Saturday, July 28, 2012

What Not to Do to Make Your Blog Great

I'm noticing a trend on this blog: I tend to write about things I'm not really an expert in. Like dating. And figuring out your career. So today I'm going to write about another topic that I really can't call myself an expert in: blogging! I just started this blog this year and I know I'm nowhere near an expert. But it's something I enjoy experimenting with and I've learned a lot of new things along the way.

Lots of bloggers produce those lists of "things you should do to build a better blog," and they usually boil down to consistently writing high-quality content that people will not only want to read, but will also feel compelled to share. While that's good to know, that's easier said than done, isn't it? Blogging is hard work. And it can be hard to build a new blog from the ground up--I think some new bloggers get totally discouraged because they think if they were already well-known before they started blogging, they would have had 594, 657 page views by now! But a lot of us have no choice but to blog anonymously (for me, it's because right now I've decided my writing needs to be kept separate from my law career), and so we have to have our writing speak for itself since most people don't know the person behind the keyboard.

That said, sometimes it's easier to know what NOT to do than to have a checklist to follow when starting up a new blog. So without further ado, here's my list of what not to do to make your blog fantastic:
  • Make your writing as whiny and full of complaints and negativity as possible. Don't just make it an occasional post--constantly write about your pet peeves and how frustrated you are with life and how everything makes you grumpy. (I know some people whose blogs really are like this--not too fun to read!)
  • Make sure that your blog is not user-friendly at all. Have it be completely cluttered with gadgets and ads, and make sure people aren't going to have a clue how to post comments, or where to find the archives.
  • Disable all comments so that no one can respond to your posts (exception: sometimes doing this once in awhile for particular posts is necessary). But the point of a blog is conversation and interaction with your community of readers. A blog should be the Internet version of a coffee shop, not a lecture hall. People want to be able, metaphorically, to get their caramel macchiato and be invited to stay and chat for awhile.
  • Be sure to write only once every few weeks or months. (Most people take unproductive blogs off their Google Reader subscriptions pretty fast, unless the content is so good that it makes it worth a long wait.)
  • Give up when it's been 6 months and your stats indicate that you still only have 6.7 readers. For one, many, if not most, readers use RSS feeds or follow blogs by email, so the times they are reading may not be included in your statistics. What's more, Google Analytics shouldn't destroy your self-esteem. Write if it brings you joy, no matter who reads or who doesn't.
  • Never write about anything remotely controversial. While you don't need to feel compelled to dive into political, social, and moral debates all the time, contributing to big debates is one thing that will make people want to read your work.
  • Only pull material from others (like quotes and links) without ever producing any of your own.
  • Never edit your posts.
  • Never comment on other people's blogs or websites.
  • Lose sight of why you're keeping a blog in the first place. Why this is something you should NOT do: you've got to remember your ultimate goals with blogging so you'll stay motivated to keep doing it even when it's difficult. I write to inspire other people, to glorify God, and because it's something I love to do.
New bloggers: what has (and hasn't) worked for you? Where do you find blogging motivation/ inspiration? What's been the hardest thing about starting a new writing venture?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Facing Each Other

For most of the day today I was afflicted with a major case of what I'm starting to think of as the "twenties syndrome," stressing about things like: Will I even have a real, at least semi-long-term job before I turn 30? Will I ever actually get done with school and get to stop switching back and forth between school and summer, school and summer, over and over? When will my life take on any characteristics of stability and permanence? When I will finally know it's ok to settle down and put down roots somewhere? Will I ever live in one place more than a couple years at a time?

I am happy where I am now, but sometimes I feel a deep longing to get everything figured out. And to know what the future holds, and to be in control (this post could totally have the alternate title "Confessions of a Control Freak.") Yes, I am a control freak. I want to know where I am going, and how and when I am going to get there and what it's going to be like when I am there. Sometimes I just want the path to be easy and clear. Sometimes, I just really wish I had my ducks in a row, my errands run, my kitchen clean, my life mapped out. Don't we all?

Then I opened the Bible for a few words of encouragement. I think I'm supposed to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 Kings 17 on the Bible reading challenge by now, but I'm a couple days behind and decided to just do some reading in Psalms instead. I was drawn to a passage in Psalm 73, when David confidently declares to the Lord, "Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand." I was reminded when I read this that a number of verses refer to God holding us by the hand. Here is one of my favorite examples from Isaiah 41: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand . . . For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you: do not fear, I will help you."

For some reason, it really caught my attention that these verses always say that God is holding us by our right hands. All while He upholds us with HIS righteous right hand. I started thinking about what this would actually look like in practical terms. If I am supporting someone with my right hand, and holding them by their right hand, the only way that's really possible is if we're facing each other. (Picture it in your mind and I think you'll see what I mean.) Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems as if this beautiful promise assumes that we are facing our Savior, focused on Him, fixing our eyes on Jesus. He holds us by our right hands; He upholds us with His right hand. I want to face Him rather than looking away and being distracted by the cares and stresses of the world around me. I want to gaze upon Him rather than looking on my own inadequacies and failures. When I can look upon the Lord as my redeemer, my guide, and my confidant, knowing that He holds me up and that He will never relax his loving grip on me, I can go into each day with confidence. I can go knowing that He is a God who provides exactly what I need and how much I need, when I need it. I may think I need bread for the month, but He will provide me with enough manna for the day. I may think I need a searchlight to illuminate my path for the next year, but He gives me a lamp for my feet so that I can take the very next step. When I think I need more--more guidance, more control, more knowledge of the future--I must remember to just keep facing the Savior. He has given my my cup, and it isn't only full. It overflows.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Great Chick-Fil-A Boycott

If you've been anywhere near social media this past week, you've probably heard about how Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, recently indicated his own, and his company's, support of the traditional family. He stated, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business." In addition, Chick-Fil-A financially supports various organizations that bolster the traditional family unit. The CEO has previously said, "While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”

In response, thousands of people have boycotted his restaurant chain and are encouraging others, often vehemently, to follow suit. One disgusted individual proclaimed, "Their chicken is deep-fried in hate." Many others said that they would no longer patronize the restaurants, and several said, "And I will make sure that no one I know eats there either!" The Boston mayor is even attempting to ban Chick-Fil-A in the city.

But let's think about this for a minute. Chick-Fil-A didn't make a statement that they were going to start refusing to serve LGBT individuals in their restaurants. They didn't say that they were going to stop hiring these individuals, or that they were going to discriminate against them in promotions or selection for franchises. They simply give money to groups which support traditional family units, just as other organizations support gay marriage or gay- and lesbian-headed families. Neither are "hate groups." They just choose to offer support to different causes, as they have every right to do. An endorsement of one cause doesn't have to be an attack on another, nor can it automatically constitute discrimination. Just because your business funds a children's charity doesn't mean you "hate" the elderly. Just because I shop at Kroger doesn't mean I "hate" Publix.

No, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A simply made a public statement of his opinion, rooted in his understanding of family values and in his religious beliefs. Was it unpopular? Sure. Is he right to have that opinion? That's a conclusion each person has to reach on their own. But this is America, and Dan Cathy has as much of a right to state his opinion as you and I do. We may not like it or agree with it and we may even think it's wrong and inappropriate, but if we want to take away from others the right to state their opinions, then we had better be prepared for them to try to take that same right away from us. If the restaurant itself is not discriminating in any way, then the boycotters are boycotting because someone dared to share an unpopular opinion. They are really boycotting because someone exercised their freedom of speech and their freedom of religion. That is deeply unsettling to me, and it should be unsettling to you too, no matter where we stand in the debate.

Are we sure that we're ready to essentially start boycotting the exercise of fundamental freedoms? Are we sure that we're ready to start saying, "If your opinion isn't mine, you have no right to share it"? Because if we say it to others, then they get to say it to us too. A freedom of speech that applies only to popular opinions, and not to more controversial ones, is no freedom at all. Freedom of speech can't only extend to saying the "right" things. Freedom of religion can't only extend to believing the "right" things. For that matter, freedom of religion can't only extend to believing what I believe or what you believe.

I completely understand that many, if not most, people today disagree that traditional marriage is the only way to go. However, just as they have the right to share their opinion, so too does anyone who thinks differently. The right to an opinion cannot be one-sided, or it's not going to be a right for very long. Tolerance for the views of others cannot and should not only go one way. I want the next generation to grow up in a nation where they still have the right to disagree and to find respectful ways to present unpopular opinions--without automatically being labeled "hateful." Disagreeing with something in an appropriate way is not synonymous with hate (if you want to read more about that, check out this post I wrote a while ago). No matter what I think, I cannot ask to have a right to my own opinion while simultaneously trying to shut down others who express their own opinions. If I did that, I could--and should--be called a hypocrite. It's human nature to try to convert others to your way of thinking. But you can't trample on their rights to have an opinion as you do so.

I want future generations to grow up in an America where they can support and believe what they truly think is right, wholesome, good, and appropriate--whether they choose to verbally and financially support causes that promote gay marriage or causes that support the traditional family. Whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. Whatever their religion or political affiliation may be. Yes, I have firm opinions on these topics, just as most people do, and there's nothing wrong with respectfully and knowledgeably trying to help others see why you believe that certain causes or opinions are right. Nor do I think that people should just brazenly follow their own paths and think and do as they see fit without regard to what is morally right, compassionate, and just. But we cannot, in our pursuit to believe what we want to believe, take away the rights of others to believe what they think is right.

It's one thing to boycott a business for genuine discrimination. But to lash out at people or organizations for having an unpopular opinion? That makes me fear for the future of constitutional rights in this country. Trying to take away other people's rights to have an opinion is not a very effective way to inspire people to listen to your own. And that's true no matter where you stand in the great Chick-Fil-A debate.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Today, I am thankful for a wonderful phone call with a long-lost college friend who I have not talked to in far too long.

I am thankful for cloudy, lazy Saturdays and being able to spend half the day in my pajamas, guilt-free.

I'm grateful for a stack of library books and finally having the time to curl up and read them.

Thankful for honey-lime chicken enchiladas and homemade guacamole.

For time to journal, think, pray, and reflect.

For having some clarity about my future and what I want to pursue in the upcoming months.

For time to rest and be renewed.

Deuteronomy 33:12: Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him,
for He shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Way That I Take

I always write inspiring quotes, verses, song lyrics, etc., on the inside front covers of my journals, based on the things I find inspirational at the time. While I was cleaning my room tonight, I was flipping through an old journal and found this forgotten gem of a verse that I had copied down inside: "But the Lord knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).

The Lord knows the way that I take. He knows the way that I take when I am walking through the deepest and darkest valley. He knows the way that I take when I am shouting his praises from the mountain top. He intimately knows my fears, my sorrow, my heartache, my passion, my joy, my tears, my yearning. As 1 Samuel 2:3 simply reminds us, "The Lord is a God who knows." He knows. He understands. He commiserates. He gets it. There is no path we can travel that our Savior will not know. And not only does He know all of our paths, He experiences all of life with us. He doesn't just know about our pain; He knows our pain as if it were his own. He holds our tears in the palm of His hand. He knows our need, our losses, our triumphs. He is a God who knows. His understanding is unfathomable, matched only by His unrelenting love for us.

Our paths and our ways are not forgotten. They can never be so dark that God doesn't see what we're experiencing. The rain in our lives can never fall so hard that the Lord loses his view of our paths or His grip on our hearts. He walks through all of our paths with us, holding us by the hand, turning the mountains into roads so that we might glorify Him. No matter what you are facing--failure, illness, disability, unbelief, loss, financial setbacks, or even the Georgia bar exam next week--remember that your Savior is a God who knows the way that you take and feels the pain and the joy with you.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Planning the Next Steps

I'm just so excited about the doors that seem to be opening up through the work I've had this summer in admissions. Working with law student recruiting is something that I love doing and that I can easily see myself doing either short term, for a couple years after I graduate while I determine my next steps (like possibly going into forensic psychology), or even on a more long-term basis.

I was talking to the director of admissions today, and she was telling me how she knew that working in traditional law practice was not for her (and I feel exactly the same way). But she told me how much she absolutely loves her job, and how it's been the perfect fit for her. I've felt the exact same way about the work I've been doing this summer with students and their families, and I'm pretty sure I would be very happy pursuing this type of work as a more permanent career. Along those lines, she was telling me that admissions and recruiting positions at law schools around the Southeast are constantly being posted on job boards, and she sent me one of the postings. She told me she wished I was graduating now because we actually have an open position like that at my school now. But she said that she will help me figure out how to look for those types of jobs when I'm in my last year of law school, and how to navigate that process. I'm so excited that I really could become a director of law school admissions and financial aid, or something very similar, in just two short years (our director is a relatively recent grad herself, so it's definitely possible). I just felt like my next steps were really coming together, in the sense that I have a very clear idea of where I want to go next, and how to get there (not to mention a fantastic mentor to help me out).

A couple weeks ago, I had a very awkward conversation with a guy that I don't know very well. He asked me what I'm doing this summer. I told him about my job, and how I'd really like to work in law admissions at least for a while when I finish school. "Why?" he asked. "So you can catch up on sleep after law school?" Um . . . seriously? I thought about daring him to call up the dean of admissions at my school and tell her that that's what he apparently thought of her career, but I resisted the urge! I also resisted the urge to tell him that he shouldn't assume I'm lazy/ not smart when he doesn't even know me. (I might add that I found this guy incredibly attractive and intriguing before this, but after that conversation? Not so much!) This was also the same day I had another very awkward conversation with another guy who was asking me about my career plans, and I was telling him, and he said, "It sounds like you don't have it figured out AT ALL." So awkward! I never know what to say in situations like that . . . thanks for the vote of confidence?

But I've got to keep reminding myself that I'm not choosing a career for other people . . . it's for me and I need to do what I think is right for me. While I hope people won't judge me and my choices if they find out I have a law degree that I'm using in a non-traditional way, they can if they want to, and I'll just have to prove them wrong by working harder.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why Leviticus Is an Inspirational Read

As one of the main aspects of our "90 days to a new you" program, my sister Meagan and I have been following a plan to read through the Bible in 90 days. For the past couple of weeks, we've been getting reacquainted with the familiar, and not-so-familiar, parts of the first few books of the Bible. (And we've been texting back and forth our discoveries and commentary: "Did you know Abraham got remarried after his first wife died?" "Christian pick-up line: I was reading the book of Numbers last night and I realized that I don't have yours." "Why wasn't that part of Exodus in the Prince of Egypt?" "Riddle for you: Who broke all 10 commandments at once? Moses!")

But when I read the Bible, I don't typically jump right to the book of Leviticus. This Old Testament law treatise has a reputation as being one of the most boring, hard-to-understand books in all of Scripture. Its 27 chapters are dedicated to a very detailed description of the laws the Israelite people were to follow: laws about burnt offerings and sin offerings and guilt offerings, laws about what was clean and unclean, laws about how the priests were to go about their duties. You might think I'd like this book because it's a compilation of laws, and I am, after all, a law student. But following that same logic, I'd also enjoy curling up on the couch with a cup of coffee and the Code of Federal Regulations. (Hint: I don't.)

But despite my hesitation, the reading plan put me in Leviticus this past week. So last Sunday afternoon, I dutifully settled down and started to read. And before I knew it, I was transported back into a different culture and time, a time before Christ. A time when God's people had to continually offer all kinds of sacrifices before the Lord to atone for their sins. A time when the blood of lambs and goats perpetually stained the altars and the stench of the offerings hung over the camp day and night, and when people had to make offerings even for unintentional or unknown sins.

What would it be like if we had lived in that day and time? Leviticus gives us a glimpse into just how burdensome, and even fearful and oppressive, the system of sacrifice could be. This is a dark and heavy book, and I think if it's read without a broader understanding of the big picture, it can engender a skewed understanding of the Word.

But I believe that one of the primary reasons that Leviticus was preserved in Scripture for us today was for us to see that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was intentionally imperfect, and meant primarily to point to what was to come. If it were a perfect system, then there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come. But the blood of animals could never really cleanse and purify. And it could never truly remove the guilt of the people. It makes us realize that these people needed a real Redeemer and a truly spotless Lamb. Their sin was so great . . . my sin was so great. All the animals in the world couldn't really take it away.

Leviticus shows you the utter magnitude of human guilt, the fear, the true oppression of sin. And the sacrificial system, before Christ, would never be enough. More blood would always have to be shed. Human efforts were always going to be futile. Every evening and every morning, another animal would need to be offered. About halfway through the book, you start feeling the desperation of the people, a sense of futility, and a sense that this system wasn't perfect, and wasn't meant to be. You begin to sense that even though the cost of all of those animal sacrifices would have been very substantial, the true cost of sin was infinitely greater.

Would you have believed at that time that there could ever be a final sacrifice? What if someone told you that one day, the need to sacrifice would be no more? Jesus did what centuries of animal sacrifice couldn't ever do: he saved his people from their sins. It wasn't temporary. It was permanent. Jesus paid it all.

Oh, how I need Jesus. Oh how we all need Jesus so much. I was overwhelmed by my need and by his mercy. And I think that's kind of the point of this book.

Leviticus even includes some rather gruesome imagery of how the sacrificial animals were to be slaughtered, pointing to an ultimate and excruciating brokenness as the real Lamb gave up his life. It made me truly realize the magnitude of what Christ has done for us and how important what He did really was. And even echoes of Exodus and the original Passover celebration come in: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." God has passed over us in his wrath on sin, because it was poured out on the one perfect Lamb who became the ultimate sacrifice. The one that could really take away guilt, genuinely bring forgiveness, and tear down the walls that separated man from God. Thank you for your mercy. Oh, God, thank you for sending Jesus. And it was finished, and the curtain in the temple was ripped in two. It was FINISHED. Leviticus is worth your time to read because it makes the work of Jesus stand out in bold relief. Even though it's not always explicit, this book points to Jesus almost more than any other Old Testament book. As it does here:

Leviticus 26:12: "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fading Glimpses of Summer

I have to be back at school on August 9th for some orientation activities before classes actually start, so I just realized that I have basically only four weeks of summer left. Like, what??! I'm not even sure how that happened--this summer has flown by. These next few weeks feel a lot like the calm before the storm . . . brief moments of rest before I dive into a crazy school schedule again!

I'm not sure I'm quite ready for school to start again . . . in the past 2 months I had temporarily forgotten how intense law school can be. I was chatting with one of my classmates earlier today and I told her that I know I need to relax in these final few weeks of summer, but at the same time I feel a sense of urgency to do all the things I know I won't have much time to do once classes begin (like pleasure reading, spending time with friends, etc.) But I also have planned to take a vacation the first week of August, go home and see my family, and do little more than sit on the couch and watch the Olympics, so I know I'll have some time for rest & relaxation then!

This upcoming year will probably be very different from my 1L year. For one thing, I have some choices in what classes I take, whereas last year we all had to do the same set of required introductory courses. This fall, I will be taking civil lawsuits, evidence, legal writing II, and a seminar on bioethics and the law. I will also be doing Law Review, so I'm really looking forward to that opportunity. I am going to continue working part-time in the admissions office, and I'm also hoping to remain involved with some of the student organizations I joined last year. I know I will be really busy, but I'd rather be busy than bored any day! Looking forward to a good school year . . . but I'm going to savor a few final weeks of summer first.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Validation Addiction

Hi, my name is Lauren and I'm addicted to validation and approval from others. There, I admit it. And I'm willing to bet you're addicted to it too, since most people are. Maybe I need a 12-step program . . . well, really, maybe we all do. We're addicted to approval and obsessed with what other people think about us. We love it when they like us and stroke our ego and affirm us, and we're crushed when they don't seem to like us, or simply when they say nothing about us. Silence has become equated with rejection. For far too many of us, we allow the opinions of others to hold us in bondage.

I believe that while this sort of addiction has been around in some form or another since cavemen roamed the earth, it has grown like wildfire because of technology--namely, social media. Don't get me wrong--I love social media and I use it daily. It's incredibly useful for keeping up with people and with events happening in the world, and I don't think it's necessarily harmful when people post about their successes and accomplishments as a way to keep friends in the know or to advance their careers. However, social media fuels our addiction because it's no longer enough to be liked and validated in the real world; you also have to be liked in the virtual world. It's no longer enough to simply succeed; you have to post news of your success on Facebook and have the requisite number of people "like" it. You have to get enough comments and pageviews on your blog. Enough visitors to your website. Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogs, Twitter . . . the opportunities for virtual validation are endless. People have to retweet you, follow you, share your work, comment on your posts, friend you, and connect with you. And counterintuitively, how others perceive you and interact with you in the virtual world has become a skewed sort of litmus test for how you're actually doing in the real world.

In addition to social media, the message in our culture that "reputation is everything" fuels this addiction to approval and to being perceived highly by others. And in a lot of careers, especially law, reputation is . . . well . . . everything. It can take years to build a good one, and mere seconds to destroy it. But I believe it can get to a point where we value our reputations more than our actual identity and more than our true character. And it's not the same thing. Your reputation is all about who others think you are, while your character deals with who you really are, even if no one else knows about it. And it's easy to get to the point where we care more about what other people think about us than who we really are.

The second commandment tells us that we are not to make for ourselves any graven image (an idol). But yet, when we are obsessed with what other people think about us and how they perceive us, we ARE constructing and worshipping an image: our own image, as seen through other people's eyes! What people think about us can be an idol. Reputation can be an idol. Validation from others can be an idol. Our validation addiction is a way of breaking and shattering the second commandment even in our own day, and a few months ago, the Lord deeply convicted me of my failings in this area. He gently, but somewhat painfully, reminded my heart that who I really am in Christ should matter much more to me than simply who others think I am and what they think about me. If your reputation and approval from others is more important than your true identity in Jesus, who bled to make you His, then that's an idol you need to smash at the foot of the cross, and walk away finally free.

I think the hopeful thing about all this is that our validation and approval addiction means that we're craving influence and starving for impact. And people who crave influence and impact can use that to tremendous advantage in pursuing Kingdom purposes. But will our spheres of influence be about us, or about God? How can our obsession with influence and approval be transformed into a vehicle of grace and compassion for a hurting world? Thoughts? (I feel like it would be totally ironic for me to solicit comments on this post, so I won't. Just some food for thought!)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Most Honest Prayer in the Bible

How often do we try to impress God with our level of faith when we pray? Just as it's in human nature to want to impress other people, so too I think it's deeply ingrained in us that we should try to "impress" God--with how much we trust him, how much we love him, how much we believe that his way is best.

But what about when we don't believe and don't trust and don't want to obey? What then? Does God still welcome our prayers even when they are full of doubt?

In Mark 9, a man comes to Jesus to ask him to heal his son, who had an evil spirit. The boy's father says to Jesus, "IF you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus tells him, "Everything is possible for him who believes." Then the man says, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Another translation simply records the man's words as, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

At first, this seems counterintuitive. I believe, but . . . help my unbelief. Can belief and unbelief even coexist? I think what these words suggest is that no one trusts or believes God absolutely perfectly all the time . . . and that the Lord understands our weakness and can handle our doubts.

This is a great prayer because it is so refreshingly honest. How many of us really and truly believe and trust completely in God's power, mercy, and faithfulness, 100% of the time, without a shred of doubt or unbelief? Probably none of us. Yet how many of us will readily admit to the Lord those moments or situations in which we struggle with unbelief? Most of us would probably want to end this prayer right after, "Lord, I believe" and never be real with God about the times when we don't believe and don't trust and don't have faith.

But God understands that even while we believe, we are bound to have doubts at one time or another. I think that sometimes, if we're honest with ourselves, the most authentic prayer we can pray would be something like, "Lord, today I don't trust you even though I want to," or "Lord, right now I don't believe that you know what's best for me," or "Lord, I don't believe you are guiding me because nothing makes sense." But help my unbelief.

Even if we believe that God is for us, and works out His perfect plan in our lives, we're not immune from doubts and moments of unbelief. Learning to believe is a process, not a single act or moment in time. Even while we believe, we need God's help to guide us through our times of unbelief. And admitting our unbelief is an act of faith in and of itself. I think what this prayer tells us is that sometimes, a prayer of genuine faith won't just tell God that we believe, but it will tell Him when and how we don't believe--and seek his help for our unbelief.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

All-Time Favorite Books: My Top 10

These long hot summer days really lend themselves to laying by the pool with a good book, don't you think? I would read 3 or 4 books a week if I had time for it, although sadly, I don't! If you need a little reading inspiration, or are just looking for the perfect poolside read, here's a list of my top 10 all-time favorite books. I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction, especially novels, but this list has a little bit of everything:

1) Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult. Some of you already know that Jodi Picoult is my favorite author; I will read anything she writes and am working on two of her books right now. While I'm usually hard-pressed to limit my favorite books to a short list, this one is my favorite book of all time. I discovered it for the first time at a library book sale and paid 50 cents for it--pretty much the best 50 cents I can remember spending. For me, it's that "if you read one book in your life besides the Bible, make it this one" book. Basic plot line without spoilers: A killer convicted and condemned to execution wants to donate his heart to the sister of the girl he murdered (who desperately needs a heart transplant in order to live) as a way to atone for his sins. This novel is both stunning and unsettling. It ties seemingly disparate characters together in a shocking ending that will leave you thinking and re-assessing your life long after you read the final words.

2) Like Dandelion Dust by Karen Kingsbury. Karen Kingsbury is my favorite Christian author. I can always count on her books to be powerful and redemptive. This book is a story of two mothers who both love the same child, and of the resulting heartbreak, sacrifice, and redemption. It is compulsively readable, and unlike some books, it's one I can read multiple times and enjoy just as much in the subsequent readings.

3) How to Win at College by Cal Newport. For anyone in college now or about to head that way, this book is an absolute must-read. And it is nothing like run-of-the-mill books on college life and study tips. It consists of 75 short (two-page) chapters, each containing a piece of unconventional, even quirky, advice on how to succeed at the entire college experience--academically, socially, and personally. And the tips I tried when I was in undergrad really work. Read it.

4) Oceans Apart by Karen Kingsbury. OK, I know that in the interest of diversity, I probably shouldn't have two books by the same author on this list. But this novel is such a beautifully written, moving story of someone who forgives the unforgivable and, in doing so, finds new hope.

5) Look Again by Lisa Scottoline. This is one of those books that starts out good and then just keeps getting better and better every time you turn the page. It's about a mother who has to make a heartbreaking decision and go on a painful journey in order to do the right thing for her child.

6) Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. This book is the autobiographical account of one woman's journey to Italy, where she remodeled an old home in the Tuscan countryside, learned to cook the Italian way, and discovered new things about herself in the process. Bottom line: fantastic travel memoir.

7) The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. This book on prayer is the best book I've ever read related to the topic of Christian living. The thing I love about it is that it's not saying the same things as 100 other books on prayer--the author's insights are truly fresh, deeply Biblical, and remarkably personal.

8) Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. Anybody who's into sociology/ social issues--or just undercover journalism--will probably really like this book. It's the author's account of going undercover to investigate what life is really like for impoverished, low-wage workers in America. It is a starkly written but sadly true commentary on our times, and as much a call to action as it is anything else.

9) The autobiography of Benjamin Carson. He is one of my heroes, and has been since I was little. In this book, he writes about how, through faith and determination, he overcame racism, failure, and poverty to become the youngest-ever head pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University hospital. Incredibly inspiring read.

10) One L by Scott Turow. For all you fellow law students out there, this one's for you! I didn't read any books on law school success before I started, and this is pretty much the only non-assigned law-school related book that I read during my first year. Written in the 70's, it's the author's own account of the trauma, drama, and excitement of his first year at Harvard Law School. I read it after I had been in school for about two months, and was blown away by how much his experience from thirty-some years ago was similar to mine. It will reassure you that you're not going crazy, and that other people have made it before you and turned out just fine!

 . . . feel free to comment if you read and like any of these books, or if you've read a great book lately that you'd like to share!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

90 Days to a New You

So today, my sister and I started this multi-faceted self-improvement program called "90 days to a new you." We picked today to start because: 1) it's the start of a new week, 2) and the start of a new month, and 3) the start of the latter half of 2012. Technically, the challenge will end--as the name suggests--90 days from now, on September 28th. I'm trying to pursue some self-improvement during this time in terms of intellectual, spiritual, social, physical, and financial goals. For one, my sister and I are both using this time to pursue a challenge where you read the Bible from cover to cover in 90 days. Here's a link to a reading schedule if any of you want to give it a try.

I'm also trying to become much more consistent with exercise and physical fitness in general. Like a lot of people, I tend to go through these periods where I work out 24/7, and then suddenly slack off for about 3 weeks, rendering me completely out of shape all over again when I start back up again. So I'm trying to do a variety of different workouts this summer to keep me motivated, including going to a bunch of fitness classes at the university's main campus that I can take for free, as a law student. In the past two weeks, I've sampled kickboxing, Zumba, and body sculpt classes, and also tried out the university's pool for the first time since I started school here. Swimming is basically the most stress-relieving workout you can do, and I used to do it a lot in college, but I pretty much stopped doing it during 1L year. Well, now's as good a time as any to take it up again. I'm also planning to start keeping a "workout journal" where I keep track of when I exercise and what I do, just as a way of keeping myself accountable to stay active.

And then I'm planning to use these next 3 months to try to get a lot more organized in a lot of the day-to-day tasks of my life: cleaning, cooking healthy meals, paying bills, filing papers, running errands, etc. I'm also planning to read a lot of books I've been wanting to read for a long time; to be intentional about spending quality time with friends and maintaining relationships; and to keep blogging (I am hopeful that reading the Bible in the next 90 days will give me a lot of writing inspiration).

School starts in a month and a half, and I anticipate being very busy during my second year of law school, so I think it's important for me to use the rest of the summer to pursue some personal improvement and get some good systems in place so I won't be overwhelmed by the hectic activity of 2L year. I'll keep you all updated as the challenge progresses!

But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded. 2 Chronicles 15:7