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Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Home Alone Diaries

Written June 22nd:

I’ve spent the past 19 days with my dog, home alone and holding down the fort while my parents went gallivanting through Europe for their 30th wedding anniversary. Considering I spent all last fall gallivanting through Europe, and considering it’s a pretty great accomplishment to stay married to someone for 30 years, I sent them off with much excitement. They were visiting some places I’d been to in the fall (Rome, Cinque Terre, Pisa) and I LOVED that we shared that, that I knew exactly where they were going. I could picture the view in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, picture the Crayola-colored houses of Cinque Terre, picture the baptistery and church in Pisa that never make it into the pictures, but are right there next to the leaning tower. So, I waved them out of the driveway with a “have fun! Be adventurers! Don’t worry about a thing, I won’t burn the house down!”

Commence home alone experience. You really find out what kind of person you are when you live all alone in a big ole’ house for a few weeks. Can you roll over and nod off when you hear creaking around the house, or are you more the axe-wielding type? I thought I’d be the latter, but it turns out I’m the former. I’d made a plan that, worse comes to worse, I’d fend off an intruder with the nearest heavy object - which turned out to be either a Bible or a handheld vacuum cleaner. But never once did I roam the house, vacuum in one hand, phone in the other ready to dial 911. 

Being alone, still, and silent for extended periods of time is something we as a society are afraid of, I think. We stick earbuds in and crank up the volume, scared of what thoughts we might have to face in the silence, what person or question might come to mind if we take a second to let ourselves be still. What a paradox it is that the sound of silence can be louder than the noisiest of crowds. I struggle with this as much as the next person, but the perfect opportunity was placed before me (story of my life this summer, but more on that another day) to spend some time in silence and solitude, and I chose to say yes, to say thank you, opportunity, for knocking at my door. Let’s see what you’re made of.

Opportunity knocked. Responsibility called. And I answered. Student, preschool teacher, athlete, repairwoman, exterminator, gardener, chef extraordinaire, chief of security, dog walker, pool girl. Phew, it’s been quite the few weeks. Being the sole Hagen in El Dorado Hills taught me a lot about myself and the people that surround me. I need both my fingers and my toes to count how many people came over to visit, skyped with me, called me to check in, and told me ‘if you need ANYTHING, you call us.’ To have that kind of community – I am thankful, my heart is full.

My home alone routine?
Dinner Dates: Every night I chose who I wanted to eat dinner with – Richard Castle, TED Talks, Sister Bertrille, the opportunities were endless. I also learned that I’ll eat a whole lot of broccoli for dinner – just broccoli – and then wonder why I’m starving 2 hours later. Duh, Emily. Protein, gotta work on that.
No one was there to stop me, so I baked cookies and cobblers at 11 pm. I hosted concerts for my dog every night while doing the dishes, belting out the tunes like nobody's business.
My lawn mowing skills improved from mowing like a drunken sailor to mowing like a sober person (yay progress!). I almost fell in the pool while checking the pool chemicals. How embarrassing, I can’t believe I’m even sharing that.
Ant Invasion: I fended off a few hundred ants in an ant invasion in the laundry room like a boss. Those ants didn’t know what hit them. They won’t be messing with Emily Hagen anytime soon, I'll leave it at that.

Full days led to full nights. I didn't live monk-status for 19 days, but I made sure the TV wasn't always on. I gave my mind time to wander, my heart time to search, my feet the chance to walk and explore, my eyes the chance to open and see the world anew.

It’s easy to be scared when you’re alone, to be scared that no one cares, that everyone else is at some great party that you didn’t get invited to. It’s easy to push the silence away with the touch of a button, refusing to slow down, refusing to listen, refusing to face the questions or feelings we’ve been running from all along. There’s something about silence, about being alone, that is both wonderful and terrifying.

There exist two types of silences, I think. The cold, lonely silence and the rich, filling silence. One leaves you feeling small and empty inside. The other, satisfied and comforted.

We were meant to live in community, of that I am more than certain. But, in one of the great paradoxes of life, it is equally important to stand on your own two feet, to silence your own racing heart, to be comfortable in your own skin and to own the silence. 

I am learning. More and more.

To be comfortable in who I am I must remember whose I am. Ephesians 2, anyone?

The silence I felt was incredibly filling, incredibly rich. It felt full, this silence, full and thick with possibility and wonder and growth. The world is a big, big place. There are places to go, things to do, people to meet and share life with. There are callings to be found, adventures to be had. It’s a big world, and the future is very bright.

In Home Alone Kevin McAlister says, “This is my house and I have to defend it!” That boy knows what's up, he wraps up my feelings in one dramatic sentence. The home is still standing. I am alive. The dog is alive. Success.

Over and out from the Hagen household. As much as I enjoyed my sojourn living alone, I’m grateful to have some company back in this house...and some pesto and pasta from Cinque Terre just waiting to be cooked.

It’s 105 degrees in the shade here. I hope it’s cooler wherever you’re at, friend. Thanks for sticking with my ramblings this long, you're a champ.

Here’s to you and to me, to finding who we are and whose we are. And to answering the door with joy and grace, even when you don’t know what’s knocking.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How a Yoga Mat Changed My Summer

All the cool people at the gym have their own yoga mats. Have you ever noticed that before? You know someone's the real deal if they walk into class with their own mat. Watch out, world. One day, amongst a sea of blue and purple yoga mats, I noticed one with words on it. The text caught my eye, so as I was putting my weights away I looked over to see what it said. "Do what you want to do, and do it often." Huh. It was the end of class, so I quickly grabbed my water bottle and car keys and headed home. Driving through my neighborhood, I couldn't get that phrase out of my head. 'Do what you want to do, and do it often.' 

It's so easy to get caught up with work and school and life that we forget to actually enjoy ourselves. We forget to really live, to do the things that make us happy and make us come alive, purposefully. They are good for our souls and good for our mental health. These small things have the power to bring joy and renewed purpose into our lives. They deserve to be done - often. The 10 simple words printed on that mat have shaped my entire summer.

Do what you want to do, and do it often.

So, I thought about all the things that I want to do and like to do, and I've been doing them. Simple, yet profound. Oh the paradox of it all. I've been eating spinach salads, walking the dog, taking kickboxing classes at the gym. Sitting on the back porch reading, watching old TV shows and reruns of Castle, running for miles. Loving on children. Writing letters to friends. Smiling. Painting. Emptying the dishwasher (yes, I enjoy emptying the dishwasher, quite a lot, in fact). Hugging 2-year-old babes and putting band-aids on 4-year-old scraped knees. Catching up with high school friends. Eating copious amounts of broccoli and corn on the cob and pineapple and greek yogurt. Writing down the funny things the kiddos at work say so I can report back to my parents. Spending serious time in the Bible. Reading books that challenge and grow my faith. Drinking lemonade and peach tea. Baking fruit crisps and crumbles with whatever fruit’s in the fridge. Buying food for the food bank. Jumping in the pool after a sweaty workout. Writing letters to soldiers overseas and Christians in prison overseas. Eating dark chocolate on the deck while doing summer school (anything to make summer school a little sweeter). These are things that I love to do, that I want to do, a (short) list of the simple, daily things that make me happy and make me a better person. This is my one life to live, so I’m doing those things that make me come alive, and I’m going to do them often. 

Here's to yoga mats and the simple life. I hope you do what you want to do, and I hope you do it often.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ducks In A Row

Trust, this five-letter word has been killin’ me lately. I’ve been overwhelmed with all that needs to get done with summer and found myself caught in the I-must-figure-out-my-entire-life trap. Neither are good. Neither bring me to a good place.

And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). That’s it. He doesn’t ask us to plan it all out, doesn’t ask us to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. He asks us to do his will today, to do justly today, to love mercy today, to walk humbly with Him today. Thud. Grace. 

“All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.” –Oswald Chambers


I’m learning to admit when I feel overwhelmed. I say those two little words out loud, “I’m overwhelmed,” and I’m already on the road to recovery. Because it’s when I ignore it that things go downhill, and fast. I shove it in a closet and shut the door but it's still there, waiting for me when I open the closet again. For me, saying things releases them. It doesn’t matter if I say them to a friend or whisper them to myself, saying something out loud frees me from it. I say “I’m overwhelmed” and I feel better, instantly. The problem isn’t solved, but I can take a few breaths, say a few prayers, and move on with my day, the same exact day that I was overwhelmed with, except I’ve kicked overwhelmed to the curb.

This is what I’ve found:
It’s when I’m overwhelmed that I don’t trust.
And it’s when I don’t trust that I forget that God is good.
And it’s when I forget that God is good that I take Him out of the equation.
And it’s when I take God out of the equation that I take out my planner instead, trying to make sense of everything and plan my life using color-coded pens, complete with flow charts, captions, and Venn Diagrams.
And all the while God’s been knocking at the door, patiently. And the louder He knocks the more franticly I scribble, like a student during the last 5 minutes of an exam with too many essay questions. 

There’s a part of me that wants to plan everything out and have all the answers, but there’s a bigger part of me that doesn’t. That bigger part knows that as soon as I open the door I’ll rush into God’s arms and be safe, and I want that more than my frantic scribbling, but it also means that I’ll have to let go of my planner and my color-coded pens and trust him deep, deep into the recesses of my being. But I want that more than I want to be in control – because from experience I know that things don’t work when I clutch my pens and scribble and micromanage, I’ve no time left to live, you see – so I open the door and He always wraps His arms around me. I look to the ground like a child who knows they’ve done wrong as I hand over my planner and my pens to God in exchange for one thing – Himself.


I don’t have all my ducks in a row. Sometimes I wish I did, just like I wish my life could be conveniently color-coded in a planner. But you know what? I don’t think I’m alone in this. No one else has their ducks in a row, either. We all like to pretend that we do, but really we have no idea what life might be like in 3 months, 1 year, 3 years. And that scares us, not being in control, but we don’t let anyone know it. Still we pretend, we put on cute outfits and don’t leave the house without make-up and pretend we’re all put together when really we’re not. It’s all a big game and we all know it, but we keep on playing.

But I’ve found that life doesn’t seem so scary when I let down my façade and walk humbly with the people around me. Because I don’t have my ducks in a row and these friends know it…but they’re aren't going anywhere. They don’t mind that I get overwhelmed sometimes, they laugh when I say naïve, silly things without thinking, they want to do life together and talk about things that matter. They love me for who I am.

I’ve realized something else recently, too: I like who I am when I’m real with people, when I don’t pretend like everything in my life is perfect. I like who I am when I’m vulnerable, when people walk with me through the twists and turns of life and I walk with them. That’s real, true friendship.

I’m praying for the bravery to stop playing the perfection game. God is always good and I am always loved, and somehow, life really is beautiful and hard and messy and wonderful all at the same time. I can still give the world all my smiles, positivity, and joy, because it’s genuine, never question that, and such a large part of who I am, but I can also more readily admit when things are hard, when I need prayer. I’ve grown so much in my ability to be vulnerable this past year. It’s refreshing and exciting to be vulnerable, but also very, very scary, because being vulnerable opens you up to hurt so much more. To all my friends who have demonstrated firsthand what real vulnerability looks like in friendships, thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there when I wasn't willing to put myself out there first. When people share deeply with me, they remind me that I can share deeply with them. I can share my hopes and my dreams, my struggles, the things that I lay awake thinking about at night. I can go on from those conversations and share with others – I don’t have everything figured out but I’m trusting God, that He does, and choosing to walk by faith. Maybe that can remind someone that they don’t have to play the perfection game, either. In a never-ending chain reaction we can do our duty, live by faith, in community, and reap the benefits of the fullest life. That sounds pretty good, if you’re asking me.

Here’s to the beauty of vulnerability, to whispering trust a thousand times a day, and to not having all your ducks in a row.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Hello, blog! I’m back. It’s been a while, but I’m here to stay, at least for a few months. The different seasons of my life affect the writing in this space, and the past semester was a dry season (for the blog) for a variety of reasons – I was busy with school, other responsibilities needed my writing attention, and blogging just slipped off the radar. The semester gave me plenty of fuel for my writing, though, things that I learned in class and experienced in life keep running through my head, begging for more processing time. I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven, a lot about grace and humility, and a lot about redemption recently. All are good things to think about, areas that I hope to grow in. I’m looking forward to conversations with friends, nuggets of wisdom from books, and good old fashioned time to let my mind think and make connections with these topics. For some reason, and I’m not sure why yet, it feels really important to be here. It feels healthy and good and right. So, here I am, listening and writing and growing.

A few scattered bits from the past week:

Procrastinating by…going to school? Alas, it’s the truth. I didn’t know it was possible to procrastinate by going to school, but I became real good at it this week, let me tell you. I put a special gusto into my summer school class this week because I want to get it done asap, but also because BYU told me that ‘rarely do individuals finish this course in 3 months or less’ – please BYU, you don’t know who you’re talking to. So, I’ve spent the past week identifying igneous rock samples and making volcanoes in test tubes and answering the phone with ‘Emily Hagen, geologist speaking.’ I’m determined to make this as quick and painless as possible, but it’s not amazingly interesting, so I’m overdosing on positivity to get the work done. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, and for anyone who knows me, it comes as no surprise that I’m channeling sunshine and rainbows and positivity to get this done. My great school achievements have had one small side effect, though: I’m living in a war zone. I packed my dorm room into my car and, for the past week now, now my entire dorm room has sat on my floor. Alas. I’ve created paths so I walk in and out and open my dresser, but the rest of the floor is covered. Yikes. Hopefully my summer school gusto will turn into unpacking gusto, and soon.

Olfactory System: My appetite’s gone missing the past few weeks, but my sense of smell has more than stepped up to the plate. My nose has been highly sensitive, and home has brought several acute smells to the surface. I stepped into my house last Friday, took a big whiff, and I smelled it: home. I can’t describe it to you, I can’t even smell it anymore now, really. But that first millisecond that I stepped across the threshold, I smelled it: it smelled familiar, it smelled safe, and it smelled just like home. It’s good to be here. The same thing happened when I stepped into the youth building at church. I hadn’t been in that part of the church in a long time, probably in over a year or more, and the second I stepped in I was overwhelmed. So many memories came rushing back to me, all of them playing through my head in that one split second – l did a lot of growing up in that building, a lot of learning, I spent countless hours back in that tech booth with the guys. I grew from a painfully shy middle schooler to a comfortable, determined, hardworking young person. Westmont has been the home of my growth the past 3 years, but I’m forever grateful to RHCC, to that building, and to all the growing up I did there. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without that place, without those people, without all those memories. It’s funny how one smell can take you back so many years.

I’ll admit something to you: I had a frazzled morning this morning. I don’t normally have frazzled mornings, so maybe that’s why this morning caught me even more off guard. I had to get to work early, and that meant getting my blood drawn even earlier. I got lost, having a specific picture of the location in my head but a sinking feeling in my stomach that I was wrong as I passed identically unfamiliar medical buildings. I got there eventually and sat there at Quest Diagnostics a ball of nerves, for no reason feeling frazzled and drained. 7:22 am and I was ready for the day to be over. I was reading Jesus Calling when I realized that my shoulders were tight, my mind was racing, and I felt entirely un-like Emily Hagen. I felt the tears build up, threatening to overflow. ‘How did this happen? Did getting lost for a few minutes really bring me to this frazzled place?’ I blinked like a wild woman, looking at a painting across the room like it was as interesting as Michelangelo’s David, determined to not make eye contact with anyone, determined to not lose it in front of the entire waiting room. My foot tapped and my nerves steadily rose, this little errand was going to make me late for work. For a punctual person like me, being late sometimes feels like the end of the world.

I was determined, though. Determined to turn this situation around. I kept reading Jesus Calling over and over, “Embrace all the circumstances that I allow in your life, trusting Me to bring good out of them…when you start to feel stressed, let those feelings alert you to your need for Me.” I wasn’t going to let a little thing like this control my attitude for the day. Because, really, who do I help by being twitchy and anxious and stressed? Not me, that’s for sure, and not anyone else, either. 

I knew I was at a crossroad and I chose the steep, rocky path. Literally, I closed my eyes and thought to myself, ‘stop. We’re going to start over. We’re going to lose the frazzled demeanor right now.’ I chose the harder path of joy, when it would have been easier to stay frazzled and twitchy and anxious. Because this is what I preach: I preach joy, I preach peace, I preach being thankful in all things. This morning, and countless other mornings, have shown me that I can live out what I preach, but I don’t decide to be joyful once and that’s that. I have to wake up every morning and choose to be thankful and flexible and full of deep, deep joy. And the fact that it is a constant decision, I think, makes it even more beautiful, gives it a nuanced sort of depth. Seeing all that God has placed before me as a gift, and seeing it as my job to give these things all the attention and love that I can give them on this day, that’s what it’s all about. Eventually they called me back to take a few vials of blood. I asked the nurse how many times a day she draws blood and a few other questions about her job as she poked my arm and pretty soon we were laughing, exchanged ‘have a good days’ and I was off. Crisis averted. Frazzled, anxious, twitchy morning redeemed with kindness, conversation, and a smile. I ended up being about 5 minutes late to work, but no one noticed. Grace. Thud. Frazzled morning redeemed.

My agenda this evening was simple: frozen yogurt and the eighth installment of Harry Potter. We’re celebrating here, quietly, me and my dad. Why? Just because. Because it’s Friday. Because we can. Because frazzled mornings can be redeemed, and because we’re happy to be alive. I hope you’re celebrating, too.

More thoughts to come on home, grace, and a million other things. I’ve got a hefty summer reading list with titles ranging from Dietrich Bonheoffer’s The Cost of Discipleship to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I’m currently tackling 4 books at a time and I’m not sure that’s the greatest method for me, but we’ll see how it goes. So, here’s to the resounding thud of grace. Here’s to frazzled mornings redeemed, and here’s to celebrating – just because.