On the Unexpected

Today I’m going to write about some recent unexpected happenings in my life.

Two summers ago, I wrote my very first blog post – “On Adventure“. In that post, I said:

True adventures are messy, rarely easy, and hardly comfortable. On an adventure, there’s no telling what will happen, but most likely it will be unexpected. Adventures require planning, but they also require knowing that your plans will change.

How true. This especially resonates with me now, after the unexpected happenings that I mentioned.

Some important history for later: When I initially wrote that first blog post, I was traveling with my brother in the Czech Republic. During the trip, a posting for a job went up at MidAmerica Nazarene University, for an “Evening Library Assistant” – and, since I was planning to begin graduate school in library & information science that fall, I decided to apply. I got the job, and I worked at MNU for nearly two years in the position – the entire duration of my time in graduate school. I loved every moment of my work at MNU, and I am fully confident that getting that job was entirely God – it was perfect for me during that time in every way, so much so that only God could have planned it.

Fast-forward to a few months ago, when I left Kansas to move to North Carolina. I’d been offered a position as a Reference & Instructional Librarian there – and more importantly, I felt that God wanted me to move there for other reasons. It took me some time to really get settled (adjusting to a new state and a new life is hard), but I learned a lot during this time. God taught me so much about loving selflessly and being joyful in Him alone – and eventually, I started feeling that I was really going to enjoy living in North Carolina.

I didn’t expect the unexpected.

About a month ago, a posting went up for a new faculty Librarian at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Initially, I didn’t think twice about it (other than slight disappointment that MNU wasn’t located in North Carolina!) – after all, I’d just begun my new position, and I believed that this was where I was supposed to be.

But then, suddenly, the reasons I had to be in North Carolina unexpectedly fell through. I wondered why God had called me to North Carolina at all – because now, I had no reason to be there besides my new job. I began strongly wishing I was back in Kansas, among my friends and family. So, in the midst of this, I began to more seriously pray about the position at MNU. Every aspect of the position seemed perfect for me. I already had experience at MNU from my previous position. I knew the staff and the community. I also had all of the exact qualifications, even to the point that one of the “Preferred Requirements” was “experience as a Reference & Instructional Librarian” – the exact phrasing of my current job title (and it’s not a common way to phrase it!). Was God in the timing of the new job opportunity? It seemed too perfect to be otherwise. What if all along, coming to North Carolina and everything He taught me there was preparation for this new position at MNU and a life back in Kansas?

I applied, and within a few days, I had an interview scheduled – coinciding with an already planned trip to Kansas for a grant project. The timing was incredible. I interviewed, it went remarkably well, and I enjoyed seeing my former colleagues again. Overall, it was a very encouraging trip. Finally, I returned to North Carolina to wait upon God and see what happened next.

This is always the hardest part – waiting. I’m not going to lie, those couple of weeks waiting and not knowing what was going to happen were very hard. I desperately wanted to return to Kansas, not just for the position but also to be with my friends and family there. But, I knew that not getting the position was a very real possibility. It would be competitive. I knew that getting or not getting the job was entirely up to God – and so, I prayed, nearly nonstop for those weeks.

These days seemed so much longer than they actually were – not only because I was waiting, but because of how many lessons God taught me during that time. At first, I prayed ceaselessly that He would give me the position in Kansas – but as day after day passed by, I began thinking that it might have been offered to someone else. I still knew that if He wanted me to have it, then I would get it – and that if He didn’t, then there must be an even better plan for me in North Carolina. In the end, I gave it up to Him, to the point that I was honestly alright with not getting the job and expecting not to. The day after that, I received the call offering me the position.

I am wonderstruck by God’s remarkable goodness and perfect timing. When I moved to North Carolina, I did so believing He was calling me to do so – and I still believe that, even though the ending of that adventure was unexpected. Through coming to North Carolina, He changed me as a person – hopefully, to be a little more like Him. Through it all, I was forced to rely fully on Him – and I was taught the importance of giving up every aspect of my life and every one of my plans to Him. I learned to trust His plan – and that even when it is not my plan, it is so, so much better.

All of the lessons were ones I needed to learn – and I wouldn’t have if all of this didn’t happen. I am overjoyed to be returning to Kansas – but even more, for everything He taught me through this adventure. Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned is the absolute beauty of His plan. Though I will never know His full plan for my life, I believe the mystery of it makes it all the more beautiful. Even so, I do think that sometimes, God lets us see small fragments of it, in order for us to see how perfectly He has worked everything thus far – so that we can fully trust Him in the future, no matter what.

I’m so thankful for so much right now… primarily, for God and His infinite wisdom and goodness. Even though things didn’t work out as expected; even though my plans in North Carolina fell through; even though these last few months have been hard – I trust God and feel His love for me more strongly than I ever have before, to the point that it’s impossible to describe with words.

In that first post “On Adventure“, I said:

“Going on an adventure will change you. You do not return from an adventure the same person you were when you left.”

Assuredly, I am not returning from this adventure to North Carolina the same person I was when I left. And, I’m so excited for whatever happens in these next chapters, even though I don’t know what will occur. What I *do* know is that through both the expected and the unexpected, I can always trust His plan and His perfect love for me – whatever comes.

Why I Am A Gryffindor

30688813-704e-4b0e-86df-462b8d07f76cFor those of you readers who might not know, “Gryffindor” is one of four Houses (living and learning communities) within Hogwarts – the magical school of the Harry Potter series. Students of Hogwarts are placed into one of the Houses based on the qualities they value most: Primarily, Hufflepuff values loyalty; Ravenclaw values learning/intelligence; Slytherin values ambition; and Gryffindor values courage. There are more intricacies to the Houses than that and other traits that can be used to describe them – but I believe these traits sum them up best.

While the Hogwarts Houses are obviously fictional, I find it incredibly interesting to learn about which House people say they would fit into. I do not believe that any one House or one trait is at all better than the others, or the “right choice” – rather, I believe the traits of each House can be represented selflessly OR selfishly. Every person has a different perspective on the Houses and what they mean – which is why I sincerely enjoy discussing the Houses and hearing which Houses my friends fit into and why.

So, in this post, I am going to explain not why I think Gryffindor is the best House (I don’t think that), but why I personally am a Gryffindor – and then I’m going to ask some questions to you about your House choice. I would love to hear your perspectives!

I Am Not Naturally Brave

It’s true – courage is definitely not something I was born with, which has made me value it all the more. When I was younger, I was scared of everything that was new to me – from little things like riding a bike and roller-coasters, to bigger things like moving to a new country or speaking in front of a room full of people. However, every time I actually did the thing I was scared of, I realized that it wasn’t actually scary at all – and  in the process of realizing that, I came to not only be unafraid of that thing, but actually to love and enjoy it. I now am a huge fan of riding a bike, roller-coasters, traveling to new places, and even public speaking (really, it’s fun!).

I guess the point of mentioning this is to point out that I am in no way a Gryffindor because I am naturally a brave person. Perhaps I’ve learned to become more brave – now I do love new experiences and the unknown – but that’s something that has come through learning and experience. At this point in my life, after facing so many challenges and experiencing so many scary things, I’ve come to love and value the action of facing my fears – because it always leads to something new, exciting, and beautiful. So, really, I am a Gryffindor because I am NOT a naturally brave person, not the other way around. Courage is the most challenging of the four traits for me personally, and thus it leads to the most growth – and for this reason, I value it most. 

I’m Not A Typical Gryffindor

Also true. Based on my personality, I don’t think most people would peg me as a Gryffindor. I am not particularly showy or daring – and I have no desire for pointless heroics. True, I sometimes post obnoxious pro-Gryffindor comments on Facebook and sing annoying pro-Gryffindor songs after winning muggle-Quidditch games – but I promise, I only do that because I know the “Gryffindor rules” attitude is a stereotype of Gryffindors, and so I’m trying to be funny (I apologize).

I’ve had many friends say that based on my personality, they think I would be a Hufflepuff. I’ve had colleagues say that based on my career as a librarian, they think I would be a Ravenclaw. However, I do not believe that Hogwarts Houses are *ultimately* decided based off of personality, talents, or interests – rather, the final result takes into account what a person values most in him or herself. This, I believe, is the reason why within the Harry Potter series, Harry, Hermoine, and Ron were all sorted into Gryffindor – even though they each display many primary traits of the other Houses and aren’t what I’d think of as “typical” Gryffindors. Ultimately, they valued courage most, regardless of which other traits came naturally to them.

All of this being said, it is also true that my friends and family are more important to me than anything else (apart from God). So then…

Why Am I A Gryffindor and Not a Hufflepuff?

Being a Gryffindor means that I value courage in myself more than I value loyalty in myself. But, being a Gryffindor does not mean that I don’t love my friends most. In the Harry Potter series, Harry (a Gryffindor) chooses to sacrifice himself *because* he loves his friends most. Any of the four Houses have the potential to value other people first and love others sacrificially. Loyalty, learning, courage, and even ambition can be selfless. Some would argue that ambition can’t be – but I think that while ambition is perhaps the most difficult to make selfless (hence, lots of corrupt Slytherins), it is possible to have a selfless ambition that is purposed towards God and others.

Also, I love my friends, but of course that sometimes means standing up to them. I believe it is my responsibility as their friend to stand up to them when I believe they are hurting themselves and/or others or confident that they are making a wrong decision. This is very difficult for me and takes a lot of courage to do – and, it’s another reason why I am a Gryffindor and not a Hufflepuff. My friends are incredibly important to me – I just value the courage to stand up to them when necessary (which is hard for me) more than I value the ability to loyally support them (which is easy for me). I often fail at this – but it is important to me, and I am learning. Again, this goes back to the fact that I am not naturally courageous, even though I highly value courage. If I were naturally brave enough to always love when it’s hard and stand up to my friends when I should, I doubt I would be a Gryffindor.

What About You?

Again, I know that my reasons for personally being a Gryffindor do not make it in any way the “best” House. So, my questions for you are:

1. Which House did you choose and why?

2. Is there another House that you could almost be placed in? If so, which one and why?

I look forward to your comments!

Life After Graduation

1370738959078.jpgObviously, life after graduating is the goal (we aren’t meant to be in school forever!) – but, that doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging. For me at least, the transition out of school (in my case, graduate school) has definitely been the hardest thing about it. Of course there are initial challenges that often come with graduating, such as hopefully finding a relevant job; however, in this post, I’m going to look at other challenges – ones that occur even after finding that perfect new job.

1. Independence

More independence can be a good thing, but it can also be very hard. During graduate school, I was constantly surrounded not only by friends and family, but also by fellow students who were pursuing the same career that I was. Even as an online student, I regularly interacted with other library school students, collaborated with them on projects, and shared ideas and experiences – and of course, I was involved in a variety of internships. Since graduating, my life has been different – primarily due to the fact that I moved to a new state for my new job. Thus, I am no longer around those communities of people – and it’s been challenging. However, while difficult, this time away has also already been very rewarding. Normally, there are certain parts of myself that only exist when I am around other people. To quote C.S. Lewis:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” (Lewis, The Four Loves)

Thus, spending so much time alone has been difficult, in that it can feel like I have “lost” certain pieces of myself – those pieces that are only activated when I am around certain people, in certain groups. I love this quote, and I think it is very true.

While it’s true that I am not enough to bring out every piece of myself… God is. During this time, God is teaching me how to be fully myself, fully who I am meant to be, in Him. After we graduate, especially when we move away from our communities, it can be a time of identity crisis. Who am I, when I am not with the people who know me? Yet, through these crises, it is possible to more fully find our identities in Christ – and thus learn to always be our true selves in Him. When our identities are fully found in Christ, we will never be able to lose them – even when we are on our own.

2. Free Time

You’re probably thinking, “how can free time be a challenge??”. Well, for me at least, it’s been quite difficult getting accustomed to so much down time – and I do think many other recent graduates face similar challenges.

Now, my case is perhaps an extreme one – during graduate school, I was taking a full load of graduate-level classes AND working approximately 55 hours a week (that’s including my internships/fellowships). This meant that Monday through Friday, I was always either working or completing school projects. On my weekends, I dedicated all of my time to friends and family, church, events, and activities. I used my breaks to travel and visit farther away friends. I’m sure that all sounds exhausting – and it especially was for me, since I thrive on spontaneity, not on rigid schedules – but I got used to it, and it become the norm for me. I learned to create spontaneity and see adventure within my crazy schedule, and God taught me many lessons in the midst of my busy life.

Fast-forward to now, and all I have is one full-time 40 hour a week job as a librarian – and no school.  I have all of this free time… but how do I spend it? I know that sounds like a really lame problem to have (because everyone wishes they had more free time!). But I’ve realized that it really is a serious challenge to go from constant activity to a much slower, less defined pace – I constantly feel like I am wasting my time, and that I should be spending it on something more valuable, even though I know a 40 hour work week is plenty and the norm. Honestly, I think a lot of this comes down to pride – we like to have busy paces, full of important activities, and places where we are needed – because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Right now, it’s much more difficult for me – but also much more humbling – to live a slower paced life. This isn’t to say I at all regret being so busy while I was – that, too, was necessary during that time in my life. I believe God calls us to have different schedules and priorities at different times in our lives, depending on what He has to teach us.

Through all of this, I’ve been learning the value of not being so busy. I’ve been learning how to rest again, and that it is not wrong to have free time. These empty spaces in my schedule have still been really hard for me, but they’ve also brought me so much closer to God. In the midst of a full schedule, it’s easy to put Him to the side, due to the constant activity and ever-present distractions. Now that I have more empty space in my day, I have learned to better hear God’s voice and recognize His constant presence in my life.

3. Less-Defined Goals

While in graduate school, I was constantly secure in the knowledge that I was working towards something that would directly benefit my future life and career. Really, all the way through my life I have had that security – from grade school, to college, to graduate school. Of course, now that I’m finished, I still want to be continually working towards something – I don’t want to remain stagnant. But, I’m learning that we do not always have to have a big goal to be working towards – just striving to love others more each and every day is enough.

Of course, I do have future career goals to work towards – eventually, I plan to get a job at a full university, get free tuition towards a graduate degree in management, and then eventually become a library director. However, these goals are currently in the future, and it’s hard not knowing how or when they will come to pass. Through this, I’m learning to have so much more faith in God and His plan – because I don’t have a plan of my own. I’m so used to always having a plan for my life, a schedule of what I will complete when and what I will do next, that I’ve not had to fully trust God with every aspect of my future. Now I have to, and it’s been so good for strengthening my faith in His plan and timing.

Just living every day with the intent of becoming more like Christ and forming a deeper relationship with Him is not only a worthy goal – it’s by far the most important goal of all. As humans, we like to be constantly improving in terms of earthly status – better career, higher education, greater pay – but what is the point of those things in the first place, if it’s not to use them to further God’s kingdom? Regardless of where I am in terms of earthly goals, my ultimate goals will always be the same and unchanging – to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind. To love others before myself. And to spread the Gospel unto all the Earth. The purpose of other earthly goals in my life is simply to further my capacity for doing these things.

In Conclusion

Dealing with these challenges and adjusting to life after graduating has been difficult, but also so important – and I am incredibly thankful for everything God has been teaching me these past few months. Through all of this, I have been reminded that my education doesn’t end here – and that even after I’ve completed my last degree, it won’t end then. The knowledge and training we gain in school is only one type of learning – and God has an infinite amount to teach us about Himself. So, in this time after graduate school – when I’m often on my own, I have an abundance of free time, and I’m in a break between career goals – I am welcoming the opportunity to fully dive into whatever He has to teach me. More than anything, I want to grow ever closer to Him. Further up and further in.

The Dangers of Personality Typing

blog-myers-briggs.jpgFor years, I’ve been an avid “personality typer”. I enjoy typing myself, friends, family members… even fictional characters. Not only is it fun, it can also be a really helpful tool to better understand myself and other people. There have been so many times where I’ve been reading an article on ENFPs (my Myers-Briggs type), and I’ve been so excited because THAT IS EXACTLY ME. It gives me a sense of validation in a way, to see that I’m *supposed* to be like that, because *all* people of my personality type are that way. However, this also presents some serious problems – and I think that while there are many benefits of personality typing, there are also some very real dangers associated with it.

We Are All Different

When I get too caught up in personality typing, I start grouping people together – putting all of the INFJs, and ENFPs, and ESTJs, and INTPs… etc. into their own separate boxes. This is dangerous, because none of us really fit into those boxes. Every single person on Earth was created by God with his own, wholly unique personality – and so while Myers-Briggs and other personality typing systems can be very helpful in understand our personalities, it’s important to remember that these systems are not comprehensive and were created by humans.

None of us really fits into *any* personality type. I am not really an ENFP – that is just the “Myers-Briggs type” that I relate to most out of the sixteen types that people made up. So, when people use personality types to compare each other (i.e. “This INFJ acts this way and thinks like this, so *this* INFJ must be the same!”) it leads to false assumptions and a lack of understanding people. Each of those people being compared and put into boxes is an actual, unique, person – Fred is Fred, not an ENFP like other ENFPs. He is like no other person on Earth, and thus can only be wholly understood by being seen as such. Empathy doesn’t work if you are trying to empathize with a personality type instead of an actual person.

Again, I’m not saying there is no benefit to personality typing – there certainly is, and I believe God *wants* us to use the reason and creativity He gave us to develop systems in order to better understand ourselves and the world He created. However, it’s important to recognize that these systems are our own, and thus flawed. We are all different, and so personality types can only go so far in helping us understand each other.

My Personality Type Should Not Be My Role Model

Maybe this sounds obvious, but I think many of us do treat our personality types as our role models, even if unconsciously (I know I myself have). It’s great to read articles about various aspects of our types – strengths, weaknesses, stressors, preferences, traits, etc. However, it becomes a problem when we start trying to become *more* like our personality type descriptions, instead of using those descriptions to help us grow out of our weaknesses and become better people.

Example: I know that one of my weaknesses is that I don’t do well when I’m alone for too long – I need enough quality social interaction, or I can get depressed. This is a true fact about myself, and it is also a true fact about most ENFPs (that’s where the E for extrovert comes in). It’s tempting to read about this weakness, and then to say, “well, obviously this means I *have* to get enough time with people, otherwise I’m just going to be depressed”. I tell myself this, and then when I am alone for too long, I do get depressed. However, what I should be doing is learning how to *not* get depressed in these situations. Knowing this about myself, I should try to improve. This is something I am learning currently, living away from most of the people I know – and it’s been so incredibly valuable. I’m learning to recognize God’s continual presence so much more – He is always right with me, so I am never truly alone. Understanding this is helping me learn to be joyful and energized even in solitary times. With my personality type as my role model, I would have never started growing and learning to overcome this weakness.

It’s important to recognize weaknesses as weaknesses and try to grow out of them, rather than embrace them because they are a part of our personalities. Our personalities should not be our role models – Christ should be our role model – and we should constantly be trying to change ourselves to become more like Him.

My Identity is Not Found in My Personality Type

I know from experience that it is so easy for one’s personality type to become one’s identity. When this happens, it makes us feel a sense of entitlement for acting the way we act, regardless of how it hurts others, because it’s just “who we are”. It’s certainly true that we all have our own, unique personalities – but it’s also true that we can (and often should) choose to behave contrary to our personalities in order to love other people. This is essential in order to die to ourselves – which we must do daily as followers of Christ.

Example: For me, one thing that being an ENFP means, is that I love spontaneity. It’s true that I am happiest and most comfortable when I have the freedom to go on spontaneous adventures, and do whatever is most exciting to me in the moment. It’s good to know this about myself, so that I can make decisions in my life accordingly – one reason I chose to be a librarian, is because it’s a profession that is always new and changing, and I have the freedom to use my time as I see most valuable and explore whatever is exciting and interesting to me while I work.

However,  even though this ENFP trait is a part of my personality, it is not who I am. It is not my identity. Because we are all different, with different personalities and different preferences, we also all have different stressors. If I just accept each and every one of my personality traits as who I am, and thus refuse to change those parts of myself, I will stress and hurt so many people in my life.  True, living according to my personality type is ideal for *me* – but our lives are not about us. Our lives are about becoming more like Christ, and loving other people before ourselves. Our identities are not found in ourselves and our own personalities, but in Christ.

In Conclusion…

Of course God made each and every one of us how we are for a reason, and so it’s important to recognize and celebrate our differences and unique personalities. However, He did not make us different so that we can rigidly adhere to our natures and refuse to grow. When our personality types become our role models instead of Christ, and our identities are found in ourselves instead of Christ, we will grow farther and farther away from Him. Christ sacrificed everything for us – and in turn, to become more like Him, we must be willing to sacrifice everything (even aspects of our personalities) for His sake, and for the sake of others. When we do, it will not mean a life of bondage – rather, it is the only way to have a life of true freedom. When we give up every part of ourselves for Christ’s sake, when we choose to love others instead of loving ourselves, we will become the person we were always meant to be. That is the only way we will be able to cast off our masks, and have our true faces be revealed, to reference C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.

I will continue to enjoy exploring personality types, and learn more about myself and others while doing so – but, I do not ever want to put people in boxes, or for my personality type to become my role model and my identity. I’d much rather throw myself away for Christ’s sake, and allow Him to create something completely new, unique, and beautiful within me. Becoming embodiments of our personality types is not the way to true freedom and joy – it’s only by dying to ourselves, that we will truly live.

Artist Introduction: “Vocal Few”

So, there’s this band:

Or rather, a duo – consisting of husband and wife, Matt and Kristie MacDonald – which was created primarily as a means to support their family (a new EP has been released with the birth of each of their three children).

And I like them.

A lot.

So much so that I own two of their EPs on vinyl (forever my favorite way to listen to music, but I only *buy* my favorites).

This summer, they are going on a Living Room Tour across the country (more about that in the hilarious video above) – which inspired me to write a post about them, so that YOU TOO can discover this wonderful music and perhaps attend one of their concerts. I am definitely going to attend one myself this July – which is incredibly exciting, because it will be my very first time hearing them play in person (though I have seen Matt play twice with his also-fantastic band, The Classic Crime). Perhaps I’ll write about TCC another time… but for now, here’s some more information about Vocal Few:

So far, Vocal Few have released FOUR EPs – one for each of their three kids, and a Christmas EP that was released this past December. They’re planning to write yet another sure-to-be-awesome EP soon, when they spend a year as a family in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Vocal Few’s music isn’t only great musically – it’s also been extremely inspiring and encouraging to me lyrically through the years. Their songs are all incredibly hopeful, but not in a way that is at all naive or dishonest – their music also dives into some very complex topics, and the lyrics often describe sorrow and struggles in relationships. But really, it’s because their songs are so honest, including sorrow as well as joy, that they end up being so hopeful and encouraging. Matt and Kristie are both Christians, and their faith is fully evident in their music, even though they don’t mention God in every song. Nevertheless, their songs are full of Truth – and to me, they are more impactful and encouraging than most CCM music, because they are also so personal and honest.

I also really admire them as people (at least, based on their music and online posts), and how they prioritize relationships and family, while also viewing all of life, including hardships and unexpected turns, as beautiful and an adventure.

Anyways – you can listen to ALL of their music for yourself from their Youtube channel, but here’s one video from each EP (plus pretty album art) to get you started:

1. She’ll Be Right

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“Every
second
lived
is
worth
each
second
of
the
pain.”

2. Tall Trees

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“When all you have is what’s inside your pocket
And all your dreams seem stuck up on the shelf
Well you’d best prepare the way for change is comin’
‘Cause the road will always take you somewhere else.”

3. The Dream Alive

vocal-few-the-dream-alive.jpg


“Why don’t we just live today?
Tomorrow’s too far away
We want a reason to say,
one day,
That we did our best to keep the dream alive.”

 

4. Snowdrift

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“As Christmas comes
I’m not the same as I once was
There are more questions
Than the answers that I’ve got
So once again I’m forced
To strip it down to love
The quiet snow
Nowhere to go
I’m not giving up
You are my only hope.”

If after watching those videos and reading this post you want to learn even MORE about this amazing duo… just follow these 3 steps:

  1. Visit their website.
  2. If you want to support Matt, Kristie, and their family, buy ALL of their music… or alternatively, listen to all of it free on Youtube.
  3. Consider attending one of Vocal Few’s Living Room Tour shows this summer and meeting them in person! I am sure they will be amazing.

*BONUS*: Live recording of “Blue” from The Dream Alive

On Contradictory Natures – and God

I’ve taken to using this blog as a place to write down my random thoughts on various subjects, and thus better develop those thoughts through the process of writing them – so, please take into account that the following discussion is going to be neither sophisticated nor well-researched (tisk-tisk, librarian self).

I’ve been thinking lately about how many of my all-time favorite characters in fiction, and even favorite people, are those who have multiple very different sides to them. Of course, all people are multi-dimensional – it’s impossible even in a lifetime to fully understand a single person, because we’re all created just that complex and unique. Learning about another person and truly getting to know them better is so fascinating for that reason. However, there are certain characters that display in an obvious way a dichotomy of opposite traits – in a way that is seemingly contradictory.

For instance, characters such as the Doctor from Doctor Who, Iroh from Avatar: the Last Airbender, and Dumbledore from Harry Potter all are whimsical and sometimes totally silly – but at the same time, they are also incredibly intelligent, powerful, and competent. Each of these characters can be fierce and commanding – but also gentle and warmly loving. I love characters like this – but not just because they are complex and likable. After thinking more about why I love these characters and others like them, I realized that the reason I admire them so much is because their conflicting natures and contrasting dichotomies remind me, in a way, of God.

All of this brings me to G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday – a story which brilliantly displays God’s own dichotomies. I won’t get into the specifics of this, because it’s a book that is best read unspoiled (as are most books). But reading The Man Who Was Thursday taught me so much about God, because it helped me realize that these seeming contradictions in His nature are not actually contradictions at all – it is possible to be both whimsical and serious, to be both childlike and wise, to be both chaotic and orderly. If we, who God created, can be as complex as we are – with funny sides, and serious sides, and gentle sides, and confident sides, and so many other sides –  how much more complex must be the One who created us all? And if it is impossible to even understand each other within a full lifetime here on earth, how much more impossible must it be to fully understand God even in an infinity?

I am wonderstruck by how little I know about God, and how vastly much there is to Him. It’s a humbling thought to realize that even with all of our knowledge and credentials and connections here on earth, our knowledge of the One who truly matters is less than infinitesimal. We spend so much of our lives here learning things of this world, without pointing them back towards trying to understand God better, and being more like Him – which is what really matters in the first place. Even if we *did* dedicate every waking moment of our lives to learning about Him, we wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

He is so much more than any of us could ever imagine:

He is whimsy, and He is order.

He is childlike, and He is wise.

He is merciful, and He is just.

He is a gentle lamb, and He is a roaring lion.

He is a servant, and He is a king.

And yet, even despite all of these seeming contradictions in God’s nature, He is not undefinable, and He is not a contradiction – because there is one word that defines all of these sides of Him, that sums up every aspect of who He is. There is one word, one very simple yet infinitely complex word, that describes Him perfectly in only one syllable and four letters:

God is Love.

 

Another Post About Learning

As a librarian and lifelong learner, I am fascinated by the very concept of learning. Eight months ago, I wrote a post, “On Learning” – specifically, about the purpose and beauty of learning. Of course I love learning new things, but I also love thinking about the concept of learning in general, and *how* I learn. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and how really, everything I’ve done and experienced in my life has taught me something and thus impacted who I am as a person. This got me to thinking about some of those specific methods by which I’ve learned.  In this post, I’m not going to discuss nearly every method of learning (’cause that’d take forever, and I only have a very finite lunch break in which to write this post) – but I’m going to look into a few that I’ve been specifically thinking about lately.

Learning through books

This is probably typically what people think of when they think “learning”. Books are wonderful and incredibly useful tools for learning a wide spectrum of topics. A great thing about them, is that they don’t just teach you about the subject areas in which they’re written – they also by their very nature teach 21st Century skills such as vocabulary, literacy, and critical thinking – and even empathy. You all know this, so I’m not going to get into the value and importance of reading and studying books any further. Whether fiction or non-fiction, books are exceptional learning tools, and the world knows it.

I’m a librarian, so you probably expect me to push up my glasses (which I don’t have), make a stern expression (I’m not sure I know how), and praise books as the ultimate and only true method by which to learn. However, because I enjoy smashing your expectations, I’m actually going to tell you that I do NOT believe books to be the best form of learning (I can hear your *gasp*s through the computer screen). Before you declare sacrilege and excommunicate me from the world of book-lovers, let me again assure you that I am indeed a book-lover myself, and that I fully recognize the power of books. What I meant by my above comment, is that while books do have the power to teach certain skills exceptionally, their static nature also renders them unsuitable to teach other skills. While there is a lot to be learned through it, book-reading alone is not enough – and I believe that when it is perpetuated as being all there is to learning, and the only “best” method by which to learn, there is a big problem. This problem is what really prompted me to write this post in the first place.

Learning through games

I have quite a lot I could say on this subject, stemming from the fact that I worked at MidAmerica Nazarene University’s Center for Games and Learning for nearly two years and read numerous articles/books on games & learning to help write an annotated bibliography on the subject. If that sounds like a fascinating read to you, by all means request it through their site.

There are thousands of excellent games that not only teach various content areas, but also teach many of the same 21st Century skills that books teach – literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. However, there are certain skills that games can teach that books simply cannot. As I mentioned previously, books are static – games, however, are dynamic. Also, while reading/studying books tends to be a solitary activity (unless reading aloud), games are often very social activities. These differences allow for a greater range of skills to be taught – including skills such as collaboration, leadership, and communication. Playing games with people teaches you a lot about them – games allow people to function in a variety of situations that you otherwise might never see them in. Playing games with people also allows you to practice communication skills such as bluffing, persuasion, and public speaking in a safe, fun, no-pressure environment. While my list of game recommendations would be nearly endless, here is a great list of games to explore, sorted by the 21st Century skills they teach: http://www.mnu.edu/resources/center-for-games-and-learning/games-list.html.

Now, thus far, I’ve only discussed board/card games, or “analog” games – so, I want to briefly talk about digital ones. Within some circles, digital and video games are seen as wholly noneducational and not valuable to learning. Based on my own experience, as well as the experiences of countless other players and scholars of games, I have to argue the contrary. Video games can also be collaborative, but even independent digital games can teach a wide variety of similar skills to books and analog games, with the addition of computer literacy – a very important skill in this day and age. This isn’t to say I don’t recognize that there can be dangers to video games, especially when they are consumed in excess – but really, I think that’s true of just about anything. Just because something has the potential to be dangerous does not mean it doesn’t also have the potential to be beneficial – it just requires discernment.

Learning through digital media

There are many arguments against consuming digital media, and I definitely agree with some of them. Digital media can be harmful in early years, when every second spent learning basic skills matters – it is necessary for children to spend their time learning those skills that are crucial to their development. I am very thankful that I restricted my own consumption of digital media for much of my youth, because it allowed me to use that time for fostering other skills, such as music, writing, reading, and critical thinking.

However, there came a point in my life (around 17) where digital media was actually highly beneficial to me. This is because, just as there are skills best taught through books and games, there are skills best taught through television and films. Watching quality television stories (such as Doctor Who, in my case) helped me gain a confidence, charisma, and interpersonal competence that I was sorely lacking previously. There is something quite different about actually viewing other people within a story – their mannerisms, expressions, and personalities – as opposed to just reading about them. Both are important, but both have different benefits. I am very grateful that I engaged in limited digital media when I was young, but I am equally grateful that I started engaging in more digital media when I got older. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.

Learning through conversation

If I had to choose one method of learning that I consider to be the most important, it would definitely be this one. While any method of learning can be social to an extent, reading a book aloud or playing a game is different from having an actual conversation.  Just as we can learn specific skills through books, through games, and through digital media, there are some that we can only learn through conversations with other people.

When I read a book, I *am* learning from material written by another person – but at that point, it is still a one-way discourse. By engaging in actual conversations with others about what we learn, we are able to learn the value of different perspectives and ways of thought besides our own. My own opinion on a book, or a philosophy, or a political issue will always differ from those of others. Engaging in meaningful, open, friendly dialogue with other people (both those who agree AND those who disagree with us) opens up the door to significant mutual learning. Everyone comes from a different background, and everyone has different learning experiences – so it only makes sense that we will learn much more when we share our unique perspectives with each other through conversation.

Learning through thought

Sometimes, the best way to learn is simply through solitary thought. Our entire life is a collection of learning moments – what we read, what we watch, what we listen to, what we experience, and the interactions we have with people. It’s important to give ourselves time to reflect on all of that, and to think about what we are learning. Learning is to some extent involuntary – and so it’s important to critically process it and recognize how every aspect of our life is impacting who we are as people. 

I could now get really into a conversation about cognition and metacognition, but my lunch break is now over, so I’ll save that for another time (breath your sighs of relief here).

In brief summation:

Learning is a part of everything that we do, and it’s essential to who we are as human beings. But learning is not limited to books, or to anything else. In order for us to be well-rounded human beings, it’s important to engage in a variety of learning methods, even the ones that don’t fit into our preferred learning styles. It’s also important to engage in conversations with others about what we learn, and to at least periodically think about the process of learning itself, so that we are aware of how we are learning and what we can do to learn better.