Reminder and thank you

First off, many thanks to everyone who has ordered and read my book! It’s become a cheesy thing to say “I couldn’t have done it without you,” but you dedicated bunch of family, friends, and readers seriously rock. Your support has made all the difference in this crazy journey they call writing.

If you’re still interested in my book you can check it out whenever you want, but there are only two days left in giving-back December, where I’ll give 10% of the earnings to support the crisis in Yemen. If you’d like to support a good cause, order before January 1st to help the cause!

Thank you all again, and have a fabulous New Year’s celebration!




On writing my first book

Well, it happened. After years of practice and dreaming of being a writer I finally published my first book. How cool is that? It’s been quite the journey to this point, with more effort than I’ve put into any other project and some fabulous support from some wonderful family and friends. But even considering the late nights, lost GPA points (who cares about math worksheets when you’re writing a novel?), and newfound reverence for anyone who can put up with (what I consider) the frustrating world of graphic design, writing has been the best work I’ve done. A hard job, but my absolute favorite.

I began writing Meryton High when I was in high school, and what began as a fun project on vacation became the first novel I would complete. Meryton High is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic book Pride and Prejudice, which I was basically obsessed with at the time.

Learning to love the classics

Mind you, the obsession didn’t start that way. Until I agreed I would try to choke down some Jane Austen I hadn’t willingly touched classic literature. Heck, I was in high school, and to your average unassuming sixteen-year-old, a title like Pride and Prejudice sounds, well…kind of boring. And boring was exactly what I thought when a friend suggested we watch the movie at a sleepover for the first time. But luckily my friend insisted, and after giving the movie two tries my mind was officially changed and I was hooked.

What I came to realize with Pride and Prejudice–and with all subsequent classic literature I’ve read–is that what can come across as inaccessible to modern readers today is just the extreme surface of most older stories. Beyond aspects like language and setting, the characters and stories depicted in classic books are like anything we experience today. In her books, Jane Austen spent a great deal of time poking fun at social customs, norms, and wacky human behavior. And wouldn’t you know, a lot of those behaviors she satirized still take place today. There is a whole wealth of insight, humor, and wisdom in our culture’s classics, a great depth of material that it seemed most of my peers and I weren’t confident or excited about accessing. Enter Meryton High.

I wrote my book as a way for high schoolers (like myself at the time) to appreciate the characters and themes in Pride and Prejudice but with modern language and in a familiar setting. I understand that the older style is what some people like about classic literature, and that’s okay. But for me it was the characters, the relatable people in the stories that I fell in love with, and the purpose of my book is to help modern readers, especially younger readers, appreciate the classics and see them as relatable to their own lives today.

My hope is that you’ll enjoy this book, and perhaps not only enjoy it in and of itself but that it will be a gateway to exploring some of the great classics that we’re lucky to have. And if you’re already a classics fan, then I hope you have fun with this modern twist on a favorite story.

Giving back in December

In this season of Christmas I’ve been thinking more about giving back, and have decided that for the month of December I will give 10% of the earnings from my book to support the famine and health crisis in Yemen. I’ll be doing this by giving to the IRC‘s work in Yemen, as they are one of the highest-rated and effective humanitarian groups in the world. If you want more info about how this will work please don’t hesitate to ask.

In conclusion

This whole writing-a-book thing has been a wild ride, and I thank all of you devoted readers for your continued support of my writing. Your notes and comments always mean a lot to me, and I’m looking forward to sharing more writing adventures with all of you in the future. I hope you all have a most wonderful holiday season.

Lots of love,


Updates and an exciting announcement!

Hello dear readers,

The days up North have been getting noticeably darker, the waves bigger, and the temperatures lower. Have I hunkered down for hibernation in our cabin under heaps of fuzzy blankets? Not quite yet. Though the temptation has certainly been there, November and (so far) December have been busy months. So rather than napping all day, here’s what I’ve been up to instead:


As is tradition in the writing world, November brought in the madness of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where crazy people like me decide to write 50,000 words in a month. A hefty goal? Yes. Doable? As my word count would say: definitely! With much dark coffee and Lumineers I made a good dent in the fantasy/adventure novel I’m drafting. It will likely be another 30,000 words before it’s done, but hey! 50,000 words is something!



So many good books, so little time, but here’s a sneak peek at the titles that have been rocking my world lately:

A Year in the Wilderness by Amy and Dave Freeman. If you don’t recognize the authors, maybe you’d recognize them as the couple that spent a year in the Boundary Waters to raise awareness for the conservation of Minnesota’s resources. They had a reading and book signing where I got this title, but you can find it here on Amazon too.

Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver is a set of eloquent and thoughtful poems that I read on our road trip through Canada. Curled up with this book in the mountain mornings was the perfect way to get into the mindset of slowing down and noticing the world.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousfazai was one of the most powerful books I have read in a very long time. A memoir about standing up for education in a terror-torn country, if you haven’t taken the time to read this yet I highly recommend you do. We take so much for granted, including our education, but seeing the life-and-death fight people go through for these basic rights is a sobering reminder of just how far we have to go in much of the world.


If you’re skimming for the exciting announcement here’s where you should stop. While I was working on my most recent novel for NaNoWriMo, I was also putting the finishing touches on the novel that is set to hit the shelves this month.

That’s right.

My first novel, published through Amazon and the newly founded Northernwords Press, will be available on Amazon this weekend. More details are coming soon, but head over to my books page for a sneak peak of the cover!

Changes in these parts

As Northernwords becomes an independent press as well as a blog, you might notice some changes around the site, including links to my books, new writing-themed content, and even some design changes. But don’t panic! I won’t be going all commercial on you and will be keeping the site as easy to navigate as possible.


Lots of love,



And even if dawn be not ours to embrace

The glow of the east not for this abject face

Whatever surpasses in this twilit place

I want them to know

And I hope that they say

That we were the ones who sang through the fight

Who danced for the moon

And drank the stars’ light

We were never the type to drown in the plight

We were the children who lassoed the night.


Autumn: On colors and casting off

Cast off everything that is not yourself.” –Persius

Welcome to October, dear readers. Welcome to brisk mornings and cozy evenings, exhilarating walks and wooly socks. In other words, the best time of the year.

Day by day, the tip of the arrowhead feels more like home. It’s been almost a year since we landed in Cook County, and it’s taken about that long for this to feel like “our place.” But eleven months in, the sense of belonging has begun to grow. We’re making connections and trying new things. Whether that be a construction class or ballet, making tacos or throwing clay, each experience is putting down a little baby root. I’m thankful for this place: for the people, the activities, the quiet, the beauty. Especially here in the autumn, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.


Already the maples are dropping their cloaks of scarlet while the aspens shine in their most brilliant of golds. The glaze of frost, clouds of breath, and sting of early morning cold all made their debuts in this first week of October. Even the lake has begun to look different, with the playful, splashing blues of summer giving way to the steely, churning waters of the approaching storm season. The harbor empties of sails as the nighttime temperatures drop. Autumn is here.


Something about the transition to autumn wakes up the soul. The dreamy, hazy gauze of summer gives way to a clarity like the October sky. School resumes, routines get established, new journeys begin. Lighthearted play gives way to a more serious forward-thinking. Personally, I’ve always thought we should rewrite the calendars so our new year starts in September…it just makes a certain intuitive sense to me.


I remember learning that—for the most part—leaves don’t change color in the sense that the yellows and oranges are conjured up anew. They’ve always been present since the leaf’s beginning in the spring, but for the most part are masked by the green of chlorophyll. It’s only when trees stop producing chlorophyll in preparation for winter that their actual colors show through, so to speak.


Why do we find fall colors attractive? Not because yellow or orange are inherently superior to green—that would be silly. We find them so beautiful because of their variety. Their uniqueness. The way each tree wears its own trademark hue, and each leaf bears a unique pattern of color. People don’t flock to the Northland in July to take pictures of leaves, because at that point they’re all the same. It’s only when a tree’s true colors emerge that we pull out the cameras or simply stop in admiration.


The emerging isn’t free. It comes with a cost, a sacrifice, the willingness to die. But that’s life for all of us. The discovery of our deepest layers involves the shedding of the masks we created when we were afraid of what was underneath. We no longer need them, but that doesn’t mean they’re painless to cast away. The first gasp of raw air may sting, but it’s a moment as fleeting as a gust of wind.


As we walk deeper into this autumn, my own season of casting off continues. When I said no more to Good Christian Woman chlorophyll running through my veins, the transition was certainly not seamless. But now, the acute pains over the deconstruction of my religion have subsided. I’m on the other side of anger. I still have questions, sure, things I disagree with, and moments of annoyance, even, but I don’t see myself as a rebel or escapee or post-evangelical or what have you. I don’t view myself in comparison to that culture anymore—time and distance have made it distant. I’m just here, being me, and for now that is enough.


I want to end with this quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We can be afraid of our colors underneath—afraid of the attention they might draw, the discussions they might spark, the changes they might make. But they intimidate us because deep down we know they mean something. You mean something. I mean something.

Live in that truth.

Lots of love and pumpkin spice,


Sometimes, it’s okay to be sad


It’s been a sad week in America.

I read the news of what happened in Charlottesville a week ago. It cut like a shard of ice, burned in my gut and ached in my chest. It hurts. The thought of the hatred and people living in our country knowing that they’re hated like that hurts.

A few days later, learning about the vandalism of the Holocaust Memorial hurts.

Two days after that, hearing of immigrants in our region affected by this horrible atmosphere and seeing swastika graffiti hurts.

But I guess things like this should hurt. And I’m okay with that.

Like clockwork, the actual events of Charlottesville and what they mean for millions of people gave way to all sorts ink being spilled over topics that ultimately shift the focus away from the real tragedy. And I get it; it’s easier to envision this all being about two extremist groups fighting each other than it is to feel the pain of real people being hated because of the body they were born into. It’s easier to focus on an idea like media bias than it is to contemplate the fact that people in our country are still willing to commit violence or even murder because of others’ skin colors. It’s easier to turn a horrible event into political rantings than it is to imagine your own friend being killed by white supremacists. We like to shift the focus away because we really can’t bear the topic.

Resentment and cynicism are powerful anesthetics. They dull pain better than anything else I know. But sometimes, the pain demands to be felt. Sometimes the only way through the pain is to lean into it rather than lean away from it. That leaning into it is where courage is born, where empathy is forged. Where we begin to see hope for the problem that we may have missed by fleeing to lesser problems.

I remember hearing about a German man who began to create memorial stones for individuals killed in the Holocaust. He would make a gold brick for each victim and place it at the house they used to live in, the location they were most likely captured from. How difficult such a process would be: to see the individual names, the actual homes, to begin to fathom the horrible atrocity committed by people from your own country. It would be so much easier to not think about it, to focus on the issues at the sidelines of the Holocaust, to question the sources from where modern people have learned about it. But that’s not what this man did. He leaned into the pain, and by doing so thousands of people can understand in more human terms something most of us read about in history.

There’s something incredibly human about taking on the pain of someone else. It’s an equalizer in a way; a reminder that we all fear and love and hope for essentially the same things. That behind the tribalism and the politicization lies real, breathing people.

I don’t believe in drowning in despair, but I don’t think we should be afraid to lament. And this time, that’s what I’m doing. I’m just feeling it for what it is.

Because sometimes, it’s okay to be sad.


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

When the church needs transfiguration


neonbrand-265875Last week the Church celebrated Transfiguration. The miraculous event where Christ revealed his divine glory is considered a major feast day in the liturgical year. Historically, this event took place during the Jewish Festival of Booths, and the timing of the transfiguration illustrates the co-dwelling of the glory of God with humankind. In the Orthodox church today, Transfiguration is the day when the faithful bring fruits to church to be blessed, symbolizing the fruitfulness of a creation that has been transformed by Christ’s kingdom. It is a day where we look upon the magnificence of God, not as something other, but as something that has been revealed to us, dwells with us, and changes us.

This year, I think it’s my favorite holiday.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the need for transfiguration. This last year has been a year of faith struggle, of evolution and change, and I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who’s felt fed up with Christianity. It’s been painful, even sickening to witness the polarization, the fear, the cynicism, the lack of empathy, and did I mention fear?, and the American church’s love affair with political power all being committed in the name of Christ. I watch people my age (heck, of every age) finally throw in the towel and walk away from all the hypocrisy, indifference, religiosity, and exclusiveness that marks what is supposed to be the body of Christ, what is supposed to be the place of healing and respite in a world of division and fear and power struggle. And I get it. All too well I get it. Some days end in me wanting to walk away too. Some days all I can do is sink to my knees thinking Lord, have mercy.

I’ve seen what the church can be: people shouting “Christ is Risen!” at the top of their lungs at midnight, people welcoming travelers of all languages and cultures into their homes, a group of campers and volunteer staff pooling their spending money to raise thousands of dollars for a church across the ocean, for people they’ve never met and likely will never meet.

I’ve seen many, many beautiful things from this group of people we call the church.

But the ugly things?

The ugly things are hard to ignore. And as much as we try to, they still exist.

I’ve seen a kind of utilitarianism crop up in churches when issues are brought up. Someone raises a legitimate question only to have it quickly shut down by reminders of all the good things the church does for other people. For example, a recent discussion of church misogyny yielded responses like: Things Christian women hear: God loves you. As if one good ol’ patronizing fist bump is all it takes to wash away a lifetime of mistreatment. Like as long as the good outweighs the bad, then the bad doesn’t exist. But guess what?

Life doesn’t work like that.

Good outweighing bad isn’t the same as healing. Good outweighing bad isn’t the same as renewal. Good outweighing bad isn’t the same thing as transfiguration.

I recently finished Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts, and I had a eureka moment when I read her section about spiritual development. She cites James Fowler’s stages of spiritual development, which an average person roughly follows during their journey of faith:


  • Stage One: Intuitive-Projective (the faith of young kids; fantasy and reality are intertwined).
  • Stage Two: Mythic-Literal (simplistic, cause-effect understanding of faith; may view God like a vending machine).
  • Stage Three: Synthetic-Conventional (adopting a systematic belief system; high level of conformity; deference to authority; feels fear or threat when exposed to alternative views).
  • Stage Four: Individuative-Reflective (questions, doubts, faith struggle, leaving the box of Stage Three).
  • Stage Five: Conjunctive Faith (making peace with mystery and paradox; uncommon to reach this before middle age).
  • Stage Six: Universalizing Faith (perfected love and empathy; very few ever reach this stage).

In her book, Bessey points out that most of our faith communities function on people arriving in and remaining in Stage Three for life. She writes, “It’s telling that our faith communities are often structured not only for people at this stage of faith development but, in fact, often unwittingly work to ensure we remain there”. Our faith communities are often structured to keep us in spiritual immaturity. To keep us in fear of others. To keep us from reaching perfect love and empathy.

I’ve heard a lot of theories about why people are leaving the faith, and I’m not here to add to the cacophony of how the world is going from bad to worse or “it’s our horrible culture” or anything like that. Rather, I think that we as a church need to look inward at what we can do better. We need to break free from this overarching adoration for adolescent spiritual maturity. We each need to be fully transformed by Christ so that we as a church can be a fully transformed body. I think that concerns about the church’s lack of love and empathy are genuine concerns. And I think that we, as Christians, need to grow up.

I’m no longer sure we’re good at loving.

I grew up Orthodox Christian (you probably already figured that out), and even though I live out in the sticks with the nearest Orthodox Church far on the other side of Border Patrol, I still consider it my faith identity. In college, I gained exposure to American evangelicalism, or more “mainstream” American Christianity. It was an exciting and confusing and ultimately troubling time. What was confusing and troubling to me was that I began to realize that to several people I met, I wasn’t viewed simply as another Christian. Nope. I was That Orthodox Girl. Which meant I was…scary. I guess. And I was disheartened at the level of fear that was spooned out to and against outsiders.

All those comments of “We have Jesus but ‘traditional’ denominations have religion” don’t go unnoticed.

All the sly, manipulative words meant to undermine things I think and believe don’t go unnoticed.

All the questions asked out of a desire to appear more spiritually “in the know” rather than out of genuine curiosity don’t go unnoticed.

All the unsolicited “advice” that is really just plain arrogance doesn’t go unnoticed.

People thought they were passing as being loving. Heck, maybe they thought they were being loving. But as an outsider, I could tell. I could smell the difference between love and fear a mile away. I knew the difference between having a real conversation and wanting to get your point across. I might not have acted like it in the moment, but I knew what was happening.

I knew if people were scared.

This experience left me with a new perspective, one that could no longer affirm the church as an always-kind, good-at-loving group of people. Suddenly, when others would comment about how Christians could be so judgmental, I found myself saying, “Yeah, I get it.” I may not be that far on the “outside,” but I do see how to many, many people, the Church is a hurtful, fearful, even abusive place. I don’t think this is limited to one denomination or “flavor” of church, but rather happens in all of Christendom when people are expected to adopt an all-encompassing belief system without question. This is not what Christ wanted for us, but is something we did to ourselves when we became afraid to grow up, and afraid of others around us really, truly growing up. And I think it’s turning so many people away from Jesus.

As a church, we need to love. We need to have empathy. And to do that, we need face our fears.

Transforming the church: Walking with Christ

After reading Sarah Bessey’s book, I fully believe that we all have the potential to be perfected in love. However, if we, as a church, are spiritually stuck in Stage Three, we cannot love people well. We aren’t loving people well. You cannot love someone well if you are afraid of them (1 John 4:18). You cannot truly, fully empathize with people you see as a threat to you and your beliefs. You have to learn to face your fears so that other people no longer bring you fears. The way to love comes not by shoving all of our questions, doubts, and deviations from the way we were raised under the rug. Rather, it comes by persevering with Christ through these very things.

The Apostle Peter describes the process of maturing spiritually in his second letter:

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (1:5-9, NKJV).

Peter portrays spiritual growth not as something that happens instantaneously, but as qualities building upon one another. Even though much of Christian culture is preoccupied with “knowing the faith” and “defending our views,” knowledge here is not the destination but is, in fact, rather far down in the process of growing up. The destination is love. Peter specifically notes that love comes after perseverance. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he states that perseverance is produced by “suffering” (5:3). Suffering. Struggle. Not safety, not living in a Christian bubble, not shoving away the hard things with easy answers. Not sleepwalking, but wrestling. Not remaining static, but transfiguration. The kind of transfiguration that happens when we decide we have no other choice but to commit to the hard work of maturing. That we need to be changed by the glory of Christ to effectively love and heal the world.

What we need in the Church, to be a place of love, is for people to persevere in boldly following Christ for themselves. To leave the fearful obsession with Stage Three and courageously walk with God. We need more people who are brave enough to grapple with the hard things and tough questions, who aren’t content with platitudes and easy answers. We need more people who wrestle with God, who let the Spirit drive them to the wilderness, who go to God with the mysteries and paradoxes and face their fears with him. We need more churches that embrace this stage of growing up and see it not as a problem but as an asset. We need more people who celebrate the different ways people relate to God and the wisdom found in different church traditions. We need more leaders who wish to inspire rather than to control. We need more people who will stand up and say fearlessly, “I know you are different, but I also know that is not a threat to me.” We need more people who believe it is only direct interaction with the Divine Presence that will eradicate our fears and grow us in love. Not this elaborate Christian culture that we’ve built around our faith communities. Not engagement in the culture wars. Not all the sermons on the worldwide web.

We need the presence of God as far as we can bear it.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Taking the Plunge



I sat on the shore in the sunshine, haze finally lifted after a humid week, waves leaping, and nothing to do but soak. Soak it all in.

In the distance, I watched my siblings decked in their swimsuits, standing near the edge of the cold, splashing water. They waited, watched, and then leaped in, screaming and swimming to shore only to jump back in a few moments later. They braved the cold, the waves. They took the plunge.

It seems all around me that the winds are shifting. The wheel is turning, bringing us from a time of haze to a time of taking plunges. So many dear family members and friends seem in a place where life is moving up: new freedoms, new jobs, new life plans, new marriages, new education plans…it’s the time for courage, the time for jumps. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

I also feel at a turning point, a trailhead. I’ve spent a while looking at where I came from, looking back at the road I no longer wanted to be on. No longer could be on. I looked back to see what went wrong, to know who I was not and what I did not believe, could not support. It’s a crucial step, but standing looking back forever is not the place to live. Living can only be done in the present. In the moving forward.

And so now I find myself at the trailhead, shoes on my feet, air in my lungs, heart prepared for the journey. It’s an exciting leap, a hopeful bound. I can walk as far as I want to, wherever I want to. I can choose what to add to my pack and what to throw out. Where to camp for the night and when to keep going. The feeling of possibility is as thick and sweet as the July air. Who knows the adventures ahead!

Stephen observed the other day that that it feels like we’re at the end of a long chapter. Yes, yes it does. And some things, some forms of ourselves are dying with the end of that chapter. And I think that’s as it should be. But with the new beginning we are being reborn for something better.

The winds have shifted over the sea, the haze has lifted, and into the waves we plunge.

Yes, love is important


This week marks our second wedding anniversary. I’m not going to offer a long reflection since we have places to be (who wouldn’t want to celebrate your anniversary by running a five-mile race and watching Wonder Woman?), but one thing I did want to say for the occasion: love is important.

I know I’m getting no prize for such a well-worn idea. But guys, the importance of love can’t be stressed enough.

When I met Stephen, what stood out to me above all things was the way he cared about people, and the way that we loved me.

The way he wanted to know me for who I was and appreciated what he did know about me.

The way he loved (and loves) my introspective, independent self who gets fascinated by ideas and can write about them for hours.

The way he adored all those tendencies and quirks that made me me, and still encourages me to celebrate them and grow in them.

Except for my parents’ golden piece of advice I grew up with (find someone who loves you as much as Dad loves Mom), most of the advice I heard when it came to relationships was about compatibility. Find someone who shares the same thoughts and values as you, create this checklist with all your non-negotiables, etc. Perhaps there’s a place for a little bit of that, but no amount of compatibility can replace choosing to see and love someone for who they really are.

When Stephen and I met, I don’t know that we would have described ourselves as “compatible.” We had different views on things, different backgrounds, different opinions. But you know what? That was okay. And the truth we discovered is that no amount of shared beliefs can replace genuine love for one another. No number of checklists will prepare you for discovering how amazing, unique, and nuanced your partner is. No amount of living civilly with one another will replace going out of your way to see the best in each other and treat each other with ample love and respect.

No matter how compatible you hope to be with someone else, you’re guaranteed areas where you’ll differ. There will be things you disagree on, even bigger things. No matter how perfectly your partner fills all the ideals you were hoping for, there will be areas where they disappoint you.

Those things are inevitable. But love? Love isn’t inevitable. You have the choice to cultivate it, to commit to it. And you have the choice not to. At the end of the day, you’ll either decide that going out of your way to love is important or you won’t.

I don’t believe in a love that’s some whimsical, random force, coming and going without warning. If we’re commanded to love, which I believe we are, then it must be something we have some control over. It’s something we can practice. It’s something we can cultivate.

And so, I’m going to close off this little reflection with a thought: if you value someone in your life (not just a romantic partner), then go out of your way to love them this week. If there are things you admire about them, then tell them. If you haven’t been acting or speaking with utmost kindness and respect to someone around you, then apologize and change that. If there’s something you can do to make someone’s day, then do it.

Because love is important. So let’s reflect that.

On Leaving the Group



Let that word hang in the air for a moment, the concept filling your mind: who you are, just you, with nobody else to define or validate you.

What does it spark?

For most of us, alone evokes an emotional response. For some it is peaceful, for some refreshing. But for many, this concept is less than positive at best, and downright fear-inducing at worst.

Every year around this time I grow nostalgic. Summer was when I began by journey of studying abroad in Scotland. You’ll find a lot about that on this blog, and if my pen continues to wander back to this subject it is only because of how much that time meant to me, then and now. I won’t forget the feeling of settling into the never-quite-comfortable chair at the Chippewa Valley airport, my family on the other side of the glass, and being overcome with one feeling: this was it. I was alone, truly, facing three months in a new continent with nobody that I knew and (at the beginning) only my thoughts to accompany me.

It was an intriguing moment, certainly not anything I had experienced before. Part of me felt compelled to seize my phone or laptop and gather some sense of all the people who were not beside me. Part of me knew not to do that but to soak in the moment for what it was. And yet another part of my mind began to replay echoes of concerns I had gathered from people before my journey:

It’s such a long time.

You won’t know anybody there.

What if you have no community?

What if there aren’t people you can trust?

What if you change?

You see, for the preceding few years I had belonged to a tight-knit group where people didn’t really do things on their own. Not the big things, anyway. Most people didn’t just pick up and leave the country unless it was to experience an international branch of the same organization; people didn’t just move after college to a city far away because they found a good job there, at least not to a city where there weren’t already friends, family, or a sister church. People didn’t just start a lifestyle that looked notably different than the rest of the other group members. And so when it came time for me to jet off for the summer by myself, the well-wishes I received before my journey were laced with a thread of fear: because acting alone was something to be feared.

It’s been three years since my alone-journey, and I came out unscathed. But I came out changed (though I guess for some that’s almost worse). It was the single most invigorating and growing time I had had in my life, and was the only time when I had serious opportunity to consider who I really was. Who was Rae? Outside of her hometown, community, family, group of friends, college…as an individual, who was she really?


I had a great conversation with a friend where he shared a concept that greatly intrigued me: your greatest strength is usually also your greatest weakness. For example, the one who is passionate will encourage many and hurt many, the one who is kind will love greatly and be taken advantage of, etc. The key is to recognize your tendencies and handle them with wisdom. I’ve seen this strength-weakness pairing to be true not only in myself, on the individual level, but also on the broader scale of humanity. My personal theory (currently—personal theories are subject to change) is that the need to belong and experience love is both humanity’s greatest gift and greatest problem. At its best, this need forms the basis for friendships, marriages, communities, etc. Conversely, the need to belong and be loved is also at the root of terrorism, gang activity, cults, prejudice of all kinds, political polarization…I could go on.

The need for love and belonging is obviously crucial to the human experience. No matter how vulnerable it makes you feel to admit it, it is not something you can just shrug off as not applying to you. The need for love is indispensable to what it means to be human.

And people will do anything to get it.

When I really asked myself who I was, that need to belong was there. Having social connections is not the enemy; living without them would be vastly unhealthy. But elevating them to the status of ultimately defining who you are is also unhealthy, yet it is far too easy to do. The human need for a group of “people like me” is so deep-rooted that it changes who you perceive as being “like me.” Filling the need for love by throwing yourself into a prewritten lifestyle or ideology in order to surround yourself with people that think and speak and live exactly like you do is not the way to find belonging. Because once you get yourself into that kind of dynamic, getting out is harder than it seems.

In that kind of dynamic, your thoughts begin to change as they go through a filter of what your community thinks is right and what your community doesn’t agree with.

In that kind of dynamic, awakening to a desire to do something different with your life is extremely hard, as changing what makes you similar to those of your tribe can mean losing that tribe.

In that kind of dynamic, people feeling or acting “hurt” when you think and live differently than they have is expected manipulation.

In that kind of dynamic, vowing unconditional loyalty to a group means sacrificing your own unique personality, perspective, thoughts and dreams on the altar of the group.

And absolutely none of it is worth it. Because none of it is real love.


I came to realize a lot of this while I was in Scotland, mostly due to my own experiences but also supplemented by a social psychology course I took (specifically it was on the psychology of terrorism and war – if you want a sample of the research and theories I would check out this dissertation, if not for the whole article then for chapter four’s discussion of basic social psychology theories). What I saw in my times of traveling alone, meeting new friends at school, researching questions I had, exploring in a new continent, was not the echoes of fear I heard while waiting in that airport. It was the affirmation that who I was as an individual, unique person was good, and that contrary to the previous three years, I did not need the involvement in that tight-knit group to be happy and connected. In fact, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I was thriving.

I was thriving because I had the freedom to grow as Rae, a one-of-a-kind creation, not an individual manifestation of a type.

I was thriving because I was surrounded by people who loved and accepted me for who I was, and saw my thoughts, opinions, and goals not as things to be amended but things to be celebrated.

I was thriving because no other human was trying to recreate me in their own image.

I was thriving because the need for belonging can really only be filled when you feel the fear of showing your true self and do it anyway.

Even though I had made some of my dearest friends and memories through that group, I knew I could be a lot truer to myself without it. And so, I drastically cut back my involvement when I came back to the U.S. And eventually I left.

I don’t regret the time and experiences I had before going to Scotland. Being spared the involvement would’ve meant being spared learning fathoms about myself and never encountering the training ground for the fight for freedom I want to engage my life in. But I am glad that my involvement was for a time and not a permanent lifestyle, and that hewn in the wild, independent, freedom-seeking land of Scotland was my own awakening to the liberation that so many hearts have yet to experience. I am glad I made my choice.


You also have a choice in how you will choose to live. How you will choose to belong.

You have the choice to assimilate to what your group expects of you, and you have the choice not to.

You have the choice to build a future that matches what your friends are doing, and you have the choice not to.

You have the choice to make changes to your present to live the future you envision.

If you’re afraid of making changes, afraid of what others around you will think of you, then feel that fear. It’s normal.

But don’t let it stop you.

I’m not saying that things will work out perfectly—you run the risk of being scrutinized, rejected. That’s the cost you will have to weigh. The further you venture into the wilderness of discovery, the fewer people you may find beside you.* This is not a call to shove people away or be unkind, or assume people aren’t interested in your new journey and hide it. But know that even in your most heartfelt seeking of the right path for you, you can’t force or inspire everyone to come along with you.

That’s okay. And you will survive.

But through it all you may discover, as I did, that there are people who will love you for you. Who you can feel you really belong with, without having to change or disguise who you are. Who you can really bond with, even if they would have never fit into your former “in-group.” Who give you the freedom to be yourself, and thereby, the freedom to grow. Perhaps you don’t know them yet. Perhaps you do. But to feel really loved and known, not for who people think you are but for who you really are, you have to be that real you first. You have to take the chance.


I miss a lot of things about my time abroad. Such an experience can’t be replicated, and the sadness of that specific journey’s finality still aches at times. But in a sense the journey I began in that vinyl chair hasn’t ended, because it was the start of a change in me that I am still living today.

I am happy to be in the place I am now, and more importantly, to be the person I am now.

Long live Scotland, the brave.

All my heart,


*Credit to David Hayward, The Liberation of Sophia


Have you ever left a group that was difficult to leave? What did you learn from the process? Have you found a new group that’s a better fit for you?