Cultivate sparks – a 2017 thesis statement

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Have you ever tried to write an essay without brainstorming first? Just started writing with the hope that your thesis will magically refine itself as you spew nonsensical and unrelated facts? In my experience this is usually a late night, last minute, coffee fuelled approach to assignments. Sometimes it works out okay but the papers are NEVER as thoughtful, articulate and compelling as the ones I spend (literally) weeks researching, mind mapping, discussing, and reworking. The university paper I’ve been most proud of was one where I changed my thesis several times, discussed it with my professor and made all kinds of examples and connections that helped me understand the topic better, even if they didn’t end up in the finished project. Well put together papers take time…and I need to have an outline to know where I am going. 

I find that New Year’s resolutions are too often of the former approach. We frantically make them, (often too many of them) without actually considering how we are going to make them fit together. How are we going to actually make it from the opening paragraph (January) and effectively bring them to life and expand them throughout the body of the year, wrapping them up in December in a way that is still connected? And with no grades on the line like there is in school, how do we make sure we actually finish the “2017 paper” rather than having it be left unfinished like so many other years aspirations?

As with a paper for a class, our goals for a new year need to have a theme. Something that ties them together, a theme, a thesis so to speak. That’s how I see the “one word” new years goals. The theme is looked at from different angles every day but it weaves it’s way all the way through, tying the year together from start to finish. Anyone who has been keeping up with my blog for a while would know that for the past few years I have chosen a word of the year. Previous words have included renew, courageous, and then last year still. I guess choose is not quite the right word…it’s actually a process of prayer and really asking God what HE wants this year to look like and what HIS plan is. I can make all the resolutions I want but at the end of the day I know that God’s plan is better than anything I could come up with – and He is faithful with what He promises!

That said, I actually knew my 2017 word way back in November…at least I thought I did. I was having a pretty rough semester of school and although it really did force me to be still and draw close to the Lord, it was also a season of frustration and questioning. Anyway, I think one day God just decided to take pity on me and give me some hope for the new year.

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One night as I was journalling I ended up drawing a campfire (guys I do NOT draw lol) and writing under it “Lord make my heart outshine my beauty. Set sparks that will flourish into fire”. I really felt that that was a promise God was making to me; that 2017 would be a year of sparks and flourishing. Ya’ll sparks are LITERALLY hot. I associate them with excitement and fresh starts and fiery, confident growth. They START something that builds and builds into fire that can’t be contained. They are small but mighty. They can float away into the night, lost forever OR they can be fanned into something that can be seen from miles around. Guys, I was STOKED (get it?) that this was the word God was giving me for the new year. Especially after being “still” for a year…yes, lots of growth and intimacy with God but like hello 2017.

“See I am doing a NEW thing! Now it springs up, do you not see it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” – Isaiah 43:19

So I’m all excited right? You know, I’ve got my theme for the year. It’s January 1st, I’m in church and praising and I’m all pumped for the new year and (I’m so sorry Pastor Jay) I’m not listening to the message at all because I’m just thinking about what kinds of exciting opportunities God’s going to give me this year. And then I start thinking about the phrase “she will run through fields of harvest” which is a poster I have on my wall in Ottawa and I’m thinking about how in order to reap a harvest you need to cultivate the crops yada, yada, yada. So the word “cultivate” just keeps running circles in my brain. I’m sitting there panicking and HOPING that God is not trying to change the word on me hahaha. Sparks sound exciting, cultivating sounds like WORK! But I really opened my heart and prayed about whether I was supposed to be focusing on the word cultivate instead.

I slowly began to realize that God wasn’t changing the word…He was ADDING to it. He can give me all the sparks I want. But like I said, sparks can fly away into the night, never to be seen again. Fires take time to build. It takes effort and patience. God was promising me sparks but He was also CALLING me to cultivate them.

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Cultivate (transitive verb)

2. To improve by labour, care or study: refine.

3. Further, encourage.

So yeah,  it will be work. But anything worth having takes work

SPARKS!!! TO CULTIVATE INTO FLAME!! Ya’ll this is exciting. I know this started as a boring analogy about thesis’ and essays but it made sense in my head. My word(s) of 2017 are now not JUST a theme but a thesis. They have a purpose that I can run with, expand, and discover. I am filled with so much hope for this year and all that it will bring!

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gifts of God…” – 1st Timothy 1:6

May 2017 be a year of passion, of friendship, of growth and of hope, of curiosity and of cultivation. Let’s do this friends.

-Until next time, Sam

p.s. yes I know I’m a month late, sorry not sorry

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2016-A year to truly LIVE

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It’s January 2nd, 2016 and I’m currently curled up on the couch with a cup of chai and some Christmas cookies. The house is quiet. I’m wearing a pink fuzzy onesie. My dog is sleeping (and literally snoring) beside me. Life is SO good.

It’s only two days into the New Year and 2016 is already treating me well. I came home on New Years after the count down and sat and chatted with friends until 4 in the morning. On the 1st, I got to go back to my old job and work with my favourite co-worker from high school. Then my sister and our friends picked me up and I went to their house out in the country for a sleepover and movies. It’s been so relaxed and nice. I feel so blessed to be able to spend the first week of the year at home in Barrie, catching up with friends and family, going for long drives, sleeping tons and preparing myself for the semester (and year) ahead.

Looking out over a whole new year is both exciting and nerve -wracking but most of all, hopeful. There are so many possibilities and adventures waiting to happen. I know that as long as I continue to trust God and give everything I do my full effort, life will always be full of opportunity.

That being said, I love to take New Years as a time to look at my life and find areas that can be improved. I’ve learned over the years that many people don’t keep the resolutions they commit to on January 1st. But for myself, I need goals and benchmarks to work towards. What better time then the start of a year to set up goals? Sure, some may get broken or not turn out exactly the way I hope but if I don’t try, things will never change. And I find that even having them written out (and this year published online for anyone to read!) makes me way more motivated to stick to them and make things happen! I’m never one to step down from a challenge and I LOVE the feeling you get when you’ve worked hard for something and you succeed. Some of these are little, some of them are big. Some will require an everyday commitment and some can be accomplished in one go. Some of them may seem silly to you, or unrealistic. Maybe some of them ARE unrealistic. But I’m writing them down, big and small. And I’m committing to 2016 being better than 2015. I’m committing to these goals and all that they may entail. So here they are, in no particular order, 16 goals for 2016.

1. Speak more French.  I moved all the way to Ottawa, in large part due to the fact that it is a bilingual school. I take classes in French. I’ve made Francophone friends and, for goodness sake, I live in the French residence! Want to know what I don’t do? Speak French. Like ever. I know that I’ve lost a lot of my vocabulary since coming home from Switzerland, that I make a lot of grammar errors and that I have a strong accent. But I need to just get over myself. I’m going to try to speak French this year whenever I can, rather than just when I have to. 

2. Swim 200km. I thought a lot about this number. 100 seemed like too little to be of significance. 300 seemed unattainable. So, 200 it is. This fall, I finally got committed to going to the pool and was swimming 3-5 times a week. It became less of a chore and something I actually looked forward to, a reward after a long day of studying. It’s something I really, really want to continue and commit to in 2016 because it makes me feel so much better to be working out consistently. By putting a number on it, I have something measurable to commit to long term. And, I just think it will be cool to look back on and actually know how far I swam when I add it all up at the end of the year. Good thing I got a new bathing suit for Christmas!

3. Read the Bible. ALL of it. Go big or go home right? Something I’ve been really struggling with is making time to read my Bible and do devotions since going to university. Someone in the Christian fellowship posted in our Facebook group today, asking if anyone wanted to do a reading plan to go through the Word by the end of the school year. Perfect for me, short time frame and accountability. After that, I’m hoping it will become habit. I’m starting today and if you’d like to join me, this is plan I/we’re following. You read all the chapters across the row and move down the columns each day.

4. Finish the sweater I’m knitting.

5. Cut down on social media. I seriously waste WAY too much time on my phone. Before bed, when I wake up in the morning, in the dining hall if I’m eating alone, as a way to procrastinate while studying. Most of that time is spent flipping between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve decided to disable Twitter for the time being as it is the least useful of my social media accounts and to just make a conscious effort to check my media less often. It’s a major unnecessary time waster.

6. Keep my GPA high enough to renew my entrance scholarship for next year. This is going to be a tough one, but I’m determined (and luckily, on track after 1st semester). Grades aren’t the most important thing but I do pride myself in working hard to achieve them. I want to use the opportunity I’ve been given to get an education and my goal is to get a GPA of 8.5/10 in order to renew the $3000 scholarship I was given this fall. I’ve learned a lot about how best to study after first semester and get the grades I want without losing my mind. The biggest one is stopping procrastination and prioritizing my health as much as my grades. And remembering that all-nighters are not my friend. Time management IS.

7. Blog once a week. This is a big one for me. Over the Christmas break I’ve remembered just how much writing means to me. It’s something I’m so passionate about and blogging is an amazing way to practice writing consistently. And it’s fun. And it’s not stressful. And I feel like it’s part of God’s plan for my life. Making time for it (an “non-essential” activity in the world of school) is going to be hard but that why it’s a goal; something to work towards.

8. Reclaim my mornings. Or…claim them…for the first time. Let’s get this straight. I am NOT a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. I’m happiest sleeping until noon and staying up past 2am. But I read this blog a few weeks ago about making mornings a productive and enjoyable part of your day. I’m kind of tired of jumping out of bed 10 minutes before class, gulping down coffee without eating breakfast and bemoaning my 8:30 classes. SO I’m going to try my very hardest to get up at 7am. That gives me time to go for a swim before class or just sit and have a tea and read my Bible (yes, two birds with one stone!), or make myself an omelette to have a good breakfast. Don’t worry, I’m still going to let myself sleep in once in a while but I’m praying that God gives me the strength to approach mornings with joy and productivity this year!

9. Find a church to call “home”. Being involved in a church community is so important to me and I’ve yet to find a church in Ottawa to call home. I went to one for several weeks in a row and though I was good to go but in December I started to strongly feel like God was telling me that it wasn’t where I was supposed to plant myself for these next 4-5 years. I’m praying that I’ll find somewhere I can find fellowship and actually GROW my faith.

#churchsearch2k16

10. Eat healthier. I know this is pretty basic but I noticed in the last little while how much BETTER I feel when I’m eating well and limiting my intake of sugar and processed food. A bit of a challenge with a 24 hour dining with a dessert bar and unlimited french fries but I’m going to do my best to eat salads and fruit and veggies and chicken and all that good stuff rather than pizza and ice cream!

11. Make my bed. A little thing, but in my small dorm room, makes all the difference.

12. Invest less in things and more in experiences. For Christmas this year, I asked to go on a family vacation instead of getting tons of unnecessary “things”, so we’re going to the Dominican Republic during reading week (YAY). I’m going to spend my Christmas money on a winter retreat with my school’s Christian fellowship and a trip to Carnaval in Quebec City. These are adventures that I will cherish far more than clothes I don’t really need or random things that just take up space. This year, I’m going to focus on doing things rather than buying things.

13. Spend more time outside. I want to go on a canoe trip this summer. I want to go hiking with my best friend. I want to sleep under the stars. I want to jump in lakes and eat lunch under the trees. I want to skate on the canal and go for long walks with friends and feel the cold winter air in my lungs. Like I mentioned in a recent post  I realized that being outside in the world God made seriously feeds my soul and makes my life so much better.

14. Pray intentionally. In high school, I loved making prayer lists and taking time to go through them and pray for people by name, for situations in the world, for really whatever God put on my heart. I believe that prayer has power and interceding on the behalf of others makes my soul sing. This year I want reintegrate intentional prayer into my life.

15. Volunteer. Again, this was something I was really passionate about in high school but have let slip since starting university. In high school I learned how to serve without expecting anything in return and God gave me so many opportunities to show love through the giving of my time. I learned that the least glamorous jobs are the ones that need doing, like stacking chairs or cleaning toilets or sorting paperwork. Over the break, I went with my old youth pastor to the Salvation Army and helped make and serve dinner. It was just a few hours of my week but they so appreciated having some extra hands around. My life in high school kind of revolved around my many volunteer commitments and I LOVED it so so much. I want to find that again and make this year not just about me. I’m not sure how I’m going to volunteer (I’ve been sending tons of emails out) but I’m willing to do whatever God gives me the opportunity to do. One thing I’m really excited about is the possibility of teaching swimming lessons to kid with special needs but I’m still waiting to hear back from them (who knew volunteer placements could be so hard to find??) However it turns out, people are important to me and therefore so is stepping outside of my own desires and putting time aside to serve others practically.

16. Choose joy. Last but definitely not least. Funnily enough “Choose joy” has been my Twitter bio for the last year or so but I don’t feel like I’ve been taking my own advice as of late. Emotions are fickle but I can CHOOSE to be joyful in every situation and every moment of 2016. The absolute best definition of this that I found was in a devotional by Rick Warren :

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation” 

In 2016, I am going to be assured of God’s plan for my life, I am going to delight in the seemingly mundane and I am going to praise the Lord for every blessing in my life.

I think that what I’m most excited about for this year to to just GET BUSY. It’s so easy to feel  caught up in day to day life and go through the motions rather than actually living life. In December, a leader from my high school youth group was killed in a car collision at the age of 24. When going through his things, they found a painting that he had made and put up on his wall. It read “There’s more to living than being alive” and that phrase has been rolling around my brain ever since. Colin was an amazing leader, a man of God, a role model, an artist, and a person who loved humbly and practically. He LIVED. It’s made me think so much the last couple of weeks about what I want my life to look like.

This is life. This is all it is. It’s the day to day. For me right now, it’s going to school, it’s living in res, it’s late nights studying in the library. But I’m not going to wait to start living. In high school, I was always so crazy busy. I made time for things I loved. I volunteered, I wrote, I followed crazy dreams (see Switzerland), I sought God, I knit, I read. And I thrived being busy and involved in life. I guess, to sum up all of these goals I could have just said

“Stop procrastinating, stop wasting time and start remembering what it’s like to be passionate”. 

Because isn’t that what it’s all about? God put me on this earth for a purpose. I’m pursuing that purpose with my education but I know that there is more to life than books and papers. This year, these goals, are all just another step in my attempt to do life the best that I can, to live, to love people, to follow God, to be adventurous.

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2016, I’m coming for you. I’m ready to live this year, present and joyfully. I’m ready for the adventure a fresh new year brings.

And you, dear readers? Thank you all for taking the time to read and be a part of my life. It humbles me and makes me so incredibly thankful that people actually take the time to read my thoughts and follow my attempts at the blogging world. Thank you, a million times over. And welcome to the New Year. You too have an opportunity, 365 days to live out however you choose. What are you going to do this year? What goals will you set? How are you going to live life as an adventure?

-Sam

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Gallivanting into the future

Hey friends!

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Long time, no see. Sorry about that. School this year is kind of kicking my butt. Not so much that the workload is bad but that I’m really struggling to find motivation. It’s odd; I love my classes but I wish I could just go and have these long discussions about politics and economics and the world and poetry and not have to do random assignments that have no impact on the real world.

Anyway, not really the point of this. Today was an absolutely lovely day filled with music and good friends and hope for the future, so I figured I’d write a little something even though it’s late and I should be in bed.

Now that I can drive, having the car for a night is such a treat. I love having the freedom to want to do something and then just being able to go and do it. Tonight, I was out with some friends and then decided to stop by another’s house for a quick visit. I had just come to the top of a huge hill in our neighbourhood when I quite literally had my breath taken away by the beauty of the sunset. The entire sky was taken up by it and I felt so glad to be alive in that moment. Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all the bad taking place in the world.

Last week I visited a courthouse in Toronto and witnessed an hour or so of a murder trial and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. And then there is the earthquake in Nepal which makes my stomach twist and my heart hurt every time I think about. And I don’t know if any of you see it around you, but the people in my life lately seem to be so confused or angry or hurting. But tonight I was reminded that there is so much good in the world. A friend of mine, Lauren, recently came back from doing missions work in India, Scotland and the Congo and was talking about seeing terrible things in the world but still being able to walk away and say “But God is faithful”

But God is faithful

In every situation, in every moment, God is faithful.

There is a verse in Hosea that I absolutely love and it goes

Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth – Hosea 6:3

The sun always rises and God is always faithful. I think one of the things I love most about that verse is that he will come to use like winter rains. Most of us, I think can agree, winter just is not fun. Maybe for a little bit, around Christmas, but mostly, cold, wet and gloomy is not what I prefer. But God comes. In something we may perceive to be bad, God comes.

I guess what I’m getting at is this. There is evil in the world. There is. And you know what? It sucks. But there is also good. There are sunsets and sunrises and good friends and warm tea and laughter and an entire world to discover. And there are people who work towards finding the good like the lawyers at the trial I visited and aid workers trying to help rebuild in Nepal. And there are people who will just give you a hug and tell you that you matter (if you ever need that, just let me know, I really love hugs, and you dear reader). Best of all, there is a God who loves us, fiercely and passionately and relentlessly. I just feel blessed to have been given a shot at life and I can’t wait to explore.

I want this to mark the start of a new beginning for Sam’s Grand Adventure. Because, sorry to say, there are no “adventures” looming in the future. There are no plane tickets booked, no bags waiting to be packed. But there are things to learn and people to talk to and ridiculous situations to get myself into. I’ve been associating adventure with travel but honestly, just living is an adventure. How cool is it that everyday is unique? That today, you had conversations you will never have again, that tomorrow is (as cheesy as it is) is actually a mystery? Not to mention, if you want a real adventure, try giving your future over to God. You’ll end up doing crazy stuff that pushes you out of your comfort zone on a daily basis, like asking a stranger to have coffee with you, or deciding to perform poetry that you wrote live in front of people or acting out life advice in the bookshelves of Chapters. Maybe thats just me, my life is basically a comedy show.

So if you’ve read all the way to the end, koodos to you! I know this has been long, and kind of all over the place. But yeah, that’s where I’m at. I think the whole time I’ve been blogging, I’ve been so worried about making it good and making people want to read it. But it’s called Sam’s Grand Adventure. I’m Sam, and if you stick with me, maybe we’ll learn some things together. I’m going searching for the good and trusting God to help me find it.

I’d be honored if you came along for the ride!unnamed  – Sam

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