To Students on Their First Day. 

Dear Students:
It’s that time of year again. You went shopping for school supplies, picked out the best backpack, had an alarm set, and woke up for your first day of school. It can be intimidating, boring, exciting, and even annoying. But hey, school is school. As someone who survived and made it to college, I want to give you all a piece of encouragement.

To my elementary students:

You guys rock! Enjoy recess while it lasts; those times will be full of making great friendships, expanding your imagination, and just having fun. I know sometimes it can seem hard to make friends, especially if you’re new to the school—as a kindergarten or as someone who transferred to a different school—but once you find those friends you click with, it’ll make everything feel better!
Make sure you are friendly with your teacher! They love to hear about things that you’ve done or things that you’re proud of. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help; teachers are there to teach! It would be a shame if we didn’t let them do their jobs, right? Elementary school is a great time to work on your listening skills. Because for the rest of your life you’re going to have to listen to people and when it’s appropriate, reply back to them. The earlier you understand this concept, the better off you’ll be! Trust me, I was always the kid whose report card said, “Emma is a blast to have in class, but she sometimes has troubles with talking too much.” I eventually buckled down, but I know your teachers and even parents would absolutely love it if you learned to be a great listener! Practice makes perfect! Just know that I’m living vicariously through you and some days I really do wish I could go back to elementary school. You’ll have a blast if you go in to school expecting it to be great!

To my middle schoolers:

Welcome to the most awkward stage of your life. Nah, I’m just kidding! (…mostly). Middle school is a great time not only to learn new things but also to learn more about yourself. You can really start to pursue things that you love in middle school. You like music? Join band or choir. You like to act? Do the musical or plays. You get to meet different teachers, all who are passionate about something. Find someone that you identify with. If you like science, have conversations with your science teacher about it! I know it sounds boring and maybe some of you may even say it’s dumb, but any chance to learn more, take it! I’m serious! Yes, teachers will give you information you need for tests to pass the class, but don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions. Middle school is a great time to start asking the question, “Why?”
Have friends who support you. No one will ever be happy with a friend that tears them down. It’s just not worth it to have negative influences in your life at such an integral part of your growing up. Have friends you can laugh with. Ones you can talk about life with. Ones you can study with. And it’s more than okay if those aren’t all the same people! Don’t always stick to the confines of group. Open your eyes to all the other people who are searching for friendship too! Sometimes they can be the best of friends.
Middle school may be more of a challenge than elementary but I have no doubt that if you really concentrate and believe, you can do it!

To my high schoolers:

Go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back—regardless of whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior—give yourself a pat on the back. While I am very proud of my elementary students and middle schoolers, I am incredibly proud of you.
All of you got up and went into your high school today. Some of you were really dreading it, trust me, I know. Some of you were really excited, again trust me, I know. But some of you thought you couldn’t. You didn’t think you could do it today. This is why I’m asking you to give yourself a pat on the back. Because you did it. This is a huge accomplishment and most of you probably don’t even realize why. Think of all the years you’ve made it through. Think of how over the years your enthusiasm for school has decreased. Yet you are here today, a high schooler. You are an example—a role model—for all the younger students. They want to be you when they get older. Just remember that. When times get tough, classes get hard, friends get mad, there’s a little kid out there who sees you and aspires to be you. And at one moment in time, you were that little kid.
Life it too short to waste it on friends who don’t believe in you or support you. When I was in high school, I changed the friends I hung out with probably 10 times, and you know what? That’s okay! Because in the end, I found an amazing friend who stuck by me through everything, the thick and the thin. If you’re not a huge social person, then don’t focus on that. You don’t have to party or spend all your time outside of school with people. I personally never went to parties, but that’s mostly because I heard they were lame and they got busted a lot. If you only have one friend, don’t look at the people with 20 and ask yourself what you did wrong. You didn’t do anything wrong! You are just doing what’s best for you. You do you.
If academics is all you think about, let me offer this piece of advice to you. Try breathing every once and a while. Come up for air, relax, and breathe. Don’t work yourself to death, you’ve got a whole lifetime ahead of you to do that. Befriend a teacher or two. Someone who can keep you accountable, who can encourage you, talk to you. It’s the best decision I ever made. Those teachers know who they are, and they know the impact they’ve left on my life. They want to run this race called life with you—at least for the four years you’re with them. They want to see you succeed, to push you, to expand your knowledge. Don’t lose the imagination that you used when you had recess in elementary school. Tap into that little kid you were and use it as motivation and inspiration for the future. More than anything, stay true to yourself.

So students, here’s to a new year. To friends, to homework, and to your amazing teachers. May you go forth and conquer! I’ll be praying for you all, if you need the encouragement, I’m here, and please come back to these words when you feel discouraged. People do care. I, your teachers, and your parents/family want the absolute best for you. Go make this school year great!

Sincerely,

Your college friend, Emma.

The One About White Privilege.

The One About White Privilege.

I live in a predominately white—no—an extremely white community, where most belong to the middle or upper-class. I grew up with friends who lived off of Lake Michigan, whose mothers didn’t have to work, and whose fathers were always traveling for business. I grew up with friends whose parents were the sheriff, city council members, local business owners.

Now, while there are some exceptions—like for example, people who don’t live quite as well off, meaning instead of their parents making over $100,000, they make $75,000; or people who don’t live on the lake, but rather the neighborhood right next to it. And as the same time, perhaps there is a poor family who has been struggling, but I’ve never heard of it or seen it. In all my years of living here, people seem to be happy and well off.

But then I went to New York this past weekend, and for once, I understood what they meant when they taught us in elementary and middle school that America is the “melting pot of the world”. Growing up, the melting pot phrase meant to include those kids who were adopted from places like South Korea or China; it meant including the one or two black kids, and knowing their family can live the American Dream, too; it meant even if there are a few people who aren’t white in our community, we should let them live here and do what we do, too. Just because they only have one parent who is white, doesn’t mean they aren’t special, like you and me.

In NYC, for the first time in my life, I felt like a minority. But more than feeling like it, I was the minority. My taxi driver was Middle Eastern, the receptionist at the hotel was black, the street venders were Hispanic, Arabic, Asian—any nationality and race except white. I heard languages that I couldn’t understand. I was surrounded by crowds of people and I couldn’t see very many white people in the mix. I remember at one point on the trip thinking to myself, “Where are all the white people?”

And then I looked up.

I saw the skyscrapers that covered the entire city and I found my answer. The white people are working up there, away from the loud, dirty, crowded streets. I was overwhelmed because I realized I was living in the midst of white privilege.

While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the black men on the street have to deal with people clutching their bags close to their sides as they pass them. They have to deal with people who see a black man wearing a wife beater and wonder if they’ll attack them. They have to deal with the people who still call them “colored people” and who would prefer they not be around them on the subway, store, or sidewalk.

While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the Middle Eastern men and women have to deal with people looking in fear of them being terrorists. Middle Eastern women have to deal with people looking at their head coverings and thinking they are Muslim extremists. They have to deal with people who think that they only sell fake things on the street, like knock off bags, watches that don’t work, or things that aren’t truly worth the face value, in order to scam you.

While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the homeless men and women have to deal with people who think they’ll only bum their money on booze and cigarettes. They have to deal with people who won’t even look at them because they don’t treat them as equal human beings. They have to deal with people who see them as waste in the street.

While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, young black teens try to fight their way through impoverished schools and a poorly structured education system. Teens who aren’t white are told to find jobs that aren’t ambitious or what “successful white people do”. They are treated like second class, unequal, different. While the white business men and women work in the tall buildings, the rest of the world tries to find their place. They try to break free from social preconceptions, racial stereotypes, and socioeconomic status.

As a white young adult, I find myself unknowingly experiencing white privilege.

I always expected to get the best education, with a national ranking. I always expected that I’d go to college. That my parents credit cards would always be accepted, that somehow money would always find its way to our hands. I always expected to be treated with respect and without any stereotypical views. I can travel without TSA doing a double check on me. People trust my cash isn’t counterfeit. I can walk down the street and people aren’t afraid of my next action. The list goes on and on of all the advantages I have by the color of my skin. But as I’m getting older, I’m realizing it is not only selfish but it is dehumanizing to accept my white privilege without caring about everyone else.

I believe in equality.

I believe that everyone should have the same opportunities. I don’t think being white should make an employer like you more than if you were black. I don’t think being white should guarantee you anything in life. As an American, I believe in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I believe that I should be able to pursue what I want and love in any way possible as long as it doesn’t sacrifice my inalienable rights or any other human’s inalienable rights. I believe that my fellow Americans of different races and nationalities should be guaranteed Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, too, because isn’t that what the United States of America is all about?

In school we daily pledged allegiance to the flag, we stated that there’s “Liberty and Justice for all.” But I look around, and I see so much injustice, I see the liberty of others being sacrificed. “For All” doesn’t mean all the whites; “For All” doesn’t mean the people with a clean background; “For All” doesn’t mean the people with money, or high paying jobs. “For All” means equality. It means everyone that is an American. It means the black single parents. It means the struggling Syrian immigrants. It means the adopted children who were taken out of poorly structured governments in impoverished nations. “For All” means every single person in the United States of America. The ones who all pledge allegiance to the flag. The ones who live to chase the American Dream.

I believe black men should be able to interact with white policemen without a fear of violence. I believe Middle Eastern Muslims should be able to interact with White Protestants without the fear of religious outrage. I believe we should all be able to interact with one another and see that we are all the same—human beings navigating through this thing we call life.

I want to talk with people and hear their experiences in life. I want to hear how a black, Hispanic, Asian, or any race lives life. I want to know about their struggles, their setbacks and limitations; I want to experience life with them; to show them that not every white person believes in white supremacy. Because beneath my skin I’m built the same as anyone else.

 What is the point of life if we cannot connect with one another?

I’m not asking for us to be color blind, for that only adds to the problem. I’m asking that we, collectively as human beings, push aside stereotypes or prejudice and get to know each other as fellow Americans, fellow humans, and fellow friends. That we become people who are interested in learning about different cultures, who want to understand everyone else who resides on this earth.

I will not go another day knowing that I have it better off than someone solely based on something petty like my color. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew what he was saying in his “I Have A Dream” speech when he declares, “[I hope my children]…will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Life is about community, not segregation, supremacy, or hate. It’s about time we truly evaluate what we think we deserve in life and why.

 

 

Finding My Psalm.

As summer keeps flying by, I have been finding myself searching for something to cling on to—some sort of support, a constant, something that will ground me. With college approaching faster and faster, my life has been getting hectic and overwhelming. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about living on campus in August. While I’ll only be about 25-30 minutes from home, it’s still scary thinking that I’ll be by myself, no family to help me when I’m overwhelmed, or for me to run to with my problems. This is a huge deal for me, because in the past, I’ve always relied on someone being with me to help me get through situations. The situation that scares me the most is my panic attacks. I got my first glimpse of having one on my own this weekend when my parents went down to Indiana. I got sick and started throwing up, which led into a panic attack, and then an ever present anxiety that stayed for nearly two days. While I did cheat a little bit and call my mom at 11 o’clock at night, crying because I didn’t want to throw up, it was technically my first time being sick without anyone physically there with me.

Nonetheless, I’m realizing I cannot cling to family, friends, or something tangible to keep me grounded in anxious and scary situations. Instead the only thing that remains constant is God. I tell myself over and over that, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). I wish I could say that I’ve always relied on God’s word, but that isn’t true. I had a wake-up call a few weeks ago and it became clear that God’s love and care for me is so unfathomable and that I needed to trust him fully. I’m still learning to go to his Word and to Him first, but believe me, it’s hard. It’s so much easier to try to call someone so I can actually hear a voice to help me through a tough trial. But with all the “tangible” noise I have been craving, it has been putting God’s voice on mute, and not allowing him to speak to me at all.

Anxiety speaks louder than God most days, especially this past weekend. But anxiety hates when I make God a priority and purposely sit to soak his word in. I cling to the fact that his word is living and active and it has the power to cease any anxiety I have at any moment. Which leads me into finding my Psalm.

This is something that the Pastor at my church has brought up many times. The principle is fairly simple; when you are looking for God, start in the Psalms. Start at Psalm 1 and keep reading until one of them speaks out to you; until one reaches out and connects to you; until you find God in a specific one. One sleepless night it took me 51 chapters until I found my Psalm. Upon finishing Psalm 51, I immediately fell into tears—and I am not an easy emotional crier.

In a historical context, Psalm 51 is a Psalm of David. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband—a great military man—killed, and had fallen deep into sin. David starts the Psalm out “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2). David goes on to talk about how he has sinned and done evil in God’s sight, he asks for God to clean him and wash him, and for Him to “Create in me a pure heart…and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v. 10). But the verse that always stops me in my tracks is 11 into 12:

“Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to
sustain me.”

I always pray specifically over those two verses. God don’t cast me from your presence because it is your presence that I find peace and comfort, where I find all that I need. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me because it runs deep in my soul and gives me strength to keep going. I want him to constantly restore to me the joy of salvation that even when I sin, which separates me from Him, that I can be reminded of the salvation I have through Jesus Christ. And when I feel like I cannot continue on, I pray that he does grant me a willing spirit that will sustain me.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (v. 15); I only ever want his praises to fall from my mouth, I want all I do to be edifying to his Kingdom. I want him to know that I’m sacrificing all my life for him because, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (v 17). If David, a horrible sinner could find forgiveness and mercy in God, then I am confident that I too can find it if I pray and confess to God all of my shortcomings and sins. Psalm 51 is a reminder that I am not perfect, I make mistakes, and I need God’s grace and mercy to restore me and lift me up. Because all I can give to him is my broken and contrite heart—he gladly takes it and lifts me up. I have no other way to express my gratitude than with lifting his name with praises.

Yes, anxiety can be crippling for me, and I can feel like I’m going to die. But God is bigger than my anxiety. His word can read louder than any of the thoughts of anxiousness running through my mind. When I’m overwhelmed, all I have to do is open up His word, and wait for Him to speak. I know He’ll always find me in Psalm 51. My goal is to meet with him every time I read His word, no matter where I find myself in it. For it truly is alive and active.

Post Graduation Thoughts

Post Graduation Thoughts

Yesterday, I donned my white cap and gown, red stole, and silver magna cum laude cord. I had my name presented as I walked across the stage, shook a board member’s hand and received my diploma. I stood up with my fellow graduates and moved my tassel from right to the left, and exited Spring Lake High School for the last time in my life.

To put it lightly, high school was hard for me. Academically, I never had a problem. I breezed through the classes, maintaining a superior GPA with little to no studying and excellent test taking skills. I had my niche for English, and flourished in any class that had reading or writing involved. I made great relationships with teachers and other faculty members. But when it came to connecting with my peers, I never fared well.

Out of the nearly 200 students that graduated yesterday, I maintain contact with less than five of them. Although it is noted that I did graduated 7 months early, so life moves on and people change, I still returned for graduation with few connections. I never felt the need to have the most friends, be on the top of the food chain, or “run the school”, but coming from a place that prides itself on its small town, amicable community, I often felt disregarded.

I always felt ahead of the game in some ways; feeling more mature and prepared for the future than some of my peers. I left high school early to start college because I was ready—I realized that high school had nothing left to offer me. I was ready for a fresh start with new people and a new atmosphere. So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that. But coming back to high school for graduation was something I wasn’t fully prepared for.

I had to return to the place that I associate with a lot of broken relationships, hurt, anxiety, and difficulty. I had to return to a sea of students so happy and high on life—something I already experienced more than half a year earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about graduation. I was looking forward to it. But coming back to the high school reminded me why I left—to find the real me with a new and fresh start.

I am grateful for the knowledge that I gained, for the few amazing relationships I have, and the teachers who inspired me daily. I am grateful that I could go to a high school that is passionate about college preparedness and exceeding expectations. I’m grateful for some of the acquaintances who could still muster kindness and humor, to make me feel welcomed at times when I felt pushed aside. I’m grateful that I made it to graduation day.

I went up to hug a friend after graduation and she said to me, “Who would have thought that we would make it through the worst 4 years of our lives?” That sums up high school for me. I had some wonderful times in high school, but my life was changing so much, and a lot happened to me and my family within those years, that it was hard to tackle maturing through life and dealing with the sometimes pettiness of high school–those years weren’t my best.

I made it through some of the worst years of my life and came out on top. I graduated early, got a head start on the rest of my life, and have cherished some of the memories that I will hold on to forever. I hesitate to say it’s been great Spring Lake High School, but in the end, I can accept that sometimes the good does outweigh the overwhelming amount of bad.

Graduation was something to check of the list of things to do—it was a loose end to tie up. In the midst of finishing my first semester of college, getting a job, and now officially graduating from high school, I’d say it has been a good 7 months. I look forward to plenty more in the future. And I wish everyone in the graduating class of 2016 all and only the best for your future.

What You Don’t See.

This week is Depression Awareness Week. In the past, I’ve written about anxiety; however, I haven’t touched on my experience with depression much, if at all. Seeing that it is Depression Awareness Week, I thought I’d take it upon myself to bring awareness to something I have dealt with. When it comes to depression, there is a lot that is invisible. The Blurt Foundation launched a campaign this week which has caused Twitter to be flooded with the hashtag #WhatYouDontSee. It’s about time that we become more vocal about the invisible.

Depression started affecting me a few months after anxiety started affecting me. I didn’t want to believe that I was depressed, so I just convinced myself I was unmotivated because of school. But then I graduated early from high school in November, I had a two month break, and then I started college in January. Things were going well in life, but I felt terrible on the inside. Somedays it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t feel any purpose in doing my classwork, even though if I failed it would be so much money wasted. My perspective in life had changed and it was so subtle that I didn’t realize I was changing into a negative mindset.

What blows my mind still about my depression is it physically put a grey hue on life. Colors weren’t as vibrant, the sky didn’t seem as bright and blue, and the beauty of life was gone. I didn’t think that medication would do anything for me; I got off of it because I tried so hard to just forget everything. I didn’t want depression to be a part of my life.

I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t fool myself anymore. I had a cloud around me that dimmed my life and my motivation to do anything was gone. I felt hopeless and alone in it. It’s that feeling which makes me want to speak out about depression. It’s more difficult than some people make it out to be. It’s a silent killer and it can steal all of who you are. When the invisible is affecting your life, it helps to have people who will support you. Help is sometimes the last thing you want to get, but it’s the only thing that can get you to a better place. I have a few amazing friends who have been with me through the thick and thin of life; if I didn’t have them, my journey would be much longer.

I am in such a better place, I know I’m well equipped if my depression returns. I have so much to be thankful for any appreciative of. And nothing beats a positive mindset in life—it will get you so far.