Our Grieving World

Some days are sadder than others when you’ve lost someone. Perhaps it’s because I’m older or perhaps it’s because his passing was seemingly undeserved, but Luke’s death has stuck with me, not to mention his family and closest friends, so closely these past few months. It’s confusing trying to figure out how to process our losses, isn’t it?

Sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re mad, sometimes you’re resigned to the fact, sometimes it’s very unsettling. Recently I’ve just been deeply disappointed I didn’t get to know Luke more. In all honesty, part of me feels really guilty for this sadness and disappointment, because I didn’t know him as well as so many others did. If I’m upset, I stop and grieve, because those that knew him far more than I must be indescribably upset. On the other hand I can’t help but wonder if this disappointment is flowing out of selfishness. Is this hurt justified or not?

But to those that knew Luke, if you’re anything like me, the main reason his passing is upsetting is likely because he truly was a joyful, loving soul. One could only imagine if he had been given a longer life the even larger impact he could’ve had on others. But then I think about how much joy and life was packed into those 17 years, and the tremendous story his life spoke into those around him in such a short amount of time. It’s incredibly inspiring. Who wouldn’t wish to know someone like that?

Sometimes I can’t help but thank the God I believe in that Luke was able to bless everyone for a whole 17 years. His parents and brothers witnessed a giggling, courageous, witty, faithful soul for 17 years. What a blessing. And the God I believe in said I’m going to take all you have, Luke—17 years—and I’m going to use you for something great. People are going to flock to you and cry over you because of your steadfast faithfulness. You’re going to teach your loved ones how to be strong in the face of adversity.

So that’s some more of my processing and a small snippet of the feelings amongst Luke’s loved ones over these past couple months. I take what I’m feeling and I take the unimaginable pain of his family and friends, and multiply it until it’s unbearable.

Why?

Because countless people worldwide are experiencing a similar pain, and sometimes I think it’s easy to be desensitized to the effects. Whether loved ones lost to cancer or loved ones lost to terrorism, it hurts; oh it hurts to consider our grieving world. Perhaps now more than ever we grieve we are sorrowful and we need a rock to lean into. We are broken and struggling to hold on. We yearn for love and laughter because we are sodamaged by brokenness.

This is our chance to let others know we are here and we understand their pain. We have all experienced pain in a multitude of capacities, and yet, we’re too often self-consumed with our own lives to stop and ask others how they’re doing. Every time we undergo pain and brokenness, we are allowed the opportunity to open our arms to others in similar situations and help them through their own. Not because we have all the answers and can eradicate the pain… but because we are made for community and it makes life a lot more bearable when you can confide in others.

~Annah

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The Problem of Christian Isolationism

It’s no secret that attending a Christian college means residing in a Christian bubble—it’s hardly reflective of real life, with little to no belief disagreement or push-back. We are blessed to have people challenging us intellectually, and occasionally religiously, but far too often I witness Christians isolating themselves. This is only a small portion of Christians that I engage with at one school; it happens everywhere at every stage of life.

Too many Christians nowadays only cling to explicit Christian ideas, texts, and entertainment. Frankly, I believe this is unwise and a very limiting way to live life.

I grew up in a Christian home and have officially dedicated my life to Christ for about six years now. Even at a young age, I’ve subconsciously thought about explicit Christian entertainment and how Christians should interact with their world. I always thought Christian radio was the corniest thing and wanted no part of it when other people would play it in the car. My family avoided watching movies like “The Passion of Christ” and I avidly read Harry Potter (currently re-reading for the 1000th time), starting from about age five, when people would look at my petite body next to the 500-page books and think I was the next Einstein.

Admittedly, having just finished an 11-page paper for my rhetoric class about why I believe Harry Potter has numerous Christian themes in the eighth movie alone, this topic of Christian isolationism has been on my mind a lot lately. Also, please understand this is NOT me telling anyone their methods of living are inferior or superior. There is nothing wrong with explicit Christian texts, movies, and music.

This past summer was the first time in my life I picked up a “Christian” book and read it. Since then I have read a couple and had no serious problems with them. I think some Christian books can be good and Scripture-breathed. The couple I have read (Mere Christianity, Jesus > Religion, and Uninvited) were much better than I thought they would be. However, they’re still not my first reading choice like I know they are for boatloads of other people—it’s perfectly fine to enjoy them—but it’s also important to remember that if you’re reading them thinking it’ll be a replacement for the Bible, that’s a red flag.

It’s fine to enjoy a good Christian book, but if that’s 99% of the books you read, I think there’s a problem with that. If Christian radio is your jam, sing along all you want, but if you never interact with any music outside of that, I think there’s a problem with that. If you truly believe anything that’s not explicitly Christian is sinful or satanic or any other negative denotation, I really have a problem with that.

Why do I think this is such a big deal?

Because I believe in a God who works through everything. I believe in a God who can use anything to portray his values, including tainted humans like you and I or tainted things like Harry Potter and punk music, if that’s your opinion. I believe God made everyone in his image, even those that haven’t accepted him, so small traces of his character can be found even in the most far-reaching aspects of life.

The coolest thing to me is when I read a book about another belief system or go to a concert where people smell like weed and beer, and soak in the words that are on the page or screamed from the stage, because I usually hear a small sliver of truth. Even if it’s the smallest sliver it gives me so much joy and hope, reminding me that even those people have the capability of carrying out God’s light if they wanted to.

Christians, I challenge you to read or listen to something you don’t like and see if you can find something decent in it. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise you avoid texts and entertainment for surface-level reasons and miss the bits you actually would like. For example, if you put down a Harry Potter book at page two for having witchcraft, you’ll completely miss out on the sacrifice, love, and friendship themes that remain prevalent in the overarching storyline.

I don’t believe I’m being “worldly” if I enjoy fantasy books or listen to pop music. I believe I’m engaging with God’s world—a world that extends beyond Bob Goff and Hillsong.

~Annah

Flicks that Fill my Heart

Each movie at the top of my recommendations list, that I consider favorites, are a diverse group. They are all different genres and highlight different values in my personality. Hopefully you like some of them or find one of interest to you. Most I would recommend to everyone.

  1. Harold & Maude

MSDHAAN EC016
Photo Credit: Winnipeg Film Group
My favorite movie: a twenty-year-old meets an eighty-year-old with subtle humor that sends you keeling over until your sides hurt. This past April was the first time I saw this flick, but I’ve watched it at least four more times since then and died laughing every time. While it is definitely my favorite film, I would not recommend it to everyone. Honestly, it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy this movie, but if you have an acute sense of humor, love quirky storylines, and have an analytical mind–friend, meet the love of your life.

A shallow movie-watcher would say this is about a weird romantic relationship, an average movie-watcher could tell you about all the quirky jokes or how, for one reason or another, they just didn’t get it. But a few deeply attentive movie-watchers could explain the emotional pain planted in between the notes of humor. The cry of the broken, beaten, kicked around, and spat out… and all I want to do is give the Harolds and Maudes of the world a hug.

“If you want to sing out, sing out and if you want to be free, be free.” -Cat Stevens (Also the soundtrack to the movie, if you’re a Stevens fan.)

  1. Les Misérables

Les Miserables
Photo Credit: Good Reads
“I’ll escape now from that world,

From the world of Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean is nothing now.

Another story must begin.”

-Jean Valjean

I like to say my favorite stories are those of redemption and I think my value of Les Misérables displays just that, through Valjean’s change of heart. When I place my life’s belief on a Being who is the key to redemption, it only makes sense. As the title suggests, this musical (based on Victor Hugo’s rich, colorful novel) revolves around “the miserable” in France. But more importantly it touches upon the lost, the forgotten, and the overlooked humans of the world.

It is a story, simply put, that I deeply desire every human to experience. To see or read or listen to. My father brought me, my sister, and my mother to the theatre in 2012, and I knew zip about the plot. I spent the following two hours absorbed in the story before me, listening to Fantine’s grief and bursting into tears, and watching humans overcome by the joy and hurt others have to experience through revolution, love, and suicide. Once again, it’s not a story of France; it’s a story of humanity. How immensely that touches my heart.

It’s a narrative that hits you differently every time you interact with it. Even if you aren’t into musicals, you will likely surprise yourself and enjoy it, as happened to one of my friends. You can and will take it seriously. It will resonate with you.

  1. Leap Year

Leap Year
Photo Credit: Blu-Ray
Ireland is my true love, which is no secret to any of my loved ones. I love everything about it and anything even slightly related, so it’s no surprise that my favorite romantic comedy is set in Ireland. While other people might fawn over the main actor in the movie, I’m drooling over the country backdrop.

For anyone in the mood for a sappy movie with good banter, give this Amy Adams film a try. All the background settings are beautiful, cozy and inviting, which only enhances the experience, and until May, when I visit Ireland (WHAT?!), is my substitute for the real thing.

This movie also holds a dear place in my heart because it’s associated with a hard time from my first year of college, during my worst weekend of anxiety, when one of my best friends stuck by my side the whole time. Besides her empathetic, wise words of comfort, she knew just the trick to cheer me up/distract me, and introduced me to this. Thank you, Kaitlyn.

  1. Begin Again

Begin Again
Photo Credit: Begin Again Movie Website
When I watched this romance/drama for the first time this past summer, the credits rolled and I instantaneously decided it had to be on the top of my movie list. This movie centers on a musician and an A&R representative, which for those of you who don’t know, is my dream job. It also has a wide array of actors, including the stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, as well as Adam Levine and James Corden. Basically it’s my love of music in a narrative movie. And naturally, that means I thoroughly enjoy the music within the movie.

The main criticism seems to arise from people who dislike Knightley’s singing, but I thought she did a fantastic job, especially considering that’s not what she normally does. This movie is perfect for anyone who loves music and the hard work behind producing songs, as well as any of you who want a feel-good ending that puts a smile on your face and makes you thankful that you took the time to watch it.

  1. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Mr. Magorium
Photo Credit: Empire Online
Every line that comes out of Dustin Hoffman’s mouth is reason enough to love this movie. This narrative centers upon the owner of a magical toy shop, his apprentice, a boy who loves hats, and a mutant. That’s about all I can divulge, but trust me; it is not a movie to pass up. Everyone who’s a kid at heart needs to watch it.

This fantasy will tug at your heartstrings, as it did mine. So much so, in fact, that I distinctly remember this as the first film I cried over. Films with the most accurate messages about life make me the most emotional, and like Les Misérables, this is a movie that hits me differently every time I watch it. Mostly it touches and addresses patches of loss in our hearts, but in a healing and loving way.

It’s a gentle, sweet reminder that you can pull through and you are capable.

 

Begin Again and Leap Year are both on Netflix for those interested. If nothing else, you can listen to the majority of Les Misérables songs on YouTube with the videos. You’ll have to hunt a bit more for Harold & Maude and Mr. Magorium. But I hope you take the time to watch or re-watch one of these. Entertainment is such a lovely way to relax, but also to analyze and reflect on the world and our place in humanity.

You can engage with entertainment. You don’t just have to absorb it.

~Annah

The Most Important Word in Human Vocabulary

Love.

We all want it and hope for it and seek it among others. Nothing upsets us more than when we can’t have it. I’m going to make a bold statement: Love is the main desire we all have. It’s why our hearts harden after the divorce papers are signed. It’s why we can’t stop gushing about our best friend on social media. It’s why the girl sits in the bathroom weeping. It’s why we shut out the parent that left. It’s why we care so much about other sexualities. It’s why we stand up for minority groups and races. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lack of love was the reasoning behind serial killers and terrorists.

If we just acquire love, life will be perfect and we will feel fulfilled.

Love is a word that creates tension, struggle and sensitivity. Some of you reading this have been seriously wounded by love or those you believed loved you. It’s the most shocking, sorrowful moment when the rug of love is swept out from under you by those you thought would never pull it out. When that happens we don’t want to forgive, we want to grow angry and our hearts harden. I don’t believe either reaction is okay and it only creates more rifts, splitting love into more and more shattered pieces.

I do think it’s possible to love people even with opposing opinions. Many may believe love only exists in similar opinions, but I say love allows all opinions to flourish, without shutting any out. I believe love transcends left or right, him or me, and I believe it keeps no record of wrongs. I believe you always deserve it and love has no limitations. Love extends to all people in every nation of every mental capacity, even those hardest to love, especially those hardest to love. I believe all ideas of love are foggy reflections of a true, pure love that surpasses them all. I believe love offers everything, sometimes life itself, without asking or expecting anything in return.

I know love will outweigh darkness.

But doesn’t it always come back to love? We argue over laws and politics, because we have differing opinions on how to achieve love for people. Wars ensue and people fight because of the love they have for their side. Could you even count how many love songs there are? At every concert you attend, the musician makes sure the audience knows how much they are loved and appreciated. “I love you Detroit!!!” And we scream and some roll their eyes over the inauthenticity, but only because that’s what we really want, right?

Authentic love: humanity’s desperate desire. Our heart’s desperate cry. Ironically, we’re often fed and desire the unrealistic depictions of love constantly thrown at us through entertainment. But only because we long for a love that will blow us off our feet and overwhelm us in joy.

What if I told you I think this kind of love is possible? Would you believe me?

You have good reason to desire love, with its authenticity and overwhelming power. You have good reason to weep when you encounter broken love. You have good reason to wait and not be satisfied with a love that’s half-trying. We weren’t made for broken love.

~Annah

My Greatest Inspiration

Three years ago yesterday I got baptized. One year ago today I saw my favorite band, Switchfoot, in concert for the first time, after listening to them for at least a good 12 years of my life. So naturally, it’s only fitting that my sister and I are going to watch Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, perform today. And frankly, all three of these events are strongly correlated (yeah, statistics lingo! It does come in handy.).

This post is dedicated to Jon Foreman, my greatest inspiration of all time. I’m going to tell you about the little I know of this man and why he deserves an entire blog post.

  1. Jon is an incredible writer and strings words together beautifully.

Look no further than any Jon Foreman or Switchfoot song to find poetry and poetry done well. But it’s also well-done in its simplicity, which is something I respect immensely. Many people strive to write the most eloquently or the most scholarly, but sometimes the best messages are simple and straightforward, and sometimes that’s what it takes to make words stick.

“Your heart is a work of art.”

“I arrived at the conclusion: love isn’t made, love doesn’t sell or pay, but we buy and sell our love away.”

“Don’t let the panic bring you down.”

“Don’t let your spirit die before your body does.”

  1. Jon is introspective, and thus, can pull on your heartstrings just the right way.

If you know yourself well and your faults well, you probably know humanity well. That’s Jon Foreman. He gave an incredible TED talk that I still love listening to (and I suggest you all check it out. It’s still bookmarked on my computer from a year ago.) His art and personal character don’t evolve from an outpouring of perfection, but from a man who knows his faults and imperfections very well. I love and respect those who are willing to share their struggles openly; I believe that’s what people of faith should be like, as God thrives in our weaknesses.

“Maybe that’s where life is born

when our facades are torn…

pain gives birth to the promise ahead.”

  1. Because of a daily walk with the Lord, Jon’s lyrics are drenched in Jesus and his promises.

One great lyric that I believe represents Jon’s worldview best is “We were born into the fight.” As a believer, we face a daily battle and the struggle of choosing the Lord over temporary pleasures. One of my favorite Switchfoot songs on their most recent album is called “If The House Burns Down Tonight” which is a powerful message originating from a fire in his hometown. His solo music especially frequently breathes out Bible verses, proving his familiarity with the Word.

“Would you create in me a clean heart, O God? Restore in me the joy of your salvation.”

“I’m not sentimental. This skin and bones is a rental.”

  1. Joy seeps out of every one of Jon’s pores.

I learned this from going to Switchfoot’s concert last year. Multiple times throughout the concert, Jon interacted with the crowd. The best part was when he walked through everyone standing in front and made his way to the people sitting in the back, who had probably not expected his attention at all. He went up to a young man and plopped his hat on his head, acting like they were old friends. But what a cool metaphor for Jesus! We are to be people who exhale joy and make everybody feel like somebody. You matter.

  1. Jon soaks in people and does not take a single one for granted.

Jon puts everything aside to cater to other people. For example, he nearly missed a plane one day at the Detroit airport because he stopped to talk and take a picture with my brother and his friend. (I was not at all jealous…) We were made to bring hope to others, but we remain so self-centered! Live in active awareness of that struggle and push past it.

“You’re gonna be you and it’s going to take a lifetime of practice.”

“Don’t let past mistakes rob the present of its potential for beauty and joy.”

“It’s going to take a struggle to become who you are.”

Let’s use Jon Foreman’s faithful spirit, among other inspirations, to push ourselves to action. Let’s grow the Christian family that society so often misconstrues. Because if we don’t properly portray God’s love and joy to others, why would they want check Jesus out? The world receives improper portrayals of Christ daily, so let’s be the light, shall we?

(This link looks funky, but it should work fine!)

~Annah

Quietly Confident & Sweetly Unapologetic

This is a random, word-vomit blog… just a heads-up. It’s commentary on my own character and how I’ve changed, but I’ll try to connect it to the big picture for everyone else.

I’m the type of person who describes myself as ‘nice’ or ‘friendly.’ You know, super generic words that actually don’t mean squat or give anyone a depiction of who I really am. Honestly, I never sit down to really think about my characteristics as a unique creation. I just think I don’t know… I’m Annah. People who know me know who I am… while really I can’t even describe who I am.

Some things never change about our characters, like my resilient stubbornness over the years. Just ask anyone in my family about my relationship with the word “sports” and they will laugh their heads off. I refused to play sports in elementary school and had no interest in being signed up for Girl Scouts, so I avoided both. The only time I ever considered playing a sport was after my siblings’ soccer games, when they would bring snacks back to the car. Sports = free snacks? Hmm, that’s tempting.

Throughout middle and high school I never drank a lick of alcohol and barely touched a boy. People partook in games like ‘spin the bottle,’ while I would sit in the background, shamelessly eating food.

Peer pressure? Not even miles within reach of my vocabulary.

My dad, being an English teacher, ended up being my eleventh grade teacher (and no, it was not weird, to answer literally everyone’s question.) He had us do this, dare I say, great activity where we had to write down a compliment for everyone in the class that did not involve something generic like “you’re nice.” The results were shocking and uplifting for every 17-year-old and I still remember some loud, highly-opinionated guy I seldom spoke to wrote that I had a ‘quiet confidence’ about me.

Well, little did he know, that is one of the most accurate descriptions I can think of for myself. If you want to know who Annah really is, I am quietly confident and sweetly unapologetic.

My lack of knowledge in career paths or future plans is made up for in my knowledge of my personal values, spiritual values, and what I value in other human beings. These values are where my confidence lies, so I guess that’s why I’m ‘quietly’ confident. While I may seldom have strong exterior situations to stand confident in as a college student, my interior life is sure to be rock-solid. Sprinkle some good ole stubbornness in there and my quiet confidence is not about to change anytime soon.

As I have recently realized, I am also sweetly unapologetic. I feel as if I take the characteristics I dislike about myself and force myself to pull a 180. Only two years ago I suffered through my first year of college, incredibly self-conscious and possessing a very small amount of self-esteem. Since then I have allowed my quiet confidence to flourish while my faith has taken the difficult cards dealt me and turned them into rewarding obstacles.

Similarly, my self-consciousness concerning other people has slowly begun to melt away and continues to do so today. While I still have steps to take to not let others’ words affect me so personally, I have become unapologetic in my interactions with others. I don’t mean I say whatever I want with no cares, it just means if I think someone is cool, I talk to them, which is much more than I could say two years ago.

Last year I thought this girl down my hall was cool and even though we had never properly talked, I stuck a note on her door. Since then I have gotten to talk to her lovely soul more. This past May, two cool senior guys were playing Spike Ball with their friends, so I walked up to them and asked them to teach me. Picture this: 5’1” Annah playing Spike Ball with three 6’+ guys. I randomly messaged someone from high school I said maybe two things to today, because I saw something stupid and funny I thought he would appreciate. And those are just some instances off the top of my head. 13-year-old Annah would be appalled.

I think too often we put up walls between ourselves and others, most of which are self-created. We decide we can’t talk to people because they would judge us or think it’s weird or your past is complicated or 5000 other excuses. If you think someone is the bee’s knees, you should befriend them. If some random chick does something funny in the dining hall or you see someone with a t-shirt that has your favorite Star Wars character on it, go talk to them!

Life is short, you are perfectly unique, and both forgiveness and community are unlimited. Be confident in your unique self. Talk to anyone and everyone.

(Also, I realize now I may need to add a third quality to my list: surprisingly sassy.)

~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