Simplify, simplify!

I have decided to confess a most terrible vice. I have this… erm… problem. With Barnes and Noble. Nothing against the store or anything – in fact, it’s probably one of my favorite places in the continental U.S. But sometimes, I get into these horrible and awful cycles of book-buying. Ok, who am I kidding. Really, it’s quite fun. I get an idea in my head, and decide to rush off to B&N to become an expert on the topic. While I am there, I discover a dozen more pressing interests that must be sated by the purchase of a germane title. Then I leave, a little guilty, with three or four books and an absurdly long list of works which I really wanted to buy but decided (ever so maturely) to deny myself. But what is really awful is when I let the rate of my book purchases far exceed the rate of my reading speed, which is quite decidedly average. You’d think I was trying to build my own Bodleian Library by 2020!

So there we have it. I am a compulsive book buyer, and sometimes, I think more about the possibility of reading than actually reading. Therefore, I am on a book fast. And not in a spiritual sense (or else I wouldn’t be telling you), though I must say, I have been much more focused on studying my Bible since limiting my book consumption.

What on earth does this have to do with finding purpose in the everyday? Well, I believe that we tend to fill our lives with a lot of activities and “stuff,” maybe to fill a void, maybe to channel excess energy, maybe because we can’t say no to other people or to our very own whims. I tend to fill my life with a lot of unread books because I see a great potential in each of them, whether it be the knowledge to start a new project or just the benefit of knowing about a new topic, and I often get caught up in things before I ask myself, why bother?

“Everything is permissible for me,”says Paul, “but not everything is beneficial.” In Christ we have great liberty from sin and existential fear, but the fact that we are not enslaved to the obviously evil does not mean we are not bound to the seemingly innocuous cares of this world. The things that we fill our lives with say a lot about our priorities, and I think that to find purpose in the everyday, we must rid our lives of “fillers.”

God is not going to step in and give us some grand purpose in life when we are too focused on consuming endless media or pursuing our empty projects to even hear Him speak. If we are feeling devoid of purpose, the first thing to do is go to God’s Word, and pray. If we don’t even have time for that, then the problem is pretty obvious, to me at least.

Thoreau says, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I can’t say I identify with Thoreau in every way, but I completely understand his fear of getting to the end of his life and finding that he had not lived. I consider his philosophy a secular echo of Christ’s paradoxical warning:

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” – Mark 8:35-36

Great and lasting purpose can be found in losing our lives for Christ. As Americans, this probably doesn’t mean death, but it might take a painfully deliberate effort to root out the “fillers” to make room for such self-denial. What greater cause is there than the glorious Gospel, which offers redemption to the lost and healing to the broken-hearted? And what greater master of our lives than the Lord of Lords, and King of Kings? Are we just too distracted by our own pursuits to follow the Lord in the only way that offers purpose – total surrender?

If so, I say, simplify, simplify! Live deliberately for the Kingdom of God. Cut out the nonessentials and throw off everything that hinders, everyday. Lose your life to Christ, and you will live with purpose.

Finding Purpose in the Everyday

I’ve been pretty introspective the past few days, not that this is terribly uncharacteristic of me. I’ve had a lot of time and space to myself to think, pray and write. There is something about the prospect of getting married that has motivated me to deal with issues that have long plagued me; I think it comes out of a desire to be at my “best” come August 11th out of love for Chris, but also because there are certain habits and insecurities of mine that I am just sick and tired of living with. Do you ever feel that way?

You see, right now, I have an inordinate amount of time.

Time to plan my wedding, time to read, time to watch television, time to bake, time to pursue just about any hobby I fancy, and of course, time to blog. And way too much time to think. I don’t foresee having another such abundance of time for many decades, to tell you the truth, unless of course I contract some terrible disease and am bedridden for months on end. But even that wouldn’t be the same as this season in Sarasota. It seems a fitting time to confront an issue that has hovered over my shoulder for years: finding purpose in the everyday.

When I say “purpose,” I mean it with a capital P. I could make a list of goals (and I frequently do) and decide to accomplish them in a given day, week or month, but the sense of purpose fades just about as long as it takes to write out my list of lofty to-dos. Having been extremely goal-oriented in high school, and to some extent in college, I know well the lure of perfectionism and success. But even now as I am about to officially graduate, the figurative “sweat and blood” (and all too literal anxiety and tears) that it took to live up to my self-imposed standards tempt me to ask the terrifying question – was it worth it?

Of course it was “worth” certain results, like going to the college where I met my future husband and a few dear friends, and now being on my way to attending J-School at Medill to pursue my (finally) chosen career, but what I refer to is the value of my striving. Try as I might to dedicate my school work to God, too often, my personal pursuits feel far too personal to be purposeful – i.e. they are all about me. My transcript. My accomplishments. My goals.

The beauty of this present season is that the stress of having to prove myself (to myself) is lifted. But with that comes questions. What is the point of today? What is the point of my life? I could boil it down to a Christian catch-phrase or catechism, but life (or my life at least) is too complicated to fit into those molds, because the questions about the purpose of today versus the purpose of my life tend to produce different sentiments. I pray that my life glorifies God, but how does this worthy purpose play out in the often mundane details of today or tomorrow? I intend to blog continuously about this in the coming weeks, maybe months. This issue has many simple and obvious answers but it does not always come so easily to me. Therefore, I am convinced that this series will benefit at least one other person out there, somewhere.

I could ramble for weeks, but instead I will end with a question, thankfully not from my own troubled psyche, to be addressed at length on a later day.

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? – Jesus Christ, to the Pharisees. John 5:44

Cookies!

I’ve been sitting on these pictures for almost a year, postponing the semi-arduous blogging process. I decided just to post the pictures already so I can get on with my cookie-making! So here they are, and more are to come once I get better at macarons.

And for reference, these are Williams-Sonoma sugar cookies, from their Cookies book, with colored royal icing. I used small pink candy pearls for decorations.

Thanks for following Sweet Silent Thoughts! By the way, I’m now on twitter – @sarahleegassel.

Peppermint Cheesecake

Ok, so I may not have made this on Christmas day, but to continue the tradition from last year, here is a look at the cake I made for our engagement party, making it my second annual Christmas cake 🙂 In case you missed the first one, here’s the link to Bon Appetit’s Ribbon cake.

Peppermint Cheesecake ... mmmm

 

Now the white chocolate mousse did not quite turn out. It was rather grainy and just not beautiful enough to top my cake! Instead, we served it with the slices as a tasty sauce. Here’s a look at the finished product:

 

I used canned vanilla icing on top, and decorated with sugar cookies I had made earlier in the day. I ended up being quite happy that the mousse did not turn out, because it gave me such a fun opportunity to creatively decorate with cookies. Also, the base is made of melted peppermints – such a pretty touch. Thank you Southern Living for sharing this amazingly delicious recipe!

And just for kicks, here’s a couple pictures of the other sugar cookies that I labored over on that day 🙂

Graduation & Engagement!

Hello dear readers!

Much has happened since “For the Directionless Graduate” was posted. For one, I graduated! Ok, let’s be honest. I celebrated my impending graduation at Brown’s rather odd ceremony last December, which lauded the even odder segment of the Brunonian population who for whatever reason, decided that graduating with one’s own class in the Spring did not suit them. Many graduated a semester later than their classmates, a few finally finished their degrees after beginning at Brown decades ago, and a few more, I among them, “graduated” early! It was totally worth it – I got to shake hands with Ruth Simmons!!! Not to mention I get to skip out on yet another brutal Providence winter. Don’t worry, northerners feeling jealous, I’ll be suffering along with you all next year in either Chicago or New Haven!

Siesta Key Beach in January. Yes, January!

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 Now there is a rather enormous and incredibly joyous life event that occurred very shortly after celebrating my non-graduation. (I usually don’t blog about my self, but maybe I am turning a new leaf!) I am now an ENGAGED woman after all!

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 After much anticipation, consternation and excited anxiety, Christopher Unseth proposed on December 9th, 2011, in front of hundreds of Brown students and friends. Here’s a look at the crowd that witnessed the event:

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Prior to this large gathering at around 11 in the evening, Christopher had taken me on what seemed like the perfect date. Dinner at Red Stripe, our favorite restaurant. Dessert at Pastiche – what could be better than that? In my apparently inferior romantic imagination, these locales seemed more than suitable for a proposal of matrimony, especially given the fact that our time at Brown together was rapidly drawing to a close. I was anxious for him to propose and knew it was coming, eventually… But, I had given up hope that it would happen that night, as the date seemed to be over.

Driving back up College Hill, Chris proposed (no, not that kind of proposed!) that we go for a walk on the Main Green, a rather surprising sentimental gesture to our waning days as Brunonians. It was a beautiful night, after all.

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 We started to hear loud cheering in the direction of Keeney, and Chris suggested we go see what all the excitement was about. It turned out to be a Jabberwocks a cappella arch sing in Wayland Arch. Chris had sung with the group until that semester, so it seemed perfectly natural that he would want to see them sing while a student for the last time. He (I thought rather rudely) pushed through hundreds of people, dragging me along behind, until we were sitting at the very front.

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 Listening to the songs, I felt so happy to be there with Chris, with so many familiar faces around us, and to be leaving Brown with him, engagement or no engagement. Suddenly as the last song began, (You Send Me, by Sam Cook) Chris stood up, slipped on his Jabberwock’s blazer, and started to sing with the group. He pulled me up, and as you’ll see in the video, it was easily the happiest and most overwhelming several minutes of my life!

Proposal Video

I can’t even begin to explain how I felt during or after the proposal. It was one those moments that was both thrilling and momentous, that I will remember the rest of my life. My best friend, with whom I am deeply in love, asked me to marry him, and I happily and finally said YES!


Blogging Once More

Hello dear readers! 

Just a quick update – now that I finally have an excess of free time, I can blog once more! As you can see in my picture, I am extremely excited about this prospect.

I’m living in Sarasota again and about to start a web internship at Sarasota Magazine. But until then, I am working on several posts to come. One summarizes my recent graduation and engagement, and the other details my new weekly tradition at home called “French night!” (Basically it just involves me cooking French food for my parents once a week, but it’s a big deal at my house, okay?) I’ll also give suggestions as to what tools are best suited to cooking French food, according to Julia Child of course, but modified to brands currently available in my favorite stores, Williams & Sonoma and Sur La Table.

All in all, life is good. My days have been packed with phone calls to florists, photographers, dress shops and the like, because, well, I’m getting married. Yes, for real, on this coming August 11th! I’ll post about the proposal later but rest assured that this blogger is positively smitten with her fiancé.

I am off to see “The Artist” with my parents. Hope you all have a wonderful Saturday night!

Sincerely,

Sarah Lee

 

For the Directionless Graduate

Sanctus Real – I Want to Get Lost (Acoustic)

Being about to graduate from college has the undesirable effect of magnifying every insecurity about my future life that has been dormant (or active) these past three years. I am starting to realize just how common a general feeling of “lostness” is for the many students leaving college… save for the ones who have been pre-professional from day one and now have jobs lined up in June. Those of us who defiantly refused to focus on “career prospects” during college ( and were perhaps a little too lulled into the liberal-arts-education ethos!) now look around with undeniable envy at the students walking around in suits, heading off to job interviews this fall. But, despite this future-malaise, I have hope.

You see, my fear was always of getting stuck in a position of success. While this might seem counter-intuitive, what I mean is that my fear was not of succeeding in general, but in succeeding in a field that I hated, and not having the courage to leave a position of security for the more nebulous route of following my “passions.” (I sense the scoffs of the gainfully employed.) Passions are not always profitable, but what else are one’s 20’s for, anyways?

If you are a humanities major feeling lost, the safest bet might seem like applying to law school. But one should apply to law school because one loves law, not because one has no concrete plans for the rest of one’s life! (Which is a long time I might add!) At the end of a semester, a wonderful professor of mine reminded our class of aspiring writers of the obvious: you only get one shot at life! Do you want to spend it doing something you love? Try before consigning yourself to a life of your personal version of mediocrity. And if all else fails after a few years, and you are wallowing somewhere in a miserably obscure and joyless job, then ok, ok, apply to law school already. At least you tried. Unfortunately, people who hold dreams sacredly close to their heart will sometimes decide it is better not to find out if one will “make it” to avoid shattering the dream. This is nothing short of the most shameful sort of cowardice, to which I fall prey 50% of my waking hours.

And so I end with the song posted at the beginning. “I Want to Get Lost” is the title, and although it might sound like it applies to the starry-eyed freshmen who start their college careers off in comparative literature seminars and Russian language classes and end them in English literature and Russian culture classes (i.e., me), the lyrics are far more purposeful. In case you are unfamiliar with Sanctus Real, it is a Christian band. And so, I interpret with confidence that the song refers to getting lost in the infinite and Almighty God of the Universe. What this means for each person looks a little different, but I would wager that getting lost in God is a far more mysteriously wonderful experience than feeling lost by oneself at the end of college, feeling as though everyone else has things figured out and I should probably get an LSAT prep-book because I have a degree that prepares me for everything but nothing and my parents are getting concerned that I am going nowhere in life… Ok ok, stop hyper-ventilating (yes, I say this to myself in actuality). God is not worried about my future. He is not looking over my resumé and wondering why I took Ancient Greek instead of getting an internship last summer. And I can be assured that if I get lost in Him, He will not lose me. Besides, He is the God who goes looking for His one lost sheep, when the other ninety-nine are safe in the sheep pen!

 

The Myth of the Super-Person

Have you seen the news? There is a new breed of Homo Sapiens out there saving the world, climbing mountains, reading Rimbaud and solving physics problems at the same time, and mastering obscure foreign tongues, all in a day’s work. Do you believe it? Neither do I.

I read an op-ed today in the NYTimes called Super People. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend you do. While there is plenty of truth to the article, I find the idea of the so-called “super-person” grossly exaggerated. While students may be learning more broadly and going on more service-oriented cross-cultural trips, I think nowadays we give credit to people far too easily. Yes, it is more difficult to gain admission to elite schools, and yes, there is a resume-building game to play for those eager to get to the top, but we are kidding ourselves if we think someone is a “super-human” just because they have a knack for filling up a resumé.

My questions are, do these people have deep friendships or a coterie of awed admirers? Have they ever forsaken romance for achievements? When they help people, what motivates them at a deep level? Would they go on “service-learning” trips if there were a no-resumé listing rule? How often do they really go mountain climbing anyways? I personally think we have a tendency to incorporate things into our identity a bit too quickly, and that helping build a school in another country one summer means something totally different from devoting one’s entire career to the building of schools in needy places. I suppose I’d prefer to wait, oh, until the end of a super-person’s life, and then see if they did anything meaningful or lasting in the world, or if they are merely more motivated versions of the rest of us. Looking at the success of their marriages and family lives wouldn’t hurt either.

 

Shakespearean Sonnets

Whether or not Shakespeare intended to have these two sonnets read together, I cannot say for sure, but as I was writing a short paper on the former poem a few days ago, I noticed a note that suggested it was linked to the latter. Each begins with an expression of sorrow and ends with the exclamation that thinking on a certain “dear friend” dramatically lifts the speaker’s spirits. I’m taking a class called “Shakespeare, Donne and Milton,” and before I start posting raving reviews of Donne’s poetry, I wanted to be sure to include Shakespeare, since we just finished discussing his sonnets and longer poetic pieces. Plus, I thought it might be fun to post the poem that inspired the name of this blog. (Notice the first line of Sonnet 30).

Happy reading 🙂

Sonnets 29 & 30

by William Shakespeare –

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising)
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

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Why I Oppose Planned Parenthood

As I walked into the mailroom today, two Brown students sat behind a table emblazoned with the request, “Stand With Planned Parenthood!” As I was picking up my latest Bon Appétit (along with Girl Scout cookies from my wonderful mother!), I made a resolution to talk to the students, and find out why precisely Planned Parenthood is crying out for our help.

If you, unlike myself, have been keeping up with the news over the past week instead of studying far too much chemistry you may already know that conservatives in the House have proposed to cut Planned Parenthood’s entire $317 million budget (I found out today). Here’s a link to a pretty comprehensive article about what’s been going on: Planned Parenthood Funding is Caught in Budget Feud

Basically, $75 million is really at stake (the Senate would likely not vote to cut all funding), but our government still supports about a third of Planned Parenthood’s 1.1 billion dollar budget. My new friends made it clear to me that not a dime of this money is legally allowed to pay for abortions, but opponents say this money frees up funds for abortions. (I don’t know how they allocate funds, so I take no stance.)

They additionally reassured me that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions. 3%? Such a small number you say, whatever is the problem? Well friends, 3% represents 332,278 children who were not born in America in the year 2009 (about 1/3 of all abortions nationwide). By the way,  a “service” ranges anywhere from getting tested for HIV to receiving contraception to being referred to an adoption agency (which happened a mere 977 times compared to >300,000 abortions in 2009). Now to be clear, I strongly support the medical services provided, which are generally to low-income women. What I abhor is the equation of taking a human life to a medical procedure or the ambiguous term “service.”

Why do I feel so strongly? Well, what I told my fellow Brown students this afternoon was that had my birthmother gone to Planned Parenthood 21 years ago desirous of an abortion, I would not be standing here today.

You can say all you want about “women’s rights” but quite frankly, I think we should call the pro-life movement “infant’s rights.” A fetus shares 50% percent of a mother’s genetic code, therefore it is a cop-out to call a fetus a mere extension of the woman’s body – it is a unique being. We don’t tell mothers they can kill their newborns if raising a child is too difficult, why is it any different before the child is born? People shrink in horror at the thought of killing an infant because the mere sight or cry of a baby induces a protective response in most humans. It is the invisibility of the act of abortion that allows people to sweep it under the rug of “freedom.” Imagine the response to a movement to legalize infanticide.

To conclude, I oppose Planned Parenthood because they allow abortions to occur on their premises, but do not oppose the majority of their other services. Even still, 3% is no small number if it translates to 332,278 babies who were not born in 2009.  I could have been a part of that statistic in 1989, but by the grace of God am alive today.

 

*Here is the link to an opinions column I wrote for the Brown Daily Herald, that was birthed out of this post: http://www.browndailyherald.com/gassel-12-the-case-for-infant-rights-1.2516287