to be perfect the first day.

Nothing has to be perfect the first day.

I don’t have to have every decoration up in my classroom, every bookshelf perfectly organized, or every picture on my desk in adorable frames. All I need to start is some space, some desks, and some students.

And regarding next year, I don’t have to have all the right answers to all the questions, the cutest teaching wardrobe, or the ideal community. That stuff happens along the way.

So, if your transitioning too, it’s ok if your classroom, apartment, or workspace isn’t perfect the day you move in.

It’s ok if you don’t have everything you think you need.

It’s ok to give yourself grace if you don’t have everything figured out—you’re not supposed to.

Here’s a reminder, for you and for me: it’s ok if you’re not completely ready for what’s next. In fact, it’s probably best that you aren’t, because we most clearly recognize God’s work in the process of figuring everything out as we go while we learn to rely on Him.

If you’re like me, stop trying to stuff your life into tidy boxes and plan everything ahead of time. Give yourself some grace, show up the first day, and get started.

Bolivia and Blocked Views

This last semester was one of those whirlwind seasons. I spent most of it rushing to soak everything in, all the conversations and meetings and readings and runs. I felt like I was floating, coasting through all the late night “Friends” marathons and donut runs, job applications and interviews and late night writing sessions, somehow finding the strength to keep pouring myself out in order to stay present. I’m thankful for this.

In-between job applications and spending last-minute moments with my friends and writing papers, I went to Bolivia. This trip just snuck up in my life, wedged between my seemingly never-ending to-do lists. I remember walking to the chapel at 1AM to meet my team after just turning in an assignment, not processing that I’d be stepping onto a plane the next morning and following a rigorous travel schedule with some of the most amazing people, all still in disbelief that we were actually leaving.

I needed Bolivia. I needed the kids we played with, the nervous laughs that came with the language barrier, the ridiculous games, and the bi-lingual worship. I needed my teammates’ grace and the incredible love from the Monte Blanco staff. I needed to be reminded that we’re all bound together through Christ, not finding true relationship through what we can do or prove to each other, but rather through grace and love.

At the end of the week, we climbed a mountain through a cloud rainforest. We had heard about this hike the entire week, about how the view was incredible, filled with waterfalls and lush green landscape and rivers winding through the crevices. After a rainy day and being told it was too dangerous to go, things cleared up. We woke up early the next morning, climbed in the back of the trucks, and winded through the switchbacks until we hit the trailhead.

Climbing after an exhausting week in humidity and high elevation is always an experience and we were anxious to see the view from the top. But when we got there, we saw clouds.

And that’s about it.

Our view was blocked. We sat on the side of the mountain, waiting for the clouds to burn off. I found a spot away from the group, folded my knees to my chest and stared into the clouds, angry.

I hated not being able to see what was below. Hated it. My body tired, mind exhausted, and overall drained, I just wanted to see. I wanted to know what was in front of me, soak in the beauty and make the trek up worth it.

But that’s not what happened. And as I sat there, fuming in my exhausted anger, I realized it was ok not to see. It’s ok not to know, it’s ok to work hard to get somewhere and not have a clear vision because the Lord does. He’s going to lift the clouds, allow them to burn off when He needs them to. But right now, in the midst of graduation and transitions, labeled unknowns, and just plain unknowns, find peace in your blocked view because the Lord’s got you.

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Bolivia!

Hi friends!

I am leaving for a ten-day trip to BOLIVIA to serve at a high school camp for my spring break! If you’re interested, I’ll be blogging just a step away on the site for Taylor University Spring Break Missions here.

I encourage you to partner with us in prayer as we leave tomorrow morning! My team and I are beyond excited to get there, get working, and soak up the Bolivian culture. There’s going to be a lot of craziness, a lot of Jesus, and a lot of love happening in the next ten days. I cannot wait.

Also, if you feel inclined to give financially, you can do that here. On the site is a video describing more about where we’re going and what we’re doing!

THANK YOU in advance for your support! You’re all the best! Can’t wait to catch up once I get back 🙂

Kelsey 🙂

Quitting the Competition

I grew up around football fields. Every summer and fall I sat at practices and scrimmages, with fold-out game chairs dug into the dirt, sitting with my mom in front of our car that was backed up to the field with the hatch open. We watched the boys play four days a week, my brother and his friends, while my dad coached.

As fall arrived and game days came, once I was old enough, my dad had me come onto the sidelines with him and count plays, making sure every player got his twelve in for the game.

This job was my thing. I had the opportunity to be involved in the energy of the competition, playing an important role as my dad counted on me to make sure every kid had their shot on the field. With my clipboard tucked in my arm, I stood my ground and carefully paid attention to every huddle and timeout, striking a tally when a player on my list ran in.

I spent my childhood around competition, every weekend of later elementary and middle school riding to the fields with my mom and choosing sides, tallying marks on my clipboard year after year.

But as I’ve grown up and found myself in different communities, I’ve taken this idea of tallying plays with me. Life was the field and everyone was fighting to run in and get that tally next to their name. I held the clipboard in my mind and started keeping track.

She landed that leadership position? Tally. Oh, started dating that guy? Another one. She got the praise from the professor on her idea for a paper? Tally for her. My running pace was quicker than hers? Tally for me. But oh, she ran five miles today? Man, that tally is actually hers.

I became frazzled as everyone around me was receiving tallies and I felt stuck, like my tallies weren’t as good, and concerned that I only had three while they had sixteen.

And thus began the competition. How can I do better, run more, be more attractive, and get smarter? I needed more tallies because that’s where I was not only counting my worth, but also the worth of the women around me.

The danger really hit hard when this started to be a problem that moved from my head and into my relationships. This competition manifested itself in every passive aggressive thought, inhibiting my ability to love and connect with the women I share life with in my community because I was constantly discounting their struggles because of how many tallies they had.

What this tally system does is inhibit our ability to sympathize with those around us. We think because they have that “thing,” they can’t be struggling as much as we do without it. It minimizes other people’s struggles, casting them on a different team, and making it impossible to connect.

Viewing life as this competitive thing is the easiest way towards isolation. And as I’ve learned to stop keeping score, I’m finding myself more sympathetic towards others and able to have richer relationships because of it.

So unless you’re actually on a football field counting plays, trash the clipboard. It’s gotta go. Start viewing the girl standing next to you in chapel with that ring or your roommate who seems to have it all together on the same playing field as you because well, you’re on the same team.

God never stopped creating

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear recently.

Maybe it’s because I’m graduating in three months and have no idea what I’m doing with my life or maybe it’s because I’ve been writing a paper for the past year (yes, year) about fear that was due this past weekend.

Well, it’s probably a heavy combination of both of those things because they’ve taken up so many of my thoughts in the past month.

Intensely studying fear through Gothic literature for the past year, and especially the past month, has created a huge space for me to analyze what terrifies me the most right now and how I’m trying to cope with that.

Which is what I’ve really trying to focus on recently. I’m finding that the more I recognize the core reasons of why I’m afraid of the future, the more I am able to stop being a stressed-out mess right now and confidently move forward.

It’s hard to admit this because it seems like something that should be obvious to me at this point, but right now I am absolutely terrified that God is going to stop being creative in my life.

Let me explain: during my capstone class I took in January, as we circled up our desks and discussed the reading, one of my classmates made an interesting observation in response to creativity. She said that oftentimes we live and think as if God stopped creating after the creation of the world.

This stuck with me. It’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. During chapel a few days after that class where we were provided a space to sit and pray in silence, I realized that all of my worries at that moment came out of this fear that God is going to stop being creative in my life after I leave this place in May.

Even though this past year has brought so much growth and joy and love, I know the deadline is quickly approaching and I can’t help but elevate the inevitable changes to come in my mind. I’m going to be graduating single, hopefully relocating to a new city, and having to take on life much more independently than in the past. All good things, but also different than what I’ve experienced.

And in the midst of such good things happening, this is where the fears start flooding in my overactive, overthinking mind. I’m not going to find a job. I’m never going to find close friends like this again. I’ll never get married. I’ll have to live alone. I won’t feel this safe again.

Somehow I got in my head that since I can’t even begin to imagine what my life could possibly look like post-graduation, God is just going to be done creating exciting things in my future. That since I’ve had a good run here, I’ve already used up my turn developing close relationships in a safe community, discovering my passions, and experiencing joy with people I love.

But what a lie this is. Because God never stopped being a creator and to dabble in the idea that He has goes completely against His character.

Just as God has proved to be faithful and creative thus far, He is going to continue to bring surprises and joys and community into my life.

So if you’re where I’m at today, with this irrational fear that today is your peak and that it’s all going downhill, stop. Because God is going to do things you can’t imagine and even though it will probably include some loneliness and confusion, it will also include extraneous moments of love, joy, and peace.

Our stories don’t stop the minute we graduate. Our narratives will continue in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, bringing people and opportunities and work that will make our lives just as rich or richer than they are right now. And even though I have a hard time believing that, I’m starting to trust that it’s true because God is creative and faithful and able to see past what we can’t.

risking to lose control

I went to Arkansas to visit my friend’s family this past weekend. After a crazy January of an intense Capstone class, four of my good friends and I loaded up “Big Blue” (a trusty Ford Escape) and headed south for the long weekend. This trip was filled with fun and laughter and joy because we had all finished classes, were celebrating two of the girls’ birthdays, and because we knew it was one of our last opportunities to road trip together.

On the day we left, one of the girls turned 22. We asked her reflection questions from the past year and her hopes for the next year. In response, she used this term, “calculated risk” to define what she wanted her theme to be for the coming year.

We started to use this phrase throughout the weekend, relating it to eating and yoga and four-wheeling. As we started to focus on taking calculated risks in the small things, I realized how careful I tend to be, trying to control situations and conversations and moments to what I think they need to be.

We made it back through the crazy weather and as I stood in chapel Monday morning worshipping with my beloved Taylor community, I realized how much of a risk it is to surrender everything for Jesus. I had a choice in these moments of worship: to forget all the other thoughts swirling around my mind and focus on Jesus or allow those other thoughts to take over.

This happens often in these moments, but that morning I decided to focus on why it was difficult to focus. I found it was easier to let those thoughts take over and more risky to focus on worship because in the space between the two, I had to lose something. And losing something is always hard.

When we intentionally involve the Lord in our daily thoughts and conversations and studies and alone times, we risk losing control.

There’s this tension between surrendering all to Jesus and holding on to those thoughts and grudges and future plans because losing control is terrifying. Losing control means realizing we can’t micromanage people or situations or plans to fit into our safe boxes of what we think life needs to look like.

So in the black unknown of every next moment, we have a choice: to react from fear and ease because we want control or risk losing that control and actually trusting in the hope that the Lord is faithful and provides.

If we don’t change, if we continue living from this fear of losing our perceived control of our futures and relationships and thoughts, we miss living from the hope of a good God who promises His best.

And well, I’m sick of missing out on hope.

Taking a risk in our faith, of surrendering all our thoughts and relationships and conversations and plans is worth the everyday struggle of getting there. Because when we lose control, we find freedom and hope and love.

But most of all we find Jesus. We find communion and life-changing love and the assurance that there is good right now and in our futures because He is already there.

And I’m learning that living in hope is far more satisfying than trying to hold on to control. I’m learning that it’s worth the risk.

you’re where you’re supposed to be

I figured you might need this reminder just as much as I do: you’re where you’re supposed to be.

I don’t know where you’re at in life, but if you’re anywhere like I am, you might be a little confused, kind of anxious, and a tad bit discontent sometimes.

We’re at that time of the year where lots of things are happening to the people around us. Our friends are traveling to exotic places, getting engaged, graduating, and landing jobs. And as we celebrate with our friends who are being presented these incredible opportunities, sometimes when our story doesn’t look the same at that exact moment we start to panic.

Did I miss something? Am I behind?

We start to try harder, micromanage situations and control, control, control because we want our life to look like that one, right now.

So here’s my advice to you (and to myself): stop.

Stop freaking out. Stop trying to control. Stop beating yourself up because you’re not in the same place as the person next to you.

Where you’re at right now is just as worthy as the person who got that job or that ring or that degree because these aren’t the things that define us. Just because where you’re at doesn’t gain a billion likes on social media doesn’t mean that it’s not just as important.

I’ve found myself needing this reminder often. Because when I keep comparing where I’m at to every person around me, I forget that God is doing really good things in my life right now—things I need to celebrate and be proud of because they’re shaping me to be more like Him and that’s always enough.

And right now, they’re the things I need to be focusing on.

So here’s to stopping the comparison game because, man, it really is the thief of joy. Here’s to delving into what needs to be done in my life and celebrating with my friends as they experience exciting milestones.

change, intentionality, and joy || lessons from 2014

Change, while difficult, has always been exciting to me. I’m not exactly the best at standing still, therefore I like the new and the unexpected. So, fittingly, I love New Year’s. I love the resolutions and the energy and the anticipation for something new to happen. It also allows for some solid reflection time, time for us to learn from what happened and evaluate what we want for the future.

My 2014 started in Africa and will end in Indiana and nothing could have prepared me for what happened in between.

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I traveled and I laughed and I loved and I cried. I wrote words I never thought I could write and ran miles I didn’t think my body was capable of running. I ended things I thought were permanent and grew deeper with people who were right in front of me. I discovered I was good at the things I deeply wanted to be good at and most of all, I learned I was worthy of the life I wanted to live.

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I am worthy of the life I want to live. I still get excited writing these words because it’s something I’m just beginning to believe. Because for so long I didn’t think I was good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or creative enough to be a good teacher or friend or writer, so I simply didn’t try. And I still feel that sometimes, I still struggle and get confused and angry and frustrated because I’m human. But by allowing myself to receive the grace of a good God and live in the freedom He provides, I’ve discovered the joy of living a life of intentionality.

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This year I started to take action. I stopped allowing life to just happen to me and I made some of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. And while I initially thought they would cause me to be lonely and dissatisfied and confused, I found myself surrounded by an unbelievably supportive community, satisfied with the life I decided to believe I was worthy of living, and more focused than I’ve been in a long time. I started things I didn’t think I could start, began to be more present in relationships that mattered to me, and fully invested in work that was meaningful to me.

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And in the midst of all of this, I started to believe that my life mattered. That what I had to say and what I did affected the people around me and I had the ability to control whether this was a negative or positive thing. And so I started paying attention in my own life, investing in what helped me grow and love the people who surrounded me. I discovered that the life Jesus outlines in the Bible is truly the best life we can live. So if it took some pain and struggles to get here, well, I’m grateful.

I don’t know what happened to you this year, but I do know that it mattered and that what you learned is valuable. Every single experience, even the messy ones you want to bury, happened on purpose and I promise you, somewhere down the road, it will turn into something good.

As you step into 2015, wherever you are, please know that you are worthy of the life you desire to live. If you want to start writing or painting or running or taking classes or apply for that job, start. Go; take the steps to get there. You may not be perfect at first, but you have the capability to keep learning and to get better. This world needs you to be passionate about something that matters so make the hard decisions and, with God alongside of you, get there. Learn from what happened in 2014 but don’t let the pain, confusion, and frustration paralyze you. Take a risk, make the decisions you know to be right, and enjoy the surprises.

Happy New Year, people. Let’s make it a good one.

waiting and wanting || advent

Christmas time is here. We are almost to the highly anticipated day, and while the Christmas cheer began shortly after Labor Day in the commercial world, the music and food and parties and decorations are now fully justified.

I helped my mom put up the Christmas decorations around the house this past weekend. It was the first time I had helped since before I left for college, and it was so, so good. Memories flashed through my mind as I hung each ornament on the tree, remembering how much I loved Cinderella as a child and our family’s love for everything Charlie Brown and football and snowmen.

While I hung each ornament and chatted with my mom, I reflected on the past year, where I was at in life, and where I thought, one year ago, I would be at this point.

And typically so, Christmas looks different this year. I’m graduating soon and thinking about apartments and cities and job applications. I just finished student teaching and am processing through that experience while preparing to go back to a college schedule of classes and late nights and homework. My twin brother is stationed in Italy with the Army, unable to come home this year—our first Christmas without him.

This year, in the midst of the craziness and life happening around me, I still find myself in a state of waiting. I’m waiting to find job applications and go back to school and be immersed in the community I missed so much this past semester. I’m waiting for graduation and moving somewhere new and being a full-time teacher with my own students and classroom. My family and I are waiting for my brother to come home next month, to be reunited and celebrate a belated holiday with him.

I think it’s fair to say that at the end of each year, most people find themselves in some state of waiting. And in this waiting comes wanting. Wanting for a better job or living situation or community or relationship. Wanting for life to speed up or for life to slow down, wanting some kind of change we hoped would already have happened by now.

We find that our deepest wants and desires often come to the surface during the Christmas season. In the midst of the festiveness and the pressure to fully experience every second of this season, I’ve found myself wanting more than just books and a job, but an undeniably deeper desire to be loved and known and to love and know others in return.

In high school and during my first few years at college, I started to view wanting and desiring as weak and selfish. Why couldn’t I just be content? Why did I need more? Isn’t it a sin to be selfish? I’ve wrestled with this over and over, trying to suppress my deep longings for what I desire out of life, trying so hard to just be ok.

And then early one morning, in my dark, quiet dining room, I stumbled upon this verse:

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:21

I read it over and over, realizing that I had to stop condemning myself for being a human who thirsts. The Lord created us with a deep sense of longing, not necessarily so that each want can be fulfilled at our command, but that through each desire we are drawn towards Him. That this process of wanting will bring us to take the life Jesus offers without guilt and that through our wants and perceived weaknesses we realize our frail humanity and our desperate need for Jesus and grace and saving.

In this time of Advent, this time of anticipating the birth of Jesus who permanently changed the process of salvation for future generations, we are called to wait. We are called to wrestle with our wants and desires and insecurities and weaknesses so that we may be drawn closer to Him, to move towards a deeper understanding that He is what we desire; that He is the One who freely offers the life we thirst for. We are called to wait so that on Christmas, we will be ready.

I pray you find meaning this particular Advent and that this time of waiting and wanting and wrestling moves you closer to leaning into your need for Jesus and the life He brought to this earth.

And if you have a moment, I ask you to please pray for the men and women who are serving in the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force both stateside and overseas this Christmas. Pray for those who are unable to come home, that their time of waiting will be purposeful and meaningful as they serve to protect this country. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe.

To those who are serving in the military this Christmas: thank you. Your service matters and your sacrifices are deeply appreciated.

Picture Credit: Chase Emery

The Unconventional Process of Growth

The word “growth” is a major buzzword within the education realm, especially pertaining to testing. Through assessing students and analyzing the numbers, teachers are expected to track student growth during the school year.

So much of my second student teaching experience has focused on growth. The students must show growth in order to proceed in their educational experience and the teachers must prove that their instruction can cause students to grow in their academic knowledge and understanding. This growth must be proven through effective lessons and testing and assignments.

This intense focus on my students’ growth the past five weeks has caused me to think about growth in a different way, because often times progress is not the linear process we expect it to be.

The students I work with struggle in reading and writing. They have been intentionally grouped into classes geared to focus on their struggles with the hopes of building their abilities to master specific concepts related to different standards in language arts.

Teaching these classes has been a different type of experience for me. I’ve had to intensely focus in on basic reading and writing strategies and figure out how teach them several different ways while being creative, fun, and energetic, because, well, I’m teaching middle schoolers and they require energy in order to (hopefully) stay focused.

What I’ve realized throughout this experience is that no matter how well I’ve taught a lesson or how slowly and clearly I’ve explained a seemingly simple concept, there will always be students who don’t understand or who fail.

The growth process isn’t simply teaching a concept while the students instantly master it. It’s one filled with failure and setbacks and misunderstandings. It’s filled with days of not paying attention and staring out the window instead of listening. It’s one of blank looks and jumbled words, frustrations and interruptions and ridiculously random jokes.

The growth process is filled with forgetting and relearning over and over and over again, hoping for some new revelation the during the eleventh time reviewing the concept.

But then there are the moments where it clicks. Where the student, through all the mishaps and grievances along the way, finally gets it, finally understands that concept they agonized over, finally realizes what learning process works for them. These moments are arguably some of the most rewarding for teachers, to watch the student move forward, even if by an unconventional process.

So while I’ve been focusing on the growth of my students in their academic careers, this experience has caused me to reflect on my own growth personally in the past year.

I think we expect our progress from year to year to look like this linear thing, gradually improving to what we think we need to be or need to know. We expect our lives to look better and better, but the reality of life and growth is that most of the time we find ourselves in different places than we anticipated.

We discover new passions or realize that we aren’t as passionate about the things we thought we were. We change our minds and redirect our steps and sometimes get stuck on things that we shouldn’t. We forget important lessons we’ve learned a hundred times, having to find our way back to rediscover truths that, once again, transform our actions towards things that matter.

And through the setbacks, through the failures and confused stares and shaking our fists at God because we feel like we just aren’t getting it, we still move forward. We still find the moments of revelation that give us hope and realize we actually have learned, just in a different way than we anticipated.

We serve a God who uses our failures for good and turns our ashes into beauty. He allows us to learn and to be refined through our mistakes and our misunderstandings, even if we think we’ve failed every test along the way.

Most of the time growth doesn’t look like instant, linear progress. Oftentimes it looks like failure and forgetfulness and giving up. I urge you to just keep going, just keep learning and engaging in the lessons you are being taught through your unanticipated experiences and struggles. There is good in those spaces, reminders you needed and unconventional blessings provided by the Lord.

Discover your own learning process, lean into the things that are happening in your life and wrestle towards improvement, even if it feels like you’re getting lost along the way. Know that you are moving forward because the Lord is bringing you there and know that it might not be in the linear way you expect.