Monday, January 16, 2012

Be encouraged by small acts

Tumbling, scrambling, clawing, lunging, heaving, floating, tugged, dragged through Life. It's small acts that keep you grounded. Little things that prevent you from being washed away entirely by the rushing torrent. When kindness springs on you, it's like a breath of sweet air, a comforting sigh, a moment of resurgence that keeps you going. How often have you been ready to quit, to throw your hands up in despair, to bury your tears in your pillow, only to be encouraged by a random stranger, uplifted by a smile or hand on the shoulder? The simple acknowledgement of your struggle, effort, time, pain... a subtle hint of congratulation... the moment of empathy... the bursting of approval... the emergence of support and loyalty...  somehow these moments make it all worth it. Those are the moments to live for.

How small a piece of kindness it takes to wipe away a gray sky from your day! How spontaneous and effortless, compared to a whole day of drudgery. It's all it takes to cheer your mood and make you smile when everything has gone wrong. No, not necessarily gone wrong, but gone into routine. Day after day of work or struggle, the same events, the same thoughts... School for one quickly becomes a monotone of action and reaction and class and homework, but never forget to look for the small miracles- a compliment from a friend, a word of praise from your teacher, a simple second of eye contact from a complete stranger. You have to watch out for them, small flashes of silvery scales in the water, mullets darting by and daring you to reach out and catch them.

Three words were all it took for me to be reinvigorated with my writing, my imagination today. Thank you, stranger, for caring, for proving to me that it's all worth it, for reassuring me that my words aren't going to waste. Because life never should be- it's the little things that prove that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

VERSE- Discarding Worry

Matthew 6:34
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

It's easy to get caught up in the flurry of activity that happens each and every day. It's easy to lose track of the hours, the days, the weeks as you keep looking ahead. Sometimes it's out of fear or dread- a midterm to study for, a paper or project that needs to be finished, an interview to prepare for. Sometimes it's out of anticipation or longing- looking forward to the next break from school just as one finishes (I've been guilty of that). This verse always helps me to calm down, to slow down my thoughts and instincts to plan ahead, and instead to see the beauty in each and every new day.

I think as a whole, teens are more versed with stress than any other age group, especially in the variety of things that stress us out and the way they always build off each other. It's a very vulnerable stage to pile on so many responsibilities, expectations, relationships, fears, hopes, dreams, and changes. During my junior year I felt like I was constantly drowning in things to do- SAT prep, AP courses, clubs, music, sports- and yet I always wanted to take that "break-" a night to go out with the guys, a weekend to relax and catch up on sleep, a movie with the family. Add procrastination to the mix and I was a wreck many nights during the week. I would stay up past midnight, feeling guilty about losing sleep but also wondering if I could be any more productive. During showers I mentally ran through a list of "Things to Worry About," which added my own expectations and goals on top of my homework and extracurriculars. I would wake up each morning feeling stressed, as if I was always forgetting something, wondering what the day would bring, how I would survive to the next weekend, which sometimes were even more loaded with activities and responsibilities than the weekdays. It definitely wasn't a good feeling.

I wish I realized then the futility of always anticipating the future, of worrying about tomorrow even before it happens. It multiplied my fears and stress levels when in fact each school day was very manageable. The problem was that I put the weight of the entire week onto one school night. And if you're still in high school, here's a tip that I picked up: the next time you look down in your planner and just groan at the amount of STUFF you have to do, banish all negative thoughts from your mind. Stop thinking that it'll "take you forever" or that "you have sooo much to do," or that you're the "unluckiest and busiest person in the world," or that "my life sucks right now." Seriously, just don't do that. It's a rather annoying mechanism of the mind, but one that I find just makes the situation worse. You'd be surprised how much you exaggerate your own misfortunes. Say you do a school sport and get home after a game, eat dinner, and it's 7:30 pm. You have an average of four and a half HOURS before midnight (sometimes more, sometimes less). If you actually truly think about what you have to get done, often it doesn't take as long as you think (or fear) it will. The dread and apprehension clouds your mind and makes the horror a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell yourself that you have plenty of time and that you'll be fine. Finish up the day's work and breathe a sigh of relief.

That's why Matthew 6:34 was and is so important to me. There's no use in worrying about tomorrow if you don't even know what tomorrow is going to bring. What's the use of planning the rest of your life, for example, if the world's just going to end in 2012? The point is to surrender your life to God. Once you do, you realize how meaningless certain pressures in your life become. To an extent, God's not going to care what you get on that chem test, or how well you hold up on your job, or how "overachieving" your activities compared to others. He DOES care about how much faith and trust you can place in him. The story from Mark 12:41-44 reassures me, about the poor widow who put in two copper coins, which was all she had. She probably wasn't worrying about tomorrow or how she would feed herself the next day when she gave her offering. And if she could do that, place tomorrow's anxieties into God's caring hands, with basically her entire life on the line, you can certainly start to do that as well.

Take your life one day at a time. Trust God and allow him to lift some of the burdens in your life right now. Remember Matthew 6:34 whenever you are up late at night, worrying about tomorrow and whether or not you should go to sleep or work some more. Remember, God doesn't want you to live in constant worry or anxiety. That's how you get gray hair and wrinkles. Seek God and then go to bed easy, knowing He will definitely take care of you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Hunger Games (Suppressing Reality)

We've all suppressed reality before, one way or another- a gripping movie, a book you can't put down, a musical that moves you to tears, a TV show that pulls you in. You lose sight of reality for a moment, even if just for an instant, that makes you doubt the world you're in. It's a strange feeling, emerging from that sort of experience: shaken, unnerved, restless. You see the real world slightly differently as you come back into it, hesitantly easing back into your daily routine. Missing the world you were enveloped in but having conflicting views about the one you're in. It really makes you think. And wonder. And live.

The reason I'm writing this is I just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book in a trilogy that is a real mixture of genres. It came on very high recommendation from my friends and I am glad to pass that on. It's a superb book takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, so there's a degree of sci-fi in it, but the main character is situated in a poor, starving distract that retains village atmosphere with miners, hunters, butchers, bakers, and the sort. As the title may hint at, there is an incredible amount of action, adventure, and suspense, as well as a lot of other elements, but I refuse to give anything away because it would take away slightly from the experience. I have to admit that I haven't been able to pick up many books for pleasure-reading since high school and all the required readings for English, but The Hunger Games was completely and utterly worth it. It reads in a very young-adult style, but that's what I love most so I'm ranking it way up there with Ender's Game (more sci-fi) and Eragon (more fantasy) and the Pendragon Series (more questy).

Even the posters for The Hunger Games are awesome...

Go read! Enjoying Suzanne Collins' genius and brilliant craft has made me miss the days I read fantasy and young adult books like crazy. And it's such a different experience from a good movie, though I'll never pass  up the likes of Inception and Sherlock Holmes. People who read epic series like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings in novel form first in addition to watching movies can attest to the differences in feel and emotion that books and film adaptations bring. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 blew me away in a completely different way than it did when the book released in the summer of 2007. One experience was spent sitting on my bed, eyes riveted to the pages, ignoring my mom's call to go to sleep, constantly checking the pages to see how many were left, totally captivated by the story and wishing I could go to school in Hogwarts, while amazed by J.K. Rowling but still mad at her for killing off my favorite characters. The other was spent at the theater, with friends (some crying), trying hard not to tear up myself, trying hard not not to tear up because it was the last film, wondering if the end really meant the end of my childhood, laughing at the ridiculousness of Voldemort hugging Malfoy, still mad at J.K. Rowling for having Dumbledore and Snape and Fred die but having forgiven her slightly as I've gotten older and understood the need for loss.

So yeah, I literally finished reading The Hunger Games about an hour ago and I've only slightly gotten over the stupor of its incredibleness (though it's more than a pleasant read, there are still some feelings deep down that I can't exactly place). It's unsettling how fast reality sucks you back in though. I still have homework to do, parents to deal with, responsibilities to accomplish. It was such a nice read and break from all that. I don't think anyone can live without entertainment and the thrill of stopping to invest time and energy and emotion into a good book or a good movie. It sticks with you. And the best part for me right now, is that I still have the second and third books to look forward to, to live with the characters and pretend I'm in their world. That's one advantage books still have over films- the duration and pace of the plot is entirely up to you. But I still love the moment when you finish a book and it's concluded, even if it is the first book in a trilogy. A sense completion, a sigh of relief, the feeling you get after just finishing a delicious meal AND an ice cream sundae. My emotions were being played by Suzanne Collins, as I knew they were, especially in the end. My heart was still thumping and my mind was in a whirl. There were elements of the book that I hung on to, other elements that I marveled at, some that made me inexplicably sad, some that made me enamored, others that made me question the world. In short, it was a good novel. I really, really hope the movie (to be released March 23rd) lives up to the book. The trailer below also has phenomenal music, which is a promising start.