Des Fleurs Fraîches.

The days have finally turned warm here in Virginia. We had one of the harshest, coldest winters I can remember. Some days I spent in bed, curled up with fuzzy socks and chai tea and doing nothing but watching Netflix Documentary and writing more chapters of my book while it snowed and snowed and snowed. My car was stuck in the driveway and I was in a perpetually semi-annoyed mood. Thanks a lot, Virginia. I got to really know my room this winter. We’re like best friends by now. Not.

Then the calendar page flipped and March fell upon us. And the snow melted into the earth and formed thick red mud and wild things began to grow. Today I saw daffodils on the side of the highway. The naked trees are budding. My allergies are killing me and all these things can only add up to mean one thing: It’s springtime in Virginia.

I’m an adventure-oriented person. Not an extrovert. Not a party animal. Not a daredevil. But I like long days spent with one or two friends driving in the car, cracking the windows, listening to music, and exploring old and new places. 

Yesterday Hannah and I took my friend Lydia to see The Art of the Flower at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We left after church when the sun was settled and parked a couple blocks from the museum, walking under the wide blue skies and looking both ways before we crossed the street (we country girls can survive in the city, okay?). We sat outside for a while on the museum terrace and watched dads walk by with kids on their shoulders and old women chat over brochures and maps. Then we took the elevator to the lower level of the museum and handed in our tickets to the exhibit.

The paintings were gorgeous. There’s something otherworldly about seeing beautiful art up close. Pictures are great and books are true gifts, but the texture and pigment of paint can’t be captured on film. Twenty six letters aren’t accurate vehicles for the transportation of color and shape into words and sentences, no matter how you arrange them. We lingered over the Van Goghs and stood too close to the Manets and snuck pictures of the Matisses. The halls were crowded with graying men and disheveled students and hand-holding couples. We stuck together and drifted apart and whispered what we liked and fell in love with the flowers. We are women, after all.

Inspired by the paintings, we drove a few blocks over to a street lined with shops, cafes, and mini galleries where a man named Christopher can be found selling flowers every Sunday afternoon. He talks to us while he plucks a rose from one bucket and a lily from another. I ask him how his business was started and he tells the story of being a young boy standing next to his mother while she sold flowers on the side of the road in the 80′s. How she told him, “Christopher, get me this,” and “Christopher pair it with that,” and let him help her bundle roses on holidays. He wraps my bouquet in plastic and ties it with a rubber band, telling me that he tried his hand at going solo when he was eighteen and never looked back. “I think I’ll take up salsa dancing when I’m older,” he says, handing me the wildflowers. “I want to be cool and relaxed.” He only charges us six dollars each, every single time. “I’ll just hike up the price of your wedding. Your parents will cover the difference some day.” A little smile, a tiny wink. He puts up a sign with his number and heads back into the cafe to finish dinner and we drive home with the car smelling like lilies.

There are grand events in life. Weddings, graduations, first kisses, first cries. But then there are chilly March days when the sun shines brightly on the sidewalk and the wind nips your ears in the shade that take you by surprise and leave you breathless.

And each year I discover a few of each.

-Rachel

{all iPhone pics}

UPDATE: Dream Factory Workshop Date CHANGED

Hey guys! A lot of you probably remember my post back in January announcing a Spring 2015 Dream Factory Workshop. I’m bringing it up because I just recently CHANGED the dates to that workshop. There were several girls who wanted to come but couldn’t get out of school/work/etc. in May, so to accommodate their requests, I moved the workshop back one month.

THE NEW DATES FOR THE WORKSHOP ARE JUNE 19-21, 2015.

It will still be fun. We will still have adventures. We’ll still run around town in sundresses and cut off shorts. We’ll still bake. We’ll still eat good food and tell good stories and take good pictures and meet good people.

All of the girl previously signed up will be able to make it in June, but if you had passed on a May workshop just because it didn’t fit into your schedule, please think about joining us this summer! I still have two available slots right now and I’d love to have you in my home. Registration is still $400 for three days of storytelling and adventuring, and you can request more information by emailing me at rachelcokerwrites(at)hotmail(dot)com.

I hope to see you there! You can read more about The Dream Factory Workshop here! (Just keep in mind that the date has been changed and that we will be doing seasonal June activities)

-Rachel

365 Days Later

This weekend marks the one-year mark of when I left for Thailand last spring. On March 15th, 2014 I woke up before the sun and rode to the airport with my mom and two younger sisters. I remember sitting in the front seat of the car and feeling like I was going to throw up whatever remained of my early morning half-breakfast. It was still chilly and everything was dark, but I left the windows down so the cold wind snapped my face and kept me from hurling. I’m just being honest here. I was freaked out of my mind.

I’ve spent the last week pulling out old SD cards and reading through over fifty journal entries from my time in South East Asia. I think those were two of the best decisions I made during my time overseas. I took lots of pictures. Hundreds and hundreds (maybe even a thousand?) of photographs of my life in Thailand and my brief trips to the other three countries I visited. I also journaled a couple times a week, recording everything from lists of things I’d bought to recountings of adventures I’d had to very raw scribblings of emotions I was wading through. I look at those pictures and read through those entries now and openly cry. I’m still being honest. It was a gut-wrenching and beautiful and insane time of life that still feels very new, three hundred and sixty five days later.

I’ve known that I wanted to do a “One Year Later” post for quite some time, and I’ve looked through slideshows and drawn out pictures and thought about what I might say here. But as I sit here typing, I really feel like I’m at a loss for words.

My life was changed by that trip in a million big, scary, tiny, detailed, infinitesimal ways. There’s a hundred stories I could tell. Emotions I could share. Both from my time in South East Asia and the strained months I spent back home immediately afterwards. I could talk about culture shock and what it feels like to sit on your own and know you’re alone. I could get really honest and overshare about spending time away from home when you’re teetering in between childhood and adulthood, and the strain that causes in a family–the awkward readjusting to coming back to live under your parents’ roof after feeling independent for a while. Obviously I could talk about the “hard moments” of my life in Thailand — about the time my roommate made me cry, or I tried to go out alone and couldn’t order food, or my breakdown in the grocery store, or the afternoon I sat under the parking garage for half an hour in the rain and everyone asked if I was okay. Sometimes I wasn’t okay. Sometimes I felt like my life there sucked. And sometimes I felt like coming back home sucked even more. Like no one understood me. Like my family just didn’t get it. I felt alone in Thailand and I felt alone back in the States and no one told me it would be like this before I went.

But after thinking about it, I really don’t want to talk about all the hard parts of my four month trip to Asia. They’re important to my story, and one day I’ll write them all out and share in detail about the highs and lows of my trip abroad. But for now I want to think about how Asia changed me in a good way. The stress made me stronger. My frail and fraying emotions taught me to be patient with people I don’t relate to. My contact with parents and children in poverty taught me to spend less, to give more. The vibrancy of believers taught me to pursue deep relationships with true followers of Christ, and to forsake the stuffy and surface-level religion that characterizes America. The magnitude of God deepened my trust in His overflowing love for everyone, everywhere. The splendor and gold-coated facade of decayed and empty worship broke my heart for the lost and slowly dying people of the world.

Spend more than one or two weeks in any foreign country and your world immediately gets bigger. It takes time to make it stretch. The first week or two you spend in a place and everything feels bright and disorienting and incredible. Poverty is devastatingly horrific. Markets are awe-inspiringly beautiful. The scents and sights and people are a fantastic blur and, while your heart is pierced, they sometimes seem story-like in their sadness and beauty.

But something happens in that third week. In that fourth week. Things become familiar. Sights that were once fantastic and strange become ordinary. Places that once felt uncomfortable somehow become normal, like a newly engaged bride-to-be who stops twisting her diamond ring after six or seven days. You recognize faces. Know words. Have “your spot”s. You might even settle into routines, like Friday morning breakfasts with a friend or weekend movie nights with two spunky parents and their dark-haired little boys. You stop craving french fries. You need rice with everything. You can compare the tom sum at one spot to the tom sum at another. It’s not a trip anymore. It’s your life.

That’s what living for four months in Thailand felt like. It didn’t feel like a vacation, or a missions trip, or a never-ending adventure. It was my life. I had a home there. A bedroom that was mine. I had routines. Ministries. A job. There were places I liked to go for lunch and a walking route I took in the afternoon and inside jokes I held with people in the office. Coming home from that was more than just hard or sad–it took abruptly ending one life to fall back into another.

Am I glad to be back in the United States? Absolutely. I’ve done amazing things since coming back from Asia. I’ve flown to Portland and eaten tacos with my best friend, dressed up for parties, spent New Year in the mountains, ordered half a dozen hamburgers (the good, greasy kind), been on dates, seen Chicago in the snow, signed books, picked apples, survived roller coasters, and taken road trips. America is good. Living in America is so, so great. I cherish the time I spend with my family and I rejoice over making new friends and spending time with old ones.

But do I still miss Thailand? Yes. Absolutely. It comes and goes in waves, but deep down it’s always there. I miss my roommate and the way we’d complain about the lack of Katy Perry music on the radio while we split garlic fish and ate dinner together by the water. I miss going on short little trips across South East Asia and sit on tiny airplanes with flight attendants in long, traditional costumes while a translator relayed the safety precautions in broken English for us. I miss mountains. Actually, I miss mountains a lot, and the way the air was dank and warm (even if everyone sweated all the time), and the bright orange buds on all the trees and the fresh pineapple juice always for sale. I really miss Thai food and being able to get an egg on my fried rice (they don’t do that here) and learning to take things s-p-i-c-y and drinking smoothies with every other meal. I miss the village kids with their sticky hands and the way they’d point at my rear end and shout “bum!” and call me “teacher”, since those were the only English words they knew.

But, one year later, it’s getting easier to find a balance between my Thai life and my American one. I may have only spent a third of a year in South East Asia, but I know that it will always effect the way I live my life here in the States. The way I seek out cross-cultural friendships. The way I crave Asian food. The way I make things spicy and wear bright colors and hate the snow. But also in the way I crave pure worship and deep relationships and spontaneous adventure. I learned so much about myself in Thailand and, even though I’m always changing, I don’t want to forget those hard-earned lessons.

Twelve months have come and gone since that morning I rolled down the windows in the dark and embarked on a long, lonely journey on the other side of the world. And this year on March 15th I’ll be setting my alarm early and riding to church with my family and driving my boyfriend to the airport in the afternoon. It’ll be entirely different, but there is comfort in the fact that life is always changing. My world won’t always stay the way it is now. There will be more adventures and journeys that change me, and more ordinary days and quiet moments that mold me, too.

So here’s to the one-year mark and the photos I still love and the stories I still hold from my time in South East Asia.

- Rachel

Friday Lists

Non-Guilty Pleasures

Peanut butter

Taylor Swift

Vanity Fair Magazine

Netflix doumentaries

Free People bralettes

New Girl

 

Recent Purchases

Overalls

Fresh flowers from Trader Joes

Starbucks chai latte

$5 Kate Spade espadrilles from Goodwill

Jiffy Lube oil change Groupon

 

Books on Hold at the Library

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

 

March Music Playlist

This Must Be the Place – Talking Heads

Sunday Morning – The Velvet Underground

Violent Silence – Beatrice Eli

Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

Piledriver Waltz – Alex Turner

Helena – Nickel Creek

Wild Heart – Stevie Nicks

 

Things I’m Excited About

My boyfriend comes to town tomorrow!

Next week it should finally feel like spring

Soon the cherry blossoms in DC will be in bloom

I finally made it to the halfway point in Book #3′s first draft

Tickets have been bought to visit my grandpa in Key West this May

I’m now a staff writer at Local Wolves Magazine

It’s practically the weekend, right?

 

Happy Friday! xoxo

-Rachel

 

Cries of Joy

This has actually been a vaguely depressing week for me. Not because I haven’t done fun things–I have! I’ve eaten toasted bagels at eleven pm and watched horror movies with friends and slept in and burnt my tongue on hot chai and bought old books and devoured several squares of dark chocolate. I got my first college acceptance letter with a scholarship offer worth being excited about, and found out that my writing is going to be published in three different magazines. If I ever had a reason to be thankful, this week would epitomize it. I’m young and strong and I’ve been given incredible opportunities to really grasp and savor life.

But lately I’ve felt almost overwhelmed with how happy my life is. It’s as if God’s been working a slow metamorphosis in my heart and I’m cracked and bleeding under the pressure of beginning to understand other people’s pain. Contrasted to my own life, thinking about that hurts.

I remember experiencing this after I came home from Asia. Standing in a moment of hot joy and knowing the deep parts of me were sinking beneath the surface. What right do I have to feel happy? What right do I have to laugh? To know joy? To face the sun in the knowledge that my life is smooth and easy, that my bank account is full, that my skin is clear and warm?

It’s never easy to turn off the voice in your head that says, “What about the hurting? What about the lost? What about the broken?” But it is easy to drown it out with other things. Because if you sit in the silence and really listen, the walls of your heart come caving in. What about the hurting? The lost? The broken? There’s so much darkness. So much pain. Even if you worked your hands raw, even if you gave the clothes off your back and the pennies in your wallet, it wouldn’t be enough. You’d still lie awake in bed at night thinking you weren’t doing enough.

Some of you may have seen my somewhat heated Instagram post last week as a response to “The Dress” controversy. I’m not going to lie. I was mad. I’d blogged earlier in the week about the issue of eating disorders and how we can show love to ourselves and others by choosing worship in the way we eat. That same day, I’d been reading numerous articles about the twenty seven million humans trapped in slavery today, and how activists all over were trying to raise awareness on the issue of sex trafficking through social media. These issues seem so big to me. So swallowing in their impossibility and sadness. I was as fascinated with the dress controversy as anyone, but only for about thirty minutes. After that, I honestly struggled with my anger and disappointment at the tens of thousands of Americans who flooded social media with heated debate over the color of a dress. I enjoyed the playful bantering, but there was an underlying urgency that disturbed me. One hundred and seventeen comments. People bickering back and forth–losing sleep, going crazy, feeling out of their minds over this dress.

I feel out of my mind. I feel impossibly small, ridiculously helpless. Everything hurts me. I watched the documentary “The Act of Killing” and cried. I’ve been to this country and sat in these homes. I know that these aren’t faces on a screen that are being filmed as a political or social message. They’re real. They’re soft and they smell a little bit like sweet tea and they’re toasted from the sun. I cried because the seams of my heart were plucked and something was seeping out.

Then I stumbled across an article in a magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office about Norwegian bloggers who were sent to South East Asia to work in the sweatshops where most of their clothes are made. Curious, I went home and looked up the videos from the trip. More tears. More weeping. More places I recognized and people I knew to be real. To be true. I knew the sights and scents and sounds and I knew the hurting and the desperation.

And yet, in spite of all my aching and grieving over the slaves and the bulimics and the factory workers and the minority groups and the battered and bruised peoples of this world, I’m still chiefly angry at myself. It’s easy for me to feel frustrated to the point of tears at the failed efforts of most of America’s politicians. To be mad at the family members and friends who roll their eyes at me and make me feel silly and emotional. It’s even easy for me to post something impassioned on social media and guilt other people into acknowledging their own failures to make a difference.

The hard part is stopping to look at me. At Rachel. I rob myself of being able to experience true joy because I refuse to believe I’m worthy of it. In the midst of my rants and tears and appeals for justice, I can’t avoid the withering voice that tells me I’m partially to blame for the evil I see in the world. Because I don’t give enough. Because I live too comfortably. Because I’m quick to point and slow to act. Anxious to blame others and hesitant to examine the sin in my own life.

I’ve cried myself into a works-based religion. The type of faith that says, “Jesus, you’ve done too much for me and I need to do a little more to make up for that.” Just because I sleep in a queen sized bed. Because my bread comes from Trader Joes. Because that bag I bought wasn’t on sale. My empathy and tears for the sufferings of others has deceived me into believing my walk is less important.

I don’t live like a monk. I buy songs off iTunes. I go to Starbucks. I print pictures and do too much laundry and I’ve even shopped at The Gap before. Sometimes I write checks for the mission trips of friends or worth strangers. I do that thing where I buy jewelry made by uneducated girls in Bolivia. Once a year, I use some of my Christmas money to donate a big chunk to orphans in India or a college graduate in The World Race or international missions. But that’s usually it. I’m definitely not giving hundreds of dollars each month to feed the hungry and clothe the widows and educate the orphans of this world.

But how many times have I told myself it’s all or nothing? Instead of asking, “How can I live more sacrificially?” I ask, “How can I live with myself?” I’ve duped myself into believing that unless I pull the shoes off my feet and rub ashes on my face and spend my life in the sweatshops with the Cambodians, that my witness is in vain. And so I feel guilty, sad, and scared.

We’ve been taught for years that joy exists outside of circumstances. That even the martyrs and the persecuted Christians and the sweatshop workers and sex slaves can experience joy because the trials of this life pale in comparison to the glories of heaven.

But what about those of us who lead happy, full lives? Is it almost just as hard for us to experience joy sometimes, because we feel so completely unworthy of it? That’s definitely where I am right now. I refuse to let God fill my tank, because I want to prove to Him that I can run on it empty. Try me, God. Strip me. Send me to the factory. Give me to the nations. Make it hard to love you and let me love you more.

That’s the prayer we want to offer up. Make us super-human. Super-Christian. Give us the extraordinary capacity for joy and help us make a difference.

The prayer of the twenty-first century American is harder. Sitting in your two hundred thousand dollar home. Wearing J. Crew jeans and mashing sweet potatoes. How do we ask God to give us joy as we go to work, to sit in our offices and update websites or write articles or edit photos? How do we ask Him to give us joy at the movies with our friends, at the park with our boyfriend, in the car with our family? These things are all so good. So full and happy already. We think we need joy for the suffering and we reject it for the blessings. There’s no room for joy because my life is too happy. Because my circumstances are too easy. And because I’ve done nothing to make it harder, or sadder, or more uncomfortable.

I don’t know how many tears I will spill over the things I learn about life apart from my own. The low income black families struggling to keep food on the table in inner city circles. The children of divorced parents. The girls who have been raped by those they trusted. The lies of authorities and scandals of politicians. I don’t know how many times I’ll break over the cruelty that not only exists in, but rather rules our world.

But I’m learning that my good life is not some kind of curse. I know I will feel pain, but I can’t measure it against the pain of others. I can only wait and trust that God is working all things out for His good, and that even the small, seemingly unimportant ways He uses me are valid.

Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”

I know what “cries of joy” means to most people. It means laughter, exuberance, lifted spirits.

But to me, crying equals sobs. Joy is found in the clapping hands just like it’s found in the tears. In the moments I am thrilled with life, I will praise Him, and in the moments life breaks me, I will praise Him. Because I am a person who feels deeply, who cares deeply, my joy will sometimes be expressed by crying. Sobbing over evil but rejoicing over the fact that these people who are broken and hurt are cradled in His hands. I can’t give up hope because I know that the salvation of the nations doesn’t rest on me. It rests on a God who cares, who heals, who holds, and who brings joy to every situation. I can still make sacrifices, but I have rest in the knowledge that nothing I could ever do or give would be more than what He has already done.

So the next time I go off on a rant about something, be it sex trafficking or global missions or sweatshop laborers, know that I am doing it out of a heart that is burdened but joyful about what God is doing in the world. He is making all things beautiful, in His time, but I always want to be one of the few who shone light in the darkness and witnessed the transformation.

-Rachel

GRAFTED MAGAZINE | Issue Five

Just a quick note for those of you who are interested in reading what I have to say on other parts of the interwebs…

This month I was blessed with the opportunity to write an article for Issue Five of Grafted Magazine! For those of you who have never heard of it, Grafted Magazine is a beautiful endeavor created by a community of talented young people who are passionate about spreading truth by creating a high quality online magazine. I’ve enjoyed reading the last four issues and, after exchanging a few emails with editor-in-chief Johanna Schnakenberg, decided to write a piece for this newest edition!

Issue Five is all about evangelizing our families with the Gospel, so inside you’ll find an open letter I wrote to my twelve-year-old sister, Ruth. There’s also poems, short stories, and passionate calls to action written by other incredible young people. I’ve already read through it, but I know I’ll be going back again and again to re-read my favorite pieces before the next issue.

So please, when you have a minute, check out the current issue here and tell me what you think! What was your favorite article?

-Rachel