The Process of Discovery: First Half of 2014 in Review

In two days, it will be June, halfway through 2014 as we know it. I have spent the last five months in a whirlwind of settling and resettling, excitement and tumult, joy and tears, entry and re-entry, leaving and arriving, movement and rest.

So far, 2014 has seen me setting foot in four countries and three states. I’ve flown in eight airplanes and taken at least nine other types of transportation. By next week, I will have packed up and moved (in various capacities) over ten times. I have been a teacher and student (and graduate), traveler and homebody, leader and follower, roommate, housemate, friend, sister, daughter, volunteer, packer, organizer, and writer.

(I know I’ve been slacking on the “writer” part!)

Last December, I chose to make Discover my OneWord for 2014. While I am enjoying spending some time focusing on discover, I find that the word hasn’t hit me the same way grace hit me in 2013. Believe me, discover showed up in Thailand, both in print as I arrived and in my daily interactions of discovery, as I did those very things I thought I could not do.

Maybe, unlike grace‘s consistent appearance in songs, books, and conversations, discovery is showing up more in my attitude. Maybe instead of hitting me over the head like gracediscover is being embodied and grown inside me. Maybe it’s a gentle process of discovery… imagine that!

My next adventure, and one that I am loving so far, is leading an 8-week online Bible study group with Good Morning Girls as part of their “You are Loved” study. (Enrollment ends tonight, if you are interested in joining!) As I gear up for the study with the 14 or so ladies who are joining me online, I am praying for discovery. I am praying that these ladies and I would discover more about God than we knew before the study. I pray that what we discover would shape our lives and our interactions with others for the better.

Also before me is the adventure of moving to the city where my dad and stepmom live with two good friends. We are living in their home for a while, looking for jobs, and settling in post-graduation life, whatever that is supposed to be! Thanks for your prayers, everyone.

You Know You’re “Growing Up” When…

  • You can justify spending less time in the junior’s section and more time in the women’s section. Unfortunately,  the junior’s section is too scandalous and the women’s too dreary.
  • You have to figure out what size you are in women’s clothes, like pant suits and fancy dresses.
  • You’re not sure whether to shop in the “teen fiction” or the “fiction” section at Barnes and Noble, but you can’t find what you’re looking for in either place.
  • “We’ll let you know by the end of the week either way” turns into “You might be lucky to get a letter in the next week or two.”
  • You have to buy your own food, even at home (if the family is not going out or if you don’t want to eat your brother’s Beefaroni).
  • You choose to eat the Beefaroni anyway.
  • You have to cook your own breakfast at your grandma’s house, but thankfully, you can use her Keurig machine for free.
  • You are mildly obsessed with money, getting a job, and affording things like a car and an apartment, but you are entirely unmotivated to apply for jobs.

Keep on keeping on, fellow graduates! We can do this.

During Freshman orientation, a speaker once told us to take a deep breath, relax, and say to ourselves: “This is a good idea.” By the time classes started, we were repeating: “Relax… This is a good idea!” After graduation, a friend’s Facebook status recalled this moment and reminded us that four years of college were, in fact, a good idea. We discovered, by the end of our college years, that God had been providing for us all this time. As we begin the next stage and move on to a new chapter, I say it again:

Relax… this is a good idea.

Commencement Means Beginning

What is it about long, late-night rides in crowded cars that make the oversung words of favorite songs somehow much more poignant? What is it about evening fog settling in on fields and forests in tiny towns that make me see so clearly? What is it about doing the Cupid Shuffle on a small concrete dance floor with my friends or compiling swing dancing techniques with a fellow education major that make me want to dance forever?

My time as a undergraduate student is coming to a close. Plans are already in motion for the next stage of life; I even have a job interview on Monday! I’m ready for the next steps and the new beginnings. I’m excited about the adventures.

And yet, part of me feels unfinished here. Maybe it is the battle between my head and my heart. Maybe it is the emotional turmoil surrounding a shift made by important people in my life. Maybe it is the ones who have little pieces of my heart, and the one or two who seemingly try to clamor for more of it. Maybe it is that the details for this mysterious “after-college” thing haven’t been ironed out yet. Maybe it is the simple fact that my final grades haven’t been posted yet.

Switchfoot swings:

And I got my heart set on what happens next
I got my eyes wide: it’s not over yet
We are miracles and we’re not alone

Even though many things would like to hold me back, when I examine my heart and ask God to point out what I could do at this point, I find myself at peace with the realization that I cannot change the past. I find myself aware that, as far I can see, I have said my apologies and thank-yous. I pray that I would be confronted in love if there is more I can do, but until then, I know I cannot belabor what is done. My heart is set on what happens next. Not the immediate plans, but the long-term. The plans for eternity. That’s where my heart is and that’s what I’m aiming for.

It seemed to me that college would last forever. As a freshman in the thick of schedule planning and paper writing and procrastinating, four years seems like a lifetime. And then you make it to seven days before graduation and you realize you had no clue what you were doing all those semesters. That student loan exit counseling sure is a reality check! My point is that college is short and real life comes knocking.

Maybe there’s a reason why “commencement” (aka graduation) means “beginning.” The act of graduation is a natural celebration for a healthy grieving process at the end of an undergraduate career, but it also the beginning of a new stage of life. It is more a beginning than an ending. And it is good. I am learning to take fear and worry and panic and turn them into joy and anticipation and adventure.

I am discovering that change can be good.

Welcome to a new beginning.

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A Different Look at the Case for Modesty

One of the long-standing debates in conservative circles is regarding the concept of modesty. One argument is that teaching our young women to cover their bodies for modesty’s sake invokes body-shaming, which is shame, fear, and negativity regarding one’s body. Modesty, this article from World Magazine argues, is often taught in ways that present the female body (as a whole and various parts) as “tantilizing” and “seductive” to any male who walks by. Thus, girls and women are taught indirectly that their bodies are not God’s beautiful creations, but rather, ticking time bombs that unwillingly lead to uncontrolled lust. The connotation here is that the female body is somehow inherently sinful. How, the article asks, can modesty be taught without body-shaming?

Ask anyone who spent time with me during my freshman year of college, and they will tell you that I did something a bit strange whenever I saw myself in a mirror. Anytime I saw my reflection, I would pause, point at my face in a circular motion and say confidently: “You… Are adorable.” I know it’s strange. I know my roommate was weirded out by it. I know people looked at me funny, but I had come to the point where I was tired of telling myself that I wasn’t good enough. I was tired of feeling like I just needed clearer skin, a bit of a tan, straighter hair, smaller thighs, a flatter stomach… So I stopped telling myself what I thought I needed and started telling myself that I looked good. It did not happen overnight, but I began to believe it.

Yet, at the same time, I covered myself well. I was the girl who wore skirts past my knees and who got rid of shirts that showed a hint of skin when I raised my arms. I chose jeans that weren’t tight and didn’t wear shorts for years. By no means was I perfect about this, but I was often made fun of for my definition of what was and was not appropriate.

For me, however, modesty does not mean my body was sinful. In fact, it means my body is good. It means God made each part of my body with care and concern, with some parts ranking higher on the privacy list than others. It means I am worth more than my appearance, so I dress in a way that capitalizes on my good qualities, both appearance-wise and personality-wise.

Granted, I have loosened my strict standards a bit from how I dressed freshman year. I wear shorts now, for example. The definition of “modest” is a tricky line to draw, and I think it is fluid more than we’d like to admit. But the point is that I’ve found that a female can be modest and still appreciate her body. She can be modest and still be confident. She can be modest and still be attractive.

This semester, I’m student teaching at a Christian international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I teach sixty-six teenagers, forty-three of them male. Two of the three teachers in my department are male, the vice principal is male, and many of the other teachers and staff members are male. As I contemplated this, I realized that there is no better reason for me to dress modestly than the fact that forty-three 14-18 year old boys spend at least 40 minutes each day looking at me. If I am an advocate against the perils of pornography and in support of a healthy attitude about women, how much more should I dress in a way that is conducive to those goals?

I think this reality hit me last week when I was preparing an outfit for spirit week. As I tried on different arrangements, I realized I could choose to cover (or uncover) my shoulder. I debated this for quite some time. As I lay in bed the night before the day I was supposed to wear this outfit, it occured to me that I am young, new to the school, and relatively somewhat good on the eyes. I decided to cover my shoulder. I did not cover my shoulder because it would be sinful to expose it (the Bible doesnn’t say that – take up with God). I did not cover my shoulder because the school rules said I had to (they probably did, but I haven’t read that section). I did not cover my shoulder because the unbridled lust of teenage boys would get out of control (I’m not that good-looking, haha).

I covered my shoulder because I love my brothers. If there is something within my power that I can do to show my forty-three male students and various male colleagues that I care about them, I’m going to do it. Why wouldn’t I? For me last week, making sure my outfit was not distracting was how I could show love.

I also covered my shoulder because I love my sisters. My twenty-three female students also need to know that their bodies are precious, intricate creations of God, and that their bodies should be treated as temples of the Most High. If I’ve learned anything about teaching, it’s to instruct by way of modeling. Students will copy what they see. I choose to dress modestly each day so these twenty-three female students see modesty in action. I care about them as well, so I choose to inspire value and worth in them by demonstrating that in what I wear.

I think that we confuse girls when their bodies are changing by teaching them indirectly that body changes are bad. Hips and butts and busts are bad. That is not the case at all. Hips and butts and busts are good. For one thing, it is heathly for a woman to have some kind of curves, and this extra padding helps to carry any future babies. For most girls, however, the preteen and teenage years are horrific for body changes. I struggled through acne (two separate treatments of Accutane) and acne scars, broken and blended families, the painful realization of body changes, as well as the inevitable and necessary struggle through my identity as a person and as a sexual being. Somehow, I went through these struggles without hating my appearance, which I think made it easier for me to start admitting to myself four years ago that I was adorable.

I wonder if it might help if we start the modesty conversation by telling our young ladies that they are beautiful and worth it, and telling our young men that they have what it takes. (This harkens back to the Eldridges, if you’ve read their books.) Maybe we should teach that our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully and intricately and fearfully made first. After that, we can discuss covering up bodies, and bouncing eyes, and drawing attention to personalities over hips and bosoms, and choosing to be and to date people who pursue God, and being more interested in each other’s hearts instead of each other’s wardrobes (or lack thereof), and choosing a path of sexual purity. But until teenagers know that they are valued and significant, modesty will always fail. We will either overemmphasize or underemphasize it. That’s where we get body-shaming: modety without the realization that God made that body good, all of its parts included.

How can we teach modesty without body-shaming? By loving the kids in our lives. It’s not that simple, I know, but this is where we can start.