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Walking Between Mountains: The Importance of Small Actions

From beginning to end, life is full of some pretty amazing moments: taking your first steps, making a new friend, receiving an acceptance letter, landing your first job, marrying the one you love, getting a big promotion, holding your first child or grandchild, settling into retirement, and also – a moment I recently experienced – graduating from college.

But life isn’t always these mountaintop moments, where you’re on top of the world and all possibilities, like the countless stars above, seem within just a fingertip’s reach. No, as my favorite artist, Ben Rector, puts it, “Life is not the mountain tops. It’s the walking in between.”

And what happens during these walking-in-between moments? What happens on all the days leading up that next big accomplishment? Small actions, little habits, basic routines.

These are the things that define us – the things that demonstrate who we really are. Not our finest moments, but the little things we do on the days we spend walking between mountaintops.

It was my commencement speaker Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, who got me thinking about the importance of small actions. Rather than urging the eager crowd of graduates before him to go out and take the world by storm, leave our mark, or change society for the better, Rincones simply asked that we do the little things in life to which many pay no mind.

So what are these small actions, little habits, and basic routines that we’re asked to undertake? I believe they’re different for everyone, and we should seek to discover them sooner rather than later. In the meantime, here is a list of five small actions taken by five amazing people to inspire you on your own journey of discovery.

  1. Exercising – Fred Rogers

Best known as the host of the children’s television series Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, which aired between 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers was also a musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was a jack of all trades with a passion for creating meaningful, educational television that would personally touch the lives of children across America.

Amid all his production responsibilities, Rogers remained dedicated to one very small daily action: exercise. More specifically, he had a passion for swimming. According to The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, “swimming was an important part of the strong sense of self-discipline [Rogers] cultivated” (317).

The concept of self-discipline was also a key theme of Roger’s program, the importance of which he sought to impart through each episode. Rogers truly believed that if children could learn the value of self-discipline and execute it daily, they would lead healthier, happier, safer, and more productive lives. By practicing what he preached during the days Rogers spent walking between mountaintops, he was better poised to communicate lasting messages that changed a generation of young audience members.

  1. Writing – Anne Frank

Well-known throughout the world for her personal documentation of life during the Holocaust, Anne Frank was simply a young, Dutch-Jewish girl who lived through extraordinarily dark times. Without her dedication to the simple, daily action of writing, Frank’s honest depiction of courage in the face of Nazi persecution might never have been compiled to enlighten millions.

On April 4, 1944, Frank wrote passionately, “I want to go on living after death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me” (197). Frank did not so much walk in between mountains as she did walk towards mountains in the distance. But being wise beyond her years, she summoned the courage to hope for those mountaintop moments she knew she might never reach and remained dedicated to the simple task of writing along the way.

  1. Reading – Ben Carson

Ben Carson is currently the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but he is perhaps better known for his pioneering career as a neurosurgeon at John Hopkins. Before entering politics, Carson became well-known across the world for performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins as well as many other groundbreaking neurological procedures.

Having grown up in a poor neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, without a father figure and surrounded by racial prejudice, Carson became the successful man he is today because his mother, Sonya Carson, insisted he practice one small habit weekly: reading. According to Carson’s autobiography Gifted Hands, Sonya required that Carson read at least two books a week and turn in official reports to her about what he learned.

This weekly habit began as a requirement but soon developed Carson’s ambition to be the top of his class and make something extraordinary of himself. One small action turned Carson’s life around and paved roads to future mountaintop moments that would never have been possible without his passion for reading.

  1. Praying – Corrie ten Boom

Another inspirational figure from the World War II era, Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who saved the lives of nearly eight hundred Jews by hiding them with the help of her family. Ten Boom and her family were eventually caught and held in a Nazi prison and later concentration camps.

In her autobiography The Hiding Place, ten Boom writes about the many trials she and her family endured, both during their freedom as they worked to hide Jews and during their imprisonment. Despite the difficulties that ten Boom lived through, she was dedicated to daily prayer, which gave her the strength to face each day and ultimately saved her life during her internment.

Without the simple, daily action of prayer, ten Boom most likely would have lost her faith in the Lord like so many others who lived through Nazi occupation. But her willingness to go to God in times of confusion, heartache, fear, and pain sustained her through these dark valleys. Ten Boom is now considered an inspirational champion of humanitarianism revered by people around the world.

  1. Learning – Malala Yousafzai

A joint recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and the youngest laureate of this award to date, Malala Yousafzai’s name is well-known across the globe. In her memoir I Am Malala, she writes about her life growing up in Swat, Pakistan, where she advocated publicly for females’ right to education and attended school herself despite social pressures against this.

She also recounts the horrifying tale of an attempt on her life – when a member of the Taliban shot her in the head to try to silence her activism – and her determination to survive and overcome the attack.

Clearly, an unwavering determination to learn is the action that drives Yousafzai as she walks between mountains. She has experienced many mountaintop moments, both exciting and terrifying, each of them brought about by her simple but powerful dedication to the ideal that everyone deserves the right to learn.

What will you do as you walk between your mountaintop moments?

Clearly, the above is not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of small actions, little habits, and basic routines worthy of dedicating ourselves too. All we must do is be willing to find them.

Written by Meredith

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New Year: New Beat

For many Americans, the theme of the New Year is about personal development and self-care. Writers at Vitagene blog report that most American resolutions center around physical health, self-care, and finance. Whether you are meal prepping, jamming out during a ride-share, pumping iron, or getting rest and relaxation at home, this playlist will help set the right mood. Here is a compilation of songs to motivate you to be healthy, happy, and in harmony. 

Mindful Melodies

Practice mindfulness by listening to songs that inspire you to be true to yourself, believe in yourself, and be the best you can be.

Gym Grooves 

Sometimes, we just need an extra boost of energy to kick-start a great workout. Check out these tunes that get you in the groove.

Money, Money, Money, Money

As the great American R&B group, the O’jays say, “Some people got to have it, yeah, some people really need it,” but singer Jessie J argues, “It’s not about the money, money, money. We don’t need your money, money, money. We just wanna make the world dance. Forget about the price tag.” Whatever your relationship to money, enjoy the benefits it provides and give what you can to those in need. Dance, sing, and get that cha-ching, cha-ching!

Rhyme, Rhythm, Rest, and Relaxation 

Rest, rumba, read, and refresh with a few rhythmic selections. Jam to these tunes to kick off the year with sweet serendipity.

There is too much music out there to list all of my funky favorites. Browse the recommended songs and albums on your favorite music streaming service to find other tracks that suit your style. The new year can inspire you to set goals and improve your life. Use music to stay encouraged, energized, and eager to be the best version of yourself. Capture nostalgia by adding some of your favorite oldies to the playlist and sprinkle in current hits to keep things fresh. Support the motto “New Year, new me,” with a new year and a new beat.

Written by Ashley

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Following the Railroad Tracks

The train station manager saw Mi Yun wandering around the empty train station, knowing she had been there for several hours. She had previously told him that she was waiting for her uncle to pick her up. He said, “‘You cannot wait here. Do you hear me? No one is coming for you!’ Hanging her head in confusion and alarm, [Mi Yun] obeyed. The thumping in her chest started again. Tears burned her eyes as she stumbled back to the ox cart… Mommy, I need you!” After being abandoned on a train by her mother, four-year-old Mi Yun spent her childhood on the streets of war-torn South Korea, scavenging for food, warmth, and love. Because her father was American and her mother was Korean, no Korean would accept her, and she was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and purposefully starved because of her origin. However, every time she was near death or so cold and hungry she wanted to die, someone would be placed in her path to remind her to never stop trying to survive. In her book She Is Mine, Stephanie Fast uses differing perspective, realistic details, and heart-wrenching events to communicate that Someone had a plan for Mi Yun no matter what happened to her.

Throughout the book, I felt as though I was in the mind of Mi Yun because Fast uses differing perspectives based on the age of Mi Yun to unfold the details of the story. When Mi Yun is young, the thought process in the book portrays that of a very young girl, who cannot understand what is going on as her mother puts her on a train alone; a girl gullible enough to believe after several days of being abandoned that her mother would still take her in if Mi Yun could only get back to her. As she sat in the cardboard box she had called her home for several days, while waiting for her uncle to pick her up, “She repeated again, ‘It will be all right. It will be all right. I will find my way back home… I will get back to my mama” (60-61). Then, as more and more people hurt her, beat her, and torture her, Mi Yun’s innocence turns to fear and hate. She stops trying to get help from the local villagers and instead hides as much as possible in shacks, burrows, and caves, stealing food and warmth whenever she could. Each encounter she has with strangers, I was immediately placed in the mind of the young girl, reading her words, thoughts, and fears. On one particular occasion when Mi Yun is caught stealing, she is grabbed by a farmer. As the farmer drags Mi Yun down the street and into a crowd of angry villagers, she cries, “‘Please don’t hurt me… I will leave… Just let me go.’ …Is there any kind person here… someone who will stand up for me, someone who will protect me? She could only see hatred, anger, and disgust on the faces of the villagers” (101). This switch between dialogue, Mi Yun’s thoughts, and narration made me feel thoroughly engrossed in the book, as if I were right there alongside the little girl.

In addition to differing perspectives, Fast also uses realistic details that kept me thoroughly engrossed in the story. For example, there are accurate descriptions of the Korean countryside scattered throughout the book, so I could picture where the events were taking place: “She saw the train tracks running along the rugged mountains… She looked to the right… and scanned the train tracks surrounded by the grass, rice paddies, and more mountains. Turning, she saw behind her only the empty countryside and even more mountains” (75). There are also many descriptive portrayals of Mi Yun: “She was tiny and beautiful in a way that was both Western and Asian. Her eyes were a bit rounder than the other children… Her hair, lighter in color than the rest, had a soft curl to it” (37). These are two of the many examples of Stephanie Fast’s excellent descriptions in She Is Mine. There are also depictions of Mi Yun’s encounters, the places she goes, and the experiences she has. These depictions allowed me to visually picture the characters and scenery, so I could imagine what Mi Yun saw as she suffered.

Finally, there are many events in this novel that caused me to deeply empathize with Mi Yun. One time, when she was caught stealing from a farmer, Mi Yun was dragged to a water mill and tied to it, and the water mill was then turned on. “[Mi Yun] didn’t quite know what was happening, except that the wheel was moving. Its slow rotation took Yoon Myoung to the top, where a flood of water spilled into her face, causing her to sputter and choke…With no time to catch her breath, she was thrust under the murky water as the wheel continued its rotation. Scraping along the graveling bottom of the pond, she felt her face being cut and bruised by the mud and gravel” (103-104). She was raped, beaten, run out of villages, suffered a fall from the hands of strangers that killed the baby she was taking care of, and nearly died from sickness. Many times, I found myself mentally yelling at the other characters, aghast at the inhumanity of the Koreans that Mi Yun encountered. However, no matter how much she went through, someone was always put in her path that cared for her, encouraged her, and helped her to keep going.

The story of Mi Yun is one that captures the interest of every reader, as they learn about the horrors she endured as a result of her origin, from being abandoned by her mother to being refused food by villagers. However, the reader is constantly reminded that someone is watching out for Mi Yun through the little things that happen to her along the way. The end of the story renews one’s confidence that God is always watching over us, no matter how hard life becomes. But, if you would like to know what this incredible ending is, you will have to read Stephanie Fast’s She Is Mine.

Written by Michelle

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Why You Should Never Be a Writer

Writing is hard. Really hard. To an outsider, it might appear easy enough, but writers know that isn’t true. It takes years of careful practice and a million and one drafts to produce one complete novel, and don’t even get me started on trying to publish it. We all know that’s almost impossible. Writers spend hours and hours carefully crafting a single poem or story, only for it to never see the light of day. All of that goes to say, don’t become a writer; it’s not worth it.

It’s not worth the hours you’ll spend with your head in the clouds, dreaming about worlds and characters that don’t exist. You’ll go on imaginary adventures and live a thousand lives in the span of a single lifetime. The world around you will begin to change because of your new perspective. The more you write, the more you will see the beauty and intricacy of the world. Your mind will be opened to new ideas and perspectives, and you will begin to realize that God is using our lives to weave together billions of detailed and unique narratives that all interconnect into one long story that points to Him. So, don’t become a writer.

It’s not worth the rewarding feeling of writing something that you’re truly proud of, that unmatchable feeling of finally fulfilling the dream you’ve had for so long. When you finally get the perfect draft after dozens of discarded ones, you’ll feel more pride than you ever have before. Not to mention the feeling you get when something you wrote makes someone else smile, or laugh, or cry. A writer has the power to make people feel. To make them experience the world in a new way. That’s why you shouldn’t become a writer.

Most of all, it’s not worth the time you’ll spend pouring your soul out onto a page. When nothing in the world makes sense, sometimes all you’ll have is words. A pen and paper might be your only friends, the only way you can make the world make sense. You’ll amass dozens of journals and books filled with the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of times past, and you’ll get a nostalgic thrill from reading them. They can track your growth as a writer and as a person. Nothing compares to the realization that you aren’t the same person you were before. You wrote; you grew; you changed, and you overcame. All of the old giants have been conquered. Writing will purge all of your emotions until you have none left to give. So, don’t become a writer.

Writing will make you work harder than you have before. It will push you to the very edge of your creative limits. You will be challenged in new ways every day. There will be good moments and bad, but it will never stop being rewarding. Through writing, you will learn to think and to feel differently – more deeply. It will help you develop a writing community and hone your craft. Writing is hard, but it can be wonderful. So, obviously, don’t ever, ever become a writer.

Written by Taylor Hayden

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Four Pranks You’d Be a Fool Not to Try in April

Four Pranks You’d be a Fool Not to Try in April

Ah! April has returned, bearing the fruits of a new season. Oh, the lovely spring showers, colorful meadows, and plenty of pranks to try out on April Fools’ Day.

It is said that April Fools’ Day began in France with little children tapping fish heads on their peer’s backs and calling the day “Poisson d’Avril.” Scotland used their two-day rendition to kick off the first “kick me” signs. With great American appreciation for the first day of April, I give you my top four pranks for April Fool’s:

  1. Idle iPhone- For this prank, simply grab a friend’s unlocked iPhone and take a screenshot of their primary home screen page. Next, hold down an app until it begins to move and slide the apps to one of their secondary home screen pages. Next, set the screenshot as the background image for the phone. Voila! Now you may enjoy the next ten minutes of your friends techno tantrum.  You’re welcome!
  2. Freshly Squeezed Cheese- Ah! Ah-ha! The day is new and your roommate has just peeled his or her head off the pillow and is clearly in need of some morning motivation. Be a good roomie and fetch some breakfast. Maybe make some eggs and bacon served with a tall glass of orange juice. Instead of pulling out your carton of Minute Maid, serve something a bit less tasty. Grab a box of macaroni and cheese and remove the cheese mix from the box. Pour the cheese mix into a pitcher of water. Add more water if needed to dilute the color until it looks like orange juice and serve. That surely will wake up the deepest of sleepers and make for an interesting reaction.

Looking to turn up the heat a notch and be a terrible friend? These are for you:

  1. “Did I do that?”- Act as if you are clumsily ruining a friend’s life by pretending to wreck his/her gear. One idea would be to stage a spill on an open laptop or computer. Pour out some nail polish or bottle glue onto wax paper and let it dry. Afterwards, remove the dried substance and place it on the keyboard along with an empty bottle of the items so that it appears to have just spilled. You’ll adore that ghostly look on your BFF’s face when she considers the damage you’ve done. She’ll love you!
  2. “I see you!”-  Print colored pictures of scary characters and realistic looking hands and tape them in high traffic areas partway behind curtains, around walls, and other objects. Anyone who falls victim to noticing these peeping figures will surely despise the soul who almost made them wet their pants.

For the best pranks, take stock of your friend’s personalities. Be sure to know what they might find amusing and what might be downright offensive or hurtful. If you want to be known in your friend group as the mischievous and clever prank king or queen and still have a friend group, take caution before pranking your friends. These pranks are meant for everyone, including the “victim” to enjoy, not to be insensitive, disrespectful, or hurtful. “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV). So, use caution before proceeding!

Written by Ashley

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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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Why Do We Love Movies that Make Us Cry?

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

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

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

Written by Taylor Hayden

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