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Palaces Out of Paragraphs

Curly hair, a sharp nose, and a laugh you can hear from backstage: that is how most people would describe my mom. Intense, goofy, and always making an impression. They would say she is a fantastic teacher, friend, and daughter. However, when I think of my mom, I think of words: of bedside stories and snack-time chapters, of the different voices she would use for each character, and how she would pretend the chapter ended with a huge cliffhanger. I think of magic, entire worlds created with nothing but a hat from the costume box, a pillow fort in the living room, and her explosive imagination. When I think of my mom, music plays in my head. The 70s rock-and-roll we would dance to in the kitchen, the musicals we watched repeatedly, her hands on the piano keys, and her voice effortlessly harmonizing with mine.

My mom’s name is Beth Key, and she was all these things long before I was a part of her life. She taught at public middle schools and high schools for over ten years before retiring to be a stay-at-home mom, and though she didn’t know it at the time, she would also become a homeschool mom.

As I left the terrifying toddler years, my parents began to teach me how to read. This is when they realized something was wrong. I’m pretty sure it started with a book about princesses. We read it every night; however, as I read along with my dad, a single word kept tripping me up: “princess.” No matter how many times my dad sounded it out, I could never read it easily. It didn’t matter if the word had been in the previous sentence, I never knew it. This experience and a few other symptoms pushed my parents into getting me tested for a learning disorder.

Scene change to the Fundamental Learning Center, which is currently a full-time school for students who have dyslexia and an assessment center which creates curriculum and trains dyslexic tutors. I don’t remember much about the assessment, except for a row of wooden blocks I had to line up in different orders. They were heavier than they looked, and I wasn’t very good at it. Afterwards, I was officially diagnosed with Dyslexia.

So, what next? This was a question that dogged my family constantly as I began tutoring sessions three times a week at a small Catholic school down the street from my neighborhood. The tutor was amazing, but my mom longed to be more involved. The place I got diagnosed was, as mentioned, more than an assessment center. It also certified teachers to assist dyslexic students. This aspect began calling to my mom, and soon, she began training to become a dyslexic tutor. After several weeks of hard work, my mom got certified, and we began working together. That turned out to be tougher than either of us expected.

Homeschooling is hard, teaching dyslexic students is very hard, and homeschooling while teaching your own dyslexic child is even harder. Receiving assistance for learning disorders can make a person feel extremely vulnerable. Acknowledging you have a problem with learning, thinking, and understanding can hurt. After all, what kind of person are you if you can’t think right? Dyslexic students are not stupid. Dyslexic people are not stupid. However, when you can’t even spell the name of your own diagnosis, there is a part you that can’t help feeling…stupid.

Having to sit there and watch your tutor across from you rip out every coping mechanism you rely on, open every inconsistency you have hidden, unbolt the walls over the parts of life you just don’t understand, is scary. When that tutor is also your mom, there is something that can make every mistake seem a little more permanent. She had to make me rewrite the same sentences twenty times because the letters were tilted incorrectly and misspelled, and no tears of defeat could stop her from making me do it again. When I got papers back with big red slashes over them because ‘L’s only go right, and ‘b’ and ‘d’ are not twins, and ‘q’s are not whatever I just turned in, it was so frustrating because I know she knew I had learned it, even as it never came out correctly. I worried about what she thought of my future. How, I often thought, while clutching another failed assignment, could my mother ever be anything but disappointed? How could she ever not be disappointed in me?

However, vulnerability is not like a wound, it is like a flower bed, and teachers are the gardeners. If instead of being overlooked or beaten down, students are sowed with hope and encouragement; with hard work, they can grow into full bloom. The hour of my day that I dreaded most as a child enabled my mother to guide and encourage me. Not only did my mom help me work through my dyslexia, she also showed me how this disability could never keep me down.

My mom helped me continue in my love for reading, develop a passion for writing, and overcome my fear of failing. She helped me see that not only was she proud of me, but I could be too.

As my training became less hands-on, my mom began to take on more students, which she continued to do even after we moved to Texas. I think this is what I am the proudest of my mother for. I watched terrified parents come in with confused, vulnerable kids by their side. They would go into my mother’s office, and they found peace there. Whether they go on their journey with her or not, they find answers, and a warm smile. The communities my mom has helped through bringing awareness and assistance increase every day, and I could not be prouder.

I don’t know how different my life would be without dyslexia. However, I can say that because of my mother, this condition has not kept me from anything I have wanted to do. Because of my condition she can now help people in a way many people didn’t even know they needed. Seeing her work, I will never regret having introduced her to this world. With my mom’s help, I have been successful in school, made friends, and excelled at activities. And that’s just the stuff she’s helped me do by being my tutor! I have also continued to love books, poetry, and music. For a while, it felt like words had made me their enemy and cut me when I tried to use them. They weighed heavy in my head, becoming useless when I attempted to create. However, they are now weapons I am trained to use. They are building blocks that I can create worlds with, just as my mom does.

My mom and my favorite musical is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” which talks about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. In one of the most beautiful lines in the musical, Alexander’s wife talks about her disloyal husband’s prolific writing. She says, “You and your words flooded my senses/Your sentences left me defenseless. You built me palaces out of paragraphs/you built cathedrals.”

My mother may not have built the palace of my childhood dreams, but she helped me and so many others build something much more, she helped build us a future.

Written by Robyn

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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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Is Catawampus Fun to Say?

My life as a writing center director can easily become mundane. As my staff and I look at academic essay after research paper after class project, we quickly drown in correct grammar, active voice, and other aspects of formal writing for judging eyes that will ultimately grade the work with which we assist. Sometimes, though, we want to avoid the highfaluting, perfection sought in scholastic endeavors. We let our hair down and guffaw over words that tickle the tongue, cheer the ear, and satisfy our sensibilities. Are you ever like that? Do you, too, seek words that challenge your tongue and cause your brain to do a double take? Recently, I composed a list of words to share with a particular Writing Consultant who savors words as a chef does an exquisite dish of tempting flavors. Without further ado, let’s explore four tongue pleasing, ear thrilling words.

When is the last time someone in your presence uttered “walloped”? Has it been so long that even the meaning escapes your conscience? Perhaps the following context will help: Ellie May told a whopper (lie), and Daddy walloped her for it. Now, you and I might think he spanked her, but others might see a walloping more as a beating. You decide, but know this is a term and an action we hope has died. However, if two boys are duking it out and one wallops the other, you know there was a clear winner.

I’m as old as dirt, and only recently I discovered the word foofaraw. What a great word! Say it loud and clear: FOO-FAR-ALL! Now, wasn’t that satisfying? What does it mean? Who cares; it’s so much fun to say! Oh, wait. You do care? Well, it means much attention given to a minor matter: The students created a foofaraw when the professor announced they’d have an extra day to study. Now, don’t you feel smarter already? Or are you laughing, as am I?

My partner in seeking eccentric words giggles with me over hubbub. Say hubbub fast three times. It’s almost impossible, isn’t it? Say it loud enough and with enough laughter, and you’ll BE the hubbub, which is a loud hullabaloo. How’s that for an explanation? You say that using an obsolete word to define an archaic word doesn’t work for you? Well, fine. Hubbub is a noisy situation caused by loud talking and laughter. A hullabaloo is similar but may be more negative – less laughter more irritation.

Friends, those are four words that cause much laughter, hubbub, and even foofaraw in your favorite Writing Center. We love language, and we enjoy unusual, uncommon terms. In fact, we like them so much that we just might share a few more outdated, amusing words in another blog. Share your favorite funny words in the comment section; we could always use more laughter.

Written by Kā

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Lessons from the Writing Center

As I approach graduation and my two-year anniversary of working in the Dallas Baptist University Writing Center (UWC), I have begun to reflect on the lessons this wonderful office has taught me. When I submitted my application, I thought I knew everything there was to know about writing – academic or otherwise. Little did I know that, while I had many foundational writing skills, the UWC had much more to teach me. If you have ever wondered what being in a community of writers like this could do for you, the following lessons are worth perusing.

There is always more to learn

One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t visit the UWC before I applied to be a consultant. As I said, I thought I already knew it all. Well, it didn’t take long after applying for me to figure out that nothing could be further from the truth. No matter how great a writer we think we are, there is always more to learn.

Any good writing center staff knows this and is trained and eager to help students at any skill level. In the collaborative model, such as my office uses, consultants help students become stronger writers rather than editing their papers for them. Students are encouraged to continually return with their papers, read them out loud to a consultant, make edits as they go, and apply the concepts discussed throughout the rest of the paper.

Believe it or not, this model is most beneficial to students who are already strong writers or, at the very least, are dedicated to developing their writing skills. This knowledge and passion for writing enables them to better engage with consultants during sessions. I didn’t understand this before applying.

For those of you who love words, this means that visiting your campus’ writing center might take some humility. But if you ever visit, I promise, your session will be so effective. For those of you who aren’t writers, there’s still good news: the perfect writer doesn’t exist. It might feel like you have an endless amount to learn, but even the most experienced writer is right there with you.

Writing is a group effort

Before I joined the UWC, I thought that writing a stellar essay, or anything for that matter, required staying cooped up in my room and grinding out page after page until my eyes crossed and my fingers ached. Research, outline, draft, edit, rewrite, repeat. Research, outline, draft, edit, rewrite, repeat. That was my model because I selfishly thought, “Without completing this tedious process on my own, how can I consider the masterpiece created truly mine?”

Then I came to the UWC and learned that masterpieces are not often created by hermits. Unlike some might have us think, the greatest writers are not brooding geniuses who lock themselves up in the mountains or on an island, searching for inspiration and the ability to say, “Look at what I created, and all by myself!” No, the most successful writers understand what I had to learn in the UWC, that we must all swallow our pride and accept that truly good writing – whether an essay, a poem, a short story, or anything – is more often the result of wonderful collaborations.

For those of you out there who love words and wish to weave them on your own, this is potentially bad news. The way I see it, you’ve got your work cut out for you. However, for those of you who hate words and wish nothing to do with them, this might come as a breath of fresh air. You don’t have to figure writing out on your own! If your school, or your job, or your own ambition requires you to understand writing – and you can bet one of them will sooner or later – then find a community of people to surround yourself with who can help you figure out writing, one page at a time. I will forever be grateful for my friends in the UWC who helped me figure out my essays, my blogs, my emails, my cover letters, one page at a time.

These are just two of the many lessons the UWC has taught me. In short, I cannot recommend highly enough that you learn the joy of writing. If you are a college student, take a leap of faith and visit your university’s writing center. If you are in any other chapter of life, find a group of people who can encourage you as you write, just like all my friends in the UWC have done for me.

Written by Meredith

 

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Using Sources Effectively

Finding a good topic to write about and establishing a strong thesis statement is challenging. Realizing that you must come up with 15 different sources and manage to use all of them in your paper, however, can be anxiety-inducing. You start to panic, so you begin to pick random quotes and stick them in the middle of a paragraph hoping they’re relevant. In the end, you end up with a mediocre grade for something that took you so long and caused you so much stress. Don’t fret. There is a method to this madness. Below are some tips and tricks to help you navigate the seemingly mountainous task of using your sources effectively.

Plan Ahead

If your assignment requires you to use a great number of sources, make sure you start working on gathering them ahead of time. Find all of your references and list them out in order of relevance to your topic and/or thesis statement. Then, begin reading from the most relevant sources. Some may seem like they’re a mile long, but you don’t have to read everything. Read the first few pages, the middle few pages, and the last few pages of the source. Most articles also have headings and subheadings that help guide you to the most useful information for your specific topic.

Prepare your best choice of weapons, such as pens and highlighters, and brace yourself to tackle the giant beast! Highlight keywords or phrases as well as statistics. Then, in your own words, summarize research studies and expert testimonies. Before you know it, you have condensed your source into digestible bits of information you actually understand.

You Did Not Plan Ahead; You Need a Plan B

If you did not plan ahead and are in a crunch for time, all hope is not lost. Flip through the Psalms for some encouragement and prepare to win the race against time. Choose a few sources you think you would be able to use with the ticking clock in mind. Don’t forget, you have to actually write the paper too. It is better to use fewer sources well rather than to use multiple sources poorly.

It is better to use fewer sources well rather than to use multiple sources poorly.

Once you’ve picked the sources you want to use, start applying the methods described above. If you need extra speed, read and highlight the first sentence of every paragraph. This gives you a general understanding of the sources’ claims about your topic. You can summarize and paraphrase these claims and put them to use!

Making It Make Sense

Using direct quotes, statistics, and other facts can make your paper seem choppy if it lacks organization. The key to using sources effectively is asking yourself a simple question: why? Why did you choose that particular source in this particular part of the paper? Once you are able to answer this question, you can be sure you are using the quotes and paraphrases correctly. Connect all the dots for the reader, reiterate implied ideas for clarification, and make sure it all agrees with your thesis statement. It is also extremely important that you alternate between direct quotes and paraphrases throughout your paper.

Connect all the dots for the reader, reiterate implied ideas for clarification, and make sure it all agrees with your thesis statement.

Conclusion

Condensing and digesting the information found within sources might look a little different for each student; however, the overall goal should be gaining a clear understanding of the reason for the use of that particular source. It is also important that the reader can discern your own thoughts from a mere summarization of the sources. Practice evoking the question or prompt and your answer to it, also known as the thesis statement. And don’t forget, cite your sources!

Written by Kenean 

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Beyond Beta: Five Lessons I’ve Learned on the Wall

In the rock climbing community, the term beta refers to information about a climb, which may also be called a route. Beta can include anything from a route’s rating of difficulty, style, or length, all the way to specific hand, foot, or body positions needed to successfully complete the climb.

For those who are new to climbing, it might seem that utilizing effective beta is the quickest way to improve as a climber. I certainly thought this was true when I began climbing almost two years ago. While understanding and using correct beta is of immense value, the mental rather than physical aspects of the sport are often just as, if not more, important to successful climbing.

Over the past year and a half, I have learned five valuable lessons that take me beyond beta to a deeper level of understanding of myself. Both as a climber and as a person, these lessons have helped me consider who I am and who I want to be, and I find them applicable both on and off the wall.

  1. Comparison is the enemy.

In climbing, just as in life, the people next to us are seldom equal to us in skill. On rare occasions, they might know less than we do, but far more often, we find ourselves surrounded by those who are miles more experienced. Compare yourself to others and you are sure to board a one-way flight to failure. Yet, the lesson I have learned through climbing is not that we should isolate ourselves from those who are more accomplished in an attempt to feel confident about ourselves. Indeed, I have learned quite the opposite. Dr. Daniel Rose, my professor and academic advisor, loves to remind his class, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” In both climbing and life, this saying rings true. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, never compare yourself, and be humble enough to learn from the knowledge and wisdom of others.

  1. Give encouragement and seek out encouragers.

If you read my blog “Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from the Great British Baking Show,” you probably remember me stressing that encouragement is an important ingredient for success. This fact is true of anything that we set out to accomplish, but it is especially true on the wall. Not only must we seek encouragers, but we must readily give encouragement ourselves. As in life, you’re not likely to succeed as a climber unless you intentionally surround yourself with people who desire to see you succeed.

  1. Your mind will hold you back if you let it.

When allowed, the mind can and will shackle the body. There are so many temptations, in life and in climbing, to view tasks as impossible to accomplish. For example, take the ratings of routes, which in a typical climbing gym range anywhere from 5.6 to 5.13. These ratings, while in some ways helpful, may also hold climbers back if they allow themselves to dwell too long on them. Rather than rating the difficulty of the mountains we must climb, both literally and figuratively, what if we chose to free our minds from these shackles and truly believe that anything is possible with enough faith?

  1. Fail often and always try again.

Failure is a part of life, and it is definitely a part of climbing. If you’re not failing, you’re doing something wrong. Never be afraid to push yourself to the limit. In both climbing and life, try a harder route, take the road less traveled even when there is no map. And, when failure comes your way, dedicate yourself to getting back on your feet, dusting yourself off, and trying again. I have found that my greatest achievements on the wall, the routes I am proudest of completing, have come after a long, hard struggle for success.

  1. Talk to the person next to you.

Our days are filled with so many people whom we have the opportunity to talk to, and yet, so often, we choose to remain isolated. This is especially true when climbing. In a climbing gym, there are many people crowded together in a close vicinity, each struggling toward the same goal, yet there is still such a temptation to find your route, get in the zone, and stick to yourself. Perhaps the most treasured lesson I’ve learned on the wall is that, sometimes, the greatest joy in climbing is talking to the person next to you. In climbing, just as in life, every person has a story. So the next time you’re sizing up the wall or sitting in the break room or waiting for class to start, take a leap of faith and reach out to the person next to you. You never know the joy that this simple act might bring.

It has been far more difficult than expected to put into words all the passionate thoughts and feelings I experience while climbing. However, for both climbers and those who prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, I truly hope that these five lessons encourage you to shoot for new heights both on and off the wall.

Written by Meredith (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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I Thought I Was a Good Writer

Do you have one of those things, perhaps a skill, fun physical quirk, or personality trait that you can always fall back on to say, “well, at least I have that?” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think of one thing that allows you to confidently say, “yes, I can do that” or, “yes, I am that.” For me, my “thing” has pretty much always been that I am a good writer. “Writer” is a title I can claim with confidence because, well, I wouldn’t be working in a writing center if I couldn’t write well. When friends or family ask me to give them writing advice or simply say, “Hey, can I read this to you?” it makes me feel good. While it is not at all a bad thing to take pride in our abilities, as with any label, it can become a treacherous thing to uphold too highly. This occurred to me on the first school day of my senior year when I realized I am not a good writer.

Okay, let me be clear: I am a good academic writer and a decent creative writer, but those two forms just scratch the surface of all the different writing mediums that consumers enjoy. There’s technical writing, newswriting, screenwriting, business writing, social media writing, and more, I’m sure, that I simply haven’t learned about yet. For my whole college career, knowing how to write academically was all I needed to know how to do. As it happens, every writing-related class I’m enrolled in this semester, (there are three,) requires the opposite of academic writing. Academic writing generally spans many pages, and the greater number of three syllable-plus-words you can throw in, the better. English and history professors drool over an artistic and catchy introduction with ten luscious body paragraphs following. That kind of writing I can do. But what do my professors want this semester? Every creative writer’s worst nightmare: short written responses. The shorter the better. Simple words like “lively” in place of long, pretty ones such as “effervescent” are not only unnecessary in these types of messages, but frowned upon. Some students groan about ten page papers, but I can promise them that communicating a big idea in one page or less is far more arduous. If this blog were for one of my classes, I wouldn’t be allowed to say arduous; I would replace that word with “hard.” Ugh, how boring!

The realization that I am only skilled in one type of writing was a bit alarming. However, as I continued to go to class and face assignments where I was challenged to say so much in so few words, it became readily apparent how married I am to my title of “writer.” When folks hear that you are a writer, many of them think you’re smart. And if you’re like me, you just smile, take the compliment, and not let them know how ordinary you really are. Because too many people consider writing to be a great, mysterious art form, those who do know how to do it become a necessary commodity to society. Rather than feeling discouraged that I’m not as great or prolific a writer as I once thought I was, I discovered excitement waiting for me in the unknown.

If I am to be a writer for life as I desire to be, I want to always be learning and mastering new writing skills. If academic writing were my whole future and career, I’d have a pretty limited skill set to offer the world, and a repetitive job at that. Now, I feel as though my writing journey is being reborn, in a way. I’m a baby in newswriting and business writing, and it can be pretty uncomfortable to go back to wearing diapers in the play pen when you’ve been riding a unicycle in your trousers for so long. If anything, I know that for the rest of my life, my passion will not only enrich me but surprise me with its ever-changing nature. All writers know that you learn to write by writing, and with the myriad of mediums that await my eager fingers, I’ll be learning to write for the rest of my life. Whatever your thing may be, when the day comes and you realize you aren’t the best at it, or even as skilled as you thought you were, ask yourself: “How fulfilling is a skill if I can never get better at it?” Find your avenue, memorize its path, and walk boldly onto the next fork that comes your way.

Written by Karoline

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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!

Sesame Street Around the World

Being in tune with different cultures around the world is incredibly important in order to understand the people who come from various cultures. They have different customs, traditions, clothes, foods, movies, and television. Specifically children’s television. To be even more specific, the kid’s show, Sesame Street. Yes, Sesame Street can be instrumental in understanding the cultures of various nations and relating to the people thereof.

Sesame Street has been shown in over 140 countries around the world and has 34 international co-productions. And each of these productions is unique in its own way. Many don’t even go by name of Sesame Street. In the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, the program is called Hikayat Sesame, which roughly translates to “sesame tales.” The Philippines just has Sesame! The one in Australia is Open Sesame. Northern Ireland’s show doesn’t even take place in a city or on a street, but it does takes place in Sesame Tree. And then there are the countries that keep the same title but translate into their own language, like Sesamstrasse in Germany.

But what’s in a name, right? Well, each of these countries presents a title that relates best with the children who watch it. Most kids are familiar with cities and streets in America and Germany, but kids in Norway may know more about trains since that’s a popular way to travel there. So, their show is called Sesame Stasjon, which translates to “sesame station.” There is enough difference even in the names to establish a certain aspect of a specific culture, but it’s still possible to relate to the show and those who watch it.

The other similarities and differences that define each country’s version of the show consist of the characters themselves. Most productions have the same main characters like Elmo or Grover, but sometimes other characters get a makeover. For example, several programs have a grouch similar to Oscar, the green, grumpy muppet who lives in a trash can. In India’s Galli Galli Sim Sim, Khadoosa is a similar grouch but loves to take care of his garden and is quite proud of his flowers. Another is from the Rechov Sumsum show in Israel: Moishe Oofnik, who is brown and furry and lives in a broken car. (I guess that’s better than a trash can, right?) There are so, SO many more. And of course, all of their names pertain to the language of country where the program is shown. But just because they are in different languages doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the show with someone from a different country.

For example, I found out from a friend, who grew up watching Plaza Sésamo in Mexico, that instead of Big Bird, he knew Abelardo. Abelardo is not the big, yellow bird that Americans know, but he is a large, more colorful bird with bright green and red feathers, who is roughly the same character as Big Bird. These characters are different because of the cultures in which they are portrayed. Big Bird is supposed to be a canary, which is an American bird, and Abelardo is a parrot, which is more popular in the Latin America culture. It’s these types of seemingly little differences that can distinguish various cultures while also bringing people together.

So maybe the next time you talk to an international student or someone who was raised in a different country, try asking about Sesame Street. It can be a pretty entertaining topic. The show tells a lot about the culture of different societies, so you may learn something! At the very least, it serves well to strike up an interesting conversation.

Written by Taylor Hayes

Image credit

Father of Lights

James 1:17 reads “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” God has many names, but “Father of Lights” has been one of my favorites lately. I love the image it creates in my heart and the memories it evokes in my imagination. I love lights. They are extraordinarily important to me. When I think of who God is in my life, I often think of lights: a small candlelight flickering to life for a moment before being snuffed out and lost for years, then being suddenly drowned by the blinding light of the noonday.1

To explain what I’m trying to say, let me start at the beginning. My brother was a worship intern at a church, starting about six months before my first semester at DBU. The summer between high school and college, my family and I decided to visit this church to watch him lead worship. To put it gently, I was not on good terms with God at that point in my life. In fact, I’d scarcely ever been on good terms with God. In my heart, we were not friends; He was a presence I couldn’t get rid of even when I asked. The flickering candlelight of my faith had been snuffed out for so long I could hardly remember what it looked like.

When I walked into that church, something felt unfamiliar to me. I was no stranger to services at different churches, but there was something special here—something special about this worship. I didn’t exactly realize what that something was, but I felt it during one song in particular. The lyrics resonated with me in a way none ever had. I felt honest and true in worship for maybe the first time ever. I wanted to raise my hands, but I was afraid to look foolish. I scanned the room nervously to see if anyone was watching. To my relief, the lights were low—low enough that no one would notice one person raising her hands. I felt free; it was entirely new and wonderful.

Now, allow me to skip ahead a few months. First semester, freshman year, I took an Intro to Broadcast class. For this class, I had to volunteer twenty-five hours on a media project. Twenty-five is a lot of hours, and I was really freaked out at the idea of finding a media project where I could volunteer. I freaked out quite frequently in those days—mostly to my brother. His advice for this particular meltdown was to ask the Sound Guy* at our church (the same church I had visited that previous summer) if I could volunteer on the media team. The first words out of my mouth were, “Do you think he would let me?” To me, the media team was a well-assembled group of super individuals who, for lack of a better description, knew what they were doing with all that fancy equipment. They looked like superheroes to me, and I could hardly imagine joining their ranks. When I spoke to the Sound Guy about volunteering, he asked what kind of experience I had with broadcasting. My heart dropped into my stomach, and I said I didn’t have any experience at all, thinking he’d deny my request. “Great!” he answered. “Then we can train you the way we want you to be trained.”

A few weeks later, I found myself shadowing the engineer for that Sunday. She was in charge of adjusting how bright everything looked on-camera, but it seemed to me that she was piloting a spaceship for all I understood of her job. I mean, the screen in front of her looked like this:

av equipment

The whole video suite was daunting, and I was nowhere near confident I belonged there. Still, I felt welcome in that atmosphere. Being with the media team was nothing like I’d imagined. Everyone was so nice; they pulled me into their conversations and didn’t mind at all that I was too shy to speak at first. I remember one of them showed me pictures of horses on his phone for almost twenty minutes between services. After church, when my brother asked how my morning was, I remember saying something like this: “It was awesome! The equipment is so cool, and everyone’s so nice, and they had donuts!” He laughed.

Long story short, I showed up again to volunteer the next week. Then I showed up the week after, the week after that, and every single week for almost five months. During that time, I learned to be an effective engineer. I also became efficient in other media team positions:

Camera Operator **

camera

Technical Director (TD)

technical director

Stage Hand

stage hand

Computer Graphics (CG) Operator

cg operator

I began to really bond with the other team members, who ended up being the first friends I made in college.

Along with the excitement of joining the media team, there was a whirlwind of changes that came with starting college: new living arrangement, new job, new friends, new independence. The culmination of these changes came one Sunday morning at church when I was acting as the Technical Director. I was gazing at the screen in front of me, letting my mind wander, when I sensed a voice speaking to me. It was almost like when a thought pops into my head, except this thought popped into my heart. I knew instantly it was the voice of Holy Spirit, but I had never heard it before; I needed Him to confirm what He was telling me. I returned my focus to the screen for the time being and decided to ask Him if this was true when I could be alone.

That night, I sat down at the desk in my dorm room. I wasn’t sure how to go about praying with such an odd question in mind, but I thought having a Bible in front of me wouldn’t hurt, so I opened one up to a random page and set it on the desk. I also played some worship music on my phone, attempting to invite Holy Spirit to speak to me again. Once I’d done everything I could think of, I asked aloud something like, “Is this real?” Immediately, Holy Spirit spoke. The sensation is as clear in my heart today as it was in that moment. The darkness that’d choked my heart was broken through by a flood of daylight2, and the darkness has not overcome the light to this day3.

In March of my freshman year, the team was in need of a new lighting operator—someone to control all the lights in the Worship Center and on the stage. The Sound Guy asked me to try operating the lighting console one Sunday morning. I wouldn’t be programming the way anything would look; I would just be in charge of pressing a button at the right times to make the lights change according to the music. I liked it immediately. I was terrible at it, but I liked it. I started doing the lights a couple of Sundays a month, and I slowly began to get the hang of the musical timing. One day, I asked the Sound Guy if I could learn how to program the console myself, and he told me he’d teach me***. The next Saturday, he sat with me at the console, and we programmed the next morning’s service together. He walked me through every single motion I’d need to know. It took 13 hours. After several weeks of patient work together, we eventually got to the point where I could program alone. Today, I’ve been the volunteer Lighting Director at my church for a year and a half.

sound board

another sound board

The beautiful irony that I once walked in darkness and now work with light is not lost on me4. I am now the person who can dim the lights enough that a newcomer to our church can raise her hands freely in true, honest worship to my God, my Savior, my Lord, my King, my Lover, my Father of Lights5.

Notes and Scriptures:

*Definitely not his official title. Also definitely what everyone still calls him.

**I didn’t get a picture of the cameras at my church, but this one looks a lot like one of ours.

***I later found out that he hated programming the lights so much that he was beyond excited when someone else wanted to take it over.

  1. Isaiah 58:10-11
  2. Genesis 1:3-4
  3. John 1:4-5
  4. John 8:12
  5. John 1:8

Written by Becca

Header image credit: Becca Redmon