Senioritis: An Honest Report from the Trenches, Part V

August 12-December 17, 2015: First Semester

First semester kicked my butt.

The first day, I came home sobbing about AP Biology, college applications, prefect responsibilities, and the fear that I couldn’t do it all. Enter stress: the kind that kept me working until I felt like my brain was about to fall out and resorted to taking Buzzfeed quizzes for an hour and a half. For several months, I functioned on this endless loop of work, sleep, repeat, work, sleep, repeat, punctuated by freak out sessions and the occasional good weekend. Though I accomplished a lot this semester – I applied to nine schools, sang lead on a song in my school’s annual Christmas concert, and didn’t die – I think I’ve learned from mistakes much more than I’ve avoided them.

The biggest lesson, and the one I’m taking with me into 2016 and second semester: Rest is good and necessary. I’m committed to taking some more time for myself. Part of the reason I read a shamefully low number of books this year is because I said sayonara to the library once first semester started. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, but I thought I was too busy. Now, I’m learning to rest. To read, even when my to-do list isn’t entirely crossed off (because isn’t there always one more thing to do?). To commit to The Muppets every Tuesday night at 8. To set aside the busy for the beautiful.

First semester kicked my butt. I guess it made me stronger, and I am proud of what I’ve achieved. There were bright spots: church retreats, Young Life camp, the day I finished college applications. But having your butt kicked isn’t fun or easy, and this semester hasn’t been, either. That’s okay, though. I’m learning from it. I’m still growing. We’re getting there.

Like one of my favorite Ben Rector songs: We’re almost home. First semester is over, and we’re almost home.

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Favorite Books of 2015

Well, this is embarrassing. I’ve read half as many books as I did last year. That meager 25 is staring back at me from my Goodreads shelf and filling me with shame.

Nevertheless, there are some really good books on my tiny shelf. These are my favorite books of 2015.

  1. A Lot of Butt-Kicking – the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

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    Throne of Glass follows Celaena Sardothien, an eighteen-year-old assassin, as she fights to become the King’s Champion and win her freedom. The next two books in the series uncover the political turmoil in the kingdom of Adarlan and Celaena’s role in it. I love this series for many reasons: the action scenes are intense, the writing is detailed and poetic, and the characters and their relationships are captivating. The best thing about ToG, though, has got to be Celaena herself. She’s fierce, she’s strong, she’s flawed, and she absolutely slays (often literally). I recommend this series to any and all fantasy fans.
  2. Ugly Crying – If You Find This Letter by Hannah Brencher

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    Hannah Brencher has been one of my favorite writers for a while, and If You Find This Letter just made me love her even more. This book details HB’s stay in New York, battle with depression, and eventual founding of one of my favorite movements, More Love Letters. If You Find This Letter is deep, rich, and truthful. If you’re looking to learn about yourself, God, the world around you, and your place in it, or if you just want a good ugly cry, then this book is for you.
  3. Surprisingly Not Depressing – Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon 

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    Everything, Everything 
    also earned a spot on my “so cute I cry” shelf, if that’s any indication of how wonderful this book is. If that and the gorgeous cover above haven’t already enticed you to read it, then you should know that it follows Madeline, a teenage girl who’s essentially allergic to the world, and her relationship with Olly, a new neighbor. I love Everything, Everything for its creative writing style, wonderful characters who bring me joy, thematic depth, and a twist ending. If you like cuteness, if you like contemporaries, if you like creativity, if you like PoC main characters, then you should definitely pick up Everything, Everything (and then check out my review here!).

  4. Pride and Prejudice-Ception – The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

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    It’s no secret that I love Pride and Prejudice. I wrote my Common App essay about it, it’s the first book I read on my kindle freshman year, it’s the reason I’ve read all five of Jane Austen’s other novels, and it’s why I’m forcing my family to take a detour to Bath this summer. These two books are a spinoff on a spinoff of this beloved tale of first impressions. “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is a YouTube video adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, and those videos were then re-adapted into Secret Diary, whose follow-up (told from Lydia’s POV) is Epic Adventures. Confusing, I know, but basically: these two books are excellent retellings of Pride and Prejudice. The main characters’ voices are strong, the modernizations are clever, the character development is wonderful, and the relationships are on point. I recommend Secret Diary and Epic Adventures to anyone who loves Pride and Prejudice, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” or both. (You can check out my review for Epic Adventures here!)

That’s it for my favorite books of 2015! I’m planning my 2016 TBR now and hoping that it will be a better year for reading. Feel free to check out my 2014 favorites and all my book reviews as well. Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you’re having a lovely holiday season filled with lots of books!

Happy Holidays

Publix commercials, man.

Don’t they make the holidays look picture perfect? Homecooked meals, beautifully frosted cookies, a laughing family, pristine bows on all the presents. In the ads, Thanksgiving is really about being thankful and Christmas is about more than just commercialism. To convince you to buy their ingredients for grandma’s recipes and not shop at Kroger instead, they pull out all the stops and often induce the waterworks. Publix: Where shopping is a pleasure, and so are the holidays.

But that’s not reality, is it?

The holidays definitely have their bright spots, sometimes literally (candlelight church Christmas services, I’m looking at you). But oftentimes, the holidays are messy. Lonely. Complicated. Different than expected. Busy. Hard.

We have this picture perfect idea of the holidays in our heads, but that’s so far from reality. For example, my reality this year looks like: finals sapping my Christmas spirit until December 17; going out to breakfast with my friends after an exam but not eating anything so I can save money to buy something for my family and friends; typing this post out on my phone as I ignore my AP Bio homework; calling my mom two days before Christmas, crying and eating cold mac and cheese.

Imagine putting that in a Publix commercial.

My hypothesis is this: this year, we don’t need another picture perfect holiday. December should be more than plastering on the same smiles we wear on our Christmas cards. Can we please admit that sometimes, the Christmas spirit looks a little more like stress, not smiles?


We had one family Christmas on Friday night, and in the middle of it, honesty hour erupted. It started with a simple question from my aunt: “What is God teaching you right now?” More and more family members joined the conversation until it was everyone in one big circle. Phones were put down as people genuinely opened up about what was truly on their hearts. And honestly, it was my favorite part of the night. Better than getting a shirt that I wanted, better than witnessing a neighbor’s proposal, better than Christmas chicken: honesty hour.

It’s way too rare to say something real, and it’s even rarer around the holidays. We feel like everything is supposed to be perfect. We put on a fake front that we are Having Ourselves a Merry Little Christmas, thank you. Our ornaments say joy even if it’s the opposite of what we feel.

I’m so tired of festive fake. What if we start a new Christmas tradition? What if, in this tail end of December, as we rapidly approach the new year, we’re all real? We’re all people. None of us has it pulled together; everyone just acts like it. What if we stop pretending?

What if the happy holidays turn into honesty hour? With ourselves, with God, with our families, with our loved ones. I’ll be honest now: on Black Friday, I swore that this was going to be the best Christmas ever. It is now Christmas Eve Eve, and I still haven’t bought presents for my family. I tried a new cookie recipe today and they tasted like biscuits, which I don’t like. I called my mom tonight after the kids I babysat went to bed, and I just cried and cried and ate cold mac and cheese.

This is my Christmas. It’s messy. It’s imperfect, like me. I am giving myself permission to not have the best Christmas ever. I am not in a Publix commercial, and I’m okay with that.

Honesty hour is so much better than happy holidays, anyway. Let’s be real, together. Here’s to the truth, and here’s to you. Happy honesty hour.

“Yes”

I forgot what I learned this summer.

Six months ago (has it really been that long?), I think one of the biggest lessons God taught me was the power of a simple affirmative. I can be shy and introverted, so my natural instincts are often to decline any sort of social function. It’s easy to say no: to give a noncommittal shrug, an apology, an excuse. And I absolutely believe that there are appropriate, wise times to say no.

But I also believe that our yeses might end up surprising us.

I forgot this and went into survival mode this fall. After a summer of crazy adventures, hiking tall mountains, pulling one and only one all nighter, meeting new people, playing putt putt, and having so much fun… school came, stress came, and Busy Haley came. Busy Haley is often too overwhelmed with homework or responsibilities to say yes to fun, to silliness, to being in high school. She also kind of sucks sometimes.

But tonight, she was gone as I remembered.

Say yes to the event that’s on the other side of town. Say yes to introducing yourself to the girls from Miami. (You’ll end up talking to them the entire night, btw.) Say yes to Life Things. There are school things, prefect things, babysitting things, expected things. But say yes to Life Things. (Maybe they’re what this whole thing is all about, anyway.) 

There are a thousand excuses you can make to say no. Just like how there’s never a good time to get sick or a good time for your car to break down, there’s never a “good time” for Life Things. They come right in the middle of everything else and seem inconvenient, untimely, and out of the way. But they’ll surprise you. They’ll remind you of the good things. Saying yes to Life Things is worth it. Tonight, I said yes to driving across town and talking to strangers from Miami and taking goofy photo booth pictures, and it was amazing. Awesome. Breathtakingly wonderful. One of those times that leave you smiling at God because He knew all along exactly what you needed. When you say yes, He uses Life Things to be exactly what you needed.

It might be just me, but I’m ready to say yes more. I want a life that’s more than just responsibilities, homework, reports, exams, and fulfilling expectations. I want a life full of Life Things, and I’m definitely saying yes to that.

December 3

I haven’t talked about this much before.

At least, not on here. It’s a big part of my story, and telling it always feels like reaching claws down into my heart and pulling out this big tangled web of hurt, pain, and hope. But it’s worth it and important to tell.

December 3, 2013.

For at least a month or so, I had been up to my neck in loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness, and hatred of who I was. I didn’t believe in myself, that I could handle the day I was going through or the days down the road or whatever life would throw at me next. Comparing myself to others devolved into an addiction: she was prettier, she was more thoughtful, she was more helpful, she was better. Everything fueled the belief that I was not good enough, and my heartbreak deepened with every waking moment.

On the afternoon of December 3rd, my school had a Quidditch match. This sounds like a ridiculous turn in the story, but I have a penchant for taking things way too seriously. I, Harry Potter nerd that I am, obviously joined the Quidditch club, which pretty much consisted of two athletic people and a bunch of other nerds, at its founding earlier that year. We played another school that afternoon, who pretty much brought their entire track team in Quidditch uniforms.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well. We lost… badly. Like, so badly I’m laughing as I write this, even though it’s the memory of one of the most painful evenings of my life. In the final match, I was Seeker, which basically involved a lot of running after someone dressed as a Golden Snitch. In front of everyone – fans (if you can believe it), parents, teachers, friends, both teams – I sprinted, got so out of breath, was obviously nowhere near as good as the other high school’s track star, and did not catch the Snitch. The catching of the Snitch actually took place in the stands where all the “fans” were sitting, so it was maximum exposure of my failure. The bottom line: I wasn’t good enough. Not at Quidditch, and evidently, not at life.

I don’t know why this particular humiliation was what cracked me, but it did. There are a few other very specific memories I have of this time – messing up the drums as the praise band played “Pompeii” by Bastille, driving to school and pretending I didn’t exist to numb myself to the pain – but I don’t know if I’ll ever remember feeling broken as much as I did on December 3rd.

I cried. I’m a crier, so this probably surprises absolutely no one, but I cried: at the school, on the way home as I ignored any words of encouragement from my dad and sister, and once I got home.

I sat with my back against my bedroom wall and sobbed, asking one single question: Why can’t I just give up?

(This is the part of the story where my throat closes up and my fingers start shaking, btdubs.)

Somehow, giving up – on life, on myself, on the future, on something better – was never an option. No matter how much I hated myself and my life, how inferior I felt to everyone around me, how lifeless each day seemed… I knew I couldn’t just give up. In the back of my mind, shoved into a small, dusty corner, Hope sat. I’m not usually a fan of random capitalization of important, spiritual words, because you get Sentences that Look like This, but this Hope demands it. Even when I wanted to give up, something inside me wouldn’t. It wouldn’t let me go, no matter how much the darkness tried to take me. I believe that everyone has that Hope inside of them, regardless of any factor, any flaw, any fault. Two years ago today, it was the voice of Hope – my Creator, my Savior, the Lover of my soul – that told me I wasn’t done yet.


December 3, 2015.

This December 3rd, I am celebrating a whole lot. I am packing for Young Life camp this weekend. I am dancing in a victory that I did not win myself. I am walking in the light because the darkness did not overcome me.

Two years ago, I kept going. I held on tightly even though at times, I didn’t know what I was holding on to. Hope grabbed me and propelled me and finally pushed me into the light of freedom. I learned my value. I learned to believe in myself. I learned that I have worth because my Creator says I do, not because of my words, actions, shortcomings, or successes. I learned that I am loved and worthy of it. You are loved and worthy of it, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. I’m enough. You’re enough. Hope is an anchor for my soul, firm and secure. I refuse to stop seeking, exploring, or adventuring. There are still days when I wonder: am I back where I was before? Was it all for nothing? Days when the lies penetrate my mind, when insecurity keeps me quiet, when stress overwhelms me. But I push through those days and find resilience in Someone bigger with a bigger plan. I have found something better in the life I was made to live and the path I was made to walk.

Two years later, I am (to quote Jamie Tworkowski) “a living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe better things.” If anyone is in the same spot as me two years ago: Those better things are real. They’re there. They’re waiting.

Hold on. Hope.

Happy December 3rd.