Chip Bowls Crashing Down

The air is chilly. Dark red and yellow leaves lie restlessly on the damp evergreen. Jack o’ Lanterns with whimsical faces nestle in bunches outside of people’s doors. The aroma of cinnamon scented pinecones and pumpkin spice fills the nostrils of many as they cuddle around their roaring fires. In October, autumn is casting about mini tornados of leaves, brushing the feet of those in its path as the trees dance in the wind. This month is witness to the increased purchase of candy, fake spider webs, and Batman costumes. Only few know why this month is so significant, but don’t worry, I’ll clue you in. Besides all of the fantastical autumn themed scents, ten-pound bags of Snickers, and funny-looking pumpkins, this month brings sports fans together. October marks the halfway point of football season and provides a map for predicting which teams will make it into the Super Bowl.

Football season usually begins in early September when the pungent scent of Kingsford Match Light charcoal lingers in the air and hot dogs and burgers sizzle on the grill. Families and friends come together sporting the jerseys of their favorite teams and players, finding community in those who support their choices and even those with whom they can argue. While the kids are slip-slippery-sliding and cannonballing into the pool, their parents engross themselves in the nearest television, chanting and hollering in support of (and on many occasions, at) their favorite teams until another chip bowl comes crashing to the ground. This time is the start of the season, the first four games in which all teams have something to prove, and if your family is nearly as competitive as mine, then you do, too. If you were disappointed in last year’s performance, it is during this time that you are most optimistic, hoping your players have had rest and practiced and are prepared to dominate the season. September proves to be just that for football fans: a phase of optimism.

By the following month of the season, players are competing in games five through eight, which, to me, is truly when the season begins. October marks the point at which all the teams have exposed their secret super stars, those who run sixty-five yards upfield to the touchdown or kick an eighty-five yard field goal. These super stars help us football fanatics gage which teams will most likely advance to the playoffs and ultimately compete for the title of Super Bowl Champions. Now, instead of the smell of burgers and franks on the grill, the aroma of a Glade Warm Flannel Embrace plug-in fills the room. With one obnoxiously large marshmallow topping their cups of hot chocolate and s’mores filling their bellies, groups of football connoisseurs and amateurs, alike, continue rooting for their teams. With a scorching flame from the fireplace keeping them warm and a hot season approaching, fans are on fire for football during the chilly month of October.

Written by Ashley

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Letter to the Fiction Writer

Thud!

“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

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Fingerprints of Independence

Unless you’ve been to Washington D.C. to see the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes, you might not know it has somebody’s fingerprint ink smudge on it. I know, insensitive right? How dare you—whoever you are—put your grubby fingers all over the most precious gift of liberty ever bestowed upon the civilized world.

I wouldn’t blame any proper American for responding this way, but with respect to the circumstances, we ought to cut the guy some slack. For one thing, the Declaration of Independence that is on display in the National Archives Building is one of several original drafts. It’s not as if he soiled the only copy extant. Secondly, chances are high that, as the Continental Congress was accustomed to doing, he had to pack up the Declaration in a hurry and flee from the threat of the British Army. And, of course, we can’t leave out the most important detail surrounding this whole discussion: Some guy literally left his fingerprint on THE Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock left metaphorical fingerprints on the document, but this guy actually impressed a part of himself, unique to him and him alone, permanently onto one of the most valuable documents in all of history.

Nothing illustrates the beauty of America’s Independence Day better than this. The fingerprints of unknown individuals helping to shape a nation are what America is supposed to be about. American liberty was not won by the efforts of a few famous founding fathers, but by the life-long commitments of billions of normal people. How many signers of the Declaration can you actually name? What about the Constitution? Can you list more than five vice presidents or Supreme Court justices? The goal is not to shame you because you are not a history scholar; I want to encourage you because you are a history maker. No one is arguing against the influence of any revolutionary framers or anyone who has served in public office, yet when even their names go unremembered, why do we continue to ignorantly attribute the success of the United States to a handful of faces carved in a mountainside or etched onto currency?

America was built by the unknown for the worth-knowing. An unrecognized founding father named Button Gwinnett signed the Declaration of Independence so that Abraham Lincoln could one day sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The patriot laid to rest at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sacrificed his life so that Rosa Parks could one day refuse to give up her bus seat. Slaves labored to construct the White House so that one day Michelle Bachmann and Hilary Clinton could have a shot at sitting in the Oval Office. The fingerprints of the unnamed masses lay beneath the thin layer of recognizable individuals and milestone accomplishments that highlight history textbooks.

No one will ever know the name of patriot who left his fingerprint on the Declaration of Independence. But just down the road from where that document rests is a memorial dedicated to the man who penned the words of the Declaration; every Fourth of July, fireworks illuminate his tribune, and people speak his name with respect and awe. To some, we build monuments, and to others, we give honor by imitating their courage and patriotism and by walking down the path of freedom they laid out before us. Immigrants. Descendants of the Pilgrims. Welfare families. Trust fund babies. Criminals. Religious ministers. Farmers. Wall Street brokers. Republicans. Democrats. Privileged women of color. Low-income white men. Single dads. CEO mothers. United by freedom and empowered by liberty, these are the ones who bring independence to life through the way they live their day to day lives as Americans.

All are equally American, and all have equal claim on the American Story. Whoever you are, whatever your narrative is, if you use the privilege of your liberty to make a way for others to find their own freedom, if you celebrate every day you wake up an American as Independence Day, you, too, will surely leave your fingerprints on America’s legacy.

Written by Savanna

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The Caravan Outside Campus

It is the dead of winter. Normally, I would be at home with my family recovering from the holidays, but not today. I am at school—or, more accurately, at work. My on-campus job has called me in to cover a shift, just for a day or two. I am more than happy to comply, and not just because I prefer to keep my job. Since I’m only going to be at school for two days, my parents have granted me control of one of the family cars, which is a rare treat that I fully intend to enjoy.

Like a true rebel, I am going to go off-campus and pick up a nice Chipotle burrito with the hour I have off for lunch. (So edgy, I know.) I hop in my dad’s little silver Accord, adjust the hedgehog ornament hanging from the rearview mirror, and back out of the parking lot, feeling like a real grown-up. As I coast to a stop at the edge of campus, I’m singing with the radio, and all is right with the world.

I look to my left, and I see a few cars heading in my direction. Being the overly-cautious driver I am, I decide to wait for them to pass, since there’s no one behind me to scold me with a blaring horn. It isn’t until it’s too late that I realize how slowly they’re driving and how many cars there are. They’re all in the right lane, hazard lights blinking out of sync with one another.

Baffled, I look up the street to determine the source of this slow-moving party, and one car, ominously long and black, stands out from all the rest. Red, white, and blue fabric flaps from the car’s roof. Suddenly, I remember the last time I attended a DBU baseball game, when the entire stadium dropped everything and paused to quietly stand at attention as, in the near distance, a trumpet played a long, sad song. I remember the one thing I constantly forget about the Dallas Baptist University campus:

Its next-door neighbor is the Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery.

I freeze. Breathing too loudly no longer feels appropriate. One by one, the cars in the caravan pass by, the passengers barely giving me and my hedgehog a passing glance.

Reality crashes down on me as I realize that someone in this caravan sacrificed everything for the freedom I was relishing just a few seconds ago. Without that person, I might not have the funding to attend school. I might not have my job, which is a work-study position. Without this person, I might not be able to take off at my leisure and go as I please. Without this sacrifice, I might not be able to choose from a plethora of restaurants just a few miles down the road. I might not have a car at my disposal. I might not even have a driver’s license. Without this person’s willing and selfless sacrifice, nothing I am doing at this moment, none of these little things I rarely stop to consider, would be guaranteed.

In a daze, I realize one of the cars is coming to a stop, and I see the driver kindly wave at me. I shake my head and gesture at them to keep going, and they acknowledge me with another wave. Part of me wonders why they would risk making the drivers behind them mad for stopping, but then I remember why they’re all here. That one person is not the only one who has given up everything for my comfort. Their friends and family do that every day. Even now, as they lay their friend and family member to rest, they care for strangers more than they care for themselves.

The last of the caravan is a pair of police motorcycles, red and blue lights glaring. They wave at me as if to thank me, and I wave back as I prepare to drive away. I can see them in my rearview mirror as I turn onto the street, disappearing around the bend. My focus goes back to the road, but now I’m praying instead of singing as I go.

Thank you, Lord, for the freedom I have in you. Thank you for the freedom you give to all who ask, and for the freedom you have blessed our country with. Thank you for the men and women who defend that freedom every day. Thank you for being with them, comforting them, and loving them. Thank you for giving them the strength to keep going when everything is falling apart, when they want nothing more than to wrest control from you. Thank you for this person’s life; whoever he or she is gave everything in love, just as you did when you sent your Son. Thank you for that courage and that sacrifice. Thank you for the friends and families, and their willingness to give up something so precious to them. Continue to be with those who are grieving today; you are the only one who can truly ease that pain. Help them appreciate the freedom you have offered every one of us, and help me never to forget that again.

Based on a true story

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Carole Sampeck, used with permission in honor and memory of Adrian Sampeck

He Met Me In St. Louis

I know who you are.

You were raised in the church. Your parents sent you to Sunday school fifty-two weeks out of the year, signed you up for every children’s and youth event, and prayed with and for you nearly every day of your life.

You’ve been baptized, probably before the age of nine. You don’t quite remember the details surrounding the day you prayed the ABC prayer because life after that prayer doesn’t feel much different than life before. You still go to church, read the Bible, and pray, but that has always been true.

You don’t really like to share your testimony. It’s not interesting. There was no drastic, world-rocking change. It feels incomplete sometimes, like it never really happened. Occasionally, although you don’t really admit it to anyone, you wish that God had come to you in another way. Other times you secretly wonder if he ever came to you at all. But you ignore those thoughts when they arise; you dismiss the strange, churning nag that something somewhere is a little off. Because why would it be? You aren’t just a Christian; you’re a called, dedicated Christian who, on most days tries to pursue Christ.

I know who you are because, until December of 2015, I was just like you.

I spent my last years of high school and the first years of college trying to reconcile the confusing pieces of my Christian life. On one hand, I doubted my relationship with God; on the other hand, there were moments that I couldn’t ascribe to anything apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. By the time I made my way to St. Louis for the Urbana 15 Mission Conference, I was at the breaking point of my spiritual chaos. In the most hidden part of my heart, I secretly delivered God an ultimatum for that week in St. Louis: Either you are everything I thought you were, or you do not exist at all. I no longer cared which one turned out to be true, but if God was really there, I needed him to meet me in St. Louis.

One morning, half-way through the week, David Platt got up in front of 16,000 conference attendees to talk about the impossible task of manufacturing a heart for missions, and delivered God’s response to my demand. “You can’t create yourself a heart for missions…and you can’t manufacture your own heart for Christ, either. Only He can do that.”

That was my problem and I knew it. I didn’t know how; I couldn’t explain it. My life in the church, my years of prayer, my countless hours of ministry, my sincere desire to follow Christ in life and in missions—it no longer seemed sufficient.

I spent the rest of the day arguing back and forth with the Lord, who whispered honest replies of Truth. The conversation went something like this:

“But God,” I reasoned, “I thought you called me into missions. Why would you do that if you are not already the Lord of my life?”

The Spirit gently reminded me, I never change my mind about anything. Your surrender cannot quiet my call. But I still want your surrender all the same.

“But God,” I asked later, “all these years I believed you were speaking to me, comforting me, convicting me. If that wasn’t really your hand at work, what was it?”

Everything I have ever done in your life was done for the purpose of drawing you to me, he explained. Everything I will ever do throughout the remainder of your life will be for the same purpose.

“But God,” I pleaded, exasperated from my failed justification, “I can’t even name what exactly I’m holding back from you.”

He answered leaving me no room for excuse: It doesn’t matter. I want every piece of you. Just give me everything.

So I did. It was then that I discovered that my ultimatum earlier in the week was altogether false. Of course God exists, but thankfully he is not everything I thought he was. The God I met in St. Louis is bigger and stronger and more loving than my self-made image of him ever could have been. Doubts no longer creep into my mind. My call to missions is clearer than ever before. My prayers are more frequent and sincere, my study of Scripture no longer brings empty results, and my shortcomings have ceased to define my status with the King.

So, like I said, I know who you are. And I know who you can become.

I write this because you need to know that you aren’t the only one asking the questions you’re asking or doubting the things you’re doubting. I write this because God wouldn’t let me write anything else until I let you know that you are not alone.

Throughout the conference, there was repeated emphasis on the truth that for Jesus to truly be Lord of your life, you must give all of yourself to him. Before December 30, Jesus wasn’t really Lord of my all. That night I gave Jesus the rest of me so that he could finally have all of me. If Jesus isn’t the reigning Monarch of every single aspect of your existence, no amount of lordship in any other area of your life will ever be enough to make up for that. He is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

Fire Drill

Picture this:

It’s 5 o’clock on a Monday, and I just found out that I have three major assignments due before the end of the week. There’s no telling how long it’s been since my hair has been washed, laundry is piling up, and I’m teaching my very first lesson to a group of kindergarteners tomorrow morning. On top of all that, I’m taking 18 hours of classes, working 25 hours in the Writing Center, and I haven’t gone to bed before two-thirty a.m. on a single night in over a week and a half. To say that I’m stressed is an understatement and a huge one at that.

So, in all of my infinite wisdom, I decide to take things on one at a time. I decide to prioritize the tasks at hand and do the most important things first. I naturally decide to watch The Office.

Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the wisest decision, but hear me out before you judge. On that very cloudy, very crummy, completely overwhelming Monday, The Office taught me something I’ll never forget. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me set the scene.

office-stay-calm

Season Five, Episode Fourteen.

Dwight Schrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager, decides it’s time to have a fire drill. Since nobody paid attention to the fire safety presentation he gave last week, Dwight decides to make the drill a little more creative. What better way to do that than to jam all of the doors leading to the exterior of the building, to scorch the door handles with a torch, and to start an actual fire in the office? When his co-workers finally notice the smoke, havoc is wreaked, and they quickly try to evacuate the building. As they sprint around the room, screaming, pushing, and burning their hands on door handles, Dwight calmly announces fire safety procedures in the midst of all chaos. Ignoring his existence entirely, Dunder Mifflin’s finest staff completely lose their cool. Oscar climbs through the rafters to retrieve help, Angela fears for the life of the cat she’s hiding in the filing cabinet, and Jim attempts to bust down the door by slamming the copy machine against it. In the meantime, Michael throws a projector through his second-story window, and Kevin prepares for his last meal by shattering the glass of the vending machine. Commotion continues, and all the while, Dwight never ceases to provide safety instruction for his coworkers, yet, engulfed by the intensity of the stressful situation, his colleagues fail to utilize his guidance.

Now, let’s stop there.

I don’t know about you, but this scene, though I had seen it twenty times prior to this particular viewing, held more value to me on that day than it had ever before. There they were, my closest friends in Scranton, living through what might have been the most stressful experience of their lives; here I was, a poor and struggling college student still pining for her future husband, John Krasinski, living through what definitely is the most stressful chapter of her life. And yet, neither they nor I decided to look to the only One in charge of situations at hand that day. Instead we looked to people. We looked to our possessions and food and things of this earth. We looked to ourselves, hoping that we could conquer the stresses of our lives on our own. We did all of these things and chose to ignore the ones in charge. I failed to ignore the One in charge.

We, as Christians, tend to think that we have complete control of our lives. We exhaust ourselves daily by trying to keep up with the demands of the world on our own, and all the while, the Lord calls to us, yearning for us to submit our worries unto Him. Why is it that we are so slow to turn to Christ for guidance? The truth is, He already knew if those three major assignments were going to be completed, when they were going to be completed, and how well I was going to complete them. He already knew that a restful weekend would come at the end of the week, that my mom would help me do my laundry, and that my kindergarten lesson would be a success. He already knew the outcomes of every task I was stressing over, and all He was asking me to do was to turn to Him, having faith that He would give me the strength to make it though.

Today, I encourage you to look to Him. When finals start and presentations begin, turn to Him for the wisdom and strength. Don’t flounder in your own fire drill, but turn to Him.

Written by Haley

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on the wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Image credits: Header image, Everybody Stay Calm .gif

The Nature of Beauty: Short Story Day 2016

Two men stood upon an edge of a cliff, overlooking the land. The first was blinded in a childhood accident; the second was his dear friend, who took care of him every day.

“Can beauty be taken from a man?” The first cheerfully asked to the second.

The second scoffed. “It was taken from you, for you cannot behold the sight before us. Indeed, I know you cannot remember this sight from our childhood. I pray to the Almighty every day that your sight might be returned, that you might know beauty again.”

“Is beauty something one must see, then?” the first asked.

“Obviously. How can you appreciate a work of art without seeing it? Paintings and drawings must all be seen.”

“I can hear a piece of music,” the first hummed. “The chatter of men, the singing in a theatre.”

“Fine, fine. You can find beauty in music, in sound. But you still cannot behold most kinds of beauty.”

“And what of the sculptures found in the king’s gallery? I can feel the edges, the smooth curves, the grooves formed by the chisel. Can I not feel and behold that work of art?”

“I suppose you can behold the beauty of those works of art,” the second admitted.

“And I can eat,” the first grinned. “I love the taste of a pastry in my mouth. That, my friend, is beauty from a chef’s hands. Can I not behold the art of such a masterful chef?”

“I suppose you can find beauty in a chef’s work,” the second frowned.

“I can smell that same pastry as its being made. I can enjoy flowers. The fresh smell of rain, during and after, is nature’s own way of singing in joy that I can partake in.”

“I see you’ve thought this through quite thoroughly.”

“There’s more, my friend. What of the beauty of love?” the first said. “Can I not hear the kindness in her voice, feel the softness of her touch, and laugh at the sharpness of her wit? Can I not feel the thrill, the pulsing of my heart whenever she is near?”

“Fine,” said the second. “But what if all these things were not enough, if all these things were only pain in the end? If you were isolated, starved, your skin burnt ‘til you could not feel, and your ears deafened, you could not know beauty. All that would remain would be pain; therefore, beauty can be taken from a man.”

“What if the pain changes day by day?” The first asked. “If it does, then beauty, to that person, would be the times that pain lessens.”

The second grumpily huffed. “What is your point, my friend?”

The first smiled. “It seems to me that it is in man’s nature to seek beauty in all things.”

“Even in pain?” the second questioned.

“Especially in pain,” the first said, “for we seem to understand that there is a way things should be, and we search for glimpses of those moments.”

The two stood in silence. The second slowly realized that the first was, despite blindness, more able to perceive beauty than he.

“We would not have had this conversation without your blindness,” prompted the second.

The first smiled once again. “Indeed,” he said. “I believe your prayers have been answered, for I can see beauty far more clearly than before I lost my sight. Is that not something beautiful as well, that my blindness should be used to redeem my perception?”

The wind whispered gently over the two.

“This is how the Almighty works,” the second concluded, “in ways that create beauty from pain.”

“You are close to my point,” the first said, a thrill in his voice.

“Which is?”

“The Almighty, who created all things, who created mankind, who allowed us to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, to feel, is the source of all this beauty. And though His creation was corrupted, He still creates from the pain more beauty, which we otherwise would not know. He is truly everywhere, for He is beauty, and it is a miracle that we exist and experience Him.”

Written by Isaac: Many thanks to Brandon Sanderson for the inspiration of this short story—the first half is basically just retelling a conversation in the book Words of Radiance from his series The Stormlight Archive.

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