Ever have a problem coming up with how to start something, especially a paper? Ever wonder how you should begin one or why it is so difficult to do so? I mean, do you just jump right into it, telling your readers about how they will be reading about a should-have-already-known revelation discovered through a 24-hour, technology-lacking retreat in the rest of your piece? Or do you try some clever way to draw in your readers attention and make them curious about what they’ve gotten themselves into? Yeah, I dunno which is better (or easier) to do, either. If you figure it out, please let me know. Introductions have always been my weak point and I’d love to learn how to conquer them!
Assuming you survived my lame attempt to avoid writing an introduction, there is a point to my latest rambling (at least, that is what I tell myself). Last weekend, I was lucky enough to go on a retreat with some members of my middle- and high-school youth group. It was a simple, loosely yet perfectly structured 24-hour get away that was meant to help escape the stress of life and reconnect with God. I didn’t realize that I needed it so badly until I was there, in a cabin in the middle of the woods out in 100 degree weather (though we did have A/C inside the cabin, thank goodness!). Stress has a way of taking over a person’s life in so many levels, on a multitude of varying degrees. Some stresses could be underlining and not really noticable unless you think about it directly — not have a boyfriend, summer ending in a few weeks, piles of laundry, etc.. Some stresses are very dominant, taking over the mind relentlessly until you either address it, fix it, or give into it: not having enough money for tuition that’s due in less than a month, trying to finish everything you need to complete before time runs out or declines approach (and deciding what has priority over what), or perhaps trying to have enough faith in yourself to complete the tasks before you. For me, all those things listed and more have been weighing me down this past week, as I am about to return to school — and in a way, reality — a week from Sunday. So being able to go to a retreat that allowed me to escape all this stress was an amazing opportunity that reminded me of a really important detail that I forgot about.
And it came to me through sweat and cobwebs.
I know, that sounds weird. Maybe be too much information for some of you, but you try hiking up hills from hell and not breaking a sweat. 😉 But most of our group went hiking through the woods during our time out and were instructed to just let God be with us and notice Him around us. And by golly, I think I did that. I’ve always been kind of a nature freak, so I was pumped to be trekking through the woods, despite the heat. Leaves would fall occasionally from above, we’d hear wildlife moving around us (even saw deer twice; this kid was STOKED) and it was just all around beautiful. (Nature and wildlife are so underappreciated, but don’t worry, a blog-rant about that is in the future! :)) So it was a great environment to be in. But I noticed something I never really noticed before: the huge masses of cobwebs. I mean, they covered huge distances in the opening between trees or overtaking plants. Massive bundes of tiny, thin and delicate threads that were woven together into a web by a creature a tenth of the size of the finished product. That web provided a home and food for a creature that I normally find repulsive. And as I walked through the forest, trying to not break my ankles on the narrow horse trails as my tanktop was drenched in sweat, those webs were what I noticed most. And it got me thinking, reminding me about perspective and angles.
Sure, normally I find spiders repulsive and yes, I admit, I’d rather have a man kill them for me than do the deed myself. But instead of thinking of the spiders in that light, I saw the homes they created in an impressed awe. Now, I don’t have any more love towards spiders than before, but I never found myself impressed by them before either. I mean, these ceatures, some smaller than the size of a quarter, make their home themselves in that forest — a forest that many will probably live their entire lives in, never seeing any other part of the world, ever. They fend for themselves, feed themselves, all in 100-degree heat or below zero temperatures, depending on the season. And here I am, complaining about the heat when I can return to an air conditioned cabin in a matter of minutes. Even though my father builds houses in that heat every day from dawn until dusk, his clothes looking like they just came out of the washer when he returns home. Even though there are those who have lived through this brutally hot summer without any A/C in their homes. Even though there are people that have no homes to return to at all.
When we did got back to the cabin, we did another activity about counting your blessing. I won’t go into too much detail, but we wrote down what we were thankful for. And that activity just strengthen the angles idea that had been forming in my mind throughout the day. I listed many things — food, clothing, shelter, family and friends, health, material items. You get the picture. But then I caught myself writing down things down before I realized what I wrote: stress, fear, sweat. I realized that while I may stress that I’m short on my tuition bill, I’ve been blessed to have the chance to be accepted into an amazing university that has offered me great chances in getting closer to my achieving my dream of becoming a published fiction writer. While my family and I have been struggling financially, at least we have the money — or the jobs and opportunity to make money — to stress over. Many are not that lucky, especially in this economy. We may have bills to pay, but that reflects that we have things that some people don’t have. I fear about failure and about not achieving my dreams. Yet that fear makes the dreams even more real, reminding me that I know myself enough to have dreams in mind. And through that fear, I will find courage. I may sweat a lot (even when it’s not terribly hot) and usually I get so embarassed because I’ll get pit-stains. Even now, I’m thinking to myself, “Nicole, why the hell are you writing that for the world to see? Now everyone will notice them more than before!” But even something as unattractive at pit-stains can be a reminder, a realization: I have clothes to sweat through, I’m healthy enough to sweat, or the fact that I am alive and breathing to sweat, are all examples of different blessings that can be realized from that simple thing, only by thinking a different way.
The fact of the matter is, life is all about angles and about choice. You can choose what angle you look at. You can look at a failed math class as a waste of a class or you can look at as an opportunity denied to many others. You can look at the stress that tries to take over you life as something negative and overwhelming or you can think about it as a chance to remember the things in your life you are lucky enough to stress over about. I feel like practically every aspect of your life presents you with different angles to look at it, and the choice of how you want to view it. And it is that choice that determines the direction of the threads in your life. It is the choice of perspective that determines how strong the web of your life is; how happy, how succesful. Or how sad and how hard it is. Personally, I hope to try and switch up the angles in which I have been viewing my life through. Instead of looking at it as what life is throwing at me, I want to look at it as what life has given me. Count my curses as blessings, my failures as lessons, my misfortunes as transformations. And I realize that trying to transform your whole mindset is a difficult task and not one that will happen overnight. I will still complain about petty things, still whine about my flaws, still beat myself up over my failures and forget about the blessings that appear in every corner and aspect of my life. But I figure that just realizing there is another viewpoint to see has to be a start. And everyone has to start somewhere, right? But, I implore you, just imagine: what if everyone looked at their life as a string of blessings and reminders instead of worries and misfortunes? Just how powerful do you think a simplistic, however difficult, change in mindset could affect the world? It’s definitely got my curious!
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” — Romans 12:2