Journal: The Purpose of Blogging

Oasis in Yellowstone National Park

Oasis in Yellowstone National Park

Here is a story I am unafraid to tell. I started this blog, Simplicity Relished, in the middle of a panic. It was late winter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I had a senior honors thesis to complete. This was a project that had been not only selectively funded but also eagerly anticipated by some excellent scholars who were deeply invested in my education. Furthermore, I was told that the senior thesis would be the “crowning jewel” of my college academic career– and that unless I was to pursue a Ph.D., it could also be my final foray into pure academic research. With the thesis due in mid-March, I was feeling some pressure.

 

I mention the senior thesis because to a college senior, it was a really big deal. (Outside of the undergraduate History department, however, perhaps not.) At least for us, whether or not we wrote a thesis would come to define our senior year– namely, whether we would work hard or play hard. But somewhere in my tired intellect and diminishing confidence was a desire to step outside. The howling winds and snow-turned-ice were hardly a welcoming environment, but neither was the drafty library in which I found myself holed up, day after day. I daydreamed of a simpler life (though, arguably, reading and writing all the time is pretty simple), where there would be an oasis to which I could escape from the pressures of my narrow research niche, which felt a bit more like a burrow at that point. Perhaps a getaway was just beyond my reach, and if I tried hard enough I could go there without leaving my desk.

 

So I created Simplicity Relished that very moment. I had no idea what it would become, but I allowed myself not to plan anything. I wrote my first post, Desperation and Creativity, within the 10-minute break I gave myself.

 

The release was magical and immediate. It gave me momentum to find my nonacademic voice alive and well. And it seemed I could write about American intellectual history again. Just knowing I had a space that was just my own, without creative expectations or the burden of a due date, I felt better about my “real” work. 

 

Now that I’ve graduated from college and am transitioning into a new stage, Simplicity Relished has become more than just an escape from intellectual turmoil. I write to encourage, to remember, to confess, to comfort and to reflect– with close friends and fellow bloggers alike. I have already begun to look back at older posts and appreciate the moments I captured in words and photographs. SR also reminds me that despite all the senseless noise in this day and age, someone is always saying something soulful, and we should listen.

 

Perhaps my blogging story is a bit dramatic, and you wonder why anyone else should start a blog, or why I should keep mine going. To encourage us all, I would like to share Joshua Becker’s reflections on why we should blog. His listed reasons have given voice to my new desires, now that I have long recovered from my thesis. 

 

So why do you blog, and what do you look for in a blog? I would love to know!

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Journal: Joy and Sorrow, June 2014

May 2014: excited to be married! Photo by Alison Yin Weddings.

May 2014: excited to be married! Photo by Alison Yin Weddings.

It was only last month that I posted from Ecclesiastes 3. For those who have not read Ecclesiastes, the book opens with the author seemingly in a pit of despair: Everything is meaningless, he says.

 

I’m not about to harken back to the first chapter; these are not the words with which I would describe June 2014, not in the least. But I would assert that, as the author says, For everything there is a season… a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

This has been a season for everything. This month I have wept and I have laughed. I have mourned and danced. I have seen death, and I’ve also seen renewal.

 

On June 7, my best friend and I married each other with the following words:

 

He: Together we have known true joy and dark nights of the soul. However far and thin we have been stretched, both in distance and emotion, our God has bound us together. Forever will I cling tight; forever will I cherish, love, and protect you. As Christ was willing to go to Calvary for his Bride, so I vow to serve you with all that I am in His love until the end of our days.

I: It is true that we have come a long way. But as I look ahead into the future that begins with this day, I realize how much longer, richer, and more glorious this journey will be. I vow to honor you as my husband, my best friend– and I will cherish you and walk with you all the days of my life. I will listen, I will watch, I will teach and be taught by you. And I will become the kind of woman who, though old and decrepit, is a delight to love, and who takes great joy in loving others. With you I will not only create a life but create life itself– in our world, our community, and our family. With you I become my best self, so I will be my best self, and offer you my best self by the grace and leadership of Jesus, until the end of our days.

altar kiss

At the “altar”, a photo by a family friend.

We danced and laughed in the presence of our favorite people and thanked them for the role they played in our lives. We wept for the friends who would send us off into our journey of oneness and return to their own homes, far away from us. We said many goodbyes. Both of our families had gained a new member and rejoiced in it.

 

A few days later, my husband and I found ourselves traipsing through the streets of a perfectly sunny Paris, gorging on eclairs and croissants between gourmet chocolate shops. For a glorious 9 days we pretended to be Parisians as we fueled the francophilic fire that burned inside. We swore we would come back some day.

 

But over all this bliss hung the shadow of my uncle’s impending death. Steve was my mother’s younger brother, a man of great inner strength and perseverance. He taught me how to ride a bike; he took me to Taiwanese night markets and into the wilderness. We camped, hiked, and ran around with all the other family members, playing freeze tag in the dark. With Steve I forgot to be careful; I was wild and free.

 

Steve running one of many races.

Steve running one of many races.

In more recent years, Steve ran half-marathons and all kinds of races. In August 2013, he found himself in critical condition right before a race, and was soon diagnosed with stage 3 kidney cancer. I remember weeping at the news. I felt the tension of what has been called the justice of the general and injustice of the particular– simultaneously asking, “Why Steve?” and “Why not Steve?” In a moment of panic and prayer, I asked for mercy; instead I found myself experiencing a deluge of grace and gladness.

 

Not long after, Steve placed himself before the Lord and decided to follow Jesus. Was it desperation? Was it fear? The cancer was spreading, his chances of survival waning with each new day. I could not fathom the depth of his faith until he began receiving chemotherapy. Chemo was a process I knew very little about, and certainly was not aware of how many openings the doctors had drilled in his body in order to insert all kinds of treatment. Steve, I was told, entered each chemo session singing hymns, smarting with the pain of the procedure and declaring the wellness of his soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

While we were in Paris, we were told to come straight to Taipei. Dropping our tickets back to San Francisco and our plans to move into our apartment, we arrived at 6AM on Friday June 20th. We rushed to the hospital with our bags in hand. Leaning over a dying Steve, I wept. I held his hand. Through tears I smiled and told him I was so happy I got to see him, but inside I was crushed. He spoke of Heaven, asking how to get there. Family members promised him he would find it– or rather, that he would be found. We sang his favorite songs, to which he hummed along through his oxygen mask. A few hours later, he said “I think I can go now.”

At the hospital, when Steve asked for a photo.

At the hospital, when Steve asked for a photo.

Steve passed away on Saturday, June 21st. Two weeks after we danced for joy and said solemn vows of commitment, my husband and I found ourselves by a deathbed. In a few more weeks, his memorial will feel quite similar: a grief-filled acknowledgment of his absence, and a celebration of his presence.

 

King Solomon said there was a season for everything– a humble description of the complex and dynamic narrative of the human existence, in which I find myself entangled. Immense bliss mixed with enduring grief is a reality we come to know too well, and we can only lift our hands in gratitude for all there is to celebrate, and all that we have once had.

 

There is comfort in one thing, if not in many: our story is not our own. Instead we participate in a greater story of redemption– a story that ends with greater joy than we could ever imagine. If Solomon captured the emotional tensions we hold as sojourners in the hands of God, then the psalmist provided a reminder that this is not the end. Instead we experience pieces of redemption now as only glimpses of the greater reality, that there is far more rejoicing to come.

 

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (Psalm 30:11-12)

Journal: Harvard Through the Seasons

The Charles River

The Charles River

I’m coming up on the end of my fourth year in Cambridge, MA and my fifth in New England. Over the course of this season– which has accounted for the majority of my adult life– I’ve become acquainted with the brisk Boston pace, dramatic weather patterns, brazen pedestrians, cobblestone sidewalks, and why scarves and earmuffs are necessary for survival.

Widener Library

Widener Library

Slogging through nearly six months of cold– 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below– I’ve seen my hands crack, my cheeks sting and a far paler spectrum of skin tones. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve slipped on black ice. In the summers I have been confounded by New Englanders who deny themselves air conditioning, and have bemoaned the humidity that inhibits cooling off at night. I’ve murdered many a cockroach, mostly with fearful fascination, and listened to the burgeoning excitement of insects emerging from the riverbed. And most wonderful of all, I’ve enjoyed the timidity of spring and the boldness of fall, when flowers open and leaves grow warm with color. No matter how hot the summer or how cold the winter, we know that change is coming.

Each season has cast a different light on Harvard: it makes us outgoing, it makes us hopeful, it makes us insolent, and it makes us bitter. It makes us gather together and also retreat to solitude. Thanksgiving and Christmas are warmer and brighter, while Easter promises more glorious sunshine and abundant life. I’m going to miss New England. I’m going to miss the reminder of how seasons rotate in contentment and hardship, high and low, joy and grief. It has taught me just how much of what we do is temporary, and how to cherish the present season for all its glory.

Early Summer

Late Summer

Early Fall

Early Fall

Mid-Fall

Mid-Fall

Late Fall

Late Fall

Early Winter

Early Winter

Mid-Winter

Mid-Winter

Late Winter

Late Winter

Early-Mid Spring

Early-Mid Spring

Late Spring

Late Spring

Almost Summer!

Almost Summer!

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

Journal Entry: A View From Brooklyn

Manhattan Skyline from Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY

Manhattan Skyline from Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn, New York. The name of the borough evokes so many associations, from poverty to gentrification, hipsters to yuppies. The famous Brooklyn Bridge, Grimaldi’s pizza, the Brooklyn Tabernacle and the emerging new artist scene. In the past five years, I’ve watched Brooklyn take on new meanings and become a part of my own relational journey. I’ve spread my wings to the wind while walking the Bridge, and fell for Grimaldi’s greasy pizza before realizing the “real thing” is actually next door. I’ve remembered being called at while walking Brooklyn’s streets and I’ve sung my heart out with the Tabernacle Choir. Most of what I love about New York is indeed in Manhattan, but my boldest memories of the Big Apple are certainly buried in this strange and changing borough.

See that little deck with yellow and blue umbrellas? That’s the River Café. My now fiancé and I dined there back in September of 2009 for my birthday, when I was living in New Hampshire and he had just arrived in New York for college. It was pouring rain that evening and we trekked through not a few dim streets before arriving at the waterfront classic. His suit had been soaked, and the waitstaff quickly dried it so he could be properly dressed for dinner. I was wearing a black-and-silver checked dress and little black pumps. My hair was short. It was so long ago.

That dinner marked one of the my first steps toward being forever in love with New York. Staring out at the Manhattan skyline against the encroaching evening, watching the lights flicker through the rain and dance on the water, I knew I adored New York and that the man sitting next to me would be my best friend forever. We savored our African rock lobster. The waitstaff grew friendlier and friendlier as they realized what a happy young couple we were, cherishing every bite with growing smiles of pure joy.

Over the past five years, Brooklyn has seen a lot, and so have we. The growth of Williamsburg, where facial hair is part of the uniform, as are “fixie” bikes and cardboard furniture, second-hand stores and excellent third wave coffee. The hurricane that drowned the River Café and the Red Hook area, evacuating hundreds and leaving little recognizable architecture in its wake, yielded an even more vigorous gentrification than the years preceding it. Young urban professionals moved into the area known as Dumbo, just under the famous Brooklyn Bridge (pictured above). High-end furniture stores such as Bo Concept have taken residence in Dumbo, meaning someone is setting up a bourgeois home on the water. While the renovations of Brooklyn’s waterfront are more beautiful in photographs and approachable by tourists, one has to wonder where the city’s poorer residents have gone. The old Brooklyn still exists, just no longer on Water Street, where the River Café now finds itself among its socio-economic peers.

This past weekend, we returned to Brooklyn. It was a gorgeous 70-degree day and lunch on the water was nearly divine. Families crowded the newly built carousel as dogs of all shapes and sizes barked at each other and chased pigeons. I hardly recognized it. After tasting the most lovely croissant in New York at Almondine Bakery, we sat in the sunshine and took it all in. Brooklyn has changed, and so have we.

The next day, a story broke New York Times headlines. Thirty years ago, a maniac broke into a Brooklyn home and murdered an entire family. The one survivor was a little girl named Christina, age 13 months. The first responder was a female cop who found Christina and watched her through the night. Eventually, chief officer Joanne Jaffe adopted Christina, their mother-daughter bond realized in the horrific events that evening. Their story is one that I will not forget for a long time.

Places change, as do people. Five years ago, I had no idea what it would feel like to be nearing the end of my own college years, quickly approaching our wedding day and starting a new life together. These years that have gone by, including long and sometimes painful rides to and from New York City, will not fail to remind me of the good in every season we walk through. Loss and change help us to experience the sweetness of life and remember the promise of redemption. Brooklyn will always remind me of that.

Journal Entry: Before Emails

Robert Woods to William Jewett Tucker

Robert Woods to William Jewett Tucker

It was breathtaking when I handled these fragile letters for the first time. I couldn’t believe that what was in my hands was nearly 120 years old, not to mention a significant part of Boston’s history. This was one of the many letters Robert Woods wrote to his professor, William Jewett Tucker, during his travels to England. The two would start a social settlement together in 1893. They would see men, women, and children in poverty come together in their community; their mission was to carry the spirit of the Social Gospel into Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.

It’s funny to think I’m writing my entire thesis on this preserved correspondence (and the ideas and institutions surrounding it), when it would only amount to a couple of emails today. Somehow the physical manifestation of their conversation– the yellowed paper, the nearly illegible cursive, the flaking edges– makes it seem more significant. And it helps that the library staff watched me like a hawk to make sure I didn’t take any “souvenirs” home with me.

I suppose I’ll look back nostalgically on the many hours in the archives in summer and fall 2013, months that now feel so long ago. A thesis is quite a hubristic task to take on, if you think about it. Trying to turn decades of ideas, developments, and relationships into 100 pages of writing is not unlike swallowing an elephant. But surely this is more about my journey than theirs… I can’t presume to capture the complexities of their experience with my limited, unexperienced vision. I suppose the process will deserve some reflection, after the huge sigh of relief that will likely last the entirety of spring break.

 

Journal Entry: Desperation and Creativity

Sun Moon Lake, Taichung, Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake, Taichung, Taiwan

 

I’m writing because there’s some cosmic pressure on my shoulders. Completing a senior thesis never occurred to me as a way to risk my intellectual confidence, sanity, and sense of identity on something no one will ever read. The irony is almost as worth writing about as the thesis topic itself.

Desperation has always inspired me to create. There’s something about that release of tension during a crucial moment, when we fight against the “oughts” and relish in the glory of just existing. After writing this brief inaugural post I’ll probably return to a pile of articles yet to be read and analyzed. But for now, I’m setting up this blog– as the beginning of a new outlet.

Who knows what’s going to be on this website, available for all the world to see? I won’t worry about it now. Maybe it will include my favorite recipes, lifestyle advice, fun photographs and nostalgic musings here and there;  perhaps it will become something far more specific. The open-endedness is thrilling. Like a rush of wings over calm morning water.