The Beauty and Heartbreak of Death

Ever since I heard of my dear family friend, Luke’s, passing yesterday afternoon I have been on the go. My mom told me, I cried a bit and prayed with some of my housemates, then I headed right to work where the stress of three classes’ homework for today hit me and the rest of the night was spent trying my best to focus on reading and writing, whilst juggling student inquiries at my secretarial job, a scattered brain, and waves of emotion. I woke up today and had my back-to-back classes and now I’m finally done and am free for a long weekend (I’m incredibly blessed to have Fridays off of class this semester).

So now that I am free, I have time to process and write this blog. Time to really consider and bring to God whatever the heck it is I’m feeling. Luke battled a rare and aggressive cancer for two long and hard years, so naturally it is relieving to know his pain and battle is over. I think about Luke’s passing and I’m struck by the thought, “Wow, God, thank you for allowing us this opportunity to choose you in our short lifetimes. Thank you, Father, that because of Jesus we now get to come home to You when we die.” I think of the blessings, I want to dwell on the blessings and the good, I’m surrounded by lovely souls who keep reminding me of the good.

But honestly, God, I’m still incredibly sad. There are still tears streaming down my face, even though I know the ultimate outcome is beyond just “good,” beyond ideal, beyond the best we can possibly think of. Luke is home and Luke is whole in the place he truly belongs and now can exist in his true untainted being, the way God intended him to be. What could be better than that? But our world is broken and Luke’s death is directly correlated to the pain and the brokenness that you and I have created, and that breaks my heart. The outcome is ultimately positive and I know deep down it is good, but as one incredible friend alluded to in a simple text message, because I still live in the realm of brokenness, my heart is broken, I experience brokenness and am not invincible to the pain, therefore, sadness is completely natural. We only see dimly in the mirror right now, so it’s going to hurt.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced some kind of loss or deep sorrow. The hardest part is that you cannot plan for it and everything else happening in your life at the time always seems to become trivial in a way. I’ve been to three funerals in my lifetime, the last one being at least seven years ago. I remember my grandpa’s funeral, because even though I had cried for my grandma’s, my grandpa’s funeral was when I truly understood the weight of the situation. I distinctly recall standing with my family and watching his casket being lowered into the ground and that’s when the floodgates opened. He was really gone, he was not coming back, and for now at least, we were permanently separated. I recognized the finality of death.

It hurts knowing Luke was only 17. It hurts knowing his parents and brothers have to spend the rest of their earthly lives without their youngest son and brother. It hurts that people cannot firsthand experience the joy, love, and witty jokes Luke had to offer the world. It hurts.

But there’s also comfort and that comfort lies in eternity, Luke’s peace, who God is, and God’s promises, which all eternally outlast every possible pain you can think of in this scenario.

Loss is hard but it’s also a great reminder of what is  most important: people. That is why God’s biggest mission for us is to go out and make disciples of every nation. If there is one thing you should care about other than me, God implies, it is people. And not just your best friend or your mom, but every person. Get to know as many people as possible, because they are made in God’s image too, despite their opinions and their lifestyle choices. Love on every person you meet, which I know Luke was incredibly skilled at, and don’t forget that every breath is a second chance (as Switchfoot sings) and a gift.

Luke had to undergo more than I could ever imagine over the last two years and that was really difficult for everyone to watch, but

Luke battled on the winning side.

And ultimately, all I can say is “Hallelujah, what a savior.”

As they say on Earth, rest in peace, Luke. Not that you need the well wishes. I know God is so ecstatic to have you home. Party it up.

~Annah

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Summer Blessings for the Doubtful

As I move back into school tomorrow (in a new apartment with new roommates!) it’s the classic time to reflect. Today is quite literally the end of summer vacation for me. That didn’t properly hit me until yesterday when the waterworks began. Simply put, transitions will never be easy for me. I love too many people and I can’t be around everyone all the time and that is so very difficult for my empathetic, emotional little heart to swallow.

After finishing my second year at a small Christian college, a summer without internships or summer camps placed me in the minority. I barely met anyone new (unless you count customers I never saw again) and I was a barista at Biggby Coffee, which was also my job last summer. With nothing seemingly new under the sun was there anything new to learn? Of course. But honestly, at first glance I really doubted it.

Firstly, God pointed out that hey, what you think is the same actually isn’t, Annah. Nice try. As I echoed in a letter to my coworker Theo, I realized that though I worked the same job, this summer and last could not have been more black and white. Returning to the same job allowed me to rectify the two things that were sour last summer: my attitude and my self-esteem. And although I’m still no picture-perfect barista and it’s the type of job that burns me out, I was able to carry myself with way more confidence, take myself less seriously and even have many great laughs with my Biggby pals. They are a precious crew of people.

But more than anything I look back on this summer and I’m overwhelmed. I see despite my emotions, despite what I felt, God kept pushing the same messages at me: gentle whisperings saying look at my love for you. Look at the beauty I have made. This is for you. This is what he desperately wants us all to know and understand. He tried to emphasize these sentiments daily this summer for Pete’s sake and I ignored him most days! Now that I look back I just want to sit and cry like a baby because I don’t deserve this. I’m sorry, God, but have you seen me?! Have you seen the damage my words and my mind can have on other people?!

And his answer is yes, I have. But here are some more blessings for free. Here are relationships with lovely people that I want you to have for free. Here is a goofy family I want you to have for free. Here is some more air for free, as Relient K says.

He pours down food my taste buds don’t deserve daily. He drenches me in beautiful music (don’t even get me started with the majesty of this art). In a weird way, he also blesses me with a unique emotional heart that allows me to see the pain of the world. Whether it involves a friend carrying too many burdens or a friend feeling the weight of too many burdens because his body is wasting away, my heartbroken tears are a glimpse of my Father’s sorrows. Even my tears and my writing are not my own I’ve discovered, but they are a special reflection of God that no one else can offer. This may sound bizarre, but I believe God has taught me about himself through me.

Plus God taught me that I can love on others in many ways, without even planning it or even (shocker as a writer) using words! Too often I’m tempted to take matters into my own hands. Maybe if I bring up specific topics at just the right time the spirit of Christ will move in people, I think, trying to emphasize my efforts. But sometimes high-fiving someone after they buy a bike is another way to say you matter.

 

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My roommate, Kaitlyn, traveled hours to come see me. Bless her heart. (+ the Hamilton soundtrack)

 

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Me and my two pals from high school, Fran & Nichole, went to the Detroit zoo.
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Kaleigh and I went through our ups and downs, and we are now good friends. Love you, girl.
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This is only half of the McKee twins. Not only are they radiant Christ-followers, but my pals from the womb!

 

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Just another one of God’s blessings.

 

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My only legitimate new friend this summer. Kelsie, you rock, thanks for supporting my school.

 

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A walk with your mother + dog + God’s gorgeous creation = blessing.

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Enjoy that picture of yours truly. Here’s to new seasons.

~Annah

 

 

Yellow Birthday

I wrote this yesterday, 8/15/17.
Button up and button on

Today is yellow birthday

Did you hear the tears last night

Dripping into a yellow pool

That juxtaposes sass and smiles

With tired, aching, dry eyes

Yellow, sallow skin

Help

Yourself to a piece of cake

Smile and reminisce into the lens

Then drive through yellow-lit fields

A color grim and grateful

A color faint yet strong

On this dear yellow birthday

I’m reminded where I belong
~Annah

Summer 2017 Books

Nowadays, reading can be a challenge for many, because we have an internal debate that was nonexistent even a decade ago: to read or to watch Netflix? Seriously, it’s a struggle. For me, they both always sound so inviting, but one has to win out over the other. My reading patterns consist of either seasons of constant reading or seasons without reading. But whenever I begin seasons of reading I always wonder why I ever stopped. It is relaxing, it is engaging, and it is fun. I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet.

My “to-read” list is probably about a mile long, but this summer I was able to take out a teeny chunk of it. I’ve been tempted to start a new section of my blog where I review all kinds of entertainment, so why not kick it off with my summer booklist? I’ve read a wide range, from self-help, to novels, to religious books this summer. So sit back, grab a refreshing drink, and see what grabs your interest.

  1. Les Misérables by: Victor Hugo (Sort of…)

I actually already read three-quarters of this book two years prior for AP English, but I finally finished that last quarter this summer! (I know, very long overdue.) Although a long time coming, this is actually my favorite novel. I’ve realized what warms my heart the most within books are redeemed characters, which Jean Valjean most certainly is. The theme of redemption provides the hope that no one has to be enslaved to a certain lifestyle or attitude, and our circumstances are always susceptible to change.

This is also one of the longest books I have ever heard of with the most intricate detail and is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to really invest yourself in a story and characters with great depth to them, if you like the musical or movie and want more detail, if you enjoy seeing a cast of characters of all kinds, then this one’s for you.

  1. The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during Hitler’s reign and narrated by Death, this book became popular a few years ago. Unfortunately I was not a part of that trend, but after blowing through it in two days and crying my eyes out, I can confidently say this is one of my new favorite books. Voice and language is what Zusak does best and are the tools that will keep this story embedded in your mind. The characters are easy to fall in love with and the narrative is a powerful page-turner. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your reading interests.

  1. Mary Poppins by: P.L. Travers

I grew up with this movie and absolutely loved it, which may be part of the reason that I personally was a little let down by the book. I have always been a firm believer that a movie can never be as great as a book, but have always loved both equally in their separate entities (I’m a very optimistic entertainment-retainer, you could say). This is a lovely book for children, with its imaginative series of events. However, if you’re anything like me, and love taking deep themes and messages away from stories, this book is not the best for that. Something I really enjoyed from the movie was the character development of Mr. Banks and the contrast between the fun and silliness with Mary and the kids, to the serious troubles of an adult man, which really caters to every audience and hits a deeper chord. Mr. Banks’ development was not present in the book and Mary was also a much more serious and stern character in the book (although that character change had to have been a result of Disney.) Personally, I preferred the more lighthearted version of Mary that Julie Andrews portrayed and thought a stern Mary who created imaginative events wherever she went seemed a bit odd. But if you want a light read with lots of silliness and imagination, or a good book for your children, this is a great one.

  1. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by: Don Miguel Ruiz

This was a different kind of book for me, but I wanted to read it because it meant a lot to a friend. I’m really thankful I did, though, because I think it’s crucial to read all kinds of viewpoints and lifestyles, not just those like your own. That’s how we learn from each other and understand each other better.

This book is perfect for those of you looking to better your life and seek personal happiness outside of the major religions. I appreciated the sentiments behind the four agreements, and as a Christian, was able to see some similarities between the two different belief systems, which was super interesting. If finding new ways to personal freedom or seeking to understand other viewpoints interests you, here’s your book.

  1. Mere Christianity by: C.S. Lewis

I’ve always been a Christian who prefers to stick with the Bible and is not interested in other Christian books, but I ended up reading not only this spiritual book, but the next two on this list, which is really different for me. (Not going to lie, during the period of reading The Four Agreements and these three, I basically had separation anxiety from novels.) Lewis is so intellectual that it blows my mind. Everything he writes is so articulate and it makes me think he came out of the womb using words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘taciturn.’ Talk about thorough though, this book is 100% thorough. It’s also dense and not a quick read, so expect to really put your thinking cap on every time you sit down to read. This is not a book to change anyone’s mind about anything, but if you really appreciate sound, structured arguments with solid examples to back them up and/or you want to reaffirm your Christian beliefs, you have exactly that within this book.

  1. Mister God, This is Anna by: Fynn

This is one of my mother’s favorites and so I thought I’d try it out. Sure enough, I opened to the first page and she had ‘Anna’ and ‘Joy’ circled, which are my first and middle names. The author is actually the main character in the book and it appears to be based on a true story, but the difference between the truth and fiction is not certain. The story centers around a wild and confident four-year-old girl named Anna who is taken home to live with a nineteen-year-old man named Fynn and his family. In the time he lives with Anna, Fynn learns about ‘Mister God,’ this important relationship in Anna’s life. This book offers unique perspectives of God that may offer a fresh viewpoint for interested Christians.

  1. Jesus > Religion by: Jefferson Bethke

Like The Book Thief, I made quick work of this one. Not only was the title intriguing, but I’ve been watching Bethke’s YouTube videos for a couple years now and knew I would love his style of writing. Compared to C.S. Lewis, Bethke is almost the opposite writing style—very simplified but straightforward, with many emotional and real-life examples to back up his points. His points don’t require a ton of concentration, but may stir up some disagreement among Christians, as he focuses on how we are living/where we’re failing as a church versus how we should be living.

  1. The Good Earth by: Pearl S. Buck

As I write this, I still have 50 pages left, so this may be “cheating,” but I’m going to give my review from what I know of most of it. This is an incredibly intriguing novel that deals with Chinese culture and Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for it back in 1932. I never read nearly enough ethnic literature, so I’ve enjoyed this excursion (added to the fact that it’s my first novel in two months). It focuses on Wang Lung and his family as they battle through multiple famines and family hardships. This is a great book to help expand your cultural knowledge (within reason, as it is still a novel) and would also be awesome for a book club—my copy even has some great discussion questions in the back!

I hope you enjoyed this review post! There were a lot of ‘firsts’ within this group of books and the eclectic mixture ended up being really cool. So I hope you all could find one you’re interested in taking the time to read and I will try my best to keep reading and reviewing books whenever I can! I definitely have a reading list that will keep me busy.

~Annah

The Easy Way Out?

My dog, Gracey, is really old. She is 16 or 112 in dog years to be exact. Last week we took her up north with us to our family reunion and the hardest part of having her along was not at the reunion as we had anticipated, but the car ride. Over the past year or so her hips have given her plenty of trouble, as she has hip dysplasia. All we wanted was for her to sit, stand or lay down, but instead she crouched in the most awkward position imaginable and when we stopped at a rest area partway, she limped out and could barely walk. (The other people there must have thought something was terribly wrong with our dog…) The rest of the ride we had to force her to lie down and my dad commented, “no matter what, it’s like she does exactly what you don’t want her to do.”

That comment stuck with me–partly because I’m an introspective, pensive person and partly because of the truth behind it. Doesn’t that remind you of yourself? It definitely reminds me of myself. On one hand, as a Christian I think about my sin, and how my mind or my mouth goes directly where it shouldn’t go. Too often my anger flares up and my patience depletes. God sits beside me while I take the reins and the burdens and everything else I shouldn’t and can’t handle.

On the other hand, it reminds me of how humans tend to settle for things that we shouldn’t. We choose the easiest and most convenient path. But guess what? That’s not the best path for us. I see this trend in my life and other people’s lives. I’d rather sit around on my phone doing nothing productive than try to write a novel with characters that mean a lot to me. In fact, I’d rather do anything than write my novel, even though I know for a fact my excitement grows when I actually sit and work on it.

Most people don’t face my particular struggle, though, so let me put it into other terms. We would rather settle for a job that pays than a job that we are truly passionate about and can fully use our unique skills in, so we don’t have to put ourselves out on a limb. We would rather settle for the convenient people placed in our lives at school or work than go out and seek friends that really bring out the best in ourselves, because that involves making ourselves vulnerable. We would rather accept a belief system that’s easy to follow than one that’s hard, because we’re too afraid to truly stand for something. Do any of those resonate with you?

Don’t settle for what’s convenient and easy. We think we’re taking the easy way out throughout all of these things, when really it’s making us increasingly unhappy. You and I have hopes, dreams and aspirations of all kinds, whether that includes what we want to do, who we want to live our lives with or what we want to obtain from this life. You and I were not made to settle. This means sometimes we have to put ourselves out there, sometimes we have to fail and we can’t expect to please everyone (that’s a hard truth for me to swallow). Easy and convenient things are just that, but difficult things require hard work, effort and the best part is that it will be rewarding.

~Annah

Inquiring After a Word

Sometimes putting words to paper is really difficult. Sometimes I find old words that comfort me, because they were not difficult at all. Here is one such work, as titled above.

 

Our mouths carry words with so many meanings

‘God’ is someone I look up to dearly

At his wife the bold man screams ‘god’ clearly

Each of us are delicate, angry beings

 

A dizzy girl lies staring at ceilings

He almost saved her dad—not, but nearly

Musty pews could it really be merely

Wishful thinking through dumb, ‘god’damn feelings

 

Search, but don’t let your heart be too far-gone

Do we praise the god with capital ‘G?’

Opinions are where inner fights will spawn

Left, right, fragments of color only see

A pattern of misery will be drawn

Instead of lenses that will break us free

 

~Annah

Dear Terrorists,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the world has angered you in more ways than I can imagine. Sometimes it’s hard to see any good when people are frustrating, acting in ways or expressing views you disagree with. I understand that there are many frustrations in the world.

Your life is valuable and you matter. But so does everyone else. I wish you could understand that.

I also know you might feel ostracized from the rest of the world. But you are still a human and the God I believe in still seeks you out and invites you to be his ‘beloved.’ I’m sorry if some people lose sight of your humanity amidst their anger. However, they have reason to be angry and I’m saddened that you are apathetic about the pain you are causing others, and ultimately, yourself. I may not know all your motives (and maybe they make perfect sense to you), but know that I think you’ve lost sight of others’ humanity too. Remembering each other’s humanness is what will solve our issues as the human race.

Would eliminating everyone with different viewpoints really be effective? You would become very lonely, grow restless and still not be satisfied at the end of the day. If you learned how to communicate more effectively face-to-face with others that would help heaps more. Talk to others about why you hold such a strong opinion and why you think they would benefit from acquiring your viewpoint. People would fully hear out your argument that way and you could potentially gain supporters. Whereas, if you killed everyone who disagreed with you sadness, anger and emptiness within yourself all increase. Argue with words, not weapons.

The other day one of you committed an act of terrorism at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. This was not only tragic because of the lives lost, but because it was at a concert of all places. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you all appreciate some music; every human loves music. The thing about music is that it shows people they are not alone, it provides community regardless of political or spiritual views, and it connects people from all parts of the world. This empathetic art is something we can all agree upon and appreciate—it has been part of societal rituals like weddings and funerals, provided a great stress reliever to all who seek it, and communicated messages our hearts cannot put into words.

As an avid concert-goer myself, this act broke my heart because I know that people wait weeks, months and even a year in advance for concerts. Precious money is saved up for a night of bliss when everyone can sing in harmony in one room to musicians that have cheered them up on gloomy days or even saved their lives. Hundreds and even thousands of people waited in excited anticipation for that concert just to end up dead, hospitalized or traumatized for life. That was the last place they ever expected to die. Concerts are safe havens for so many. Does that really not register any emotions within you? I hate that you’re plagued by apathy.

I hope you have all been moved by music at some point in your life; those are beautifully indescribable moments. If you haven’t, I hope you do soon. Music is a timeless beauty that comes in all shapes and forms.

It is never too late to communicate your feelings in a more productive way. I hope you understand the weight and sadness of your actions someday. I hope you start feeling sympathy for people with different viewpoints someday.

You are still human and I will always treat you as such. I’m upset you have such discontentment in your heart and I’m sorry fulfillment has not flooded into your life. I will pray that you find peace in peace someday.

Sincerely,

A Woman who Loves Music and People