Every summer I like to set myself a goal for my three months of freedom. I don’t usually tell anyone about them because they are often personal and intangible. Last summer my goal was relatively simple: to read a book for pleasure. I read many books in high school but I never had time to read anything outside of the books on the required reading list. I found the book “Cold Tangerines” by Shauna Niequist and let me tell you–– this book is life-changing. Shauna’s main goal with the book is to celebrate life and God who gave us life.

I took this book with me everywhere last summer and whenever I had the chance I would get it out and a read a new chapter. A great thing about this book is that it is perfect for people with short attention spans because each chapter is a little story unrelated to the chapters around it yet at the same time they all connect. Her writing style is conversational and relaxed, mirroring her writing’s theme that we shouldn’t take life too seriously because the present is something to be celebrated.

I read "Cold Tangerines" by the pool at an agriturismo just outside of Florence, Italy. I read it in a hotel on Oxford Street in London. I pulled it out of my bag on the long plane journey back to Dallas instead of watching a movie. It was that good. Cold Tangerines came into my life at a very appropriate time. I just finished high school and was in that awkward limbo where you weren’t a college freshman yet but you had your high school senior days behind you. Shauna Niequist reminded me to live in the present and enjoy my summer without worrying too much about planning for the future. I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes that I found relatable, inspirational, and full of wisdom.

“I know that life is busy and hard, and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don't. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make.”

Shauna wrote a chapter about a song she heard during a very tough time in her life. She talked about how she wanted to thank the songwriter for his commitment to his art because without it she would not have heard the lyrics that resonated so deeply with her. The music-lover in me loved hearing someone finally address the fact that music is so much more important than people often care to admit.

However, even as a musician myself, I know first-hand that society pressures us to pursue practical careers instead of becoming “starving musicians.” To a certain extent, I put that pressure on myself. I’m pursuing a music major but I am working towards a career in Physical Therapy. And there is nothing wrong with that but part of me knows that I am too afraid to take the leap of faith into the harsh world of the music industry.

“In my best moments, when I calm down and listen closely, God says, “I didn’t ask you to become new and improved today. That wasn’t the goal. You were broken down and strange yesterday, and you still are today, and the only one freaked out about it is you.”

What words of comfort. I was on the phone with my mom the other day and we were talking about how I was starting to feel burned out from all the academic stress and responsibilities that come with being an adult. I told her I felt like my life was one giant mess of things that I was wading through and trying to organize piece by piece. She reminded me, like only a mother could, that all the pressure I felt to have it all figured out was coming from one person: me. I often forget that God meets us where we are even in and especially in times of trouble. God doesn’t ask us to be perfect everyday of our lives but he does want us to lean into our relationship with him through the good and the bad. I may not have become new and improved today but God loves me anyway.

“It’s rebellious, in a way, to choose joy, to choose to dance, to choose to love your life. It’s much easier and much more common to be miserable. But I do what I can do to create hope, to celebrate life, and the act of celebrating connects me back to that life I love.”

So much of our social media feeds and news channels highlight only what is bad in the world. It is a heartbreaking way to view the world when really there is so much good no one ever talks about. Today was one of the hottest days I have experienced in Atlanta. The sun was shining and the sky was a gorgeous shade of blue. It is easy to feel happy and positive on days like this when the earth reflects your mood and vice versa. The challenge is to carry that joy into rainy days, busy days, overwhelming and stressful days. I am in the midst of my first college finals season. Smack dab in the middle of a storm of academics. I’m choosing to find joy in the 6 hour long study sessions with my sorority Big sister, and I am choosing to love the copious amounts of coffee I am drinking just to keep my eyelids open. It isn’t the easy option but it’s the one that I choose because despite current circumstances I do love this life God has given me.

“It seems like that is what God is saying to us, over and over, “What can I do today to remind you again how good this life is? You think the color of the sky is good now, wait until sunset. You think oranges are good? Try a tangerine.””

Like I was saying earlier, Atlanta looks beautiful today. I know it was God looking down reminding me to keep my head up and work through these last two weeks of school. I have three months of days like today to look forward to. I’ve always been dumbfounded by the fact that God carries the blueprint to every single one of our lives. He knows our hearts and our minds. He knows our desires, sins, and all our flaws. He knows where we are going because He is leading us there. It is too easy to forget that God is present in our daily lives. It is on days like today when I look around at the green trees on Emory’s campus and a group of smiling students ordering their coffee at Starbucks and remember that life is good. God is good.

“I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

Shauna basically articulated my biggest goal in life. I feel like this article makes me sound like I am always this happy-go-lucky run-in-a-sunflower field kind of girl who never struggles with pain, fear, or doubt. I promise you I am not. I struggle with insecurity and I stumble when things don’t go my way. But I have made an active decision to think before I speak, wait before I act, and make a conscious decision to practice gratitude. God didn’t have to give us life but he so graciously did. I want to live my life with the posture that life is precious and something no one should take for granted.