• All Is Gift – A Letter (and Poem) FROM An Exile


    Hello Strangers and Friends,

    We’ve been getting your letters, emails, and stories from all over the world. Yes, I said “the world!” Wow! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Keep them coming. The first letter I want to share from an exile comes from Emma in Monee, IL.  She is a resilient and wildly creative 17-year-old young lady. She writes:

    At the beginning of the year, my youth group started Letters to the Exiles. The first episode sucked me in right away. (Honestly, it was probably the ukulele that did it. I play myself and community within obscurity is always welcome.) The phrase “all is gift” stuck with me and resonated with me deeply. I’d been struggling through my day to day life- dealing with social anxiety and inching towards making some tough “adult” decisions regarding college and life and scary things like that. Hearing that even the hard stuff was a gift was important.

    At the end of February, the youth group went on a winter retreat. The theme was Love, which coordinated with the series quite nicely. It was at this point where I started to internally question my gifts, and my anxiety began to get far worse. What difference could I make through theatre or music or art? It didn’t seem good enough. Even though I knew all is gift, it seemed like I got a little shortchanged. I worked myself into a little hole. My home life had been getting increasingly more volatile, I felt isolated, and plus it was dang cold outside.

    March 15th. I reached the end of my rope. I was done. I wanted to go. To sleep. To get some peace. I was beyond depressed, apathetic; anxiety had driven me into a corner I couldn’t escape from. At night, in the dark, I laid in my bed thinking about how all I wanted was to escape. I had no idea exactly I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it. But something inside me was still a little alive. The living thing in me made me text my friend. I didn’t tell him what was going on in my head. I just wanted to talk. He and I somehow (much to my chagrin) began talking about what exactly it means to be alive. I was being negative about it. But then. He reminded me. All is gift. We spent the next four hours talking about the gift God gave us, and how we can use it. How important being alive is and how I need to be present for it. Over the course of the next three days, we wound up writing a poem about what we spoke about, centering around the theme of “All is Gift.” The momentum from writing kept me moving, my friend unwittingly saved my life, and “all is gift” is the reason our conversation happened.

    April 5th was one of my roughest days in recent memory. Fortunately for me, April 6th was a Wednesday. Then came the video. The Economy of Wonder.

    I’m still trying to figure out what was so special about that particular video. Maybe it’s the fact that I was so worn out that seeing all the beauty revived me in a way. Whatever it was, I needed it. Seeing that there’s wonderful things among the most awful things was the most important lesson I could’ve learned that day. I was on Worship that night,  along with the friend-that-saved-my-life. It just so happened we were singing Beautiful Things by Gungor that night. So as I was singing “you are making me new” in front of the people I love and up to God, I cried. I felt safe. I felt new. The situation I was in was a gift. A learning experience.

    In the weeks since the series’ completion, so much good has happened: my family is closer than ever, and I still see beauty in uncommon places. I’m learning that God gave me my gifts for a specific purpose, and the potential to carry it out is already in me (because I’m an acorn.) The phrase “all is gift” is in my heart forever. I can’t begin to express my gratitude.


    {Isaiah 43:19!}

    The Poem

    Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the powerful poem that Emma and her friend wrote. With their permission, here it is:

    An Opus of Humanity, As Shared by Two People That Haven’t Been a Part of Said Humanity for Very Long
    When you see a teenager, head bowed to the neon being cradled in their palms, 
    you assume. 
    Assume often that their thumbs, busily tapping on the glass glowing in front of them, are printing out superficial, fleeting thoughts. 
    At times, this is true. 
    But other times, important streams of thought are flowing. 
    Big ideas, distributed via 
    Short Message Service. 
    Humans plan.
    “I will…”
    “My children will…”
    “My spouse will…”
    …my children will?
    …my spouse will?
    Slow down, honey
    You’re still in middle school.
    Life becomes merely an endless string
    of stochastic realities
    held together by nothing more than
    our own thoughts
    Our vision becomes fogged by sweet nothings
    Because postulated future is often far more alluring than
    Life slips through your fingers
    Life is not a spectator sport
    If we are fortunate enough to
    rise in the morning
    we know that we are about to enter into a day
    that we have a 50% chance of not living to
    see the conclusion of
    Frittering away existence
    static slumber,
    and hesitation
    is utterly ridiculous
    Instead, let us fill our days
    the smell of ionized air and earth after the rainfall,
    the drop in your belly when you drive on hilly roads at high speeds,
    the best kinds of eye contact,
    and freedom to be. 
    Life is a valuable opportunity to make something and be a part of something incredible.
    Consume more
    Eat less
    Airbrush this
    Delete that
    Pretty, pretty, perfect
    Filters and apps to enhance reality
    We spend our lives blending in
    in order to avoid ridicule
    Nearly disguising the fact that we are
    fearfully and wonderfully
    crafted individuals
    Let us become confident in our identities
    so negativity can bounce off us
    and give us headspace to focus on being the awesome people we are
    A huge part of this thing we call
    is sharing
    Watching others experience something new. Friendships.
    Shared experiences.
    Living in a moment with other people
    and noticing how they experience life in ways radically different than you do
    Then, there’s the chance you stumble
    upon the person who complements
    your love for existence
    in the strangest
    and most synchronous ways
    Such is the true yearning of the human heart
    People squander their existence
    with unattainable goals
    All of their time and effort is expended upon reaching the impossible
    And happiness passes them by.
    Happy takes practice
    Happy takes acceptance
    Through the tempests in our path,
    we must accept the challenges
    Struggle, toil, and agony
    sting and torment
    bring us to our lowest
    And yet
    When we are at the recesses of existence, there is nowhere to go but upwards
    And your cherished ones provide an
    ample grip for your weary grasp
    All is gift.
    A motto. A mantra. A thought process
    Passing moments
    Brief sparks of contact that may reignite one day
    All is gift.
    Beauty in the small things
    The smell of breakfast and laundry radiating from a home on Saturday mornings
    The feeling of thin ice over a puddle breaking under your toes
    Beauty in people
    Chipped teeth
    Crooked noses
    Beauty in highs
    Beauty in lows
    All is gift
    Sharing your experiences with yourself
    And with the hearts of your own heart
    Don’t wait for your life to start.
    Life is now.
    When you see a teenager, head bowed to the neon being cradled in their palms, 
    you assume. 
    Assume often that their thumbs, busily tapping on the glass glowing in front of them, are printing out superficial, fleeting thoughts. 
    At times, this is true. 
    But other times, important streams of thought are flowing. 
    Big ideas, distributed via 
    Short Message Service.
    Because people are Naive
    We become so numb to the minor traits that begin to define us
    We become so enraptured by our own desires that we cheat ourselves out of reality
    Our monotonous routines drunkenly filter our vision to a point where we can’t even walk straight
    The bigger picture
    Stop assuming life is going to be handed to you
    Go out and experience it for yourself
    It is selfish to assume anything about our future is guaranteed
    Let us rather enjoy the now
    How far will we go before we take off the blinders?
    Because without it, life ceases.
    We get one shot at living
    So it amazes me that an incredible amount of us all are willing to watch it pass by
    Sweet smells
    Lingered eye contact
    Crisp midnight air
    All show us the little things that can truly make an impact if we simply allow them to
    Burning fingers in the cold
    Bitter tastes
    Broken feelings
    All remind us that we’re alive
    Pain is temporary, but do memories not live forever?
    Because it is simply revolting the state in which I find our society.
    Who wants to live life according to anyone else’s expectations or desires?
    Why does it seem to be such an insurmountable feat to shatter what’s supposedly predetermined for us?
    We live our lives in fear of
    Stuck in this abeyance
    When we could be experiencing our one shot at existence to its full potential.
    Seriously, have you smelled that ionized air?
    Because a generous portion of our ability to function as a race is thanks to our capacity to interact amidst one another.
    Learning through the lows
    Being fully conscious of the highs
    Life’s opportunities become exorbitantly raised when we decide to live life out with others
    We build these unfathomable connections and tap into each other’s unrestricted hysteria
    After all, aren’t we all simply anticipating that one person who we wouldn’t mind going mad for?
    Because in the midst of our lows, we see the magnitude of our highs
    We all wish for more
    It seems to be the existential crisis
    We are told that if we do not attain a certain standard then we are simply not good enough
    That if we can’t find our perfect harmonies our whole piece will crash
    When in reality it is amidst the
    Knocking us down
    That it becomes abundantly apparent
    Happiness is chosen
    We can wallow
    Or we can reach out to ones who have proven to be stronger than we are alone
    When will we accept that all our scars map out where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come?
    Because all is gift
    We all view and experience our lives in different ways
    While our views are completely unique in and of themselves
    We still have this existential desire to share our experiences with one another
    Uncontrollable smiles
    The urge to spread the gifts we’ve discovered is too much.
    But sometimes we have
    Gloomy skies
    Bad hair days
    Our flaws we become so self conscious of
    While in the midst of what seems like a storm, everything still manages to have a purpose
    Everything is still a gift
    We have all been given that same opportunity, but not all of us will take it.
    When you see a teenager, head bowed to the neon being cradled in their palms, 
    you assume. 
    Assume often that their thumbs, busily tapping on the glass glowing in front of them, are printing out superficial, fleeting thoughts. 
    At times, this is true. 
    But other times, important streams of thought are flowing. 
    Big ideas, distributed via 
    Short Message Service.
    written by E. Knabe and J. Dascenzo

    photo credit: Kanile’a Cavaquinho via photopin (license)

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