Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | December 26, 2010

Bare And Cold, Yet Beautiful


My relationship with winter is definitely under the love hate category.  Snow is great, I love to trek in it as it crunches beneath my boots.  I even like getting bundled up for the winter months; there is something about blankets, boots, mittens, scarves and coats that brings me comfort.  I especially love the winter holidays; Christmas and New Years Eve are always bound to bring excitement, and there is nothing better than hanging out with friends and family.  But on the other hand, there are things about winter that I consider less than desirable.  For one, I am saddened when the sun decides to stay behind sheets of clouds for weeks at a time (I call this “winter gloom”).  I deeply miss sunshine in the winter months, and I loathe its absence.  In addition to the winter gloom, I could do without Jack Frost nipping at my nose.  Winter wind in Indiana is harsh and bone chilling; stay outside for longer than an hour and chances are your extremities will be longing for fire.

Ox Bow Park is silent in the winter, the bare trees give contrast to the cool sky.

Despite this love hate relationship, I know I could never live without a cold and snowy winter.

Whenever I complained about winter when I was little, my grandpa would tell me to cheer up.  Without winter, we could never appreciate the warmth of summer, he always said.  I have come to learn that each season serves a purpose, and as a result of my Midwest upbringing, life would not be the same without all four.  Winter teaches us to be thankful for things, spring brings rebirth and renewal and summer gives us a taste of paradise.  If we look for it, we can find beauty in every season.

All that said, we went to Ox Bow Park to snap some winter photos.  Here are the rest!

I take a moment to dance on the snow covered bridge that winds through the park.

The sun actually shined all day today; how beautiful it was to see it again.

Alex was being cooperative with my photo taking. Even though he is not the biggest fan of photos, he was kind enough to flash a smile my way.

As we walk around the park, I felt like I was standing in a painting. Nature's beauty is absolutely breathtaking.

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | December 21, 2010

The Learning Curve


Hello everyone! I decided to take a short hiatus during my first week of winter break to “detox” from fall semester classes, if you will.  How wonderful it was to relax without work on the mind.  I finally unpacked my bags for winter vacation this morning, and thus have chosen to return to some writing.

The downtown Elkhart Nibco Skate Park will be open until March 6, 2011.

Last night Alex and I ventured to the downtown Elkhart Nibco Ice Park (if you have not visited this place, I definitely recommend it!).  I say ventured because that’s exactly what I was embarking on, a venture.  The last time I picked up a pair of skates was nearly five years ago in the 8th grade.  By stepping on the ice last night, I was potentially putting my health, pride and skating reputation at risk.  I made sure to warn Alex that “I might be very bad at skating,” but he just chuckled lightly in reply.  Alex is a hockey player, so I was already at a huge disadvantage.

After much trouble we managed to fasten the cheap rental skates snugly to my feet.  Walking with caution, I reached the silver gate.  Ice stretched out endlessly in front of my eyes as I wondered what had convinced me to do this.  With open arms, Alex helped me onto the splintered rink entrance.  Then he let me go, and I found myself longing for anything to hold on to.  Surely enough, my worst fears were realized with my first wobbly steps: I was a terrible skater.

If I had a videotape of last night, I would imagine myself looking like some sort of clumsy penguin on the screen, sliding and falling on the ice beneath me.  At first, I laughed at myself as I re-learned the skills I had once mastered.  Thirty minutes passed, and I still was not getting it; for some reason unbeknown to me, I could not comprehend how to push the ice with my skates.  I could feel my initial humorous spirit melting into the ice as I grappled with this concept.  My feet began to tire after about an hour and a half of skating, and although part of me was determined to keep trying, I knew it was time to leave.

After last night’s experience, Alex assured me that I made good progress, however I know I still have a lot more to learn.

My skating was rough but one thing was certain: by the end of the night, I did not have to rely on Alex to propel me forward anymore.

I tell you this story only to talk to you about my experience with risk-taking and the learning process.  To be honest, I am not a fan of feeling inferior or unskilled.  I like to be confident in myself when I undergo a task; even if I don’t know how to do it properly, I will figure it out.

If I only take one thing away from my freshman year, fall semester it will be the following: sometimes you have to fall on your face, literally and figuratively speaking, when you are learning something new, whether it be inside or outside of the classroom.  Sometimes you have to look like a fool before you can achieve pro-status.

College has taught me that learning requires risk-taking.  As I retain and experience new information I take risks in applying that knowledge to areas of my life, knowing that I might apply that information incorrectly.

I still don’t understand skating entirely, but I am willing to risk failure to learn more about it, even if I make a fool of myself.  I want to get better and I want to skate fast, however I realize that my progress will come in baby steps.  Maybe someday, all that I learn about skating will come full circle, and I will be able to step fearlessly onto that rink, ready to race any challenger.

Just remember: when you fall, don’t be afraid to get back up and try it again.

There is a great chance that the person standing next to you fell when they first learned it too.

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | December 8, 2010

Coffee’s Curse


Picture retrieved from Google

I love coffee.  I love the smell, the taste and everything about it.  To satisfy my fix next semester at a cheaper cost, I made sure to put a coffee maker on my Christmas list.  There is something about those warm cups of flavored goodness that always manages to brighten my day.  Coffee lovers, you can sympathize with me.  You know where I am coming from.

Now I face a big dilemma.  I am torn between continuing or quitting my caffeinated coffee addiction.  Why, you might ask?  Well, as many of you probably do not know, I have a slight heart condition called non-sustained ventricular tachycardia (NSVT).  In other words, sometimes my heart will go into episodes of rapid beats (more than 100 beats per minute).  Episodes consist of three or more beats which originate from the ventricle.  These episodes last fewer than 30 seconds, and although they are not life-threatening, they cause discomfort.  So how does this relate to coffee?  Well, caffeine agitates the NSVT.

When the doctors first told me I may have to give up caffeine, I blocked it out of my mind.  Until recently, I was in denial that it was affecting me.  As a college student, however, I have increased my coffee intake (non of which is decaf might I add).  I can no longer deny caffeine’s adverse affects on me; this is a terrible affliction to endure!

Tonight tipped the iceberg.  I happily purchased a Gingerbread Latte from Starbucks to compliment my dinner. Two hours later, I was in the gym working out.  This was a bad decision. No. A really bad decision.  The caffeine/exercise combo sent my heart racing, and I started to get a little worried.  I continued to work out however, trying to ignore my heart and developing shortness of breath.

So now, I have a decision to make.  I could always resort to hot chocolate or decaf, but it would never be the same.   As Bob Irwin once said, “decaffeinated coffee is kind of like kissing your sister”; in other words, it’s disgusting.  Giving up my caffeinated coffee would be a huge sacrifice.  Not to mention, I could suffer from withdrawal!

For now, I think I’ll just decrease my intake.  I can downgrade from a grande to a tall.  Baby steps, right?  After all, it is never easy to give up something you really enjoy.

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | December 2, 2010

Better Than Garmin


Weather in Muncie has been completely sporadic lately. Tuesday I felt warm walking to class in my North Face, but three hours later it was snowing and I found myself longing for a hat to shield my face from the bone chilling wind.  Today, fluffy flakes fell from the sky at a frequent and majestic rate.  This bipolar weather is a mirror to how life has been for me lately.  One moment I am comfortable and feel like I have it all under control, but the next moment I find myself lost without a compass or any recollection of how I got there.  I feel like the progress I am making in life has been so marginal lately, that I am starting to wonder if it even measures up to anything.

There are two weeks left in the Fall 2010 semester here at Ball State.  If I am honest, there are days that I don’t really know what I am doing.  I constantly wonder if I am making the best professional, financial, relational and emotional choices.

All of these shifts in judgment and thought makes it hard for me to decide if I am making the right choices.  I am finding this to be a problem because life is made up of decisions; you cannot escape them.  Lately it seems the decisions I make hold heavier weight; there is a sense of urgency to everything I do.  My uncertainty makes it difficult to draw realistic conclusions.

In the midst of all of this uncertainty and fragility, the only thing I have to look to is my compass, which is Jesus Christ.  As a human, I can never fully know if I am making the right decision; I can never fight my way out of the lost and frightening forests I find myself in.  But luckily, with God as my compass, I have a shot at navigating my way through life’s storms and roadblocks.  I don’t think uncertainties ever fade from our lives, but I believe if we ask God for understanding and guidance, he is quick to bring us a new perspective.

Are the winds of change and uncertainty swirling around you like the snow that is falling outside?  Trust in the only navigation system that has the power to rescue us.  This navigation system is not offered through a Garmin or TomTom but through the loving arms of Jesus Christ.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  {Philippians 4:7}

Snow begins to form outside my dorm room early Wednesday morning.  The first day of December brought plenty of snow and delighted many as they walked to class.
Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | November 21, 2010

Letting Go


Mankind has the tendency of being pretty possessive.  Even at a young age, children learn to say “mine” with rapid frequency.  Whether it be our memories of the past, relationships, personal belongings, problems or achievements, we tend to attach ourselves to stuff like adhesive attaches to a wall.  The desire to keep things we love near and dear is wonderful and good; it is bad however, for us to habitually cling to things that are life inhibitors.

This possession problem reveals an even greater issue: our ability to let go.  A watered down definition of letting go could be summed up as meaning release, or giving up control of something. The problem is, if humans are possessive in nature, then it would be logical to assume that letting go isn’t particularly easy.  Our instinct tells us to harbor feelings, memories of the past, etc., however such things were never meant to be held on to.  Memories and feelings of hate, anger, regret, guilt, despair, shame, depression and anxiety should never be granted residence in our hearts.  Yet often times we let these things move-in and renovate the place as they see fit.  Over time, the relationship between a person and these maladies becomes parasitic.  The things we harbor slowly overtake us; often times this process goes unnoticed.  In my case, it took a whole year to see what was happening.  A concoction of past events and anxiety is what I allowed to overtake me.  Before I knew it I couldn’t let them go.  Even worse I couldn’t remember what life was like without them.

I would constantly think to myself, what does it even look like to give up control?  Better yet, what does it feel like?  They talked about it in church all the time, but I never really bought into it…

Looking back on those miserable days, I realize the reason I didn’t buy into giving up control was because of one ugly, evil thing, a thing called fear.  I believe fear of any kind is the root of our inability to let go.  If we become accustomed and familiar with what we hold on to, giving it up can be a pretty scary task.

Allowing unfortunate, tragic and awful things to take residence in our hearts should be avoided with caution.  Sometimes, in a step of faith, we have to let whatever it is go, in spite of our fear.  For some, this “it” could be a bad relationship, for others a horrific event.  If you know this “thing” is not benefiting your life, or worse, if you know it’s preventing you from living the life you were meant to live you have no other option but to give it up.

This is not an easy process; it takes a conscious effort.  You don’t just wake up one morning and voilà! you give up control.  You have to be willing enough to work towards complete release.

I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but I do believe they happen for a reason.  I don’t know why some people die and others live, but I know that God has a plan for every one of us, a plan that doesn’t involve getting wrapped up in our troubles, flaws and failures.  A great musician Jon Foreman once sang, “We were meant to live for so much more, have we lost ourselves?”  My hope is that those of you who can identify with this will take it to heart.  I guarantee that your efforts will be worth it.  Don’t live life with your eyes focused on what you cannot control.  Trust in the one who has total control, and He will bring you peace.

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | November 15, 2010

Thankful Giving: The Heart of the Holidays


This article of mine was published in the Wings of Hope Magazine 2009 Holiday Issue.  I felt it fitting for this time of year to re-publish it for those who did not have the opportunity to read it in print:

Prepare yourself for those cheesy Christmas tunes: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are fast approaching yet again. Everyone participates in the annual traditions of the winter months. Roasting turkey, mixing mashed potatoes, eating pumpkin pie, giving thanks, decorating Christmas trees, wrapping presents, drinking hot cocoa are just a few of the staple activities of the holidays. But what if we implemented a new tradition? What if something else became a staple of the holidays?

Thanksgiving is not merely a feast of delicacies; it is a historical annual event. Its origins reach back to 1621 when Plymouth Colonists and Native Americans celebrated and gave thanks for a successful bounty of crops.

Today, Thanksgiving festivities remain the same, but the meaning behind the celebration is different. We are not colonists, and we do not have to cultivate our own food. So how is a successful harvest relevant to us today? How do we relate to the Pilgrims? For starters we can still thank God for our food, but this will only scratch the surface. There is so much more to be thankful for.

One of the biggest mistakes Christians—or anyone for that matter—can make is to take things for granted. It is hard for many of us to relate to those who are desperate and struggling because, in America, the majority of us are blessed with more than enough to live. The American standard of living is beyond what any other country in the world experiences; granted, there is still poverty, but it is not as rampant. We go on living our pampered lives and often forget about the billions of other people who are less fortunate.

It would be wonderful to see this selfish-sort-of lifestyle replaced with a contagious love for others.  In 2 Corinthians 9:12 Paul writes, “The service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (NIV).  Paul tells us that when we give, we should do so with a thankful heart.  Service begins with an outpouring of gratitude; by humbly serving God and others this holiday season, we can give the most precious gift of all, love.

January 2, however, should not mark the end of gracious giving.  What would happen if others noticed our continued state of thankfulness and giving? As believers, we can influence others to act similarly.  We can make thankful giving a yearly, or perhaps, daily tradition.

The next time you see someone who is suffering or in need, I challenge you to reach out your hand. The world could be an entirely different place if all of mankind began to help one another. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  We have been blessed to be a blessing to others. Remember this holiday season: it is not about us, it is about God and His plan. He came to the world to offer up his life to save us. He gave ultimately with his life, He was the ultimate giver. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas!

Lauren Hardy
Wings of Hope Teen Scene Columnist

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | November 11, 2010

A Place to Call Our Own


Currently in the hunt for an apartment, my roommate and I are exploring our options for sophomore year.  Although it would be nice to have House Hunters’ host Suzanne aid in our search, the Internet has served as an adequate substitute.  Today, as we scrolled through photo after photo of possible places to purchase, my roommate, Kasia turned to me.  With an astonished look on her face she said, “Lauren! We are actually going to have a place of our own!”

I stopped to think about what had just been said.  “A place of our own” sounds quite cozy and free, doesn’t it?  Almost liberating (a word I feel sums up the college experience).  Since the day we moved in, each day of college has been a succession of liberating experiences.  And now we are embarking on the biggest freedom of all: owning our very own apartment!  It’s almost too good to be true.

Here’s one thing I have learned the past few months: college may be the biggest lifestyle change I may ever endure.

No high school course could have prepared me for collegiate life and expectations.  It changed my eating, sleeping, exercising and studying habits, but most importantly my responsibilities and perspective on life.  College elevated my responsibilities tenfold.

Future college students, let me prepare you for freshman year.  Following move-in day, the weight of your decisions will be placed solely on you.  Sleep in late for a class?  Get caught drinking?  The consequences for these actions are definitely your fault, so you’d better own up to them.  You can’t blame mom and dad for your mistakes in college.  It’s humbling, really.  I have so much respect for my parents now.  In high school, my mother not only remembered her hectic schedule, but kept tabs on MINE as well.  I have no idea how she did it.  There are so many things to remember, so many deadlines to meet (invest in a planner).  It can be overwhelming at times, but I believe it makes you a better person.  College prepares you more for life than high school ever could.

Okay, so the whole responsibility thing may seem a little daunting for some of you, but don’t worry!! There is a flipside to every story.  College will also unleash freedoms that are beyond your imagination (I like to refer to this as The Sweet Release).  My only advice: be careful.  And please, for the sake of…. oh I don’t know, your parents?  Try to make wise decisions.  Just because you have the freedom to do whatever does not mean you should.  If you are in a situation that feels wrong, leave!  Don’t ever lie to yourself (tip: if you have to convince yourself that something is okay, it’s probably not).  By all means however, try new things!  Try a new sport, take a class that interests you, make new friends, dare to navigate bus transportation systems, get involved–college is the best opportunity to discover new interests.

All this leads me back to where I started.  My roommate and I have finally narrowed it down to three apartment complexes… decisions, decisions.  Not to mention we can’t seem to decide if we want two, three or four bedrooms.  We do not have a clue what we want, and in the end we will probably just have to go with our gut on this one.   As long as the place fits what we’re looking for, I’m sure I will be happy with whatever we choose.

As it applies to life, what’s most important is that we choose what is best for us.

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | November 9, 2010

Love Transcends Failure


Photo courtesy of Anthony Mosley Photography.

I competed in a preliminary for the Miss America Organization this weekend, making it  my fourth pageant in two years.  I put more money into this program than all my other pageants combined.  I was excited to have more experience this year, and would have (although the money was an incentive in itself) been thrilled to have the crown and hopefully make a difference in my community.

I have had tastes of victory in many of my pageants, but have never smelled victory.  This remained true after this weekend.  The results were read and my stomach doubled-over beneath me.  Yay for me, was all I could think in my sarcastic state-of-mind.  I came up short yet again.  Saltwater tears filled my eyes in astonishment.  How ironic, I thought.  I won the same award as last year: the non-finalist interview award.  Following the crowning of the winner, I felt the need to be anywhere but onstage.  If I didn’t get off, I was going to be crying in front of nearly 300 people.  I ran backstage to unleash the hurt…

That night, I thought I had failed.  Not just myself but my family and friends who had come to watch me from as much as three hours away.  I felt like a complete disappointment and I was embarrassed.  But then, a wise Miss alumni took the time to speak to me during my backstage breakdown.  Three days later, her words still resonate in my ears.  What she told me changed my perspective on the results of the night.  She told me that as long as I had my put my best performance out on the stage, there was nothing to be mad at myself about.  Sure, the money situation was definitely something to mourn over… but past that, I couldn’t be disappointed with myself.  And she was right.  I put my whole self out on that stage, and finally had a great vocal performance.  I couldn’t call myself a total failure.

This weekend was a blessing in disguise.  What initially felt like a grave catastrophe unraveled itself into a gem of a weekend.  I’m so thankful for the loved ones in my life who were there for me that night.  My friends from BSU are the real deal; I have never felt so cared for by a group of girls.

Alex, I love you, it’s that simple.  Your support alone was enough to get me through this weekend and come out on the other side blessed.  You make me feel like a princess… which is something I definitely don’t deserve but am so grateful for.  God is so good to the both of us, and I am excited for what the future brings.

Dad, you are my rock.  You really love your daughters, and it’s plain for everyone to see.  Thank you for believing in me, even when I don’t.  Mama, you are such a sweet a caring person.  I know no one to be as thoughtful as you.  Thank you for putting up with my rants and helping me see the positives in every situation. Swag.  We ARE the real deal.  I hope we stay together throughout all of college.  I cannot wait for the countless memories we will make throughout our four years.  I love you all.

Failure can overwhelm us.  It overwhelmed me when I ran off the stage that Saturday night.  With failure, we worry about disappointing others and falling short of expectations.  We worry about humiliation, and about embarrassment.  We get mad at ourselves, which often times prevents us from acknowledging the positive aspects of a situation… But what if every time we failed, we looked immediately for the good?  What if we saw failure as a gift, as a way to evaluate not only our character, but others’ as well?  That is what failure has been teaching me: to self-evaluate.

Then, there is Love. I believe truly loving someone allows you to see past the failures to the core of the person.  This kind of love knows no bounds, it penetrates any situation, and it lifts us up on mountain-tops.  We should be willing to love and support someone, even when (not if) they fall short.

I may have failed in a worldly sense this weekend (I lost more money than I won), but I gained a great deal.  In spite of the disappointments, I have won more than any of the other contestants: unfailing love and support from the people in my life.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I know just what to say this year.

Posted by: Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet | November 5, 2010

Hello, hello


I am writing this blog in my personal time, and am taking a column-style approach.  I hope you take the time to read a few of my posts.  Enjoy!

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