Some things I learned while abroad

20170629_103555Just as a prelude, it’s not helpful to ask someone “How was [X country]?” if they spent an extended time abroad. How on earth am I supposed to tell you how my 6 weeks in South Africa were in a way that encompasses everything important and isn’t too long that you’ll get bored by my answer? Not that it’s a bad question, but some better questions that people have asked me were, “What were your favorite and least favorite things you did there?” “What were your living arrangements like and your opinions of those?” “When were you most afraid?” My personal favorite question (asked by the lovely and insightful Marianna) was “what did you learn while you were abroad?” So, I will answer that question in blog format because it does encompass a lot of the big things I did ther.

  1. I learned that I adapt well to new situations. I mostly knew that already, but I could see it very clearly while abroad. I would say things like, “Well everyone here speaks English, so I don’t feel like it’s that different from home,” which is actually kind of comical, now that I think about it. South Africa isn’t ridiculously different from the US, but there is much more nuance to it than I was giving it credit for. But beyond that, I learned that because I make a home quickly, I became uncomfortable by the same things that would make me uncomfortable here at home. I have a whole post about this coming soon, so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
  2. I learned ways that I have contributed to making people of color feel uncomfortable in spaces, things that I now can change to go against that. Like, even if I do not verbalize (to others or even just to myself) judgments against something important to people of color (a style of music, for example), my face can show judgment, making me unapproachable. But the goal is not just to make myself approachable for people of color but to humbly approach them, relinquishing the power I hold in white-majority spaces to become a true ally. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more than that, but that piece stood out to me the most.
  3. I learned that I respond very strongly to natural beauty. I really enjoyed our rural homestay (pictured above), even though we had to kill cockroaches, we had to use long-drop toilets, and bathing was a major struggle. But for me, the natural beauty of our surroundings made that all worthwhile.
  4. I don’t really want to teach. I saw the future teachers around me light up in classrooms and dream about the day when they would be in charge of their own classrooms. But that didn’t happen to me. More often than not, I felt uncomfortable with the learners. But hey, it’s helpful to know what I don’t want to do!
  5. On the flip side, I really loved being able to talk with adults about anything and everything. One of the most impactful experiences I had was a 2-day initiative we did with a prison rehabilitation program in an actual prison. I saw life there, I saw humanity there, I saw regret and redemption there. Those robust conversations were incredible, and I’m going to look for ways to do something similar when I go back for my last year at university. (more about this experience will come, don’t worry!)
  6. I learned a new reason to have hope in God and the gospel. I had my closest moment with God not in a big church or among “impressive” people; I saw God most clearly in the face of poverty on a day that I had lamented not understanding how I could have hope in God. This is also a really big, complicated story (that may one day grace this blog—we’ll see!). Feel free to ask me about it.

That’s it for now, friends! More will be coming soon!

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How Great is our God

Question: do science and religion conflict? Oooh, how’s that juicy can of worms for you? So often we see these two ideologies pitted against each other in some sort of cosmic war. Scientists need practical evidence that God can exist. The religious don’t care about science, because God is bigger than all that. How can both exist in the same world? They both describe truths, so how can they both be correct? Mustn’t we all, in the end, choose one or the other?

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Watching my plant, Brontosaurus, grow gives me life.

I don’t think so. I love science, biology specifically, though I appreciate the other disciplines. And I’m totally committed to my faith. I think science and faith can be reconciled in ways that we just need to take the time to understand. I’m actually really surprised I haven’t written about their intersections before. So. Let’s dive in, shall we?

A lot of the questions seem to revolve around the origin of the universe and evolution.  We ask, how can the Earth be as old as science says it is, or how can evolution be possible, when Genesis says something else? Shouldn’t we trust the Bible, the source of truth? OR, shouldn’t we trust these cold, empirical facts that have been proven countless times? Nothing proves the existence of God, and how can we trust something we don’t have proof in? Now I’m not here to give robust, theologically and scientifically sound answers to these questions simply because I don’t have all of the knowledge necessary to do so. So I’m sorry to introduce those questions and then not answer them. But I still have something to say, as evidenced by the paragraphs of words below this.

I think the funny thing is that both sides have a limited view of God and a puffed up view of human knowledge. On the exclusive faith side, we fall into the trap of thinking we understand the Bible perfectly, that the way we have read it for all of history is the only way it can be read. I’m not saying the Bible isn’t true; I’m saying we need to give ourselves a little less credit and accept that maybe it’s a bit more complicated than the way we picture it, that we cannot understand it fully, that we cannot understand God fully.

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Every time I see Junior, the snail, I fall a bit more in love with the world.

And science has a similar story, saying, “The way we understand the universe is infallible because it matches everything we’ve designed for it to match.” I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, where there are aliens (called beasts) who have been blind for all of their history. How do explain the concept of sight to them? We cannot assume that what is objective and proven by our standards is truth because maybe we don’t see the world as it purely and objectively is. And we cannot assume that we can explain God using science. We cannot even look to science as a method to prove the existence of God. Nothing can undeniably prove that God exists. Everything in life merely points to His presence, and we choose whether to accept this evidence or not. It’s not called faith for nothing. Again, I’m not saying that science isn’t good or trustworthy or useful, but we need to look beyond just ourselves.

But Brianna, you say, why would you say something so frustrating?? Why can’t our perception be infallible?? Why can’t we explain God and the universe with our own means??  I get the frustration, really, I do.

As with most things, I really wish that I totally understood God. So it’s disappointing when I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept of the Trinity, how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man at the same time, or even the concept of eternity. Those are difficult concepts! And I struggle with these, wishing I could just understand when I realize that by doing so I’m attempting to put God in a box. Who am I that I think I can understand God? The God who created the universe and laughter and spiderwebs, who knows every cell in my body and every place my feet have touched, who knows every single person in the same way. I think about that, and I realize how silly and small I am to be doing this. Not that we shouldn’t wrestle with hard questions, because hard questions are good. But I think there’s a lot of peace to knowing that we will never be able to wrap our minds around a supreme and holy God. Let God be as big and mystifying as He is, and just worship Him for that.

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Don’t get me started on how spectacularly amazing bacteria are.

In my own experience, studying science has done nothing but increase my faith in and awe of God. In my biology classes, I learn about the machinery necessary for
making new cells, machinery so specific it blows my mind. I learn about how robust our bodies are at fighting diseases and keeping cancer at bay. I learn about microscopic creatures that can do so many amazing things, and we haven’t even discovered all of them yet! And God created all of that! It’s incredible! I look under the microscope, and I see the beauty of creation, the wonder of life. Just the other day, I was sitting in my dorm room and thinking about how God knows every single particle in my dorm room, how I don’t have a concept of how many particles that is, and that’s only for a tiny room in the city of Williamsburg, in the state of Virginia, in the United States, on the Earth, in our Solar System, in the universe. Just….wow. There are no words.

Every Precious Story

I’m going to talk about politics today. Wow. Crazy, right? Miss “Let’s All Just Get Along” wants to speak about one of the most divisive topics: politics, specifically abortion.

I can almost always see every side to a debate. That’s probably because I value harmony so much, or maybe because I have difficulty making up my mind. I dunno. But with most debates, I see both sides, and then I struggle to make a decision until I see a way to unite them. So it is with this issue. On one side, I see many of my Christian brothers and sisters fighting for the beautiful, valuable lives of the unborn (they’re not always Christians, but Christians are the most vocal in this demographic). On the other side, I see most of my progressive classmates fighting for the importance of choice and the health of the beautiful, valuable women who make that choice. I have a foot in both pastures, but I’m not here because I can’t decide. I am here because I think that there is, in fact, a way to balance both.

I think every life has value. I know I’ve already said that, but I do. I think every life deserves a second chance and that every person can do beautiful things. I want all of those lives to be lived out to the fullest. So I think that every abortion is a tragedy. I think God cries for the unborn children, as do so many who are burdened for them. I think it’s foolish to believe that life starts having value at a certain point in time. From the moment the egg is fertilized, there is life and the potential for a beautiful human soul to walk upon the beautiful earth we call home. Life is sacred, and it deserves to be preserved.

But I don’t think banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood are the ways to do that. You can ban abortion, but that won’t stop people from getting abortions. It will probably reduce the number of people getting abortions, but it won’t stop them entirely. And if they do it when it’s illegal, it will probably be much more difficult, dangerous, and maybe even more expensive for them. And if there’s anything we want less than abortions, it’s abortions that are also putting the life of the mother in danger. GUYS. THIS IS HUGE. The problem is not merely that it is legal for women to have abortions. It’s that women feel the need to have abortions in the first place.

The woman who can barely feed the children she already has will feel like she has no choice but to terminate the life of the child inside her. To her, that is more merciful. And that’s tragic. That shouldn’t be the only choice for her. And to solve her problem by simply banning or allowing all abortions is incredibly reductive. I think we can do better than that. Her nuanced, multifaceted problem should not be solved by a single, simple law, but rather with a series of specific, intentional reforms that give her life and the life she carries the dignity they both hold. And yeah, maybe we won’t be able to do all of these things. But we can still try.

So what are some of the problems? Unplanned pregnancy is definitely one. I think there should be better sex education and more access to contraceptives that reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. What else can we do? Oh, how about rape? Maybe, just maybe (please note the sarcasm), men should stop raping women, which can cause emotionally charged and painful unplanned pregnancies. The objectification of women is a whole other issue that you can read about elsewhere on the internet (not saying it’s not important; it’s just a big topic that I don’t want to get into at the moment but that other people have gotten into. I also want to emphasize that it’s not just women who are raped, but that’s what’s mostly relevant to this discussion.).

Another question: why don’t more people go through with pregnancies and give their child up for adoption? Because society isn’t very helpful to women who are pregnant. I think there should be better health practices that make every pregnancy and birth as safe as possible for every woman, so that health is not a concern with going through538317_293248474104546_166862026_n with a pregnancy. I think society should care for every child that needs a home, whether through adoption or through the foster care system. I think maternity (and paternity) leave should be something employers do more so that it’s easier for a woman not to be anxious about expenses when she’s pregnant. Wow, guys. Treating women like they’re valuable both to do work and to carry life are such crazy concepts, but maybe we’ll get on board eventually.

I also think we should reduce the stigma that women face, whether it’s for pregnancy out of wedlock or for the women who do end up having abortions. Because sometimes, abortion does end up being the best, most merciful option. And we shouldn’t silence those who make that choice. They still have value and worth, and though we may be saddened at the life lost, we cannot do so at the expense of the woman who is standing in front of us. We should be less quick to judge and more eager to listen to each person’s individual story. Fred Allen (don’t really know who he is; I just found this quote in a book) said that “A human being is nothing but a story with skin around it.” Let’s listen to each other’s stories. They are truly gorgeous stories.

In conclusion I suppose I am both pro-choice (more like pro-all-the-choices) and pro-life, as in pro-every-life. I want to reduce the number of abortions happening, even, make this phenomenon disappear entirely, but I want us to recognize that it’s a complicated issue. I think women should have the viable option to choose life. Because life is beautiful, and we all have beautiful stories to tell.

Epylle Spydre

p.s. Here’s the excellent article talking about this issue from a feminist perspective that first sparked the thoughts that went into this post. And here’s another article that is more a critique specifically of the church’s involvement in the pro-life discussion, urging us to consider the full implications of what it means to protest abortion. These are both golden, so please read them.

p.p.s. I am almost certain there are aspects of this that I am forgetting. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you disagree with me? Let’s talk about it, friends!

Edit: 1/22/16 I changed the wording of one phrase in the fourth paragraph to specifically be about the legality of abortion. I also added the second sentence in the last paragraph before my signature on this date.

A Prayer for the Beloved

I feel like I’ve been surrounded by death recently. On the smaller side of things, last week, my family decided that our guinea pig would be better off not in pain, and we put her down. Then on Monday, we heard news of the third suicide at my college this year. And today, we cry with the family and friends of the 32 people at Virginia Tech who were killed in 2007. It’s also Holocaust Remembrance Day, so there’s that.

I never met Paul Soutter, the young man who committed suicide, but I’ve been to his high school, and I saw him in two shows this year. After the second show, I would recognize him in the dining halls by his bright, strawberry blonde hair. And that’s the closest I’ve been to someone who committed suicide, and I earnestly hope that is the closest I ever get. Since his death, there has been a campus wide discussion about stress, mental health, and suicide. And it’s good that we’re having this discussion. It’s just sad that it took 3 suicides in a year for us to get this desperate and really start talking about it. And I’ve been watching on, not sure what to say or do. I’m not an expert on anything but I will tell you what I do know.

Hello, darling. Hello, beautiful. To whoever is reading this, you are worth so much. Please don’t ever think that you can’t do anything in the world or that no one appreciates your presence. You are a work of art, a breathing poem. And that’s not that you merely have the potential be a work of art if you work harder or do more good deeds or whatever. You are beautiful and precious and incredible right now. Yes, it’s true, you can become so much. And I hope to see the even more gorgeous, accomplished person you become. But you don’t need that to affirm your worth. You don’t need to get certain grades or hold a certain number of leadership positions or be recognized to be worth the time of those around you. You have passions and pet peeves and talents and things you can’t stand to talk about, and that is so wonderful. You are wonderful. You are unique, and you are beautiful. You are not alone. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel pain. You are precious and loved and so, so worth it.

Even without knowing the people who have taken their own lives, I am struck by all the pain there is. The pain they must have felt. The pain their friends and family and acquaintances feel, especially for these people. Because I know that if I was in that position, my automatic emotional response would be that of intense regret at not having done something to change the outcome. But it’s not your fault. Please, please do not blame yourself. And I know that’s super hypocritical of me to say, but maybe if I’m ever in your position, you’ll be able to tell me that too. And in response to all the pain, I’m going to do something that I don’t think I’ve ever done on my blog before. I’m going to write my prayer.

God, I pray for everyone who feels like they are overwhelmed by life right now, who feel in bondage. Bondage to a mental health disorder or to the stress of school or to their regrets or family problems. You see these people. You know them intimately, far more than I can ever know them. And you love them.
I know you are a God who heals. You love to see your little children unrestrained by pain and loss, living in the freedom that you so generously give us. You don’t get rid of pain altogether, and we don’t always know why. Maybe because sometimes it’s healthy to acknowledge pain. Maybe sometimes we need to see you work through our pain.  But you do heal. I’ve seen it before, and I am confident I will see it many more times before I die. I have faith in that. God, heal someone, even if it’s a small healing, just letting someone know they’re not alone or affirming their worth; move today. Even to the people who feel like they’re okay or that they’ve got everything figured out. You see their hidden pains, the ones they repress and ignore. Encourage your children and show them that you are the Father who Loves, freely and perfectly. Thank you that you are so much bigger than us and that you put us in the right place at the right time, even if we do not understand. There is so much pain in the world, today and every day, but you are bigger than the pain. Amen. 

20140802_132201“Are not 5 sparrows sold for 2 pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Luke  12:6-7

p.s. If you’d like individual prayer or just want to talk about essentially anything, please, please, please let me know!

An Open Letter to the Comment, “You’re Perfect”

Dear nonchalant “You’re perfect,”

You are a sneaky one, my friend. People toss you around, not thinking of any of the consequences. You make yourself look so small and insignificant, a compliment of the highest caliber. And the people who use you as a compliment are sweet people who just want to be nice and appreciate someone, and I have nothing against them. You are the one who can be destructive, seeding insecurities in a person’s heart like weeds in a garden. We don’t like to plant weeds, so I’m writing you this open letter so that everyone (or at least all of my readers) will see what you can do. 

Perfection is a crazy goal. On the scale of excellence we see: good, exceptional, out-of-this-world-amazing, and the best anyone has ever done. Somewhere on that scale is the best that any individual can do. And at the very top of that scale is perfection. Perfection is unattainable because we live in a fallen world. 

And every time someone someone compares another person to perfection, they subconsciously put perfection on the scale of attainability. It raises the bar for their achievement to that level. And it really is mostly about achievement. They don’t have to be perfect for everyone all the time because other people don’t actually expect perfection from them. But they expect perfection from themselves. And every time they don’t fulfill that expectation, they feel like they’ve let themselves down.

Some people have said that the hardest person to forgive is yourself, and that’s because, try as you might, you cannot just run away from the blame and make excuses for yourself. And that’s especially true when you expect yourself to not make mistakes. No excuse will ever be enough, even when your transgression is something really dumb or unimportant. 

So, every time someone says, “You’re perfect,” I die a little inside. They may have the most pure of intentions, and the other person may be completely secure in their identity. But maybe they’re not. And if they are insecure with this idea of perfection, that comment can make that person feel misunderstood. Because they know they’re insecure, and that comment makes them sad but nobody sees it or knows why. Everybody else thinks it’s a compliment for goodness’ sake! And it’s actually really isolating to feel like you have to be perfect. 

This is a slight tangent, but “Your imperfections make you perfect” is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. No. Just stop. Why are we so obsessed with perfection? Why can’t we just accept that we’re not perfect and stop trying to make perfection the ultimate goal? When you look at imperfections the right way, they are beautiful because they remind us that we’re human. 

So when you look at yourself in the mirror, don’t expect perfection. When you look at yourself through the lens of perfection, chances are, you’ll only see where you’ve failed and where you weren’t good enough. That’s what the perfection lens likes to highlight. It doesn’t show you that you’re good at playing piano, or that you can do the splits, or that you have a passion for helping out special needs kids. It doesn’t show you where you’re beautiful. But you are. And don’t you forget that. And please, just stop saying “you’re perfect.” 

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Epylle Spydre

The Sky: A Poem

Hey guys, I’m going to be different today and post a poem that I’ve been working on. I’ve always loved the sky, and one day, when I had paper, a pen, and some free time, I decided to start writing about it. I would not call myself a serious poet, but I did have fun with this, so I thought I’d share with you. 

If words could paint,
Or letters dye,
My masterpiece would be the sky.

 

On my canvas,
So pure and clean,
I would start with a dab of green.

 

For what could show
The sky’s immensity
Than a tree’s propinquity?

 

Next to come
Would be more hues,
Red and orange, and some blues.

 

A sunset shown,
What greater lens
To display the sky with a few pens?

 

The clouds are next,
Though vapor in essence,
Stand sharp against the colors, as if with substance.

 

The fluffy white,
Shaped by God,
But sometimes black with rain, for sod.

 

And finally, the sun,
That golden, glowing sphere,
Spreading its warmth and dissolving all fear.

 

Heating and lighting,
Proud and strong,
We also praise it with the song.

 

Yes, I would paint the sky.
For I am keen
To capture its glory on a canvas clean.

 

But alas, I cannot paint,
And even if I could,
I could not capture
The sky.

 

Not with the canvas clean,
Nor with a beauteous melody,
Not even with words on a page.

~Epylle Spydre

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picture taken by my sister, as usual. 🙂

 

 

I love my sister. Actually I adore her. And I could go on and on about how much I love her, but that’s not really relevant to my blog. What is relevant to my blog is this picture (along with all of her other numerous pictures that I’ve used as inspiration): 

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What I love about this picture is that it shows how artistic it is. Not only is it a great photo with awesome composition and a cool angle and all that jazz, but it also shows her love of color. We had an ugly bookshelf, and she decided to get this teal paint and sand and paint the bookshelf. It was a lot of hard, smelly work; I know because I helped her with it. I have already said I’m not an artist, but my sister is. And that’s awesome, even if the job prospects aren’t that high. 

But I hate how little we, as a society, recognize certain achievements. On Friday, I was having a conversation with some friends of mine. We’re theatre/choir kids, and we were really excited about the fall play that was going up that night. And we were a little upset that we were having a ten minute pep rally to get hyped up for the last football game of the season (which most people were sure we were going to lose anyway) but that there was barely anything about the play. People had only three opportunities to see this fabulous play, and the school decided to talk about the last home game of the season. Yes, I know that the “true spirited student” would be able to go to the football game on Friday and see the show the next day. But the reason this annoyed us is because it’s not an isolated incident.

After pretty much every varsity sports game, all of the information is relayed to us through the morning announcements. And I get that the sports teams have people, and that it’s great to recognize them. I have some good friends on those teams, and it’s nice to celebrate in their accomplishments with them. But tell me, why did next to no one hear about the girl who did really well at the International Space Olympics in Russia? No biggie, right? Because we totally have students go to Russia all the time (note the facetious tone here). But no. Because we live in a society that prizes brawn and beauty over brains and creativity.

In our discussion, another big thing was creativity and sexuality, especially for guys. Guys are expected to be big and muscular, filling the protecting roles that society has handed them for so long. Guys aren’t supposed to be artistic. That’s for women. Women are the ones who are supposed to make things (including themselves) look pretty; men are just supposed to run fast or put things together (another friend of mine wrote a post on her experience as an engineer and the gender roles associated with that). Maybe that was acceptable in the stone ages, but we have moved past that. Or at least, we’ve tried. And it’s a shame that just because a guy loves to sing and act, or draw, or play the flute, that he might be deemed as not masculine enough. Don’t even get me started on male ballet dancers (they need just as much strength as any athlete, not to mention ten times more flexibility and expression on top of that). It really is a shame.

Guys are supposed to be strong. Girls are supposed to be pretty. We probably want at least one smart person so that we don’t go back to the stone ages or kill each other. And life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if we didn’t have music or art or drama. You know. It might be just a little nice (there’s that facetiousness again).

And I come back to my sister. I really appreciate her. And I understand that she may not go into a career that’s specifically artistic (which, as I said before, is totally understandable), but I appreciate that she does what she loves. Just last night, she said, “Maybe since the play is over, I can do more artsy stuff. Or I can sleep.” And there may not be a lot of obvious opposition, but the majority of the world certainly doesn’t give her as much appreciation and encouragement as she deserves. That’s really what it comes down to. There will always be that small pocket of people that completely support your intellectual or artsy side. And aside from the gender roles that society tries to force on us, there aren’t many who go out intentionally trying to bring us down. But we still live in that society that glorifies the transient physical side of ourselves instead of the deeper parts of our being that are just longing to escape into the world and make a real impact.

But my sister still has her teal bookshelf, daily evidence of a part of her life that she loves and isn’t afraid to indulge, even if it means getting less sleep and motivation from society that leaves much to be desired.

We All Need Our Teal Bookshelves