Monday, January 31, 2011

Tales of a 25 Year-Old College Student

Ok folks.  I'm ashamed to admit that, had I progressed as I should have in college, I would have graduated in 2007.  That means that after this semester, I could have gone to college twice.  That's right.  It's been 8 years since I attended high school.  What makes it even worse was that I graduated mid-term, so I should have been done even earlier!  But I didn't graduate from college twice; not even once, actually.  Ah, well...this is where I am, and I wouldn't change my life for anything.  Who knows where I'd be or who I'd be if I'd stayed in school.  I'm glad I am where I am, even if I took the long way around.

Finishing school is important to me, so today I attended my first day at Sonoma State.  Here are my first impressions as it compared with Cal State Long Beach, the school I attended right out of high school:

Parking: SSU actually has open spaces!  Even without two huge parking structures, there were plenty of open spots at 9:30 am on the first day of school.  It was quite a sight.  I was fully prepared to drive around for at least an hour or so, as I used to do at CSULB.  There was no need.  It was incredible.

Size: It took me less than five minutes to walk to my first class from the parking lot.  Unbelievable!  And, as I scoped out where my classes would be tomorrow, I realized I would rarely have to walk more than five minutes between classes.  And, there was not a shuttle in sight!  For those of you who are familiar with the campus at CSULB, you know it's built on the side of a hill, so if you walk from the ED building at the top of campus (where I used to work), down to Brotman Hall, you've got a good 15 minute downhill walk ahead of you.  Or, if you were stupid like me and took a ballet class right before a creative writing class, you found yourself walking from the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at the very bottom of the hill up to LA-1, which, if walking briskly, would take at least twenty-five minutes.  Needless to say, my lungs and legs were thanking me today as I meandered around the mostly flat, compact grounds.

Students: I felt significantly different around the students this time around.  I distinctly remember being eighteen and completely intimidated by all the totally mature seniors walking around.  Today I felt old.  Some of the kids looked like just that - kids!  However, I did realize that some things will never change about college students.  That was confirmed today as the token "teacher's pet" took his place at the front of the classroom.  As he raised his hand again and again to show off his brilliance (and the professor rolled his eyes and grew visibly annoyed), I was reminded of some fellow Scholars at CSULB.  These were the students that asked me what I got on my SATs and AP tests, to compare my intelligence with their own.  Their self worth seemed to come from the amount of odd trivia they knew.  Tiffany and I were always so annoyed by them, and bonded over the fact that we were embarrassed to be grouped with them in the program.  And as long as there are colleges, there will be students who want everyone to know how smart they are, as I saw today in Early American Lit.

Truth be told, Long Beach State will always hold a special place in my heart.  You really can't beat the beauty of the campus, with that gorgeous blue pyramid shining in the sun, or the lovely beach weather that I completely took for granted.  I learned so much, especially about myself.  But when I was there, I didn't know what I wanted.  It was hard to stay motivated when I felt completely lost in terms of what to do with my life.  Today at Sonoma State, I knew what I wanted, and was excited about pursuing it.  It was the first time I'd felt that way on a college campus, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy about being a Seawolf.  I'm optimistic about my career there, and think maybe, just maybe, I'll actually graduate and get my degree.  Let's just hope I keep up this attitude after the first week of school.

:)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Salt in Wounds

"Singing light songs to the heavyhearted
   is like pouring salt in their wounds."
Prov. 25:20

This verse is true, whether I like it or not.  When I'm feeling down, I don't want to hear someone else's good news.  I wish I were more mature and could genuinely be instantly happy for someone.  The truth is, I can usually convince myself (after feeling sorry for myself for a bit) to be happy for the person, but it certainly doesn't come naturally.  The natural thought is much uglier.

I'll give you an example.  Several years ago, I broke up with a boy I thought I was going to marry.  (Sidenote: I am so thankful I didn't marry this boy, because he was not nearly as perfect for me as Samuel is.)  However, it was still pretty painful.  It was a Saturday.  The following Wednesday, one of my good friends got engaged.  The Saturday after that, another good friend got engaged.  That Tuesday, another friend got engaged.  By the time my fourth friend came in to show me her ring on Sunday, I was spent.  Literally four of my friends got engaged in the two weeks following my very painful breakup.  I'm not talking about acquaintances either.  These were very close friends, so close that I was a bridesmaid in two of the weddings.

It wasn't that I wasn't happy for them; I was.  So happy, especially because I'd been there when these girls had been hurt by other jerks who didn't deserve them.  It was so wonderful to see them finally having true love in their lives.  But with the pain I was going through, it was really hard to separate myself from their news and not think about how I thought I was going to be the one getting engaged, not breaking up. 

Looking back, this experience is pretty funny and rather unlikely - something that would only happen to me.  I've found that I can always look back and laugh and appreciate the irony...after the fact.  (It also helps that I'm incredibly in love with my own husband now.)  But in the midst of it all, I felt pretty low. 

I'd love to get to the place where I can immediately forget about my own troubles and focus completely on my friend who is sharing wonderful news with me.  I don't want to go through that time of feeling sorry for myself and resentment toward my friend who seems to be having life handed to her on a silver platter.  It's true - there are those people who seem to have everything going for them, whose biggest hardship in life is deciding if they should go to Maui or Oahu.  Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but sometimes I feel like Chandler in a Friends episode, when Ross' problem seems like a great problem to have. "Oh, I know. This must be so hard. 'Oh, no! Two women love me. They're both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet's too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!'"  But even during those times, and with those people, I want to celebrate with them and join them in praising God for blessings.  Focusing on my own hurts just seems selfish.

On the other hand, I also do not want to be the one who sings light songs to my heavyhearted friends.  I know I've been in that position before, when my situation is particularly sunny and my friend's is not.  I want to be sensitive, caring, and compassionate, remembering how it feels to be the one going through the storm.  I don't want to be so caught up in my own life that I ignore their needs or hurts.

All this is to say that I have a lot still to learn and a lot of room for growth.  Maybe you can relate, maybe not.  Either way, I want to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."  (Romans 12:15)  Someday, by God's grace, I'll have it figured out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aw, Friend!

The first time I met Abbey was on a rainy February afternoon over sliders and salads at AleWorks.  The second time was a sunny day in March at Starbucks, when I was being interviewed to be her assistant.  I wanted the job because it was in Sonoma County where Sam lived, and because they offered housing.  I didn't realize then that the most incredible thing I would gain from the position was a true, loyal, and assuredly lifelong friend in Abbey.

Fortunately, we instantly clicked.  The nature of the jobs meant that we'd be spending hundreds of hours cramped in a tiny office together, so the fact that we got along so well was a blessing.  We spent the summer drinking Dr. Pepper, eating a lot (Abbey was pregnant and I thought I should have a snack whenever she did), making up songs about the campers, and having deep conversations.  Our office was usually filled with laughter, though we did manage to get a little work done here and there.

Abbey was my first friend in Sonoma County, the first to really know me.  It meant a lot to me since I had left all my friends back home and was in a new, unfamiliar place.  She really wanted to know me.  She remembered names of my family members she'd never met, asked how my sister's pregnancy was going, and remembered details about friends from home ("Marci is the one who just got engaged, and JulieAnn is getting married in June, right?").  Every conversation with Abbey reminds me that she truly values who I am and cares enough to remember the silliest little details.  I would love to learn to be more like her in this way, actively listening and making people feel like what they are saying is the most important thing in the world.

I must also say that Abbey quickly picked up my humor and slight sarcasm, which was delightful.  Sometimes people have a hard time figuring out my sense of humor, but Abbey is quite witty and was able to keep up. :)  She could even handle me when I was extra feisty.  It makes me respect her all the more.

Besides being hilarious and fun to be around, Abbey is incredibly organized.  I asked her to be my wedding coordinator because I was sure I would be able to trust her completely to make it all happen.  She went above and beyond my expectations.  My wedding day was incredible; every time I thought of a last minute task, she told me she'd just completed it, without my having asked.  She knows me well enough that she was able to anticipate what I might want, and carried it out with speed and grace.  Amazingly, some of her organizational skills rubbed off on me when we worked together, though I could still learn a lot from her in this area.  She and her husband opened their home to me the week before I got married, so we were together day and night finishing up last-minute details.  That week is full of some of my favorite memories, and I will forever be in her debt for making that day so special.

Even though Abbey is one of the most amazing people I know, she's very humble and refreshingly real.  Whereas she has every right to brag about the amazing wife and mother she is, she's more likely to readily admit that dinner is a Trader Joe's frozen specialty.  I get so tired of women who seem intent on proving that they are the perfect homemaker, that their hero is Martha Stewart, or that they make their own organic baby food.  There's nothing wrong with any of those things (in fact, Abbey probably makes her own baby food!) but it's the attitude that bothers me.  There's not an ounce of competitiveness, or the feeling that she needs to prove herself in any way.  The fact that she allows herself to be a real person and doesn't pretend to be perfect enables me to do the same.

I could go on and on about her honesty, integrity, and thoughtfulness, but the more I write the more I think of more things to say, and I worry this blog will never end.  Suffice it to say that her friendship is a blessing from God and that I'm so thankful to have her to laugh with and learn from. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's the Little Things

           

I love Mindy Smith.  One of my favorite songwriters.  So honest in her lyrics, so perfectly balanced in expressing hope through pain.  Life's so hard, but it's the little things that seem to be saving me today.  Healing and comforting.  For anyone who is doing what they can not to be getting down today.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thanking God for the Swensons

Too many thoughts right now to be able to write anything coherent.  All about my Swenson family and wonderful Sara.  I'll just say how thankful Sam and I are that we moved back up to be close to SF and that we were able to spend the day with Sara, Noreen, and Woody.  And that any and all prayers are very much appreciated.  I'll also include some of the pictures I promised from when we were all in Fallon for Christmas.  The pictures are taken by my uncle Tim.  And in them you can see how lucky I am to have joined such an amazing family.  The pictures can't even capture how much joy, love, and strength is present when everyone is together.  It's indeed a gift from God.
the girls



the boys

Sara, Sam, Heidi, & Kari...Sam loves his sisters so much

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Talking to be Heard

I think one of the reasons I like to write is that no one can interrupt me.  If I'm talking to someone in person, they have every opportunity to cut me off and start a new topic of conversation.  That is irritating.  Unfortunately, I'm guilty of it.  I really want to be a better communicator, and I believe that starts with being a better listener.  When I'm involved in a conversation with someone, I want to be fully present so that they know I'm interested in who they are and what they have to say.  I should probably add that to my list of goals for the new year, so that I'm reminded to consciously work at it.

I'm not as bad as I used to be.  There was a time in my life when I was pretty self-conscious (and overweight) and I think I tried to compensate for that by talking a lot.  I was talking to be heard.  I thought I was being funny and interesting, but now when I look back on it I realize I was most likely just being obnoxious.  I wanted people to know me, to think I was hilarious, and to leave wanting more.  (Even now as I type this I cringe...how pathetic it sounds!)  I am being honest though.  I think I occasionally slip back into that place sometimes, when I am a little too focused on myself and think that those around me must love hearing what I have to say.  Clearly, I am entertaining, right?  Why would I let someone else talk right now when I have more interesting things to say?

I think I've become more aware of this as I notice it in other people.  I've definitely been around people who just love to hear themselves speak.  They don't talk to engage, to interact with others, or to get to know others better.  They talk to be heard.  They make their opinions very clear and seem to really enjoy the spotlight.  (I recognize it because I've been there.)  I think seeing it in others has opened my eyes to how I might sometimes come across.  They appear egotistical, which makes me think they must be self-conscious (again, I know this because I've been there).  It's not pretty.

Have you ever been around a person who makes you feel incredibly important?  They interactively listen, look directly at you, and ask questions that encourage you to continue speaking.  I love people like that.  A woman I used to work with was so good at it.  She was even good at it with people who I thought were boring or annoying.  (I realize I'm not coming across very well in this blog...oh well.)  The truth is, she might have also thought they were boring, but making the person talking feel special was more important to her than interesting conversation.  I always felt better about myself after talking with her, because she wasn't looking around the room for someone better to talk to, or interrupting me with her own stories.  I really want to be that way.  I want others to leave a conversation with me feeling like I truly value them and want to know them.

So, in order to be better at listening, I will practice closing my mouth.  As my dad likes to say, "You have two ears and one mouth.  Use them proportionately!"  Anyone who catches me being too self-involved, feel free to tell me to shut up.  I'll reserve my ridiculous rambling for my blogs, where people can choose to read them or not. :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Delayed Gratification

When I was an accounting major (I've recently switched back to English...surprise, surprise) I had the pleasure of taking a few Econ classes.  I sort of fell in love with the subject.  So much of economics is the study of people and why they make certain decisions.  I have often doubted decisions I've made, so anything that explains it or helps me be a better decision-maker fascinates me.

Every time I learned a new concept of economics, I considered how I might apply it to my life.  I was convinced that if I actually put them all into practice, I would be a highly wise, sensible, successful person.  One of my favorite notions is delayed gratification, which I would like to now discuss.  Delayed gratification is simply waiting on something that you really want, as opposed to getting what you want right when you want it.  It is the idea of patience and self-control.

For example, in college I really wanted a pair of Minnetonka moccasins that were way out of my price range.  I decided that every time I wanted to spend money on luxuries like new clothes or eating out, I would resist the temptation and keep track of how much money I was saving by denying myself the instant gratification.  Once the list added up to the price of the boots (I remember it taking a long time!), I purchased them.  I have never loved a pair of shoes so much (or had as much self-respect).

I wish I could say I constantly practice delayed gratification, but the truth is that I don't.  I'm fascinated by the concept because it doesn't come easily to me.  I'm rather impatient, and would love to be better at waiting.  I feel like it would benefit me in many areas of my life.  Obviously I would be better off financially; if I waited longer to make purchases I would save myself from a lot of impulsive spending.  I would be healthier, having the self-control to say no to sweets.  I would definitely be a better wife.  School wouldn't be so frustrating if I accepted the fact that it takes time and that I can't get a degree in two weeks.  Man...I wish I could get a degree in two weeks.

The hard part for all of us is that our society has increasingly made us impatient.  Does anyone remember dial-up internet?  How frustrated would we all be now if we had to wait more than five seconds to be connected?  It's funny how quickly we become accustomed to immediate results.  Everyone would love to get rich quick and lose weight fast.  You never hear anyone say, "I really hope it takes thirty years to build up some wealth!" or, "I'm looking for a weight loss program that will take months before I see results."  We hate waiting.  But the fact is, things are always better when you wait.  Wealth built over time is much more stable than winning the lottery, and the quicker you lose weight, the more likely you are to just gain it all back. 

I just want to remind myself, and encourage whoever may read this, that delaying gratification is a great thing to practice.  It's certainly not easy, but it is well worth it.  Don't be discouraged; be patient.  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  Someday it'll pay off!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Saying No

My precious new kittens are a lot of fun.  For people that aren't necessarily animal lovers, I am so sorry that you'll never know how much joy you can get from kittens when they purr and cuddle up next to you.  Studies have shown that having pets makes you less stressed, and I think Sam would agree that since we've had the kitties I'm like a whole new person.  It's just hard not to be cheerful when two adorable animals love you so unconditionally!

Having said that, pets also come with some unpleasant odors.  To combat this I've been lighting candles more often than usual.  Morty is very curious about the candles, and more than once I've caught him about to jump on the table to see what fire is all about.  This morning when I sharply told him, "No!" and squirted him with water (the best form of discipline for cats), he quickly jumped down.  He looked at me curiously as he started licking at his wet fur, as if he didn't know why I would squirt him.

It struck me as funny.  It's sort of how we view God when we experience something unpleasant, isn't it?  God has given us lots of instructions about how we should live in order to protect us.  Why didn't I let Morty near the fire?  Because I knew it would hurt him.  I love this little kitty cat and would hate to see him get burned and in so much pain.  Even though he didn't like the water, I'm sure he'd prefer it to scorched paws.

God's love for us is far more than my love for Morty, more than we can even fathom, so His desire to protect us is even stronger.  He knows that the consequences of sin will be quite painful for us, and is doing everything He can to keep us from hurting ourselves.  But that fire is just so tempting, and we don't think the consequences will really be that bad, so we go ahead and touch it.  After being burned, we lash out at God, wondering how a loving God could allow pain.  Well, what position have we put God in, that we don't want to experience being burned, yet we also despise His warnings against touching the flames?  Isn't it really our own stupid fault?  

Do not misunderstand; I am more than aware that horrible things happen to good people who have done nothing to deserve it.  I'm speaking specifically of situations we bring upon ourselves.  Senseless cancer that appears from nowhere for no reason is quite different from the lung cancer that a lifelong smoker develops.  When tragedy is the result of our bad judgment, we can't blame God for allowing it to happen when He's done all but spray us with water to warn us. 

I'm talking to myself here as well.  There have been plenty of times I've been annoyed by the voice in my head telling me the right thing to do, when all I want is to do the opposite.  And I can justify it all I want by saying, "I just have to decide what's right for me."  But it doesn't work that way.  Fire doesn't become harmless just because we decide it's right for us.  Sometimes we may get lucky and just be a little singed, but why even play with fire?  Why not trust that God truly does know what's best for us and try to follow Him?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Beginning Fresh

I really love starting over.  I love mornings because God provides another chance to do the things right that you did wrong yesterday.  Or, as one of my favorite literary characters, Anne Shirley puts it, "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"  Indeed, Anne with an "e", that is a lovely thought.  I love sunrises for the same reason, because they represent a new beginning.  I have all the hope in the world that this time I can actually do it better and get it right.  Not many people know my whole story, but I can say from personal experience that you don't run out of chances until you're dead, and it's never too late to be who or what you wish, however impossible it may seem.  This fills me with limitless hope.

I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
   the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
   the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there's one other thing I remember,
   and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
 God's loyal love couldn't have run out,
   his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning.
   How great your faithfulness!
I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).
   He's all I've got left.
-Lamentations 3:19-24, The Message

Perfectly articulated, the above passage is exactly why I'm so full of hope.  I've known despair, but I also know what it feels like to see the first ray of sun after a long, painful storm.  That reminds me that there is never reason to give up.

(This blog has really gone far away from where I intended it to go, but this is really my favorite part about writing, that it just takes the reins and I type furiously as I try to keep up.  It is when the words stumble slowly that I know I'm not in the best frame to write.)

This blog was really meant to be about my goals for 2011 (I have many, typed on a spreadsheet) and how excited I am to begin pursuing them.  The one thing I need to be careful of is not to give up once I make a mistake (which I know I will).  My all-or-nothing perfectionism is one of many thorns in my side that I fear I'll never be fully rid of.  But because I am aware of it, I can more easily control it.  I must keep reminding myself that even if I have an ice cream cone (one of my goals is to eat healthier, of course), it doesn't mean I may as well give up completely now that my perfect record has been marred.  It just means I can try again, this time with a little more determination.

I hope whoever is reading this has goals in mind, with hopes of growing into a better person.  The worst thing to do is give up hope and remain stagnant in whatever bad habits or hangups you may be currently caught up in.  And I wish you strength and diligence in your pursuit, and a very happy and healthy 2011. Cheers.
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