“I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.”

“…and when our children tell our stories, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

–“The Story of Tonight”, Hamilton: An American Musical (written by Lin Manuel Miranda)

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Or, why stories like Rogue One and Les Misérables are important.

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We all know and love the stories where the heroes win, where good triumphs victoriously over evil, where the final battles end in bloodshed but most (if not all) of the heroes emerge relatively unscathed and more than ready to move towards their happy endings.

…but what about the stories where that doesn’t quite happen?

What about the stories where the barricade falls, where the mission fails, where the rebellion loses against the ones in power? The ones where the revolutionaries sacrifice their lives for a cause that they don’t ever know will come to fruition?

With these stories, we read and we watch and we wonder: Was it worth it?

Was the idealism and courage, the planning and action, the fight and the sacrifice, all for nothing?

Is this simply a game for a rich young boy to play?

In Rogue One, countless people sacrificed their lives so that one transmission could be sent to Princess Leia and enable her to know how to destroy the Death Star in A New Hope. The mission ultimately succeeded– but at great cost to those involved, and they died without the certainty we as viewers have that the Rebels would ultimately win in the end, three movies later.

In Les Misérables, a small group of Parisian schoolboys, filled with ideals of a better France where the people would no longer be oppressed and suffering under a monarchy, carefully planned and staged a rebellion with the hope that the people of Paris would arise and fight with them– only for the people to falter and hide away once the boys built their barricade and the fight became real. Their revolution failed miserably– yet even when they realized they were on their own and outnumbered by the National Guard, they did not back down, but fought until the bitter end, knowing full well that they wouldn’t survive. (So did the boys of the very real 1832 June Rebellion that hugely impacted Victor Hugo so that he wrote this as part of the bigger story.)

Was it worth it? we ask as the battles don’t turn out the way we’re used to seeing and as every character involved dies in the fight. Does it even matter?

My answer is a resounding yes.

Complete your life's mission, and trust the universe to ensure someone will pass it on.

It matters because those involved were willing to live, fight, and even die for a cause they believed in. For goodness– for liberty– for justice.

They didn’t do it because they believed they would win and survive, even though they did hold onto that hope until they had to face the reality of impending death.

They did it simply because it was right. Because their causes– different situations and stories (even different galaxies!), yet similar in principle– were important enough to them that they were worth the sacrifice.

They did it because their hope was ultimately in something bigger than themselves.

And they believed that even if they may not be the ones to see the triumph and the glory of winning the battle, someone would– so they would gladly pave the way for the next generation to take their place in the fight.

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It matters because we frankly need the reminder sometimes that there are certain matters– certain battles– where our chances of success should not determine whether or not we choose to act at all.

When it comes to the things that truly matter– issues of moral and social justice that we are called to care about as Christians, defending our faith and taking a stand for truth– we are compelled to stand and fight, no matter the cost.

The Bible never says “fight for what’s right when it’s convenient for you”. It never says “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defend the rights of the poor and needy… only when you know you’ll walk away triumphant”.

Lights aren’t meant to blend in, to only shine when it’s not too dark or when they know for sure they’ll be effective enough for people to see.

They’re meant to confront the darkness, to go forth boldly and illuminate what is true and real. Even the tiniest of sparks can bring light to darkness– and those sparks can eventually lead to fires, burning away brokenness and refining like gold.

And aren’t we called to be lights in this world, so that in doing so we may point people to Christ?

let others rise to take our place until the earth is free

It matters because, as a Christian, I can so easily see myself in the same position as a Jyn Erso or a Marius Pontmercy someday: having to make the choice to join the fight alongside a ragtag group of rebels that may or may not win, or to keep looking down, ignoring the pain and suffering of my people but living relatively unscathed.

I feel much like Frodo Baggins in regards to the end times: I wish they need not happen in my time.

But they very well might.

And if (when) those days come, I’ll have to do what Gandalf told Frodo: We can’t decide what the future holds for us, but we can (and must) decide what we do with it when it comes– with the time that we are given here on this earth.

I’ve lived a very happy, comfortable life– a small life, as Kathleen Kelly would say. Good, but small. I don’t know anything of sacrifice, not really. It’s hard for me to even fathom facing certain death yet acting anyway, greeting a painful death with quiet resignation instead of fear. Would I have the strength and courage to stand up, when I know doing so would cost me my life?

It’s easy for me to sit here on my comfortable couch and believe that I would. I know in my heart that, if it ever comes to denying Christ or dying, I’d choose death in a heartbeat. But as far as fighting for a cause that I, Emily, realize that I will not survive, much less win?

That’s a bit more difficult to swallow.

But I’d really like to think that I would, when it came down to it.

And I can’t help but think that it’s these kinds of stories– tales of great sacrifice, not necessarily great victory– that are helping me get there. It’s these stories that put brave thoughts in my head and dare me to examine myself and see if I would act as the Rogue One crew and the Barricade Boys did, were I in their circumstances. It’s these stories that remind me that sometimes bravery and love looks like laying down one’s life for their friends– and for what is right.

I love my happy ending stories, don’t get me wrong. But give me these stories, the ones of real courage and fortitude, of nobility and sacrifice, of bittersweet endings that pave the way for something glorious that will be worth the fight.

Give me endings as brave and beautiful as Jyn and Cassian’s, as noble and defiant as Enjolras’s.

All the stories I read and watch shape me in some way, but the ones that inspire courage and sacrifice move me the most– and, perhaps, will someday be the most important ones I’ve ever taken to heart.

Because who knows what the future holds?

All I know is that I will continue to trust and live for the One who holds the future in His hands– and that, if the day ever comes when I must die for my faith, He will be worth the sacrifice.

Ultimately, I live and die for the cause of Christ.

And these stories– these sad, sacrificial, beautiful stories– are little glimpses of what that could possibly, someday, look like and mean for us as believers.

That, dear readers, is why these stories are so important– and why they’ll always make the top of my list.

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“Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.”

“Epilogue”, from Les Misérables

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{love always, Em}

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**I do not own any of these images, edits, gifs, etc. But they’re beautiful, aren’t they?

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// “sing your praise to the Lord” / some thoughts on Worship Culture™. //

As a student at Liberty University, I am surrounded by all the best of Christian culture, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity to live and learn on a campus of people truly dedicated to following Christ just as I am.

…That being said, I am also surrounded by some of the less-than-positive aspects of Christian culture, because as much as we love Jesus, we are also fallen and imperfect humans– so the church will not be wholly perfect on this side of heaven.

I know that we too often tend to fall into a habit of criticizing various things about Christian culture, to the point where it fosters a spirit of negativity that is less than effective in kingdom efforts. There are times when I have to catch myself on the brink of a personal-preference complaint that has no real significance. However, I do think that it is important to be as discerning of Christian culture as we are of secular culture, and I think that as Christians we hesitate to offer a critique of one aspect of our culture in particular: worship music.

Do you want to know something great? Critiquing certain worship songs does not make you a bad Christian. Critiquing certain aspects of “worship culture” does not make you a bad Christian. It’s perfectly okay to have a critique when there is a valid concern behind it.

There are two aspects of worship that I want to discuss here: the particular worship songs that we sing, and the environment in which we sing them.

One thing I have noticed, both in my home church and at my school, is that they go through cycles of worship songs– and only ever sing whatever is popular in Christian culture at the time. Sometimes these popular songs are quite beautiful and heartfelt; other times, I’m left staring confusedly at the lyric screen and wondering what on earth I just sang. I know that one’s liking of a song is a very subjective thing, so I won’t go into specific song lyrics here, but we all know that sometimes, a song is just bad. Whether it’s poorly written, or entirely too repetitive, or has lyrics of questionable meaning in relation to the Lord’s character… we just know it’s not the greatest song. Yet a lot of times, we sing them anyway– over and over again.

This would be more forgivable if we didn’t have worship songs that are well-written– but we do. Every time we sing hymns (which is more rare than it ought to be), my heart thrills at the beauty and timelessness of the lyrics. Contemporarily, there are so many artists whose songs we could sing– anything by Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson, Shane & Shane, Citizens & Saints, etc. would be amazing. That day we had Keith and Kristyn Getty at convocation was one of my favorite times of worship ever (skip to 3:50, 20:30, and 30:00 in the video for their music– Come Ye Sinners, He Will Hold Me Fast, and In Christ Alone). What if worship was always this beautiful and special? I get excited just thinking about it!

Another thing I’d like to comment on is the environment we tend to cultivate for worship sessions. At my home church as well as at Liberty, they dim the overhead lights, turn on colorful mood lighting, and get the cameras and graphics rolling. The worship team/band/collective (depending on where you are) gets onstage (front and center), sometimes in coordinating outfits, and proceeds to lead everyone in a time of worship that has the vibe of a concert. Now, I know that presentation isn’t the purpose of worship– but that’s exactly my point. The lights and the show isn’t bad in itself (although I know people differ on that point), but what if we deviated from that every now and then? What would worship look like if we kept the natural/brighter lighting, if we took away the sound equipment and the camera shots and the graphics, if those leading us were among us rather than on stage, if it was just a quiet acoustic session? Would we have the same passion and energy for Jesus without the style and show that is currently our corporate worship? I don’t have the answers, but it’s something that definitely needs to be considered.

As Christians, we are called to be authentic and to create good art. It’s possible to have both, but I think that too often in Christian culture we gravitate to one side or the other (or sometimes, neither). This includes worship– after all, wouldn’t you think that the songs we create and sing to give honor and praise to the Creator Himself ought to be of the highest quality of all music?

There’s a quote by Andrew Peterson that I love:

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If all our art– music, literature, movies, paintings, etc.– is meant to point to grace, to the Gospel, to the grandeur and glory of God, and to do it well, shouldn’t our songs of worship do so that much more? Why do we settle for offering our Creator mediocrity?

The show of worship should never be greater than the substance of worship.

This shouldn’t even be a point that needs saying, yet here we are. I’m going to say it again: The show of worship should never be greater than the substance of worship. Can I get an amen??

We have high-quality worship music available to us. We have the option to change up the way we worship and the environment we worship in. It isn’t confined to one style or setting. Let’s pursue higher quality and authenticity in the way we worship, because in doing so, we will glorify the One who has given us the ability to create and to worship Him.

If you, like me, want to find more good-quality worship music, I’ve got a Spotify playlist right here that can get you started, full of soft and well-written Jesus-music:

And if you don’t have Spotify, here’s a few videos of some worship songs with the best lyrics:

Rich Mullins – If I Stand

RED – Pieces

Andrew Peterson – The Dark Before The Dawn (acoustic)

Relient K – Be My Escape

Celtic Woman – Amazing Grace

If we could sing songs like these in worship sessions/services more often than (or even as often as) we do the popular, repetitive, sometimes less-than-meaningful stuff, that would be fantastic. It’s good to mix it up every now and then. I promise. 🙂

{love always, Em}

// “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times…” //

“…if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
–Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter series

{Or, this Christian girl’s thoughts upon reading the Harry Potter series for the first time as a 19-to-20-year-old.}

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Growing up, I didn’t particularly mind that I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter. I trusted and respected my parents’ judgment call on that, and anyway, there were so many other books to read, so why would I waste time lamenting this crazy-popular series when I could be reading the likes of Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice?

But then I got interested in personality typing, and the internet’s take on it, towards the end of high school– and thus discovered this lovely and magical thing called the Hogwarts Houses, which I will attempt to explain very concisely here.

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**Images taken from Etsy; they’re prints from JustSayinCollection.

The above pictures show the general qualities of the type of students likely to be Sorted into each house when they start their first year of Hogwarts (the wizarding school in Scotland that they attend from age 11 to 18, which is basically a magical boarding school). That house is where they live and belong for the next seven years of their education. Personalities can vary widely within each house, but what unites the members is the way they view/use magic– and ultimately, what they value most:

“You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.”

–the Sorting Hat’s song in the first Harry Potter book

(There are lots of Sorting quizzes on the Internet of various levels of accuracy, but if you’re interested in what house you’d end up in, this is a pretty good one! Buzzfeed has one as well, if you’re willing to try that one– it actually divides your Sorting into percentages of each house, which is cool. But a few of the questions have wizarding world lingo, so…)

So of course, with my interest in psychology and personality stuff, I had to know my house. And once I knew that, I had to know about the other houses so I could figure out which of my family members and friends would be in the houses.

(I’m a Hufflepuff, and very proud to be one! I even have a mug. A Hufflemug. It’s super cute. I’ve also rediscovered my love of the color yellow. [Note: I could just as easily be a Ravenclaw, but I’d want to be a Hufflepuff. As much as I love wisdom and creativity and intellect, I value justice and loyalty and kindness even more than those things])

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When you’re looking into the houses, you also end up finding out a lot about each of the characters. And spoilers for pretty much everything. (It’s rather hard to avoid spoilers for something as widely read and watched as Harry Potter at this point, though. Being on the Internet for any length of time means you stumble upon spoilers at some point, unless you’re actively trying to avoid them.)

Everything I learned about the series made me more intrigued to read it– and then, Matt got me the first book for Christmas in 2016 (right after I turned 19).

Long story short: I basically got into Harry Potter completely backwards, and also took an entire year to get through the series. I was technically reading the first book at the end of 2016, and the last one at the beginning of 2018. Younger-Em would’ve been horrified that it took me that long to finish just one book series. But that’s what college will do to you!

So, now that I’ve finally finished the series and had time to gather my thoughts on the matter, here are my Opinions™ on these books:

1.) As a Christian: I realize and respect that everyone feels differently about reading/watching Harry Potter as a believer, due to the story being about wizardry and magic. I approached this series with a watchful eye, ready to bail if anything set off what my dad calls my “baloney detector”– those little warning bells that start ringing in your brain when you know you’re reading something blatantly false and/or against your faith. However, the baloney detector never went off, and upon finishing the series I’ve concluded that it’s really no different than the likes of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings series (fantasy works that are largely supported by many Christians). “Light magic” and “dark magic” are clearly defined, as are good and evil– and while some of the characters end up falling somewhere in the morally grey range, they still stand for what’s right when it counts, and it’s not the sort of overall grey relativity that makes me frustrated as a child of the Light, but rather the sort that simply makes for more complex and human characters who struggle with many of the same things we do (and have potential for redemption!). Goodness wins in the end, as it does in all the best stories, and unconditional love and sacrifice are hugely emphasized, and there’s so many good and true messages that we can take from this as believers! My cousin even took a class at Union University on Harry Potter and Christianity, and loved it; I’ve heard that there are some fascinating parallels that can be drawn between elements of this story and our own faith. All of this to say… you should definitely be discerning and follow your own convictions in deciding whether or not to read this, but if you’re strong in your faith and good at knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, I’d say go for it!

2.) As a reader: I don’t usually cry when reading books (with the notable exceptions of The Book Thief and the last book of the Wingfeather Saga), but I cried multiple times during this series– especially during the last book. (To quote Larry the Cucumber: “I laughed, I cried. It moved me, Bob.”) When a book can make me feel things deeply, make me laugh aloud one moment and cry over a character the next– that’s how you win my love as a reader. The story is compelling– the characters resonate deeply with you (it’s impossible to pick just one favorite)– and the fantasy elements are charming and fascinating, woven into the stories so seamlessly that it seems this magical world could easily and realistically exist alongside our own. This story is one of those that I’m glad I didn’t read until I was an adult, because I feel like I appreciate it (the themes, the characters, and even the world itself) much more at this point in my life than I would’ve as a kid or teenager. Its fame is definitely well-deserved, and I think it’ll be added to the classics of literature renown, to be read and analyzed for centuries to come (…or until Jesus comes back, if that time comes sooner rather than later).

3.) As a writer: It’s beautifully written. J.K. Rowling is an absolute genius at worldbuilding– years after the series has ended, she’s still releasing all these little details that expand and explain elements of this magical world of hers and the characters within, and it’s quite impressive. While reading the stories, you feel as if you’re right there alongside the characters in the wizarding world, and it almost, almost seems to really exist, if you didn’t know better. That’s truly the mark of a thoroughly developed (some might argue over-developed… but nah) fictional world, and the wonderfully vivid imagination that came up with it all. She’s also fantastic with putting deeper meaning behind everything, and I’m amazed at how complex and meaningful this series is, especially for one that so many people I knew read as kids. The only bone I have to pick with her writing-wise is that she keeps killing off all these fantastic characters (some of whom she’s admitted she decided “had to die” after she let another character live), but she does that beautifully as well, so I really can’t complain about it stylistically. J.K. Rowling and I wouldn’t get along at all if we ever met in person, as our worldviews are entirely opposite, but I have nothing but respect for her as a writer.

And now, the fun part: my favorite quotes, from the poignant to the downright hilarious (including the one from my title– that’s probably my number one favorite, if I had to choose).

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” –Sirius Black

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” –Dumbledore

“After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” –Dumbledore (As a Christ-follower, I particularly love this one!)

“Books! And cleverness! There are more important things– friendship and bravery.” –Hermoine Granger

“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” –Luna Lovegood

“Don’t worry, you’re just as sane as I am.” –Luna Lovegood

“We could have all been killed— or worse, expelled.” —Hermoine Granger

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” —Dumbledore

“The ones that love us never really leave us.” —Sirius Black

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.” –Hermoine Granger

“Is it true that you shouted at Professor Umbridge?”
“Yes.”
“You called her a liar?”
“Yes.”
“You told her He Who Must Not Be Named is back?”
“Yes.”
“Have a biscuit, Potter.” –Professor McGonagall (She’s the BEST, y’all.)

“Do you remember me telling you we are practicing non-verbal spells, Potter?”
“Yes,” said Harry stiffly.
“Yes, sir.”
“There’s no need to call me ‘sir’ Professor.” –Professor Snape and Harry Potter (Iconic.)

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” –J.K. Rowling

To make a rather long blog post short: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this series, and would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet and who enjoys good fantasy– or at the very least is willing to try it.

(If you’ve read this far: Hi! I’m very impressed with you right now– even more so if you haven’t read or seen Harry Potter yet and this is all a very poorly explained mess to you right now. Thanks for reading all the way through; you’re the best, truly.)

{love always, Em}

// You are the well that never runs dry. //

On Thursday night, Liberty started a new thing: The Well.

The Well is a college women’s ministry event that happens once a month, in which a thousand or so (1,600 the other night) Liberty girls come together in the Concert Hall on campus to worship, open the Word, and discuss issues that are so, so relevant to our lives and this season we’re in.

If you had asked me beforehand, I really couldn’t tell you why I felt so compelled to go; I truly believe it was simply the Lord saying, “Trust me. Obey me and go. You need to be there tonight.”

So throughout the day, I tried to find someone among my friends who was planning on going to this event. One thing you should know about me: I do NOT like walking into new potentially-social events alone. Especially the kind of events where you know you’ll be surrounded by a bunch of girls who are all there with their friends. (#introvertproblems)

I almost backed out because I couldn’t find anyone to go with. The anxiety was real.

But my wonderful mom reminded me that one of my goals for the semester was to get more involved with the on-campus events and ministries that Liberty offers, and that this could even lead to me making a new friend or two, and that it’s when we step out of our comfort zones that God often speaks to and changes us the most.

So I went, meeting new and lovely people to walk to the music hall with, but leaving them once we got there as I didn’t want to intrude on their group when they were trying to find others from their hall. I took off on my own, and found a seat between two groups of girls in the balcony.

Was it awkward? Yes. Did I feel uncomfortable and out-of-place and alone? Yes.

But almost as soon as the event got started, during the first worship song, the Lord began to speak to my heart.

Because I was sitting by myself in that concert hall, yes, but I most definitely wasn’t alone. Here I was again, doing that same old song and dance in which I looked to humans to fulfill a need that the Lord has never once failed me on. In that moment, as we sang about His presence in this place and with us, I knew He was with me, just patiently waiting for me to remember Him, to realize that I should’ve been seeking Him first instead of worrying over and lamenting my lack of human social support in this situation. As we sang, I closed my eyes and asked Him to forgive me for briefly forgetting His promise to be with me always, and as we continued to worship I felt such a peace in knowing that I wasn’t alone, far from it, and that His presence was so much more than enough.

The conviction that night started early on, and honestly, lasted throughout the whole event.

We talked about and wrote down the things that we cling to instead of Jesus.

Relationships with friends and family.

Accomplishments and the desire for success.

Social media.

Even fiction, at least for me.

All these things and more, while not at all inherently bad– quite the opposite, they can be used for so much good and beauty, and a big part of who we are– have the dangerous potential to be idols, the subjects of our worship even when we don’t realize it. We dare to think that Christ alone doesn’t fully satisfy us, so we look to all these things in addition to Him for satisfaction, and thus we begin to worship them.

We were challenged to ask ourselves these questions: What holds our affections? What drives/motivates me? Where do I get my worth from?

We all know what we should say, what we desperately want to say: In Christ alone.

But if I’m honest with myself– if we’re all honest with ourselves, I think– I know that I’m not living my daily life as if that’s really true for me. It’s so, so easy to say– and even honestly believe– that my worth and affection and satisfaction is in only Christ, but then if I truly examine my life I find that I’m still looking towards these other things rather than Him for fulfillment. “The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things” (Rich Mullins)– and there are times when it wins in my heart, in my choices and lifestyle. I don’t much like admitting that, but it’s true.

There’s this quote by Francis Chan that’s been coming to mind quite often this month, and again Thursday night: “Never let your public passion exceed your private devotion.”

That’s always been a struggle of mine, even after coming to know Christ as a preteen, and that’s really what Thursday night’s message came down to.

We looked at how Paul’s letters have a recurring theme of emphasis on the mind– “set your minds on things above” (or “affections“, in the KJV) in Colossians 3:1-2, “take every thought captive to obey Christ” in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6, and “but we have the mind of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 2:16 [emphasis mine].

That private devotion that Francis Chan spoke of, that looking to Christ alone for satisfaction– it’s an effort of the mind, and it starts with our thought life, with the constant monologue happening within us from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep at night.

A quote I wrote down from Thursday night: “How wholesome, faith-driven, and Christ-centered is the conversation that you have with yourself every day?”

Yikes. I don’t know about you, but I know what my own answer is: Not nearly as much as it should be– in any of the three categories.

Now obviously, we’re humans and we’re broken and we’re sinful, so it’s impossible for us to make every single one of our thoughts holy all the time. But we do get to choose which kinds of thought we dwell on— those that glorify God, or those that don’t.

Another thing I learned that night: that quote by Augustine, the lovely one that says “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”?

It’s so obvious– I can’t believe I’d been living so blindly to it lately– but our hearts are restless until they rest in Him, not in what we’re doing for His kingdom.

For awhile now, since the beginning of this past summer, I’ve been so restless and weary in feeling like I’m not doing enough for the kingdom of God. I’ve been looking around my life at home and my life at school and asking myself despairingly, What am I even doing of eternal significance here? What am I doing here other than schoolwork and self-care and having fun alone and with friends (all good and important things, yes, but still)? Why am I not doing anything like ___________ [insert the names of at least a dozen people whom I’m unwisely comparing myself to here] is doing? What’s wrong with me? Why am I not taking action?

I’ve been trying to seek the Lord for guidance and peace in this area, and He has graciously given me peace about certain things even when I was only seeking him half-heartedly, even when I was looking to advice from family and friends before listening to His voice.

But– how silly and utterly blind of me!– I had forgotten that when my satisfaction is truly in Christ alone, when I am genuinely seeking and spending time in His presence every single day, that’s when He will give me joy and peace.

And maybe, just maybe, before He wants me to do anything, He just wants me to be— to be still in His presence, to rest in Him and spend time with Him and grow in Him to the point where I can say that my satisfaction is “in Christ alone” and my life actually reflects that.

(Sound familiar? That’s because I wrote on much the same thing over the summer. I’m a fallible human who forgets important lessons sometimes, but is graciously and emphatically reminded of them at just the right time. Also, Philippians 3:12-14. xD)

No, I’m not going to magically transform into a girl who never struggles with placing her affections and worship in the wrong places. My thought life is not magically going to be cleared of all the messy, broken, human stuff. I know myself, and humanity, far too well to hold myself to that impossible standard on this side of heaven.

But my mindset has changed, and my heart has changed, and I can’t help but feel that this is the beginning of something beautiful– not only in me and my own walk with the Lord, but in each of the girls who attended The Well and heard that message. (And maybe, just maybe, in you too– because we all need to hear this every now and then.)

So, so thankful that Liberty is beginning this thing called The Well– and that we are all beginning to realize that Christ truly is the well that never runs dry, and that He is so much more than enough for us, abundant and overflowing and satisfying every need, if only we let Him.

Praying that if you don’t already believe this, that you will begin to. It truly changes everything.

{Love always, Em}

// ’cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open. //

(Or, the one where I use a lyric from The Greatest Showman as a title when the blog post is actually about an incredible book I’ve just finished that has absolutely nothing to do with P.T. Barnum or the circus.)

~

“The woman who derives her principles from the Bible, and her amusements from intellectual sources, from the beauties of nature, and from active employment and exercise, will not pant for beholders. She is no clamorous beggar for the extorted alms of admiration. She lives on her own stock. She possesses the truest independence. She does not wait for the opinion of the world, to know if she is right; nor for the applause of the world, to know if she is happy.”
–Hannah More, Collected Works (quote included in Fierce Convictions)

In early 2017 (or perhaps late 2016), a book on a shelf at my campus’s Barnes & Noble caught my eye; the cover was beautiful, and the title drew my interest immediately.

IMG_0159

Fierce Convictions. Isn’t that wonderful?

At the time, I couldn’t get the book, because 1.) It cost money, and 2.) I didn’t have time to read it. (Such is the life of a college student.)

Fast forward to this past week, when I decided that the first new book I wanted to read on my new kindle fire would be this biography of a woman whom I’d never heard of but, if the title “poet, reformer, and abolitionist” was any indication, I would come to admire. (And then when this decision was further confirmed by the fact that its author, Karen Swallow Prior, will be the professor of a literature class I’ll be beginning in a week and a half.)

IMG_0155(I had to include a picture of my kindle. Because it is lovely.)

This was one of my best book-related decisions, I’ve found, because Hannah More, though little-known today, is actually an incredibly epic and influential historical figure, and I now want to live out my faith and my calling in much the same way that she did.

Because that’s what she did: she took up her pen, stood steadfastly upon her faith in Christ and the ensuing principles she believed in, and in doing so was able to impact her world at all levels of society. She advocated tirelessly for the education of women and of the poor, the abolition of slavery, and the need for Christianity to be taken seriously by those in her society who called themselves Christians but did not take up their crosses. Her writing reached so many people, and changed quite a few lives– and as she moved into a higher position in society than what she was born into, she used that position to be an influence and light to the many talented and powerful friends she made, rather than squandering it on self-interests as so many others would be inclined to do. So, so much respect for this lady right here.

Interestingly enough, she has written quite a few things which have great relevance even today, over two centuries later.

On women’s rights:

She sought to advance female education in order to fulfill women as women, not to make them like men. “On the whole,” she posed in her 1777 treatise Essays on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies, “is it not better to succeed as women, than to fail as men?… to be good originals, rather than bad imitators?”
–Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions

On politics and morality:

“It should be held as an eternal truth, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right.”
–Hannah More, Collected Works

(CAN I GET AN AMEN??? New favorite quote.)

On young Christians growing up in the faith, but leaving it in adulthood:

“In order to allure” young people to Christianity, she cautioned, “they exhibit false, or faint, or inadequate views of Christianity; and while they represent it, as it really is, as a life of superior happiness and advantage, they conceal its difficulties.” The results might ultimately result in abandonment of the faith: “May it not be partly owing to the want of a due introduction to the knowledge of the real nature and spirit of religion, that so many young Christians, who set out in a fair and flourishing way, decline and wither when they come to perceive the requisitions of experimental Christianity? requisitions which they had not suspected of making any part of the plan; and from which, when they afterwards discover them, they shrink back, as not prepared and hardened for the unexpected contest.”
–Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions

Oh– and she was a creative, too. She wrote poetry and fiction, in addition to the treatises and pamphlets she became so well-known for in her time. Two particularly lovely poems of hers were included in this biography– the first, about a plot of land from her youth that she loved:

Around no noxious plant or flow’ret grows;
But the first daffodil, and earliest rose:
The snow-drop spreads its whitest bosom here,
And golden cowslips grace the vernal year:
Here the pale primrose takes a fairer hue,
And ev’ry violet boasts a brighter blue.
Here builds the wood-lark, here the faithful dove
Laments his lost, or woos his living love.
Secure from harm is ev’ry hallow’d nest,
The spot is sacred where true lovers rest.
To guard the Rock from each malignant sprite,
A troop of guardian spirits watch by night;
Aloft in air each takes his little stand,
The neighb’ring hill is hence call’d Fairy Land.
–Hannah More, Collected Works

And then another, an excerpt from a poem that started as a lighthearted joke with a friend but included a wise (and familiar to us now) caution:

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.
–Hannah More, “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes” (I told y’all it was a joke xD), Collected Works

All of this to say: Hannah More is a kindred spirit in every sense of the word, from the steadfastness and conviction of her faith, the joy and merriment she found in life as she grew more and more in Christ, her power with her pen and great love of reading and beauty, and her desire to use her voice and influence to stand up for what is right and impart change upon the world.

If you want to learn about an extraordinary woman in history who nobody talks about anymore– if you think you can relate to her in any way– if you want to be challenged and inspired and (forgive the pun) convicted– please read this book. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and so would Hannah More herself (probably).

// i don’t know about you, but i’m feeling twenty (too) //

(…that’s how the song goes, right? xD)

~

As of today, I’ve officially moved from “I’m only 19 but my mind is older!” (Hamilton) to “At 20 years of age, I’m still looking for a dream…” (Francesca Battistelli).

It’s a weird feeling– knowing that I’m in an entirely new decade of life now. I’m not altogether certain I’m old enough to be in my 20’s yet. xD But, well, here I am, beginning a new adventure, and I think I’m ready for it.

Nineteen wasn’t as dramatically life-changing a year as eighteen was (it’s hard to top voted/graduated high school/started college in a different state/moved houses, right?), but it was still very much a year full of life, laughter, newness, and growth.

Nineteen was Lindsey Stirling, Mindy Gledhill, Relient K, Celtic music, and movie soundtracks played on repeat.

Nineteen was reading The Lunar Chronicles and the Harry Potter series, and falling in love with both stories (despite the fact that I technically haven’t finished Harry Potter yet, ahem).

Nineteen was making new friends (#adventuresquad– love you guys) and growing closer to old and dear ones (Liberty family, online kindreds, and home-friends– love y’all too).

Nineteen was Wonder Woman, The Great British Baking Show, This Is Us, and watching the finales of Friends and The Office for the third or fourth time (…and then starting the pilot of The Office again, oops).

Nineteen was Disney adventures with Mom, beach adventures with family and one of my dearest friends, and Liberty adventures with my college family.

Nineteen was learning all over again that I must be brave and take action (admittedly, it’s a struggle that I haven’t overcome just yet, but maybe twenty-Em will).

Nineteen was this ever-present tug on my heart to do more, to be more– to “live a life, not just play a part”– to do something that has kingdom-worth and impact here, instead of going through the motions of schoolwork (again, admittedly, I’m not where I want to be, but God is calling me to act, somehow, and I will follow where He leads).

Nineteen was the motivation to live and eat healthier– and the grace to accept that I will fail in this endeavor when relying on my own strength.

Nineteen was the Psalms, theology, and falling more and more in love with my Savior.

Nineteen was sunshine, flowers, rose golds and deep purples and sunny yellows, lovely letters from far-away friends, and Jesus-joy woven into every day (no matter how stressed or saddened I was).

Nineteen was a beautiful year, and I am so grateful that the Lord has carried me through my teenage years to where I am today, and for everyone who has been part of my story so far (be it only in this chapter [so far], or throughout the whole thing).

Hello, dear twenty. Let’s begin this new adventure, yeah?

~

‘Cause I got the wind in my hair and a dream in my eyes and an endless horizon
I got a smile on my face and I’m walking on air
Everything life ought to be
It’s all gonna happen to me out there
And I’ll find it, I swear
With the wind in my hair

And I got the wind in my hair and a song in my heart and the fun’s only started
I got a skip in my step and I haven’t a care
Colorful breeze blowing through
It’s gonna carry me who knows where
And I’ll take any dare
With the wind in my hair

(Mandy Moore, “Wind In My Hair”, from Tangled: Before Ever After)

// in which I dare to ask some dangerous questions. //

Warning: This blog post will likely be a little controversial. I’m trying my best to be as thoughtful and compassionate as I can, and to handle this issue with grace, so please forgive me if I fail to do so. I’m not trying to start any heated debates here; I just have some questions and some thoughts that have been on my heart for the past few weeks, ones that I’ve been too scared to voice until now.

What has prompted the end of my silence on this matter?

The ridiculous attitudes towards children’s Halloween costumes that I’ve seen various posts on over the past few days.

Okay. Here we go.

*deep breath*

Apparently, Halloween costumes are the latest source of offense for people. Articles have cautioned people against dressing up as a character with a different ethnic background, because that is cultural appropriation– not, say, mere appreciation of the character and of a culture that’s different than one’s own. Because that’s just ridiculous.

But it gets even better: one article’s headline straight-up says, and I quote, “Little girls should not dress up as Moana this Halloween because it is ‘RACIST’ cultural appropriation’ or Elsa from Frozen because it promotes ‘white beauty’, activists warn”. (Beneath this headline are two photos of little Caucasian girls dressed up as the respective characters.)

I’m not making this up. I wish I was.

So, please correct me if I’m wrong, but to me, what this is saying is that Caucasian girls cannot dress up as a character of a different skin tone, because that is racist– and now they also cannot dress up as a character of their own skin tone, because that is also racist.

So… who can they dress up as, then?

And furthermore, why should their choices in costume be limited due to their skin color?

You wouldn’t tell a little African-American girl that she can’t be whoever she wants to be for Halloween, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, so why on earth would you tell this to any little girl at all? It’s ludicrous, and such double standards are unfair. So why are they being perpetuated? Why are activists for racial equality singling out and limiting the options of young Caucasian girls– girls who aren’t trying to be racist whatsoever, they just like and look up to the character, for goodness’s sake? Is there something about being Caucasian that is inherently tied to racism?

That leads me to a term I’ve heard being tossed around a lot lately: “white privilege”.

So, here’s the thing: I’m not trying to say that I’m not privileged, because I know that in many ways, I am. I was blessed to grow up not wanting for anything– to grow up in Tennessee– to be raised in a Christian home– to have two loving parents– to have all my medical issues cared for– to have opportunities to succeed academically and creatively– to get to attend a Christian college on full scholarship.

I’m privileged. It’s true. There are so many things I’ve never lacked that I am grateful for.

But how are any of the ways I listed caused by the fact that I am Caucasian?

They’re not. Any and all of these things can be the same for a girl of any skin tone. You can say I’m privileged due to any of these things, and I’ll readily agree with you– but this is not “white privilege”.

So what is “white privilege”, then, and how do I have it? (I would genuinely like to know, if anyone can explain any misconceptions listed here to me.) Is it due to the fact that I might be treated better by others due to my shade of melanin? (I haven’t noticed any of that sort of treatment personally, but that isn’t to say that it’s never happened to me.) If so, then I am truly sorry that people have such small hearts that they would treat me differently than another on racist grounds… but other people’s treatment of me is something that I have no control over, so how can that be my fault? How is it that their actions mean that I am the privileged one?

News flash: I don’t have control over the color of my skin any more than anyone else does.

To claim that I am inherently privileged because I am Caucasian is to judge me by the color of my skin and not the content of my character. Sound familiar?

But shouldn’t that be the whole point of racial equality: to see beyond outward appearances and to focus on what truly shows who a person is, their hearts?

Because that’s what the Lord looks at: our hearts. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Guess what? We’re all a bunch of broken sinners in need of a Savior. There’s no getting around that. At the end of the day, your skin color, your cultural identity, your physical appearance– none of it matters in light of eternity. Each person who is a follower of Christ has a ton of spiritual brothers and sisters from all sorts of backgrounds, from all over the world, and we are united in Christ and it is absolutely beautiful. In the kingdom of heaven, there is no division– no racism– no privilege– no appropriation. We are one race: the human race. And this is how it should be.

I think the main question that I would like to ask is this: If equality is truly the goal of those who are calling for an end to racism, then why is there continued attention given to division, strife, and all the ways in which certain groups are terrible, racist humans?

Emphasizing the divide only further worsens it.

True equality cannot be achieved so long as people groups are still being put down.

Retaliation does nothing to fix the original problem.

If you really, truly desire equality for all races?

Start with recognizing that we are one race under God. Start with the message of the Gospel– that all have sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23), that Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15), that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for us, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Start with the realization that social justice begins at the Cross, because that is the only place where true equality can be found.

The only way we’re really, truly going to begin treating everyone with equality and respect is to start loving people like Jesus. To start viewing humans the way God does, looking past physical qualities and into their hearts. To start knowing people by their character rather than their ethnicity. To start sticking up for everyone, to start uplifting every group instead of trying to tear certain ones down on the basis of past wounds. To start listening, really listening, to what people who are different than us have to say. To start believing in the worth and value and beauty of every single human on this planet, because we are all made uniquely and beautifully in the image of God, and everyone deserves to be respected as such.

(And, for goodness’s sake, let’s let all the little girls dress up as whoever the heck they want to be for Halloween without dragging suspected racism into it, yeah?)

When we view the Imago dei in its proper light– when identity is found in Christ alone– when we are a million colors and voices, unified in our love of Christ and our kingdom citizenship?

That, my friends, is when racism ends and true equality begins.

And it is an absolutely beautiful sight to get a glimpse of here on earth in the lives of believers. Heaven’s going to be even better, and I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to praise Jesus with everyone for eternity.

It’s like the lyrics of one of the loveliest songs say:

“It’s the song of the redeemed
Rising from the African plain
It’s the song of the forgiven
Drowning out the Amazon rain

The song of Asian believers
Filled with God’s holy fire
It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a grateful choir

It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

Let it rise about the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground

Of all the songs sung from the dawn of creation
Some were meant to persist
Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples
None rings truer than this

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they’ve just heard
‘Cause all the powers of darkness
Can’t drown out a single word

When all God’s children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
All God’s people singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns”

// Newsboys, “He Reigns” (emphasis mine) //

Let’s keep this eternal perspective in the midst of the strife and division that’s plaguing our country today, yeah?

Thanks for reading, and thanks also for not wanting to rip my head off after doing so. (Hopefully.) And Happy Halloween/Reformation Day/Socially Acceptable Cosplay Day!

Love always, Em