when your graduation is not honorable

Like many people I know, I’m graduating college this week. I am so relieved to be done, but at the same time there’s this weight in my stomach. I feel sick, thinking about the fact that I don’t have any further opportunity to raise my GPA and bring honor to my name.

See, I’m not graduating with any sort of honors – personally or academically. It all feels a little less than honorable.

Yeah, the girl who finished high school 3rd in her class, with a 4.3 GPA, 33 college credits already completed before I even received my high school diploma, is graduating college without any sort of thing to be proud of, besides the fact that I barely dragged myself to the finish line.

In some ways I feel fine about this, knowing that in the grand scheme of things, GPA doesn’t matter a great deal. Hardly any employers look at that, my friends won’t ever know, my boyfriend doesn’t judge me. My parents might be a little bit disappointed, but they’re not going to hold it over my head forever. The fact is, I finished, and I did enough to earn this degree. But part of me feels totally disappointed, ashamed, embarrassed. Especially as a Daniels Scholar, I just feel like I owed it to everyone to do better.

Obviously I don’t want to be angry and disappointed at myself for the rest of my life, just because I didn’t do as well in college as I had hoped. And I also don’t want to become bitter towards those people whose GPA and grades really reflect solid and consistent work these past few years. I don’t want to be mad at people who have done an excellent job. So how do you keep from beating yourself up and at the same time, still celebrate those around you who excelled, who received those honors, who deserve the accolades? And you… What do you deserve? What do we deserve for making it through but not really excelling?

The answer is — I’m just spewing out a lot of rhetorical questions and don’t really know the answers to any of this. Honestly sometimes my posts are just a stream of consciousness and I have no idea where I’m headed, so I don’t have answers yet.

All I know is that I’m proud to be done but feel oh-so mediocre right now.

But maybe this is a good thing.
A good lesson, though a hard one.
Maybe this is a big ol’ slap in the face of the reality that most of us go through life feeling pretty average.
Maybe it’s a reminder that we’re not alone in our success and we’re not alone in our failures. Countless people graduate every year with honors, and countless do not.

Maybe it’s a lesson that sometimes you’re going to have to keep pushing forward with something even when other aspects of your life are crumbling. And maybe it won’t be perfect, but at least you are moving and doing. Anything is better than staying put. For me, it was really hard to propel myself forward in the midst of the messiness of last fall. I wanted to quit school, stop going to work, never try out another church, and just stay in bed all day every day. But I knew I had to finish my degree and I had to keep getting up and out of bed every day. I needed to keep going. I just had to focus on each little step, each assignment, each reading for the day. Like in the movie What About Bob? “Baby steps, write a paper. Baby steps, get a college degree…”

I don’t want to sound like I’m only trying to comfort my wounded ego, or that I’m defending mediocrity in general. I’m not.  But as I’m learning, there are just a lot of parts of life where you do what you can at the time, and that has to be enough, and you have to be able to move on without regretting all the work you didn’t do. Be proud of the work that you did, and forgive yourself for the moments when you didn’t study, didn’t put an hour more into that paper, when you spent time with friends instead of doing homework. All of those little choices added up and maybe they weren’t exactly what you hoped for, but in every moment, you were moving forward. You did your best — or maybe you didn’t and that’s still okay. You did what you could, and you learned. Someone said once, “Experience, that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn” (it was either C.S. Lewis or someone else, as some website told me the quote was misattributed to him; I don’t know). Anyways, how true that statement is. Life can be unforgiving in its lessons, but you learn and move on and remember those for the rest of your life. And while life brutally beats lessons into you, you work on giving yourself grace for your less than honorable moments, and remind yourself that you receive grace from other sources too — your friends, your family, God. Also, just a reminder – God doesn’t care about your GPA. Thank goodness for that.

So, maybe your graduation (or some other aspect of life) feels less than honorable. You’re not super proud, but it’s over and it’s time to move on. And guess what? Regardless of the details, you still completed a four year degree. You did it. No one is going to continue checking your GPA, or ask if you graduated with honors. They just see that you spent four years of your life consistently working towards a big goal and you achieved that. How cool is that? And that’s what I’m going to try to remember through all of my moments of being disappointed in myself. I did what I could, I kept striving forward, I made it, time to move on. Another (maybe) C.S. Lewis quote – “There are far better things than any that we leave behind.”

Keep moving forward! You’ve got this.

-Claire

Advertisements

the lord of the blogs: return of the blog

Okay, the title really has absolutely nothing to do with the rest. I just made myself chuckle with it as I was brainstorming titles, so I kept it.

Today, I’m going to tell you a story, and to be honest, I didn’t really get any permission to share this. But, hopefully that’s okay and I’ll try keep it pretty anonymous. But I just have to tell you because it’s been on my mind.

So, sometime last year, my boyfriend got a job. At a company (is this anonymous enough? teehee). He enjoyed the work and got along with his boss. He’d tell me how nice she was and that she liked to chat with him a lot. Sooner or later, they got on the topic of me and he told her about me and stuff that I do – acting, singing, writing, whatever else I do on this planet (I don’t really know myself). They soon realized that his boss actually knew me because her daughter and I participated in the same summer theatre camps when we were in high school, and because they go to Flatirons and I used to go there and be on the worship team there (more on that some other time). That part isn’t too crazy, since it’s Boulder and it’s a pretty small town/city/thing.

Now, I can’t remember exactly how this went down, which might make this story more boring. But basically, one day, Frank’s boss told him about how her daughter had struggled through her first year of college (she’s now a sophomore or junior, I believe). And they had tried everything to make it better for her. Her mom even started putting up inspirational quotes and things on their fridge to encourage her daughter to keep persevering through the hard stuff. As she searched the internet, she stumbled across my blog, read a post I’d written quite some time ago that had some encouraging words in it (stuff that I wrote during my struggle with the first few years of college), was so moved by it that she printed it off, and put it on her fridge for her and her daughter to read. So, someone randomly searched for encouragement on the internet, found my blog, printed off my post, and put it on their fridge. And then that same person was my boyfriend’s boss for a season. How insane is that?!

This happened a while ago, but the story resurfaced in my brain recently, because I’ve been so doubtful of my writing skills, my ability to share anything worth reading, all that stuff. I have felt useless in this space, unable to share any wisdom. I’ve been in the midst of a season of bitterness, and all I’ve wanted to do is vent to the internet about my problems, but I’ve tried to refrain from that, just because it’s not very helpful to the healing process. So, my blog dried up and went MIA for a while, and I thought I’d pretty much given up on it.

But when I think about that story, I just feel like I need to keep doing this. Not for fame or glory, but just because someone, somewhere might find something on here and print it off and put it on their fridge, or even just bookmark it, or even just think about it for an hour. And that is worth it.

So, here I am. I’m back. I only have this semester (or possibly one-ish more) of college left, so I might as well get some more use out of this website name as long as I can, right?

Look for more posts soon. Message or email me if you’d like me to write or address any certain topics! ❤

-Claire

a lament to social media

I never thought this little life of mine would look less like a life of my own and more like a dusty old hard-drive for everyone else’s perfect, pixelated highlights.
That’s just me – I compile and organize the lives of everyone around me. But then I lose a bit of myself everyday.

When I was little, I didn’t expect that every morning as an adult, I’d wake up only to scroll endlessly through the lives of everyone else while my eyes adjusted painfully to the light. I would never have guessed that I would subconsciously start my day with a little less confidence just because of this, and a splitting headache from the screens that take up so much of my vision.

I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d slowly but surely lose my attention span so that I can no longer spend hours upon hours reading. I can barely get a solid fifteen minutes in without jumping out of book-world and back into Facebook-world.

I couldn’t have guessed that every time I see a pretty view, instead of just enjoying that fleeting moment of a pretty view, I have to capture it in the best angle and the best light, and then add feigned light, and cover it up with a mood-altering filter and add a nice caption, and then wait (aka refresh eight hundred times) to see how many likes I can receive.

I would never have known earlier in my lifetime that I’d spend huge chunks of my day checking and rechecking and refreshing and rescrolling through my photos to make sure I hadn’t missed a single like or comment.

When I was younger, the box in my hand had nothing to do with the things I imagined for myself. And yet, here it is, occupying my thoughts and my hands most of the time on most days. Isn’t that insane? I had dreams of reading every book ever written, learning how to paint five thousand different ways, running across the United States, making it to Broadway, memorizing the Bible. But I feel crippled because of this damn technology that has overtaken so much of my life.

And I never dreamed that the good friends I’d have, the company I’d keep, would also be addicted to their own little squares. I never could have fathomed that the people closest to me would still be kept from me because the intangible world of everyone else’s lives would be more attractive than understanding deeply who we are.

Some days I feel so weighed down by the fact that my life seems to be going nowhere, or at least moving at a much different pace than I’d hoped — so quickly, but overwhelmingly fast. Too much is happening that I feel I can’t keep up. And I’ve lost sight on what’s most important because I’ve been sucked into this world of watching everyone else.

I never would have predicted that I’d have an addiction – multiple actually. An addiction to what people think of me and their approval; an addiction to seeing what’s happening with others all the time; an addiction to the sleek, rectangular box that is always in my hand or my pocket; an addiction to not being alone.

That’s the root of it: I think I have truly forgotten how to be alone, and I think the rest of the world has, too.

It’s easy to avoid being alone – you don’t even have to walk out of your empty house now in order to fill your mind with attractions that will remind you how great it is to be connected.

And it is great to be connected, don’t get me wrong. We’re just focused on a feigned version of connection.

How often do we hear that nobody knows themselves anymore? We are lost, confused, young and reckless. Some of that is part of the natural progression of growing up, but some of it we’ve actually put on ourselves.

We know more about the romantic entanglements of fictional TV characters than we do about how we take our coffee.

We can understand the motives of Facebook fights more easily than we can understand our own knotted up emotions.

We analyze statistics of Instagram likes, followers, and followees better than we analyze our own personalities.

We can name every new Justin Bieber song, but we can’t name one thing we did wrong to make our friends mad at us. (It’s their problem anyway; if they can’t handle us the way we are, then they shouldn’t be our friend — right?)

We could state every single date that our new favorite movies are coming out, but we could not state a friend or family member’s birthday (it’s all recorded on Facebook, though, so no need to worry).

We can predict movie and TV show plots but can’t predict our own lives two years from now. Why is that? Are we afraid? Or are we choking out our own potential and desire to succeed because we are succumbing to lives unworthy of what we used to dream of as kids?

 

I know, I know. Claire’s being melodramatic again.

 

So what do you do when life doesn’t seem to go the way you planned – aka, life looks like everyone walking around flicking their thumbs against glass screens, eyes down, glazed over and clouded because of the overload of information charging itself into tired heads. What do we do?

Just collapse on the floor and cry? (sometimes I do that. It’s whatever).
Ignore the problems and keep scrolling?
No. We can’t.
We have to take humanity back. Call me crazy, call me dramatic, but I truly believe we have to take a stand against all of this madness.

 

And it starts with the tiniest, smallest steps.

Turn your phone OFF during dinner.

Put it AWAY when you’re with friends.

Don’t prioritize a box of information over a person with a heart and a mind worth listening to and understanding.

When you’re waiting, when you have an “in-between” moment, don’t look down and scroll. Look up and observe. Remember what it used to be like to have to entertain yourself in the waiting places of life. Count birds, recall the last time you were in that location, write a song in your head. It sounds so silly, so childish, but we have to remember what life was like before phones established dominion in our heads.

Think of your memories and photos as sacred parts of your precious, beautiful life, unfit for the world to see and criticize. Keep those close, think before you throw them out into the void of the Internet.

Commit to only checking Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest an hour total a day (did you know that the average American spends close to FIVE hours a day on social media?). Then 45 minutes, then 30, then 20, then 10. Then try a day without checking it all. Unshackle yourself from the obligation to check in with the entire universe.

Instead of reading articles about celebrities and people you don’t know, try to understand more and more the people you do know. Seek depth, not breadth. No one needs to know how much Kim Kardashian’s baby weighs. Ask your friend how their day is going, what you can do to help them.

Instead of scrolling through pictures, feeling your envy and discontentment rise with every double-click of a photo, practice a skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Go for a walk – have you SEEN the outdoors in awhile, like more than just the walk to your car and into buildings, back and forth every single day?

Just sit. Just breathe. Close your eyes. Meditate, pray. Don’t just compartmentalize meditation for a moment of your morning – make it a life practice for any moment during your day. Don’t fill your mind with more useless, clickhole information; cultivate thoughts and ideas already planted in your mind.

We’re going for depth, not breadth, remember.

Look people in the eye as you walk by. I know, it’s scary — people are frightening, messy, untrustworthy screw-ups who hurt each other and make fools of themselves. Let’s look at each other anyway, and remember we’re not alone.

This one’s hard for me — don’t be so quick to end conversations with people. What’s the rush? Connection is the reason we’re here, why force it to a close so fast? Answer questions honestly, ask great questions back. Small talk is scary because we think we have to stay on the surface. We don’t have to. Dig deeper.

 

Depth, not breadth.

 

Breadth may be attractive. It might feel like the right thing to do, culturally. Spread yourself long and wide, to as many people, as fast as possible. Be open and available to all. With breadth, there are no rules except more, more, more. Spread, spread, spread. Shine up your facade, make sure it looks perfect to everyone who sees it.
But what’s underneath? Nothing. Sidewalk chalk is fun but if you color the whole street, underneath is still cold, hard concrete and pavement.

Depth is harder. Depth requires work, getting your hands dirty. Cultivation. Discipline. Depth is a garden, filled with rich, nutritious soil. And the rewards that surface to the top, the ones you see finally appear after all the hard work, they’re so much more rewarding because you know their roots grow deep, deep, deep. There are rules to depth – recipes for success — like too much water will drown the crops, and too much sunlight will dehydrate them, and a lack of picking weeds will choke them. Why do we feel like we always have to break the rules because they’re so restricting? Sometimes we forget how helpful rules can be, and how much life can be created because of them.

 

Today I challenge you to unplug for just a little while. Emails can wait, Snapchat stories don’t always have to be viewed, notifications won’t disappear by tomorrow or an hour from now, you’ve already missed millions of Instagram photos so you might as well miss a few more.

Unplug. Close your eyes and breathe. Or open them and breathe. Take in life — true, real, raw, in-your-face life, not life behind a screen. Just for awhile.

Social media is not the root of all evil. It’s just a tool that can be too distracting, too draining, too overwhelming for goodness in your life. Don’t let it have control, don’t let it win. Don’t let it have control over the way you spend your hours every single day. You’ve got this, I believe in you.

 

Put your phone down, pick up a book or write your dang paper or go for a run or bake something.

And then send me a Snapchat of your progress, and post a photo to Instagram.

(juuuuust kidding).

“you must get this a lot…”

Recently, I was talking to my therapist — yes, therapist. Yes, I go to counseling. No, I’m not crazy (at least I don’t think I am). No, I’m not ashamed that I do this. I actually would recommend that most people try counseling at some point; it’s incredibly helpful. Anyway, we were discussing my ongoing struggle with self-confidence.

She asked me straight up, “Why do you think you have such an issue believing that you are just as cool and valued as you believe all other people are?” (sidenote: therapist or otherwise, make sure you have people in your life who will ask the straight-up kinds of questions. Clear questions often produce the clear answers you’re seeking)

I thought for a minute and then the lightbulb over my head lit up, and the cute little lightbulb sound effect went off. Bing!

“Ohh,” I said. “I think I know. It’s because words and feedback are so incredibly valuable to me, and so often I hear praise from people about other people. When I talk to people, they’ll beautifully rave about other people in their life, which is awesome! It’s great to speak highly of others. But it’s also sort of detrimental. Because I hear and hold onto cool things about those others, but feel a lack of positive feedback directed at me about me, it makes me feel less worthy and valued. I think that phrase ‘You must get this a lot’ is a bunch of crap because we definitely don’t hear compliments about ourselves a lot anymore, at least not to our faces.”

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but I doubt I am (sidenote: this post is definitely not meant to be a personal cry of desperation to receive more compliments from you all). I don’t know what it is about our culture. Maybe it’s because we often assume that everybody else already recognizes and believes in their own strengths, talents, and beauty so they don’t need to be reminded that they’re great. Or we believe if we do not yet have confidence in ourselves, we have to go on this epic, solo mission-journey to find it, without anyone else’s help and if we receive or accept feedback and compliments, we won’t ever achieve our mandatory, individualistic confidence. Or possibly it’s because we fear planting seeds of arrogance, so we don’t accept compliments directed at us and we don’t easily hand them out to others.

I think we assume a lot of things about each other – I certainly assume people understand my way of thinking, when they often are not even remotely on the same page. We may assume a little too much that people already know their own strengths and good qualities. In reality, I think everyone is hearing how cool everybody else is and feels the weight of a lack of praise and feedback about themselves. “I hear you talking so highly of that person over there, but…what do you think about me? Am I doing okay too?” Sometimes I want to ask that question; sometimes I just need someone to tell me that they think I’m doing okay. We could all use a little more love to our own faces, right? Why are we so good at directly giving “constructive criticism” but not loving compliments?

So, attempting that whole “be the change you wish to see” mentality, my goal is to become better at directly complimenting people when I notice something I admire. It takes a lot more courage and vulnerability to do that than to talk about somebody’s strengths to someone else, but I think it’s worth it. It’s worse to not let someone know what you like about them. It reminds me of that one episode of The Office where right after offending her in front of a group of people, Michael confides to the cameraman that he thinks Pam is a wonderful artist, but he would never say that to her face. Let’s take some wisdom from the great Michael Scott… and do the exact opposite of that. What’s stopping us from looking someone in the eye and telling them what we love about them, or what they’re excelling at, or just how wonderful they are?

And for some reason, it feels like compliments themselves have gotten a bad reputation, like if you tell someone they’re cool one too many times, then poof! They’ve become a terrible, horrible narcissist. I really don’t think it works that way, people. I actually think that lack of self-confidence correlates with a lack of direct, genuine, positive feedback from our communities and loved ones. We think not depending on anyone else will boost our self-esteem, but I actually think it’s hurting us all. We need that feedback — as human beings, we crave that, whether we recognize it or not. It creates this intimacy that we greatly desire. Sadly, in our individualistic, community-is-slowly-depleting, “It’s scary to look someone in the eye and share a loving thought, and vulnerability equates to weakness” society where we all keep each other at arm’s length, we cut off the opportunity to grow together through the intimate act of sharing positive feedback about one another with one another. We’re really great at putting our friends and family and acquaintances on display for others, raving about them when they’re not around. And we’re really good at conversing with people when we’re talking about how great other people are. Why can’t we tell everyone directly how cool they are, how funny they are, what you love about them?

Can we be brave enough to give a genuine compliment straight to someone? Then maybe the phrase “You must get this a lot” will become more true — and that’s not a bad thing at all, but would just be a testament to the natural recipe for love and confidence.

part 2

Part 2

I wrote that previous, unfinished excerpt on June 21st, and I just came back to it today, August 7th. I have not really figured out how to wrap up a blog post about something that’s still so continuously affecting me, always staying in my brain.

And there are many, many other things to add to this plate of life right now. I could list them all out, decorated with the tiniest, most delicious little details. Anne Lamott recently told me […indirectly through a book, but whatever, we’re besties…] that I own everything that’s happened to me and I need to tell my stories. If people wanted me to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

So I’m remembering this as I write down thoughts, reactions, feelings, and stories from the last few months, but I’m also remembering the beautiful melody of grace as I choose what to share with the world and what to write down on paper to throw in the fire of letting go.

This summer could be summed up in one metaphor: rock climbing. I do not really like rock climbing; as someone with the desire for upper body strength but who’s lacking the motivation to see that dream through, you can imagine this activity is rather strenuous. I honestly haven’t even gone rock climbing in years. At Outdoor Lab in sixth grade — when I was in my heaviest and most hamster-cheek phase of life –, I got harnessed up to the climbing wall and barely made it ten feet off the ground before I began having a panic attack about dying. Sweat was dripping down my chubby face, hair plastered to my forehead underneath a too-big safety helmet, and I glanced behind me in desperation for the nice harness man to help me down.

“Uhm, I’m sorry, but I can’t do this! Can I come down?” I shouted.

He kept calmly replying stupid and unhelpful things like, “You’re okay.” and “You can do it!” and “Don’t worry, I’ve got you! I’m not letting go.”

I started crying and he brought me down. He gave me a nice little side hug and told me I did a great job. If I hadn’t still been in a combination of crying, hyperventilating, and sweating profusely, I probably would’ve said something other than “Thanks” but I left it at that.

I think that was the peak of my rock climbing days; I may have gone once or twice after that but probably didn’t make it fifteen feet off the ground.

Anyway, this summer was rock climbing. Because I didn’t really like it, but when I look back on it, it really wasn’t the worst. And I wish I’d tapped into my potential for strength more because I could’ve gone a lot farther than I did.

But, I did okay. I think. I let time do its little healing-power thing, and I stopped pushing God away after a little bout of anger and shame. I began to read again and spend time alone again, things I found I couldn’t stand to do for about a five month span of time.

And I started digging into every little detail of life, scavenging for lessons and epiphanies in every second of my days – which some people may call crazy, but I don’t really know.

Just now, there was a little spider crawling on my book and Writer-Claire, unleashing her frenzy of circumlocution and deep intellectual thought, was like “HEY A CUTE LIL SPIDER! HE HAS A STORY TO TELL! SHARE IT WITH THE WOOORLD!” and I started attempting to figure out how I could write a whole essay/blog post/short story/novella/novel/thesis about this practically microscopic creature.

Anyway.

Have I mentioned I like Anne Lamott? And that she’s personally speaking to me right now through her book “Traveling Mercies”? Well, she is. And she writes this on page 75:
“Life does not seem to present itself to me for my convenience, to box itself up nicely so I can write about it with wisdom and a point to make before putting it on a shelf somewhere. Now, in my early forties, I understand just enough about life to understand that I do not understand much of anything.”

When I read this, I could hear Anne – though I haven’t the slightest idea what her speaking voice sounds like, but I’m going to guess that it’s a lovely mix between an Americanized Cate Blanchett and a mewing kitten. I could hear her say, “Claire. This is what it’s all about. You’ve got to stop scrounging the bits of life around you, looking obsessively for wisdom that’s not even yours to give to people who aren’t even your people. You’re never going to find that anyway, a perfect little present of just the perfect little nuggets of wisdom. Just live. Say thank you, and keep on living. And write about that real stuff; that’s the stuff that people want to hear, little lady.”

So. This summer was like rock climbing, and Annie Lamott told me to keep living life (and writing about it), and John Eldredge reminded me of the scandalous, playful, and fierce personality of my God, and things are okay. I just read a poem that says, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” I think the spring and summer of 2015 was the season that my heart broke open. Is yours like that? You may not see or feel your broken-open heart on a daily basis, but I think you’ll find this to be recognizable and familiar in all those open-heart people when times call for that sort of thing.

I still remember names right before I fall asleep: Esther, Sharon, Rashida, Irene, Joseph, Abote, Doreen.

My brain still doesn’t really know what to do with all that I saw and experienced in Uganda. And I think that’s okay. There doesn’t have to be this big, overarching summary or lesson or moral or takeaway. It can just be this: I went to Uganda and it was one of the many things in this past season of life that busted me open, wrecked me well and good.

This wasn’t “The Summer of Uganda;” it was a summer where I experienced a tiny piece of Africa, and I learned what it looks like to have a hurting heart that’s filled with a lot of emotions but completely doused in a sweet glaze of love. I don’t mean to say I’m really good at loving people, and I don’t mean to make love sound disgusting or totally tacky like a bundt cake dessert at a 90s Christmas party; I just know that I think I’m starting to understand this balance of feeling my feelings no matter what they are, but still recognizing that love is present and it’s not going anywhere, and it makes everything just a bit sweeter, a bit more comforting.

diary of a mzungu: part 1

Part 1 – June 21

This is a little story about Africa, and it’s also not about Africa.

This is a little story of a girl sitting in a bright red dress with a big turquoise chunky necklace on and curled hair, face plastered in makeup today — and that same girl who was a mosquito net princess, perfumed in bug spray and burnt by the African sun, just a few weeks ago.

It’s a story of how that girl’s heart was cracked open a few weeks ago, and how she hasn’t been able to pick up the pieces and stitch it back together yet. Maybe she never will, and maybe that’s the point of the story. But I’m not sure yet.

I don’t want to be cliché and say that nine days in Africa changed my entire being. But I also don’t want to brush it off and say it didn’t. The point is that something changed, and I can’t quite figure out what or how, but I feel like on more than one night there, God set to work fixing my eyes to see things differently from now on.

Ask me to coffee to hear about my trip, and I promise you we will end up talking about something else the majority of our get-together. Because I’m still in a boat fishing for words to describe what I saw and felt, smelled and tasted. And I’m not winning with finding the words, at least not yet. I don’t know how long it will take to be able to honestly answer, “How was your trip?” but for now, all I can say is, “It was great and pretty overwhelming; I’m still processing it.”

And today, I added another sentence to the short-answer story – “I miss it a lot.”

Because it hit me this morning how much I miss it. I miss the green and the humidity, and the clouds (trust me, you ain’t seen clouds till you’ve seen ’em in Africa). I miss the food and eating lunch with the kids. I miss having my hair braided by six little pairs of hands all at once, and I miss kids running at me, ready to play. I think seeing kids running towards you with big grins on their faces is the best depiction of what it will be like when Jesus welcomes us into heaven. He’ll look over and see us with great recognition, and start running toward us and he won’t stop running until he practically tackles us and we fall into his arms. The kids grab you in a way that says, “You’re here. I knew you’d come see me. I’ve been waiting for you.” And I think Jesus will say things very similar.

I was baptized again in an African rainstorm. My first baptism was pretty awesome – my sister-in-law baptized me in a hotel swimming pool, surrounded by family. It was a peaceful and joyous ceremony, carefully planned and thought over for years. This time, it was a spontaneous reaction to the feeling that I just needed more Jesus. More and more and more. So I ran out into the rain and asked for more.

Some of the memories and the names are fading, and things come in flashes.

And the week I got back, emotionally wrecked Claire got physically wrecked in a car accident. A wet road and old tires do not mix well, let me tell you. It was a scary moment because I was watching the road the entire time – I wasn’t distracted, I wasn’t texting, I wasn’t even daydreaming. I was alert and fully aware that my brakes were not stopping my car, that I did everything right but everything still went wrong. That’s life sometimes. It wrecks you even when you feel most prepared.

So then my weeks back have been filled with insurance policies and phone calls to strangers and chiropractor appointments and shuffling cars around in the family and a few tears — okay, maybe more than a few. Because this was just a reminder that life can feel really overwhelming.

But I went and saw this awesome movie about emotions, and was reminded that this life is such a mix of feelings, a watercolor painting that only looks beautiful and complete once every color has been added.

to sunshine.

Dear Friend,

Lately I’ve been dealing with something that I didn’t really think I had a problem with. Call that arrogance or ignorance, I don’t really know, but I just never thought that anger and the art of letting it go was a battle I’d be in the front lines of. Or at least, I never imagined it to look like this. I thought I had more patience, for myself and for others. I always talk about my life being drenched in grace, for myself and for others. Nice talk, Claire. “You’ve still got a long way to go in that, little one,” says my Savior.

I keep repeating to myself: open palms, open palms, open palms. God named this year for me. God named this life for me. Take the gifts, give thanks, keep them near but hold them loosely; and when it’s time for the gift to be passed on, let it go.

I didn’t realize it in the moment — isn’t that funny how you hardly ever do? It takes looking back to find the blessings and the lessons in the storms that have passed. But now I realize that a late Friday night in April was the first big moment in 2015 of utilizing this act of open palms, and learning the dance of throwing this anger and hurt to the stars and saying, “Can you please hold this for me, Father? It’s too heavy, I can’t do it with my own hands.”

In less than a week, I start the long journey over to Uganda.

Specifically to the Musana Community. Musana means “sunshine” and I cannot help but think how perfect it is that here in Colorado, it’s been rainy and cloudy and overcast and eighty shades of gloomy. Peaceful, sure, but also depressing. And in 6 days and 20 hours, I’ll be on my way to see the sunshine.

And something about picturing those hundreds of smiling little faces in the bright sunshine is literally tearing down my walls of anger and bitterness, hurt and the lies that have been stewing in my head for several weeks: You’re not good enough, Claire. Not good enough. Never good enough. Never enough.

The cure for a bitter heart, a confused heart, a hurting heart? I believe it goes a little something like this: hundreds and hundreds of sweet kids wearing neon-colored VBS t-shirts. Ugandan mangos and avocados. Sweat and dirt and running around until your legs feel like they will fall off. Long skirts and sunburns. Sunshine. Airplane rides with some of the coolest people you know. Waking up early and running through the lushness of Uganda. Bartering for artwork. Meeting new people. Stepping outside of yourself and fully jumping into appreciating the lives of others. Singing at the top of your lungs next to kiddos who are doing the same. Endearingly being called “mzungu” (white person). Laughing and crying and singing and shrieking with no fear, shame, embarrassment, regret.

How do you know, Claire? You’ve never even been there. And how do you know that all this silly stuff will help? That’s dumb.

I already know this without even experiencing it yet. Because these are the stories I’ve been told, and to praise God for the smallest of things is to find joy and peace in every moment. We serve a bubbly God, a whimsical God, a funny God, a joyful God. Our Savior loves silly moments, still moments, beautiful moments. Our Savior just loves moments, because that is when he gets us.

My heart is healing from a whirlwind month; and my heart is still harboring hurt. I know both are true. But I also know that Jesus has prepared an incredible week at Musana for my team and the community there, and he is going to renew a lot of hearts and minds during this time, mine included. And I believe that this trip can be a transition point, the start of a new chapter, for a lot of lives. It doesn’t only have to impact us for the week and maybe the week after we get back; it can impact the way we live for the rest of our lives. And that’s pretty darn exciting.

To sunshine!

come with me: confessions of VBS, mission trip support, and dealing with depression

914038_10202392437991532_1960806687_o

Dear friend,

Thanks for being here today, for taking a bit of your day to read this.

I’ve recently posted on Facebook and Instagram about my upcoming trip across the world, but I wanted to blog about it as well; it feels a little more personal, as personal as I can get through computer and phone screens. And this is about to get pretty personal, probably the most intimate and vulnerable post about myself that I will throw out onto the Internet. This is definitely not going to be a typical mission trip support letter. Hang with me, okay?

560021_10201161021086879_1519160787_n

1397067_10202418627286248_497430408_o

A little backstory:
Last spring, my second semester of college,  I applied for a very similar trip to Uganda; instead of a Vacation Bible School program, the team was focused on helping train the Ugandan teachers, and spending time with the kids at Musana. It sounded like the most incredible trip and immediately I felt I needed to apply. I also felt like I was absolutely going to be picked to go; why wouldn’t I? I was ready, wasn’t I? I’m great with kids – although I hadn’t really spent a lot of time around lots kids in a while. I had nice, eloquent answers to the online essay questions – although I stumbled in my verbal answers during the interview process. I think it was revealed to the leaders that I was not really in a great place personally, emotionally, and spiritually. Never did Jesus turn his back on me, and never did I want to stop running after him, but I was tired. Last spring, I was tired and unmotivated. It was a season of losing focus, of not knowing or understanding myself and how to handle difficulty, of being a little lost. I wasn’t working very hard with anything, and nothing quite ignited my heart like it used to be ignited by so many things. For some reason, though, I wanted to go on this trip more than anything — and perhaps my intentions weren’t as good as I thought they were. The afternoon that I received the email that said I was not chosen for this particular trip but encouraged me to apply for future trips, I was sitting in my mass communication lecture and I immediately started crying — I am not really a crier, but this time I cried hard. I packed up my things and walked out of class. I cried all the way back to my dorm room – a 15-minute walk. I cried a lot that day.

I cried because, of course, I was completely devastated to not be chosen to go on the trip. But I think I was also finally allowing myself to release all of this bottled up emotion I’d had stored up for the entirety of the semester. So many questions were continuously bouncing through my head: What if I leave this school? What if I stay? How can I feel better? Why do I feel this way? Why do they make me feel so bad about myself? What if…what if…what if…why…why…why… So many thoughts, too little motivation to sift through it all and help myself out of the hole I’d fallen into.

That was then. A whole year ago. A lot happens in a year. And I think that you just had a thousand memories flash through your head as you read that sentence, because that’s also what happens to me every time I think that: a lot happens in a year. It would take five more blog posts to really dive deeper into that season of my life, but I’ll save that for another time. The point is that there isn’t really a magic cure for feeling down like that. It takes time, it takes grace, it takes patience, it takes loving and allowing yourself to be loved, it takes consistency, and basically, it takes Jesus. And it takes the acceptance of the reality that the feelings might not ever fully go away, and that’s hard but true; but if you are able to live with that while still holding onto the hope and grace of Jesus, I believe it’s possible to be okay. That’s really all I’ve got for you on the subject of dealing with depression.

And as everyone who’s dealt with a season of depression or “the blues” or feeling down or whatever you want to call it can tell you, not all the problems or feelings go away as things start to change and shift and get significantly better. There are occasionally moments that hit you in a way that you feel like you’re still that old self, the one who fell in the hole. But it’s also the absolute truth for me to say that I’m in a much better place than I was last spring, and even last fall, and even 2014 as a whole. 2015 shines a bit brighter than last year already. Don’t get me wrong; 2014 held so many blessings and wonderful opportunities. But when you see them through a dark lens, it all seems a bit dimmer. I’m so thankful to not be stuck behind that lens. I’m thankful to have that season behind me and be able to tell others, “Yeah, I dealt with that. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. Me too. But hold on; have faith. Your time is not over, and there are beautiful things ahead.”

548887_10201159645852499_1178836176_n

So, here we are in the spring of 2015 and I applied for another trip to Uganda, this time on a VBS team. I felt excited to apply again, but this time, I was holding the opportunity of going to Uganda a little looser; I didn’t want to tie the fate of my happiness to whether or not I would go on this trip.

I’m not going to lie to you, I have terrible memories of Vacation Bible School. It was my least favorite part of my childhood summers, however many we spent doing that. It was partly due to the church we went to – the giant auditorium, and the dark church gymnasium filled with hundreds of screaming kids who just wanted to go home will forever be engrained in my head. The small snacks (this girl was one hungry child; one package of fruit snacks and ten goldfish did not cut it!), the cheesy videos, the onstage skits that I couldn’t see because of all the kids sitting on their knees in front of me, being herded around by strange adults. The whole thing feels chaotic in my head; I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I remember, but certainly it was not fun nor did it really help me learn about my Savior — except for one thing. One song that I remember first learning at VBS one summer, one piece of the lyrics that stayed with me. “Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look I see your face.” This has become an anthem of my life; every day I am hit with the constant waves of his grace and I cannot go anywhere without seeing him and how he works in and through everything. Maybe VBS wasn’t so bad after all. But….it definitely could have been better. And I think that all has to do with the intention of the program. What’s the focus? What is the most important thing about this – keeping the kids busy, shuffling them around from activity to activity, making sure the day goes by as fast as possible? Or is it about developing relationships, sharing those few hours together, engaging in fun and whimsical ways to remind the kids (and the leaders!) how much they are loved?

You already know the outcome of my application: I was picked to go to Uganda this summer from May 27th through June 8th. And I am positive that the VBS experience for these kids has been and will be much, much better than my own as a child. I’ve been placed in the group working on the daily Bible story, and the Intro/Conclusion skits. I was told by one of the leaders of our team that the Ugandan people are pretty unfamiliar with the idea of taking a script and bringing it to life, performing and acting it out to create a made-up scenario. When she said this to me, I couldn’t help but smile because this is what I’ve been doing for years – bringing written words to life onstage. It made sense why I was chosen for this team — not to say that I’m the only person who can do this, but I can contribute my skills and talents to make the 2015 Musana VBS experience an incredible one.

522129_10201159507409038_151846320_n

529577_10201160907164031_921480722_n

64162_10201160890803622_1729232186_n

Have you ever heard the phrase “I’m in love with places I’ve never been and people I’ve never met”? This is how I feel about Uganda and the kids at Musana. I have not met them yet; I have not been there yet. But I already feel my heart being tugged by them in ways that I didn’t know it could be by total strangers. It’s hard to fully explain in words, and I don’t want to sound self-indulgent, but truly, truly, I am in love with these kids already before I’ve ever laid eyes on them in person. And I cannot wait to see the way God uses me to love these kids, and how he uses these kids to break open my heart — because we all need that every once in a while, for God to break open our hardened hearts and for him to remind us of what is good and true. And I fully believe there is hardly a better way for God to do that than through children.

537079_10201160911444138_1200503657_n

Here comes me being even more vulnerable on the internet: this trip is not cheap. The $2900 each of the team members need to raise covers the airfare, food, and lodging while we are there. That number looks incredibly intimidating as I write it out, but I feel so much peace about the financial part of this trip. I don’t have to be scared of a number, but I do need to reach out to others in love and faith and ask for support. This is a really hard thing for me to do; I don’t really like asking for help – I usually feel bad or guilty for doing so. But this trip can impact so many more people than just those who are going on it, and that is what excites me about sharing it with you all. I want to ask you to come with me on my journey to Uganda this summer — whether that is through reading updates or seeing pictures that I may post, or if that is through prayers for me and the team and the people at the Musana Community Development, or if that is through a donation to my trip, or any other form of encouragement. I am grateful for any and all of these ways of support, and I am thrilled to get to share this with all of you.

If you’d like to support financially, you can donate online at:

https://www.servicereef.com/events/flatirons-community-church-2/musana-vbs-team-2015/donate

(make sure to select my name, Claire Wood, from the “Donation preference” menu)

You can also send a check or cash with my name in the memo line or on an attached note to:

Flatirons Community Church
355 W South Boulder Rd
Lafayette, CO 80026
Attn: Missions

Again, any sort of support is incredibly appreciated, and I hope that you all will come with me on this trip. Thank you for reading this very long post and for allowing me to share some of my story with you.

482838_10200985780705979_842556893_n

If you want to read more about Musana, you can go to their website: http://www.musana.org/

If you have questions or comments or concerns or anything else, please contact me through Facebook, through my blog, through Instagram, through email (claire.wood.826@gmail.com), through phone, or whatever else!

Thank you all so much. I’m thankful for every one of you.

-Claire

P.S. All photos were taken by my wonderful sister Blakesley when she went to Uganda a few years ago. She’s incredible!

for you on a stressful day

1)

Hey you,

You, who are stressing,
You, who are hurting,
You, who are exhausted,
You, who are overwhelmed,
You, who are lost and confused and worried and feeling broken and eight hundred shades of crazy today,

I want to apologize for the world that has overwhelmed you — and I know, I know; it’s not my job to apologize for that and we should all work a little harder to not say “sorry” when it’s not our fault. But today, I do, I do need to say it. Over and over and over. And I will carry the weight of the world for you today.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry, friends, brothers, mom and dad, sisters, strangers, self.
I’m sorry that you’re in so much pain that even walking isn’t an easy action anymore.
I’m sorry that being sick has become an old friend, constantly present.
I’m sorry that you feel guilty for letting people down, not following through, never feeling accomplished.
I’m sorry that exhaustion floods your body no matter how much rest you get, like receiving a giant beautifully wrapped gift with nothing inside.
I’m sorry that people don’t seem to understand a lot of the time; they try to relate, they try to empathize, but they can’t.
I’m sorry you feel lost and alone, even sometimes in the presence of the people who know you most.
I’m sorry that it seems no one has an answer when you desperately need even just one word of comfort, and it seems that everyone has a million words of advice to shove down your throat when all you need is a pair of arms around your shoulders and a whole lot of silence.
I’m sorry that it feels like we are chained to reputations and to-do lists and that evil liar of a voice that says “you’re not doing enough; you are not enough.”
I’m sorry that you can’t see yourself the way other people do – like photo filters, they see the highlights, while you only see the shadows. I’m sorry that your beauty doesn’t ricochet off the mirror when you stare into it, hitting you in the face with the reminder that you are a striking, captivating, perfectly crafted being, created in imago dei – the Image of God.
I’m sorry that we make each other mad with our differing opinions and decisions. I’m sorry that conflict exists because if it were up to me, there’d be none. Because it hurts, a lot.
I’m sorry that no one can make these hard decisions for you. I’m sorry that no matter how much wisdom and guidance you seek, you still feel in the dark about what to do, and the only decision you want to make is to climb into bed with a good book and a steaming mug of something comforting, but the world is calling – expectations scream your name – and you are expected to answer.
Expectations. I’m sorry that we’ve all let these taint our views of life. I’m sorry that I expect so much out of you all the time; I’m sorry that I can’t reach your expectations of me all the time. I’m sorry I let you down. I’m sorry that I’m not the person you need me to be sometimes, and I’m sorry that you feel inadequate too sometimes.
I’m sorry that school, work, and people expect you to move mountains every single day. It doesn’t seem like anyone remembers that we are all fragile little humans with cracked, bruised hearts that need to be cared for a little more. And work and school sometimes just feel like places that have forgotten what it means to be a human, and what it means to be a human who hurts who also takes care of other hurting humans.

As silly as it sounds, I think if you and I were sitting down over coffee right now and we had both subconsciously taken off our armor of small-talk in order to have a real conversation, the first thing I would ask you would be, “Do you feel human right now? Or do you feel like a walking conveyor belt of generic responses to generic questions, spitting out the right answers, and throwing away raw emotions and vulnerability like they were the broken parts instead of the truest things about you?”
And you might look at me like I’m an alien, but that’s okay. Because I’d rather try to ask the ridiculous questions than let them sit and scald my heart.

I’m sorry for a lot of things that I can’t fix. And I’m sorry I can’t fix them, because if I could, I promise you that I would. So here I am; I’m just here, typing these words, reminding and relating to the things that are weighing us all down. And now what? What happens now? We have these things to deal with, and sometimes it feels like so much and we feel so incapable and too exhausted to face them. So then what? Ask yourself that today: then what?

There’s no ribbon to tie these thoughts all together, because there’s no ribbon to tie this life all together; at least not yet. But we have hope for that.
And I have hope that your pain will subside.
I have hope that your stress and exhaustion will finally be overcome by eucharisteo – joy and grace and thanksgiving – and peace and trust. It will always be a struggle, but I know that the light overcomes the darkness.
I have hope that these seasons of being overwhelmed will give way to seasons of abundant blessings and sometimes fearsome blessings and sometimes blessings-in-disguise and the ability to look back on these times and say, “Oh yeah; that was a blessing. And that, remember that? A blessing, also. And that – that darkest moment where it felt like not a drop of hope could be found anywhere – it led to this. And that is a blessing.”
And I have hope that we will all wake up soon and realize that we need emotional self-care as much – if not more – as physical self-care. I have hope that we all remember to take some mornings nice and slow, turn off our phones, crack open an old book, underline some good passages, write our thoughts down, and let our minds slow down for a while.
And I have hope that your expectations and your to-do lists and your worries and your fears and your anxieties and your temptations will be shattered and destroyed and buried. Because this is true: you’re currently in a battle and you’re fit for the fight, but the fight is not easy. It’s absolutely exhausting, at times terrifying. But do you know what fighting means? It means you’re not giving up. Not giving in. You know the end result; with the help you’ve been given, you will win. Don’t give up.
And I have hope that our hurting, broken hearts will be renewed and we will feel beautiful; we will be reminded of the beauty that has been there all along.

Keep fighting.

the year of open palms

We rang in the new year with sushi, card games, sparkling cider, and a marathon of The Office. And when the clock struck midnight, I breathed normally but the metaphorical lungs inside my head let out an enormous sigh of relief. Because 2014 had felt like a lifetime in itself; so many ups, and so many downs.

And even though it’s just a passing of intangible time and we’re all still basically the same at 12:01am on January 1, 2015 as we were at 11:59pm on December 31, 2014, it feels like such a giant leap. I still can’t decide if I like that feeling or not.

Here we are, five days into 2015, and resolutions and goals and new habits are being formed and broken as you read this. Frustration is already present because some thought this would finally be the year that everything would be different, but it turned out to be exactly the same as all of the other new years of disappointment and frustration. Time can do a lot of things, but it cannot perform your goals. [sorry, the cynic in me is showing].

I’ve been thinking about resolutions and goals and hopes for this year. This year, 2015, holds so much potential for big changes, but when I think about it too much, it just makes me want to crawl underneath my giant fuzzy blanket and lay on my couch for the whole year. Because it’s overwhelming to plan out your life by yourself. Too much pressure, I think. And then I remember something. I’m glad I don’t have to do that, and that someone else has it taken care of. I just get to see it unfold as I follow where He leads.

And so, I’ve deemed this year — and hopefully every year following — as the year of open palms. Unclenching my fists, letting go of all the control I’ve tried to gather in my feeble little hands, and lifting my hands up to the one who holds everything. If His hands are bigger, stronger, more powerful and loving and good than mine, why would I try to hold my life in my own hands?

Thinking about this idea of open palms reminded me of a conversation that I had in the spring of last year.

“Hold your hands open, palms up. Hang onto blessings loosely. The only things that should be grasped onto oh-so-tight are Jesus, and the man you make a promise to on a Saturday morning — I know how much you want a morning wedding –, wearing a white dress, as he slips a ring onto your finger. Other than that, everything else this world has to offer you should be held gently, loosely, able to slip through your fingers when its time to leave has come.”

Her face shines. Her eyes sparkle when she talks, and they squint when she smiles big, her dimples spreading across her cheeks. She is one of the most stunning people I’ve ever met, and not because she spends hours in front of a mirror with all of the latest tricks and tips for outer beauty. Her inner joy and light shine right out of her skin, giving her a glow that could never come from any sort of man-made beauty concoction.

She is wise beyond her years. She holds onto truth and grace more than most. She gives advice, but not in a way that says “Let me tell you how to live your life because you are stupid and immature.” No, instead she says “Here’s what I’ve learned to be true during my struggles that I still continue with. Let me share what I know about our Savior, so you can find freedom in this life too.”

When Jess and I get together and bear our souls to each other over steaming cups of coffee, we often get on the subject of action: doing, doing, doing in this world. Endless opportunities. Job openings. Mission trip offers. Class commitments. Organization meetings. Coffee and lunch dates with strangers and best friends. Internship possibilities. Career goals. Networking. The list is endless. And we’ve found we’re really similar in that we both often taint opportunities with a sickening obligation to them: we HAVE to do this. We MUST. Otherwise…there are negative consequences.

We both have to remind ourselves that obligation has its place, but it should never be what leads us to do the things that we enjoy, the things we love. Loving Jesus is not an obligation; it should just be the best thing ever because he’s Jesus, this radical, whimsical Savior who wants us, and we desperately need him.

Getting hit left and right with opportunities can be so exciting, but it also means that some commitments that have been crusted over with obligation are now things to let go of. When we keep our hands open and loose, we have less of a chance of locking ourselves up in guilt when we decide to end a commitment. We have less of a chance of being heartbroken when someone waves goodbye and heads on out the door of our life. Keeping our hands open means that we are willing and able and ready and ecstatic to accept any blessing thrown our way, and keep it for however long Jesus has intended, whether that’s a few months, a few years, or an entire lifetime. That’s an important part of the story to remember — we’re not closing ourselves off to intimate relationships, to deep-down messy work, to life-changing opportunities. Our hands are open. We are ready for those things.

When a blessing falls from above into our open palms, we grasp it, and take advantage of the time that the blessing is in our hands. We work hard at the job. We invest in that person with all our might, showing love and grace and truth and serving them as best as we can, because that’s what Jesus did. We dedicate time and effort to whatever has been given to us.

And then, when the time is over and the blessing falls gracefully out of our hands or it’s time to pass it over to someone else’s readily open hands, our thankfulness for the time that was had overpowers the negative emotions of guilt for letting it go, heartbreak for wanting to hold on forever, sadness that it’s over. We may still feel those things, but living with open palms allows us the freedom to realize that our greatest reward and treasure lies beyond this life. Nothing that this world can offer us will be greater than that, so we are free to watch blessings come and go, give much and receive little, put others first, show grace to those who have never seen it, love and serve those who’ve never been served before. Open palms mean strong, courageous hands that are secure enough to not hold onto a fleeting moment or thing or person for dear life, believing that those things can save us.

By opening my palms and giving my life completely to Jesus, I’m free to simply walk in his footsteps and allow His will for my life to overwhelm my worries and anxieties. Sure, I can continue to stress about how to best use my time this spring as I take a break from school and emotionally recharge, and I can worry about my summer plans, and overthink where I should be in the fall and what I should be studying, but what good does that do me? Has it not been said that worrying only robs you of what could be your present excitement and happiness?

Now, don’t get me wrong; we’re all human. I’m human. I will still worry and stress over a lot this year. I will probably try to clench my fists again, desperately seeking control. But when I start to overwhelm myself with scattered thoughts and anxieties, I hope and pray that I remember to open my hands, as a symbol of letting all of that go. God’s plans for my life will always be so much more fulfilling than anything I could plan for myself, so I am incredibly excited to see what unfolds this year.

I hope that you are able to open your palms a little bit too, and allow peace and contentment to flood your life, instead of stress and anxiety. Sometimes it feels impossible to do that, but His peace is always there for the taking.

Open palms. Allow God to be in control of your life, and let him lead you. Accept blessings from Him graciously; but hold them loosely because those things will not save you; they only point to the one who can.

happiest new year to you,

claire