Monday, October 31, 2011

5 Organizational Tips for College

One of the most important ways to keep good grades as a college student is to stay organized.  When you have little time, run on little sleep, and live in a little dorm room, organization can be much more difficult than it was back home.

Here are five things that have helped me to stay organized over the past few months.  They have been life-savers to me and I hope they can help you out too.  If you are in high school, you can begin to use these tricks early on and form a habit.  If you graduated college already, perhaps a few of these tips can help you to stay organized in your day-to-day life.  They've helped me out a lot.

1.) A Daily Planner
A planner is absolutely essential for keeping up with your assignments.  Do not use a pocket-sized planner.  Purchase a notebook-sized planner and keep it in your backpack so you'll have room to write down all of your assignments.  (If you use a planner on your smart phone, that could work too, although I prefer something on paper.)  As soon as you get your syllabuses for your classes (they probably will contain your class assignments somewhere on them) , copy them to your planner so you won't have to keep up with four or five different papers each day.

Use symbols to catch your eye, such as a star for tests, bullet points for projects, and diamonds for reading assignments.  These will help you to know at a glance what you have coming up in the following weeks.  Of course, be sure to write these symbols next to the actual assignment.  The symbols are only to keep you aware of what's going on at first glance.
It may take a while to get the hang of your planner if you haven't used one before, but use it frequently.  Having all of your upcoming assignments and appointments in one place is incredibly helpful.

2.) Post-It Notes
I probably go through at least two packages of Post-It notes a month.  Purchase several different sizes and colors before the semester begins.

I use small Post-It notes to make notes with the date in which I studied a certain topic and completed individual worksheets in a packet.  This way, when I go back to study before an exam, I can study by date and refresh my memory on the things I learned a while back.  I use colorful, regular-sized Post-It notes to mark different class subjects in one notebook or to show what I studied before each test (which ultimately helps with the final exam).  Larger Post-It notes can be used to remind myself of appointments, assignments, and errands I need to run.

I also tend to use Post-It notes for little day-to-day things, like leaving a note for my suite mates when I haven't seen them face-to-face in a while or when I'm trying to memorize a Bible verse.
You can get Post-It notes just about anywhere: Walmart, Office Max, Walgreens, Target... they're very inexpensive and come in all shapes, sizes, and colors!

3.) File Holder
Okay, I feel like a dork saying this, but I'm not exactly sure what this item is actually called.  I do use it on a daily basis, however.  This is basically a portable file cabinet and I've reserved a file for all of my classes.  I keep homework worksheets, notes, handouts, and take-home tests in this file holder so I will not accidentally leave them behind in my dorm room or lose them.

The concept is fairly simple: once you finish using a class paper, put it back in the file holder behind its right tab and then take the file holder with you to your classes.  No more losing papers, leaving them behind in your dorm room, or mixing them up with the wrong classes.  This file holder has helped me a lot with organization and I use it all the time.

I also use a file drawer back in my dorm room for papers that deal with my enrollment, tuition, and things like that.  It is also a handy thing if you are trying to stay organized.

4.) Multiple Backpacks
Yes, I use more than one backpack.  I generally use three backpacks.  One backpack I use during the mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays for my hardest class, math.  It carries my looseleaf paper, a calculator, and the HUGE work packet that comes with the class.  The next backpack I take to class on Mondays and Wednesdays during the afternoon.  This carries my literature books, my notebooks, and my health book.  My final backpack I take to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It holds my notebooks, ASL text books, and Government text book.

Using more than one backpack can help you keep your books organized.  This way, you never have to take your books out and stack them to the side when you aren't using them... and you won't forget to pack a certain book when you go to class.  And if you decide to leave for the library to study, you'll know which backpack to bring.

Using three backpacks has helped me keep my books organized.  The only things that I switch out consistently between backpacks are my file holder and my daily planner.

I've collected the backpacks over time... one is Vera Bradley and a gift from my grandma, one is Swiss Army brand and I got for graduation, and one is Magellan and I got it for my birthday from my parents.

5.) Lists
You might not be a list person.  I am.  Almost every day, right before my first class begins, I make a list titled "Things to Do Today" and sometimes I'll put the date next to the title.  I'll then begin to list out everything I'd like to accomplish for the day, like...

1. Laundry
2. Math homework
3. Test corrections
4. Study for Gov test
5. Meet Stephanie @ 2:30
6. Grab milk from store
7. Clean out Charlie's bowl

See?  I write out the list on a piece of paper, fold it up, and put it in my purse.  I then carry it around throughout the day and each time I accomplish something from the list, I cross it off.  During the weekends, I only make one list for all three days.  The Thursday before, I'll make a long list of everything I need to do over the weekend.

When I make a list for the day, I feel like I have set goals for myself and I now have expectations for the day, so I know what needs to be done before I can relax.  This helps me organize my time, keep a clear head, and then feel accomplished after I look at a list that's been completely checked off.
But then again, I'm a list person. :)

What helps to keep you organized?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Gideon

The other day, I was walking to class and I saw an unusual sight.  Although I do see the occasional adult who has decided to return to college (and then a few professors here and there, but they are always very recognizable), elderly men are generally an uncommmon thing to be seen on campus.  Especially a lone man dressed in nice clothing and standing a few feet away from a sign that said: FREE BIBLES FROM THE GIDEONS.

I love the Gideons.  And the sincerity on the old man's face made my heart reach out to him.  In nearly ninety degree weather, the elderly man held out New Testaments to students walking by.

I was surprised at the abrasive responses I saw from passing students.  Some waved the man off irritably, some ignored him completely, and some snapped "No!" or "I don't want one!"  One student even said in an angry voice, "I don't want your Bible."

The responses made me sad.  About a week or two ago, a couple of Mormons were passing out tracts to passersby, and while I didn't see the same level of angry reactions that were directed towards the old man, most students brushed past the two young men without saying a word.  What's interesting is the fact that as a Christian whose set of beliefs is very different from the Mormons', I was very happy to say hello and smile at them as I walked by.  Their efforts did not offend me at all.

Really, why is passing out Bibles so offensive?  The old man wasn't threatening the fires of hell or judging the people around him.  He wasn't even necessarily trying to convert people to his faith.  He was simply passing out New Testaments... allowing students to study for themselves in order to know what they believed.  He wasn't being malicious or holier-than-thou.  He was only trying to share what he thought could help those around him.

As a Christian, it can be difficult to step out and be a witness.  I've gotten snide remarks and dirty looks over wearing a Christian t-shirt.  Sharing my faith opens myself up to even more anger.  Witnessing is difficult and not always very fun, but it's the greatest expression of love I can think to give to those around me.  This is why I'm not offended when people of other religions (kindly and politely) offer to share what they believe with me.  The biggest way I could show love to an unbeliever would be to say, "This is what changed my life and this is what has saved me."  Not to force my beliefs upon someone (because I am very eager to hear what he or she has to say about their beliefs, and if they say no, then I'm okay with that.  I've done my part), but only to share what saved me.  And this is all the Gideon was doing.

The students waved the old man away from them with expressions of resentment and irritation.  The man nodded and smiled, continuing to quietly offer New Testaments to anyone who would take one.  Out of probably thirty students I watched pass by, only one took a Bible and he did so without hardly stopping to look at the Gideon.

When the man saw me, he offered the Bible in my direction, the same way he had with all of the other students.  I smiled at him and said thank you, hoping my words would refresh him after the torrent of negativity he'd received from other students.  "God bless you," the old man said, grinning, and he took yet another New Testament from his nearly-full box to offer to passing students.

The Gideon's New Testament now rests in my purse and I plan to give it away someday.  In love.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Life at a Christian University (Part 2)

Today is another guest post from Ali, who was sweet enough to share about her experience at a private Christian university.  Be sure to check out her blog at Big Hair Ali.

1. Are you having trouble finding a church home?
No, God was gracious in pointing me to the right one immediately!  YAY!

2. Have you made any good friends in college yet?
I have made a lot of good friends.  Making really close friends takes a while, so [I haven't made] too many close friends.  But I did find Jordan and I can see myself keeping in touch with her until we are old and gray.

3. What do you think of people who act like they're very close friends even if they've only met each other recently in college?
I think they are just trying to find close friends fast.  I think it works to open people up fast.  But in order to become REAL CLOSE friends, time is needed.

4. What is the best way you keep in contact with friends and family?
Honestly, I have been failing in this area.  I am not a phone person and I usually am not on my computer much, so this has been hard for me.  I am not sure I can offer very much advice.  I guess you need to make it a MUST!

5. Is college easier or harder than you expected?  In what ways?
I think college is harder than I expected.  Not necessarily the courses, but being away from loved ones.  This has been tough.  Growing up is HARD, but I guess everyone needs to.  I just did not realize I would have such a hard time growing up.

6. What is your favorite part of college?
My favorite part of college is learning new things.  Even though sometimes I do not like the way I learn things, it is actually my favorite part because I know I am growing.

7. What is your least favorite part of college?
My least favorite part is being away from people that are dear and near to me.  I MISS them!  The next thing is the FOOD!

8. How did you choose the college you're going to out of so many to choose from?
I have always wanted to attend [my university].  I decided that maybe God had put that in my heart, so I decided to pursue it.  If doors did not open, then He had other plans, but if they did, then they would be clearly open, because looking at my chances of attending [that school] without faith were small.  They opened.  God wanted me here!

9. How is a Christian university the same or different from a Christian high school?
Well, in a lot of things, it is the same, like praying, and you do not hear ugly things, and you are in the minority if you act rebellious or break the laws.  However, it is different because most people pay for a Christian education [because they] actually want one, not because their parents are forcing them to go there.  There are a few exceptions though.

10. Has it been hard to adjust to college?
It definitely has been hard, but I know that I can do [it] through the strength of Christ and that He is growing me through the whole process.

11. Overall, how do you feel about college so far?
Overall, I know I am doing the right thing and I am where God wants me to be, so I am pleased.  I still have really hard days, but when I seek Him, He makes them better.  I also have really good and FUN days too though!

If you want to thank Ali for sharing about her college experience or ask her more in-depth questions, go leave her a comment on her blog!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Julie's Story


She is seven years old.  Her eyes shine blue beneath a swollen bruise, and dark bruises also mar her arms and legs.  Guarded, even at such a young age, she smiles hesitatingly at me, glancing at the drab concrete beneath her feet.

We are outside, sitting on the cement steps in front of the PAC, a place where children who have been abused go to be assessed before being sent to various foster homes.  "So why did you come to talk to me today?" I ask her gently, reaching out to put a hand on her shoulder.  She cringes, so I pull away.

"What do you want to talk about?"

"I want to tell Jesus I want to go to heaven."  She picks up a twig, fiddling it in her fingers.  She won't look me in the eye, but a shy smile is on her face.

I question her gently.  "Why can't you go to heaven on your own?"

"Because I sinned."

I smile at the girl encouragingly, getting out my Wordless Book and explaining to her how to ask Jesus to be her Savior.  She is afraid to pray on her own, afraid that she will 'mess it up,' so she follows the lead of my friend Cathy, her eyes squeezed shut as she talks to Jesus.  When she finishes, her eyes open, and she looks nervously into mine for the first time.
"I did it."

"That's right.  You did.  And do you know what that means?  You are God's child now, and He is your Father, and He will always take care of you."

The mention of a father causes her eyes to drop again and then her expression changes.  "God is my Father?"  The thought must frighten her in a way, but give her strange assurance.  Surely this Father will be a better one that however many duds she's had in the past.  "God is my Father."

"That's right.  You're a child of God.  You're His little girl and He loves you."  I read to her John 1:12 and then ask her, "Do you have a Bible of your own?"

Her face falls.  "No."

Cathy runs inside the PAC and returns with a children's New Testament.  The girl thumbs through it, her eyes wide with excitement, and then her face falls.  "I thought it was bigger than this."

"It is bigger.  This is only half of the Bible, the New Testament.  Maybe when you're older you'll be able to get a full one."  I wish with all my heart I could give her both testaments.  The little thing she holds in her hand just doesn't seem like enough.

"Thank you," she whispers.

"You are very, very welcome.  Do you have any questions or do you want to go back inside?"

"I don't have any questions."  She gets up slowly, cradling the Bible in her arms.  As she climbs up the concrete steps and walks out of the afternoon Texas heat and back into the air-conditioned PAC building, I reach out gently to stroke her blonde hair.  This time, she does not flinch.

She finishes the Good News Club with glowing eyes.  Fifteen minutes before, she had been whispering and fighting with the others... now she is listening attentively to the lesson.

I watch her as another little girl comes up to her and knocks the Bible out of her hands.  It clatters to the floor.  "Why do you have that?" she sneers, folding her arms across her chest.

The girl kneels to the ground, carefull picking up her Bible and stroking the cover with trembling hands.  She gets to her feet and hugs the book to her chest, giving the child a firm stare.  "Don't do that.  It's my Bible."

"Whatever," the other girls says and flounces away.

I hold my breath, unsure if this new Christian will be able to take persecution after being saved for such a short time, but she continues rocking the Bible in her arms and watching the lesson, refusing to back down in her newfound faith.  She reaches a small hand up to brush the golden hair out of her face, exposing her black eye.

I am reminded again of this little girl's dark past.  What has she been through?  What has she endured in her short seven years of life?  Any day now, she will finish her evaluation and be sent to a foster home or to some decent relative... or if they can find no one to take her, she will be sent to a children's home.

I catch her eye from across the room and she grins, a new confidence in her face.

After class, everyone is leaving.  I walk up to her and touch her shoulder.  "Today's a special day.  You became a child of God today."

"And on Father's Day," she says with a quiet laugh.

I smile at her encouragingly.  "That's right.  I'm very proud of you.  Have a good day, Julie."

She looks at me, nods, and hugs the Bible closer to her chest before joining the line of children to go back to the dorms for the rest of the day.

The heavens are rejoicing right now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life at a Christian University (Part 1)

Today's post will be guest-written by my best friend, Ali.

A few weeks ago, I answered some of your questions and wrote about what it was like to attend a big university like Texas A&M.  Ali went ahead and answered some of the same questions about her small private Christian university for those of you who are considering private school.  It was great of her to do this and I hope these questions help you out!  This will come in two parts, so be sure to keep an eye out for part two on Friday.

1. What classes are you taking?
Ali: I am taking: College Algebra, Survey of Old Testament, Introduction to Arts, World Literature I, Foundations for Excellence (a course required by my university)

2. What is your schedule like?
8:00 a.m. : Get up, get ready, do quiet time, clean room some
9:15 a.m. : Go eat breakfast
10:00 a.m. : Go to chapel
11:00 a.m. : Go to lunch
12:15-3:30 p.m. : Do homework or clean
3:30-4:45 p.m. : Work out
4:45-6:00 p.m. : Do more homework
6:00 p.m. : Go to dinner
After dinner, the rest of the night I will either to homework or hang out with Jordan [my friend] for a while and then go do homework!!  On Mondays at 7:00 at night, I do go to a Bible Study, and on Wednesdays, I do have a class at 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

3. What are your classes like?
They are hard but exciting too.  I am really enjoying learning.  I think I am enjoying it because I have good professors though that are wonderful Christian examples.

4. Are you liking your classes so far?
I am loving my classes.

5. How does your schoolwork differ from when you were in high school? 
It is very different from high school.  Because you do not go to the same classes every day, you get more time to do homework.  However, homework is more intense.

6. Are your classes harder than you thought they would be?
Some are harder.  Some are actually easier.  One class that took me by surprise was my Old Testament class.  That is actually my favorite class, but unfortunately it is my lowest grade.  It is a hard one.

7. What kind of food are you eating?
Well, DBU has all kinds of food, but not very healthy, as any other college cafeteria.  My food routine is actually quite boring: salads and sandwiches.

8. Where do you prepare food?
I do not prepare my own food.  I actually don't even have a microwave.

9. Are you enjoying the food?
Not really, but hey, I am blessed to HAVE food.

10. What was moving in like?  Like was it really crowded and stuff?
At first it was chaos, but then it got a lot better.  I actually feel really organized in a room that is as big as a master bathroom with two other girls.

Thanks for answering these questions, Ali!

(If you'd like to let Ali know her questions helped you out or you have a more specific question for her, leave a comment on her blog at Big Hair Ali.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Still Dancing.

Continuing after Friday's post... I found this recently.  I wrote it a couple of months after a friend of mine committed suicide.
The person I thought was me is slowly crumbling into nothing.  I'm not sure what is wrong with me.  I'm tired.  My mind is gone.  My personality isn't even the same.  Is this all because of Gatlin?  I don't know.

I'm tired of fighting.  I'm so tired of being strong, of being so fake.  I don't want to be like that anymore.  I want to be myself, but who is myself?  I can't find me.  I'm searching my heart every night to the point of not being able to sleep.  I haven't slept in days.  I'm so tired.  Why is this happening to me?

The night before he died.  Gatlin: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

What does this mean?  What purpose does this have?  What is the point of life if you're just going to die without DOING anything?  Gatlin died at fifteen.  How many people die at such a young age, in so much pain?  I mean, WHY did God put us down here if life is just going to suck?

I don't know.

I'm so ready for something new.  Last year, God blasted into my summer and saved my life.  I wonder if He could do it again.  This summer has to change something in me.  It has to be different.  It has to be.

Gatlin, I miss you.  Why have you done this to me?  Come back.

I wrote this next little entry a few months after that.  See how much my heart had already healed.

I still smile.  :) 
I still believe in Jesus. 
I still love. 
I still dance in the rain.  (I just did the other day.)
I still listen to music about changing the world.
I still dream of doing just that.
I'm still Emily, although a different one than I ever thought I'd be.
I'm going to be me. 
I'm going to figure this out. 
I promise.
I also found a few entries from the day Gatlin committed suicide and two days after that.  They were so filled with hurt and confusion that I decided not to share them.  I'm not sure what good they would do for anyone.
However, reading these snapshots of my heart from this difficult time in my life has brought me so much encouragement.

With the Lord's help, I can make it through anything.  He brings healing and peace and true joy.

Romans 8:38-39
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.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Break Me

This is a song I found in one of my notebooks that I brought from home.  I'm not exactly sure when I wrote it, but it's probably around two years old.  I still vaguely remember the tune.

Break Me
My future is unsure. I am blinded.
My heart is faltering. I need guidance.
My plans are all laid out in my weak, human mind.
Why do I not trust Yours, even when I know You're right?

I know You have many plans for me.
What they are, I don't know, but I guess I'll wait and see,
And when I pull away, try to plan my dreams,
Break me, Lord.  Fill my heart
With who You want me to be,
With who You want me to be.

I am trembling.  Life without You
Is harder than I thought.  God, I need You.
I can't believe I ever thought I knew enough.
I need Your love.  I need Your love.

I know You have many plans for me.
What they are, I don't know,
So I guess I'll wait and see.
And when I pull away, try to plan my dreams,
Break me, Lord.  Fill my heart
With who You want me to be,
With who You want me to be.

Take control of my life with Your burning, searing flame.
Renew my love for You so I will never be the same.
Make whole my breaking heart.  Hold me in Your hands.
Form my life.  Form my future.  Place me in Your plans.

I know You have many plans for me.
What they are, I don't know,
So I guess I'll wait and see.
And when I pull away, try to plan my dreams,
Break me, Lord.  Fill my heart
With who You want me to be,
With who You want me to be.

Friday, October 21, 2011

He was ALWAYS there.

So today I remembered that I used to have a MySpace page.  I hadn't been on in literally years, so I logged on and began to look through some of my old pictures and comments.  There was a "blog" feature similar to Facebook's "notes," so I clicked on that and found several private blog entries I wrote that I had completely forgotten about.  In fact, even while re-reading them, I don't remember writing any of them.  It seems like so long ago.  With each paragraph I read, it doesn't feel like me.  Not my writing style anymore, way too much sarcasm... but I know it was me.  Funny how much I've changed in the last four years.

I wrote the little journal-style entry exactly two weeks before my friend Gatlin committed suicide.  What's fascinating to me is the way the Lord was preparing my heart before I went through such a difficult time in my life.  Things were being revealed to me that would help me heal and grow over the next few months, but I had no idea why.

Another thing that's neat about the entry below is that this was written right in the midst of my coming-back-to-Christ experience that has become such a wonderful part of my testimony.  I didn't remember that I had written something so honest and personal during this time of my life, but I'm so glad I did.  This leaves me in awe of the way God was transforming me.  He was working in my heart before my friend died.  His love for me is so evident here, even within the words of doubt and hesitation in the entry below.

This is brutally honest and contains many of my doubts, so I feel a little hesitant to share it, but I feel like I should.  This shows the awesomeness of God.  Tears are forming in my eyes the more I realize how He has worked in my life every step of the way.  I had no idea what was going to happen in two weeks, but He did.  And He was already preparing me to heal from the pain.

(The entry was incredibly long, so I deleted a few sections, but you will get the main idea of it.)
Recently, I've been praying... a lot.  Mainly because there's been a lot of things going on the past few weeks that have sent me spiraling down into that moment where I'm sitting there in the midst of horror and I'm just like, "I'm about to get hurt, aren't I?" and then I have to decide whether or not to be depressed and bitter or to endure and trust God and push forward with my true friends.  Most of my life, I've chosen the depression.

Most of my life, when I get to that moment, I choose to pity myself and take all of my problems on myself and shut down my emotions and shut out everyone else and then blame God for absolutely everything.  It's a sin that I seem to fall for the easiest.  Only recently have I realized how wrong that truly is.

So that's basically what the past few weeks have been like for me.  A lot has happened.  It's just left me down in the dumps, and I'm refusing to become all depressed and suicidal, so I've turned to God for the first time in... forever.  Even when I am going through a rough patch--even if someone has taken my heart and then given it right back to me--I need to have faith.  I'm not all-knowing.  I don't know what God's plan is for my life, but it's my duty to trust in Him... not decide that I'm an agnostic every time something goes wrong.  I have to have faith.

So I've been praying and I've found out a lot.

Jesus loves me.  Hello, obvious.  I just haven't been able to accept that Jesus Christ actually loves me and died for me and cares about me just like He cares about every other human being on this planet.  I'm not worthless.  I'm loved too.  Everyone is loved, and most of us can't seem to get that.  I sure couldn't.  And now I think I can.

Recently I've been praying.  Even the most simple prayers have been hard for me the past eight months or so, because last year was crazy-bad for me and I lost a lot of faith.  But I've still been praying.  You know, this is your chance, God.  If you let me down this time, I'm giving up on you forever.  I can't handle this on my own.  Will you just help me get through today without having to hide to keep from crying?  And I wasn't quite sure what would happen, but wow... it worked.  God listened.

Life is getting better... I'm getting over it.  Disappointment is still there, but life is okay.  Everything is not all on my shoulders.  I can breathe for once.  Jesus has taken this burden for me and made me whole again... and that amazes me.  To think I have been trying to handle my own problems eight out of ten times my whole life--I have held that tiny bit of me from God, unsure if He could handle it--but now I've tried it, and look where I am!

And suddenly, I want to help others.  I'm still embarrassed about what I've done.  I'm still finding out who I am inside.  But I've found out who I can go to when I'm hurt and when I'm broken.  I'm not alone in my problems.  God's not just here when everything's going great.  He's the one who's waiting to take my hand when I'm split in two, but He can only take my hand if I let Him.

So all I really need is to just trust in Him.

Despite the fact that the little girl writing the entry above was broken and confused and about to be hurt beyond all words, I will treasure this journal entry forever.  I'm so glad I found it.

The Lord is so loving.  Thank You, Jesus, for holding me through everything.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Me? Pregnant?

It's crazy to imagine that the "Facing Prejudice" social experiment I did with Ali was almost a year ago now.  One social experiment we were planning to do last Christmas Break was for me to dress up like I was a pregnant teen and see how I was treated.  Although I was already eighteen at the time, I have always looked younger than I am.  I'm only an inch over five feet tall and I am often mistaken to be fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old.

It took so many attempts to try to find the right pregnant belly.  We didn't have any sort of pregnant suit, so we kept trying to find various pillows and things to stick under my shirt.  The problem is, everything was either much, much too big or much, much too lumpy or lopsided.  Nothing seemed to look like a pregnant belly.

Most of the time, I looked more like the Octomom than a pregnant teen.

Another problem is that the pillows were making my tummy look fluffy and squishy, not pregnant.  My dad is a doctor, so we were sure he would have some advice for us, but for some reason, he wasn't thrilled about the whole idea of me walking around in public looking pregnant.  I wonder why.  :)  Rebekah's mom, however, did enjoy helping us find various pillows and sweaters to stuff under my shirt.  The bigger the item that could fit, the funnier the night became.

As the hours passed, our attempts began to work less and less, but we were able to brainstorm about what the social experiment could be like.  We decided I would wear a thick sweater of some sort to try to hide the fact that my pregnant belly was fake (if we could ever find a reasonable pregnant belly).  I would wear very little makeup (or Ali's idea was for me to wear heavy makeup, since a lot of young girls unknowingly put on too much when they first start wearing makeup).  I considered wearing pigtails but then rejected the idea, as that seems to be the default "I look younger than I am" disguise.  Wearing a brand directed towards a younger audience like Limited Too, Justice, or even Aeropostale also might quietly suggest that I was a young teen.

Finally, someone brought me a bag of cotton balls and wrapped it around my waist with an ace bandage.  Somehow, this worked perfectly.  I looked like I was about seven months (but recognizably) pregnant.  And as far as I can tell, my stomach didn't look squishy, especially because of the tightness of the ace bandage.

Wow... I look pregnant, don't I?

For the finished product, I would wear a couple more layers or spanx of some sort to make sure and hide all of the creases from the ace bandage.  Otherwise, I was good to go.

The picture above totally cracks me up.  It's so weird to see myself looking pregnant.  I'll admit that I still haven't posted the thing to Facebook... I'm a little afraid of all the responses I would get since it looks so real!

We never ended up carrying through with this particular social experiment.

One reason was that I was concerned that someone would recognize me and I would have to explain away the fact that I wasn't actually pregnant but rather pretending to be pregnant... and what if someone recognized me and didn't say anything and then a rumor got out that I would have to awkwardly explain away?  It's not that I was scared everyone would think I was pregnant, because I would be able to show the evidence against it quite easily.  But see, in the wrong context, pretending to be pregnant can seem pretty... bad.  And very weird.

No, we almost felt the need to go out of town to perform the social experiment without stress, and we never found the time to leave town.

Another issue was the fact that I was eighteen, and although I look young for my age, I'm not sure if I look young enough for this experiment.  My fifteen-year-old sister could be a possibility, but we never sat down and discussed it long enough.

Perhaps over Christmas break we'll go ahead and carry through with this social experiment.  Who knows?

Man, every time I see that picture, I start to laugh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Something I've begun to learn recently is the meaning of disability.  Since I've been at college, I joined an organization called Deaf Aggies and Friends (DeAF).  I've been taking ASL as a foreign language and I've been able to get to know and befriend a few members of the deaf community in Aggieland.

As a child, I always considered deaf people to be disabled.  In fact, if I saw someone signing at a restaurant or out in public, I usually sympathized with them, thinking, "How sad that he can't hear!  I wish there was something that could be done for him."  And I definitely never considered the fact that I could ever be disabled.  I was disability-free.  Me?  Disabled?  No way.

It's true that I don't have a physical disability.  I can walk.  I can see.  I can hear.  But being disabled can mean other things too, and I've come to realize that over the last two months.

Recently I went to a deaf social at a frozen yogurt shop with the DeAF club.  While there are several hearing members of the club, I arrived early with a friend.  For a while, we were the only hearing people there.  Everyone else was deaf.

As the people around me conversed in quick and flawless sign language, I struggled to keep up.  When it came time for me to sign, my words were broken and shaky and jumbled.  I had only been learning ASL for less than two months.  In order for me to be a part of the conversation, the others had to make an effort to include me and be patient with my mistakes and many questions.

For the first time, I began to feel like I was the disabled one.

Out of everyone in that room, I was the one with the disability, not them.  I was the one everyone had to pause for.  I was the one who couldn't speak the language.  I was the odd one out.

Of course, everyone was very nice and didn't exclude me or make me feel guilty for being one of the only hearing people there.  However, despite everyone's eagerness to help me learn, it didn't change the fact that I was the one who was struggling to communicate.  Me.

Spending time with the deaf community has given me perspective about the meaning of disability.  Deafness is technically a disability, sure, but it definitely does not have to be a defining attribute... at least not in a negative way.  There is a beautiful deaf culture and community that I have come to see and appreciate over the last several weeks.  This community has been unseen by so many people.
Recently I was given the chance to see what it was like to be the odd one out in a room full of deaf people.  Hearing or not, I was the disabled one.  It certainly wasn't them.

I'm quickly learning that disability is relative.

Friendship is what matters.

The fingerspelled letters come from here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Letters from Africa

Lavin, the fourteen-year-old girl I sponsor through Christian Relief Fund, has been sending me letters like crazy lately.  I realize that Christian Relief Fund will occasionally send one or two letters from the child at once because of the great distance between Africa and America, but in the last month, I've received four letters from Lavin.  Wow!

Lavin and I have a special bond because we were able to spend a week together when I visited her school in Kenya, Africa.  We sang songs, shared stories, played games, and connected in a way I never thought I would experience with her.  Because of that, our letter writing has deepened beyond what it was when we were mere acquaintances.

Since I've been at college, my mom has been sending the letters from Lavin to me after they're sent to our home.  Recently, she said the letters have touched her heart so much that even she wishes I could just go back and see my sponsored child again.  I hope to visit Lavin one day, but first I must raise the funds I need in order to travel all the way to Africa and stay for at least two weeks at a time.  (I'm not sure how to raise three thousand dollars at the moment.)

Today I'd like to share with you the sweet, sweet letters I've received from Lavin over the last couple of weeks.  (I didn't change any spelling.)

August 2, 2011
Dear Emily,
How are you?  I hope that you are fine.  Here we are fine too.  I am thanking you for the letter that I have just received now.  I have two friends.  There name's are Doddie and Emily.  I miss you so much.  I love all of them.  I would just like to request [for you] to come back again and meet them too.
I thank God for giving such good friends.  I am praying for your families that may God be with them.  I am praying for your friend Rebekah [after her knee surgery, since I wrote Lavin a letter asking for prayer a while back] too.  The weather in Kenya is hot and cold.  When it is cold, we wear jackets and when the weather is hot, we put on light cloths.  My friends would like to see you or meet you.  I would like to write you a memory verse.
Memory verse:
My memory verse come from the book of Romans, chapter 3:18.  It says: Their is no fear of God before their eyes.
Psalm 100:1
Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the land.
Bye Emily
Your lovly daughter,
I love you Emily.

July 6, 2011
Dear Emily,
I hope that you are fine, you and your family too.  I miss [you] so much Emily and I hope that you will come.  Am so glad to you and you family and I hope that you are okay.  I am in standard 5 [fifth grade] and I am 14 years old. 
My favourite colour is green and brown.  My favourite number is 18.  And I want to tell you that I am doing well in school.  I am working hard.  I can remember the day that we went down to the field to play football and when we were dancing to school, we were singing. 
I can remember all the things we were doing in the school.  When I am going to sleep, I pray to [or for] you and your family.  When it is Sunday I went to church to pray and I must pray to [or for] you and you family.
I have a memory verse for you which comes from the book of Romans chapter 6:23.  It say For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Your loving daughter,
I wished you all the best.

May 1, 2011
Dear Emily,
Hi, how are you?  I hope you are fine.  Here with us we are fine.  I am working heared in school so that I can achieve my goals.  Am always glad to recieve your letters and my photo.  Am celebrating my birthday in 12th November.  I love you very much and God love you most.  May God give you a long life.

Dear Emily,
Greetings, sister.  How are you?  I am doing fine.  Please give greetings to you family.
For me my family also give you greetings.  I miss you very much, Emily.  I have missed you and thought about you often for long, long time.  I am doing fine.
I'm just so happy to know that you are healthy and working hard in your school work.  I pray for you every day.  I love you, Lavin.  You are my sister in Christ.  I love to hear from you.  You are beautiful.  Read Romans 16:19.  My favorite thing is to write.  I write songs, stories, and poems.  Do you like to sing?  What is your favorite story? [The last four sentences are actually direct quotes from my last letter, which makes me chuckle.  Now I certainly know she studies my letters.]
God will bless you.

This may not be as adorable to you as it was to me, but it broke my heart.  It was so touching to read her memory of that day when we hooked arms and danced all the way back to her school after watching the "football/soccer" game, singing all the way.  It's so touching that she calls herself my daughter.  It's so touching that she prayed for my friend and that she knows the names of my siblings and friends (she's mentioned them in other letters).  I miss Lavin's smile, voice, and her hugs.

I'm not sure what I can do to raise the money to go back to Kenya, but I long to be back on African soil.  Someday soon, I pray.
If YOU are interested in starting up a friendship with a child living in an impoverished country and providing them with an education, food, and clothes, then consider sponsoring a child through Christian Relief Fund for $35 a month.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How we can end hunger in Africa.

This is a speech I found that I wrote for speech class during my sophomore year of high school.  It isn't great writing, but it's definitely interesting.  I nearly forgot about this.  Surely something to think about.

Lavin Atieno lives in Kisumu, Kenya. She is nine years old. Her father is jobless. Her mother makes only $22.50 a month. That is not enough money to keep one person alive, and yet Lavin’s mother has to find ways to support a family of three. Lavin lives in a single-room mud shack in the middle of the third largest city in Kenya. Without a sponsor to provide food, healthcare, and a proper education for her, Lavin would have no hope for a future.

I have sponsored Lavin since she was ten years old with my monthly allowance and because of this, I know that there is one more child in the world that has hope for a better life.

You or your family may sponsor a child- you may even sponsor more than one- but did you know that there are still millions of children around the world without food, healthcare, or an education? In fact, if they held hands, they would circle the globe. There are so many children all around the world that are suffering, but today I am only going to focus on Africa.

According to the World Population Prospects of 2006, which is the most recent census taken of the earth, there are approximately 400 million children in Africa from the ages of 0-14.

Let’s stop talking about this for a moment and talk about you. Do your parents use credit cards? Do you have a credit card? Did you know that as of June, 2008, the debt accumulated in America from credit cards this year equals 968,400,000,000 million dollars? That is a lot of money!

I believe that credit cards are unnecessary because they encourage immediate satisfaction and they put you in debt that is very difficult to work off. In fact, Governor Sarah Palin said at her vice presidential debate last week, and I quote, “We don’t need to live outside of our means.”

Now you may be thinking, “Thanks for the lecture, but what does any of this have to do with Africa?” Let me give you some facts.

According to the Christian Relief Fund, it cost $360 a year to sponsor one child. Do you realize that this is less than what some of you spent on your phone?

There is $145,260,000,000 in credit card interest per year owed to credit card companies.  If you would like to do the math with me, then you can divide 360 into 145,360,000,000. If you are using your calculator, you may want to divide 1,452.6 times ten to the eighth, because the number I mentioned earlier is too large to fit into a calculator screen. If you divide these numbers, it equals 403,500,000.

That means that 400,500,000 children that could be sponsored with only the interest owed to credit card companies in America every year. Remember how I said earlier that there are currently 400 million children in Africa. This means that if we stopped using credit cards, then simply the interest of our debt could feed all of the children in Africa.

In conclusion, I am going to give you God’s view on feeding the poor. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

You may want to tell me, “Every time I get a World Vision magazine in the mail, or see a Compassion International video at a concert, I feel sorry for the children and maybe even say a little prayer for the children- that God will give them a meal today or provide them a place to sleep tonight.” Feeling sorry for the children is not enough. James 2:15-16 says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about it, then what good is it?”

It is not up to us as Christians to simply pray. It is up to us as Christians to act upon our prayers. I am not going to tell you how to live your life, but I want to make you think on what I am telling you today. Which is most important: material possessions or children’s lives?

Lastly, I am going to quote Jared Diamond from the National Geographic magazine. He says, “Is the African continent doomed eternally to wars, poverty, and devastating diseases? Absolutely not,” and I believe this with all of my heart.

Isn’t giving up credit cards and living inside of our means worth it if because of it we could begin to heal a starving world?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I ache to hear Your whisper,
But my fear shuts You out.
I cannot help but wonder
How all this has come about.
I've wandered and I've waited,
And now I'm feeling tired.
My thoughts are on my troubles
When they should be reaching higher.
I know You hold my every thought.
I am cradled in Your palm.
I try to understand Your plans,
But my perspective is too small.
I'm young. I don't know many things,
But You've known since the start.
So break apart my every fear.
It's You who's won my heart.
Emily Whelchel

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Me.

Today is officially my nineteenth birthday.  Just thinking about it feels weird.  I used to think nineteen was so old.  (At this rate, I don't know how I'm going to react when I turn forty.)
I got to come home for my birthday, so I plan to spend the day with my family, which is going to be great.  I'm so happy to be home, even if it's only for a few days.  I finally get to see my dogs and sleep in my bed and hug my grandparents and eat dinner with my family.  Ahhhhh, home.
Because it's my birthday, I won't be posting anything more than this today.  (And I'm even writing this a few days in advance.)  Instead, I'm going to take the day off of blogging and spend all the time I can with my family.
I'm home. :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not so sure about Monster High.

When Ali and I get together and visit convenience store, we often find ourselves drawn to the toy aisle.  Cute dolls, cuddly stuffed animals, and Nerf swords are worth the effort.  Recently, Ali and I went to Walgreene's.  Like always, we walked over to the toy aisle and began to look at the different toys. 

Ali and I found several dolls that were a part of "Monster High."  All of the dolls were dressed in fishnets and chains and featured gruesome scars, skulls, and vampire teeth.  They came with best friends and boyfriends and accessories, just like Barbie dolls would, but they were just so dark.  I can't ever imagine allowing my child to play with dolls that advertise being dark and scary in an almost sexual manner.

The doll below was apparently named "Draculaura."  She featured heavy makeup, long fangs, and an extremely immodest outfit.  While Draculaura wasn't dressed as dark as the other dolls were, she was dressed the most immodestly.  While most of the skirts came up inappropriately high, Draculaura wasn't even wearing tights like the others to cover up some of the leg she was showing.

I thought these dolls must be part of a generic line for Wal-Greene's, just like the odd Snow White doll, but Rebecca and I found more of the dolls at Walmart a couple of weeks later.  Again, the dolls were dressed immodestly and wore dark themes like skulls and crossbones.  Young, innocent children play with dolls.  I stopped playing with dolls when I was around nine or ten years old.  As a little girl, I cannot imagine my mother allowing me to play with dolls that dress like the ones from Monster High.

I visited the Monster High website and saw something on the front page that said: "Be yourself. Be unique. Be a monster."

Be... a monster?

The little children who play with Monster High dolls are going to want to be like them.  Heavy makeup, dyed hair, revealing clothing... can you imagine a seven-year-old girl dressing in skulls and crossbones and thick eyeliner?  Honestly, I'm not sure how those qualities make someone unique.  Also, do you see the weight of Draculaura in the picture above?  She may actually be thinner than a Barbie doll.

When I encourage a child to be herself, I mean that she should embrace who she looks like without all the makeup and accessories.  She doesn't need to disguise her looks with a lot of makeup.  She doesn't need to wear revealing clothes to attract popular friends and cute guys.  She can be beautiful and unique with her natural color of hair and flattering clothes that don't flaunt her body.  God made each little girl to be beautiful.

Perhaps I'm looking too far into the whole "Monster High" line of dolls.  It just bothers me that five and six-year-old girls are going to be playing with and idolizing dolls that dress as darkly and immodestly as these do.

What do you think?

Monday, October 10, 2011

October Birthdays

My nineteenth birthday is coming up on Friday.  I've never really minded having an October birthday.  Sure, I don't get to sleep in because it's usually on a school day, but my mom would always make me my favorite breakfast (milk toast) and take me out of school to my favorite restaurant (Abuelo's).  Teachers would give me special privileges, I'd often encounter little surprises waiting for me at school (like a wrapped locker or a birthday hat to wear), and a lot of people would tell me, "Hey, happy birthday, Emily," which is the highlight of a kid's birthday.

With summer birthdays, you can have pool parties and go to water parks, sure, but with an autumn birthday, none of your friends are out of town on family vacations.  So I've always enjoyed having a birthday in October.

It hit me a couple of days ago that this will be the first year of my life without a birthday party.  I've always had a party with my friends, eighteen years in a row.  Sleepovers, scavenger hunts, murder mysteries... and in 2011, I won't be having a birthday party at all.
It's not that I'm upset because I won't get as many presents or I won't have a bunch of people over in honor of my birthday.  No, it's not that at all.  The thing that bothers me a little is that this is the first year I won't get to see any of my friends on my birthday.  We'll all be several hours away from each other, which feels a little weird.

I'm so, so blessed that I will get to go home on my birthday this year.  I'll get to see my family and spend some much-needed time with them.  And if I had to choose, I'd rather celebrate with my family.  I've missed them a lot these last few weeks.

I guess this whole birthday thing is just another part of college and growing up.  And there isn't any reason to mope around.  I will still celebrate my birthday.  I get time with my family on my actual birthday, and Ali is coming up to celebrate both Rebecca's and my birthday the next weekend.  It will all work out.  I'll see my other friends on Christmas Break.  It will be fine.

I've never been jealous of those with summer birthdays.  In fact, I've always preferred mine.  Seeing all of my friends that day, being pulled out of school a little early, blowing out candles on a homemade cake from friends in the library before the smoke alarms go off (yes, I have really great friends), and Rebecca would probably agree with me that October birthdays can be pretty fantastic.

But this may be the first year I've ever felt a twinge of longing to have a birthday in June or July.  Just a little.  Maybe.

Okay, I'd still rather have my October birthday.  (See, now it gives me a reason to fly home from school for a few days and see my family for the first time in what feels like forever.)  So it all works out in the end.

Yeah, I'm pretty blessed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I wrote the poem below on a day when I was feeling homesick.  In my life right now, some days I feel independent and I spend time with friends and I can bring myself to see a bright future here in college... and then some days, all I want is to be back at home with my family.  As you read this, don't think I feel so lost and dreary all the time.  No, I enjoy myself most of the time, but sometimes, I can't help but wish I was home.
Wake up, sleep, walk and walk.
Life and time and breathing.
I think of school and other things,
But mostly just of leaving.
I miss my house. I miss these things.
I'm lonely, sighing, living.
If I could step back into time,
I'd always keep on giving.
I'd hold my daddy's hand again
And dance atop his feet.
I'd hug my mom and kiss my dog,
If we were again to meet.
So here I am, walking, walking.
My heart hangs in the air.
What I would do, what I would give,
To be at home back there.
Emily Whelchel

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Plus-Sized Mannequins... or Not.

Have you ever seen a cute and figure-flattering outfit on a mannequin and decided to buy it for yourself?

Recently, I read an article about how plus-sized mannequins at department stores are actually about a size six... and how normal-sized mannequins are so thin that they would be considered anorexic and unable to have children if they were alive.  While I cannot find the same article I first read, I merely Googled "too thin mannequins" and came up with several similar results.

Mannequins are made to be unusually thin and "attractive" so that consumers will see them and think, "Oh, that's how I'll look if I wear these clothes."  In fact, some of the mannequins I've seen wear blouses with tags hanging out that have large sizes, but the blouse is tucked in or safety-pinned in the back until it's form-fitting and looks fantastic.  It's a deception.

Ali and I decided to visit a popular department store and take a look at the plus-sized mannequins to see if they were made to be skinnier than most plus-sized women or just the right size.  What we found is that the mannequins were thin and fit, but they were larger versions of the average-sized mannequins.  For example, while the average mannequin might be 4' tall, these plus-sized mannequins were over 5' tall.

I posed with one of the plus-sized mannequins.  Her jacket hides most of her waist, but as you can see from her legs, she really isn't that much wider than I am... and I don't wear plus-sized clothes.  However, the mannequin, even without a head, is taller than I am by a couple of inches.  I'm a little over 5'1.

When Ali placed her leg next to the plus-sized mannequin, other than the fact that the mannequin's legs were insanely long, there wasn't much of a size difference between them... and Ali also does not wear plus-sized clothing.

We came across a mannequin that was wearing a size 16 blouse.  The mannequin looked rather thin to be wearing a size 16 and when we inspected her a little further, we discovered that the back of her blouse was discreetly safety-pinned so that the blouse was form-fitting on her slender frame.
These mannequins aren't plus-sized.  They're taller and thus slightly larger versions of average-sized mannequins.  How can they accurately model plus-sized clothing when they aren't plus-sized themselves?

The world constantly tells consumers what is beautiful and what isn't.  Even mannequins are made to be unnaturally skinny in order to look "more beautiful" than they would if they were proportioned normally.  To be honest, it makes me sad.