And so what we have learned applies to our lives today.

(The title of this post brought to you by VeggieTales.)

So what have I learned today? There has to be something, right? I mean, if I think about everything that I do each day, everything I’ve ever learned how to do, I had to actually learn it at some point. So what have I learned today that will help me out down the road?
Well, for one thing, I can force myself to go to sleep. Last night I went to bed around 8pm. Yeah, I was tired. But I could have easily stayed up to watch New Girl (that awesomely funny show with Zooey Deschanel), or read Harry Potter (since I’ve seen all the movies, I figured I might as well read the books now). Instead I decided to go to sleep. And it was totally worth it. I woke up at 7:10am fully rested. Then I started getting ready for the day, but halfway through I decided to continue reading Harry Potter, and dozed off again. So I learned: 1: I can make myself go to sleep. And 2: If I want to actually get up once I’m awake, I have to physically do something. Otherwise I’ll be tempted (and probably give in) to take a nap.

3: I’m not the only one of my friends graduating this December. Most of them are graduating this May, but I learned today that my friend Will is going to be here until December, too! So now I know three people, including myself, who will be graduating with me.

4: I learned that I love The Hunger Games way too much. I said earlier that I got sucked into the vortex. Well, I just got my Panem ID card in the mail today. Not joking. Go to the Hunger Games movie website to get yours. It’s totally free.

I'm from District 8.

I would like to think I learn something new every day, I just have to work to remember what it is I’ve learned.

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Fish are friends, not food. (Lie.)

Day 2 of my adventures into pescetarianism.
Today I realized that I’ll miss chicken the most. For sure. I went with Morgan, the other student-staff girl, to dinner at fellow staffers Christi and Lindsay’s house. We were having grilled kabobs with tons of veggies, marinated chicken, and yellow rice, accompanied by Greek salad, seasoned asparagus, some dinner rolls, and strawberries. At first I was disappointed that I couldn’t partake in the delicious-looking chicken, but then I remembered that I brought some Boca chicken nuggets with me (here on out called “fake chicken”). I made a veggie kabob for myself and ate fake chicken instead of real chicken which worked just as well in my book.

I wanted to buy some shrimp because I thought it might taste great with the veggies on the grill, but a pound of peeled shrimp was about $13, and a pound of shrimp with the shells still on wasn’t very much cheaper… maybe $9. That’s not happening. Way too expensive for my budget. I’ll have to wait until it goes on sale. Not that I’d buy the shrimp with shells on, anyway. I did that once (by accident) and almost had a panic attack stripping off their shells. It was like peeling bugs. How disgusting. In a situation like that, the only thing I could think to do was call my mom. That didn’t go well– she’s never de-shelled shrimp before. So that will never happen again. I don’t do bugs, and I definitely don’t do shelled shrimp that look like big, frozen, gray-ish bugs. The sad part was that once I’d gotten the shrimp de-shelled and cooked, I didn’t even want to eat them because they reminded me of how grossed out I was trying to cook them in the first place. What a waste.

The game’s afoot.

I’ve become a pescetarian. This means I’m a vegetarian, plus I eat fish and shellfish. And animal byproducts. Just not beef, pork, or poultry. I’m just kind of sick of meat, and I figured that this is an easy way to be a little healthier. We’ll see if I can hold out for very long against my family’s insistence on being omnivorous. I mean, I already like tofu and Boca burgers and veggies, so what could really be so different/difficult?
(PS– If you have any good and easy recipes for vegetarian meals or anything that uses tofu, please leave me a comment about it! I’d love to try some new/easy/cheap food.)

Besides that, I’m pretty excited to be able to go home New Jersey on April 3rd. My family and I have been apart for far too long (since December 26th), and it’s time to see them. My sister and I will be spending at least one day in the city (NYC) while I’m home, and that promises to be a blast. We’re adventurous, so we’ll go to some off-the-beaten-path places. (Speaking of, did you know that there’s a castle in Central Park?)

You'd never know that this is in New York City.

A few weeks ago I got sucked into the Hunger Games vortex. It was with metaphorical feet-dragging that I delved into the first book, aptly titled The Hunger Games. Two chapters in, I lost a sense of reality and was completely captured by the story. After each book (there are three), I had to catch my breath and remember that these characters are not real people, and that these scenarios are fake. I tend to get too emotionally attached and involved in the lives of fictional characters, and it’s necessary for my health to take a breather between books so I don’t fall victim to the drama and adrenaline-inducing suspense that Suzanne Collins artfully captures in her series.
Then I went to see the movie at the midnight premiere.
It wasn’t as good as the book, but what movie ever is? This article adequately sums up my feelings: Hunger Games Article.
Before the movie, my friends at The Wolf and the Bee created this snazzy little number in homage to the Games. I bought it and wore it proudly to the premiere. Feel free to copy me and buy yourself a shirt.

Well, I’ve exhausted my procrastination time, and now a sociology exam is calling my name: “Bethanieeeeeee! Study your socioooooologyyyy boooooooks!” So here I must depart.

Spot the sun.

This morning I was awake around 6am so I could write a paper that’s due today.

This is a meme.

… this was my motto yesterday. And proof that I’m so over being in school.

As it happens, I was writing in my very cold apartment, my fingers getting too numb to find the correct keys so every word was misspelled and had to be retyped, which made the whole process that much longer. On the bright side (quite literally), I was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise right through my dining room windows.

Now I’m taking a short break from the mundaneness of writing a paper on sunspots and solar winds to drink hot chocolate, listen to a great “good morning” music mix, and write a little here while I’m feeling up to it.

While I’m writing, I might as well remind you of the love God has for you. He created the sunrise that so beautifully brightened my dull morning, and He created you. Just like He’s planned for the sun to rise and set each day, He has a wonderful plan for your life.

Encountering.

It has been a month of busyness and figuring out my life. But I now have time to write about what happened at Encounter 2011 — Cru’s winter conference.

As I left off saying in my last post, I drove from NJ to Greensboro, NC, on December 26th. It was a long drive: ten hours of tears and thoughts and excitement for the week to come. (Keep in mind that I drove through the night after a long day, so I was exhausted and my emotions were heightened out of control. That’s where the crying came from.)
Anyway, I finally got to the hotel in Greensboro and made my way zombie-style to my friend’s hotel room where I’d be sleeping that night.
The next morning, we (the staff) had to start setting up for when students arrived on the 28th. Elliott, Morgan, Tweito, and I (all of the student-staff) got to set up the Global Village.

It took all of two days, but it was wonderful. We transformed a huge empty ballroom into a semi-wonderland! So fun.

The next day (the 28th), students from all over the region (NC, SC, KY, TN, and WV) started arriving. I got to work at the registration table, and it was awesome seeing all of their smiling faces! There were close to 1000 students there that week.
That night we had the first of 7 main meetings. There was a lot said in each of the meetings, so I’ll recount only some of what was said. You can hear all of the talks for free here:
Encounter iTunes Podcast

One of the most exiting talks that week was by a professor at Penn State, Heather Holleman. She spoke about how God sometimes asks us to do weird things like narrowing our scope of what our ministry should be. Sometimes He asks us to clear our schedule so we have nothing to do. “How does that grow our ministry?” we may ask. “If I’m not doing anything, how will God use me?” First of all, who are we to say how God can use our lives and how He can’t? If He wants us to do nothing, there’s a darn good reason. Second, God sometimes clears our schedule of what we think is important so He can fill it with what is important.
For instance, I was given the task of spending an extra semester in college. I see it as a task only because I just want to get the heck out of here and start my life already. But God knew that, by not student teaching until the fall, I could use this time to grow my ministry by not having anything else to do. I can’t tell you how much time I have now to do things that just happen to come up. I can grab coffee with people I meet randomly at the USC Organization Fair. I can go out on campus with some friends to engage people in gospel conversations. I can meet with and disciple my freshman Bible study girls. I have so much time! It’s pretty wonderful how an empty schedule can get so full.

God has us each at a place where He can do the most good in our lives. Sometimes His “good” looks like our “weird,” but if we love Him, it’s definitely good that He’s doing.
The Lord has a plan for each of our lives, whether we know Him or not. He has a great plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future. The only thing is, though, that if we don’t know God, how can we follow His plan for our lives? We can’t. The reason we can’t is because we have sin in our lives. Sin keeps us from knowing God personally because God is holy (cannot be around sin), and we are human (sinful whether we like it or not).  The great news is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to take on the sins of every human ever so that, if we decide to follow the Lord and submit our lives to Him, we can be with God after we die. Jesus’s death on the cross is what washed our sins clean, if we choose to accept it. And accepting that free gift of grace is as simple as taking ourselves off the throne of our lives, and letting Jesus reside there. By letting Jesus rule our lives, we still have a say in what we do (free will), but we want to live for Jesus and do what He wants us to do. This is the simple and wonderful message of the Gospel: it’s a free gift, and we just have to accept.

One of the nights at Encounter, there was an open mic night. So, being the vocal music ed major that I am, I decided to sing “Taylor the Latte Boy.” Here’s a video of it:

The last night of Encounter is when we all pray in the New Year together, and then have a huge dance party. So fun, right? It was! … for about 20 minutes. Around that time, there started a countdown for the balloons that were about to drop from the ceiling. So my friends and I were all jumping up and down yelling “Ten! Nine! Eight! …” and so on. Silly me landed wrong on one of the jumps, and I twisted my ankle. I felt like a doofus, so I quickly got up and tried to stand. Whoops. Not happening. Thankfully I was by my friend Brad, who happens to be a senior pre-med all-around awesome pre-doctor, so I grabbed his arm with one hand and my ankle with the other and told him that my ankle was quickly swelling and that I couldn’t walk. Our friend Kristen grabbed one of my arms while Brad held the other and together they ushered me out of the dance.
Staff people crowded around me to examine my sprained ankle, got me ice, aspirin,  water, and a seat so I wouldn’t pass out from the pain. One of my SMSP friends, Austin, gave me a shoulder rub so I would stop freaking out (such a nice guy!), and a few of my other friends helped me stay calm by talking to me and helping in any way they could.
In the end, I got to use a wheelchair for the rest of the night and the next day. It was exactly something that would happen to me at a Cru function. Go big or go home, apparently that’s my motto.

So Encounter 2011 was a blast. I got to see my SMSP friends, hang out with the awesome students and staff from USC, meet wonderful friends from around the region, and learn how to use crutches.

There and back again.

This winter break, I got to do a few things I never thought I’d do. Not that they were super extraordinary, just different.

Right after my exams ended, a small group of SMSP friends and I drove to Kentucky to visit some of our other friends. It was a great time of fellowship and best friends. I truly love them.

This is the closest I have to a group picture from that weekend.

Right after we got back from Kentucky, I drove through the night back to New Jersey. It took twelve hours total. I hate driving long distances during the day because my eyes get tired, there’s traffic, and it just seems to drag on forever. But there’s no traffic at midnight, so night driving always wins.

The day after that, I met my friend Brianna in New York City (from here on out referred to as “the city”) to do a little sight seeing. I took the train in with my dad because he works right near Wall Street, got breakfast with him, met some of his work friends, then went out to brave the subway system by myself. I quickly learned that it’s not as scary as I thought, but I became somewhat obsessed with hand sanitizer.
I met up with Brianna at Grand Central, and then we went to Greenwich Village (lovingly referred to as “the Village”) to see if we could meet/see/drool over some of the beautiful men on Gossip Girl. It turned out that they were shooting inside a place in the Village, so we couldn’t really see them. Although we did see one Chace Crawford as he was walking inside the building. I couldn’t breathe. He is more gorgeous in real life than you can ever imagine. Whew!

Too gorgeous for words.

Then Brianna and I traipsed around the city for a while, went to Rockefeller Center (I’m currently obsessed with 30 Rock), saw the Christmas Tree, went to the NBC store, walked along 5th Avenue, went to Dylan’s Candy Bar, and then said our goodbyes. It was a glorious day of visiting places in the city I’d never been to before (except for Rockefeller Center and the tree).

At Dylan's Candy Bar

After the city, I had a pretty quiet time at home for a few days. My family and I finished Christmas shopping, I spent a lot of time with my little brothers and sisters, and we celebrated my birthday two months late (I wasn’t home for my 22nd birthday, and they didn’t want to just send my presents to me).

The next week, I got to spend time with old friends I hadn’t seen since May, so my nights got busier since I was hanging out with them a lot. It was a wonderful chance for all of us to see each other again; we went to the diner for a little reunion night, and hung out at this place called Porter House where my friends Megan, Sam, and I left smelling of cigars and coffee. I met Sam’s amazing grandma (who I’ve seen at church all my life, but didn’t realize that she was his grandma), and she gave me some awesome ideas for Cru Prayer.
I got to see a large portion of Dad’s side of the family at the family Christmas Eve party, and got to visit my dear Grandma in the hospital. It was probably the saddest Christmas Eve I remember because, well, she wasn’t home with us. Krista and I went together to see her, and I sang “Silent Night” for her in the hospital. Krista started crying, and so did Grandma, so of course I did, too.

I think I did more crying this winter break, especially in the last three days of my time in New Jersey, than I have done in a long time. My grandparents, both sets, are getting older, and there’s not much we can do to keep them from the effects of age. We don’t know how much time we have left with them, and it kind of sucks that I’m so far from home and don’t get to see them as much as I’d like.

I love my family so much, but as all children do, I sometimes think to myself: “I’m so raising my children differently than my parents raised me.” That’s usually a thought I have in a dramatic state of mind; a lot of how my parents raised me is to be praised. If you know me and like me at all, that’s thanks to them. However, there are those moments when I swear up and down that things will be different for my (future) kids. But I have to remark on the wonderful way my parents have instilled in me a sense of the importance of family. In the first season of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Caroline Manzo says these infamous words: “Let me tell you something about my family. We’re as thick as thieves and we protect each other ’til the end.” My family’s not even a little bit Italian, but we have an Italian mindset about family, and we’re all very close with each other. That’s something I’ll gladly use from my parents’ child-rearing arsenal.

On December 26, I left home and drove to Greensboro, NC, for Cru’s winter conference. But that’s a post for another time, because there’s so much I’d like to write!

Reject passivity.

This summer, the men of Smoky Mountain Summer Project 2011 learned a lot about “rejecting passivity.” This meant that they were very intentional in how they treated us (the ladies of project), how they acted in general, and how they responded to the Lord and their relationship with Him.
“Reject passivity” became a kind of catch phrase with all of us by the end of the summer. I know that in my Bible study, we talked about it a few times with regards to making a point to have quiet times with the Lord and praying more and so on.

One thing that struck me was how seriously the guys took this concept when dealing with the girls. It was wonderful to see that they were really being intentional about how they treated us, their sisters in Christ, as precious. They guarded our hearts by making sure they never did anything that could have been seen as something else. For instance, they decided that back massages between guys and girls were in a little bit of a gray area on project, so the guys didn’t do that anymore. They initiated that. They were our best friends and our brothers. They still are, at least to me. That summer, the guys were a true picture of what Christian men should be.

I write all of this because I’ve been having some trouble with guys, Christian and not, who maybe don’t understand how to reject passivity; and I’ve talked with other girls who are having this same problem with guys in their lives. I read this article, “Your Friendgirl Deserves Better,” and not only is it a wakeup call to the single men in the world, but it’s also a nudge to that girl (sometimes myself… maybe more than sometimes) who needs to stop accepting the little manipulations guys toss her way when all they want is an ego boost and not a relationship.

If you’re a man, please read this: Reject passivity. Start being intentional with the girls in your life. They totally deserve it and they care about you; friend-wise or more, they do. Don’t string us along to make yourself feel good, because that makes us feel awful. Promise.

The Men of SMSP