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

Image credit

Letter to the Writer Who Doesn’t Really Care

Dear Writer Who Doesn’t Really Care,

So you’re trying to write a paper and you just can’t seem to work up the motivation to finish it. Maybe you think you’re almost done, and you’ve just been working on it for too long at this point to care about the conclusion. Maybe you haven’t even started writing yet, and you’re just staring at your topic with paralyzing apathy. No judgment. I completely understand. My work here at the Writing Center focuses on creating videos for our YouTube channel, so I don’t do a lot of writing unless I have to. In fact, I am late turning this blog in to the UWC social media expert because I did not care about writing it at first. At first! So how did I come to care about it in the end? I followed a few of the tricks I fall back on whenever I find myself not caring about something important. Want to know my secrets? Then read on for some tips to inspire just a little more interest in your papers.

The first question I generally ask myself when I don’t care about something, whether it’s a topic I’m supposed to be writing about or an activity I know I’ll have to do at some point, is “How could anyone possibly care about this?” To answer this question, look no further than to your friends! No matter how well I think I know my closest companions, they still regularly surprise me. Recently, I had to put together a debate centered around private prisons in the United States. I did not care about this topic in the slightest, and in a moment of frustration, I reached out to a friend and described to her my predicament. She responded with a history of her views on private prisons, surprising me with how much she cared about the topic. Hearing her talk about her opinions sparked a desire in me to learn more about private prisons. I fed off of her interest in the topic and was able to work out a solid debate. In many situations, your friends can be a source of inspiration.

I never know when I’ll learn something that will become a passion for me. During my first semester at DBU, I was enrolled in a basic speech class. I was not excited about the prospect of working on my speech-giving skills because I was uninterested in public speaking. In fact, I hated public speaking. I told myself while registering that I would be done with this general education credit soon enough and move on to the more exciting aspects of my broadcast major. As I sat through more and more sessions of the class I didn’t care about, something began to take root in my heart. My professor used the subject of general speech to teach us a little bit about the different ways in which people relate to each other. I was fascinated by the information I was getting and by the passion my professor had for communication. In fact, I was fascinated enough that I changed my major to Communication Theory after that semester. When I’m disinterested in a topic I’m writing about, I sometimes like to think back to this experience to remind myself that, while I’m researching the topic that couldn’t seem more boring, I might learn something new that becomes deeply important.

A friend of mine told me once that the presentation of information should be viewed as an act of love rather than a performance. I sometimes remember this advice when writing papers and struggling with boredom. Thinking of my paper as a performance that I’m being graded on by my professor never fails to dig me deeper into apathy. In the end, it doesn’t matter how well my professor thinks I do on a project. What matters is how much I learned while doing the project and how I apply the knowledge to the rest of my life. Thinking of a paper as an act of love, though, encourages me to work diligently. Expressing love in any form is an idea I can get behind. If I need to learn about my topic and my professor needs to see what I’ve learned, then I can work in love by meeting those needs.

One last tactic I like to employ when facing apathy for a writing topic (or writing in general) is to turn everything I don’t initially care about into a joke. About a month ago, I had to write an obituary for my Writing Across Media class. I had no idea how to go about writing an obituary and no interest in researching the process. As I was walking back to my apartment from class, however, I remembered that my professor had specified that I was allowed to make the obituary a lighthearted piece. I wondered just how lighthearted I could be while still taking the assignment seriously. And then, suddenly, I thought of what was, in my humble opinion, the greatest play on words to ever be thought of in the history of mankind: a turtle that dies “expectedly” because he runs into oncoming traffic so slowly that everyone saw his death coming. I know. Hold your applause. And so, with this exciting idea in my head, I ran the rest of the way to my apartment to read the entire chapter of my textbook on obituaries. I then proceeded to write the most well-crafted piece I daresay has ever existed on a turtle named Spunkmister who cured the common cold, won a Nobel prize, became the write-in President of the United States, and sadly passed away at the tender age of seven. I received a full one-hundred-percent grade on the paper. The power of humor on motivation cannot be overestimated in my case.

top hat turtle

If you’re struggling with disinterest while writing, don’t fret. I’m right there with you almost every time I have a deadline for a paper looming closely overhead. Feel free to give some of my suggestions a try to inspire interest. After all, they couldn’t hurt. And don’t give up! You can get through this paper!

Love,

Becca 🙂

Image credits: Header image, Top Hat Turtle

Three Dads, One Day

Father’s Day signifies something different for every father and child. For many, the day presents precious moments of reflective acknowledgement and expressed appreciation. It can be a time of community in which we have the opportunity to place ourselves in our Fathers’ shoes, to momentarily see our small worlds through their eyes.

Eager to understand how and why Father’s Day is so important to us, I asked some fathers in my Church community some questions about fatherhood and how they felt about Father’s Day.

[Me]: What’s your favorite part of being a dad?

[Dad A]: I’ve loved watching my kids grow closer to God. I’ve loved watching them use their skills and talent to glorify Him!

[Dad B]: My favorite part is the privilege and opportunity I have to father three human beings. I get the chance to disciple them so that they’ll become people who will carry the same legacy.

[Dad C]: When I get to teach them God’s ways and see them following His leading.

[Me]: What are your favorite memories of your children? Do you have any particular parenting experiences that you value most?

[Dad A]: Family holidays for sure. Fishing in Southern England with my kids was one of my favorite things to do. We’d spend weekends and summers laughing together on the beach, climbing rocks, and catching crabs.

[Dad B]: Summer vacations! We got to spend quality time together as a family.

[Dad C]: I think my favorite part was the whole thing: seeing them grow into the people they are now. I love thinking back to the days when they were still dependent on me. They’ve changed so much and have different personalities! I can’t believe how much they have overcome. They faced so many challenges when we moved here to the United States.

[Me]: What do you consider to be your strengths/strong-suits when it comes to being a father?

[Dad A]: I’m not sure if I have strong suits.

[Dad B]: I believe my strength is my ability to meet them at their level. I can be their Dad and their friend at the same time.

[Dad C]: I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my kids.

[Me]: What do you consider to be your shortcomings/areas of improvement when it comes to being a father?

[Dad A]: I have lots of those! I think one thing in particular is that I don’t think I tell them I love them enough.

[Dad B]: My weakness is definitely my temper!

[Dad C]: My weakness is that I don’t want to see my family sad. And I’m really good at spoiling my kids too!

[Me]: Finally, is Father’s Day special to you? If so, why?

[Dad A]: It reminds me of my solemn responsibility to be a Father to my children and it connects me back to the fatherhood of God in my life.

[Dad B]: It feels so special to get all of the attention for a day. You get to feel like you’re passing on a legacy to your kids – especially the love of Christ!

[Dad C]: It’s a time to reflect upon what I am lacking in as a Father, a time to receive my family’s affirmations, and a time to mend and evaluate my shortcomings.

Week after week, I watch these fathers invest their time, love, and wisdom into the lives of their children. I cannot help but think of how privileged we are to have such guardians. I know many do not have the opportunity to experience the protection, guidance, and friendship of an earthly father; but we are all blessed to have a heavenly Father. And if such delight can be found in the love of a human father, how much more in the divine love of our gracious God!

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11 (ESV)

Written by Jeka

Image credit: Jeka Santos

Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

We’ve all been there: the place where we’ve written a paper and turned it in, and we’re afraid of the possibility of a failing grade. We’ve all produced papers that we feel are not up to par with the grades we want on them. But take heart! We don’t always have to feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough. There are a few ways to check and make sure that the work we’re about to turn in is exactly what we want it to be.

The first and easiest way is to simply read the paper out loud, especially from the first to the last paragraph. Take 10-15 minutes to sit down with the paper and go through it. People often find that by reading their work out loud, confusing phrases and typos are brought to light and can be easily fixed. The ear is the best tool to check for mistakes after slaving over a paper for who-knows-how-long, but remember to spend some time away from the work before reading it to give the brain a break.

Get a friend or two to read it. Not only can they catch typing and phrasing aberrations, they can tell if the ideas present in the paper go along with what the writer wants to say. This prevents rabbit trails and ensures every point refers back to the thesis. Plus, it isn’t the author tiredly rereading the same material without actually noticing anything wrong. Most of the time, minor errors that were previously over looked could add up to a large percentage of points counted off by the professor.

Ask the professor if s/he will take a rough draft and give comments/corrections. The professor is the one grading the final product, so s/he knows what is desired when the work is turned in. This is a great way to understand which direction to go on a paper and ensure that the all the guidelines set by the professor are met. S/he can give helpful advice either on the paper or what to do if s/he will not look at a rough draft.

Finally, the option that will give authors the most help possible: visit the University Writing Center (UWC). At the Center, a trained consultant is able to sit down with authors and walk through their papers in a friendly, helpful way. The consultants at the UWC are well trained in the most up-to-date practices and rules of grammar and writing needs. They are paid to walk alongside students with their works, so why not set up an appointment to go through a paper? Their job is to help all writers become more confident in their skills and to make sure those writers understand what mistakes they make on a regular basis so they can be fixed. A consultation may bring to light some obscure meanings or flow issues that had not been detected by the author’s ear or friends.

After working hard on a paper, it is a wise decision to get all the help available in order to be confident about the product being turned in. There is no need to be unsure about the work produced when so many options are available to help improve it.

So the next time a paper is due, don’t feel uncomfortable about the work being submitted. Take advantage of the many choices available, especially the UWC, in order to be confident with the final product.

Written by Maddison

Image credit

Spring Cleaning

Now that spring is here, it is time for everyone’s favorite, or least favorite, annual activity: spring cleaning! While some despise it, others love it. Regardless of how we feel about it, it is a necessary evil for keeping our lives organized and clutter free. Although the general conception of spring cleaning is the sit-com picture of the whole family beating out rugs and throwing away useless old tchotchkes, there are more areas of life that need to be purged of unnecessary; our minds and our schedules also need some clearing out.  Spending any amount of time on reorganizing and reevaluating our lives can give us a fresh start each year.

We live in a busy world full of obligations. From school to work to extracurriculars there is a never-ending list of things we have to do. Often times, we find that other things take priority over our hobbies and personal lives. Although it doesn’t have to be spring to rearrange our schedules, spring cleaning gives us a good excuse. Cutting down on the number of unnecessary activities to make more time for ourselves is key in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Finding time in the day to breathe for a minute can help the rest of it run more smoothly. For example, I was recently juggling an unusually busy schedule and finding myself exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the day. Between school, work, friends, and personal activities, there was no room for rest. I found that reserving a certain amount of time every day for specific activities helped me to get things done more efficiently, while also occasionally being willing to sacrifice social activities to get some extra sleep. Learning how to say “no” to things I knew I didn’t have time for was also an important factor in making time for myself. Overall, it has helped lessen my stress and made my daily activities more enjoyable. It is a process I highly recommend for everyone.

While rescheduling can help reduce some amount of anxiety, taking time to ease our minds will help even more. Once the free time has been created, the next step is finding ways to use that time to relax. Everyone is different, so the things we do to unwind will vary from person-to-person. However, every person has something they can do to take their mind off day-to-day worries. Whether it be meditation, exercise, or a certain hobby, taking the time to let all of the thoughts go, even for a minute, will help reduce tension. When I find myself getting overwhelmed, I will go for a walk outside or read a chapter or two of a favorite book. Reducing mental clutter has the same cathartic effect as cleaning out the attic or closet.

Spring is known as a time of rebirth and renewal, so why not take that as an opportunity to purge our lives of all the junk and have our own personal renewal, so to speak. Having a clean house, a clear schedule, and a clutter-free mind will make life run a little bit more smoothly. Taking a break and having some down time will give us a better sense of well-being.  However, more importantly, we must remember that the Lord is our ultimate source of peace. As it says in 1 Peter 5:7, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

bible

Written by Taylor

Image credits: Header image, Bible

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

Letter to the Meandering Writer

Dear Meandering Writer,

Before we go any farther, please don’t be concerned that I had to Google a definition for the word “meander.” I promise I’m qualified for my job. Really, I am. You can’t judge me too much because I bet you don’t know how to define “meandering writer,” either. According to a conglomerate of online dictionaries, “to meander” basically means to take an unnecessarily indirect or aimless journey. In the world of writing, this is the author who loses his or her audience by going off on an irrelevant tangent or taking too long to get to a clear point. In my experience, meandering writers are the ones who have the best ideas and most well-conducted research, but simply lack the structure to tie everything together into a nice, neat, presentable package.

Some might argue that meandering isn’t really a big issue to worry about, but the reality is, a wandering paper fails to show the intelligence and understanding of a skilled student because it does not clearly communicate with the audience. Every once in a while, meandering does pay off—just ask Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Their proposed 25 essay project, known as the Federalist Papers, turned into 85 essays that took 6 months to complete. In the end, they eventually made their point: the Constitution of the United States is a document worthy of the full support of the states. If you enjoy being an American with free speech and a representative government, thank Hamilton and Madison for meandering around their topic, but unless you’re writing to define the direction of a new nation and establish a democracy, it’s probably best to stay on topic and to the point.

I know. That is easier said than done.

Here are a few things that may help prevent your essay from turning into a second edition of the Federalist Papers.

  1. Your paper is a tree, so avoid twigs. Every single point made within a paper either needs to support the thesis directly or directly support something that directly supports the thesis. (Is that as clear as mud?) In other words, your thesis is like the trunk of a tree. The limbs are your direct support because they connect immediately to the trunk. Branches are necessary secondary evidence for the direct support found in the limbs. Anything past the branches are flimsy twigs that barely link to the trunk. Chances are, these weak arguments can be pruned from your paper in exchange for a stronger, more straightforward essay.word tree
  2. Keep your thesis visible. The farther you get from the introduction, the harder it is to remember exactly what your thesis is claiming. This is especially true when you’re looking at a page count that extends into double digits. Write your thesis down on paper and refer back to it at every new paragraph and every time you get stuck. If you prefer to write your thesis after you’ve finished the rest of your paper (this is a great strategy!), go ahead and jot down a working thesis anyway. It never hurts to have a roadmap handy, even if you plan on changing your route.
  3. Don’t delete stray sentences; save them for later. Nothing is more painful than composing a beautiful sentence, paragraph, or page, only to realize it is not necessary for the paper. Unfortunately, this is a natural part of the writing process. Never keep something that distracts from the thesis of your paper, but don’t assume that just because something doesn’t fit in one paper that it might not fit in another. If you find yourself consistently writing and removing eloquent passages, the kind you wish you professor could actually see, create a document where you can save your meandering words for later. That way, none of your work is ever really in vain, and if you ever find yourself stuck for ideas or brilliant sentence structure, you’ll know where to start.

And of course, it goes without saying that you should always bring your paper to the Writing Center! We all know what it’s like to have more thoughts, sources, and ideas than space in an essay, and we’ve all struggled at one time or another to stick to a thesis. Nothing helps guide a meandering writer quite like a fellow student who has walked the same, winding path.

Written by Savanna

Image credits: Header image, Tree Outline (words added by author)