I Thought I Was a Good Writer

Do you have one of those things, perhaps a skill, fun physical quirk, or personality trait that you can always fall back on to say, “well, at least I have that?” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think of one thing that allows you to confidently say, “yes, I can do that” or, “yes, I am that.” For me, my “thing” has pretty much always been that I am a good writer. “Writer” is a title I can claim with confidence because, well, I wouldn’t be working in a writing center if I couldn’t write well. When friends or family ask me to give them writing advice or simply say, “Hey, can I read this to you?” it makes me feel good. While it is not at all a bad thing to take pride in our abilities, as with any label, it can become a treacherous thing to uphold too highly. This occurred to me on the first school day of my senior year when I realized I am not a good writer.

Okay, let me be clear: I am a good academic writer and a decent creative writer, but those two forms just scratch the surface of all the different writing mediums that consumers enjoy. There’s technical writing, newswriting, screenwriting, business writing, social media writing, and more, I’m sure, that I simply haven’t learned about yet. For my whole college career, knowing how to write academically was all I needed to know how to do. As it happens, every writing-related class I’m enrolled in this semester, (there are three,) requires the opposite of academic writing. Academic writing generally spans many pages, and the greater number of three syllable-plus-words you can throw in, the better. English and history professors drool over an artistic and catchy introduction with ten luscious body paragraphs following. That kind of writing I can do. But what do my professors want this semester? Every creative writer’s worst nightmare: short written responses. The shorter the better. Simple words like “lively” in place of long, pretty ones such as “effervescent” are not only unnecessary in these types of messages, but frowned upon. Some students groan about ten page papers, but I can promise them that communicating a big idea in one page or less is far more arduous. If this blog were for one of my classes, I wouldn’t be allowed to say arduous; I would replace that word with “hard.” Ugh, how boring!

The realization that I am only skilled in one type of writing was a bit alarming. However, as I continued to go to class and face assignments where I was challenged to say so much in so few words, it became readily apparent how married I am to my title of “writer.” When folks hear that you are a writer, many of them think you’re smart. And if you’re like me, you just smile, take the compliment, and not let them know how ordinary you really are. Because too many people consider writing to be a great, mysterious art form, those who do know how to do it become a necessary commodity to society. Rather than feeling discouraged that I’m not as great or prolific a writer as I once thought I was, I discovered excitement waiting for me in the unknown.

If I am to be a writer for life as I desire to be, I want to always be learning and mastering new writing skills. If academic writing were my whole future and career, I’d have a pretty limited skill set to offer the world, and a repetitive job at that. Now, I feel as though my writing journey is being reborn, in a way. I’m a baby in newswriting and business writing, and it can be pretty uncomfortable to go back to wearing diapers in the play pen when you’ve been riding a unicycle in your trousers for so long. If anything, I know that for the rest of my life, my passion will not only enrich me but surprise me with its ever-changing nature. All writers know that you learn to write by writing, and with the myriad of mediums that await my eager fingers, I’ll be learning to write for the rest of my life. Whatever your thing may be, when the day comes and you realize you aren’t the best at it, or even as skilled as you thought you were, ask yourself: “How fulfilling is a skill if I can never get better at it?” Find your avenue, memorize its path, and walk boldly onto the next fork that comes your way.

Written by Karoline

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Let Love Overflow

Most of my peers are shocked to learn that Valentine’s Day is my FAVORITE HOLIDAY.

Yep, you heard right.

I have never been in a relationship and Valentine’s Day is still my favorite holiday (besides Christmas and Easter, of course, because nothing can compete with the Lord’s birth and resurrection!)

Sadly, very few millennials share my sentiments as Valentine’s Day has quite the negative reputation these days.

Notorious for its overpriced flowers, sugar comas, and mushy couples (barf), Valentine’s Day has evolved into a single person’s worst nightmare. Originally intended as a celebration of genuine love, Valentine’s Day instead prioritizes materialism and seems to promote self-pity and loneliness. Sadly, due to misguided quests for love and identity, the holiday reeks with the sorrow of unmet expectations.

However, it hasn’t always been this way.


Remember Kindergarten? On the morning of St. Valentine’s Day, little boys and girls alike would burst into classrooms, dazzled by explosions of pink and red paper that plastered every wall. Festive bows crowned every braid, and all the little eyes were filled with excitement and hope for the celebration ahead. The classroom floor was soon littered with stickers and colorful clippings as perfect Valentine’s hearts were trimmed and decorated in order to share love with those who mattered the most (mom and dad, of course!).

As morning crafting was pushed aside, a mass distribution of valentines occurred! Students flocked to the festively renovated tissue boxes as myriads of colorful tattoos, funny puns, and yummy treats were dropped into each box. In elementary school, none were excluded from Valentine’s festivities! Even at the young age of six, we were taught to share love on Valentine’s Day by blessing and sharing what we had with those around us.

Grins spread like wildfire as students opened their Valentine’s mailboxes, ecstatically ripping apart the flimsy cardboard to exploit the wealth of goodness inside. Following mass candy consumption, teachers quickly sped through Valentine’s themed lessons before the dreaded sugar crash occurred. Thankfully, several candy conversation hearts were all that was needed to increase midday student morale and motivation.


Many of us would agree that Valentine’s Day was a highlight in elementary school, a celebration we cherished, as evidenced by our ability to fondly recall the experience today.

What has changed? Why doesn’t Valentine’s Day provide this same joy today?

NEWSFLASH: What you celebrate is up to you!

Valentine’s Day is not an exclusive holiday for couples or kindergarteners because love is not exclusive to couples and kindergarteners. That’s what the day is about, remember?

In fact, 1 John 4:7 explains that “love is from God,” and “God is love.” Whether you have a Valentine or not this year, know that you are cherished and completely loved by the only person who truly matters.

In fact, God loved us so much that He “sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:9-10).

Friends, take a moment to reflect on this truth.

When humanity revolted and rejected God, He responded by sending His only Son to suffer on the cross to atone for our sins. God pursued and forgave us, even though we disobeyed Him. Unconditional and all encompassing, this must be true love!

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

In fact, we should be so full of God’s love that it naturally overflows onto others.

Regardless of whether you are currently single or in a relationship, I challenge you to turn outward this Valentine’s Day and consider how you can extend Christ’s love by blessing and encouraging those around you. Perhaps this means babysitting for that single mom, baking cookies for your professor, sending your mom flowers, or organizing a game night for friends. Instead of embracing a ‘woe is me’ attitude, take the initiative this Valentine’s Day to share truth and encouragement with those around you.

Though you may not be an elementary education major like me who finds immense joy in baking, flowers, and all things chocolate, I encourage you to use your unique gifts to bless others and share truth this Valentine’s Day. Though the day looks different for everyone, keep in mind the reason for the Valentines season and let His love overflow!

kindergarten valentines day

Written by Leah

Image credits: Header image, Kindergarten Valentine’s Day

Living with Food Intolerances in College: Eating in the Caff and in Restaurants

When I was fourteen years old, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, or severe gluten intolerance due to an autoimmune disease. A few months later, I was diagnosed with almost twenty other food intolerances. This discovery occurred when I was living in China, so my family and I spent the next year learning what I could and could not eat, both at home and at restaurants. However, when I returned to the States for college, I basically had to relearn how to eat. I researched restaurants menus, read food labels, and found new recipes. My parents could not cook for me anymore, forcing me to learn how to survive in college with food allergies.

The first food service that I encountered when coming to college was the cafeteria. I discovered that because my university required that I buy a meal plan, they were likewise required to cater to my dietary needs. When I began my college experience, I would usually ask the cafeteria staff to make me whatever I wanted to eat. If I did not want what they were offering or if they did not have something I could eat, I could ask for some of the secret stash of gluten-free products they kept in the kitchen. As I became busier in college, I started to change the way I ate in the caff. Now, I do not spend nearly as much time creating the perfect meal: I grab whatever I can eat and run out the door to work or to study. Because I’ve spent two years gazing at the caff’s food choices, I can normally recognize the foods that I am able to eat. Depending on one’s intolerance sensitivity, however, these methods may not suffice. I cannot eat any gluten whatsoever without repercussions, so I often regret not asking about the ingredients of dishes. Generally speaking, I select what I want to eat from the line, ask the chef which of those foods I can eat, and supplement them with things I am certain I can eat, such as selections from the salad bar or grill.

When my palate craves food outside the range of the capabilities of the cafeteria, I go to my favorite on-or-off-campus dining establishments. At DBU, we have Mooyah, Chick-Fil-A, and the Daily Bread Bistro, each of which has menu items that they can make for me. When I am able to get off-campus, I frequent Peiwei, Chipotle, and other such “healthy” restaurants, as they are more likely to cater (and even recognize) food allergies and intolerances. However, selecting the safest location at which to dine is mostly up to the individual to research, based on what is close to the student’s campus. Most restaurants have their menu and nutritional information on their website; some even have gluten or other allergy-free menus online or in the physical restaurant. It is becoming easier and easier for people with intolerances to find things to eat.

Eating in the cafeteria and in off-campus restaurants are the most convenient options for busy students to eat, but it is very difficult for people with intolerances to learn where they can conveniently eat safely. Don’t worry; you can do it! My advice is to befriend the staff of your favorite establishments. Every chef and manager who works in the caff knows my name; the director of the bistro knows my order and the procedure to keep it gluten free without my direction. This is the easiest and safest way to enjoy and succeed in eating during your college years, especially when you do not have time to cook for yourself. The phrase “friends in high places” comes into practice in cases such as these. Politely ask lots of questions, and do not hesitate to confirm that the chefs know how to prepare the space where they work to avoid cross-contamination. I promise; you can survive! Happy eating!

Intolerance-friendly Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Cake

  • 1/3 cup canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed meal, mixed with 6 tablespoons water (allow to sit for >5 minutes before adding)
  • ¾ cup “buttermilk” soy milk (¾ tablespoons vinegar in ¾ cup measuring cup, fill up the rest of the way with soy milk)
  • 1 tsp gluten free vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups gluten free flour blend (NO xanthan gum) (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (I use ¼ tsp nutmeg and ¼ tsp cloves because I am intolerant to cinnamon)

Topping

  • ¼ cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free flour blend
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon (OR half nutmeg/cloves again)
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. Generously grease a 7 x 11 inch (grey, not black; also glass is okay) baking pan. Preheat the oven to 340 degrees F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla with a whisk or electric mixer until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Gradually add the rest of the cake ingredients slowly, mixing well between each ingredient.
  4. Pour into prepared pan.
  5. In a small bowl, mix toppings together; sprinkle evenly on top of batter.
  6. Here, you can either cover tightly with foil and put in the fridge for <24 hours, or put it in the oven.
  7. Bake 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Written by Michelle

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Why Do We Love Movies that Make Us Cry?

Why is it that we humans willingly submit ourselves to the pain of a sad story? We spend hours watching movies like A Walk to Remember and reading books like The Fault in our Stars, even if we already know the plot is going to end badly. Moreover, tragic characters themselves seem to have a certain appeal. We find ourselves secretly rooting for their redemption. Many times I have caught myself longing for the kind of story line that I have just mentioned, and it got me to thinking, “why?”

Tragedy has a special power over us. Writers create these stories because they know they can influence our emotions in ways that comedy may not. The most common tropes of tragedy – the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or the character that is beyond salvation – leave every fiber of our being screaming out for something better, something happier. Because we are created in the image of Christ, the idea of perfection is ingrained deep within us. Our world is fallen, but our souls cry out for more. When we see something sad, we subconsciously know it isn’t meant to be like that; it’s a result of the eternal striving for heaven that God created in us. The typical reaction to tragedy is twofold: usually, we cry or get upset first because the inherent wrongness of the situation irks us to the core. Then, we seek change. We plot how the story might have turned out if the characters had just done this or that instead. For this same reason, when we do watch happy movies or read happy books, we feel a sense of satisfaction when the story has a happy ending.

The wonderful thing about literature, including tragedy, is that it mirrors the real world. However, in the real world, we do actually have some power to create change. There are some things that we simply cannot conquer in our fallen world, like death and sin, but we, unlike fictional characters, have the freedom of choice. We can learn from the mistakes made by these characters so that we don’t have to make them ourselves. This is why I think we continually submit ourselves to tragedy: it can inspire change. When a writer brings a problem to our attention that leaves tears running down our faces, we can and should do something about it.

Written by Taylor Hayden

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Under the Stars and City Lights

The first time I drove myself to college at night, I was shoved off the interstate onto the wrong exit and got lost in downtown Dallas. As a somewhat inexperienced driver who had been downtown only once in fourth grade, to say I was terrified is an understatement of massive proportions.

The scene that greeted me only heightened my fear. The buildings were old and run-down, nothing like the glittering skyscrapers I had seen from the highway. It seemed like the lanes were two sizes too small and were always going the wrong way. And the nearby pedestrians… well, I could tell they weren’t exactly hitting up the Myerson Symphony Center anytime soon.

I pulled into a gas station and drew a deep breath (after making double-sure my car doors were locked). There were only a couple of other cars in the station, but the empty parking lot next door was practically paved with glittery glass shards. I could only imagine what had transpired over there—where those glass shards came from and how they got there—and I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable. My hands were shaking, not from the January chill as much as from fright, as I pulled out my phone to Google Map my way to campus.

I passed that parking lot on my way back to the interstate and didn’t think about it again.

About a year later, in the following December, I found myself burned out on the service project I had been doing for the last two and a half years. Despite the project being similar to what I had grown up doing (working with children), I never felt that invested, and I knew I was wasting valuable time (which is a whole other blog). I was growing miserable; I dreaded service every week, and I hated that such was the case. Service was supposed to be fulfilling and rife with opportunities to see God at work, not stressful.

Hearing about my struggle, a friend suggested I join him for his service project. He had been serving in a homeless ministry ever since I had known him, but I didn’t know much about it. I was curious, and I knew it would be safer if I went in a group, so I agreed.

We carpooled with some other DBU students and made our way to the city. I wasn’t driving this time, but I recognized the dark parts of town, and the nerves began to take over again. However, with my friend in the seat next to me and my pride to maintain, I forced my anxiety to stay in my head.

We parked in front of a bakery, and the whole group convened in an empty parking lot—one I recognized as the one I had seen on my little expedition back in January. Before I could fully process that realization, the leader of our group started explaining what was happening. This wasn’t just a ministry or some offshoot of a bigger church—it was a whole, independent church that met outside and served the streets of downtown Dallas. We, as volunteers, were to walk the streets and ask anyone we came across if they had any prayer requests or were interested in free Chik-Fil-A.

Every alarm bell I had went off. For twenty years, I was told to never speak to strangers and to avoid compromising situations of all types, and I was being asked to break both of those principles at the same time. And there were no children in sight to hide behind.

The friend I had come with, of course, was a nonplussed pro, only shooting me a quizzical look at my expression before someone started to pray.

Pray I did—and with my eyes open, too. (I know, so rebellious.) I had no idea what to expect as I trotted behind my group for the rest of the night.

One year after that fateful Wednesday night, I have been attending West End Church almost every week. I’ve been able to serve actively in ways I never was able to serve in my home church, and I’ve found fulfillment in a place I never thought I would. I have never feared for my own safety; instead, I have grown more comfortable with and more aware of my surroundings. And, most significantly, I have learned so much about how people relate to each other and to God.

I’ll be frank: I grew up in what most people would call a rich-kid town. Even though my family wasn’t particularly well-off compared to some of our neighbors, I was still raised with certain expectations for everyday life. Even though I knew these expectations were unrealistic for most of the world, it never really changed the way I thought or behaved. It took some time hanging out downtown twice a week with people who live such a different life from my own to really make that knowledge real and relatable.

Just driving through that scene wasn’t enough. I actually had to leave my comfort zone—get out of the car—and interact with the things that frightened me to discover what life in the city streets was really like. Most of the things I was scared of turned out to be much less scary when I obeyed God’s leading, and I’ve grown tremendously as a result. I’ve learned that the places that look the least God-like are the places where He wants to send us, to mold us and shape us all into kingdom-minded followers.

And you know what? I still don’t know what to expect each time I cross that parking lot and venture onto the streets. I’ve learned to face the unexpected with grace—or at least more grace than I had the first time I was down there. My comfort zone stretches just a little bit more every week, and even when the weather is cold or wet and I just want to go inside, I love it.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Charles Guo, a member of the church. The friend who first invited me is mysteriously missing from this picture, but there are plenty of other friends here!

Sesame Street Around the World

Being in tune with different cultures around the world is incredibly important in order to understand the people who come from various cultures. They have different customs, traditions, clothes, foods, movies, and television. Specifically children’s television. To be even more specific, the kid’s show, Sesame Street. Yes, Sesame Street can be instrumental in understanding the cultures of various nations and relating to the people thereof.

Sesame Street has been shown in over 140 countries around the world and has 34 international co-productions. And each of these productions is unique in its own way. Many don’t even go by name of Sesame Street. In the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, the program is called Hikayat Sesame, which roughly translates to “sesame tales.” The Philippines just has Sesame! The one in Australia is Open Sesame. Northern Ireland’s show doesn’t even take place in a city or on a street, but it does takes place in Sesame Tree. And then there are the countries that keep the same title but translate into their own language, like Sesamstrasse in Germany.

But what’s in a name, right? Well, each of these countries presents a title that relates best with the children who watch it. Most kids are familiar with cities and streets in America and Germany, but kids in Norway may know more about trains since that’s a popular way to travel there. So, their show is called Sesame Stasjon, which translates to “sesame station.” There is enough difference even in the names to establish a certain aspect of a specific culture, but it’s still possible to relate to the show and those who watch it.

The other similarities and differences that define each country’s version of the show consist of the characters themselves. Most productions have the same main characters like Elmo or Grover, but sometimes other characters get a makeover. For example, several programs have a grouch similar to Oscar, the green, grumpy muppet who lives in a trash can. In India’s Galli Galli Sim Sim, Khadoosa is a similar grouch but loves to take care of his garden and is quite proud of his flowers. Another is from the Rechov Sumsum show in Israel: Moishe Oofnik, who is brown and furry and lives in a broken car. (I guess that’s better than a trash can, right?) There are so, SO many more. And of course, all of their names pertain to the language of country where the program is shown. But just because they are in different languages doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the show with someone from a different country.

For example, I found out from a friend, who grew up watching Plaza Sésamo in Mexico, that instead of Big Bird, he knew Abelardo. Abelardo is not the big, yellow bird that Americans know, but he is a large, more colorful bird with bright green and red feathers, who is roughly the same character as Big Bird. These characters are different because of the cultures in which they are portrayed. Big Bird is supposed to be a canary, which is an American bird, and Abelardo is a parrot, which is more popular in the Latin America culture. It’s these types of seemingly little differences that can distinguish various cultures while also bringing people together.

So maybe the next time you talk to an international student or someone who was raised in a different country, try asking about Sesame Street. It can be a pretty entertaining topic. The show tells a lot about the culture of different societies, so you may learn something! At the very least, it serves well to strike up an interesting conversation.

Written by Taylor Hayes

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Outside My Window

I sat up straight, unsure of what had awakened me. Everything in the room was the same. The desk was still in the corner, the nightstand was still next to my bed, my bed was standing by the door, right across from the enormous window and next to my roommate’s. However, something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something had changed. I was sure of it.

Being the curious person that I am, I crawled out of bed and stumbled around the room, trying not to wake up my roommate who was curled under her pile of blankets. I stopped walking and rapidly shook my head, trying to wake up. I felt a strange awe and wonder that I had never felt before. I just knew someone was watching me, but, for some reason, I was not scared. In fact, I felt something I had not felt in a long time: completely and utter tranquility. I swirled around and looked out my window, staring straight into the large, round, white moon. I surveyed the street; nothing moved. In the peaceful silence, I merely stared; there was nothing more I could do. I could not quite explain it, but as soon as I saw the street outside my window, I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I snuggled peacefully in my warm bed, unsure of what tomorrow might bring.

* * * * *

I was awakened by the sound of our opening door. My roommate was coming in from her morning run. That could mean only one thing: I was late for class. I jumped out of bed, startling my roommate.

“Shouldn’t you be gone?”

“Yeah, yeah. I… had an unusual night. Did you notice anything strange outside? Anything… different?”

“Yeah! You didn’t run past me, mumbling that you were late for class! You’d better hurry, girl! Your class starts in five minutes!”

As I threw on my clothes and grabbed my books, I kept glancing out the window. It looked normal: the trees waved in the breeze, the ducks dipped their heads in the rippling pond down the hill, and…

“Do you feel that?” I felt that strange wonder again. While it was comforting, I had no idea what it was. I felt safe and without worry, like all my cares could be taken away if only I were to be able to grasp whatever was giving me this feeling.

My roommate turned around and studied me. “I don’t feel anything. Are you okay?”

I looked at her and back at the window. What had I felt? Was I really okay?

“Yeah, I was just messing with ya. I don’t think I am completely awake yet. See ya later.” I hesitantly walked out the door. Was I losing my mind?

I rushed into class just as Professor Write was handing out one of her infamous quizzes. She looked at me with her chastising eyes, and I met them with the most apologetic expression I could conjure. I couldn’t get my mind off of what I had felt last night and this morning. But what had I felt?

I whipped through the quiz, as always. I don’t know what my fellow classmates feared in these assessments, but I loved the chance for easy points.

Still, I could not get my mind off that… whatever it was… outside my window.

I leaned over to Melissa, my faithful study companion, and asked, “Did you feel anything different this morning… or last night?”

She looked at me, questioningly, but I could tell she knew what I was talking about. A flood of relief swept over me; I was not insane. But that relief was immediately replaced with curiosity.

Melissa leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ll tell you after class.”

After a rather interesting lecture, I ran to catch up to Melissa in the lobby. “So…?”

“What do you think you felt?”

“Whatever it was, it made me feel a sense of, something good and right, like I had never felt before. But, it still made me feel rather uneasy. I really can’t explain it.”

“Well, I believe in an omnipresent God.”

“Oh, please, not that again.”

“Please, just hear me out. I believe He is always watching over us, His presence is not something to fear. He loves you more than you can ever know, so much He died on the cross for you.”

As she spoke, I saw how passionate she was about this. I thought about what had happened, glancing around the room to avoid her gaze. I didn’t want to… but…

“Could you maybe tell me more about this?” I finally conceded.

She smiled, and I knew my life would never be the same.

Written by Michelle

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