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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What I'm Learning from Taylor Swift

I remember my sophomore year of college when my friend Heather Johnson (now Varela) handed me a CD (yes, a CD) and said, "you've gotta listen to this new country singer."

That was quite a few years ago, but so began my love for Taylor Swift. 

It's Taylor's personal life lately that has me all pumped and inspired. It's her posts and her interviews, her Instagrams and her tweets. She's posted videos of Easter egg hunts with her brother, dances with 7 year old fans, throwing surprise parties for her friends from high school, her cats doing hilariously weird things. She's put up pictures of sweaters knit by random fans, videos of herself awkwardly falling, old photos from middle school. Last Christmas, she delivered surprise gifts to some of her fans in a video that is hilariously sweet, deeply personal, and incredibly thoughtful (Swift-mas). 

She spent all summer touring the country, inviting other celebrities to join her on tour and share the stage with her. She sang their songs with them, invited her fans to go crazy over themShe cheers on her friends' success, she is gracious in drama, she champions her competitors. Ryan Adams, a fellow artist, recently released a cover album of Swift's 1989, to which she replied "IS THIS TRUE??? I WILL PASS OUT."

I mean, what a breath of fresh air! I cannot get enough of it. 
She promotes kindness and vulnerability, humor and a good-natured spirit. 

I read an article in Relevant recently about the impact Taylor is having on our culture. How musical artists are often more than the music they create, but rather of what they represent and what they value. Sure, everyone loved Elvis - his music and his moves - but he really represented a shifting cultural mood of the 1960's. He gave a voice to the rock 'n roll culture, one of individuality, of freedom and rebellion. It's most often what we, the people, are crying out for. What we desire. I like this quote, There's a tendency for music fans to use artists to help vocalize and embody things they want to see in culture. Trends and popularity are reflective not only of cultural values, but of cultural voids.

The article goes on to say that maybe the reason Taylor Swift has such a massive appeal is because of who she is and what she's about. Like this, "culture finds its next pop star in a girl-next-door who seems to have little interest in salaciousness, edginess, or picking fights. Swift's image is about uniting - stylistically and squad-listically - not dividing." 


I think this is really significant. I think Taylor Swift's promotion of other people vs. self-promotion is saying a lot. It says a lot about what we hunger for, about what kind of influence she has, of what kind of influence we're letting her have. I think her influence in how she treats other people is such a great one. We want unity and togetherness, kindness and grace. I mean, come on. At the latest music awards show, she introduced Kanye West (her award show nemesis) by saying, "I have been a fan of his since I can remember because Kanye defines what it is to be a creative force in music, fashion, and well, life."

She then called him her friend. 
Grace upon grace. 

I can see that maybe this is what people really deeply, innately need. We cannot be about what we are for, but who we are for. We don't have stages or summer concert tours, but let's give other people the spotlight. Love people. Help everyone succeed. 

On my recent quest for kindness, I have encountered and interacted and observed people that have left me so inspired. My sister, Taylor, Tee Muhammad. They are life changers. Each of these people has taught me something new about what it means to love people. There are so many layers to how we treat people. To help everyone succeed. To be generous in our attitudes and actions. To welcome.

A journey. Cheers! 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Toast

You guys. My sister got married last Saturday!! 

It was such joy. A celebration, a time to laugh, cry, be free, celebrate love and marriage and a new family beginning. Cousins and aunts and uncles and friends and old neighbors came into town from all over and we cried and laughed and ate for three days straight. We danced all night and we sang and we hugged each other's necks and told one another how much we loved each other. I got to see my sister radiate with light and squeal with glee as she married her love. I sat beside my brother at both the rehearsal and the reception and he made me laugh big laughs. He is a kindred spirit. It was a weekend to cherish.

Perfect in every way.

Here's the maid of honor speech I so thoroughly enjoyed writing and had the great honor of giving. It was a joy to speak these words. Every single word meant. Cheers!


The older I get, the more I realize how much my family has shaped me. The person I have become, and the person I have hopes to become is largely because of my family. They are incredible people. The Knuckles family is one that believes in one another, looks out for one another, and laughs with one another. 

Recently, this past Father's Day, all of us came home, we gathered around the dinner table, and each of us asked my dad questions. Questions about fatherhood, his favorite memories, stories about our family. Then it was my mom's turn, and she looked at my dad and asked him, "what are you most proud of for each one of your kids? What do you admire about each one of them?"

And I'll never forget what he said about my sister. He looked at her and he said, your selflessness. You have always put other people before yourself. 

And I thought, that's it. 

My whole life, I have seen Meredith sacrifice her wants for other people's needs. I have seen her sacrifice the easy for the hard. I have seen her sacrifice the front seat on car rides (for me), her comfort in moving all the way across the globe. You love people to a sacrificial level. It has shaped me tremendously. 

So when it comes to tonight, to marriage, to this beautiful union together, you understand the sacrifice it takes. Your very life has always been about loving others as Christ has loved us. You love people so well, and I know you will continue to love David in this same sacrificial way for as long as you both shall live. 

So, if I could give you both two words, two pieces of advice, as you enter into the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven.

Be brave and to be kind. 
Be brave when life is hard. Have courage when it's unpredictable and uncertain, mysterious and unclear. Choose courage because God has promised to be with you. He has gone before you, He is with you, and He hems you in as you go. There is nowhere that He is not. 

Be kind. Choose kindness always. Choose to honor one another with your words and with your actions. Choose to create a home of kindness, and to shower one another with love, even when you don't feel like it. 

Meredith, thank you for the way you have influenced me. Thank you for your random dancing (which we've already seen a lot of today), your infectious silliness, the light you are in a sometime dark world. I love you and I am deeply proud to call you my sister. David, thank you for the way you care for my sister. You are not only my friend, but you are family.

 Many cheers, many prayers, and many blessings for many rich years together! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

What Tragedy Has Taught Me

I don't often write about tragedy. Most of the time it's because I believe that words just won't do. Tragedy draws out the great tension of articulation. Other times, it's because I don't think I am the one to speak. Tragedy often makes me feel weird about the burden I have inherited. 

But what I am learning is two things.. which has led to the reason for this post. 
The first is that a crisis, a trauma, a tragedy has a communal effect that's almost ethereal. It's like the ripples of the ocean. There creates an incredible bond, heartrending conversation, a shared experience both with those close and with those far away. In a painful experience, people pull in close to one another in love and kindness. I am finding that it is indescribable. 

And the second is that sometimes there's inspiration in tragedy. 

I think often of the summer tragedy in Charleston. I think often of the people, of the hatred, of the love that turned out to be much stronger than the hatred. I think of heaviness that turns to hope, of brokenness that makes me curl up on the inside, of the resiliency of the human spirit. 

Most of all, I think of the welcome. 

It was welcome that allowed that young man to attend Bible study, that prayer group, on that particular night. Seething in hate, a stranger, he was welcomed into the church. He was welcomed into their building, into their study, their love, their time, into their community. It's the way the Church should be. 

If I'm being honest, I have felt betrayed and confused by the welcome. Is welcoming people in supposed to be so costly? Is it supposed to be this costly? Is it supposed to hurt this badly?  

What is most surreally stunning is the welcome in the aftermath. 
This quote, said by a hurting relative to the gunman at his arraignment, shakes me to my core.

"We welcomed you, Wednesday night, in our Bible study.. with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts. But, as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. And may God have mercy on you."

I stumble over the depth of what these dear people have uncovered about who God is. I am quite honestly in deep awe of the grace and humility these words hold. It seems otherworldly and, well, I think because it is. He is still welcome to receive. It echoes of Christ on the cross, welcoming the thief into paradise. Christ on the cross, praying forgiveness because his killers did not know what they were doing. It inspires me deeply. The costly welcome. 

These tragedies tear people from the inside out. I cannot speak to the immense grief and sadness personally, but I can imagine it might make you not want to move again in more ways than one. I feel it many layers away, and I grieve with these people I know and do not know. But what I have observed in the tragedy is this inner strength of hope. This courage that helps you move forward. It's that quote, isn't it?, that has this booming undercurrent of courage. Courage and hope that says, no matter what you do to us, no matter what happens, and no matter what cards life deals us, we know God is with us. May God have mercy on you. There's power in forgiveness, in welcoming people into grace and love, and I believe it lifts us up and moves us forward. 

It continues to inspire me. 

(My good friend writes over at FrenchpressedFridays about this power of resurrection in the face of unspeakable circumstances and I believe he says it best. Will you please check it out?)