Wary Welcoming: A Reflection on The Past Year

I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to properly reflect on the past year, and how to prepare myself for the year to come. Every once in a while I like to write about life’s journey because it gives me a chance to slow down and connect with everyone who reads the AVNS blog.

I am thankful for beautiful sunsets.

I think the entire world must have let out a sigh of relief on New Year’s Eve as it felt the immense tension accumulated over the course of this infamous year finally giving way to the anticipation of a new start, but did anyone else have doubts that 2021 is truly the cure we’ve been waiting for?

I’ve seen the New Year’s Eve Instagram posts of my friends, their captions roughly shove 2020 out the door, personifying it as though it was an unpleasant houseguest who overstayed its welcome. While I admire and envy this bold and enthusiastic display of spirit, I’m a bit ashamed to admit I’m far too weary to join in and even more than that…I’m wary.

Wasn’t it just a year ago that we believed that 2020 would be our banner year? If 2020 let us down, who is to say 2021 will be any better?

Yikes, what a debbie downer, right? I’m kind of bumming myself out with all the cynicism, but bear with me and I think we can reach a brighter outlook.

I value storytelling because it allows people from all different backgrounds to find common ground amongst many differences. The experience I’d like to share with you is a Christian experience, and before you stop reading because you feel you may not be able to relate, I’d also like to emphasize that this experience is also wholly human and worth reading if you relate to attempting to navigate a world that contains both unbearable loss and overwhelming joy. 

During a New Year’s Eve church service I attended (virtually) the speaker had asked the congregation to consider a perfect gift God had given them over the course of the 2020 year. As I thought about all the beautiful things I was grateful for (including my boyfriend of five years who was sitting next to me at the time) I realized I could not think of all the perfect things God had given me without also thinking about all the perfect things God had taken away. 

This thought unsettled me, not just because of its bitter nature, but because of how inaccurate my understanding of God was in this moment. I gently reminded myself that God does not purposefully take things away from us and that loss and chaos are side effects of living in a broken world, but the entire incident had shaken me and I spent a great deal of time in thoughtful contemplation trying to reconcile my strange anger with my love for God. 

I am thankful for snuggly puppies.

As I write this blog, I reflect on 2020. I celebrate the fact that this blog marks a full year of writing weekly blogs for this beautiful company under the undeniably kind, creative, and giving guidance of Marianne. I mourn the fact that there are people who read this blog or love AVNS products who have lost loved ones this year due to COVID-19 and other causes. I think about all my friends who got engaged, planned their weddings, and started their lives while I moved back home with my parents. I think about how so many of those weddings were postponed or felt incomplete because of COVID while I rejoiced over reconnecting with my family after four years of being away at college. 

What I understood from that moment during the service and what I understand now as I write is this: humankind relies too often on rhyme and reason. If there is anything we can agree on after this year it is how little the world actually adheres to a model of rhyme and reason.

As I said to my boyfriend after the service, “I think my greatest struggle as a human being is forgetting that there is a bigger picture and also my inability to fully reconcile myself with the idea that there is no way for me to know or understand exactly how that bigger picture works.” I continue to practice recognizing the gifts in live while simultaneously working through the difficulties.

That strange anger I felt, that instant need to blame God for the earthly occasions that caused me grief was my own humanity getting in the way of my love for God. My earthly compulsion to apply rhyme and reason to a world plan that defied earthly limitations set me up for heart ache and exhaustion. So what do I do to avoid feeling this way this year?

If you are weary.

If you are wary.

Consider this: 2021 is a new houseguest. Not an old friend, but a complete stranger. Instead of trying to control this year, let it pull up a chair and introduce itself. Don’t worry too much about how the house looks, or making some elaborate dinner. Simply focus on the basics. Be kind and be hospitable to others, and yourself. Welcome, 2021.

Much Love,

Nora


Faith in Quarantine

When you’re a child the world seems bigger.

The family retriever was the size of a horse, chapter books were intimidating, and twenty minute car rides took hours: which is why the three hour drive to my grandparent’s house in Wisconsin seemed to me like an all day affair. The trek was worth it though. I’d spend all week counting down the days until my parents packed up the car, strapped me into my car seat and backed out of the small driveway connected to our modest townhouse in Plymouth, Minnesota. At this time I was the only grandchild, and spending the weekend at Nana and Papa’s meant I got twice the attention. I’d wake up to pancakes and fall asleep to Nana’s stellar impression of Grandfather Frog as she read aloud to me from her old copies of Thornton Burgess stories.

Their cabin was surrounded by forest and sat on the top of a steep decline that led right to the lake. I spent hours outside, shaking off suburbia as I scampered down the damp stone staircase and straight into the sparkling lake. I built forts out of sticks, filled old mason jars with “perfume” made with water and crushed up flowers, and mixed together my own homemade exfoliant*. Sheltered by the shade of the leafy green trees made me feel safe and secure as I played contentedly on the forest floor, surrounded by God’s sacred beauty.

I tell you this because I’m guessing you have a special place of your own. It doesn’t even have to be nature. It could be curled up in your favorite chair in the corner of your favorite coffee shop, or standing, swaying with your eyes shut in front of the stage as the stirring strumming of a guitar pulls at your heart. You can understand how a special place is invaluable, which is why — when my dad came down with a cold the night before we were supposed to leave for the cabin…putting our morning departure in jeopardy — I immediately prayed to God. I wish this touching moment of a child praying for her sick father was without ulterior motive, but embarrassingly I was actually praying for his recovery so that we could still go to the cabin.

Yes, my childish selfishness mortifies me to this day.

Regardless of my prayer’s shady intentions, when I awoke the next morning to sounds of my parents packing I was overjoyed. 

Lying on my back in bed, I remember a feeling of immense gratitude. Overwhelmed, I did what any thankful child does. I stretched out my tiny arms as far as I could manage and circled them around the air in front of me, drawing an invisible God into the biggest bear-hug I could muster.

Let me get something straight: this is not the story of God answering the prayer of a simple and slightly selfish child (what kind of backwards moral would that portray?) No. This is a story of child-like faith. To me, it’s a beautiful image that brings me back to a time when trusting in God was the simple and easy solution and not the last-resort, risky task.

The older I get, the harder it is to trust God. Being an adult seems to imply the continued practice of taking on more and more responsibilities with each passing year. It’s no wonder that in a culture that encourages self-sustainment we struggle to allow room for God to act.

Especially now in this time of quarantine we find our worlds growing smaller than ever and our burdens greater. We find ourselves restricted from visiting the places that are most near and dear to our hearts. And those whose jobs require them to continue to brave the outside world face dangerous risks every time they leave the house. As we navigate this new and confined lifestyle we ask ourselves how there could possibly be room for God when we feel like there’s barely room for us. 

Having faith can seem tiring. Even when we try to listen to God in this time of chaos, it isn’t always clear that he’s there or listening to us. Is that God telling me to give myself bangs? Or is it my own stir-crazed gut?

As a shy child I grew up dependent on Joshua 1:9. Every time I showed up friendless to summer camp or tried something new I relied on the heartening command to “be strong and courageous.” I was always comforted by the thought that no matter how big the journey seemed, God was always along for the ride.

In her riveting year long memoir “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” Rachel Held Evans spends a month practicing aspects of biblical domesticity. Her reflection at the end of the month stuck with me as I read the rest of the book for class and is as follows,

“Somewhere between the chicken soup and the butter-bleeding pie, I’d made peace with the God of pots and pans — not because God wanted me to meet him in the kitchen, but because He wanted to meet me everywhere, in all things, big or small. Knowing that God both inhabits and transcends our daily vocations, no matter how glorious or mundane, should be enough to unite all women of faith…”

-Rachel Held Evans

Although the domesticity Held Evans refers to has more to do with an exploration of a woman’s traditional role in the household, I find that the general idea of “home life” is extremely relevant and her wisdom is widely applicable. God will be with you, wherever you go. Whether it’s at the hospital you work at, the aisle of the grocery store you’re stocking, or sitting at your kitchen table filming online lectures for your students…God will meet you there and he will make room even when you can’t.

*I know you’re probably wondering how you can get your hands on some of my homemade exfoliant. Unfortunately, mixing sand and water is not FDA approved (nor is it that great of an exfoliant). On the bright side, AVNS has some incredible exfoliating bars that are also fantastically sanitary! Try our Grapefruit Peppermint Luffa Body Bar, it’s packed with authentic dried luffa fiber. You can also check out any of our Salt Bars! Only Jesus can wash away your sins (but at least we can help with the dirt and dead skin)!


​3 Crazy Things About AVNS’s New Team Member Tia Sirovy

Have you ever tried to sum up your being in only three aspects and fully succeeded? Despite whether you have or haven’t thought about this before, try to think of three things that define you, right now. Because as I sit back in my chair, that’s exactly what I’ve found doing right now, and man, it is hard! This may not be the quality of a MN star tribune article, but my hope is that if you find yourself reading this, you will have learned a little bit about me and my relationship with Apple Valley Natural Soap.

        1.Trying New Things.

From tasting cow tongue, pig ears, escargot in my mouth, gasping for air while jumping out of a plane, almost falling off a camel, or sleeping in a tipi during a thunderstorm; I love trying new things. This lifestyle defines my life motto “try new things.” And that’s only the beginning! My bucket list is extensive including such activities as admiring the pyramids in Egypt and slurping down an oyster. Going out of my comfort zone to gain thrilling experiences gives me energy and joy in my life. I will never stop striving to try new things.

        2.Being Challenged.

Living a simple life was never part of my destiny. People who live simple stay within their comfort zones and only do what they already know. I was born to be the complete opposite. I need to be pushed and challenged daily. Whenever there is an opportunity to learn a new skill, gain new experience (such that will expose me to more marketing techniques), or get into an intriguing conversation about faith and beliefs; I take every opportunity to jump on such opportunities. Daily, I aspire to reach outside my comfort zone and broaden my horizon. It’s because of this that I am delighted to start my journey in freelancing for Apple Valley Natural Soap. With this arising opportunity, I knew it would push me to expand my knowledge on marketing, advance my writing skills, and improve my time management. All of which seemed to come together at the right time and I’ve never felt so at peace with a new and exciting opportunity as this.

        3.Faith.

What’s that saying again, “Save the best for last”? Well, that’s what I’ve just done for you today. I’ve most definitely saved the most important for last; and that is my relationship with Jesus Christ. I find myself living out my faith out every day. Time and time again I find myself wanting to share the love of God to everyone I meet, with simple acts of kindness, a sweet smile, or just as simple as asking how someone’s day was. Getting into conversations about faith and building others up in the Lord is remarkably encouraging to me. That said, I’ve been realizing recently that I have the potential to thrive in many more ways in my walk with God than I realize. Because of this, I decided to take small steps to grow closer to him, by beginning to tithe and serve more frequently, rather than just once or twice a year. It’s in these new ways of learning to serve Him better that I find more fulfillment everyday as I continue to pursue the unending love of God.

While thinking about these three aspects of my life to share, it has made me think deeper about who I am as a person and what actually defines me. That said, I would challenge you (as I liked to be challenged) to think about three things that define your life. Reflecting on your life may help you see who you are and the kind of person you want to become. It’s in doing this that you will be able to serve not just yourself better, but also serve the people around you better.