Thursday, February 16, 2017

What I'm Learning about Love and Surrender

God has been teaching me a lot about real surrender and real love lately. Over the last few weeks and months, I have learned so much about these two things  ~ in ways I could never have expected or predicted, in ways that have confused and frustrated me to no end, and in ways that have pushed and pulled and broken my heart.

In the midst of it all, I have been trying my hardest to cling to God and offer it all to him and seek his will. And he has been faithfully guiding me along, teaching me so many things. Slowly but surely, I am learning the real meaning of surrender and the real meaning of love.

Here's what I've learned.

Surrender is not passive.

Surrender is action.

Surrender is giving.

Surrender is giving yourself.

Surrender is emptying yourself.

Surrender is forgetting yourself.

Love is action.

Love is giving.

Love is giving even when it hurts ~ until it hurts.

Love is sacrificing yourself and your will.

Love empties you of yourself.

Love is emptying yourself.

Love is forgetting yourself.

Surrender and love go hand in hand.

And though they both hurt, there is much joy and peace in both.

Here are two quotes I stumbled upon recently that perfectly sum up what I have been learning:

"Love to be real, it must cost - it must hurt - it must empty us of self." (Mother Teresa)

"Love is more than a mere feeling. To love means to do good. In this way we can experience the happiness of giving, the grandeur of offering ourselves without measure, without expecting to be repaid." (Pope Francis)

Surrender is giving. Love is giving. Let's give of ourselves and empty ourselves ~ and then we'll be truly resigned to God's will, and we'll truly love as God calls us to love, as He loves us. And then we will experience a deep, unshakable joy and peace that can only come from God and that will guide us through everything in our lives.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

5 Steps to Having a Hard Conversation

Maybe you're one of those people who has no problem being straightforward and speaking your mind. Or maybe you're like me, and saying something that might hurt another person, even if it needs to be said, isn't exactly one of your strong suits. Either way, having difficult, frank conversations with people is just part of life and part of being human. So, as a sensitive, empathetic conflict-hater who struggles with tough-love kinda conversations, here are my tried and true tips for just getting the words out.

1. Write out everything you want to say.
Grab a pen and paper and write out everything you want to say to the person in question. Write as though you are addressing the person directly, and as though you're having the conversation right then and there. And when I say write out everything you want to say, really write out everything, in detail. Express all your thoughts, feelings, decisions, etc. in as honest and raw a way as possible. You may not actually say everything you write down when you have the conversation, but doing this will help you sort through all your thoughts.

2. Talk it out with someone else.
Find a close friend or family member to talk things out with. If possible, someone who has firsthand knowledge of the situation or the person involved would be ideal. Talking to someone about difficult situations is always helpful because it allows you to get an outsider's perspective and insight. So I recommend talking to a trusted friend about the issue you're having, and, if you want, you can even use that friend to practice what you're going to say to the person you need to have a conversation with.

3. Do some prayerful preparation.
Prepare to have your tough conversation by taking it to prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to provide a good opportunity for the conversation to happen, and to inspire you with the right words to say. Pray for strength and courage to have the conversation, and for a good outcome. If you entrust the situation to the Lord, He will guide you through it, bring peace to your heart, and resolve the situation according to His will (which will mean the best possible outcome).

4. Find a good time to have the conversation.
Find a time when you and the person can be alone and have some privacy. If possible, make it a time when you and/or the person can or has to leave shortly after the conversation. For instance, pick a time when either you or the person has to be somewhere relatively soon. This way you won't be stuck awkwardly hanging around after having an uncomfortable, brutally honest conversation.

5. Take a deep breath and just say it.
As hard as it may be, just spit it out, whatever it is you have to say. It might take a few deep breaths first and maybe even some tears (in my case... I'm a crier), but when it comes down to it, you just gotta say it. Once you do, you'll feel a million times better and as though a weight's been lifted off your shoulders.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Letter to My Freshman Self (and All College Freshmen)

So here I am, embarking on the last semester of my senior year of college. Pretty crazy, right? My life at the end of college has turned out totally different than little high-school-senior-Stephanie would have ever thought. I've transferred schools, I've made many incredible friends, I've gone through the best of times and the hardest of times, and I've grown and changed exponentially. My years in college have been truly life-changing.

As I reflect back on all these things as a senior, I realize how much I have learned and grown since I was a freshman. Freshman year is a weird time with lots of awkward moments and confusion, and lots of transitioning, adjusting, and learning. There are definitely things I know and do now that I wish I had known or done as a freshman.

If I could write a letter to my freshman self (or to other college freshmen), here are some things I would say.

Sometimes it's okay to forget about homework and hang out with your friends.
You don't have to (and you probably shouldn't) go to every movie night or every late-night ice cream run. But once in a while, choose an opportunity to have fun with your friends over doing homework or working on a paper. Studying isn't everything, and what is more, this is your chance forge deep friendships with the people at school and make lasting memories with them. So do it. It's worth it.

At the same time, make studying a priority, and form good study habits now.
Don't be that freshman who stays up until 3:00am every night hanging out with friends and never does their homework. While it's okay to do that once in a while, don't make it a habit. Not only will your GPA suffer, you'll be in for a rough wake-up call come sophomore year when your classes get harder. Do yourself and your GPA a favor by forming good study habits as a freshman that will carry you through the next three years.

There are tons of ways to save money and make college more affordable.
Be sure to explore your financial aid options: apply for scholarships from your school, for federal aid, or for scholarships from outside sources. If you have to take out loans, use a service like Earnest to help you refinance your student loans. Explore all your school's meal plan and living options ~ because usually there are a multiple options with varying costs ~ and choose whatever is best for you. Look into getting a part-time job on campus ~ it will allow you to save some money during the school year, and also give you a little pocket money.

Put yourself out there and get involved.
I know it's hard being a freshman and not knowing anyone. But don't hide away in your dorm room all the time. Introduce yourself to people (and try your hardest to remember everyone's names). Join a couple of clubs that interest you. Go to campus events. Soon enough, you'll be getting to know people who will be your best friends through college and beyond. At the same time, you'll develop your talents, delve into your interests, and, most importantly, grow as a person.

Lastly, I know you're really scared now, but it's going to be okay. In fact, it's going to be amazing.
Believe me when I say the hard, awkward freshman days don't last. This too shall pass, and before you know it you'll be having the most amazing time of your life. Your school will become just as much "home" as home is. The people you meet will become your dearest friends. You'll have unforgettable experiences and make lasting memories. College will change your life for the better. I promise.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

One Word for 2017: Surrender

(So I almost wrote 2016 as I typed the title of this post. Here's to another year of trying to get used to writing a new date, just as we got used to writing last year's.)

I've been pondering for the last week or so what my word for 2017 should be. I've been searching for a word that would carry me through the coming year in order to grow as God desires me to. As I wrote in my post about my word for 2016:

"This one little word will be my "theme" for 2016. It is a word that I will keep in the forefront of my mind + heart to direct me throughout the year. It will be my track for pursuing my goals + dreams this year. It will help guide me to grow as a person this year, emotionally, mentally, socially, and, most importantly spiritually. It is a word that I hope will help me draw closer to God this year."

This one little word for 2016 was "focus," and in hindsight, I see that there was no word more fitting for last year than that. "Focus" was a consistent and recurring theme throughout my whole year, and through it I grew in more ways than I could possibly have expected. My one little word for 2016 truly carried me through the entire year.

I also wrote, this time last year:

"So this year, I need to focus. I need to put first things first. I need to make more time for the most important things in life, and relish them. I need to recenter my life around God + prayer. I need to stop letting myself get so distracted.
For me personally, I feel that "focus" is a good place to start. If I form a solid foundation for myself by learning to focus, then I can go from there. If my mind + heart are focused and not distracted, my actions will follow accordingly."

I can honestly say that all these things were achieved in my life last year. Not that I'm now perfect and always have perfect focus on the most important things in my life and never stray or get distracted. But after 2016, I have so much more focus on the things I should ~ like God, prayer, my studies ~ and I worry and try to control so much less. I'm more at peace, more centered, more present.

Now that I'm more focused, I want to take more action. Despite my growth in focus, I still find myself struggling to trust God completely and to truly desire His will over mine. I also find that I struggle to be truly selfless, both in my relationship with God and with the people in my life.

That said, I feel particularly called to work on denying myself, sacrificing, and trusting God in this coming year. And so my one word for 2017 is:  s u r r e n d e r .

This year, I'm going to strive to surrender my will to God's more completely. To surrender my life to God more radically. To surrender my will for the sake of others. To forget myself in order to love God and others better.

I'm taking as my role model for this year of surrender my dear patron saint and friend, St. Therese of Lisieux. I want to imitate her Little Way ~ her simple, humble routine of making small sacrifices and of renouncing her will in everyday things for love of God and neighbor. In sacrificing my will in practical, tangible ways, even if they are small ways, I will be better able to sacrifice my will to God and trust in Him.

I'm also taking the following as a prayer or quote to go along with my word for the year:

Let go, my soul, and trust in Him.

I'm going to strive to let go, to surrender, so as to trust in Him more completely and to be truly desirous and accepting of His will instead of mine.

And so friends, that's my mission for 2017: surrender.

What's yours?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 In Review

Long time no see, friends! I know I've been a bit MIA in the blogosphere lately. At the beginning of the school year, I had such grand plans to keep posting a couple times a week, but as the semester continued on and grew progressively crazier, those plans quickly fell by the wayside. My semester was pretty intense, with never-ending reading and papers (#litmajorlife), work, friends, personal stuff, and other commitments. Needless to say, it's been lovely to be on Christmas break these past couple weeks (with another week yet to go!), resting, spending time with family and friends, and celebrating Christmas.

With Christmas break, of course, comes New Year's! I cannot even believe that 2016 is over. So much happened in my life in 2016 ~ exciting things, joyful things, challenging things, painful things. I learned and grew in more ways than I can describe. I met so many people and made so many new friends who have deeply impacted my life. I gained so many new life experiences. I learned more about who I am and who I want to be. 2016 was a hard year in some respects, but an awesome one in so many others.

2017 is going to be a big year for me, and I'm a little nervous but mostly excited to see where it will take me. All I know is that I'm graduating from college in May, and, God willing, starting grad school in the fall. Those are some pretty significant life changes right there... but beyond them I have no idea what 2017 holds for me. I'll just have to let God take the lead and show me the path he has laid out for me ~ and I know it will be incredible.

As we ring in 2017, let's take a look back at the highlights of this past year and all the memories 2016 gave me. Here's my 2016 in review...


Last January I was privileged to meet Dr. Gianna Emmanuella Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Berretta Molla for whom the saint gave her life. It was incredible to have the opportunity to meet her and hear her story ~ and to hear her talk about her "saint mama."


February was fairly uneventful besides fun times with friends at school, which are always a treasure. I also made some big changes to the blog, including installing my current theme (which I love) and purchasing my domain!


March consisted of more fun times with friends and going home for spring break and Easter. I also took this photo of one of my favorite Florida sunsets of the year:


In April, I finished my literature thesis, which was a huge accomplishment ~ and I even won an award for it! My professor gave me the award for most well-written paper, and this was my prize (I was only a little bit excited):


May was a fun month. I finished my junior year of college, then stuck around Florida for an extra week to do the lab portion of my summer environmental science class. I got to go on an airboat ride, wade through a swamp, hold an alligator, and do several other cool things. (I blogged about my fun lab experiences in this post and this post.)


June was a pretty chill month spent at home in Michigan, hanging out with family and friends. A couple highlights included going to Cedar Point with my cousins and getting my new glasses.


On July 3, I departed for France and proceeded to spend 5 weeks in Europe! I went to France (Toulouse, Paris, Mont St. Michel, Lisieux, Lourdes, and a few small towns), Poland (Oswiecim, Wadowice, and Krakow), Prague, and World Youth Day in Krakow. This trip was definitely my biggest highlight of 2016. Words can hardly describe how much I grew, learned, enjoyed myself, was challenged, and was changed on this trip. You can read all about it in these posts:

I'm Home from Europe - and I am Forever Changed
5 Things World Youth Day Taught Me
Instagram Roundup: Europe Edition
Random Observations about Europe (after Spending 5 Weeks There)
What I Learned about Pilgrimage on My Trip to Europe
Highlights of Europe: Prague
Highlights of Europe: Paris
Highlights of Europe: Lisieux


I was still in Europe until August 8, then I finally came home to the good old U.S. Later in August, my family went on a fun weekend vacation to Mackinac Island, MI before I headed back to school. (You can read all about it in this post.)


By September, I was back at school for my senior year of college. (Crazy, I know.) It was a month full of school, friends, and fun.


On October 3, I celebrated my 21st birthday! I had a great birthday (besides writing a paper all day) and an even better birthday weekend, when I went out with friends and my family came to visit.

Later in October, three of my best friends and I went to Daytona Beach, FL for fall break. It was the most refreshing, relaxing, and fun weekend ever (and one that certainly made for some great memories).

Then to conclude October, some friends and I dressed up as a construction crew for Halloween, which was great fun (and made for literally the comfiest costume ever).


The highlight of November was going to my cousin's wedding in Nashville, and then heading home early for Thanksgiving break. My cousin's wedding was beautiful, not to mention an absolute blast!


December consisted of a stressful but also fun last two weeks of the semester, going to a dear friend's wedding in Atlanta, and then heading home for Christmas break! All beautiful, all fun, and all definitely highlights.

Top Blog Posts

These were my top 10 blog posts from 2016 ~ my posts with the highest number of pageviews. Thanks for being part of my blogging journey this year!
  1. 7 Websites Every College Student Should Use
  2. Tips for Buying and Breaking In Birkenstocks
  3. The Perfect Study Playlist for Getting Stuff Done
  4. The Best Study Method for Boosting Your Productivity
  5. Summer Capsule Wardrobe
  6. 21 Things You Didn't Know about Me
  7. 5 Guidelines to Help You Decide Whether to Transfer Schools
  8. On Waiting
  9. Tips for Staying Focused and Engaged in Class
  10. The Versatile Blogger Award: 7 Fun Facts about Me

And that's a wrap!

Thanks for all the memories, 2016. Here's to an amazing 2017!

Happy New Year, friends!

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