Why Your Morning Routine Matters

“Life is worth waking up an hour early to live an hour more.”

I have a love-hate relationship with mornings.  I love the feeling of being up and p productive early enough that I can move at my own pace, have my quiet time, read a few blogs, and actually feel on top of things before I go barreling into my day.  However, I definitely do not enjoy that first 15 minutes of dragging myself out of bed and doing the zombie walk to the coffeemaker, hoping my roommates realize I am mentally or emotionally prepared to have people say words to med.

My feelings against those first few minutes served as a huge part of the reason that–for
the first couple of years of college–I took the approach of sleeping for as long as humanly possible.  I would stay in bed until half an hour before class.  Then, hop up, throw on some outfit, and dash out the door chaotically.  I always had things that I told myself I would do in the mornings, and they basically never happened.  The result was that I went into my day with adrenaline pumping and a discouraging weight of failure already taunting me.  Not exactly the ideal start to the day.

So, this year, I decided to switch it up and give my mornings a bit more of a priority.  Now, instead of darting out the door crazily, I make sure I’m up, on average 2-3 hours before I leave for class or work.  I sit down, have my coffee, read my Bible, write in my journal, catch up on the news, sort through emails (by the way, a ridiculous number of emails come in between midnight and 6 a.m.), listen to some music, and do a little reading just for fun.  It’s heavenly.

Does your morning routine need a refreshing?  Here are few things I’ve found helpful as I revamped the start of my days.

Have a plan.  Maybe you’re the type that wants to write your morning routine down on a pretty notecard, or maybe–like me–it’s just a mental checklist.  Either way, know what your morning goals are.  Maybe your list is coffee, news, and emails.  Great.  Maybe it is more extensive.  Fantastic.  Some days, you may want to fit in some extra morning items but put in the effort to establish a minimum  routine.  That provides stability when life catapults you into a more chaotic season.

Make it easy on yourself.  Choose your clothes the night before.  Have your backpack/briefcase packed.  Have the coffee etting out.  Do what you need to do to make the mornings as painless as possible.

Drink that coffee.  Okay, maybe this is just a personal thing, but the world looks sooo much brighter once I have a cute mug full of steaming caffeine in my hand.  So, I make sure that is the first thing I do every day.  If you know something will make the rest of your morning routine easier, do it first!  The goal is to make this easy and fun.

Make mornings fun.  I don’t plan the hard stuff for the mornings.  This is the time that is setting the tone for your whole day.  Do productive things, yes, but do productive things you enjoy.  Do not make it a frantic rat race.

Stop. Breathe. Pray.  Smell the roses.  It will be worth it.

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T-12 Hours

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll also miss the person you are now at this time and in this place, because you know you’ll never be this way again.” -Azar Nafisi

I don’t know what happened to the past five weeks.  I swear I blinked, and they vanished.  On one hand, I feel like there is no possible way that five weeks have past since I got off that plane–it feels like yesterday.  On the other, the depth of relationships, knowledge, and growth I have gone through leaves me feeling convinced that there is no possible way we’ve been here barely over a month.  

Twelve hours from now, the plane that is supposed to take me home will be boarding.  It seems

so beyond surreal.  I’ve spent the last two days in a seemingly endless stream of goodbyes to people that have come to mean so much to me.  It seems strange to think that five weeks ago, I didn’t know they existed.  

My roommate, Trish, and I spent a while sitting on our balcony tonight, talking about everything we’ve experienced here.  I’ve experienced so much, and going home, I barely know how to begin to explain it all.  I’d heard people say that travel changes you and changes your perspective.  I believed it in theory, but I had no idea how true it was until I came here and experienced it.  There are so many things in life that I can never see the same again.  Costa Rica has changed me.  On some level, I do not think I will have any idea of the the depths of those changes till long after I return to the States.

I’ve been stretched–and strengthened–in my faith.  I’ve asked new questions–and found answers to questions old and new.  I’ve laughed, cried, and laughed until I cried.  I’ve danced till my feet are ready to fall off and eaten some of the best food I’ve ever encountered in my life…. I want to say so much more, but since I probably should try to get some sleep before a 12 hour day of travelling, I’ll close with this for now. 

Costa Rica. Pura Vida.  My life can never be the same.

Pura Vida,

Anna

Pura Vida, Broken Phones, and Real Living

“Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport.”

Another week has passed here in Costa Rica, and what a week it has been.  This time, sitting down to blog, I hardly know where to start.  Every day here feels like about five.  If you’ve ever had one of those days where, at the end of it, someone mentions something you did that morning and your reaction is “Wait. I thought that was like two days ago!”…well, that’s how it is here.  Every. Single. Day.

This last week was an intense one, in many ways.  It definitely brought the transition from tourist to student.  I have Spanish for four hours every morning and an intercultural communications class in the afternoons.  Plus, on top of it, I started my service learning last week. I had homework in both classes every day…including a forty-five minute presentation for intercultural communications.  Then, on Tuesday, my iPhone, which had been struggling for the past week, decided that it didn’t want to function any more.  So, I’m phoneless, which also means cameraless–the part that is by far the more frustrating.  I hit a point of exhaustion with the language for the first time.  And two days after we got back from our time at a volcano, my legs are still pretty scraped up (allbeit rather more tan), and every time I try to take the stairs, my muscles are convinced they’re being asked to perform some new type of torture.  All that in a week.  But so, so much more.

This week, I got to spend time praying with prostitutes on the streets of this incredible city and seeing what Jesus is up to right here in San Jose.  I survived mid-terms.  I explored more of this new city and began to have deeper conversations with those around me–both in Spanish and English.  I HIKED A VOLCANO, had a too close for comfort encounter with a jumping pit viper, salsa danced, and explored the city.  I swam in a hidden rainforest lagoon.  I spent an entire weekend waking up to the breathtaking views of the rainforest.  I swam in hot springs and went down some of the most fantastic water slides ever.  I’ve continued to love the food.  My mama tica is an incredible cook.  Not having my phone has forced me to push myself in new ways and get out of my comfort zone at a totally different level.  We found a Starbucks (don’t judge, sometimes, we all need a taste of home…), and for the record, their drinks are wayyyy better here.  I’ve expanded my Spanish vocabulary, made new friends, and now flag down taxis and cross the hectic streets without batting an eye.  It still feels like a dream.  I wake up every morning and have to remind myself this is real life for me, right now.  I feel so beyond blessed to be here.

The Costa Rican mantra is “pura vida”… pure life, or life purely.  That’s truly how they live…and it’s teaching me a lot.  I’m learning to let go and roll with the punches.  How to value the postives in American culture (like how we sure know how to get things done) but to also recognize that I need to slow down more and appreciate the simple things in life.   Pura vida. Costa Rica doesn’t give you a choice… you can fight it, but you’ll be miserable. Or, you can let yourself embrace it and go into every day, basically knowing that nothing is going to be the way you planned it.  It will, however, be a breathtaking adventure that will challenge and grow you in ways you never expected.

Pura Vida,

Anna

Life Lessons, As Taught By Cold Showers, Toilet Paper, and Breakfasting Iguanas

“You will never be completely at home again.  Because part of your heart will always be elsewhere.  That is the price you pay for the richness of knowing and loving people in more than one place.”

So much can happen in a day.  Yet weeks can fly by so quickly.  It seems incredibly surreal that I’ve been in Costa Rica for nearly a week and a half now.  From taxi drivers to city explorations to beach days, I honestly have fallen absolutely in love with this country.  Its also been amazing to see how fast our group of students has bonded.  There’s been a lot of laughter…and even a few tears.  Honestly, I can’t even begin to think about the idea of leaving in a few weeks.  Of course, not everything is perfect, but through the good–and the challenging–I’ve learned so much.  In just a week, I feel like I have grown in so many ways.  

Flexibility.

Throwing toilet paper in the trash can?  Really? Who does that?  Never knowing whether the shower will turn on to a nice, normal warm stream or stay at a frigid temperature the entire time? Sitting at breakfast, an iguana decides to wander up and join us? What. (We found out later that the staff regularly feeds them.)  My “comfort zone” right now is growing exponentially, but that’s such a huge part of what makes this whole experience so incredible.  It’s taught me to roll with the punches, be okay with not having a perfect plan, and, above all, recognize that tico time really is a thing.  Costa Ricans are much more relational and polychromatic.  They are not going to be tied to a clock like Americans are, and while this is a foreign concept to me a lot of the time, it is also a refreshing one.  We Americans could benefit from spending a little less time looking at our watches and a little more time investing in others. 

Appreciating the Little Things

We spent the weekend in Playa Tamarindo, which was absolutely fantastic.  Our program gave us the opportunity to stay at a four-star resort.  Our room was pool side, huge, and beautiful…and the thing that sent me around the room squealing with delight was the fact that we actually had a reliable hot shower.  We had an incredible weekend and took some incredible excursions.  Yet, honestly, one of my favorite parts was getting up early on Saturday morning and going down to the beach by myself, taking a long walking and having some quiet time with Jesus.  A vendor, a lovely woman from the Dominican Republic, approached me, and we ended up talking for quite some time…all in Spanish of course.  Moments like that…they seem small, but they make learning the language and spending time here even more rewarding.

Just Do It.

No, this isn’t a Nike commercial…but they had the right idea. Jumping in with both feet has made my study abroad experience so far more rewarding than I ever thought possible.  I spent half an hour talking to an 82-year-old native Costa Rican in a supermercado.  I met a taxi driver who does impressions of American accents better than any American I know.  I’ve tried foods I never knew existed.  I’ve dived into the ocean. I’ve snorkeled. I’ve met incredible new friends.  I’ve learned much about another culture. I’ve learned to stick up for myself and hold to my convictions in new ways.  I’ve learned how to dance the salsa (okay, that one is still in process…).  I’ve seen sea turtles in the ocean and monkeys swinging from trees right in our hotel.  Truly, I feel like God has opened door after door for the most incredible experiences.  Some, true, haven’t worked out quite as planned… But usually, those are the greatest stories.  

I am falling hard…for the people, the nation, the culture.

Pura Vida, 

Anna

First Impressions and Falling in Love

“Our destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

Today is day 3 in Costa Rica, and I already know it’s going to fly by so quickly.  This morning, I woke up to an open window and a light morning rain.  I could hear passerbys chatting away in Spanish.  When I look outside, I look across the rooftops, and I see mountains in the distance.  Basically, I’m absolutely in love. Already, I have learned so much! 

First off, the language.  I had not used much Spanish in a while, and I was rather nervous what that would mean for my time here.  Then, I got here, and I found myself immediately in several situations where I was the one being looked to to speak Spanish for the group. To say it is a learning curve would be an understatement, but already, the words start to come a little faster.  The language is beautiful, and I love hearing it everywhere we go.  We went to a Costa Rican cafe for the first time yesterday and ordered in Spanish.  

Then, there’s the people.  Waiting for my connecting flight in Houston, I met five other students on their way to the same program in Costa Rica.  It was one of those moments where we just “clicked”.  Definitely a God thing.  We braved customs together and already have plans for grand adventures and exploration.  It is una mezcla fabulosa (a fabulous mix).  The entire program is composed of a group of so many interesting people from all over, and each one has a fascinating story.  I look forward to getting to know them all better in the coming weeks.  Of course, I have to mention the Costa Rican people as well.  Their friendliness and warmth had us feeling at home from the first moments they met us at the university.  Hugs, cheek kisses, incredible food, and warm hospitality. They truly have done all they can to make us feel at home.  Not to mention, my normal obsession with Mexican food is finding beautiful fulfillment in Costa Rican cuisine.

Of course, I have to mention the country itself.  I live in an adorable two-story mint colored house.  Almost all the houses are different colors, which I find enchanting.  San Jose is a mixture of old and new.  The majority of it is not composed of buildings necessarily beautiful in the traditional sense, but all together, their impact is to create a charming and inviting place.  We took a tour yesterday, and I absolutely fell in love.  I also can’t wait to explore on my own and get outside of the city. It is still strange, though, to realize I am in a place where I can drive down the street, and it is perfectly normal to see a sign that says, “Volcano ahead, 52 km”.

Today’s day two of orientation.  So, I’m running off to a fabulous Costa Rican breakfast and another full day.

Tenga un buen dia,

Anna

PS The first round of pictures to come!

Spring Break [Without Breaking the Bank]

It’s getting to be that time of year for all of us college students: spring break is almost here!  For a some, that means beach days and fabulous excursions.  However, unfortunately, not all of us get that this year.  That does not mean, however, that we can’t have a fabulous spring break.  Even if you’re just heading back home for the week, there are plenty of adventures you can have that don’t require plane tickets or beach houses.  Here are a few ideas to try…

Spring photo shoot.

Whether you’ve brought friends home with you or you’re catching up with your high school friends, get out and take some photos!  It is a great way to spend time together, explore some new areas of your home town, and have some great pictures to take back to school with you.  Plus, let’s face it.  It’s just gorgeous outside in the spring, and that is something to be taken advantage of!

Be a tourist.

It is an ironic truth that we often do fewer of the touristy activities in the city we actually live in than in the ones we visit for only a few days at a time.  Go to that art museum!  See the sites!  Hit up that “have-to-try” restaurant.  If people will travel hundreds of miles to do it, you’ll probably enjoy it too.

Take full advantage of R&R time. 

Just because you’re not spending your week at a seaside spa does not mean you can’t relax and rejuvenate.  Do a home spa with some friends!  Watch chick flicks, make facial masks, and do your nails–maybe go out and get your hair done.  Basically, do all the girly things that you normally just don’t have time for.

Check something off your bucket list.

Not all of the things we say we want to do “some day” require extravagant travel.  Sometimes, there are activities we can find very close by that we’ve always meant to do and just never gotten around to. Well, there’s no time like the present!!

[re]Organize your life.

So, we’ve made it half way through the insanity of spring semester.  One of the things that I love about spring break is how it serves as a reprieve, allowing me to slow down, think, and put my time and priorities back in order.  Make good use of your down time, and the rest of your semester will go a lot more smoothly.

Got more ideas on how to have a great, cost-conscientious spring break?  Feel free to share them in the comments!

xo,

Anna

Snow Days and Slowing Down

“Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective.”  Doc Zantamata

So, today is my fifth snow day in the last month.  Apparently, Tennessee has decided that nice, warm temperatures just aren’t its thing anymore.  Despite the cold, though, these snow days have provided an unexpected and beautiful reprieve from the normal hustle and bustle–something I was totally unaware how desperately I needed.

Yesterday, for instance, the only reason I ventured out was to fulfill an ice cream and coffee craving–

you know, the true necessities of life.  Otherwise, my roommates and I literally spent all day in our living room, watching movies, drinking coffee, doing homework, and enjoying the fact that there was literally no where that any of us had to me.

Everything today is fast-paced and hectic. Sometimes, it can be slightly terrifying to face a totally open schedule, because we are so used to running non-stop.  When we slow down, we have to face our own thoughts.  We have to live with our own company in a way we can avoid in the fast-paced hustle and bustle of normal life. 

Of course, life does not always give us snow days.  Some times, the crazy just keeps going, and that is why it is so important for each of us to learn to make slowing down and resting up a part of our regular lives.

xo,

Anna

“Friendly” Foes

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another “What?  You too?  I thought I was the only one.”    -C.S. Lewis

 The art of truly being a good friend is one that requires effort and practice.  I know I can look back at my own life and see times that I did friendship well and other times where–I regret to say–I failed miserably.  I’ve been blessed by friends stick by me and will help me through anything and deeply hurt by the betrayal of others I thought would aways be there.  I cannot think of a single girl I know that hasn’t been deeply wounded at some point by one of their girlfriends.  We should be each other’s advocates but all too often, we are instead each others’ greatest adversaries.

As Christian women, we especially should be demonstrating a different type of friendship.  We should be building each other up!  Instead, I feel like our “friendships” all too often become a competition of who’s prettiest, who can land the right boy, etc.–and we don’t even realize it.  Even if that is not a struggle for you, the truth is that in the busyness of life, it is so easy to let our friendships go into “default mode”, just letting them exist and failing to treat them with intentionality.  

We complain that we don’t have “true” friends that we can trust–well, are we being true friends?  If someone tells you a secret, keep it.  If someone is having a down day, encourage them.  Maybe one of the reasons that friendships are so hard for us is that we go into them selfishly, looking for what someone else can give to us, instead of looking for the ways we can give to them.  We want people to be genuine, faithful, intentional, etc, right?  Well, we need to be those things ourselves.

I guess what I’ve been learning lately is that having the sort of relationships I want actually starts with me.  You want genuine friendships?  Great.  Be genuine yourself!  You want people to be faithful to you?  Be a faithful friend yourself!  It’s the oldest cliche: “Do unto others as you’d have them do to you.”  But it is a cliche for a reason: it’s true.  

So, next time you find yourself discouraged or frustrated in friendships?  Try thinking about someone else.  Search your own life; do everything you need to to become a good friend.  It isn’t a magical formula.  Yes, unfortunately, sometimes people you love are still going to hurt you.  Furthermore, there are going to be times you do fail at being a good friend, but I truly have found that it is in seeking to become a good friend that God will bring the greatest treasures of friendships into your own life.

xo,

Anna

Finding Order in Insanity

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“Time is what we most want, but what we use worst.” -William Penn
Time management.  I can’t tell you for how many years that phrase made me cringe.  Then, this fall happened.  Suddenly, I found myself holding down two jobs and an internship, which all together left me working more than 40 hours a week on average, while also in school full-time–not to mention the fact that I was living totally independently in a non-dorm setting for the first time, with family 8 hours away.  Suffice it to say, my former definition of “busy” couldn’t touch my new schedule.  An average day had me going nonstop from 9 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night with no breaks.  I made it about two weeks into the semester before I came to this “oh boy” moment of wondering what on earth I got myself into.  At that point, though, there was nothing I could do!  I’d made all these commitments, and I told myself that I was going to do whatever I have to do to follow through and complete them well. 

The next few months were probably craziest time of my life to date, if we’re being totally honest.  At the same time, though, necessity forced me to learn to manage my time as never before.  And the most shocking part? I loved it! 

Here’s a few things that managing life as a full-time student working full-time taught me:

Schedule your life. It doesn’t hinder you; it is actually your key to freedom.

Get alone. No matter how much you need to do, you have spend time away from the craziness to pray, read your Bible, watch that netflix show, or go for a run.

Defend your time. Not every request deserves a “yes”.

Treat yourself. When life’s crazy, sometimes you need to stop and get that cup of coffee.

Prioritize time for “your people”. No matter how hectic life gets, you will handle everything better if you take the time to laugh and unwind with friends now and again.

Pick a planner and make it your best friend. Personally, I love the Macbook/iPhone’s Calendar application because it keeps me up to date at home and on the road.  

What are your tips for staying sane and on task in the midst of craziness?

xo,

Anna

Once Upon A Time [In the Real World]

“God is using your present circumstances to make you more useful for later roles in his unfolding story.” -Lou Giglio
     Stories have always been a big part of my life.  From the time I was a toddler, my mom read me book after book.  By four or five, I was reading on my own, and there were many seasons growing up where I simply wouldn’t leave the house without a book accompanying me.  The reason was quite simple: I loved the stories.  When I read The Chronicles of Narnia, I saw myself as Susan Pevensie.  When I read 
Anne of Green Gables, it was me, who smashed the slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head.  When I read Emma, I fell head over heels for Knightley right along with Emma.  And when I read The Lord of the Rings, I too was traveling with the Fellowship on the quest to save Middle Earth.  Okay, so maybe I have a pretty active imagination…

     As I read all of these, though, I came to the conclusion that obviously my life would be a tale as fabulous and perfect as the ones in my favorite novels.  I’d slay any dragon with ease, always beat the bad guys, fall in love with my very own Mr. Darcy, and ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after.  

     Flash forward a few years, and I found myself bogged down in…[horror of horrors] the real world.  The dragons aren’t always so easy to defeat.  Sometimes, things are hard. And here I am, practically an adult, and I definitely don’t have it all together like I pictured my heroine role models did. In the midst of this, I caught myself complaining, “This wasn’t the deal, Lord.  This isn’t my novel-worthy adventure.  In fact,this is a hot mess!”

    But then, somewhere along the way lately, God has helped me to recognize a few things:

  • A messy middle is necessary for the best endings.  The stories-in movies and books alike–that have us cheering for our hero/heroines most passionately are the ones that have the deepest struggles.  Think of The Hunger Games Trilogy.  The reason we root for Katniss, the reason we’re tasting victory with her, the reason we care about her success, is that she faced hard times; she sacrificed, but she never gave in.  Think about the most influential Christians in history, and you’ll find the same thing.  William Wilberforce failed to abolish the English slave trade 9 times over 17 years!  Talk about a seeming mess…but then, that 18th year, parliament abolished slave trade. “Happily-ever-after” endings take time!
  • The hero/heroine doesn’t get to know there even is a happily-ever-after ahead.  It strikes me that Frodo did not know he would succeed in his quest to destroy the ring.  What if J.R.R. Tolkien brought in a character in the first chapter who told Frodo everything that would happen if he went to destroy the ring?  Would he even have gone?  Even if he did go, wouldn’t his approach to everything have been different?  If Frodo knew he’d succeed, how could he have the drive to do what he must to succeed?  Those in the story DON’T SEE THE BIG PICTURE.  It’s the same with us.  We do not see our full story.  We see the here and now.  Fortunately, though, we’ve got someone who does see it all.
  • The Author has ultimate control, and nothing can change that. I’ve heard the illustration that God is the “Author” of our stories, and I love that comparison.  Just like the author of a book is the only one who knows and understands everything about his characters and his plot, God is the only one who knows everything about each and every one of us.  He created us with free will, yes–but He already knows every choice we’ll make.  He already has plans for each one of us and wants to use us to fulfill them.  He is the author of story.  Realizing that and holding onto this perspective will make a huge difference in our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 says “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.'”  So, yes, we are going to have hard times.  Yeah, life may not make sense during some seasons…and there might be times when we can’t even imagine a way that our situation and struggles will be turned around or used for good.  But fortunately, our divine Author is greater than us and has plans far greater than our imaginations.

As Elisabeth Elliot said once, “Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes.”  

xo,

Anna