There Is a Time to Be Honest

I decided to share some honest thoughts and feelings today. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest, but this post is basically the thoughts that cycle through my head every single night before I go to sleep. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like this sometimes.

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My alarm wakes me up from a dream. Again. It’s a new day.

I drag myself out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, pack my lunch, drive to work, check my email, answer phones, organize, plan, work and more work, go to lunch at the same time every day, more work, drive home, binge-watch my current Netflix obsession, go to bed.

Repeat.

How many stories, books, and poems have been written about life’s monotony?

I’m sure some people would just say that I’m a stereotypical “millennial,” discontent and ungrateful. I’d agree that I tend to be discontent, but I’m not ungrateful.

Why am I discontent? My life is good. Full-time job, new car, my own apartment, master’s degree finished, family and friends nearby, my health.

Is this what being an adult is like? Is this what it means to be an independent 20-something? They told me it would be hard, but I never expected to worry constantly about how I would pay my bills or whether or not I could afford to go see a movie with friends—especially when I work 40 hours every week. People talk about de-stressing, but is that even possible? Stress does not go away; it compounds with interest. It is heavy and impossible to ignore – like a migraine on a hot summer day. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, there it is pounding itself back into your consciousness again.

This is not what I pictured. In all my naïve imaginings, there was one thing that is very absent in my current reality. That thing was a boyfriend and someday husband who would help, encourage, challenge, and love me. Someone to be a witness to my everyday life. Maybe that’s what makes life more difficult for me in particular, being alone when I wake up and when I fall asleep.

People tell me to enjoy being single—that I’ll miss it someday. Well, I’m ready to miss it. I’m done listening to well-meaning and trite advice, the good and the bad. I’m lonely and always trying to ignore a simmering anger and disappointment deep inside me. And it’s time to be honest.

I realize that compared to the pain and evil in this world, my “problems” are superficial and unimportant. But to me they’re very real and painful.

I am not unhappy. I am not ungrateful. I love my family and my friends. I’m thankful for my job. But something is missing, and I can’t ignore that empty space in my heart. I know that being in a relationship will not make life easier, but it will make my life brighter and fuller. Until then, I wait and keep trying to figure out this crazy life on my own.

My alarm wakes me up from a dream. Again. It’s a new day.

Christmas Music Before Thanksgiving?! The Great Debate…Plus My Top 5 Christmas Albums

There is something about the holiday season that can bring out the best in people. Christmas music also has a magical ability to bring back feelings and memories from past years.

I’ve always wondered why so many of us wait to listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I remember fighting the urge to listen to Christmas music in November for years. I didn’t want to “skip Thanksgiving.” But, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas songs aren’t only for the specific holiday.

Remembering Jesus’s birth isn’t reserved only for December. Listening to and enjoying songs about love, joy, and peace on earth should be part of the whole year—not just one month of it.

Of course, I do know that sometimes hearing the same five songs on repeat everywhere you go can get extremely annoying. If we listened to Christmas music all the time, it wouldn’t be different from any other music. I’ve decided that I will definitely listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I might even listen to it at other times of the year when I need a reminder of how it makes me feel during Christmas.

For those of you who aren’t yet feeling the Christmas spirit, here are my Top 5 favorite Christmas albums. Give them a listen, and let me know in the comments if there are others you would add!

 1. Michael Bublé – Christmas

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How can you not love listening to Michael croon some classic holiday favorites?

2. Pentatonix – A Pentatonix Christmas

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This album was just released last month, and it includes a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—which is something different for a holiday album.

3. Josh Groban – Noel

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I really love Josh Groban’s voice. And one track on this album is called “Thankful.” It can definitely count as a Thanksgiving song!

4. The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas

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This 2 CD set was the soundtrack to every childhood Christmas for me. If you see this album, buy it. You won’t regret it—songs by Bing Crosby, Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, Elvis, and many more.

5. Pentatonix – That’s Christmas to Me

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Yes, Pentatonix makes my list twice. I can’t choose just one. Listen to “White Winter Hymnal.” It will be stuck in your head in a good way.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and don’t feel bad for listening to Christmas music before December!

5 Ways to Enjoy Summertime When It’s Too Hot to Be Outside

This week the Midwest is enjoying the lovely July combination of triple-digit temperatures and 100% humidity.

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Photo credit: gravatar.com/nikolynamcdonald

I’m currently fighting off cabin fever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for air conditioning, but I wish I could be outside for longer than a few minutes without feeling like I’ve been in a sauna for hours.

Since I’m stuck inside for the next few days though, I’ve decided to make a list of fun indoor activities. Would you add any others?

  1. Game Night

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Invite friends and family over for a game night! My favorites are party board games like Cranium, Quelf, and Balderdash. It’s also always fun to create your own rules to well-known games. When in doubt, just visit the party game shelf at any store for some good ideas. Disclaimer: you and your friends should be willing to act completely crazy in order to have the maximum amount of fun with party games like Quelf!

  1. Theme Movie Night

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Now there seems to be a theme to my list, but pick a movie genre and have your friends each bring a contender. Then you can all defend your favorites, narrow down to the top three, and choose the winner! Examples include: Rom Com night, Comedy night, Sci-Fi night, or Action/Adventure night. Of course, have everyone bring snacks to share too!

  1. Progressive Dinner

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You’ll still have to brave the heat traveling between houses for this idea, but it’s definitely worth it! Get together with some friends and decide how many courses your dinner will have. Then, assign each person a course, and the whole group will be together by dessert! You could even combine the progressive dinner with a theme movie night!

  1. Create-Your-Own Cooking Show

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Have you ever watched a cooking show and wished you could make cooking seem that epic? Then create your own cooking show! You will definitely need a sidekick to taste test the amazing recipes and some of those little dishes for measuring ingredients. Other than that, just have a friend with a smartphone record the show and let the hilarity ensue!

  1. Start a Chain Letter

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I wouldn’t be a proper English lit nerd if I didn’t have at least one very old-fashioned idea on my list. Remember when people used to write letters with a pen and paper? That is still possible! Convince a few willing victims (I mean friends) that a chain letter would be fun, start the letter, and mail it to the first person. Then, each friend can add to the letter. It’s a unique way to keep in touch in our world of Instagram and Facebook.

 

For the Beauty of the Earth

“For the Beauty of the Earth” is one of my favorite hymns. Every year at springtime, I’m reminded again of just how beautiful this world really is.

Before spring quickly turns to summer, I wanted to share these lyrics and some pictures of flowers I took this year.

I hope they help remind you too.

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For the beauty of the earth
For the Glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of grateful praise.

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For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flow’r
Sun and Moon and stars of light
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of grateful praise.

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For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child.
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of grateful praise.

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For each perfect gift of Thine
To our race so freely given.
Graces human and divine
Flow’rs of earth and buds of heav’n.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
this our joyful hymn of grateful praise.

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5 Perks of Being Single

It’s always very easy to think of all the downsides of being single. But when you really stop to think about it, there are so many perks to singleness! Here are the top 5 that I came up with today:

1) You get to watch whatever movie or Netflix show you want! There is no debating between an action adventure or a rom-com, Fuller House or a World War II documentary. You get to choose depending on your mood. Do you feel like watching the entire 5-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice? Then watch it! No arguments. No judgment. No problem.

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2) No fighting over where to eat. We all know the couple who spends an hour driving around town trying to decide where to eat—which usually leads to both of them sitting silent and hangry in the McDonald’s drive-thru. When you’re single, there is no arguing except with yourself when your conscience tries to convince you that Taco Bell twice in one week is probably not a good idea…

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3) You only have to keep track of your schedule. If a friend invites you over for a game night, you don’t have to check with your significant other before deciding whether or not to go. You never have to worry about how you’ll possibly get two schedules to line up or if you’ll both be able to ask off work for your second cousin’s wedding next month.

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4) You learn relationship mistakes vicariously. When you’re single, you get the chance to observe the relationships around you. Being the third wheel isn’t always such a bad thing. You can use your times of singleness to learn how much work relationships really are—and to think about how you’ll react in challenging dating situations.

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5) There is no argument over whether the toilet paper goes over or under. This is a constant debate. The lucky couples are the ones who agree on this incredibly important issue, but sadly they are a rare phenomenon. When you’re single, you don’t have to be frustrated every time you go to the bathroom. No passive aggressive toilet paper roll swapping is freedom!

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Obviously, this list is meant to be lighthearted. I could easily write a much longer one titled “The Perks of Being in a Relationship,” but sometimes it’s better to see things from a different perspective. And I think single people tend to get the feeling that we’re lacking something. We are fully complete whether or not we’re dating someone, and usually it’s when we’re single that we learn the most about ourselves. What other perks of singleness would you add to the list?

7 Shows to Binge-Watch in 2016

I have had friends recommend so many TV shows recently that I would have to quit my job and stay home for months just to watch them all. That being said, I already spend too much time watching my favorite shows. Netflix has only made it harder to choose which shows are worth committing hours of your life to watching. I know this blog post is only adding to the thousands of “which shows to watch next” articles already cluttering the internet, but if you are currently in the midst of deciding which television show to binge-watch next, here in no particular order are my recommendations. And as you’ll soon see, since I’m a proud anglophile, many of my favorites are BBC shows:

  1. Downton Abbey

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What can I say? I fell in love with this show in its first series, and my heart has been broken several times over the past five years. The sixth and final series is airing in the U.S. right now, and I know I’m not the only one hoping my favorite characters find happiness. If you’ve never seen this show, it’s definitely worth your time. The drama follows the Crawley family from the sinking of the Titanic through the years following the First World War, with all the heartbreak, intrigue, and joy to be expected. And who doesn’t love Maggie Smith? Everyone knows someone who owns all the seasons on DVD, so there’s no excuse for not catching up!

  1. Sherlock

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Seriously, if you haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the BBC’s modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective stories, you’re missing out. All of us Sherlock fans have been waiting for what seems like forever for the next season, but the creators tantalized us with a stand-alone episode this month that didn’t disappoint. And honestly, is there any other villain quite as terrifying as Moriarty?

  1. Call the Midwife

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Yet another BBC series, Call the Midwife, is a perfect combination of history, drama, and medicine. Very few episodes have ended without a stack of used Kleenex beside me. The ladies’ adventures at Nonnatus House are based on true events, and the show’s creators do a wonderful job at historical research. Prepare to be completely invested in the life of 1950s East End London and the pain and rejoicing that comes from childbirth.

  1. Mr. Selfridge

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Ok, so all of my favorite shows are from the BBC except for two, and this one is not an exception. Mr. Selfridge loosely follows the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American businessman who founded one of London’s most popular department stores at the start of the twentieth-century.  The fourth season will air in the U.S. in March of this year, but you’ll definitely want to go back and watch the first three seasons to catch up. The love triangles can get a bit confusing.

  1. Poldark

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I only discovered Poldark last year when the first season aired on PBS, and I’m already eagerly awaiting the release of the second season! Ross Poldark is the title character who returns to England after fighting the Americans in the Revolutionary War. His father has died and the mining estate is failing. And to make everything even worse, the true love he left behind is marrying his cousin! That’s not technically a spoiler because this show is absolutely full of drama from the very first moment. And as an added bonus, the cinematography is stunning with vast stretches of Cornwall’s green cliffs rising above the ocean.

  1. Once Upon a Time

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Since I am American, I suppose I should add my two favorite American television shows. Once Upon a Time is currently on winter break in the middle of its fifth season. It airs on ABC and follows the fairytale residents of Storybrooke, Maine, as they travel back and forth through various mythical realms and reality. Emma Swan is the “savior” daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and only she can break the curse that holds them captive. Light and dark magic face off in every season of this show that has you wondering if all evil villains are really that evil. I will admit that season three and the first part of season four were slow-moving and my least favorite seasons, but the show has picked back up now and I’m excited to see what happens when the show begins again in March.

  1. Galavant

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Before my list gets so long that it seems I already spend all my time staring at a screen, I will finally recommend this zany, ridiculous musical comedy that is proudly aware of the fact that it should not have had a second season on ABC. It airs during Once Upon a Time’s winter break and introduces us to Sir Galavant, a singing knight on a quest to find his one true love. The large and somewhat random cast includes names such as Timothy Omundson, Vinnie Jones, John Stamos, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and Hugh Bonneville (who incidentally plays Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey). If you enjoy laughter and being entertained, then watch this hilarious show. The episodes are short, and it’s only on its second season. Here’s hoping they can beat the “Cancellation Bear” once again and return next year with season three!

That’s the end of my list. If you want to save yourself a few hours of scrolling through the Netflix menu, try one of these shows. I promise you won’t regret it!

Advice from my 12-year-old self

Today I was wondering what advice I would give myself now if I was a kid again. This letter is what I ended up with. It’s a good reminder.

Dear “Grown Up” Me,

Do you like being a grown up? Is it as fun as you always thought it would be?

If you feel overwhelmed and tired, just remember that you can eat dessert before dinner now and you don’t have to ask permission from anyone!

I hope you haven’t forgotten how fun it is to be a kid. Just because you’re a grown up now doesn’t mean you can’t build a kingdom in a willow tree or go to a park and pilot your very own airplane on the swings. You can still find animal shapes in the clouds and trace the shapes of the constellations.  

I know you can’t really be a kid again even if you wanted to. But try to remember the joy, the freedom, and the wonder.

Race your shadow across sunny fields. Bury your feet in warm sand. Laugh until you can’t breathe. Use your imagination. Love people wholeheartedly. Try new things. Embrace challenges. Be thankful for the sunshine and the rain.

Do you remember?

I hope you do.

Until later,

Meagan

Poetry and Peace

Since I work at a bookstore, I find it difficult to pass up beautifully bound volumes of poetry when I run across them—which is why I am now the proud owner of both Willa Cather’s and Emily Dickinson’s poetry collections!

I’ve been reading the poems during my lunch hour at work over the past few weeks, and it has been incredibly relaxing and peaceful. There is something almost magical in the way poets are able to describe the world with the perfect combinations of words. I’ve always thought that the best poets write about universal or common ideas but explain them in completely new ways.

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One of Willa Cather’s poems stood out to me most. I’m sharing it here:

All the Peace of Evening Stars

All the peace of evening stars,
All the joy of morning dew,
Be the journey through and through
And of Beauty what is true
And only that—with flowers
that grew
Tradeless since the heart first knew.
All faith believes, all knowledge bars,
And the peace of evening stars.

Reading more poetry gave me the inspiration to try writing my own again. I have absolutely no intentions of being compared to fantastic poets such as Dickinson and Cather, but I wanted to share the latest poem I’ve written. I’m very thankful for the gifts of words and language. Here is my poem:

Peace

Why do the shadows hide when menacing clouds block the sun?
Where do summer breezes go when October’s winds blow fierce and cold?
What magical words are spoken to awaken dawn and dew?
Who sends the rain and sunshine and sprinkles the sky with stars?

When I stop and question all that I can’t understand,
My mind begins this spinning and whirling beyond my control
There are no answers—only puzzles—
Links to mysteries beyond my small world.

Why does evil seem to always win?
Where have heroes and angels gone?
What is there possibly that I could do?
Who knows the outcome of it all?

In the midst of my mental mess
I hear a faint voice soft and kind.
If I choose, I can ignore it. Him.
But somehow He calms my mind and lightens my heart.

“Rest, my child, I’ll guide you when darkness blocks out the light.
I’ll hold you when the wind bites deep and cold.
Someday I’ll answer all your questions
And show you my view of the stars.

“Evil will not win, and my heart breaks with yours now.
Heroes and angels are all around you—just open your eyes to see
There is much I have for you to do.
I know you wonder and worry, but I know how this ends.”

He wraps me in his warmth and presence and whispers
“Peace. Be still.”
I don’t need all the answers. For now it’s enough to stay
Here with Him and learn. To love as He loves me.

All the Single Ladies: 10 Jane Austen-Approved Ways to Survive Valentine’s Day Without a Date

It is February once again. If you’re anything like me and dreading being single for yet another Valentine’s Day, I can guess that you sometimes wish you could find something to keep your mind off that fact. Today I was thinking about Jane Austen’s novels and how they have been portrayed and romanticized over the two centuries since they were published. Many people hear the words Pride and Prejudice and think “cheesy rom com.” We tend to focus on the dreamy men in the novels–Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, or Mr. Tilney. But we forget that the women in the novels are fascinating apart from their male counterparts. I’ve compiled a list of activities that I’m sure would be Jane Austen-approved for those days when you really need to stop reminding yourself of just how single you are—or maybe when you want to find a new way to impress a certain eligible gentleman.

1. Take a long walk. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett once walked several miles—in the mud! Walking is healthy, and it can be relaxing. Also, Mr. Darcy noticed that Lizzy’s eyes “were brightened by the exercise.”

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2. Read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. It may have been published in 1794, but this Gothic novel was scandalous and amusing enough for Austen to have her young heroine Catherine Morland’s imagination run away with her in Northanger Abbey. Catherine praised it highly to Mr. Tilney: “Do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?”

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3. Try painting. Why not? Sign up for a class. Go to your favorite spot in nature, set up an easel, and try your hand at painting—or better yet, try painting a friend’s portrait. After all, in Emma, Mr. Elton was so struck by Emma’s painting that he exclaimed: “Oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it. I never saw such a likeness.”

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4. Learn needlework. Yes, it can be time consuming and detail-oriented but also rewarding. Ask your mother, grandmother, or a friend if she will teach you to knit, crochet, quilt, or cross-stitch. Not only will you learn a new skill, but you’ll get to spend quality time with a person you love. Oh, and you could always knit a scarf or hat and impress a potential suitor. It’s also a great way to be inconspicuous, as Elizabeth showed us: “Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion.”

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5. Learn to play an instrument. It doesn’t have to be the pianoforte of course, but you’re never too old to appreciate music and learn to play a musical instrument. In Pride and Prejudice, “Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument.” Gentlemen can be impressed when a woman excels at something, especially playing an instrument.

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6. Plant a garden. Even if you don’t have outdoor space for an actual garden, try planting some flowers in pots to brighten your home—or even plant some herbs or vegetables. The heroines of Austen’s novels always enjoy strolls through their gardens.

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7. Try floral arranging. You know all those flowers you’ve planted and grown now? Try your hand at arranging them in vases around your house! Arranging flowers takes skill and makes a home even more welcoming.

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8. Learn to cook. I know most of us can follow a recipe or make delicious macaroni and cheese, but have you ever tried cooking a three-course dinner? Why not challenge yourself? After all, the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! So, create a menu and invite some friends over to share it with you! Jane Austen herself had a “Household Book” with over 100 family recipes. Do you need some inspiration? Buy yourself a copy of Dinner with Mr. Darcy by Pen Vogler. My friend gave it to me as a gift, and it is full of fantastic recipes!

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9. Try your hand at writing a short story or novel. I’m sure Jane Austen would encourage anyone to use their imagination and try writing. In Northanger Abbey, the wonderful Mr. Tilney does say that “the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” I think that goes for reading and for writing novels.

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10. And lastly, write a letter. We have lost the art of letter writing today, but there’s nothing quite like getting a handwritten letter in the mail. Pick up a pen and paper and write a long letter to a friend, family member, or even to a potential beau! Don’t just write a few short words. This isn’t an e-mail or a text message. Take the time to make it interesting! Letters were one of the only forms of communication in Jane Austen’s world. Reading any of her novels will give you plenty of examples of beautiful letter writing. Of course, my personal favorite is Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth in which he explains himself articulately and elegantly. And just for fun, there is a wonderful website called “Write Like Austen” that will give you the perfect Regency British-style word to make your letter even better— http://www.writelikeausten.com.

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So there you have it. Ten ways to survive Valentine’s Day without a date! And of course, reading one of Jane Austen’s novels is obviously another option. I hope this list gave you some ideas, made you laugh, or at least helped you stop focusing on being single for a few minutes. I know that writing it helped me. Can you think of any other Jane Austen-approved activities that I didn’t include in this list?

All quotations were taken from the wonderful website: http://www.pemberley.com.

“They Tried to Bury Us; They Did Not Know We Were Seeds”

“They tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds.” – Mexican proverb

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I’ve been coming across metaphors and stories involving soil and seeds consistently over the past few days. I didn’t want to keep ignoring them as a coincidence, and it made me think about how often seeds are used as examples in Bible stories. The Mexican proverb I quoted was one that someone found at work a few weeks ago, and it sparked my initial thoughts. Take a moment to read the quote again. Let it sink in. From just the basics of what we know about seeds, we realize that these words are powerful.

It is no wonder that the quote was adopted by protestors and fighters in Mexican uprisings. Originally, the quote was written by a Greek poet named Dinos Christianopoulos. He wrote: “What didn’t you do to bury me/But you forgot that I was a seed.” The words are both challenging and empowering—a call to rise up in the midst of persecution. Whether or not this empowers us to stand against widespread oppression or simply smaller personal struggles, I think it gives us strength and a starting point for deeper thought. Seeds are used to represent new beginnings.

A few days after I first read this quote, my pastor spoke about the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this parable, it is about a farmer who plants seeds on different types of soil: the shallow soil doesn’t allow the seeds to take root, the seed among the thorns is choked, but the seed sown on good soil grows and multiplies. But as my pastor pointed out, parables are meant to draw us deeper into the story—to create a yearning that is much stronger than simple curiosity.  In this parable, Jesus explains that the seeds represent God’s Word, and the varying soils are the ways in which we choose to receive His message. “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23). I am challenging myself to do more than just read the Bible. I want to understand it and let God’s love grow in me and spread to others. Seeds can represent growth, strength, and health.

Seeds also lie dormant for long periods of time. When conditions are right—fertile soil, sunshine, nutrients, water—these seeds transform into something completely different. They don’t technically die, but they give up their identity as a seed to become a new vibrant, growing plant. This metamorphosis reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Seeds may not die before a plant begins to grow from them, but they must become something completely new. I see this as another challenge. We have to give up the things that define us in the world and take on our new identities as followers of Christ. Seeds represent change.

One last thought from Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” God’s Word is the never-ending stream of water, and if we choose to be planted next to Him, we will grow strong and be blessed. That’s a promise that I’d like to hold onto, and I pray that all of us will remember.

Origin of Quote: http://jhfearless.com/2014/11/they-tried-to-bury-us-they-didnt-know-we-were-seeds/