For the Love of Autumn

I love fall. A lot. I buy the cute turkey towels on the endcaps at Walmart, I wear jeans and sweaters when it’s still 89 degrees outside, and my username on all my social media is varying combinations of the name PumpkinSpiceHedgie—all year ‘round. Even when my friends make fun of me for it (all in good fun, of course), I can’t stress it enough: I really love fall.

You, however, didn’t click on this link to hear me ramble on about how much I love fall. Maybe you’re a spring-lover, or maybe you thrive in the snows of winter. Maybe you just have better things to think about than seasons, and you wonder why people like me get so worked up about the onset of a change in weather. Sometimes, I wonder that, too. So I decided to answer my own question, and—for added challenge—I decided to find Bible verses to match my reasoning. Not for any theological reason; just because God takes joy in our joy, and He’s bound to have something to say about it.

The first thing I think of when I think of autumn is the changing of the leaves. I still get a sense of childlike joy when I walk through a pile of sweet-smelling, crunchy leaves. Even though I live in Texas and the foliage mostly just turns brown and falls off, the trees surrounding my university manage to turn all kinds of bright colors anyway before they leaf (heh, pun) for the winter.

More than that, though, it makes me think of 2 Corinthians 5:17, in which Paul rejoices, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (New International Version). The process of becoming a new person, one whose focus is on God alone, isn’t easy; sometimes, it can feel like you’re just a dead leaf being stepped on. But take heart! God is working to bring something new and better out of you, and just like the leaves will emerge again in the spring, you will find yourself blooming.

Another great thing about fall is the change in weather. As it starts getting cooler outside, there’s nothing better than curling up in a big, soft blanket with a book. It’s so unreasonably hard to leave the safe blanket for the cold that dwells without!

That’s why Isaiah 54:10 stands out to me: “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” When things around us are terrible, deplorable, or just plain unpleasant, God wraps his arms around us like a big, soft blanket.

It’s hard to escape a discussion of fall without addressing the pumpkin spice latte craze. I will personally eat almost anything with the words “pumpkin spice” slapped on the side, so I was determined to find a way to biblically justify the existence and enjoyment of this delectable flavor.

Alas, Jesus never said, “Blessed is the one who drinks coffee somehow infused with cinnamon and pumpkin.” To my knowledge, the words “pumpkin” and “coffee” aren’t locatable in the Bible. What is in the Bible, however, are a plethora of verses about the passionate love God has for us.

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Think about how much you or your PSL-obsessed friend loves that spicy goodness and multiply that love by thousands, even millions. That’s how much God loves us.

Even though it’s important to remember God’s love and faithfulness all year ‘round, I find it easiest in autumn, which is a part of why I love it so much. Maybe that’s just a “me” thing, and you have something else that gets you in the mood for September 22 to finally arrive. If so, I invite you to share below, but I also invite you to consider these things, as well.  It makes the end of summer a little sweeter.

Written by Catherine

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Letter to the Wordy Writer

“Words words words, I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?”

Audrey Hepburn sang these famous words with her now polished British accent in the renowned musical, My Fair Lady. Although not as widely acclaimed as other ballads from the play, “Show Me,” wherein a frustrated Eliza vents her frustration about all the empty words being uttered from her love interest, has always fascinated me. It’s a wonderful song to sing in the shower, too. She goes on to sing, after childishly jumping over fences and twirling with lampposts, “Never do I ever want to hear another word; there isn’t one I haven’t heard.”

That little diddy often circulates through my head when I’m reading a text rich with unusual language or editing one of my own papers while thinking, “Why did I say it like that?” Advanced writers recognize the realities that not only can one’s writing always improve, but there is also no such thing as a perfect work. However, once our grammar is polished, our story is set, and our characters have colorful voices of their own, we sometimes find ourselves taking unnecessary measures to make our writing sound “better.”

For example, an insecure/new/word-fiend writer could find many, many ways to say, “She picked up the book and ran her fingers over the rough cover.”

For instance:

“She gingerly snatched the book from its resting place to trace the familiar design of the hardback covering.”

Not so terrible, eh? Okay, well, how about this:

“The book found its way into her anxious palm, glistening under the glow of the corner of the lamp, and, with an insinuation of wonder and an insurmountable degree of zeal, she feigned to make contact with the work. Yes, her fingers traced that rough, abrasive surface as doting and forgotten memories from that very story seemed to swirl up her hand and misfortune her mind.”

Although that description may have afforded a few new vocabulary words to the reader, it likely confused him/her, too. Writers love words. It’s why we write; it’s what we do! Language is our craft, and the pen is our tool. Even Scripture warns of the great power our words can wield:

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV.)

No pressure, right?

As Christians and as writers, especially as Christian Writers, we have a responsibility to communicate responsibly. We ought not say things we do not mean, exaggerate on purpose, or deceive our audiences. While excessively descriptive passages are obviously not as serious as cursing someone with our mouth, it falls under the same principle: don’t say things you don’t mean. Going back to the girl in our example, after reading each one, it seems fairly certain that the clearest example was the first: “She picked up the book and ran her fingers over the rough cover.” With every ensuing description, I veered farther and farther away from my intended message. All those elaborate and continuous commas eventually distracted from what I really wanted to communicate. Although words are a vast and glorious gift which can always be explored and experimented with, they are just as capable of destruction as illumination. In the words of My Fair Lady,

“Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don’t waste my time, show me
Please don’t implore, beg on the seats
Don’t make all the speech, show me.”

Treat your audience like the worthy readers they are by showing rather than telling. It’s an old adage for a reason: it stills holds up. Dear Wordy Writer, put your words where they matter. Don’t over frillify an already pretty thing. More often than not, a few cleverly placed words are far more memorable than a copious number of SAT vocabulary words. For even more goodness on this topic, check out our “Avoiding Wordiness” video on YouTube! (End plug.)

Written by Karoline

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The Web of Emotions

<p class=”Introduction”> I recently learned the programming language of HTML. A lot of nerds (hi- I’m one of you) will recognize this as the barebones language internet browsers will read when deciding what to show for a website. Everything is enclosed in “tags” which appear in angled brackets like <this>. Plain text has a tag. Images have tags. Tags have tags. The computer reads these tags so It knows what it’s doing with the next set of information, until it finds a new tag, or a closing tag. </p>

<h2>I wish life had tags.</h2>

<p class=”body1”> Imagine knowing exactly when you need to listen in because a conversation has a tag to tell you it’s getting interesting. It’d probably look something like <strong> to emphasize the important stuff before the closing </strong> when the subject turns to something far less interesting. Students could use this to know when a professor’s going to put a piece of information on an exam! Don’t want to see a horrifying image your younger/older sibling sent? Just read the tag beforehand and it warns you so you don’t burn your eyes to oblivion.</p>

<p class=”body2”> Of course, I sometimes forget that there actually are tags for everyone. They’re called “emotions.” They’re scary stuff for a lot of us to have, but hear me out. At their core, like any other HTML tag, emotions aren’t bad. They tell us something about ourselves. When I get angry because someone interrupts me, I know that the anger “tag” is telling me I like my opinion to be important to people, and when they interrupt me, I feel like they’re ignoring me. When I get sad because I don’t have coffee in the morning, that tag tells me I really like coffee.</p>

<p class=”body3”> So… if these tags are helpful, why don’t emotions help us? I’m glad you asked, because I seriously don’t know half the time. Continuing with our computer-nerd metaphor, if we’re reading tags to understand stuff, we also need to display it correctly on the metaphorical computer monitor- or, for humans, our behaviors. This means we, first, need to read the tag correctly. If I try to eat chocolate-covered espresso beans every time I’m sad, I’ll hurt myself further with my caffeine-driven run around the planet. Obviously, that tag isn’t being read correctly, because my behaviors in that case are harmful. Although, I’m still contesting that point because, come on– chocolate-covered espresso beans. </p>

<p class=”importantsetup”> Remember how I said HTML is basically the barebonse baseline of webpages? Well, there are a few more languages that can be used to spice up the internet a bit more. These include, but are not limited to, the following random acronyms: CSS, PhP, JavaScript, and JQuery, to list a few. These help refine and redefine sections of information so the computer can use and display them in a more appealing, proper manner fitting that of a well-built website. </p>

<p class=”spiritualknowledge”> God is a lot like these other computer languages. He can make us into something far better, and He can give our tags new meaning. He can even make things move dynamically (that’d be the JavaScript and JQuery working together)! But there’s one key component that HTML needs to have for these other languages to come in and improve everything. For each language, the HTML must be linked to that language and its corresponding file in order to enjoy the new functions. We can’t continue our HTML life and expect anything new if we don’t continually reconnect with God and constantly allow Him to redefine our body, paragraph, and section tags. We can’t expect our HTML emotions to help if we don’t turn to God for instructions on how to handle the information inside those tags.

But I still like chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Special guest writer: Isaac

Image credit: Isaac Miller

The Bridezilla of Christ

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by someone else’s wedding.

If it wasn’t the pea-colored bridesmaid dress you were forced to wear (and purchase), then it was the evil seating arrangement that stuck you between your former significant other and her flirtatious sister. Maybe it was the delicious looking buffet that turned out to be completely vegan, or worst of all, the invitation you were promised but mysteriously never received. It’s not always the case, but nine times out of ten it feels as though most wedding horror stories originate from one single entity: a bridezilla. Many people have had their fair share of run-ins with bridezillas whose dream weddings have turned into nightmares. Even if you’re as fortunate as I am and have never personally known a bridezilla, you’ve heard the stories and seen the movies.

A bridezilla demands her way, refusing to sway from her personal preferences regardless of the cost. She bullies others into doing what she wants, and instead of apologizing, she offers empty excuses. Her mind is constantly changing, but she expects everyone to cater to her desires anyway. She is so focused on herself that she forgets about the feelings of her guests, the needs of her chosen wedding party, and even the groom to whom she is to be wed.

I’d now like to take this moment to remind you that one of the most prominent biblical images of Christ and the Church is that of a bride and a groom.

“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…” (Is. 54:5)

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband’…” (Hosea 2:16)

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2)

“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21:10)

This is an accurate illustration for more reasons than just the good that comes from a marriage relationship. The Church can be one heck of a bridezilla. If you can’t fathom that such a thing might be so, look back over that definition of a bridezilla one more time. Selfish. Demanding. Fickle. Spoiled. Needy. Ungrateful. Unfortunately, that can all describe the Bride of Christ. It’s enough to make any guest in the building flee in fear, and it can quickly drive away even the most God-fearing of saints.

Yet the Bridegoom still loves his bride. Oh, how he loves her!

Bridezilla as the Church may act, Jesus sees the hidden gems that we truly are. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If we think we’re rough around the edges now, remember where we were before Jesus was Lord of our lives. The condition we were in when he invited us to be his bride was worse than any bridezilla you’ll ever meet; we were the essence of hopelessness and death. Yet Jesus loves the Church, holds community with the Church, and fights on behalf of the Church.

For this reason, Church, we, too, must love the Church.

The realization that we as sinners are undeserving of Christ’ love is not shocking; neither is the realization that there is difficulty in loving the Body of Christ. All the same, if we love Jesus, we must love his bride. No matter how many mistakes she may make, if you slander or wound a bride, chances are, her husband-to-be is not going to respond positively to your actions. Though he may not condone her behavior, he will always come to the rescue of his bride. Why do we suppose that Jesus is any different?

If you’re struggling to love the Church, you aren’t alone. Sometimes the Bride of Christ looks more like the Bridezilla of Christ, and it hurts to love her. I’ve been there; love her through it. Other times, loving the Bride of Christ requires that you pull away from unmerited lies of unworthiness and shame and allow yourself to be swept up by the extended, earthly arms of the Lord, his Church. I’ve been there, too; you cannot love the Bride if you do not believe that you, yourself, are worthy of his love.

The ironic thing about bridezillas is that as bad as they can be, people go to the weddings anyway. True friends and family recognize the special nature of weddings and choose life-long love over temporary stubbornness. One glorious day, the Bridegroom will return for his Beloved and make all things new and pure and holy. Until that beautiful wedding day, stay strong, Christians; there will be no bridezilla in Heaven, only the precious Wife of the Lamb.

Written by Savanna

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In the Beginning

I was recently bitten by the content-creation bug. You know what I’m talking about—the one that’s drawing everyone and their dog (or goldfish or gerbil or hedgehog) to places like YouTube and Vine to make a living by creating videos and other online content. To me, that sounds like the dream life, so I decided to try it.

The question, of course, lay in where to start. I had to rein myself in a little bit and decide what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. To figure that out, I had to answer another question: Why am I doing this?

I knew I wanted to keep my faith in the open, but we all know the dangers of that nowadays. Christians aren’t favorably portrayed, as we used to be, in modern media. It’s much easier to make “Christian” music or write a “Christian” blog and separate ourselves from the world.

The thing is, we’re not supposed to do that.

How do I know? Lots of ways. Take the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19, emphasis added).

Or John 17:14-19, where Jesus notes that neither he nor his disciples are of this world but are nevertheless in it. Verse 15, in particular, catches my eye: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” David Mathis wrote a great article on why this passage (and the phrase “In the world but not of the world” that was coined from it) means not that Christians should fall away from the world, but that we have been sent into it on a mission. I’ll let you read his article for more elaboration.

So we’re supposed to go into the world, avoid the advances of the evil one, and impact those around us. Cool. How does creativity tie into that? Dear reader, I’m so glad you asked.

When God created the world, he also created man: Adam; we all know him. He also created woman, Eve, when he realized one human wasn’t enough. Genesis 2:19-20 records one of the first things God told this man to do: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”

Writers, how many of you have struggled to find the perfect name for one single character? Yeah, this verse makes me cringe, too.

Remember also that God made Eve as a “suitable helper” (v. 20) for Adam (v. 20). She was made creative, too. Adam wasn’t meant to create by himself; he created in the pattern of God and with his fellow human.

So, what does this mean for us?

  1. Creativity is a built-in part of each one of us; it is God-given and it has a purpose.
  2. Creativity brings us closer to the Lord. God could have named all the animals himself and just told Adam what they were; instead, he let Adam do it with him, and whatever name Adam came up with was the one God ordained. It was a moment of trust and respect that will probably never be replicated in our post-fall existence.
  3. Our creative thoughts are not meant to be kept to ourselves. We’re supposed to use them for what God has told us to do, for the benefit of others.

When we use the materials, ideas, and abilities God has given us to bless others, we’re showing that we appreciate all those things—and that we love the One who made them. Any creator can tell you that the act of creation is an unparalleled experience. I believe this is why.

That’s not to say that everything you create has to be some praise and worship experience. Everything I just pointed out is simply describing the origin of creativity and the high standards set before us. For the Christian, it will shine through unexpectedly and subconsciously.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with my creative abilities yet. Right now, I’m just determined to be as genuine as possible. For me, being genuine means being loving, caring, passionate, discerning, and respectful, as Christ himself is. That holds true if I’m uploading my personality to YouTube or if I’m living a social-media-free existence. I want to live in such a way that, no matter what I’m doing, people see the difference in me and wonder why it’s there.

As the old saying goes, you can be anything you want to be—and the Christian label (or lack thereof) shouldn’t change the message we as Christians carry. As long as you are exercising the love, compassion, and attitude of Christ, you have the power in Him to create something truly amazing and life-changing.

Written by Catherine

Reprinted with permission from this blog.

Image credit: Kā Riley

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

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.”

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Written by Taylor

Image credits: Header image, Bible