Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blogging About Blogging

EDIT: To clarify, I'm not finished blogging forever. This isn't the end of Emily is Smiling. However, for the time being, I need a break.

This is all a big ramble and definitely breaking the unspoken rule of "Never Blog About Blogging," but if you read my blog regularly at all, I hope you'll take a moment to read.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been posting as frequently on this blog in recent months, and when I have, they have not been as thoughtfully written or as in-depth as they were before. I have been blogging for 5 years now. The New Year is about to begin, and I thought I would outline a little about what my blogging priorities look like for the year 2015.

I love to write. I always have. One of the things that I love to write about the most is my faith in Jesus, because it is the most important thing in my life. It is the most significant piece of my identity and a huge part of who I am. Let me reassure any readers that even when my posts on this blog consist of pictures from Instagram or lists of books that I'm reading, it isn't because I'm wearying of my faith. It's because I'm wearying of blogging.

This is in part because the world's response to blogging is also changing. In the year 2014, online audiences have been moving largely out of the blogging sphere to share their thoughts in other places. Posting comments on blogs is practically a thing of the past, which means conversations between bloggers and readers are almost nonexistent now. This isn't only happening to me. Nearly every blog on the Internet has taken a hit in both readership and, especially, comments in the last year or two.

While view-count isn't the sole reason why anyone should blog, it does play a part. Since I began blogging 5 years ago, I've considered my blog as both a journal and a ministry, a way to reach out to people who are looking for encouragement as they walk with Jesus. With less people taking the time to read blogs or join in conversation, the time I put into writing thoughtful blog posts is affected. I desire to put my effort into forms of ministry where people are receiving and giving back, where community can be found.

Also, the amount of time I choose to put into blogging these days is changing, regardless of who is reading. I've found ministries that have impacted my heart more in this season, like Deaf ministry. I'm a busy college student. My grandma was in the hospital for almost the entire month of December, which focused my thoughts and intentions recently more on family than on the Internet.

A day may come in the future where I sit down and re-shape Emily is Smiling into what it was before. I treasure some of the blog posts I've written. This place is forever special to me. But for right now, most of my attention is straying to other places and other ministries.

I'm not ready to give up this blog completely yet, so don't think I'm never going to post again after January 1, but I will be posting less. Many of my intimate thoughts about faith and about Jesus are being journaled right now instead of blogged, and sometimes I may share them on here, but quite often, I won't. The things I've blogged about in seasons past are still heavy on my heart, and I'm still working hard to implant them in my life, but Emily is Smiling is not a big priority for me in this moment. There is a season for everything, and my season of frequent blogging may be coming to a close. At least for now.

I'm still happy to talk with anyone who reads this blog, and I'll be back now and then to share both silly and serious things. But here's an update of what's going on in my life right now. I hope this long tangle of words makes some kind of sense.

I love you all,


Monday, December 15, 2014


On December 15, 2007, I lost a friend to suicide. A few years later, I wrote this poem about the shock and grief one feels after losing a loved one this way.


when you left i stood still
frozen in time.
you became ageless and i tried.
the spinning world was a thorn
as if people did not see
the hole
you left behind.
stepping over the place where you were
they forgot
as i stood still.
in time i knew the taste
of voices and smiles
i moved, i lived, but
like a creature shedding its skin
i left a shell, a piece
of myself behind
standing with you.

Three years ago: City Lights
Four years ago: Three Years
Five years ago: Rockin' Up There

Friday, December 12, 2014

Psalm 100: Joy

The reason I've intermingled a psalm from the Bible with these pictures is because as I remember this night from a few weeks ago, I feel so much joy and I am thankful for God's grace in allowing me to have a strong community and happy memories. The Lord given my heart this joy.

Psalm 100 is one of my favorite joyful psalms, so I thought I would share it along with a few of these happy photos.

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Three years ago: A Puppy-Less Life
Four years ago: Postmodernism: A Poem
Five years ago: Excerpt of "Because"

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Corn Maze

I don't know why, but few things carry the feel of autumn better than a field of ripe corn.

In early November, my friends and I traveled an hour away from our home until we found a corn maze. We arrived before dark, just in time to take a few autumn-style pictures with the tall, golden stalks of corn.

As the sun set, a creepy Children of the Corn vibe fell over us. We jumped into character, posing as eerily as we could among the dying plants.

Later that week, Sam and I actually watched the Children of the Corn film for the very first time. We are big scary movie fans, but we weren't impressed by that Stephen King movie at all. Not even for an old film. But we did enjoy acting out the parts of the creepy farm children.

Being strange sometimes comes more naturally to me and my friends than it does to be normal.

But we had fun.

A corn maze is full of twists and turns. As we maneuvered our way through the darkness, we managed to get ourselves completely lost. We found our way out eventually, but we considered giving up for the night and sleeping on the hard-packed dirt paths. Maybe we would have better luck in the daylight.

It's my final year of college. Looking into the future is impossible, especially when a change is approaching that I haven't experienced before. I don't know what it will be like to live completely on my own, with new friends yet again, a new home, and a life without studying and looming exams.

Although I am excited for what's to come, I am trying to treasure these last few months of college instead of wishing them away.

So I am thankful for nights of running through tangled corn mazes. I'm thankful for autumn. I'm thankful for roommates. I'm thankful for warm jackets on cold nights.

When I was in high school, going through a corn maze in the fall was a tradition for me and my friends. We went every year, bringing more people each time as our tradition grew. I managed to gather a group to go to the corn maze my freshman year of college, but I haven't been since.

Returning to an old tradition is a happy, peaceful feeling.

It was a good day.

Four years ago: Wonderful
Five years ago: The Stairs that Lead to Nowhere

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Five Years

Five years ago today, I wrote my first blog post.

(If you're looking back through my archives and see 15 posts from July, 2009, don't count those. I moved my journals chronicling my first trip to Africa here from another blog.)

So much has changed in the last five years. Then, I was a junior in high school. Now, I am a senior at university and on the brink of stepping into adulthood.

For a throwback Tuesday reflection moment, here is a picture of me taken the same month I started this blog.

And a picture of me now. 

How long have you been following this blog?

Three years ago: My Pet Peeves
Four years ago: Just Thankful
Five years ago: 80% (This Thanksgiving Holiday)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sharon's Story

You can find this blog post on the Christian Relief Fund blog.

A young girl who lives in Kenya and is sponsored through Christian Relief Fund wrote a letter to her sponsor recently. Her story touched my heart and I hope it touches yours as well. Sponsorship has equipped Sharon to continue her education, have enough food to eat, and find hope for a brighter future.

Dear Sponsor,

Get more greetings from I, Sharon. I am glad to write you this letter just to say a word of thanks for your mercies and for what you have done for me. Surely I was going to sink in a hole and I would never come out.

My life since I was young was very bad and terrible. I have never lived with both my parents. I have never felt their parental care and love. I used to live with my maternal grandmother since 2006 when my life was extremely bad.

My father died in the year 2013. He started brewing illicit drugs when I was in first grade and my elder brother was in second grade. From there our life was going to be very worse. He used to take my mother's money from her business which she used to pay our school fees. From there he started abusing my mother in front of us. He lastly sent her out of her home. My mother had no other [place to go]. She left and went to my grandmother's home (her mother), where she stayed for two days and left to look otherwise for our needs. 

My father lastly left us alone in the house and he never bothered us. He left us without anything. He had to go and borrow. In the year 2006, we had lived alone for three months. Whenever we went to our maternal grandmother's place, my aunt used to send us away from that home.

My grandmother came back and took us. She lived with us. My younger sister used to be calling my elder brother "mum."

Our grandmother continued to live with us and we continued with education. I had never stopped going to school, but my brother had stopped. He was taken back to second grade, where we continued to learn in the same class.

My brother is now in ninth grade and we thank God for remembering us. I thank God for His mercies and I also thank you, sponsor, for your mercies on me. May God of blessings bless you and give you a long life. Thank you very much.

Your loving,

Will you sponsor a child today? 

Three years ago: Bloglovin and 5 Ways to Win My Heart
Four years ago: I Need You Here

Monday, November 10, 2014

Life Right Here

My friend Kelsey has a fancy camera and even fancier photography skills.

Autumn meant that it was time for another roomie picture session, so my three roommates and I dressed in our most "fall" outfits, despite the fact that it was a sweltering ninety degrees outside on an evening in late October. (South Texas, y'all.)

There is something to treasure about living in community.

It isn't always easy.

Let me rephrase that. Living in community isn't easy.

As a college student, I am daily making a home in a small space with girls who see my weaknesses and my sinful nature and my vulnerabilities and me seeing theirs all in turn.

I don't think I've ever begun a new month without lessons and wisdom gained from the weeks before.

More than anything, I appreciate the late-night talks about Jesus. Taking communion with cran-grape juice and rolls from Walmart. Teaching two of my roommates guitar and having "concert/worship" nights. Pulling pranks and making videos. The life-sized cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley we hide around the house to scare each other.

There are things about community that are hard and broken because of the sinful world in which we live... and there are also things about community that are pure enjoyment and innocence and laughter.

Fellowship digs rich wells of communication, expression, and transformation.

Having friends who walk through life with me and stand with me when things are not easy is a gift from the Lord.

Living with women of God means that I see Jesus shined in many different ways. The Bible is opened and there are four different hearts being whispered to by the Holy Spirit.

My burdens aren't carried alone, even when I think they are.

Kendall and I make "road trips" across our small town in order to have lots and lots of Mexican food. She sits and sketches while I write stories. We curl up behind a guitar and sing "Beautiful" by Bethany Dillon and mean the words. There are late night walks and talks and Spider Solitaire.

Kelsey brings laughter and crafts and Christmas lights (okay, "candy corn lights") in the middle of autumn. Because of her presence in the house, there are Styrofoam pumpkins, pine cones, and plastic leaves on every available surface. If a song needs to be sung, her voice is the one singing.

Sammy is the wild card who orders the Elvis cardboard cutout because she knows that's what our house needs most of all. If a prank is committed, she is the perpetrator. If an adventure is to be had, she is out the door with a kayak and bare feet.

No, living in community is not always easy. But it's what I need in this time of my life as a college student. As a young, single woman growing to love Jesus more and understand more about His love, there is nothing that pushes me forward more than sharing a home and a life with other women who are seeking Christ.

There is joy to be found when a school day is hard, through warm tea and worship songs and silly nights. It is a beautiful thing when conflicts are resolved in love instead of anger. When surrounded by community, I'm learning about accountability and vulnerability and transparency.

I pray that wherever I am in my life, I will have a strong community where we challenge and support and encourage each other. It will look different in one place than in another, but in this place, community looks like right here. A day in a pumpkin patch. A two hour discussion about Balaam and the donkey at one in the morning. Guitar strings and snap peas.

I like to daydream about what's to come, but I'm thankful for right here. Right now. Even when it's hard. Especially when it's joyful.

Happy fall.

Two years ago: Broken Words

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Mail Box

When was the last time you had an amazing meal?
As a college student, most of my meals fall somewhere on the spectrum between fast food, canned soup, Kraft Mac'n'Cheese, and Lunchables. However, October has been a month of fellowship and celebration. I was able to go to Austin, Texas on a brief vacation with my parents and grandparents. We shared delicious food and quality time (my love language): all ingredients for an amazing meal.

Taken 5 minutes ago by my desk
What's the best gift you've ever received?
One that sticks out in my mind across the last several years was from my roommate my freshman year in college (her senior year). She and I did not know each other beforehand and we have not kept in touch often since then. We were each busy with our own lives and would shyly chat for a few minutes each day, but we did not talk in-depth very often. At this time, I was dealing with homesickness and loneliness, so sending and receiving mail was the highlight of my week.

For Christmas that year, this sweet roommate put so much time and effort into my gift, no matter how often we talked or spent quality time together. She gave me a box in my favorite colors (black and white with maroon trim sewed on). The box was meant to hold the letters I kept from my family. On one side, she had stitched "MAIL" and on the other side, she stitched "BARUA," which is mail in Swahili (because I absolutely love Kenya, Africa). Inside the box was an Elvis postcard (my favorite music artist) and a Yorkie postcard (my favorite dog).

To make a long story short, I was incredibly touched by the love that my roommate put into the gift and the fact that she worked so hard to get to know me, even when I often set aside deep friendship in all of my rushing around. I still keep the mailbox on display in my room and it holds all of my letters.

For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, I received some wonderful homemade gifts from my mom and roommates that touched my heart (and... I also got a life-sized cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley. Thanks, guys). I also got the new iPhone 6 and almost fainted with the joy of it all.

What do you miss most about your childhood?
I think I miss most the imagination. I have a huge box full of all of the stories I wrote when I was a young child. All I needed was a brand new notebook and a fresh set of mechanical pencils and I was entertained for hours on end. There was an endless supply of stories and words and creative ideas in my childish mind.

Now I still love to write and there are still ideas and words and people working their way into my imagination, but I have to work harder to find and create them. I miss the freedom of expression that I had when I was younger.

What is your first memory of being truly excited? 
This is a difficult question because it's complicated to gauge a timeline of my earliest memories. I remember always feeling so excited when my dad got home from a long day at work. When I heard him shut the back door, set down his things, and call out, "I'm home!", there was nothing that could thrill me more than my childish relief at knowing my family was secure and together and filled with love.

What was the first thing you bought with your own money?
I remember buying a tiny Polly Pocket kit. If you grew up in the nineties, you know what I'm talking about. I loved tiny things.
Taken from Power House Museum

What are your answers to these questions? 

Three years ago: 5 Organizational Tips for College
Four years ago: Make Up Your Own Kind Gesture

Friday, October 24, 2014

My Hour of Need

Last summer, some friends and I stood outside as we rehearsed for a wedding. The South Texas air was hot and muggy, the sun glared down on us, and after about an hour of standing outdoors, an uncomfortable feeling began to overwhelm me.


No one had thought to bring water, so each member of our group began to notice the effects of the hot sun, even the bride. I cleared my throat uncomfortably and envisioned a tall glass of cold, refreshing water. It wasn't long before the only thing I could think about was my thirst.

After the rehearsal was finished, we would need to travel for an hour before we arrived at the location of the dinner. Concern hit us, one by one. As pitiful as this may sound, we felt so thirsty that even the idea of sitting in a hot car for sixty minutes longer seemed unbearable.

To end my silly story, staff at a nearby building had mercy on this thirsty wedding party and we were all treated to cups of ice before the car ride to dinner. Overall, I was thirsty for only an hour or so.

I know nothing of what it is like to be truly thirsty.

I know nothing of what it is like to ache so badly for something to drink that I am forced to consume brown, contaminated water – to feed this water to my children and watch them become sick from it – because our thirst is so great.

One in six people do not have access to clean water. Every minute, three children die because of diseases brought on by unclean water.

We can't bottle up the water in our sink and mail it to the thirsty children around the world, but we can do something even bigger.

Christian Relief Fund is working hard to ensure that fewer people have to go thirsty. Wells are expensive to drill – an impossible goal for impoverished communities to reach on their own – but people who can achieve this goal standing up to help. In some places in the world, children must walk for miles and miles to get a drink of dirty water. With a well in their community, everything changes.

Perhaps the best part of drilling a well in a needy community is another kind of water that it brings. Where wells are created, churches are built. People gather around to have both their physical and spiritual thirsts quenched. And, sometimes for the very first time, they hear about Living Water: Jesus Christ.

I am blessed because I do not know what it feels like to be truly thirsty. My moments of thirst have been only minor and brief moments of discomfort. But so many people do understand this thirst. They are waiting for someone to bring water. They are waiting for someone to bring good news about Jesus.

Will you help to bring them both? Donate to CRF here.

"Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." –John 7:38

Three years ago: Be Jealous.
Four years ago: Write a letter to someone you admire.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Aggie Ring Day

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

At Texas A&M University, receiving your class ring is one of the greatest moments of your college experience. It certainly was for me.

My dad's and my Aggie Rings
The Aggie Ring marks the hard work I've spent over the last three years (and year to come). If you know anything about Aggies, we are proud of our traditions. The ring is a tangible bond that connects former students to each other. It's difficult to explain or understand the significance of this achievement unless you are an Aggie, but the ring is a symbol of the school we love and cherish.

One of the most entertaining things about my university is the formality that surrounds Aggie Ring Day. The event basically consists of picking up your ring from a table at the alumni center, but everyone dresses up and invites their extended families and friends to join them in the excitement.

My parents and grandparents came to town for the occasion. We stood in line and filed into the alumni center just before rain fell from the sky in buckets. Since my dad is an alumni of Texas A&M, he placed the ring on my finger.

It meant so much to me for my family to be there, supporting me through a special and important moment in my life. The Aggie Ring is only a small piece of gold, but it carries its true value through its meaning. It is the mark of a goal I worked hard to achieve. 

At the end of the day, many Aggies participate in a tradition called Ring Dunk. Typically, one drops their ring in a large pitcher of beer and drinks until they reach the bottom and catch the ring between their teeth. My friends and I held a "dry" event, but our rings needed to be baptized nonetheless.

Quite often, people throw up after downing an entire pitcher of liquid, so I took the easy route and filled my pitcher with brightly-colored M&Ms. No, I didn't eat them all, but rather I dumped the entire pitcher over my head. (My roommates and I have been feasting on M&Ms for weeks now.)

One of the best moments of the night was that my dad chose to participate in the ring dunk. He had never dunked his ring before, so he filled his pitcher with ice water and merged the Aggie Ring Dunk with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

We stood in three inches of rain water with cheering friends gathered around us, accessorized with ponchos and pitchers and rain boots, and we proudly dunked our rings.

Overall, the day was one of the sweetest of my college experience. I felt unified with my school and my friends and my family. An accomplishment that meant so much to me was finally reached.

I will never forget the day I got my Aggie Ring. More than a month has passed, but I still find myself staring at this pretty symbol of my hard work and daydreaming when I should be listening in class (my bad, prof).

It's amazing how much my life has changed since coming to Texas A&M. When I was in high school, I never pictured myself at such a big university. The Lord brought me gently outside of what I ever hoped or dreamed for my future. Attending this school meant leaping far from my comfort zone, but every day here has been worth the hard work.

My senior year is here. I graduate in only a few months and I'm cherishing the little time I have left as a college student with all the freedom in the world. I'm so proud and thankful to be an Aggie. (And now I finally have my ring, whoop!)

Three years ago: Me? Pregnant?
Four years ago: Volunteer your time

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why I Don't Dress Modestly for Men

I'm a young Christian woman who seeks to dress modestly. However, when I get ready for the day, I do not choose modest clothing to "keep men from stumbling."

Let me clarify.

I agree that we should serve our brothers in Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:32 says, "Do not cause anyone to stumble." It's important to live like this. But our modesty should be an act of worship to God before it is any response to man.

Something I've found is that modesty frequently becomes more about our relationship with men than our relationship with God. We receive constant reminders like: "Do not cause your brothers in Christ to stumble by how you dress. It is your responsibility to do your part in keeping men from temptation by dressing modestly." However, in the Bible, women are called to dress modestly as worship to God (1 Timothy 2:8-10).

When the focus of anything is man, it quickly becomes entangled in legalism. In Galatians 1:10, Paul says, "Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant." 

When I was a teenage girl, I understood "modesty" as a collection of rules and what-not-to-do's that controlled how I dressed. These rules were stretched and blurred as I walked the line as closely as I could between what was modest and what was not. Modesty became an inner wrestling match between my will and my consciousness of the men around me. "If I dress this way, the lust is their fault. If I dress that way, then it is mine."

Asking the question, "Did how I dress today cause boys to stumble?" without the focus on worship brings about legalism because the standards of man are changing and broken by this world. How I dress can easily become shame-centered this way. "My jeans can only be this tight. My skirt may only be this short."

When the question becomes instead, "Did how I dress today bring glory to God?", every piece of clothing I wear becomes an act of love instead of a source of guilt.

My modesty is first and foremost an act of worship to the Lord and only then it is a way to respect and love the men around me.

It is a precious thing to love my brothers in Christ by how I dress, but it is a far greater treasure to clothe myself first and foremost in worship of God: ethically, modestly, and with righteous deeds.

"This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome." - 1 John 5:2-3

Three years ago: Bounce Houses are the BEST!
Four years ago: Take someone out for coffee.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Flame

I fell in love with Jesus a few months before I turned fifteen. My life radically changed.
Depression and anxiety had ravaged my heart and mind. These struggles did not automatically go away after I encountered Christ, but I did experience a new confidence and joy that changed me.

I eagerly wanted every part of my life to radiate my faith. My high school friends and I memorized chapters of the Bible and held weekly Bible studies and we were so desirous to learn more about the God who made us new. I felt a new and exciting fire.

At times, my zeal tipped over into legalism. For example, I remember studying 1 Thessalonians with a few friends and reading, "Pray without ceasing." We took this at face value and challenged each other to go an entire day without thinking about anything except Jesus. Determined, I took a black Sharpie and scrawled 1 Thessalonians 5:17 onto the back of my hand so that when I rested my arms upon my desk in class, I would remember to pray instead of listen to the teacher. No, this wasn't the healthiest expression of my faith. I was a child sipping milk as I tried to teach myself how to fly an airplane.

But the fire burned bright and I learned so much during those first months and years.

Things were not always easy. There were seasons of drought and desert, when all I felt was an aching thirst that I could not quench... or even worse, apathy where I began to stop thirsting at all. There were storms that caused me to rage and doubt. I strayed and returned; I became impatient and frustrated and stubborn. My emotional highs collapsed and I raged against my old self and even against God.

When the droughts passed away and the rains returned, I learned that my Father is faithful. When the storms stilled, I realized that Christ is more powerful than my worst days. When I stumbled back as a prodigal daughter time and time again, I glimpsed the depths of God's grace.

I'm in my early twenties now and I have very little experience with romantic love. I've never had a boyfriend or even seriously dated. However, I'm at the stage in my life where I am able to watch a few of my dearest friends fall in love and enter into marriage. As I learn from the true and passionate love that I see in my friends and my parents, I cannot help but be reminded about what it is like to have a relationship with Jesus.

My friends who are falling in love for the first time are standing on the heights of the tallest mountains. Their passion is beautiful.

My parents and grandparents have another kind of passionate love that is just as priceless. The longer they experience life together, the further their love is deepened by sacrifice and commitment. "I give my life to you" and "I commit to you even when things are hard" are just as precious as the exciting discovery of new love.

I will admit that there is a different kind of fire for the Lord in me than there was when I was fourteen. Where my faith was once marked by loud and zealous expressions of love, I have a somewhat changing passion now. This passion comes from walking through difficult times as well as happy ones. It comes from broken relationships, plateaus and lonely places, and the increasing knowledge of how vast God's grace actually is. It comes from experiencing valleys and not only mountains.

In some ways, my relationship with Christ is transforming from a new and blazing fire to that of a steady flame. This brings with it the necessity for me to work hard to keep from falling into apathy because I hope I will always seek to be a radical follower of Jesus, but I am thankful.

After all of my mistakes, God's compassion is greater. No matter how far I have run, he has been there. When I'm tired of seeking, still he sings. And now he is teaching me how to experience his love in an enduring, committed way that reaches beyond my changing emotions.

And this love is beautiful.

One year ago: Waging War
Two years ago: The Room
Three years ago: Plus-Sized Mannequins... or Not
Four years ago: Leave an encouraging note on the mirror

Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Survive Your Freshman Year of College

This year, I'm entering my senior year of college. It's hard to believe that time has moved so quickly, but looking back at the person I was as a new freshman, I can see how much I have changed and grown. If you are a freshman in college, the next year may be one of the most transforming of your life. If I could go back and give my 18-year-old self any advice about college, this is what I would say:

1.) Get involved right away. Having no friends can turn you into a lonely, homesick hermit for those first few weeks of college (speaking from experience). You will have a much better time if you join a Bible study or organization that first week and start working on new friendships from the very beginning.

2.) Friendships will accelerate. One of my biggest concerns going into college was, "I've been friends with the same people for years. How am I supposed to make good friends in just a few weeks?" Believe me, you do. All the other new freshmen want to make friends just as much as you do. Crises bring people together, and moving to a new place with a bunch of terrified strangers is definitely a form of crisis. By the end of this year, your college friendships will be deeper than you ever expected.

3.) Be prepared for your study habits to change. High school consists of 6 hours in class and maybe an hour of studying each day. College is backwards. You'll spend a few hours in class each day, if that, and then you are expected to spend your free time with your nose in a book. The adjustment can be difficult. Prepare to move into the library or a study corner, putting work into school outside of class. If you don't put hours into studying in college, you'll be surprised at how quickly your grades start to fall.

4.) Get enough sleep. I don't know why all-nighters are a thing, because they're horrible. Past about 2am, you lose all motivation to study and you end up spending most of the night on Facebook, staring with bleary eyes into space, or napping on the hard floor. The next morning when you take the test, you feel half-dead. All-nighters are a terrible idea. Instead, just study ahead of time, put in the work that you're supposed to (not just the day before), and then pull a late-nighter without having to sacrifice an entire night's sleep.

5.) Use a planner. I didn't learn this until my junior year, but a detailed planner is a life-saver. I mark down every single assignment from every single syllabus I receive. Then when I look over that week's schedule, I can think to myself, "Okay, today I need to read 2 chapters from this class, 1 chapter in this class, and I have a test on Thursday to study for." A planner may seem like a drag (and honestly, it kind of is), but it's worth the extra effort. When you are balancing several difficult classes at the same time, organization is essential.

6.) Don't skip class. Skipping class is a normal thing to do, at least at my university. By the middle of the semester, there might be only a handful of students sitting in a class that is registered as full. Lectures are boring, sleep is enticing, but skipping class is not worth the stress that you will feel when it's time for midterms and you don't understand what on earth your textbook is trying to say.

7.) Visit a few churches and then stick with one. Going to church by yourself, before you really have found a community of your own, is hard. If you loved your home church, then finding a new church alone is even harder. The more you visit new churches without settling down, the more discouraged you will become. So find a place where the people are kind, the doctrine matches your own, and you can worship freely, and stay there. In 4 months, if you are still not satisfied, you can look around some more.

8.) Your friendships will change. I think it's fairly typical to enter college with a mindset of, "Nobody here could ever match up with the amazing friends I had in high school." The truth is that you and your high school friends will likely grow up more in this year than you did in all of high school, and if you are living in different places, you will begin to grow apart. Now, whenever you're back in your hometown together, things will flood back to how they were. Being together will always be a blast. But it's okay to grow and change apart from your friends. The friendships you form at university may be the best you've ever had.

9.) Do not over-commit. While it's important to get involved right away, it's just as important not to pack your schedule with way more than you can handle. Don't join 5 organizations or Bible studies at once. You're at university for school, so be sure to reserve time for studying. Find one or two groups at your college where you fit and stick with those. Don't be afraid to take a few hours each week to relax and study by yourself.

10.) Take time for Jesus. Freshman year is crazy, busy, overwhelming, and chaotically fun. You are going to be busier than you have ever been. You are going to make more friends in a short amount of time than you ever have before. You are going to look back a year from now and think, "Wow, I have changed so much." As you're growing and changing and discovering more about yourself, be sure to take the time each day to spend with Jesus. Learn about Him with community and learn about Him in quiet, solitary times. When you are feeling lonely, overwhelmed, or discouraged, cling to Him. Use this year to be passionate and excited about your relationship with the Lord.

Are you a new freshman in college? Let me know, and I will be praying for you!

One year ago: Pranks on Pranks on Pranks
Three years ago: Letter to High School Freshmen

Monday, August 11, 2014

What You Don't See

This is a poem I wrote for a young lady in my life who struggles with so much insecurity about the beauty God has given her.

What You Don't See

I know you see what is broken.
Your fears, your hurts, your shame.
Lies built like plaque by this world,
All whispering the same.

I know you look, then turn away,
Torn to pieces, wrenched apart.
You see yourself with twisted eyes
And a hurting, world-worn heart.

What you don't see is the tender
Delight within His eyes
As He looks upon His daughter,
How He aches and hears you cry.

Out of clay you may be formed,
But what you do not see,
Your Father created you and said,
"You were made to look like Me."

March 18, 2014

One year ago: Five Songs
Three years ago: I tend to be ungrateful.
Four years ago: Starting High School with a Smile

Wednesday, August 6, 2014



Father, I am hurting. It's been a long and weary night.
Fear clawed at my chest and I couldn't see a light.
I doubted and I faltered. God, I was too tired to fight,
So I cling to You and plead for You to hold me tight.

I'm small and insignificant. It's so easy to get lost.
I wander from the path You set, mindless of the cost.
My feet are torn and muddy, my heart within me caught,
But a still voice I recognize whispers what I forgot.

You took a shattered vessel and filled it with Your grace.
A chipped jar of clay, yet You took me from that place.
You lifted my trembling frame and met my broken gaze.
My empty heart is filled with hope as I glimpse Your face.

When the night comes again, and I know it will,
May my shattered heart be restored, redeemed, refilled.
You step into my messy world and command it to be still.
I rest under the gentle sun atop Your grassy hill.

March 19, 2014

One year ago: These are a few of my favorite things.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Oldest Horse on the Ranch

This summer has been so very bittersweet.

On one hand, I have been stressed and exhausted and worn down and burnt out. On the other hand, I've gotten to have lovely little adventures with my family that have kept my spirits from sinking for too long.

For the 4th of July holiday, my cousins were in town from California. The three young ones had never really visited Texas before, at least not what they could remember, and so they were looking for a true Western experience.

I live in the heart of Texas, where tall trees are sparse and the sky is bigger than you've ever seen.

A few Texas Panhandle activities were a must, such as kite-flying in the windy weather, visiting the most popular restaurant in town, making homemade ice cream, buying fireworks, and eventually venturing out to Cadillac Ranch. 

On the morning of July 4th, we decided to drive a ways and head to the edge of Palo Duro Canyon, where we would ride horses.

Trail rides tend to offer horses that are worn down and over-worked. However, these Quarter Horses are working cattle horses that are excellently cared for, come from champion lineage, and are well-trained. During the summers when there is little work to be done, their owners will allow them to be ridden by people wanting to explore the edge of the canyon. This keeps the horses trim and used to following commands.

If you remember my experience on the island of Antigua, I enjoy riding horses, but I have my anxieties, so I always tell my family beforehand that I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be matched with the most elderly horse of the bunch. Surely an old-timer will be less likely to run away with me.

We gave our heights and weights over the phone and were matched with a horse before we even arrived at the ranch.  The youngest kids were given their horses first, and then a buckskin horse was led my way. "Emily, this is Bucky. He's the oldest horse on this ranch: 28 years old." I was thrilled. On Antigua, I was given the oldest horse... and in Texas, I got the senior citizen once again!

Although Bucky is 7 years older than I am, he sure did not act like it. During the times that we were riding in a line, he would attempt to weave his way to the head of the pack. Although he was gentle and obedient with me, Bucky liked being in charge of all the other horses.

The trail ride was beautiful in a completely different way than Antigua was. The grass was pale green, the sky was pale blue, and the entire world seemed to stretch out before our very eyes. Cattle grazed around us while cowboys in our group would occasionally wander off to herd them in the right direction.

We reached the edge of the canyon, where the earthy colors fanned out before us like spilled paint.

Looking around at the great expanse of the Texas horizon, I could not help but imagine what life would be like as one of the first explorers in this part of the world. What was it like to see the second largest canyon in America without ever having expected to find it? What was it like to stumble across thousands of buffalo grazing in waist-high grass? What was it like to be among the first from across the world to admire God's vibrant sunsets in the vast Texas sky?

The beauty in this part of the world is a unique beauty, but it is beautiful all the same.

Riding horses is such a wonderful glimpse into the history of this state, as well as the perfect way to have spent the start of Independence Day. I heard a quote once that said, "When I ride a horse, I borrow freedom."

I may be timid, inexperienced, and a little worried when it comes to riding horses, but there is a beauty that horses bring to a landscape, and I was happy to be a part of that.

Three years ago: My Bucket List
Four years ago: 40 Reasons to Eat (Part 5)

Monday, July 21, 2014



Jesus, how I've talked the talk
So that people would see
The way I've tried so hard to live,
The big plans You have for me.

But my "talk" is not Your plan.
In fact, You came and died
As a humble man in poverty,
Holes in Your hands and side.

I want to lose it all for You,
In Your Name, for Your will.
So use me in Your way, not mine,
And let my pride be still.

March 22, 2014

One year ago: Just behind the fence.
Three years ago: Interesting Facts About Me

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fellowship of the Unashamed

Several years ago, my pastor at the time, Milton Jones, passed out a sheet of paper to everyone in the church. On the paper was written a creed that convicted me immensely. I used to keep the paper folded carefully in my Bible, but with time I lost track of the little piece of paper and forgot about the poem entirely. I only recently stumbled upon the very same creed that had so deeply touched my heart for Christ as I was just entering my faith.

I'm not sure who wrote this commitment, but it has encouraged and challenged me.

"I am a part of the 'Fellowship of the Unashamed.' The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, love with patience, lift by prayer, and labor with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I've stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must until He comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner is clear. I am a part of the 'Fellowship of the Unashamed.'"

Two years ago: Just hope.
Three years ago: I was a strange child.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Best Kind of Rest

When I woke this morning, the sun was just barely finding its way into the Puerto Rican sky, but we were already docked firmly at the pier. My vacation was in its final hours.

Sleepy and lagging, I shoved my last few articles of clothing into a bag and made my way to the Windjammer for a final meal on the ship. The electricity actually shut off halfway through the meal. This caused quite the stir, and I honestly would have been somewhat concerned if we had not been knotted so securely to dry land.

There are a few reasons why I am ready to go home:
1.) I miss my Naana and Pa.
2.) I miss my family's three dogs.
3.) I miss having my own bedroom.
4.) I miss a comfortable pillow and bed.
5.) I miss using a shower that is wider than my office chair.

There are more reasons why I wish I could stay in the Caribbean for a few days longer, but do I really need to list those?

The flight to Texas was four hours long and spent sleeping, studying calculus, and re-reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Last night when I finished Blue Like Jazz and was raving about its impact on my heart, Amy told me she didn't believe books could change lives. She said books could change people's perceptions, but they can't change a life.

I disagree. After reading Blue Like Jazz, I hope to embrace God's charity and open-ended grace with outstretched arms and a broken, smiling heart. After reading The Ragamuffin Gospel, I hope to daily look more and more like Mary Magdalene did when she washed Christ's feet with her hair and less like the Pharisees when they proclaimed their good deeds from the street corners.

After reading books like The Ragamuffin Gospel and Blue Like Jazz, my life will never be quite the same again.

My Naana and Pa picked my family up from the airport after a long day of navigating through terminals and attempting to find comfortable napping positions in cramped airplane seats. Our dogs were squirming and crying and dancing with sheer excitement as soon as we stepped through the front door of the house.

It rained four inches while we were gone. While this might not seem like much, most of Texas is in severe drought, and the land around my home is looking greener now than it has in three years.

Now I'm sitting cross-legged on my comfortable bed in my very own bedroom with five piles of laundry strewn around me. Memories from the cruise dinner last night already seem like they happened a week ago. On Monday I'll start back to work (and buckle down on that calculus class).

Rest is beautiful. It was created by God. It is essential for restoration and rejuvenation. The last ten days have been such good rest.

One year ago: Mind the Gap
Two years ago: How the Story Continues
Three years ago: Alphabet Blogging Challenge
Five years ago: I met my sponsored child for the first time today.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Day at Sea

Today was spent entirely on the cruise ship, Jewel of the Seas. Our destination is Puerto Rico once again.

The waters were smooth for most of the morning and a deeper blue than a twilight sky. In fact, when I first woke and went to sit on the balcony and breathe in the ocean air, I could see flying fish sparkling in and out of the waters like small birds.

My family was up fairly early, so after breakfast we ventured to the top deck of the ship to see what activities awaited us. Royal Caribbean offers so many events on board, but it can become easy to get absorbed in your own little routines, even during a brief 7-day trip. On the top deck alone, there are pools, water slides, golf simulation machines, a rock climbing wall, and miniature golf.

We played mini-golf on a small, aged course with 9 holes. No one kept track of the points, but I'm pretty sure I was dead last. I blame my failure on the rocking of the ship.

Luke went to play basketball, so Grandma Marcia, Dad, Amy, and I took up a game of shuffleboard. We are a competitive family, so we played several rounds and it was eventually decided that my Dad was by far the best at this game and whoever was on his team would win by a landslide. I got my very first sunburn of the trip during this game: a saddle of pink across my nose and the apples of my cheeks.

We had lunch as a family at the Seaview Cafe. All of us were flushed and excited from our individual games and activities. I chose to finish lunch early and go back up to my cabin so that I could sit on the balcony, study the bane of my life (business calculus), and read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. The book was both challenging and inspiring. Every few pages I finished seemed to be filled with jotted notes and highlights.

It is a little sad that this trip is already coming to a close. I said goodbye to my family's two precious waiters, Shirlyn from Jamaica and Julian from St. Lucia. They have been so gracious to my family, especially to Nawnie. Shirlyn called her "my favorite lady" and always tried to make her day brighter. The staff on this ship make the cruise even more delightful. Even the steward who keeps our cabin tidy was a joy to meet.

Perhaps the saddest of my farewells was when I finished my final creme brûlée of the cruise. This dessert will always hold a special place in my heart.

My little brother and I have a weird bond. Throughout the cruise, I've been making up nicknames for Luke depending on each island we've visited. He didn't get a nickname for the day at sea (probably because his idea was to call him "Loser" because it kind of rhymes with cruise!), so I've returned to calling him by the first nickname on the list.
Puerto Rico: Lucardo
St. Croix: Lu-Cray-Cray
St. Maarten: Luken
Antigua: Aunt Lou
St. Lucia: St. Luka
Barbados: Bob

Tomorrow we will arrive in San Juan bright and early. Our luggage has been taken from our cabins the night before departure so that it will be waiting for us in the morning at the gate. My family will spend no more time in Puerto Rico; we will leave straight for the airport where a plane will be waiting to take us back to our beloved home in Texas.

Two years ago: Better Than Christmas
Three years ago: Parched.
Five years ago: I became ill... in Africa.