New portfolio, same ole me

When I was in my last semester at Washburn, I was enrolled in a course called Career Development and Digital Portfolio. This class, required for seniors, focused on resume and cover letter critiques, career research and of course, digital portfolio creation. There are many free websites builders: Site123, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc. I chose to use Weebly: it was easy to navigate and featured good themes.

At the end of the semester, we presented our portfolios to practice “pitching” ourselves to potential employers (i.e. our professor and classmates). Afterward, my professor told me that my portfolio trumped the majority of my classmates’ subpar efforts. My experiences and skills were highlighted well in my work samples and resume. Plus, my colorful theme displayed my interest in the creative field.

After I graduated, my Weebly portfolio was circulated to help advance my job hunt. I included the link on my resume and LinkedIn profile. As new experiences and skills became a part of me, my portfolio was revised and updated. I strongly believe it’s one of the reasons I gained my digital writing gig in May 2017.

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Then after a couple months in my new job, something happened. I grew tired of my portfolio. The headshot on the homepage was old, and I saw ways to improve the overall layout. I’d heard good remarks about Wix, so I decided to start from stratch on a new platform. I restructured my content, revised my resume and developed a new color scheme. I also used my sister’s keen eye to capture an up-to-date headshot for the homepage. While most of the site was new, I carried over one special thing from the Weebly portfolio:

“To live a creative life, we must lost the fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce. 

This quote defines my creative journey. I used to avoid mistakes and try to be perfect on the first go, which proved to be exhausting. I realized that the creative journey is outlined by making mistakes and learning from them. Mistakes can bulldoze a path toward better results. As I was designing my Wix portfolio, it took over a month to complete because of revisions, second guessing and mistakes like formatting text incorrectly or choosing a distracting background color or an unreadable font.

It got to the point where I wanted to start over, but Wix doesn’t let you switch templates after you’ve started. I looked into other sites like Site123 and Squarespace and even thought about returning to Weebly, but all roads led back to Wix, and I knew that was the best site for the design I wanted. After I inputted my headshot and matched the color scheme to the photo’s dominant color, everything fell into place. Now, I have a finished product ready to be viewed by all.

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New place, new chapter

It’s official. I live alone. Over the weekend I signed my first solo lease and moved into my one bed/one bath with the help of a stellar moving crew – my family and bf. The majority of last week was spent packing and deciding what was coming with me. The night before, everything was stored in the garage to prepare for the following-day transition. Move-in day would’ve been chaotic enough excluding the fact John and I had his sister’s wedding at 4 p.m. Luckily, with the combined effort of six people, we got everything in the apartment in record time, and we got to the wedding early.

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It’s been a few days since move-in, and I’ve had the opportunity to get my stuff more organized. With a couple shopping trips completed and internet installed, it’s starting to feel more like a home. But that’s doesn’t change the fact that I live alone, which is a situation I’ve never been in before. I’ve always had roommates or family around. The air was always filled with conversation or footsteps. Now, it’s mostly silent with the occassional exceptions of distant barking or hallway chatter.

Before I moved in, I was so sure I wanted to live alone. For months I dreamed about the freedom I would have in my own place:

  • The layout and design of the whole space
  • Full control of the thermostat settings
  • Status of neatness or sloppiness (i.e. dirty dishes)
  • Ability to walk around half-dressed
  • No time constraints or restrictions on company
  • No worries about stuff being used without permission

While these are nice selling points, there are a couple downsides that will take some getting used to: increased feelings of loneliness and anxiety.

  • Anxiety: Before bed, I venture to my front door to double and triple-check the locks. Then a strange noise later on will prompt me to check them again. While a heightened alertness is good, it also increases stress.
  • Loneliness: To cope with the prolonged silence, I always have a movie or music playing. This gives me the illusion that I’m not completely alone.

“When I first lived alone, I was all about the freedom, but I also felt desperately lonely (and scared, and overwhelmed, etc.). It was a major change, and one that took a while to get used to.” – Carolyn Steber, BUSTLE

In a stroke of luck, when I was on Google searching for an image to include in this post, I stumbled across a BUSTLE article by Carolyn Steber called, “13 Tips For Living Alone For The First Time​ & Making The Most Of Your Independence.” As the title implies, it listed 13 ways to make the concept of living alone more enjoyable, safe and less lonely. It was a blessing to stumble across the words of a woman who has been in my shoes. I know now that it’s permissable for me to feel a cluster of emotions regarding this transition. A lifechanging transition like this won’t sink in a day. It will take time, like all good things do.

Demolishing a derby

Being an Overland Park, KS resident for 23 years, it’s no surprise that I don’t have a country background. Dating a country boy has expanded my horizons quite a bit. In the course of our relationship, 19 months, I’ve done several things I never planned on: driving a tractor, stargazing in the back of a truck, and now … attending a Demolition Derby. An event like this was way out of my league, but when he said he wanted to participate, I knew I needed to be supportive – even though I was nervous as heck.

As sad as it sounds, he had to explain what a Demolition Derby was. In my eyes, it’s the equivalent of adult bumper cars, but far more dangerous. He and his brother, Chris, entered in the stock class. They spent weeks fixing up and preparing their cars to satisfy the safety regulations required to participate. John entered a 1987 Cadillac that he spray painted red, white and blue. His brother’s car was sponsored for Rico’s Nachos, so his 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis donned red and yellow spray paint and featured a decal for Rico’s on both sides.

We arrived in Ottawa around 4:30 p.m. just in time to get the cars inspected and approved by 5 p.m. The event started at 7 p.m., but their class didn’t compete until almost last. I was surprised how thrilling it was to watch old, beat-up cars ram into one another. I cheered until I was hoarse (again – don’t ask). When their class was up, the knots in my stomach worsened. I watched them drive their cars into the arena one-by-one, and I continuously prayed to God for their protection. Within sixty seconds, after the countdown ended, one of the cars flipped. They stopped the event as firefighters raced into the arena. After several minutes they announced the driver was okay. With tears welling in my eyes, I couldn’t help but thank God it wasn’t John or his brother who’d flipped.

They restarted the round and within five minutes, both John and Chris were out. John’s back wheel came off when the drive axle snapped, and his brother’s battery had taken a tumble and loosened its cables. Whenever a car cannot compete anymore, drivers are required to “break their stick,” which is taped to the outside of their door. Once their stick is broken, other cars can no longer hit them. It was unfortunate they were both out so soon because they didn’t place in the top five. However, they were in good spirits because of the fun they’d had. Plus, John received an offer during the event from a fellow derby attendee to purchase his Cadillac, so win-win.

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All you can do is pray

I thought this morning would be a typical Monday: press the snooze button a couple times, get dressed, pack my lunch, and leave for work at 8:30 a.m., but that isn’t how it went. “Amy! There was a mass shooting last night at a concert in Las Vegas – around 50 people were killed and hundreds were wounded. They’re calling it the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history.” 

I heard these words tumble out of my mom’s mouth as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Mass shooting … 50 dead … Las Vegas … concert … It took a few minutes for me to process what she’d said. This isn’t the first time I, or any other US resident, has received news about a mass shooting. Sandy Hook Elementary School (Dec. 2012), San Bernardino (Dec. 2015), Aurora, Colorado (July 2012), and Virginia Tech (April 2007) are just a few from a long list of tragedies our country has endured in the past decade.

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I’m devastated every time a mass shooting occurs. My head fills with questions. Who is capable of committing such an act? Why did they do it? How will the families of the victims ever recover? My heart breaks for the third question. How would you recover the loss of a loved one to a brutal murder like those in a mass shooting? Does the person responsible deserve forgiveness? Even as a Catholic, even I used to think no. How could anyone forgive a person who caused such horrific bloodshed on our American soil? The truth is, it will be hard and it will take a long time, but as I learned from “The Shack” (2017 Christian film), forgiveness IS possible.

Stephen Paddock, 64-year-old Las Vegas suspect, opened fire on 22,000 Jason Aldean concert attendees from a corner room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. After firing shots for 5-10 minutes, the police found him dead with 18-20 weapons. The panic that ensued when the hailstorm of gunshots rained down was beyond chaotic. People ducked for cover or ran in different directions trying to escape the terror. I can’t fathom the fear they all must’ve felt, unsure if they would make it out unharmed.

During my drive into work, I listened to K-Love, a Christian radio station. The morning show hosts were discussing how difficult it is to find good in this tragedy. They interviewed a woman who attended the concert with her 11-year-old daughter. The women had a military background so, when shots started, her instincts kicked in and she helped people get to safety. When she explained the good in a tragedy like this to her daughter, she pointed out that when chaos broke out, everyone united to help each other – and that is what matters here.

As I was driving and listening, I prayed. I prayed for the victims, those still alive and those who are not, all the victims’ families, and for the gunman. I prayed for his soul because even though I don’t know why he did what he did, I want him to repent for his sins and turn back to God. I’m angry at him for what he did to my fellow brothers and sisters, but he is still a child of God. I’m certain God will bring out the good from the evil Stephen Paddock unleashed on our nation. My hope is that the Las Vegas mass shooting will create more bridges for unity rather than walls for separation in our country.

“I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. We can take solace that even in the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be lightened by a single ray of hope. 

We pray for the day when evil is banished and when the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear. May God bless the souls of the lives that are lost. May God give us the grace to heal, and may God provide the grieving families with the strength to carry on. Thank you, and God bless America.” – President Trump 

Read latest Las Vegas mass shooting updates: click here.

Starstruck @ Expocentre

Last night, my boyfriend and I ventured to the Expocentre in Topeka, KS for Big Church Night Out. This concert included various artists from solo performers to top-notch Christian groups. The night’s line-up from the beginning: Adam Agee, Blanca, Derek Minor, 7eventh Time Down, Sidewalk Prophets, Brock Gill (magician), Jamison Strain, and Newsboys with fillers from Jeremy Willet, the MC. When we ordered our tickets online, we only had a say about section and row. When we arrived, we were surprised by the location of our seats – aisle seats with a perfect view of the stage and catwalk.

From the moment the concert began at 7 p.m., there was an undeniable sense of God in the arena. For one night, 2,000 people set aside their differences and joined together as one to praise the Lord. It’s an electrifying feeling being surrounded by so many people who share the same incredible faith as you. I was free to stand, sway, dance or raise my arms to connect to the faithful tunes that filled the building and vibrated through my heart and soul. As many performers said, if feelings of love and unity were spread throughout our country and world as a whole, there wouldn’t be as many divisions.

🎤”Oh, what are we waiting for. Let’s take it around the world. We’ll start a fight and join the fight in this love riot. Oh, ready, set, here we go. From London to Tokyo. You gotta unite and join the fight in this love riot.” – Love Riot, Newsboys ❤️

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When we decided to attend the concert, we both had different motives for going. I have always been obsessed with the Newsboys. I find their music invigorating and beautiful. On the other hand, John likes more hardcore Christian groups like Pillar and Decyfer Down, so he was more excited to witness 7eventh Time Down. However, we were both surprised and captivated by each performance and the concert’s diversity in entirety. We heard every genre of music from Blanca’s hip-hop to 7TD’s rock. To top it all off, the light show, especially for the Newsboys, was extraordinary and even blinding at times.

After the Newsboys closed out the night with “God’s Not Dead,” we thought the fun was over, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. As we entered the Expocentre lobby to pass by the bands’ merchandise tables, we stopped dead in our tracks. There standing next to their merch table was none other than two members of 7TD … my heart raced and I could barely breathe. Now I knew what it felt like to be starstruck. We engaged in small talk and then someone offered to take our photo – for FREE. As we left their table, a pattern emerged: other artists were posing with fans at their own tables. We snagged photos with Blanca, Sidewalk Prophets and Adam Agee.

We left the Expocentre feeling exhilarated. This night had transformed into so much more than a traditional Christian concert. I even shed a few tears because of how emotional and grateful I was for a night that was such a gift. It was the perfect depiction of unforgettable.

Are you grateful or jealous?

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The gospel of Matthew has many insightful passages. In the gospel reading for the twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Matthew 20: 1-16, Jesus shares the parable of the landowner. This landowner, who owns a vineyard, visits the marketplace at dawn to hire laborers. He returns to the marketplace at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to send more idle laborers to his vineyard. At the end of the day, he instructs his foreman to distribute wages starting with individuals who started at 5 p.m. and ending with those who started at dawn.

The laborers who started at 5 p.m., and only worked for an hour, received the same day’s wage as the ones who worked all day. The dawn workers were angry that the landowner rewarded the 5 p.m. workers the same wage. They had done less work and still, they were being made equal to those who’d slaved in the heat. Despite nasty protest, the landowner calmly reiterated the agreement they made before they started working: they agreed to a daily wage.

“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20: 13-16

This parable is symbolic. God is the landowner, we are his laborers and daily wage is eternal salvation. The “work” we do in God’s vineyard comes in the form of following him, doing right by him and repenting for our sins. We don’t all start working in God’s vineyard at dawn, but he openly and continuously pursues us. He seeks us out just like the landowner sought out laborers at dawn, 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The landowner wanted to provide jobs to those in need, just like God wants to provide eternal salvation to ALL his children.

The other part of this parable focuses on the dawn workers who grumble about receiving the same wage as the ones who started working at 5 p.m. This symbolizes those of us who’ve followed God all our lives. We’ve resisted temptation, confessed the wrong we’ve done and kept him as a priority. Whereas others fell into a pattern of sinful living. So if these people do, at some point, accept God’s invitation to join him in his vineyard, we should be happy more of our brothers and sisters are joining us in Heaven.

Which begs the question: Why would their reward of a daily wage (eternal salvation) upset us in the first place?

It’s simple: we’re human. We get jealous over petty matters. We like being superior to others and recognized for our hard work. It seems unfair that someone who’s made all the wrong decisions can choose to repent, even on their deathbed, and still go to Heaven. But it’s their final act of repentance that makes the difference, no matter their past. To God, it’s one more child who will join him in Heaven.

Now, this doesn’t mean those who are faithful now can start living sinful lives and plan on repenting later to get to Heaven. All we can and should do is continue to work in the vineyard (live faithfully) and extend a loving invitation for others to join us. After all, we should all share the same goal: a daily wage (eternal salvation).

“The Shack” review

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All Christian films tug at my heartstrings. Even though most are on tight budgets, they still include phenomenal acting and in-depth screenwriting. Each displays a relatable message that leaves me with a new view on myself or the world. Movies like: The Blind Side, Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof and War Room, bring forth reflection and tears during the first and consecutive viewings. I saw previews for The Shack earlier this year, and within the first minute, I knew I wanted to see it. Added bonus: it featured one of my favorite actresses, Octavia Spencer.

A few weeks ago, there was a viewing of The Shack at my grandma’s assisted living center that my mom and I attended. The movie was emotional and thought-provoking. I cried multiple times, but also laughed. Like the rest of its genre, I left with a new view on myself and the world. It left a lasting impact. I couldn’t let go of the connection I made with the characters. So when my dad said I should listen to the audiobook, I immediately agreed. He renewed the library copy and it soon filled my car during commutes.

Movies based on books are always slightly different. It’s impossible to cram every detail from a 300-page book into a 120-minute movie. Plus, films spice up their adaptations to reach the Hollywood standard. The movie version of The Shack shows all the action sequences while the book expands on dialogues that occur between the protagonist and secondary characters. Speaking of, let’s dive into the plot.

Mackenzie Allen Phillips’ youngest daughter is kidnapped during a family camping trip and murdered in a shack in the woods. This loss propels Mack into deep sadness for the next few years, pushing him away from God. One day he receives a letter instructing him to return to the shack to catch up with Papa, his wife’s nickname for God. When he goes, he spends time with the Holy Trinity: God/Papa, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. His faith is restored when he forgives himself and the killer for his daughter’s murder. His resentment is washed away when he learns that God cannot stop the world’s evil, because doing so would eliminate the freewill that was given through Adam. All God can do is find the good in the evil that affects his children.

“Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibilities of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.” – Papa

The Shack reaffirmed my belief that God never resents us for turning away from him. We will always be welcomed back with open arms when we realize our mistakes and want forgiveness. He simply wants a relationship with us because that’s what he created us for: love. So when evil enters our lives and we focus on our suffering, we quickly lose sight of him. This is what evil wants: our focus and energy. Fortunately, if we invite God into our hearts, he can help us embrace our suffering. The Shack will give a new perspective to all who watch because we have all felt pain at some point.

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