Summer Culture in MN

There is no place like Minnesota in the summer. There is no place that I would rather be in the warm summer months than here. Driving over the Mississippi River, looking at the shades of green that lined the valley and I just see pure beauty. For a place that can look bleak and unwelcoming in January it is lively and awe inspiring in June.

I only wish a photograph could properly capture the image that you see when you drive through Minnesota in the summer. From the cornfields to the lakes to just the woods, there is beauty everywhere. There is a peace that it creates, a feeling of belonging and of tranquility that cannot be captured through a lens. Growing up here, I think I never truly appreciated the summers, other than the fact that it meant that I didn’t have to go to school. I didn’t see how where I lived created a summer culture that isn’t seen elsewhere. This is my first summer in Minnesota in three years, and I am just starting to understand why summer is different here than it is in Milwaukee or France, where I spent the previous two summers.

After discussing this with people around the country I know that people will argue that other areas participate in the same activities as Minnesotans in the summer. What I argue makes us different is that it is in our culture. There is something about these things that are ingrained in each and every Minnesotan that creates a haven for sunny summer days.

Minnesota, the word, means land of blue water. And that it is. There are 11,000 lakes, not to mention the Mississippi and St. Croix River, and even the Red River on the border of Minnesota and North Dakota. We are a land ripe with water, clear like glass when the sun hits it at just the right time of the day. As the sun rises in the east over the lake and you sit watching it with a mug of coffee and a book, there is peace. Tranquility.

The lake is a thing of wonder. ‘The Lake’ could be any lake that is large enough for there to be homes built along its edges. For me growing up it was Leech Lake near Walker, MN. But it could be any lake. ‘The Lake’ is a place you may go with family or with friends or even a mixture of both to get away from the chaos of everyday life and enjoy the peace, enjoy the company and enjoy the water. If you don’t own any property on a lake, you know someone who does, and you cozy up to them in the spring to make sure you get an invitation to spend a weekend on their property in the summer.

There’s a sense of jealousy that comes when you hear someone else is going to the lake if you are not able to go that weekend. It’s a painful reminder that there is this beautiful and sunny place with good food and good friends and you are stuck at home working or doing whatever it is you are doing when you aren’t at the lake.

The whole mood of the state changes once its warm enough to go to ‘the lake’ or ‘up north’ as it is also called. Fridays are not working days. Okay? They are traveling days, days of shopping and packing and eventually shoving everyone and the dogs into the car and heading out to the lake. We drop everything on Fridays. Even if you aren’t going to the lake, you don’t really give it your all on Fridays. It’s also known that you don’t take on new projects or tasks during the summer, that’s what the school year is for. Unless we are talking about gardens or working on the boat, those are summer tasks. Summer is about working for the weekend. And the weekend is the lake, whether or not you actually go to one.  

When your winters suck as much as ours do in Minnesota, you spend as much time as you can outside in the summer. We take it to an extreme, really, but I’m okay with that. Reading a book? Do it on the lawn with a blanket. Cooking? Grilling. Spending time with the family? Go for a walk or a bike ride on a local trail. Although our state is known for vitamin D deficiency we do try our best to make up for it in the summer months. (But take your supplements people!)

There is something so wonderful about the summer here, that I haven’t felt anywhere else I have spent the summer. There is something about the understanding that everyone has over what the summer is about, hanging out outdoors and spending time with friends and family that brings us closer together. I truly think that Minnesotans are just plain old nicer in the summer. Maybe it has to do with the sunlight, or maybe it’s just that we all know that summer is a time to slow down and just enjoy ourselves.

Driving over the Mississippi River on the way home from an afternoon with a friend in Minneapolis I cannot picture anywhere that I would rather be, then sitting on a beach, drinking some ice cold lemonade and debating whether or not I’m warm enough to go jump back into the water. 

Practical Joy.

Merriam Webster Thesaurus provides many synonyms for the word joy, from gaiety to warm fuzzies. But the one that I think stands out the most is the word ‘blessedness’. Joy is a blessing that is given to us as a gift, and it’s something we can hold onto even in the hardest days of our lives.

Not all of us were given bright bubbly personalities or strengths in positivity. That doesn’t mean we aren’t joyful! We are all given joy as Christians as Galatians 5:22-23 tell us joy is just one of the many fruits of the Spirit that we are given because of our relationship with Christ. Do we shine that joy through all the conversations and situations that we are placed in during our daily lives? Or is joy something that we reserve for our Christian bubble where things are safe and everyone is ‘joyful’?

This weekend I was lucky enough to hear a friend speak on this very topic. Now Maria is someone that I definitely say is a bubbly and happy person, but she is also joyful. It’s not necessarily her bubbly nature that shows off her joy but it is just one of many displays that a person can have of the joy that they have been given by the grace of our all-powerful God. 

Later in the afternoon, and really throughout the weekend I have been thinking about a question that Maria left us with. What is one practical thing that you can do to display the joy that you have in Christ to the people around you?

Joy is something that makes Christians unique. Not because we are the only people that can be joyful, but because it is something that often singles us out as believers and draws people towards us. God gave us this gift so that like a magnet we can attract our opposites and then use that to show and tell those people about Christ’s love for them and the joy that can be given to you through a relationship with the Lord. The joy that we experience is unique because of its source. When you are getting your joy from something eternal, the joy itself is eternal, not temporary like the things on this earth. Others may be joyful for a day or a season of their lives, but we as Christians have an eternity of joy to bask in.

Now I have seen this joy attract people like moths to a flame. It even happened with me my freshman year in college when I started spending more time with the Christian girls on my dorm floor, and through them came to know Jesus for myself. It’s easy to see it in Christian community, the positivity and loves pours out of spaces where Christians gather together in worship and praise. But how do we give off that same joy and positive light when we are alone, especially on days when we are crabby or stressed out? How does that joy transfer from us individually to our friends, family and coworkers who do not know the Lord as we do?

This is the question that I have had on my mind and really I don’t think I have yet to come up with an easy ‘do these three things and you will be joyful’ list. But I have a few ideas that I would like to share of ways that we can try to show the joy that we have been given by Christ and show his love even when we are at our worst.  And maybe through these things I can personally work on experiencing the joy that I have been given myself.

Avoid slipping into sarcasm. I know that I am not the best example of this; it’s basically the pot and kettle situation. But I know that there are two ways that I use sarcasm in my life. One is for humor, in a playful manner to the people that I know and trust. That’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about the other way that I use sarcasm. When it’s meant to hurt others. When I am irritated or frustrated it’s extremely easy to slip into sarcasm and use my words to hurt others. As Christians we are called to be careful with our words and to use them to show Christ’s love, not our own irritation. James reminds us of the effect that our words have on those around us. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10). I struggle with this daily, and I know that it might make it harder to show the joy of Christ I have to others if I am using my words to harm them.

Remember God’s promises, and what He has done for us. How do I make that practical in the every day? Well that might be different for everyone, but for me it has meant putting up an image that has everything that I am in Christ, and the bible verses that go along with that. I have it on my wall and it is a good reminder of the value that God places in me, a sinful and imperfect human being. I may be imperfect, but He sees perfection when he looks to me. That in itself makes me joyful. So place key verses around your home, maybe on your mirror in the bathroom to remind you each day that God is good and that he has done and will continue to do great things.

Be thankful. This basically goes along with the last one, if I remember God’s promises I will thank Him for them each day. Giving thanksgiving through prayer is our way of telling God the appreciation we have for him. But be thankful to all the people around you. When I was raising support to go to France as a missionary last summer, I was surprised at the response that I received after sending simple ‘Thank You’ notes to the people that helped fund me. Adults, especially parents of our peers, receive these donation letters a lot for band trips to conferences to mission trips. But they don’t often receive a thank you. This was surprising to me, and the people that I sent these cards felt respected and loved when I made the extra effort to write them a note. This simple act showed them how my work was different than some of the others they had given to and has improved my relationship with several of these people. Telling people that you appreciate what they have done for you is a simple way to show Christ’s love and kindness, and can make them see the joy as well. “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Serve others with humility. I have been a technician for musical theater, music events/concerts and speakers for about eight years now. It’s often a thankless job, with the main objective being that the audience doesn’t realize you are even there. (They see you or realize you are there when something goes wrong generally) Over the years this has been difficult for me as a prideful human being, I want to be noticed and recognized for the effort that I put into a production. Learning to be humble is a lifetime of work, but there is no greater example of humility than Jesus himself.

 “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8).

When you stay late and clean up after an event you attend while your peers are leaving and chatting, knowing that you are probably unseen and unnoticed you are imitating Christ. When you go the extra mile to help a friend in need, you are imitating Christ. And even without recognition you are showing Christ’s joy in a simple way. Because you do not need recognition to feel good about serving others, you are serving Christ himself. And that in itself brings joy, which will be seen by those around you, even if they do not say anything.

Recognize the strength of others. Affirm the people around you. This was one of the things that I noticed first about my friends that were Christians when I came to college. They were quick to affirm me, to encourage me in a way that I had not seen before. When you show genuine care and affection for the people around you that are based in your relationship with Christ, people will notice. They will wonder what makes you different and in that you can people them to the cross. Paul practices this art of affirmation in many of his letters, telling the churches of their strengths and reminding them of what they have done for God. Take on that character, not expecting anything in return and you will be showing the joy of Christ.

In summary, I think I have found through writing this that showing the joy that we have is about showing Christ’s love with a sense of humility. When we are actively showing the love and kindness that our God has given us people will see that the source of our strength is based in something other than ourselves and our selfish ambitions. It is a gift from God, and joy pours out of us when we are pouring out love.

One of the easiest ways that we can show the life that we have been given is just to continue to persevere because “to die is to gain” (Phillipians 1:21), so what’s the worst that the world can do to us? Kill us? Physical death is a grand reunion for those who truly believe in Jesus Christ.

Also our ability to persevere and to take even the worst struggles we are facing to the Cross is a testament to the change that we have undergone. Life isn’t easy, and it was never promised to be so, but that doesn’t mean that even at our worst we have to forget about the love and grace that is in the Gospel, which is the source of our joy each and every day. 

- Meg

Social Anxiety (Or 5 Things You Can Do to Help Someone With Social Anxiety)

Social anxiety is a hard thing to explain to someone that has never experienced it. I think that everyone can say they have had situations that made them nervous, the first day at a new school or an audition for a team or creative endeavor  There is a certain amount of anxiety that comes with these kinds of things. But what if every day was the first day of school in a new town?

Social anxiety doesn’t mean shyness, because I am the furthest thing from shy and I suffer from social anxiety. Social anxiety doesn’t mean antisocial either, it doesn’t mean people avoid social interaction based on personal preference. Because often times it’s not personal preference that keeps me locked in my room when I should be celebrating a friend’s birthday or even going to a large gathering of friends. It’s fear, and it’s dread.

What do I fear? That’s a good question. Social anxiety gives me this fear, and my body responds to the ‘threat’ that it feels. My brain then has to come up with unrealistic or illogical conclusions of what might happen to justify why I am not going to something that I had planned to attend. My body reacts as if the threat is real and present, and so my mind makes up justification for that response.

Entering a room of people that you know shouldn’t give you much cause for concern. But it does for someone with social anxiety. Because what if no one comes up to talk to you? Or you say the wrong thing? What if you sit down and no one comes to sit next to you? These are the concerns that can become so overwhelming that it makes it impossible to even show up when you struggle with social anxiety. 

In a room of friends or acquaintances, those are not situations that most people worry about, but if you know someone with social anxiety, that moment of entering a room and looking for a friendly face to talk to is crucial for them. This is the fight or flight moment. Social anxiety may keep them from entering a conversation, or unable to initiate conversation with someone that they want to talk to.  I can think of many situations where I circled a room with the intention of talking to someone in particular, but ended up leaving because of being unable to find a good reason to talk to them, and thinking that going to them with no cause would make them think I was weird or in love with them or one of a hundred other things. 

Social Anxiety makes every day the first day at a new job. Every party, social gathering, even just a one on one meeting for coffee is a challenge, with their minds tricking them into assuming the worst. What if they don’t show up? What if they are late? Do they hate me? Why haven’t they texted saying they are running late? They are ditching me. This is the mind of someone having social anxiety.

So what can you do when you love or care about someone with social anxiety?

1. If you have to cancel plans with them, do so in advance. Give them a day’s notice, or at least a heads up that it might not work out. If you wait too long they might start thinking it had something to do with them.

2. Offer to carpool instead of meeting at a social gathering. Entering a social situation with someone makes everyone feel more comfortable, right? This will also force the person with social anxiety to go to the event instead of backing out at the last minute due to nerves.

3. Show up early to dates or events. Beat them there! If you are already there when they arrive, they will feel a lot more comfortable with the situation.

4. If you see them struggling to find conversation, or wandering around a social gathering aimlessly, pull them into your conversation. This will make them feel wanted and allow them to enter the situation with less anxiety than if they had to do it on their own.

5. Keep in touch. If plans need to change, or are changing (traffic jam, previous appointment running late, what have you) tell the friend immediately so they do not panic. People with social anxiety may not be as forgiving to not hearing a word from you until you show up twenty minutes late.

And most importantly,

Listen. You may not understand why your friend is so concerned about what time you are going to get to a specific place, or why they text you five times on their way telling you where they are, and that’s okay. But if they ask something of you (like if you could carpool, or if you could meet them somewhere and walk together to an event) understand that asking for help is difficult for them and that means they trust you. If you don’t understand, ask, but listen and care even if you don’t understand. 

I hope this can help my friends and family, but also the friends and family of anyone that suffers through the same struggles with social anxiety. 

What Feminism is to me, a Christian Feminist

I often get laughed at or given strange looks when I tell people that yes, I am a christian woman, and that yes, I am a feminist. People for some reason think that these two principles can not relate. Now I don’t want to go on tangent about how and why I believe the bible clearly lays out that equality is expected for all of humanity, that’s an argument for another day. 

Today I want to just say what feminism really is. For me, and for anyone that has actually bothered to look into feminism instead of just laughing at it or saying that it’s something of the past. Feminism is more than just women sitting around whining that they don’t make as much money as men, and who just really want to get abortions weekly as many people seem to equate it to. 

Feminism is about choice. It’s about creating a world that is safe for women to be able to make their own choices without the pressures of society weighing on their shoulders telling them that their choices aren’t important or that they will be judged negatively for their choices. 

Because we still live in a world where a woman walks down the street and is treated as a sexual object. Told to, “Smile, beautiful!” or told how ‘Hot’ she is in those jeans. Where she is told that she wasn’t raped even though she was too drunk to realize what was happening to her. Where she is pressured at eleven years old to have shaven legs and eyeshadow on to make her more attractive to boys her own age and older men. Where professions dominated by women are some of the lowest paid. Where you are judged for not having sex or for having it. Where we have even been taught to turn on each other, to judge each other often much harsher than the men around us judge us for our actions or behaviors. 

What is the final result of feminism? Choice. 

The choice to have a great career and not get married. Or to get married young and have a brood of children and have the full time job of raising those children. Or to have a career and children and not be condemned for not taking care of them full time. 

For the choice to express themselves without being considered a slut or a prude. 

The choice to work hard in business and be able to motivated and decisive in that work without being called a bitch. Or the choice to take a career that is just as difficult such as nursing without it being considered “ladies work” or “easy”. 

For those careers that are typically dominated by women, such as teaching, nursing, and early childhood care to be paid wages that are representative of the amount of strenuous work that it entails, instead of being some of the lowest paying work for college graduates. 

How can anyone say these results are unreasonable or overbearing? How does wanting these things make me a man hater? Just because I can look at the world and see that yes, we have come a long way in gender equality but realizing that like racism and poverty, we have a long way to go and a lot of difficult conversations ahead.