Small

(I write pep talks to myself sometimes. This one wanted to be shared.)

Dear you,

Too often, you eat the wrong side of the mushroom. One side makes you grow smaller, the other makes you grow taller. But it’s a big scary world full of Cheshire Cats whose smiles disappear and Queens of Hearts who do not need a trial by jury to sentence you to a beheading. And so you swallow the mushroom that shrinks you, because it seems easier and safer.

Other times, that bite of mushroom is shoved down your throat. The glove that does it is usually labeled “comparison.” There always seems to be someone funnier, prettier, smarter, or more talented than you. It’s so tempting to be the stagehand fervently applauding that show than to step out in the spotlight yourself. Where did the little girl who performed ridiculous dance moves for the camera go? Where’s the you that pushed the sweaty hair out of her face and sang because she wanted to?

The world tries to make you small. You try to make you small.

But you’re worth better.

Your light is freaking bright. It is important. This world full of seven billion people needs you to play your guitar and not be able to cook and tweet about the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack. It needs your letters. It needs your blog posts. It needs your hugs, prayers, and curly hair.

Do not hide. Do not apologize for your laugh or belittle your dreams because you think others could achieve them better. You own your space, because it’s yours and you’re worth it. You have a calling, and that calling is not to say “sorry” about everything and shrink into the shadows. It’s scary to step out on a shaking limb and try when there’s no guarantee of success. But there will always be a risk, and it takes a big woman to take them.

So never be afraid to grow. What do you really have to lose if you’re in such good hands and loved in such a powerful way? Go for the thing that’s terrifying but worth it. Refuse to run from the world and from the fight that’s just waiting to burst from your soul. You have a place here, and you are irreplaceable. You have a purpose that will only get cooler as you battle for it, because it may be a battle against card soldiers, circumstance, or insecurity. It may be hard. But you are worth every inch and the world needs every inch, so try the side of the mushroom that will make you grow. Reach for the heaven you dream of. There’s too much to see and do for any time to be wasted on shrinking.

Love,

Haley

Favorite Books of 2014!

I read over fifty (50!!!!) books in 2014. These are some of my favorites.

1. Cliffs of Insanity – The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

I finally read the Heroes of Olympus series this year, after reading the Percy Jackson and the Olypmians series growing up. And boy, does HOO have some cliffhangers. The end of Mark of Athena made me sit back in shock, my face contorted with ugly crying. The three middle books in the series are amazing for their humor, their action scenes, and their Percabeth. If you’d like to hang from some cliffs, I’d recommend the Heroes of Olympus series, except I don’t really because Blood of Olypmus was such a disappointment.

2. Cliffs of Intensity – the Mara Dyer series by Michelle Hodkin 

The Mara Dyer series has some pretty crazy cliffhangers, too, but it’s much more thrilling and creepy than Heroes of Olympus. These books are not for the faint of heart. I love Mara Dyer because the characters are so strong and unique, the writing is so beautiful, the relationships will physically make your heart ache, and the plot is suspenseful AND actually makes sense! Also, the Lord of the Rings references are pretty great. Recommended for people who want to be so scared they pee their pants and so attached to characters that they feel actual pain when the characters suffer. (Because there’s a lot of suffering.) (Also, read my review for the last book in the trilogy, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, here!)

3. Sad Books Make Me Cry – Looking for Alaska by John Green

Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking characters. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking relationships. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking story about the impact that we have on other people and the importance of forgiveness. I recommend Looking for Alaska to all of the people, but especially if you want to deepen your understanding of yourself and the world around you.

4. Why Do I Like So Many Sad Books – Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I related so hard to Laurel’s character in this book. It’s heartbreaking as Laurel copes with the death of her sister, but she grows so much throughout. I enjoyed this book for the epistolary writing style which combined anecdotal and poetic writing, as well as the character growth Laurel undergoes. Recommended for readers who have been struggling and need to be reminded that it’s okay to struggle. (You can read more of my feelings in my review here.)

5. Seriously Though with the Sad Books – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I read We Were Liars in one night. My favorite part about this book was the way the tone worked with the mystery, which complemented an overall theme of the novel. While reading, you get the vibe that something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. This is a perfect illustration of the way the Sinclair family works. Ultimately, the ending is way tragic, and you barely get to see the main character, Cadence, let go of the past. But the suspense, the writing, and the story are still just so good. Recommended for people who want a contemporary that’s not focused mainly on character growth or romance.

6. Butt Kicking Is Good, Too – The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Honestly, The Archived is just a really good book. The main character is so awesome. Her romantic interest is so hot. The pacing is so excellent, suspenseful-but-not-too-suspenseful. There’s action, there’s strength, there’s fantasy colliding with reality. My main thought when this book comes to mind is that it’s very well balanced: the writing style, the characters, their relationships, and the plot all weave together wonderfully. Recommended to fans of action and butt-kickery. (Also, there’s a really awesome sequel, too, and there’s been enough support that a third book is in the works!)

7. Approximately Four Percent Were Nonfiction – Kisses from Katie by Katie J. Davis

I read this book just before I went to Haiti, and it was very influential for my experiences there. It taught me so much about complete dependence on Jesus and was a huge part of what God did to my heart this summer. It was touching, thought-provoking, and so meaningful. I recommend it to those looking for direction or feeling alone.

8. Dead Welsh Kings Apparently Pique My Interest – The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys and subsequent books are probably some of the weirdest I’ve ever read, but they’re totally worth it because the characters are absolutely vibrant. The humor, creativity of the writing, and relationships between the characters will also keep you distracted from the fact that the plot is literally about a boy who should have died from hornet stings searching for a sleeping Welsh king on an energy line with his poor friend, his angry friend, his ghost friend, and a psychic’s daughter whom he falls in love with while dodging attacks from their psycho Latin teacher, their other psycho Latin teacher, and a hit man whom said psychic’s daughter’s mom is dating. Recommended, obviously, for those who are looking for something a little different.

9. One That’s Actually Cute and Somewhat Normal – Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I know for a fact that I will always go back to this book to make me feel better, whether it’s after a break up (ha) or a cliffhanger that makes me feel like I’m going to die. 2014 was the year I finally pulled myself together and read Anna, and I’m so glad I did. The characters, the humor, and the writing just make you feel like your heart is melting into a pile of goo and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Stephanie Perkins creates characters and situations that are just so real. I recommend this to people who need a recovery book, because whatever it is you’re going through, this will make you smile.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to add another book and bring the number up to a nice ten, but… oh well. Feel free to tell me your favorite books of 2014 in the comments! Happy holidays and happy reading!

The Finals Monster

I am currently sixty percent of the way through what we students like to call “literally the suckiest thing ever.” That’s right: it’s finals week. Over the past several days, I have fallen to the floor and cried during class, derived my way through logarithmic equations, and boiled the entire American Revolution down into one chart. Now is the time for sweatpants, for absolutely no makeup, for wearing Chacos with socks. In public. Unfortunately, it’s also the holiday season, when we’re supposed to be preparing Pinterest-worthy treats for our party guests and buying cute gifts for all of our friends. I’m pretty sure Jesus is supposed to fit somewhere into the picture here, too, but in all the hustle and bustle He has been all but forgotten.

As I look at the current picture of my life, my purpose seems to be doing well on finals and trying not to panic about Christmas rapidly approaching. I’m not saying that those (especially the first – stay in school, friends) are bad things… but they do not deserve to take my life away.

I think about a novel, because no one walks away from Harry Potter and literally cannot shut up about the writing style. People walk away from books like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and they don’t want to stop talking about the story. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the sentence structure and rhetorical strategies of every paragraph of my life and forget that it’s meant to be but a semicolon in the magnificent tale of the King of the Universe. The minute details become an idol to make me forgot who’s really the Author here. I drift toward whatever has caught my attention at the moment, and when I look back over the last several pages, I find a jumble of nonsensical phrases. My life is not meant to be this way: it is meant to be driven by my Savior’s love for me and by whatever love my still-being-healed heart can give to Him.

We find the purpose for the smaller tasks in the purpose of the Big Picture. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that whatever we do, we should do it for God’s glory. This includes studying for finals. This includes writing Christmas postcards to my small group of fourth grade girls. This includes every good intention I find myself full of this December. But I don’t want to have so many tasks that I forget the greatest commands: love God and love people. My to-do list can be pared down and accomplished in a way that shows off the awesomeness of the Lord. Through it all, I want to have a thread of purpose so that when the chaos of finals week and the holiday season is all said and done, I can say that my story became a part of His Story. That’s the way it was meant to be, and I don’t ever want to be so distracted by the font of the page numbers that I miss the greatest adventure the world has ever known (coming soon to a bookstore near you).

(P.S. To everyone currently battling the finals monster or general December stress, you can do it! I believe in you!)

Become It

I don’t think many of us realize the power of our imaginations. We can’t all write bestselling fantasy novels, make award-winning short films, or paint Pinterest-worthy quotes on flowery backgrounds. But we all imagine things, whether it’s alternate scenarios for the past or possible scenarios for the future. If you’re like me, then you spend a buttload of time imagining your ideal self.

These are a few of the items on my “to be” list:

  1. The kind of person who keeps a conversation going with questions about what’s new in your world rather than rants about the latest Harry Potter news.
  2. An impeccable dresser, featuring lots of sweaters and tights.
  3. A timely manager of time management, who actually does homework before the wee hours of the night.
  4. A tea drinker. (Chai is my current favorite.)
  5. A better email-responder-er. A.k.a. someone who actually responds to emails ever, because right now… I never do.
  6. The friend who remembers birthdays, resolves arguments with face-to-face conversations instead of text messages, and smiles unabashedly when I see you.

I’m excellent at picturing the person I want to be, but lately I’ve found that becoming her is a little bit harder. Fortunately, Paul has some advice on the subject.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…”

-Philippians 3:12-14

It’s easy to put pressure on ourselves to fit a certain “type” and measure up to impossible standards. Hipster musician chai tea enthusiast with the Christian reputation and artsy-est Instagram is the profile I try to squeeze into most often. But honestly, tee shirts are often more comfortable than skirts and I don’t see the point of adding a white border to every single photo. Still, there are some imagined qualities that I would like to possess, specifically regarding the type of friend I want to be.

I think what Paul is telling us in these verses is to sort through our many standards, prioritize them, throw the unimportant ones out the window, and then… become who we’re called to be. I have not heard a voice from heaven instructing me to invest in more cardigans, but I have read a Bible that tells me to invest in people. We don’t have to be whatever we deem the “perfect” version of ourselves in order to be exactly what we’re meant to be. God doesn’t need two monograms per outfit or an obscure enough music taste; He wants willing hearts. It is still completely fine to imagine future you with a home straight out of Pinterest, but if you’re being honest, there’s always been something deeper to your desires, right? There is an echo of Eden inside our souls that knows what we were made for. And like Paul says, we can press on toward that goal as we also run toward Christ. Looking past our mistakes and toward our purpose, we no longer have to just sit and long for what we were created to be. We have the privilege and the power to become it.