Glorifying God During Spring Break

It’s about halfway through the spring semester of college, and boy does it feel like it. Assignments are piling up, deadlines are getting closer and closer, and it feels like the strenuous work of college life will never end. As soon as we start losing all hope and contemplating what life would be like if we dropped out and joined the circus, a light appears at the end of a long, dark tunnel: spring break.

A whole week without studying, piercing rings of alarm clocks, or stressful emails from professors reminding you of upcoming assignments… well, as long as you aren’t taking a mini. When I think of spring break, I think of going home to my family in Arkansas, sleeping in every morning, and relishing in the glory of my mom doing my laundry and cooking my meals. As relaxing and peaceful as that may sound, it got me thinking; how would I be glorifying God while laying around being a slug all day?

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” I think we all must take this verse to heart this spring break; let us not lie idle, but see the opportunity to work for the Kingdom of God during this week of rest. Though there is no school work to keep us occupied, there are still plenty of opportunities to stay active and get involved in our communities. From volunteering for a worthy cause to dedicating time to a loved one who needs a supportive companion, there are endless possibilities to glorify God this spring break.

Almost every community offers volunteer opportunities like feeding the homeless at a shelter, reading to children at an orphanage, or partaking in fellowship with the elderly at a retirement home. If not, there are still ways that we can be a servant leaders in our communities independent of an organization. Every community can benefit from volunteers picking up trash on roadsides, holding yard sales that benefit a local cause, or paying for the car behind you in a drive-thru.

It is important to remember the purpose for these good works during spring break. No matter how you spend your week off, don’t forget the will of the Lord. In all of your triumphs, give Him the glory. Use your week of rest as an opportunity to teach your community for the One who set you free. Take advantage of this time that the Lord has given you, and let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.

Written by Lindsey

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Take Care of Your Characters

Have you ever been writing a story and get the worst writer’s block? Maybe you simply can’t figure out where the plot should go or why your characters are even in the situation in the first place. If you’ve had this experience, don’t worry. You are not alone. (If you haven’t, then I am jealous of your talent.) A good method to use when you get writer’s block is to focus on your characters. The plot is definitely the main element of a story, but the characters have a huge impact on where the plot is going.

If you’re like me, then you can get caught up in all the plot details like how Person A and Person B will finally fall in love and be together or how the hero will climb out of the hopeless situation he’s been thrown into. These, along with many other types of plot details, rely on characters. If you can figure out what you want your character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations to be, then you can figure out where your story is going.

One thing I like to do in order to keep everything organized in my brain and give me a visual aid is make character sheets. I compile a list of all the things I would want to know about my character. And this isn’t limited to a simple description like eye color, hair style, body type, and clothing. Although appearances can give certain clues to the identities of people, they do not tell the entire story. You can also list personality traits. What mood are they in most of the time? Give both the good and bad side of their character. Also, list some other random facts about them. What annoys your character to the nth degree? What can they simply not resist? What is their sense of humor like? What are their greatest fears? Do they have any deep, dark secrets? All of these attributes can affect your characters’ actions and therefore guide the plot of your story in a specific direction.

If you’ve got all this stuff down already, then maybe it’s time for a plot twist of some sort; you may need something unexpected to happen. Well, this may sound harsh, but to do this, you’ll probably need to put your character through a little (or a lot) of turmoil. But don’t be afraid to be mean to your characters. A lot of the time, the most influential moment in a novel or short story is when something negatively impacts the characters, especially the main protagonist. If they take something for granted, take it away, whether it be an object or a person. It will cause them to either change routes or test their commitment to a certain path. Maybe they have a belief or a certain someone or something they believe in. Make them doubt it. Make them confused. They may choose to seek out another truth or maybe they will overcome it and have a new, stronger faith. Remember their worst fears? Use them. They could fall in defeat or overcome it.

I used a couple of these methods when I was in one of my creative slumps as I was writing one of my fantasy stories. I specifically turned to my protagonist’s loved ones. My young, orphaned heroine had recently begun to form a positive and growing relationship with her newfound father figure and mentor, and she couldn’t have felt happier or safer with him. The plot grew to a standstill because the protagonist felt too safe and had no reason to move forward in her quest, so I decided that this was the time the villain should strike and take away this new safety from my heroine. I didn’t exactly kill the beloved mentor off, but I left barely enough hope for the heroine to hold onto so that she would have the motivation to continue her quest and fulfill her destiny in my story. Saving him and the goal of her quest became the same, so if she believed that she could save her mentor, then she would have the motivation to fulfill her destiny in completing her quest.

You can use these concepts and techniques to both develop your characters’ identities and push the story forward. Thinking about your characters, their actions, their beliefs, their fears will help aim the plot of your story in a certain direction. Without your characters, there would be no story.

Written by Taylor Hayes

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Spiritual Spring Cleaning

Fresh flowers blooming on the side of the road; a cool breeze ensuring that by the time you get to class, you’re a disheveled mess; and a symphony of sniffles from seasonal allergies. Sound familiar? Yup, everyone’s favorite time of year: spring. We’re almost there, folks, and despite the negatives that come with the changing seasons, spring is a good thing. In literature, springtime usually represents rebirth. In life, we associate it with the birth of cute baby animals and spring cleaning. So, what’s the connection between all of these things? Newness. Spring is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. However, it’s not just our messy houses that need a seasonal revamp. Sometimes we forget that our spiritual lives need one, too.

I’m sure we are all familiar with the feeling of having a dry spell in our spiritual lives. Things get busy, the nights get later, and time alone with God gets put on the back burner. Sooner or later, we realize we can’t remember the last time we earnestly prayed or engaged in a personal Bible study. More than that, we realize our fire for God has dwindled to a few smoking embers. The good news is, it’s not too hard to stoke the fire and get the flames blazing again.

Recently, I fell into one of these slumps, and when I realized it was talking a toll on my life, I did some research and worked on getting my relationship with God back on track. Now, to save you from the burden of having to go through the whole process yourself, I’m going to share some of what I learned from that experience with you.

Getting a Bible study routine down is one of the most important parts of maintaining a healthy and growing spiritual life. It can be hard to carve out time in a busy day, so I usually wake up a bit early to do it in the morning. However, if that’s not an option for you, pick a time in the day when you can sit down alone and dedicate time to God. The key is to stick to your guns and not let anything else take over that time slot. Finding a good study to do can be another good way to kick start your study time. While it’s also important to learn how to navigate the Word on your own, a Bible study program or book can help you get started or be a nice change in your routine now and again, before you go off on your own. A couple of good books I can recommend are Mark Batterson’s Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge and A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study by Jen Hatmaker. Both are helpful for establishing good habits in your spiritual study time.

Another trick I have found that helps strengthen my spiritual life is turning to God in prayer the moment that anything gets tough. I’ve had a lot of drama come up in my life lately, and I’ve begun to train my brain to immediately go to God in prayer as soon as I feel myself getting frustrated or run-down. I will be the first to admit that I am still far from being as patient as I should be, but it has definitely helped me cope with struggles better, and it has made me rely on God more than I ever have. If I can turn to Him in even the most difficult moments, it makes it easier to keep up my faith in the good times as well.

I am by no means an expert on spiritual matters. I’m just beginning to try to figure it all out for myself, and I will probably spend the rest of my life doing so, but hopefully some of my experiences will give you inspiration. The most important thing I think I’ve learned in recent months is that it’s never too late to get right with God. He is always there for you, waiting patiently. As it says in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Even if you feel like your spiritual life isn’t as rich or deep as your peers, remember that it doesn’t matter to God – He just wants you.

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!


Letter to the Adult-student Writer

Dear Working-Adult Student,

Hi, my (likely) stressed out friend. If you’re anything like I was when I decided to attend college at the ripe old age of 39, you have a family, one or more jobs (I had three), bills to pay, a home to clean, laundry piling up around you, a vehicle that needs regular maintenance, perhaps parents who need attention or care, and a myriad of other concerns that distract you from the business of classwork and study. In addition to those responsibilities, most of us have concerns about how things within the classroom have changed. Many of us feel like a duck in a forest: we’re old enough to be parents to those sitting by us, and that creates discomfort. There were times I felt that I couldn’t participate effectively because my background and ideas seemed so out of step with my younger classmates. I was flabbergasted at the expectations of and formatting used for papers, and I was terrified of using a computer for my written work. In fact, I spent much of my time feeling pretty overwhelmed, underprepared, and inadequate. Maybe you are feeling some of those things, too.

Friends, let me assure you that you can successfully earn that degree. You may have to delegate some chores at home and let some things slide, but you can juggle the most important things, and you can be a successful essay and research-paper writer. How do I know that? Because I was, and I hadn’t written a thing since my last English class in high school 20 years earlier! The truth is that sentence structure and the meaning of words haven’t changed over the course of our lifetimes. The shifts in language are so gradual as to be almost invisible to all but professional linguists, and that makes writing easier than we think it will be.

Oh sure, we may not be as up-to-date on slang or texting styles as our younger classmates, but they may not understand how to be formal in the same ways we do. We’ve worked in various settings. We know that talking with a prospective employer or current boss requires a formality that is foreign to most young people. We know how to persuade others: we persuade spouses and children, we persuade colleagues, and we persuade aging parents. So, we got this.

It’s likely that you don’t recall all the writing, grammar, or other academic terminology you learned in school. I sure didn’t. Nevertheless, we do know important things. Things like complete sentences. Things like how to successfully navigate the unknown or new. Things like negotiation. Things like how to meet deadlines. Things like how to organize time. Things like how to put the important stuff first. Things like not procrastinating until the last minute. All those things we know serve us well when writing essays and papers. We already know how to order activities; ordering thoughts comes easily when considering how well we already order work and family life.

What we may not know is that most universities have Writing Centers. (Yes, this may be a bit of a commercial, but bear with me because it will matter to you, too.) In these facilities, there are well-trained people who know the mechanics of writing, grammar, and formatting. They are there to help all students, faculty, and staff organize written class work. Most centers have extended hours and special tools to assist working-adult writers who find it difficult if not impossible to get to campus after working all day. Additionally, most writing-center people are willing to allow all students to decompress before diving into papers. Those writing helpers understand the pressures of writing papers, and they are all good listeners who are ready, willing, and able to give us time to talk and before helping make papers the best they can be. I used my own Writing Center staff for all my graduate papers, and you, too, should use your university writing center, my friend. You’ll be glad you did.

Sincerely shared from my personal experience,

DBU Students: For more information about the services offered by the Dallas Baptist University Writing Center, check out this link to our website. You’ll also find links to our various handouts and pamphlets on all things writing, as well as encouragement in your academic journey.


Oh Christmas Staff

Anyone who has ever stepped into our office during the month of December can gather one important thing about us: here at the DBU Writing Center, we really love Christmas, and we go to great lengths to celebrate it. (If you don’t know what we’re talking about, come by our office anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You’ll get it.)

Why? Well, the classic answer, of course, is that we are excited to celebrate the birth of Christ. We all do our best to not be consumed by the crazy hubbub of shopping and decorating and eating and remember that Christmas is still the precursor to Easter.

The more honest answer is that we have many, many other reasons to love Christmas. So, we polled our entire staff on some of the other aspects of Christmas that get us excited for the season. We asked ourselves two questions: what are we thankful for this year, and what do we want to receive for Christmas this year? The myriad of responses we got were both thoughtful and funny, so we just had to share them with you.

Things for Which We’re Thankful:

Ashley: I am beyond grateful for all of the amazing advice I‘ve received during 2017.

: Outside of those obvious things we talked about, I’m most thankful for the people in my life: my husband, my kids, my grandkids, my friends, and my staff.

Taylor Hayden: I am thankful for the amazing support system of friends and family that I have to help keep me going when life gets rough. Lately, the semester has made life crazy, so having people to cheer me up, distract me, and/or encourage me has helped make it bearable.

Leah: This year, I am super thankful for the oven in my apartment! I love baking, and I can’t wait to make all sorts of Christmas treats now that I am out of the dorms!

Karoline: I am most thankful for words. Specifically, I am reveling in all the ways they can be used to build up, bless, encourage, correct, and teach others. Incredibly thankful that God speaks to us through His gift of language and for all the different means of language we have access to!

Michelle: I feel God has richly blessed me this semester at DBU with new friends, amazing professors, and a supportive family. I believe I am most thankful for God opening the door for me to come to DBU in the first place and experience all He has prepared for me.

Jack: I am most thankful for my family. They support me in so many ways and have done so much for me throughout my life. I am very grateful for them, and I love this holiday season where I can spend time with them.

Savanna: I am thankful for people who actually use their blinkers.

Catherine: I think I’m most thankful for the gift of friendship. My friends I’ve made at college have been the best friends I’ve ever had, and impending graduation is making me realize how much I appreciate their presence in my life.

Lindsey: I’m most thankful for Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas. I used to watch this Christmas movie marathon with my family every year; I love continuing the tradition even though I’m not at home anymore.

Taylor Hayes: I am thankful for the Chick-fil-a on campus! Without it, I’d probably starve.

Becca: I am thankful for where I live now. I like the people I live with and the environment that feels like a home.

Maddison: I am thankful for a wonderful extended family of friends and immediate family that have supported me throughout my life, but especially my college career. There have been good and bad days, but these relationships are ones that I seek to keep for the rest of my life.

What’s On Our Christmas Lists:

Ashley: I want money for Christmas $$$$$$$$$$$

: What do I really, really want for Christmas? A pony and a place to keep it. Realistically, though, I have all I want or need, so I would like more sparkly pens, a trip to Scotland, or a week in New York City doing all the NYC things on my list. What am I likely to actually get? Who knows, but my husband Michael is the best gift giver ever, so whatever I get is sure to delight the little girl that still resides in my soul.

Taylor Hayden: I am obsessed with baking and kitchen gadgets, so anything related to baking supplies and or/utensils and small appliances for my current and future kitchen are at the top of my list.

Leah: For Christmas, I would like some fancy pens. I really enjoy journaling and hate buying expensive pens out of my own money.

Karoline: My once-sturdy army-green backpack has some significant rips and tears. So a new book bag to tote my heavy essentials around during my senior year wouldn’t be too shabby!

Michelle: Honestly, I cannot think of anything that I want for Christmas. I have a loving family, both at home and at DBU (#DBUishome). But, if I was forced to pick one thing, I would enjoy a drone or electric helicopter.

Jack: What I really want for Christmas is an international trip to Europe, Asia, or really anywhere other than here. Of course, the chances of receiving this gift are very slim, but I can dream and continue to ask. Maybe one day it will happen.

Savanna: I don’t want anything realistic for Christmas, so Hamilton tickets would be fabulous. Or if Jack wants to include me in the trip to “anywhere but here,” that would be cool, too. I hear London is beautiful this time of year.

Catherine: I’m hoping for as many Lord of the Rings/Middle-earth books as I can get my hands on, and maybe some money for the new Sonic the Hedgehog game (#jointheuprising).

Lindsey: For Christmas, I want either some Harry Potter wand makeup brushes or a remote-controlled BB-8 droid!

Taylor Hayes: I would like gift cards to basically any of the eateries that surround the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Free food brings me joy.

Becca: For Christmas, I want an external mic to plug into my phone. (Little known fact about me: I wish I could record every conversation I ever have and keep it as a physical copy forever.) In a similar vein, I’d also like for Andrew to Dropbox me the broadcast recording of our Christmas Eve services at church.

Maddison: I would say I’d like to upgrade my very old and cracked phone for a new, not-cracked one.

Sure, we have a lot to be thankful for. We love Jesus, and we love the story of how He came down to live among us and save us from eternal separation from God. But we have some weird stuff on our Christmas lists, too, and that’s okay. Our goal with these questions isn’t to provide passive-aggressive hints to our parents (although, to any who are reading, we hope this helps). Our hopes and dreams make us human, they make us unique, and they draw us closer to God. We want to embrace them as the God-given desires they are, even as we remember all the wonderful things He has already given us.

Merry Christmas, writers, and keep dreaming!

Intro/outtro written by Catherine

Image credit: Catherine Anderson


Vashti’s Rejection

“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes” (Esther 1:19, New International Version.) For those unfamiliar with the book of Esther, this verse records a conversation between King Xerxes and one of his officials. After literal weeks of feasting with his friends, “drinking with no restrictions” and gorging himself on whatever forms of leisure and entertainment he deemed relaxing, King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, for one more favor. I can only imagine that this was likely the request which broke the straw on the camel’s back.

Picture one’s husband inviting his bros over for a football-watching party, not unlike a typical Superbowl bash. He informs you that there will be lots of soda, chips, yelling, and maybe a little rough housing. Most wives aren’t opposed to their man having a few friends over; however, what if he asked to have hundreds of friends over for multiple months, just to party it up? I’d like to meet the wife who would agree to this, ask her what is wrong with her, and then beg that she not subject herself to such juvenile carryings on. Realistically, Vashti probably didn’t have a choice about whether her husband could take over their palace with a myriad of friends to do as he pleased, but I assume that she had a few opinions on the whole ordeal. It seems natural, then, that when King Xerxes issued a formal request for her to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles,” that she scoffed and refused to be paraded around like a trophy wife. Right on, sister! You’re a literal queen, and you shouldn’t stoop to becoming mere eye candy for a bunch of drunken lads.

As a child and an adolescent, when we went over this story in a church or small group setting, there was a popular and understood consensus: Vashti was a bad wife for refusing her husband’s request. She, as Xerxes’ officials also claimed, set a bad example for women everywhere and caused “no end of disrespect and discord.”

I’ll be honest with you: I think that outlook is missing the whole point.

You see, Xerxes, at that time and in that state of mind, was not being a good husband. Scripture clearly states that he was drunk beyond reason and had been in that state for some time. The Bible asks us to be sober-minded and watchful in all that we do; considering that the king was quite the opposite of sober-minded, it stands to reason that the requests he was issuing weren’t good ones. However, that’s not even the worst part.

It becomes particularly infuriating a few verses later when he banishes Vashti, the queen and his wife, from ever stepping foot in his presence. It is never fully explained if they obtained a complete divorce, but either way, Xerxes immediately started looking for a new wife. He held a nation-wide beauty contest to find the prettiest replacement because who cares about Vashti, right?

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst forms of human rejection one could possibly receive.

As I read this passage a few days ago, a new thought occurred to me. Keep in mind that, up until this point, the only sermon I’ve ever heard regarding Esther chapter one was in agreement with drunken Xerxes: “Bad Vashti. Bad example. Don’t be like her. Comply!”

The thought that came to me was this: God would never treat us like Xerxes treated Vashti. The king made an unholy request of his queen while he wasn’t thinking clearly. Not only that, he didn’t so much as offer her a second chance. In his rage, he dismissed her forever and went on a quest to find someone better.

Although God may make difficult and unforeseen requests of us, He does not ask us to do anything wrong. Don’t mistake me, Christianity is uncomfortable. If we’re walking as Jesus did, we will likely be urged out of our comfort zone constantly. The most peaceful part is this: when we don’t follow His commands, either knowingly or unknowingly, God does not reject us in return. As Martin Luther said, we can “sin boldly,” not because we are banking on forgiveness, but because we know we don’t have to walk in shame because of one, one hundred, or one million mistakes. Our God is the King, but He isn’t at all like King Xerxes. Like Vashti was to her husband, we are His bride, made to serve Him in holiness, rest in His protection, and delight in His grace.

Written by Karoline

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