Easy Appetizer: Greek Feta Dip

Monday, December 5, 2016

I mentioned in a recent post that I've never been much of a cook. And although I would like to change that, the excuse that most often gets in the way of my intention is a lack of time.

I would imagine it's the same for you. Do any of us actually know anyone who has buckets of free time to spare?

Hahaha funny joke, right? We're all insanely busy.

That's why I was so excited when I stumbled across this recipe, courtesy of The Girl Who Ate Everything. It only took me about 10-15 minutes to assemble everything, and I didn't even have to turn the oven on!  Plus, the good-for-you ingredients make this a guilt-free way to treat yourself to a satisfying snack or meal. Just throw all the ingredients together, marinate it in the fridge for a few hours to bring out all the flavor nuances, and you're ready to enjoy. Pair it with pita chips, pita bread, or a warm baguette (as the recipe recommends), and you can't lose.

With the holiday season in full swing, it's good to have a couple of easy recipes in your back pocket to pull out for all those parties you're heading to.  ...Or you can eat this whole plate by yourself. Not that I'm doing that or anything.


Strength for the Journey

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I will be,
I will be,
I will be,
For the journey.
-       Michael John Poirier, “Strength for the Journey”

Hello there, reader.

How are you today? And I’m not asking in the casual way we use as a greeting, that way that really doesn’t require an answer. I mean, how are you really?

What’s weighing on your heart?

How can I serve you?

See, the task of pinning down my niche as a writer is a really difficult one, and I was hoping you could help me out. What do you need? Or rather, what do you need that I can give to you?

I want to give you hope. Encouragement. Inspiration. Support. Love. So far these are what I keep coming back to, but they’re not quite specific enough, are they? Who do I mean to encourage? And about what do I hope to encourage them?

I’ve been so hesitant to narrow and define my niche because I don’t want to turn anyone away if they’re immediately thinking, “That’s not me.” In recent months, I’ve begun regarding my writing as a ministry. And if ministry is service, then I want to serve… well, everyone! I want to write for everyone.

But I don’t know how to do that, because there are people with infinite experiences and struggles different from my own that I couldn’t speak to without feeling like a fraud. I don’t, for example, know what it’s like to be a mother or an athlete or a movie star or a musician. So I don’t write about those things, and instead I opt to “write what I know,” but still I feel, at only 24 years young, I can’t write about anything with the authority and wisdom born from experience.

But nonetheless, here’s what I do know:

I know a road paved with uncertainty, where trepidation and anxiety and fear of the future drip from the leaves over my head. I know straightaways that continue for miles and bends that come out of nowhere; I know streams to quench my thirst; I know rocky ascents and peaceful, flower-filled meadows, and God’s hand at my back, always. But mostly I know the relentless tug of wondering if I’m moving in the right direction, if I should have taken a different road. Would another path be easier than the one I’m on right now? And how do I learn to love the one God’s lighting for me, one bit at a time?

I hope that when I tell my stories, you see something of my journey in yours. Although the paths we walk are inherently different, they’re also the same – well-trodden with familiar fears and anxieties, missteps and stumbles, the generations who came before us, and those who walk beside us now to remind us we’re not alone. If you are looking for a companion as you walk your road, I want to be that for you.

I want to be your strength for the journey: the lifelong journey to understanding your self-worth, God’s infinite and unconditional love for you, your purpose, and the kind of intentional, love-filled life you yearn to live.

I will be,
I will be,
I will be,
For YOUR journey.
How can I be strength for your journey? What do you need today? Prayers, love, encouragement? Let me know in the comments below. :)

Replacing "I Can't" with "What If?"

Saturday, November 26, 2016

“I hope my future husband is good at cooking so I won’t ever have to worry about that on Thanksgiving.”

As soon as I said it, I was embarrassed, mostly because my sister was quick to challenge me: “Why can’t you learn to cook?”

It sounded accusatory, as though she assumed I was waiting for my future husband to “save” me from what I felt I couldn’t do. I’d meant it, though, in a way that just hoped he’d complement me. I don’t see myself as particularly proficient behind a stove, and I hoped his strengths would someday cover my weakness.

“You can do anything you want to do.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Of course I know that; I'm the product of the generations before me who fought for women’s abilities to define their own futures, and the daughter of the ‘90s Disney princess revolution which urged us to dream big and dare. I spend idle moments with my iPhone searching for new inspirational quotes to use as my lock screen background, and I scribble new goals and dreams in my journal daily.

But still I know that even with the best of intentions, there are certain talents each of us inclines toward, and there’s a lot more resistance involved in pushing aggressively toward success in something we’re not naturally gifted in. That’s usually when we opt to leave that for someone else, and cultivate the things we really enjoy instead (as I did, for example, when I discovered my hand-eye coordination is seriously lacking and decided to pursue theatre rather than sports in my childhood).

But the thing about cooking is that I’ve never even really tried to learn how. My parents divorced when I was twelve, and though my mother has many talents, cooking is not her forte. She didn’t teach me, and I guess I’ve always considered the fact that I’ve never learned as proof positive that I can’t, because if I could, I would have done it already, and all these years of not having done it must mean it would be all the more difficult to try now… right?

It’s become a popular self-deprecating joke, a conversation starter even, when I speak with others about what we like to do: Oh you like to cook? That’s awesome. My cooking expertise usually starts and ends with grilled cheese and anything that comes out of a box. I can toss salads and dump ingredients in a crockpot. But real cooking? Like, turning-the-stove-on cooking? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

My sister’s comment the other day reminded me it’s time to reconsider this, not only because others seem to pity a twenty-something college graduate who still lives on a dorm room diet and who’s more than capable of teaching herself how to cook, but also because… well…

I’d put myself in a box, hadn’t I? And the discomfort I was feeling was the result of trying to cramp myself in a space too small for me.

We do this all the time, don’t we? Decide what we’re good at, who we are and are not, what we can and can’t do. We catastrophize "what if" (What if it all goes horribly wrong?) without ever giving ourselves the benefit of it – what if we’re actually really great at this thing we’ve never tried?

We think we’re being true to who we are, and there’s certainly something to be said for authenticity if it’s true. But how many times do we use “I can’t” as an excuse to not find out who we are in the first place… to keep hiding, to dull our sparkle, to stay shut inside our boxes when our potentials long to be unpacked?

What’s something you’ve always assumed you couldn’t do? This week, take one tiny step towards trying. Learn one recipe. Watch an instrument tutorial on YouTube. Write a poem that no one else will ever see.

Replace "I can't," with, "What if...?" and give yourself the benefit of believing you can.

Photo Credit: tsuacctnt Flickr via Compfight cc

Enough: Learning to Open My Clenched Fists

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I’ve written before about my struggles to realize I’m good enough, have enough, do enough. I’ve written on these topics so frequently that I might even say, “The struggle is real.” Which it is. The struggle for “enough” is real and relentless and exhausting. And it never ends, because whatever goals we set for ourselves now are the things we’ll see in the rearview mirror on the way to the next milestones we’ll seek.

What will happen, for example, once I reach 100 blog subscribers? I’ll want 200. Then 500. And someday, thousands. And tens of thousands. And so on and so forth. I will probably never feel satisfied if I pin my idea of success on such metrics, and I realize this is just one example of how we think we’ll be happy when we achieve something, but that happiness will always come with the next thing, never with where we are now, even when where we are and what we have are the things that were once out of reach.

You feel me?

I’m convinced, more and more, that “enough” is an illusion, and striving for it by worldly, external, competitive standards just leads to emptiness. But we’re conditioned from our days as students working for one A+ after another, to look to external validation as a means of measuring our worth. And I am afraid, as the Dutch priest Henri Nouwen prays, “…to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before [God] with empty hands?”

I am afraid to let go of the idea of earthly success, because 1) it’s so tantalizing, and 2) even when I try to rest my heart on love for, connection with, and service of other people – the really important things, we might say – I still often feel that I’m not doing that quite right, either.

I meet a friend for dinner but I’m not present to her, my mind on my to-do list while she’s pouring out her heart to me. The trash needs to be taken out, the dishwasher emptied, the floor vacuumed, but I leave that work for my sister (who also happens to be my roommate), because my list of things to do at the moment feels more important. My pride says I have to have the last word in every argument. I don’t volunteer as much as I should.

And that’s just the beginning of a number of things that add up to make me feel like I’m doing a less-than-satisfactory job at all that “important stuff”, too.

So, to echo Henri Nouwen’s question, “Who will I be?”

And to answer it: Who I will be, is who I have always been. Worthy. Enough. Loved.  Just as I am.

It seems suddenly silly to me that we spend our lives striving for a sense of worth that is actually our birthright as humans who were loved into existence. And it’s especially silly when I consider the fact that three years ago at this time, I attended a retreat at my university that affirmed my worth and identity as a member of the human community and a daughter of God – a retreat that essentially served to remind me that I am already enough, that I am already loved.

In the post-graduate hustle to find purpose and the shuffle to make a name for ourselves and accomplish big things, it's easy to forget we don’t need to do all that.

Instead, we can rest in God’s unconditional love and grace. That is what will always guarantee we're enough.

I don’t have many scripture verses memorized, but as a lifelong choir member and cantor at Mass, I do have a handy number of Catholic liturgical songs memorized. So I’m going to leave you tonight with three of my favorites to remind of your worth when you doubt:

“Do not be afraid; I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home.
I love you and you are mine.”
-       “You Are Mine,” David Haas

“You know my heart and its ways,
You who formed me before I was born,
In the secret of darkness,
Before I saw the sun,
In my mother’s womb.”
-       “You Are Near”, Dan Schutte

And this last one, my favorite, so good it makes me cry when the meaning really sinks in:

By name I have called you.
By name I have saved you.
By name, you are mine, you are precious to me.”
-       “By Name I Have Called You”, Richard Carney

Follow me on Bloglovin'!

Sainthood: It's Not Just for Priests and Nuns

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Me, a saint?


I’m too flawed for that. Sainthood is for someone else. A priest or a nun, probably. The pope, definitely. Someone whose feathers never get ruffled, who floats on this serene prayer-cloud 24/7, hands folded, eyes closed, rosary beads clutched. Someone who serves the poor in third-world countries, who gets martyred at a young age.

Sainthood is for someone perfect.

And me? I’m so far from perfect. I’m so imperfect that to desire holiness seems at best unattainable and at worst hypocritical. I hold grudges. I get selfish and prideful and impatient and jealous and judgey. Sure, I can try to be a vaguely “good person”, but even that is a struggle sometimes. There’s something about the word “saint” that just makes me feel like I’m taking it too far, like I’m showing up to a party I wasn’t invited to, with all my brazen sinfulness in tow.

Only… I was invited to the party. At Baptism. And the incredible thing about the invitation issued to me then is that it didn’t come with a dress code, or the request to bring something to add to the potluck. It only asked for me, and my open heart.

And so it occurs to me that a holy life, a saintly life, is less about achieving spiritual perfection or unblemished piety (because let’s face it, those things are impossible anyway), and more about something far, far simpler:

Showing up.

It’s about us, showing up with a desire to lead a holy life, and believing that God can work wonders with that honest intention.

And secondly, it’s about letting God show up for us. It’s about letting Him in to all of our small, ordinary moments, both joyful and sorrowful, trying and triumphant, mundane and magical. It’s about asking God to be present in our words when we speak, our minds when we think, our hearts when we struggle to love. It’s about offering up individual moments as sacrifices and asking God to transform them – and us – with the gift of His grace.

And to do that, God doesn’t need our perfection.

He only needs our “yes.”

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) Flickr via Compfight cc

Patience In Your Season

Friday, October 28, 2016

"There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1, NAB 


I wouldn’t want to go swimming outdoors in the fall. Ice cream loses a bit of its appeal when the weather gets colder. And strawberries aren’t as sweet as they were five months ago.

I miss the summer. And in some ways, I wish it were here again.

But I love fall. I love roaring fireplaces and cozy socks and pumpkin spice and apple pie and sweaters and slow mornings with steaming cups of chai tea.

I love fall because… it’s fall. Because there are things you can only do at this time of year, like visit a pumpkin patch or go for a hay ride or take a hike through gloriously golden fall hues. I love fall because it’s unapologetically autumnal. It doesn’t try to rush into winter, spring, or summer, believing any of those seasons to be superior to it. It knows those will come eventually, and so it moves confidently, slowly. Fully embracing, fully present. One hundred percent rocking the things that make it special, and completely unconcerned with winter wonderlands, spring showers, and summer strawberries. It doesn’t question that it will be okay, that it has a purpose, even though it’s different from all the others.

I want to be more like fall.

See, I often get stuck playing the comparison game. Though maybe I shouldn’t call it a game so much as a gauntlet, because the act of comparing is where dreams go to die, silenced by the twin blades of envy and insecurity. Raise your hand if you’ve made that march a few times before, too.

Yep. Thought so.  

I often find myself looking at others’ achievements and feeling as though I’m not where I should be. As though I’ve fallen behind. Like there are dreams I should have reached by now, because other people have done so. I use their success as a measuring stick for my own progress, and I feel so far behind.

But what if I’m not behind? What if I’m just in a different season of my life?

What if it’s okay to be moving slowly toward my dreams because that’s part of my season? What if it’s okay that I don’t have tens of thousands of Instagram followers? What if it’s okay that I haven’t published a book? …Yet.

What if I’m exactly where I need to be right now? And what if there’s beauty in that?

Guess what? There is. Just like fall isn’t supposed to be summer, I’m not supposed to be walking anyone else’s path. And neither are you.

Stop. Breathe this moment in. This is your season. What is meant to unfold will come, as surely as fall turns to winter, which turns to spring, which turns to summer. And there is purpose in that slow, steady, confident progression. There is something precious and unique to this time in your life, to this part of your journey. What’s to come, will come, exactly as it should, in its own perfect time.

For now, just relax. Slow down. Savor. Trust. Practice patience.

And sip your pumpkin spice latte.

Photo Credit: www.metaphoricalplatypus.com Flickr via Compfight cc

Go Make a Difference: Your Little Bit of Good

Friday, October 21, 2016

“Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu


I was talking to one of my best friends from college on the phone the other night. She’s pursuing her Ph.D. in biochemistry at Vanderbilt and spent several minutes telling me about the research she’s conducting on a protein found in the human body, work that will likely prevent and cure cancer. The work she’s doing on an all-but-invisible molecular level to fix the mutations that spawn tumors will have an enduring effect on the scientific community, and contribute to saving countless lives. 

Her small, localized work will make a global difference, and I found myself thinking how grateful I am that there are people who are called to these very necessary duties.

It’s easy to think that the people who invest their talents and skills into doing something so literally life-changing are the only ones doing important work.

They aren’t.

What I actually heard in the words dog-piling themselves on each other in their haste to escape her excited soul was the voice of someone who had been called to a particular line of work, and who was pursuing it with untrammeled vigor and heart.

And that’s all of us, isn’t it? All of us ordinary people who live ordinary lives and do small things with great love, things that others may likely never see or appreciate, for something far greater than ourselves, because we are called to do those things.  

And I can promise you this: whether you’re working in a lab, or you’re cooking dinner for your family, or you’re engaging tirelessly in a creative pursuit that few apart from your immediate family and friends will ever see, or you're struggling to launch a small business, or you’re speaking words of kindness and compassion to someone going through a tough time, if your work, any work, is breathing life into someone else’s existence – even if it’s just one person! – you are making a difference. You are doing important work. And you are living out your calling in this life.     

We are all doing small work. But it’s all that small work put together that has the power to overwhelm the world – and yes, change it.

Let us all do our little bits of good. And let's all go change the world. 

Photo Credit: syuu1228 Flickr via Compfight cc

Finding the Sunshine

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today was a dreary one. I drove to work in the dark (Daylight Savings, I'm so ready for you!) and then the sun refused to come out for the rest of the day. It was one of those cloudy, gloomy days that Eeyore would love, and the kind that makes everyone else a little grumpy, if only for the sake of having a new conversation topic. Have you ever noticed that humans bond particularly well over shared complaints? It's unfortunate but often true.

On days like this, days that are either literally or figuratively drab because of bad weather or pessimism or any combination of the two, it's important to make your own sunshine. You might have to look a little harder -- maybe even squint -- but I promise that if you do, you'll find things to be thankful for.

Here's what some of those things were for me today:

  • Getting to work before anyone else this morning and jamming out to the songs I recently downloaded on my iPod (as much "jamming out" as filling out a deposit slip allows, anyway).
  • Sipping a pumpkin spice chai latte -- thanks, Trader Joe's!
  • Donuts, complete with sprinkles and frosted dreams, courtesy of one of my coworkers.
  • A free full-size tube of toothpaste, and two brush head replacements for my electric toothbrush, both of which were on this week's "To Buy at Target" list, and now I get to save some money! The perks of working at a dental office, I tell ya.
  • Great conversation with coworkers, much of which consisted of trying to decide how to carve our office pumpkin for Halloween this year.
  • Hot tea.
  • Sweaters and scarves.
  • Laughter.

What are you grateful for today, friends? Leave a comment below!

Photo Credit: Sean X. Liu Flickr via Compfight cc

Sweet Nothings

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Okay, so it’s been a few weeks since I’ve written on the blog. And even longer since I’ve promoted any of my writing on my Facebook “business” page.

And honestly? I could blame time. It’s the crucial resource in a writing life (or any life, for that matter). I could say that I’ve been busy working full-time, freelancing on the side, applying to graduate schools — and all of that would be true — but I’d be lying.

I recently joined an online community called Hope*writers, and I was listening to a Podcast of theirs a week or two ago about making time to write. How any of us manage to do it when we’re all saddled with extra obligations is astounding, and yet there are so many people who successfully juggle their writerly calling with the demands of being a functioning human. Time was the first excuse to be tackled in their discussion, since we all have the same number of hours in a day. If you want to write, you’ll make the time. Simple as that.

So then, if I’m not making the time to write, I must not want to do it as much as I think I do, right? Though that’s an absurd thought to entertain. I love writing. This is what I want to do, who I want to become: a weaver of words and a healer of hearts.

So why is it so hard for me to just do it already? Like for real, on a regular basis and everything?

The Hope*writers had an insight for me there, too: if I’m not making the time to write, it means I don’t really believe I have something to say.

And that’s exactly it.

I could be one of those people who begins her day with thirty minutes of writing and posts something every day, or at least more consistently than just “whenever I feel like it”. But to do that, I’d have to believe that all of my little thoughts, as well as the big ideas I blog about from time to time, mattered and meant something to the people who were reading them. 

And the problem is… I really don’t.

I believe only my best bits — the thoughts and ideas I’ve had so much time to hone and perfect and ponder — are worthy of sharing, and still then, I feel like there are so many people who don't really care.

I can’t let my readers see the imperfect. Would they listen to all of my sweet nothings when it's so tough to build an audience as is? Truthfully, some of them won’t. But just because people don’t listen doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write. Not when I know that God wouldn’t have given me this skill set if this weren’t how He wanted me to love the world.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I know there’s lots of creative work that isn’t being done because we’re afraid of being unheard, and we want to be heard. And listened to. That means we matter. Are our efforts in vain otherwise?

Let’s be clear about one thing: the truth of you having something to say is not diminished by any one person’s unwillingness or inability to hear it. So pick up that paintbrush. Strum those strings. Write the song, the story, the poem. And do it even if your work resonates with only one person. Do it for that person, that one person whose life will be changed because of what you do, who will see the world in a new way because of your perspective. Every minute you wait is a minute you’re depriving the world of something only you can give to it.

So let’s be bold. Let’s be brave. Let’s be creative. And let’s be consistent.

The world needs you. And you are so loved.

Photo Credit: barnimages.com Flickr via Compfight cc

A Case for Perspective

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I’m taking the GRE next week.

And let me tell you, studying for the math portion has not been easy.

It probably would be easier if I’d started six months ago and devoted myself to the carefully structured schedule that allows ample time for me to review each section and make flash cards to drill key facts into my memory, so I can approach the exam with the calm certainty I’ll pass.

It’s what I, perfectionist and planner that I am, would have preferred.

But real life got in the way. And so did the assumption that the test would be offered somewhere near me at least a handful of times this fall, rather than just once at the end of September. In holding out for something later, I missed the preparation that “now” provided. I didn’t purchase my practice workbook until the beginning of August, which left me with only about six weeks to frantically cram everything I hadn’t retained from high school algebra and geometry classes back into my brain.

And so, as I struggled my way through another set of practice problems this past Wednesday night, failing to apply the principles that had made so much sense two pages ago but didn’t when they were applied to abstract problems taken out of context, I keenly felt a sense of unpreparedness and incompetence that maaaay have manifested itself in a mini-meltdown:

I was always a good math student. Why can’t I remember how to do some of this stuff? I’m so stupid. I’m gonna fail this test and I won’t get in to graduate school anywhere and I’ll have to kiss my dreams goodbye and why God whyyyyyy are You doing this to me?

Cue tears.

But wait. I didn’t actually cry.

Instead, I found the presence of mind to stop myself and ask this crucial question: Will this matter in a year, five years, ten years? The reason I’d decided to take the GRE in the first place was so that I could go to graduate school, an end goal that I’m positive will still happen even if my math score isn’t stellar. Not all of the schools I’m applying to require these scores for admission, and even if I’m not accepted to the ones that do because of them, then, well… those particular ones weren’t in God’s plan for me. And that’s okay.  

I’m not making a case for slacking off. And I’m also not making a case for the brusque “put on your big girl panties and deal with it” connotation that the command to “put things in perspective” can sometimes carry.

I’m making a case for forgiveness, for doing what I’m capable of at this moment, and letting go of the rest. I’m making a case for the “grand scheme of things”, the big picture. I’m making a case for trust.

I’m making a case for understanding that God’s plan for my life is so, so much greater than any one moment of stress and fear, that I am the sum total of my heart and my purpose and my experience, and that I am good because of who I am and not how I perform.

And I challenge you to remember that, too.

It’s going to be okay. You're going to be okay.