Give a Little Love

“And if you share with your heart, you give with your heart. What you share with the world is what it keeps of you.”

This past week, I’ve had gratitude on my mind. It’s a theme that has continued following me since Valentine’s Day. The lyrics above are the last haunting words from the song Give a Little Love by Noah and the Whale. The advice deeply resonated with me in a week of candy hearts, fancy cards, and material gifts – when it’s easy to get caught up in the symbolism of Valentine’s Day instead of celebrating the love and generosity in our world.

J and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together as an official, hand-holding, mutual relationship couple (insert smitten, googly eyes here). Back in our college days (and the first time we dated, for those who don’t know our story), we were spring chickens you might say. We had been on a few coffee and dinner dates, but still shied away from jumping in headfirst to the cliché couple routine of Valentine’s Day. Today, I have a lot of gratitude that God allowed His plan to unfold for both of us, all in sweet time, making this first Valentine’s Day that much more special.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Growing up, February 14th was truly celebrated in my family. As children, my sisters and I made boxes for cards that we displayed at school. I always took serious care in selecting my cards to give classmates. I can remember waking up to special breakfasts of French toast, bacon, and fresh strawberries. Flowers would always decorate the table at home. Every year, my mom gave us small gifts and receiving them in college when I was homesick for my family made it such a treat. Every Valentine’s Day, I felt so loved. This national holiday wasn’t just for relationships full of love and passion. It was a day to celebrate all the relationships in your life – from the big to the small. Looking back, I’m so thankful my parents taught me the concept of gratitude during this time.

Cultivating relationships is difficult, especially as an adult. I made the decision to move away from Kansas nearly five months ago, and I miss my friends and my family every single day. I’m so appreciative of the channels of connection that exist in our modern world – from phone calls, snapchats, Face Time, and Skype. I know those I love are just a few minutes away. While learning how to do long-distance friendships, I have learned that gratitude is the heart of love. If love is a flower in bloom, gratitude is the soil that allows the roots to be nourished. Without appreciation and thankfulness, I would not be able to sustain the love that connects my friends and family.

As I sat in a restaurant Tuesday with J across from me, I was reminded why it is so important to show everyone you meet gratitude. We were at a local, downtown restaurant with the mountains in the backdrop. With delicious food and my favorite guy across from me, I was a happy camper all evening. In happenstance, we were seated very close to the front door and snugly between a few different couples. Together, one of our favorite things to do is to observe the room, catching snippets of conversation and discovering the stories of those around us. J and I couldn’t help but overhearing multiple fights between couples. We even listened as the couple next to us refused their food and were arguing with the waitstaff at the restaurant. As we left the building that evening (on our way to the best dessert a girl could ask for – Dairy Queen Blizzards), I linked arms with J and felt a deep sense of gratitude envelop me. My evening was so much more enjoyable because I chose to focus on everything and everyone I loved on Valentine’s Day.

Every single person you meet has a history, a good and a bad one. You might not know their story, but it does deserve to be told. Despite struggle, despite imperfections, and despite fear of the unknown, every single person you encounter is worthy of love. I’m so thankful that from an early age, I was taught that relationships matter. The respect and gratitude you give others, those who are your best friends and those you encounter in a single event, says so much about you.

“You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown

My hope for the rest of your February is that you find time to give a little love to those around you. Give it in big ways. Give it in small ways. This year, I worked hard to hand-write personal notes to send to those I love. A little, old-fashioned snail mail was my way of reminding those around me that they mattered and I have a deep sense of gratitude each time I think of them in my life. Even in small encounters, at coffeeshops or restaurants, I have learned that you can make someone’s day be being appreciative. If you allow your daily mindset to focus on gratitude and the joys of a thankful heart, imagine all the people you can impact (and all the evenings you could really enjoy).

Cheers,

Taylor

Advertisements

Gifts

Happy New Year, dear reader!

I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting this time of year. As the old year begins to turn to new, I’ve taken time to watch my friends and family and notice just how taxing this past year has been. Our 2016 was a banner year for anxiety, stress, and all-around burnout. It’s no surprise to me that many want to see the sun set on this past year and just forget about it. The elections, the harsh lens of the media, the wars, and hateful mindsets caused a great deal of heartache this year. Throughout the year, I started a nasty habit of running. (No, I don’t mean the “nasty” habit of being healthy by physically running. I’m honestly expressing this essence inside of me to run away from conflict, internal and external.) This year, I found myself turning away from hard conversations instead of leaning in, in order to save what I thought was my own sanity. The more I think about my past year, the more it is plain to see that I should have been turning in, not turning away, appreciating the gifts in my life and precious time I had been given.

But, despite my own personal struggles, I think 2016 gained a bit of a faulty reputation. With all the hardships, good did come from this year. It was a year of learning, growing, and changing. The beginning of January always makes me think of the start of a new day—a sun rising up over a pale, blue horizon, shifting a world of darkness to one of golden light, and brightly illuminating the path ahead. My birthday falls only 3 days into January, and with the ending of a year of my life, I always think of the beginning of one ahead. This year, I’m entering my quarter-century mark. 25. On my birthday, I didn’t feel a slight bit of panic when thinking of the laugh-lines I recently discovered on my face or the fact that I can barely start a morning without coffee. Instead, I felt relaxed and took a little time to turn inward, thinking more importantly about the changes of my own past year. Reflecting on former experiences is necessary to have progress in the future.

indian-peaks

My 2016 was a whirlwind. Even at the first of the year, it became apparent that this was the year for changes. I committed to leave a job that I was passionate about without plans for the future. Throughout the year, I felt frantic while trying to balance my career, my friendships, and my personal life. More space in my heart was taken up by a boy who lived over 500 miles away, which felt like a world of distance at the time. Suddenly, in a flash of time, summer came and I was in a relationship head first, leaving a job, and traveling to Europe without any upcoming career plans in the span of two months.

And then Autumn came. Just like the leaves change, I made changes too. I made a move and settled into a life I wanted to savor. I was fortunate to find a position that captured my interest and let me dive deeper into my strengths. My setting shifted and I headed west for the Rocky Mountains, which I am fortunate to see every day. As time passed, I began to establish roots by connecting to my church, exploring and hiking, and making more friends. Not to mentioned I began life-lessons in budgeting, paying bills, and “adulting”. But I learned that changes can strike even when you least expect it. I lost a dear friend to me, one whom I didn’t have time to say goodbye to or remind him of how much I respected him.

group-photo

I met Kyle at the beginning of 2015, and though I didn’t know him long, he left a legacy on my soul. While meeting him, I knew I wasn’t at my best. My heart was overwrought, and I often felt off-balance and overwhelmed. I spent more time on myself instead of being a good friend to others. But in spite of all of this, Kyle was my friend. He invested in me simply by including me and listening to what was on my mind. In the two short years I knew him, Kyle was a blessing. He was truly one of the first Godly men I had ever encountered. His fierce love for Christ, passion for civic engagement, and genuine laughter impacted so many. He simply radiated enthusiasm when sharing about his love for Christ, from spending time in China on a missionary trip to being at the center of a college campus. In addition to all of this, what truly made Kyle unique, was his genuine ability to just be. His laughter lit up a room and he always gave you his full attention. During any task for work at K-State’s Department of New Student Services, be it welcoming new students on to campus or fixing a schedule for day, he was fully engaged. I admire Kyle so much because in every moment I watched him soaking up his precious gifts of life and time, cultivating an atmosphere that glorified Christ. He knew what God had intended for his life and he utilized every moment to be a reflection of that plan. A few months before he died, Kyle marked his earthly body with a tattoo as a reminder of God’s hopes for him. The word GO painted his side was for Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In his time and his life, you knew Kyle’s call to action was for Christ, and I know he was welcomed back with opened arms the day he returned to Heaven.

After saying goodbye to my friend Kyle, I’m not ready to let go of the legacy he left behind. I want to live a life more like Kyle. While 2016 was full of changes, I’m ready for this new beginning to take place in my heart. Here’s my 2017 and 25th year manifesto:

I want to be braver. I want to handle the messes with grace instead of panic. I want to learn that it’s okay to lean on others, have the hard conversations, and grow closer. I want to savor time and open my life to change.

This year, I’ve learned that life and time are precious gifts. They aren’t always wrapped up in beautiful layers for you to unfold, tied up with a neat ribbon, organized in a precious pile that’s Instagram-worthy. Sometimes they can appear ugly. Maybe they look like time you don’t really have, money you can’t spend, or resources that feel wasteful. Recycled wrapping paper, crumpled bags, or simple brown paper packages tied up with string. But let me just declare this – I can’t wait to unwrap these presents. I will make them my favorites, carry them in my pockets, pull them out every single day and look upon in wonder. Life and Time are to be savored.

Cheers,

Taylor

Taking Off the Mask

I’m a big fan of Halloween. That’s putting it lightly, and any of my friends and family reading this will know the truth. From my childhood trick-or-treating years to current days of binge-watching Hocus Pocus, I absolutely adore this holiday – the costumes, the candy, the pumpkins—all of it. In preschool, I was able to pick out my costume for the very first time. Being the indecisive Disney-loving girl that I am, I choose a unique combo of Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Even after I passed age 3, I obsessed over potential outfit ideas when October 31st rolled around. A 50’s girl costume, a Karate Kid, and a homemade Glinda the Good Witch costume courtesy of my Grandma Jo (my all-time favorite, by the way) – so many options! Would the kids in my class like it? Should I have a backup plan in case things didn’t turn out right? What if someone else had the same idea?

Of course, with the passing of Halloween, another large event in the United States loomed on the dim, autumn horizon. This year brought around an election year, and a big one. Mere days after a joyful celebration and countless smiling children, Americans made the very serious decisions on the future leaders of this country. And as I watched countless debates leading up to November 8th, I couldn’t help but notice the scary similarities between Halloween and Election Day. No, I’m not talking about a pants-suit costume or frightening foreign policy. I’m talking about masks. They were everywhere this year. And I find this more haunting than any horror movie, zombie costume, or terrifying corn maze. I know I’m not alone in this observation. This year, the country lacked authentic, genuine candidates to stand behind on the national level. With the attack ads playing over the television on an hourly basis, values and character were brought into question constantly. Malicious words were exchanged. Vicious rumors were spread from all angles. In an election when we should have been celebrating two huge milestones on both sides—the first female presidential candidate and the first presidential candidate without a career in politics – the entire country was tearing each other apart. It was in the media and it was at your dinner table. People were obsessed with the identity of the two party nominees. And here’s the core of it all – did we truly even know who they were? With the chaos surrounding the election, did we learn anything truly real about their characters? All I saw were masks, left and right, hiding the truth from a country that deserves better. My heart hurts just thinking about the mess.

I promise this post will not get political. You don’t need to know who I voted for or what I thought about the results. What you do need to know, and what I think you already know, is that this country is in desperate need of authentic leaders. People who are willing to show up and be seen for who they truly are. People who are trustworthy, kind, and generous souls. People who are willing to admit when they have made a mistake, instead of pointing fingers. People who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic. People who are ready to get rid of the mask. I know they exist because I see them every day. They are my friends and my neighbors. They are my family members and my co-workers.  They are the men and women next to me in church. They are the people I saw walking out of the polls, smiling because they made an impact in the democratic process and they had hope. I see you. I know you are there. Thank you. My prayer is that you will continue these good deeds whole-heartedly in the future.

dsc_0118

Last year, I had a close friend recommend a book to me about taking off the masks. Scary Close by Donald Miller is a book that touched me deep down in my core. By reading this book, I learned to show up and be seen for who I truly am. I learned to drop my mask to the floor and let the curtain close on my act that I’ve been holding tight, using as a defense mechanism for nearly my entire life. I’ve passed this book onto others numerous times because it needs to be shared. It’s one of those change your life books. And I couldn’t think of a better time to encourage people to live authentically than the day after such a disturbing election. Miller opens his book with an Author’s Note and words that resonate and haunt me today. “Somebody once told me we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us” (xv).

While his writing unfolded, I discovered that although Donald Miller’s memoir is focused on his life-long struggle with empathy and fear, he has a message that truly resonates with every reader.

Your story is worth telling.

It may be easier to hide who you are, cloak yourself in a costume, or put on a mask every day. But I believe that each of us, by the grace of God, is loved and can be loved authentically. The very idea that Christ could redeem us speaks to the fact that you have a right to show up and be truly known. Of course, like two hands locked in prayer, that vulnerability brings shame and fear. Shame is probably one of the scariest words in the English language. It’s the reason I wear a mask or put on an act. In Chapter 3 of his story, Miller opens up about his own shame and the true root of where it began. Reading his words titled, “Everybody’s Got a Story and It’s Not the One They’re Telling”, I felt emotions begin to pour out of me when I remembered instances of shame and fear from my own childhood. It’s despairing to think about, that at a pivotal point in our lives, we were conditioned to believe that something about us was so inherently wrong that we needed to over-compensate.

Miller pushes this idea even further in the very next chapter, “Why Some Animals Make Themselves Look Bigger Than They Are”, by recognizing that when each of us put on a mask, we are believing in shame. Deep down, something whispers, you are not good enough. As human beings, we have a reflex to distract others from who we are at our core. It’s like seeing a bear while you’re out hiking on a trail in the mountains. (Thankfully, I’ve never actually experienced this. However, one can imagine the scenario and bone-chilling fear.) The silence in is deafening. Even though you are thinking, oh my god I’m going to die today, you are supposed to puff out your chest like a big rooster. Double your size. Make that gigantic bear, or any antagonist for that matter, forget who you really are. We put on a mask because we think that is what makes us worth loving. Maybe then people won’t see that we aren’t good enough. Maybe then people won’t know who we are at the core. If someone hears about our job, our big move, our new car, our upcoming vacation, they won’t be able to find this inherently wrong thing that we carry. We use this theory like a social crutch and I often hear myself making the same mistakes. Validation is intoxicating, and it will always be easier to talk about success than failure, fear, or shame.

Hope still sustains me, though. As I think more about the chapters in Scary Close, the more they truly highlight be pain all around our world today. Just look at the two chapter titles I referenced above. They immediately bring to mind the national election that was so publicly broadcasted and paraded before us the entire year of 2016. But I’ve seen the work this book has done for others. I know I’ve witnesses the change this book has brought out in me. By taking a chance and recognizing the shame that I carry in my life, I’ve opened myself to a beautiful idea. If Christ could love me enough as I truly am, for my authentic and genuine and shameful self, the world might be able to do that, too. For revolutionary change, we need others to recognize this idea. In the future, I know that I am looking for leaders who will take off the masks, and I am praying that this day comes soon.

“I began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed” (35).

Cheers,

Taylor

Summer Convictions

Summer always seems to bring moments of change into my life. You know those moments in the first days of summer? You start to regret when having to walk far distances, and parking lots of black tar quickly become comparable to the Sahara Desert. Those moments when air starts to press so hard on you that you have to gasp in order to fill up your lungs with oxygen? In a similar way, it seems that I find a need to fill up my life with new things in these first moments of summer. My soul begins to gasp for a fresh start. Fitzgerald, in his famous novel on the human fascination with the glittering and unfamiliar, brilliantly describes this strange need for change that grows in my heart.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Life has started new in so many different ways during the summer. Typically, summer brings back fond memories of melting ice cream, catching fireflies in my backyard, and baseball games. But my memories always look back to include major moments of change. When I started to prepare for life transitions, they always occurred during the summer. As a child, I went through the major life step of piercing my ears during the summer, as not to interfere with playing sports during the school year. Before entering high school, I remember spending time at my hometown’s basketball courts, talking about the next four years ahead of me with older friends. I made the hot trip to Manhattan, Kansas in the middle of August heat – my poor father sweating up 8 flights of stairs as he moved my mini fridge, (many) clothes, and books into a college residence hall. I traveled to Scotland alone. I started a new job after my college graduation. For me, summer has always brought on change, more so than any new year date on a calendar ever has.

With the months of June and July slowly passing me by, lingering like a Summer Solstice sun high in the sky, I’ve realized this summer will bring on more change than perhaps ever in my life. I’m quickly approaching the new opportunity for a career change. I’ve thought about a major location change. I have a boyfriend (and that is such a fun word to say after 3 years. So fun, in fact, that I’m working on another post just to speak to the adjustment of sharing a life with someone after spending so much time guarding my heart.) I just returned home from a big transatlantic trip with my baby sister. I also am feeling my own soul start to change in a way that is new to me, as I look to Christ to guide me through these times and let go of control.

I’ve always looked to keep things very personal on this blog, focused on making a deep connection rather than sharing a lifestyle, and I hope to continue doing that in the future. The past few months, I’ve found myself searching for silence all around me. I couldn’t seem to stop the chatter from my mouth or my brain or my heart. It’d be easy to tell you that I’d been able to breathe deeply, finding strength in God and my family and friends, but anxiety followed me like a shadow. Even the last couple of weeks, my feet wandering up and down the cobblestones of the British Isles, my heart felt a little restless. I hadn’t taken the time to just sit and let it be. My next few weeks will bring a little necessary stillness in my life. I’m looking forward to taking time to decompress – breathe out – and prepare myself for changes ahead. My summer convictions moving forward are to take time to really still myself to listen to God’s plans for me, understand and think about my life recently, and look forward to the future. I can’t wait to share more of my travels, musings, and what’s ahead on my horizon with you.

 

DSC_0054

Cheers!

-Taylor

The Hiatus

Salutations! Remember that one time I went over six months without writing? Ouch. Me too, and trust me, I’m cringing just thinking about the time that flew away from me. I wish I could approach this situation with a plethora of excuses for my behavior. But, to be completely honest, it was simply my own writer’s block and the everyday grind that kept me away. A lot can happen in six months, but in the passing time, I’ve focused on my work and my travel the most. I’ve also had some beneficial time to develop my leadership and focus on building relationships. Yet, when I think about my original intentions with this blog, my writing was focused on Martha Graham’s words – “a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” My goal is to return to this statement, and keep myself going in times of transformation. I’m quickly approaching a season of change, like every new professional. While I may not know exactly what my future holds, I’ve chosen to focus in on a few important things.

Courage, Peace, and Grace

When I think of my plans and desires for my life, this motto is like the compass guiding my heart. There may be many choices ahead, but I have the ability to control my future actions and the way I react to change. Those three little things – courage, peace, and grace—will help me in any trial. This, with a focus on “a blessed unrest” would be my idea of a perfect balance. And, I may sway and stumble like a newbie trying out yoga for the first time. Call it my attempt at a Tree Pose without stretching for a whole six months. So be it. Here I am. This girl is breathing deeply, her face towards the sun.

Even typing these words, it feels good to be back. I’m hoping to share a few of my adventures during my hiatus soon. In the meantime, have a happy three-day weekend friends. May you all find your “balance”!

DSC_0144

Cheers!

Taylor

My 6 Summer Essentials

Summer—a time of sunshine, longer days, pools, and popsicles—brings on a bit of a love/hate relationship for me. On my love list is grilling with friends, fresher fruits and veggies, patios, the return of our farmer’s market, reading on the lawn, and evening walks. With a list like that, it’s hard to think of the “hate”. But sunshine causes sunburns, longer days cause less sleep, and warm weather causes the endless search for comfy shoes.

This year, after lots of summer loving and hating, I finally have a list of 6 essentials that make the transition to warmer weather that much easier.

DSC_0117

  1. Starting with the sun hat, let’s take a moment to guard those pretty little locks from one of the best bleaches known to mankind. While I love natural highlights as much as the next girl, nothing hurts worse than a red scalp, and nothing looks worse than the red starting to flake away later. Floppy, straw hats immediately bring to mind sweet memories of my grandma hard at work in her garden. They also provide great coverage at the pool for me! This number is from last season at Gap, but I am loving the variety of sun hats Nordstrom has up on their website! (You can browse here: http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-sun-hats?origin=leftnav)
  2. Warm weather brings lots of cute shoe options, but more struggles in that department for me. I love a great sandal, but straps and flat options don’t always love my feet. After some discomfort in my arches, I’ve discovered shoes with a little wedge and soft leather are my best bet! I love a great wedge that is flexible, like these pictured from Marshall’s. A very similar pair can be found from Land’s End (http://www.landsend.com/pp/StylePage-440724_AL.html?CM_MERCH=REC-_-FPPP-_-GGT-_-3-_-440724-_-437947) now on sale now for $33!
  3. Please allow me to step on my soap-box for this next product. I cannot stress the importance of skin care enough, especially during the summer. For me, sunscreen has become an essential part of my daily routine. With a family history of skin cancer, I am so cautious about protecting myself from the sun. However, finding the right product for your face is always challenging. Neutrogena has made things extremely convenient for consumers by providing a huge variety (including my favorite, Clear Face at SPF 55). No more sunburns and oily skin for this girl! A few pro-tips about sunscreen—most dermatologists recommend at least an SPF 30 for patients, and always be sure to reapply if you expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day.
  4. During the summer, I love keeping my face fresh but hate the fuss of a ton of makeup. This C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve sold at Bath & Body Works (http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2726822) is great for relaxing, low maintenance days. The pink tint looks great, while the product keeps my lips super soft! Throw this on with some water-proof mascara and you’re set for a Saturday of running errands.
  5. With summer comes our exciting training program at work, and my “To-Do” list becomes a mile long. I never thought I’d become someone who relishes checking something off a list, but there’s a huge feeling of accomplishment that comes from it! Being an individual who loves “organized chaos”, I tend to lose small sticky notes very easily. This yellow notebook was a gift from a friend, and it sure does come in handy as I keep running notes on work and other agenda items! You can find adorable stationary, like this one, from one of my favorite companies, Rifle Paper Co. (https://riflepaperco.com/).
  6. The long days of summer bring long nights for me, too. I’m enjoying time with friends and finding more time to take walks in the evening. It also means I still need an extra kick to keep going in the morning. As most of you know, I am a huge coffee addict. Black, latte, or frapped—I drink it all. My most recent grocery store discovery has me addicted to Starbuck’s Iced Coffee. Why is this so great? I love iced coffee at home, but hate the watered-down taste ice leaves behind. I simply chill this, and it tastes so much smoother! My favorite thing to do is add some skim milk and caramel drizzle for a sweeter flavor.

With these items, I’m hoping to stay grateful for this season and move more items to my “love” list. As Ben Rector says, “Thank God for the Summertime”.

Cheers!

Taylor

The House that Built Me

“I come from a lonely place, adjacent to a lesser traveled highway, where most folks would call the middle of nowhere. A weary, exhausted sign sits at the entrance announcing an important presence to the world—that of the town itself. The wood of the sign is so beaten and raw that the once bright coat of yellow paint has faded to an embarrassing shade of nonexistence. The wind has faded bold letters into the slats of the sign, and population numbers which have since dropped are no longer visible. There seems to be no pride in the sign any longer for none have bothered to replace it during my lifetime. Yet, it is the slogan “A school to crow about. A town to crow about” that has made the sign increasingly popular as target practice for rebellious teens, making late night rendezvous with egg cartons.”

House

I wrote this passage nearly a year ago, allowing the words about a special place in my heart to flow through me. In them, I found a way to return to the place that built me into the person I have become. Further more, through these words, I was able to harness my passion for writing in a way that was more real for me than it had ever been. I could talk about it—this place—my home.

My family would tell you that I have a very hard time with change. I enjoy certain characteristics about never doing anything the same way, but let’s be real. I hate change, especially when it occurs in a personal part of my life. When I was a child, I can remember bursting into tears when my parents were announcing they were selling our beloved, ancient mini-van. At the age of 12, my father and grandfather made the decision to stop working with cattle on our farm. And for some bizarre reason, these decisions (which realistically had very little negative impact on my life) crushed me. So, last summer when my parents announced they were building a new home in a different town, a huge (very stubborn) part of me had a hard time accepting their decision.

Inside my quiet town where people choose to live and die within the same zip code, there is the house that built me. This house stands at the edge of town, and has been through a few changes in the past ten years—new paint, larger porches, and flowerbeds that have been fully redone. If you were driving though this town with no stoplights, you could often catch us outside on the porch swing curled up with a thick book or enjoying dinner together when the weather was nice. Behind the house is an acre large backyard where we would play softball during the summer. (My sisters will tell you that I “attempted” to play softball.) My dad hung a swing from a tree branch close to the house that will sway lazily in the breeze. Our yellow lab, Molly, would bark needily from the pen when she could spot us. I had my first real kiss on the picnic bench that sits in front of the house. And before I could even fully read, I wrote my alphabet on the side of the house in ink and the letters stayed there for fifteen years, the backwards “E” engraved on the foundations that couldn’t be weathered by time.

If you walk up the front steps, you’ll see the door that I slammed so many mornings before walking across the street to school. I can still hear my mom shouting after me, “Don’t slam the door!” The force shakes the whole front of the house when you swing it that hard. The main floor is characterized by a beloved dining room table where I have held hands for grace, a piano where I have sang with my grandmother, and my parent’s bedroom where I had hard conversations about growing up. On the level above, my sisters and I shared a bedroom for the first half of my life. Maddy and I slept under the same quilt and in the same bed for a few years. Stars that glowed in the dark winked back at us from their spots on the ceiling as we smuggled books upstairs and squinted at them in the dark, trying to read just one more chapter without getting caught. Eventually, I moved into the little bedroom at the front of the upstairs. A place where I would read and write, laugh and cry. My shelter when high school became a tornado of uncertainty.

And then I left. As most children do. But I wasn’t going to come back, not for good, like some do in my hometown. A vision had grown in my mind that it was time to leave, and I was ready for my feet to take me to new places, new sights, and new people. But I missed the place where the stars shined at night brighter than any place I’ve ever seen. I missed the beautiful, comforting sight of a nearby town’s lights shining from forty miles away. And I certainly missed the people that would raise their hands up in greeting when you drive by, even if they didn’t recognize your car.

There is a place in my house where you can see the etching of time, marked out clearly and sharply by my parent’s hands. Starting from the bottom of a baseboard in our laundry room, you will see tiny, intricate marks of pencil. They tick up slowly with initials and dates marked up. At a point, the initials MM pass TM. KM surpasses all, but will never hit above 6 foot. CM wants to go beyond TM, but I don’t think she ever will. A few extra initials line the board that might have left lives, but are able to remain part of the house, too. The house built the girls. The house built me. You can see it there in my laundry room. And even though I’m grown up and the marks might have stopped, it created the foundation for who I am today.

I am beyond thankful for the house and the town that built me into the woman I am today. Without the experiences I had, my entire life would be incredibly different. I learned patience when working with others in my hometown. I learned to be compassionate to those who may not have enough. I learned to listen to those around me and fight for what I thought was right. Although it’s hard to think about returning home to a different place, I know that those marks will be part of my home forever and engraved in my soul.

IMG_0654

Cheers,

Taylor

The Thirteenth Year: A Letter to my Sister

You knew this was coming, so there’s no need for a salutation to begin. The past week I’ve watched you flit around the house, your lanky arms swinging, ponytail pulling hair tight to your forehead, and laugh peeling through the air when your corgi nips at you on the floor. Your laugh makes me smile. I remember the very first day I saw you, filled with nervous excitement and my bare feet hot on the wood of the front porch in June. A baby’s scream filled the air as they took you from the car because you hated the road. Even then, being cooped up inside tormented you. We celebrated your first year of life that day, nearly a week late. Chocolate cake stained your face, and you crawled so quickly away from the girls and me. But you weren’t shy. You belonged to us.

We used to call you Scout, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish it would have caught on. Maybe it was your freckles, love for the outdoors, and insatiable curiosity. But I think it was your fearlessness, the way you approached anything without hesitation. You would pry living animals, mice or baby bunnies, from the jaws of our dogs and cats, like a young heroine, to rescue them. You ran faster than most boys, and would be so angry when they beat you in races. You, in the summer, set your young eyes on the diving board and went to it like it was calling your name. Confidence still radiates from you, and for that, I am thankful.

If there is one thing that Scout can leave in your soul, I hope it is compassion. Atticus once told the young girl, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” In the years to come, I hope you develop a love for all living things and I hope you have the fearlessness to save those who need it the most. At this point in your life, it is so easy to want to be with those who make you look good and fit into the crowd. But I have been that girl on the edge of the room and I’ve seen plenty of friends suffer after not being included. I know it’s hard, but I hope that you can see through their eyes and extend friendship during these years.

There are those who say the number thirteen is lucky. Thirteen, in my opinion, is one of the toughest years. It builds you up in a wave only to throw you back under the water. Sometimes you feel like you’re isolated, alone and drowning, nothing is clear. Yet, always you will float to the top to see peaceful, calm waters before you. I’ve watched you grow, and all the while I experienced some things in my life that I hope you will not have to. And maybe that’s why I’m worried about you, nervous for what lies ahead.  In the thirteenth year, your emotions provide the violent storms. But boys, they provide the hurricanes. A heat and energy can overwhelm you, causing infinite chaos. Yet you do it all for the short-lived eye of the storm, the calm and serenity of a short burst of happiness.  And then it’s over, and a back wall hits, disaster lasting for weeks, months, even years.

It’s unavoidable. And I will honestly tell you that I don’t regret moments in my life. Even in the wake of destruction, every single hurricane has taught me a lesson. For that, I am immensely grateful to take the things I have learned and create a life-vest to use in the future. These are the things that help you survive. My hope is that when you are hurt, you will take those moments and use them yourself. I hope if you do chose to surrender to a storm, that you pick a boy who respects you. I chose the ones who made me laugh, the ones who were mysterious, or the ones who I thought I could change and understand better than anyone else. And they were wonderful when it was good. But the eye of a storm never lasts—people change, you grow apart, and you want a new direction. I might have suffered in those hurricanes, but they all taught me something for the future. Happiness doesn’t just come from others. The most euphoric moments of my life have been alone. I have felt personal success. I have laughed until I cried. I have traveled the world. Life is sometimes easier without the hurricanes, yes. But I couldn’t survive without them, and I hope you will learn from them, too.

You are stubborn, and it’s a natural trait that is contagious in our family. Willfulness is a blessing and a curse, at times. I hope you will learn soon that our family is so special and unique in the way that we care for each other. Mom and Dad know more than you think they do, and I hope it doesn’t take twenty years of your life to realize this, like it took me. The best lesson I ever learned from them was to never quit something you start. The follow-through has always been something hard for me, but that lesson pushed me to think critically about the work I produced inside and outside the classroom. Go to them when you have questions or need advice. Nobody knows you better than our parents, and nobody finds things out like our parents.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Christmas 2005. Here I am at 13, and you were 4.

People have asked me before if I consider you to be a sister, and I immediately ask, “Compared to what?” You belong to us the way we belong to you. We are tied together. For that reason, I hope you take these words to heart. I hope you find compassion for others during these years, learn to stand on your own, and have the courage to listen. I’m so excited to see where the journey of life takes you, Katie Cat, and I wish you all of the best.

Love,

Tay/Tator Tot

Girl Power: Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and my father?

I’m going to make an honest confession. I really, really enjoy it when a man opens the door open for me. At times, I’ve had friends tell me this gesture is “old-fashioned” and “pointless”. The action still signifies so much respect to me. And, while I’m at it, I also like it when men pay if I’ve been asked out on a date. I don’t mind taking the time to help out with my portion of the check, but some (possibly out-dated) part of me appreciates this courtesy, as well.

So, in the last month, if you were to ask me if I considered myself a feminist, I would scoff at the question. Me? A bra-burning, man-hating, never-shaving feminist? Not in a million years. Or, at least, not until I was able to fully grasp what the term feminism truly meant. In the past few months, I have been jolted into fast-forward with my life. I started a career, learned to travel independently, and have attempted acclimate to pressure associated with the world of a 20-somethings. Throughout my entire life, I have never understood what feminism stood for because I lived in a sheltered sphere of small-town, rural America. A feminist, in my hometown and even at my university, had become a radical symbol and I hated any association with it. Recently, I have come to believe that it wasn’t just my little bubble that had misjudged the word—it was the entire world.

Feminist [fem-uh-nist]— (adj.) a person advocating social, political, and economical rights for women equal to those of men.

This definition, along with three other people, has led me to question my own stance on the word feminism and also the movement of gender equality. Because I believe that women should be granted the same privileges and respect that men are afforded, I now have realized that I am, indeed, a feminist. I would like to take the time to share the three people in the last few months that have pushed me towards this deduction—Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and (yes, just like the title says) my father.

Emma Watson: Hermione takes a stand

Recently, a video has been going around of Emma Watson, famous British actress who delivered a scathing call to action to the United Nations. Watson was recently appointed a goodwill ambassador for UN Women, meaning that her job title is now to be a voice for women in the world. She’s been active in numerous other campaigns, especially the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement after 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by an Islamic militant group.

On September 20th, Watson addressed the world at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Her request for change begins with challenging all genders to consider ending  gender inequality. Watson was speaking for the UN’s latest campaign, HeforShe, a mobilization encouraging both men and women to feel free from gender expectations and prejudice.

I’m abundantly amazed and proud of the audience she has reached. This has been shared countless times on my Facebook wall and the Twittersphere is all aflutter with the hashtag “HeforShe”. The actress who I once identified as my nerdy spirit animal in the Harry Potter films had me identifying with her once again. This time, my heart opened as she spoke of her growth as woman and the realization that she has been treated differently by society her entire life. And I cried when she confessed that being called bossy as a child hurt because, oh, did I empathize with that. I want to expect that my children, sons or daughters, will grow up in a world where they are treated equally, in America or any other country, despite their gender. My hope is that people will continue sharing this video and will take the time to research more into the campaign. And of course, my deepest dream is that the UN will reach their goal of having a billion men committing to this advocacy.

Sheryl Sandberg: More than surface level

On one of my recent longer car rides, I made the decision to buy the audiobook Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook. This was really my first encounter with the idea of feminism, and I loved the fact that Sandberg took the time to correlate statistics with personal stories about her own journey in the professional world. Sandberg is one of the few women in the world to occupy an elite group of executives at the top. She frequently mentions how apparent it is to her that half of all the competition in this group isn’t even there. Where have all the women gone?

Why? Why aren’t more women leaders in this world? This can’t simply be attributed to sexism in the workforce any longer. Mad Men isn’t a reality, and man, am I thankful for that. While I do believe that in some places women do face subtle or extreme prejudice every day, I do not experience this at all and believe that such action is not tolerated in most environments. Sandberg hits the nail right on the head when she cites in her book that for women, our own sex and ourselves, even, are our worst enemies. I was called bossy as a child repeatedly and not just for being the oldest of four girls. As someone who deeply values personal relationships, these words have continued to sting all of my life.

Yet, how many times do I find myself bashing other women for coming across as too direct or rude? I’m ashamed to admit that the answer is a higher number than I wish. Human nature is competitive, but as women, we should learn to embrace and support each other throughout the journey. Now, I am motivated to encourage others before I react negatively. These words especially are hand-in-hand with the idea that women are more prone to self-doubt and continue to doubt their own abilities. Sandberg shared a story in her book about two women who physically refused to join the table with men at an executive meeting despite their right to sit there. In my deepest internal thoughts, I am constantly questioning my actions and words because, sometimes, I feel that I am not enough. It’s so easy to realize why these women felt they didn’t belong at the table. If we, as women, continue to question and discourage each other, women will be impacted by a vicious cycle of apprehension for their entire life and career. We deserve to sit at the table and enjoy each other’s company.

I would like to encourage you to research Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. You can watch her TED talk titled “Why we have too few women leaders” here: http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders?language=en#t-173888

My Father: A Home with Five Females and One Bathroom

While so many women refuse to join the table at an executive meeting, a number of women are hesitant to even enter the building. Sandberg also addressed the idea that this self-doubt impact women’s choices for career. We second-guess our every move we make from a very early age, and I think this starts with our own families. A few days ago, I listened as a nineteen year old girl told me she changed her major from Pre-Health because she “wanted to be able to have a family and settle down”. She didn’t even have this family yet, but she was already trying to make accommodations and sacrificing her dream.

But I have been lucky enough to grow up in a family where I was encouraged to understand there were so many possibilities for my future. My sisters and I considered infinite amounts of careers, from ballerina to microbiologist, because we were encouraged to be our own person, not our gender. I’ve always referred to my parents as a team as they raised us. My mother had a major change of career when I was about ten years old, and my father embraced this idea and worked with my mother to reach this goal. She went from being a stay-at-home mom to owning her own business, and I am always inspired by her motivation, tenacity, and effort to balance time at home.

I’m thankful, additionally, that my father has embraced having four daughters every day of his life. And that is really difficult on a Sunday morning when we are all home, jockeying for a little mirror time in the bathroom that we all share, scrambling to make it to church on time. We were pushed just as hard as a boy would be to have a successful education and career. I was encouraged to pursue my passion in English Literature and never persuaded to consider a different path. Because my father is a man who supports women and remains a constant guide in my own life, I know that my horizon is limitless. He talks about the things we are interested in (that includes football and rock music), and really invests in who we are as individuals. My hope is that other men will support this attitude like my own father, especially in countries where few basic rights are provided to women and a father is the only voice she has.

Dad and I 2

I’m inspired by Emma Watson to embrace the word feminism. I’m grateful to Sheryl Sandberg for providing better insight into my own role as a female professional. Mostly, I’m thankful to my father for being a HeforShe before it was even a campaign and for encouraging me every baby step of the way.

So, here goes nothing. I am a feminist.

Taylor

Scotland Decides: The Voices

One of my favorite college experiences occurred just last summer when I studied abroad in Scotland. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that I adored the opportunity to travel and explore different cultures. I chose to study abroad in Scotland for a variety of reasons, but mainly it is because my family migrated from there generations ago and I have always felt strongly interested in Scottish nationality. There still stands a MacLellan Castle in the small town of Kirkcudbright in the southwestern region of Dumfries and Galloway, which I got to tour with a few friends. When one of my friends jokingly told the tour guide that it was “my” castle, he laughed and told me I should try paying the taxes on it for the past hundred years. While he was very kind like every person I met on my trip, Scottish pride clearly ran thick through this man’s veins.

When we were in Scotland, a movement was just beginning. I was studying at the University of Stirling, located nearby Edinburgh and Glasgow, and booths were beginning to pop up in the streets advertising “Vote Yes”. One night, I remember my room-mates coming home late and bringing a friend from the local area. I decided to ask her about the vote and what her opinion was on it. She was very young, just started studying at the university last year, but I was so impressed by her own understanding of the vote and what it would actually mean for her country to separate from the United Kingdom. Like many others who took a stand, as shown by the results a few days ago (55.3 to 44.7), she wanted to vote no to independence. Her main reasoning dealt with Scotland’s economy and, according to her, the inability to provide some services which would be necessary for an independent country. She believed they needed to remain in the UK, and I grew to support and agree with this decision over the course of this past year.

I also remember my surprise when I found out that people younger than this college aged girl were allowed to vote on the issue. A special on NPR captured my attention last week as I was visiting a few high schools in Southeast, KS. They were interviewing 16 and 17 years old high school students in Scotland who had recently gained this right to voice their opinion. A major question on the minds of many revolved around the maturity of this generation who now held power in their hands. I laughed out loud as a girl stated, “It’s not just about pop culture here anymore. We don’t just talk about One Direction. People think just because we’re young that we’re stupid, but we have real opinions. We talk about the economy and politics now.” She was so right. I think many people doubt and underestimate the youth in this world, and I experience this every day. Earlier this summer, I remember being pleasantly surprised when I met a number of high school students who seemed very driven and motivated about the future. But now I’ve realized, when young students find something they are passionate about, they are maybe even more inspired than some of the adults that I know because they realize that they can be part of change and that matters to them.

My takeaway from the Scottish vote for independence revolves around so much more than just the outcome of their decision to remain in the United Kingdom. Last year, I had the opportunity to be part of the beginning of a movement, the exploration of change. I’m still amazed every day that I have the opportunity to interact with young people who are beginning to do the same thing. It’s is overwhelming that 16 and 17 year olds have the opportunity to make life-changing decisions in other countries. But I see this happening every day as students are trying to decide their own fate and beginning a journey for themselves. It is wonderful to be part of change—big or small, in Scotland or my own state, political or personal. And I’m very thankful to witness these voices. One of my favorite quotes is from the Disney animated movie called Brave which takes place in Scotland, and I think that so many 16 and 17 year olds around the world emulate these words. “There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.”

photo (2)

My favorite things: Wildcats and Scotland

Slange (or cheers in Gaelic, the Celtic language of Scotland),

Taylor