10 Things I Learned in August

Hello! Today I’m linking up with one of the bloggers I follow, Emily P. Freeman, and others to share with you ten things I learned in August. Some of them are silly, some of them are serious, some of them are informative, but all of them are true. Enjoy!

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1. Playing the License Plate Game around my town all month taught me about living life as an adventure right where I am.

It started out as just a fun experiment: How many different license plates would I see in my own area? (quite a few, it turns out!). Through that experience, I learned that “wherever you’re doing life can be a place of adventure, if you let it.”

2. This proud INFJ/P finally found out the Myers-Briggs personality types of the rest of her family.

Upon my request, they all took (a free online version of) the test. This was a wonderful sight to see:

Family taking Myers-Briggs test

3. A good time to read magazines is while brushing my teeth.

And by “brushing,” I mean brushing, flossing, rubber-tipping, and tooth-picking. I obey my dentist scrupulously. At least, I do now that I’ve invited all my mostly unread Relevant magazines to the party.

4. Joining Goodreads reminded me that I’m insecure about my opinions of books, afraid that my lack of well-reasoned opinions means that I’m not smart (and if I’m not smart, then what?).

I wrote a blog about this recently that resonated with a few people.

“Do I really think that book deserved 5 stars? So-and-so gave it a 3, and, knowing her, she probably had good reasons for doing so. I just click indiscriminately based on half-remembered impressions and loyalties, hardly a proper analysis at all! I can’t even tell you why I gave it 5 stars. What does this say about my tastes? etc., etc.”

5. It’s possible to talk to and pray “with” people who aren’t there and still sound conversational.

This sounds very schizophrenic, I know, but I have a reasonable explanation: I’m a radio host for a small Christian station. I talk between songs during the night, but it’s all prerecorded. So not only am I sitting in a room by myself talking into a microphone, but no one’s even listening on the other end of the radio at the time I’m recording. Still, though, I’ve been working on getting past my plan-out-everything-I’m-going-to-say tendencies and doing more paraphrasing, improvising, and overall just talking-like-I-would-to-anyone else. Some days it works better than others.

On a more serious note, it can be easy to get into a habit of just saying all the right, Christian-y cliches, but I don’t want that. I want the words I speak and the prayers I pray to come from a place of authenticity as much as possible for a radio show with this much on-air time. What good is sounding conversational if I’m just going through the motions?

6. How to get better gas mileage (and not get speeding tickets)

I have a tendency to do whimsical things (other people call them weird things) to save money, test my endurance, or otherwise conserve resources. Since I have to drive 30 miles (each way) to work, finding a way to spend less money on gas became my new mission.

  • Attempt #1: I didn’t use air-conditioning for two weeks, even though the temperature was usually pushing 100 (°F). Internet research, however, informed me that driving sans air-conditioning doesn’t make that big of a difference.
  • Attempt #2: I focused on driving slowly, accelerating slowly, turning slowly, slowing down, uh, slowly, and overall treating my sturdy car, Yipo, like he’s made of glass. Noticeable improvement, though not the best way to win friends and influence people on the road.
  • Solution: In order not to irritate other drivers, I no longer drive like a turtle. More like a squirrel (but one that doesn’t stop every five seconds). I still do everything slowly, but I don’t drive slower than the speed limit. Usually. When no cars are behind me or there’s a passing lane or a very steep uphill grade, I tend to revert to my newfound turtle-like ways.

7. If you actually want to remember what you read and enjoy the reading process, it’s probably not a good idea to catch up on 60+ blog posts in one day.

8. There is one youth group game, and one alone, that makes me incredibly sore for days afterward.

Picture this: empty plastic cups scattered purposefully around a room. Half are face-up, half are face-down. A motley group of people is divided in half and commissioned to turn the cups one way or the other. One minute on the clock, and … GO! And then sixty seconds of run-crouch-stand-run-crouch-stand. Three or four minutes of this is enough to remind me how out of shape I am. I still feel it in my legs, and youth group was on Sunday.

9. Carcassonne is a wonderful game.

Carcassonne
photo by Riebart on creative commons (flickr)

I’ll admit, this one’s more of a July discovery than an August one, but since I missed July’s link-up and I can’t not talk about this game, it gets a mention here. If you love Settlers of Catan, you’ll love Carcassonne too. And if you only moderately like Settlers, there’s still a good chance you’ll really like Carcassonne. Like Settlers, Carcassonne is a strategy game. Like Settlers, Carcassonne has a changeable board and involves building cities. But that’s where the similarities end. Carcassonne has less of a learning curve and is easier to jump into and actually understand most of what’s happening on the first go-around, but it’s no less strategic. Plus, there are many expansion packs out there to double the fun!

10. What the Rosary Belt is, why the Israelites started being called Jews, what the results of the Second Vatican Council were, and many other facts about the Bible, Christian history, and other countries.

This is because I decided to not only read standard devotionals for my radio show, but also paraphrases and excerpts from books on all these subjects (In case you’re interested: Christian History Made Easy, The One Year Christian History, What the Bible is All About, and Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation).

Oh, and the Israelites started being called “Jews” after they returned from the Babylonian exile because most of those who returned were from the tribe of Judah. The 10 tribes carried away by the Assyrians never returned.

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What did you learn this month?

Dear Alli

my sister and I
Alli (left) and I celebrating her last birthday

Dear Alli,

After living in the same house for most of our lives, I know a lot about you.

I know you have a good memory and that you love to laugh. I know that story and character are important to you. I know you are a loyal and sensitive person. I know you are artsy and crafty and all kinds of out-of-the-box creative. And I know that you hide behind a mask so much less than you used to.

But there’s still a lot I’m learning, and I think there’s a lot you’re learning too, about who you are.

I want to spend more time with you. Not tell you what to do, not tsk, tsk at your decisions, not judge or compare or criticize. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, I get all Older Sister Knows Best and that strains things. I’m broken in so many ways, and sometimes my brokenness has spilled over and knocked you down. I’m so sorry for all the ways I’ve hurt you over the years, and for the ways I still frustrate. I know we will never be carbon copies of each other, with the exact same interests and temperaments and goals. We are different. We are similar. We are sisters.

As you celebrate your 23rd birthday on Friday and then, two days later, move your bedroom 30 miles west of here and start anew at college, these are the words of encouragement I want to leave with you:

  • You’re not set in stone. Don’t look at your age or your experiences and feel worried that you haven’t arrived or that all the pieces that should be in place aren’t. There is no should be. We all have different personalities, dreams, journeys. And life is always in flux. As long as you live, you will be moving and shifting and growing. Sometimes that’s a relief, and sometimes you’ll wonder, Am I there yet?! But the truth is, you’ll never be there, where it completely levels out for the rest of your life and it’s all flat and sloping downward and easy. Not in this life. As someone wise once said, “Don’t despise the journey.”
  • The world isn’t as scary as it looks. I know that protective bubble you keep with you is meant to keep out the bad, but it also keeps out some of the good. You don’t have to force yourself out into the world just for the sake of doing so, or to keep up appearances. I understand; I’m an introvert too. There are more of us out there than it seems. Be yourself. Take life one day at a time. But when there’s something you want to do, or a person you think could become a good friend, or a new something that intrigues, but is just outside of your comfort zone, don’t drown it out or run from it. Consider the idea longer than you normally would. Pray about it. Those are the first action steps you can take, and they count.
  • Don’t view yourself as a failure. Remember when I said that you’re only stuck when you lose hope that you can get out? I know it sounds like one of those pithy statements that’s easier said than done — and maybe it is — but it reminds me of the power of hope, even in dark days. Let hope win, even when it’s speaking to you  in a still, small Voice. Listen to that Voice, and not the one that’s pulling you down. Remember that you’re not alone, even when the loud, wrong voice says you are. The wrong voice can’t win when you listen to the right Voice of hope and truth, because that Voice is based on what is solid and true and God.

There’s more I could say, but I think I’ll let Emily Freeman say it for me. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, and a couple weeks ago she wrote a sending prayer for college freshmen. I know you’re not a freshman, but you’re off to a new place with a new major and new people. Her words are gentle, and I think they’ll encourage you. (They encouraged me, and I’m not even in school.)

Happy birthday, Kid! Here’s to more years getting to know God, ourselves, and each other better. We’re pretty close now, but I know we’re on the path to growing even closer. I love you.

Love,

Lizzie

my sister and I on the lake

The License Plate Game

license plate mapThe License Plate Game (if that be its official title) is a legend of road trips, right up there with the Alphabet Game. At least it’s a legend on my road trips, as I try to catch definitive glimpses at the cars whizzing by in the opposite direction — or, if I’m lucky, at the ones  creeping past me in the left lane, slow enough for me to get a good, long look at their markings without endangering anyone’s life.

Years ago, I adapted the Alphabet Game for the dentist’s chair. Now, I’ve turned the License Plate Game into a month-long adventure. How many states, I wondered, would I see in 31 days while simply living my life in the town I grew up in?

Forty states and counting.

Granted, I did go on a weekend trip to Washington, and once I drove slowly around the Bethel Church parking lot, but still. I’m amazed at how many out-of-staters I see on a regular basis. Every day I see between five and ten different states represented on the backs of cars and trucks, and not just border states (well, obviously not just border states, as California only has three of those), but some from rather far-flung locations.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve kept my eyes open: Adventure is all around me.

My one year of being back at home is stretching into two. The trees and mountains look the same, the streets and buildings look mostly the same. When you don’t expect much, you won’t see or seek out much. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know people who are new to my town and excited to be here, and it’s made a world of difference. There’s so much I didn’t know about this place and still don’t know. No, I will never be able to view my town through the fresh eyes of a newcomer, but I don’t have to view it as the place where dreams and adventures go to die. Because it’s not that place.

No place holds that power, unless you give that power to it.

I want my life — wherever I am — to be like a License Plate Game. I want to be straining and slowing to see if there might be a hidden opportunity at that event, a potential friend in that person, unwrapped joy in that stepping out and starting something. Maybe there won’t be. Maybe it will just be another California and I’ll purse my lips and turn back to the road. But I will keep going, and I will keep looking, because there are more cars. There’s always more. And anyway, there is a time and place for Californias, and Oregons, and Washingtons, and I can learn a lot from them.

But one day I’ll just be driving along, ever-watchful and ever-present and ever-hopeful, and New York will appear and my heart will beat faster and I’ll realize that this, this is what life is about. Life doesn’t just happen out there on the road on set adventures. Life happens here. It’s full of routines and it’s full of familiarity, but it’s also full of surprises and newness and unexpected blessings. It’s full of people and its full of God, and that’s enough.

Wherever you’re doing life can be a place of adventure, if you let it.

Confessions of an Insecure Reader

I’m insecure about my art.

I’m insecure about my opinions of others’ art.

I have to know exactly what I think and why. I must be able to intelligently and articulately defend my beliefs and opinions. That is the measure of me — if not my worth, then my mind.

I’d like to think that I have a sensible head on my shoulders, good tastes, and sound judgment of good vs. bad writing (as one example). I want to be smart, a critical thinker.

Joining the popular social network site for readers, Goodreads, reminded me of this. As I “compared my bookshelves” with those of my friends, I felt pangs of inferiority when I saw some of the discrepancies in our rankings of the same books. Here are examples of some of the thoughts that ran through my mind: Do I really think that book deserved 5 stars? So-and-so gave it a 3, and, knowing her, she probably had good reasons for doing so. I just click indiscriminately based on half-remembered impressions and loyalties, hardly a proper analysis at all! I can’t even tell you why I gave it 5 stars. What does this say about my tastes? etc., etc.

books
photo by azrasta on creative commons (flickr)

To a lesser extent, I’m similarly self-critical about my opinions of TV shows, movies, and music (don’t get me started on politics or theology!). But books … I should know books. I’m an avid lover of words, I’ve always loved writing, I’ve taken classes. I should know a great book when I see it, and a good book, and a so-so book. And if I end up liking a book that’s widely viewed as only so-so, well, that’s okay, as long as I have good, intelligent reasons for doing so.

This, this, this, it’s all insecurities. The first step is recognizing them, they say. Well, I’ve seen them for a good, long time, analyzed them to death time and time again, called them by name. Many and varied are they that plague and and unnaturally shape my thoughts and interactions. They hold me back, poisoning and entrapping, hiding for a time and then resurfacing and throwing me back into a familiar confusion and a delving again into the whys.

Whittle down this particular insecurity to its root, and I believe it’s this: I’m afraid that I’m not smart.

Please let me be smart. 

That’s when I realize it must be time to return to the fountain of grace.