And so it ends

Two years ago, I wrote myself an email and used the wonders of the interwebs to have it sent to myself on this day–the day of my graduation. I looked forward to the email all morning, and when the cell towers managed to receive it, I opened it with trepidation.

I was afraid that the letter would only make me feel that I had let my past self down, but in fact Past-Me was far more concerned with providing me comfort and encouragement.

I pride myself on my ability to listen. I consider that my best self is when I am most selfless — an ear without a mouth, a soft comforter to listen to. But how rare it is that I think to listen to myself, and provide myself that same soft comfort.

Once a friend asked me “If you were a song, what song would you be?”

“Silence,” I replied after a long pause.

“Like the Sound of Silence? The Simon and Garfunkle song?”

“No… Just silence. So I could hear all the songs that were going on around me.”

Upon receiving this email, I’ve realized sometimes it’s quite nice to listen to the words of someone who shares your strangeness, to hear in them the echoes of truth just where you need to hear it. Someone who knows you perfectly well. Listening to yourself.

Without further ado, the abridged Lenter to my Future Self.

The following is an e-mail from the past, composed on July 03, 2013. It is being delivered from the past through FutureMe.org

Dear Future Me,

Congratulations! (You graduated, right? What a terrible email to receive if we’re not graduating!)

Know that you are an inspiration to me. You are the woman I fight for every day. You are my work-further-in-progress goals and hopes.

Right now, I (that is to say, we?) am halfway through college. Successful so far, but ever so hopeful that success doesn’t end with the last triumph. A book is still an ever-present dream. Every day we write, we make it possible for God to work through us again and give us meaningful words to share.

Oh God.

He has been so merciful. He has blessed me in every way — at school, at work, with family, with friends. He has led me with so much patience. No matter what happens, keep talking to your Father of Confession. He is on your team, the one led by your guardian angel, the one that protects you and helps you grow closer to God.

Be bigger on the inside. And knowing us, the ridiculously active imagination in that head of ours… it gets us in to trouble sometimes, but get it under control and we will always be bigger on the inside in the best way!

I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. I hope today there’s a lot of bliss, but I’m concerned you might be afraid. I don’t want to ever be afraid. You believe in God. Believe that He believes in you too. Believes in you as in, He believes in your potential to be great, and great for HIM!

He is going to bless you exceedingly and abundantly above what even *your* imagination could come up with.

Keep being a romantic, especially for other people’s love stories.

Give your family attention and kisses. Fill them up with as much love as you can — you know they need it, the way they spread their love around. Pray for your parents daily. They are so precious.

There’s so many people to love and think of.

We are so very blessed, Maria. So very very blessed.

I hope this email finds you well.

Past Self

Congratulations

Today I heard a lot of congratulations. Literally, that word–“congratulations.” From the Latin word con meaning together, and gratulari, meaning giving thanks and showing joy. Congratulations. Together, let us give thanks and be joyful.

For parents who went above and beyond this weekend but also all the time, every day. For the couple who made us family when we came to the U.S. For the stars that spot the sky and the dark, weaving Virginia roads. For today, and for God’s mercy to show me joy and peace and all the celebratory congratulations.

Tonight I cannot sleep. It’s not too unusual… Since I was a kid I’ve spent plenty of nights awake on my bed for far too long. (Let’s face it, I love my bed.) But tonight I’m not in it for the silence of the house or the book I can’t put down or the conversations with myself and my God. Tonight is the last night of this chapter, the end of this era. I want to savor it like the last piece of kofta in the pan, the last bite of cheesecake on the plate.

Tonight I want to remember every time I got tangled up in worries and thought maybe there’d be nothing to congratulate me for in 2015. Every mountain that felt a little too steep, every valley that came up a little too fast, every jungle that stood a little too thick. And every bit of it, the ugly, the hard, the forgettably boring–every bit of it wonderful.

A marvelous thing because this broken road was blessed by God, my little to be faithful over. Now I turn it in, a new tree to prune and grow around the corner.

My congratulations to the Class of 2015.

Things for which we (all too often) forget to give thanks

That whole “giving thanks for all things, concerning all things, and in everything” phrase is good, but it’s just no replacement for telling Him the specifics.

  1. Ice cream
  2. Busy work
  3. Closed doors
  4. Free stuff
  5. Colors and eyes to see them
  6. Smells and a nose to sniff them
  7. Tastes and a tongue to enjoy them
  8. Touches and hands to feel them
  9. Good weather
  10. Ability to control the “weather” inside
  11. Refraining from blotting us off the earth when we are snarky/complaining/otherwise rude to Him
  12. Beds
  13. Cold water
  14. Working extremities (from legs to toes and arms to fingers)
  15. Roofs that don’t leak
  16. Roofs that you can sit on
  17. Memories
  18. Friends

Stuck in a Moment

Six days away from graduation and what I consider the official deadline of this blog. In six days, I will have no right to call myself a college Copt anymore. So I’m trying to cram in all the best stuff, all the good stuff–heck, all the mediocre stuff while I’ve still got the honor of the title.

Six days away from graduation and feeling stuck in a moment, but this song never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Bono with his (let’s face it, kind of silly) glasses, and The Edge with his ridiculously high voice and incredible guitar talent. And of course my favorite part of any song–lovely, poignant lyrics. From the defiant opening of “I am not afraid of anything in this world/There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard” to his anything-but-gentle final line “This too shall pass,” each word is meaningful, carefully chosen, poetic. Even when he gives advice, it doesn’t feel didactic… it feels raw and real.

I couldn’t possibly write down all my favorite lines without just copying the whole song. Just perfection.

Enjoy the clip! It’s one of my favorite renditions of one of my favorite songs.

The Real Wisdom Life Method

“Will I one day thank God even for the sins, the abuse, the problems? Yes. Because He will use everything that I went through for His glory, in the end. One day, I’ll give thanks for that. Wow. It was worth it.

One last thing before we conclude. Very practical. We want to run away from generalization and find out the buttons. If they are ten, you don’t understand what we’ve talked about. Five at most. We want to work on one thing at a time. Specifically, every year God wants to work on one thing in my life. That’s why the church calendar goes through a year. From Nayrouz until Advent is discovering what God wants to work in me. Then Advent, God want to be born in me to fix this area. Then Lent, God wants to put this to death this part. Resurrection, He wants to put His life in me. Apostles Fast and Holy Spirit, to use this for His glory and take me to a deeper level in the spiritual life. So every year, what is the one thing God is working on this year. That’s how you notice the grace and can monitor.

Generalization? Generalization takes away the grace of God, the strength. You pray for patience? You can’t measure it. It was haphazard. Versus every year growing in something.

God doesn’t have ADD. He works on something, completes it, and then works on the next thing.”

–Selection from a sermon of my FoC that I was asked to transcribe one day this past summer. What a beautiful set-up from the Church on how to live life every year!

The 30-Second-Boat Life Method*

Quite recently, I made repeated efforts to be a member of the 30-Second-Boat: a strong, lovely people who follow this method for life:

Can you make it through the next 30 seconds? –> If no –> Take a deep breath –>

Congratulations those 30 seconds are over –> Repeat

I couldn’t thrive there. I’d spend 5 seconds thinking about yesterday and 15 seconds thinking about tomorrow and 10 seconds thinking about how there were only a few seconds to the end of those thirty seconds. (Thirty seconds is really not a heck of a lot of time.)

Forget thirty seconds, I want to figure out life in thirty year increments. I wish God gave me a script, and I could live this life having rehearsed it. (I wrote a short story like that once, about a girl who received a script every evening and she would practice it before bed, and by the end of the story you realized, the script wasn’t for a play she was in — those were her lines for actual life. You think it’s a creepy story, and it was meant to creep the audience out. But not-so-secretly, I think it’s kind of paradise.) I like knowing, especially knowing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Give me a plan because I am one hell of a directions-follower.

You know what I’m not about? I’m not about spontaneous fun. Gross. Spontaneous “fun” is a pity. What’s more fun than planning every part of your fun so you can look forward to each part of it in turn? You just lost out on all the planning fun and all the looking-forward-to-it fun and the only fun you got was the … you know … actual fun part.

Anyways. The point is when someone tells me “Just enjoy yourself! Just relax and have fun with the adventure!” they might as well be speaking Swahili. (And in case it wasn’t clear: I don’t speak Swahili.) Don’t bother explaining to me the things that are above my understanding because I do not now understand and cannot imagine ever understanding the math behind 2+2=Apple. “Just enjoy”? What is this “just enjoy” you speak of?

Do you ever feel like the most simple-complicated person who ever existed? Or is that just me? (I sometimes have moments like that, you know — where I assume everyone is a little crazy and then realize that actually I’m the only one.)

Everything about me feels really, really simple. But when I try to talk about things, I realize I must be really complicated because no one seems to get it. And I’m no help because I just stare out in the distance and think loudly at them “How can you not get it?” and then go disappear somewhere I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.

My life method of plan-plan-plan has an unfortunately major flaw because we actually live in a world where phrases like “don’t count your eggs before they hatch” and “what can go wrong will” and “one plus one hardly ever equals two” and probably dozens more in other languages unfortunately exist and exist for a reason. I am always bummed when my plans don’t work out. Like what do you mean this movie is sold out? You can’t go to the DR with me anymore? My flight was delayed? I don’t have a job? This wasn’t part of the plan. (Except the flight being delayed to be honest. I fly US Air and Delta, and I’ve come to realize they are always delayed. It is now part of the plan.)

Everyone says “It’s not your plan, it’s part of God’s plan!” and then they smile like they just fixed it.

Okay. Cool. Does that really work for them? Are people really that holy and why am I not that holy? It’s like I’m trying to hang a frame so I ask for a hammer. When everyone replies with a quote from Charles Dickens, that’s nice and all, but don’t expect any pictures to go up on the walls today.

*I’m feeling in a bit of a … mood … today. This post will probably come down in the next 24 hours.

Letter to College Copts

After a night of receiving much love, I wrote this email for my fellow peers. Much of it seemed appropriate for any Coptic college student in some capacity, and so I thought I’d share.


To the many wonderful members of Coptic Club,

I couldn’t go without one more long email. Many of you spoke of my sassiness and strong opinions—I won’t argue there :p …But do not confuse my brazen confidence for wisdom. I am a 22-year-old girl chock-full of foolishness. Keep that in mind when you read this, and don’t say I didn’t warn you if you actually heed my advice.

I’ve been changed by the last four years. I have seen suffering that I could not have imagined. There will be days when the darkness seems capable of swallowing the light, when hopelessness seems practical not dramatic.

I’ve also seen joy that I could not have fathomed. Sometimes your heartstrings will hum like a perfectly tuned orchestra. Sometimes you’ll get goosebumps in the middle of a normal moment—just pure, unadulterated happiness and you’ll realize: you can never go back to this time. There are only so many early morning walks to Bodo’s under the lingering stars, only so many nights (like this one) spent laughing in Arch’s. You’ll be climbing Humpback with a group of friends and one time that time will be your last hike up the beloved mountain. This moment can’t be replicated. You can’t put it on rewind and live it again.

So take a mental picture and thank God for the goodness in your life.

He’ll bless you with monumental successes you’ll never see coming, and He’ll teach you with failures that will always blindside you. Sometimes you’ll work towards something never knowing if the seeds will turn out sprouts. Work towards it anyways. ‘Don’t be otherwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid—the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.’ (Dostoevsky)

These last four years have changed me. God knows they will change you too. Be conscious of the change. Let them change you not just for the better, but for the best.

You attend one of the greatest universities in the world, on a beautiful campus with kind and thoughtful and thought-provoking people. Intelligence is everywhere (and so is stupidity, but let’s be glass half-full). You’ll hear it on the Corner and you’ll read it on the signs. You are a quick walk away from famous poets and leading experts and maybe another budding priest is sitting beside you in Coptic Club or will be next year.

Now I, and many others with me, venture out into the unknown. Sometimes life feels like a series of breakdowns in a different library bathroom, and I’ve made more than my share of dumb mistakes to get myself there. But God is gentle—even when He feels like a hurricane, even when you throw yourself into a hurricane—He will guide you to the eye of the storm and you will be at peace. He will use every situation to teach you, to help you grow, and when all your growing through college is done, just when you’ve finally got college all figured out, He will make you move on. So enjoy these adventures while they last. A new round will be here to greet you before you’re ready to say goodbye.

In the love of Christ,
College Copt