Beach + Ocean
Faith

Rediscovering Prayer

There’s a pastor in Santa Cruz named Danny, with straight, blond hair down to his shoulders, who totes around a surfboard and spends hours in the surf. He says, when God speaks him, God calls him “dude.”

Dude, this is what I’ve got next for you.

I like the idea that God speaks to us in ways we understand.

Beach + Ocean

When Anthony and I felt God calling us to move to Los Angeles, do you know what He told us? I never heard the word: “Go.” Not in a whisper. Not in a shout. Not audibly at all.

God speaks to us in ways we understand.

One night, I was praying, hard. Beside me, Anthony was praying his own prayer. Then I got this moving picture in my mind.

In my favorite films, The Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells Galadriel: “Then I know what I must do. It’s just: I’m afraid to do it.”

Gandalf

“Gandalf the Grey.”  Photo credit: Pierre Vinet

Then scene cut. 

Next slide.

Gandalf tells Frodo: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.

Days passed, and over and over, specific scenes from LotR would come to mind as I prayed.

Could it be that I just couldn’t stop thinking about my favorite movies? Perhaps.

But over time, the recollected scenes tied together. Out of the context of the original filmed story, now together in my mind, they formed a new narrative. And it followed a specific path, hinted at a course of action.

When God gives us a picture, or a thought in our mind’s eye, I’ve found He confirms it with something complementary and concrete.

A word from a friend.

A prayer by a pastor.

A verse in Scripture.

A sense of peace.

After years of youthful praying, God is showing me something new.

I don’t have to sound like David from Psalms when I pray. I don’t have to sound like Moses, or even repeat after Paul the Apostle.



I have to sound like me. Just be me. 

And when I’m just me, then He’s just Him.

And I think we come to understand each other.

Words: Ally Siwajian © 2014

Photos: Ally Siwajian, beach image; Pierre Vinet, Gandalf the Grey portrait

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pancakes on plate
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream

Pancakes Are Sweeter When You Add Syrup

Every January, I celebrate the new year with a stack of homemade pancakes and round tables filled with friends. Blueberry, chocolate chip, even old-fashioned original pancakes—the baked scents reminds me life is good. The year is new. And I have people to share it with.

This year was different. There was only one person at my table.

Instead of celebrating within the walls of a welcoming church I’ve grown to love in Reno, I ate my pancakes on the back patio of well-worn restaurant joint in Southern California.

pancakes on plate

You see, last year on March 4th, Anthony and I moved from our Nevada home to pursue our dreams. I’d chosen “Dream” as my defining theme for 2013, and we reached the pinnacle rather unexpectedly early. In Los Angeles, I joined a creative team of exceptionally talented individuals in the bustling city, and Anthony began to write and revise his fantasy novels, the Shade of Silver trilogy.

What I didn’t know at last year’s start is that to “dream” is to accept change.

In Reno, we had grown deep roots. We had developed friendships, built careers. 

In Los Angeles, we were uprooted. Take a plant out of its pot, and place it on the dinner table. See how long it lasts. Plants need soil. They must have roots, or they will die.

I had been grieving the loss of my Reno roots for a while. But when we ordered pancakes on a Sunday morning, far from the church where we first experienced the New Year tradition, we memorialized. It was a good kind of remembering. We laughed, and we joked, and we reminisced. 

Then we looked across the metal bar that separated us from the sidewalk in this warm “winter” weather, and we knew: We need roots here.

Earlier that morning, at a different church located in Burbank, a pastor named Billy spoke from a slightly raised stage. “If you had a plant that wanted to bear fruit, but it never saw the sun, it wouldn’t grow any fruit.”

I’ve stayed away from the sun lately. It’s a poor effort to keep the thoughts at bay—in which I wonder about my decision to dream.

“Every good renovation starts with some demolition,” the pastor spoke, and for the first time in a long time, I listened. “God is not afraid of the toxic places in your life.”

This year, I want to remember where I’ve come from without wishing for the past. I need this plant to be pruned. I need mildewed leaves removed, and I want to see the sun. I want to make peace with this city, to find the soil and grow deep roots.

As Anthony and I talked about this, the waitress with dark hair and thick black eyeliner delivered our dishes. The golden pancakes on my plate were dashed with powdered sugar and a thick helping of whipped cream. Beside them, a tin cup of warm syrup waited.

Across the table, Anthony grinned at his berry-laden breakfast, and the waitress walked through the diner’s back doorway.

“Hey, Anthony,” I said and poured syrup on my pancakes. “Can we use your phone to take a picture?”

He agreed, held out his hand and aimed the camera. We both leaned in. Click.

A&A with pancakes

I won’t stand amid the demolition rubble any more.

This year, I’m choosing to rebuild.



–

Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: What theme will you pursue this year? What’s one word you’d choose for 2014?

Words and photos: Ally Siwajian © 2014

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Discover Your Dream, Influential Interviews

Musician Liam Kyle Cahill Shares “The Key To Happiness”

One autumn evening, I sat at a wooden cocktail table in a humble coffeehouse, and I listened to my friend Liam Kyle Cahill play his acoustic guitar to a small crowd of coffee drinkers and hopeful poets for Open Mic Night. Even with a short set, he garnered applause, and a song called “One Spark” particularly resonated with me that night. Now several years later, I still remember the chorus and its arresting guitar riffs.

Meet Liam Kyle Cahill.

Meet Liam Kyle Cahill, the musician with “The Key to Happiness.”

But Liam Kyle Cahill isn’t playing coffeehouses to build confidence these days. Rather, with his Ode to Wisconsin EP  under his belt and his first full-length album on the way, he’s taken stages across the country to play small shows with a gang of friends and a conglomeration of instruments: guitar, harmonica, drums, bass, mandolin, violin, piano, and even a string quartet.

As an artist, he’s evolved from a singer/songwriter into a man with the mentality of a full-blown producer. And his sound—it’s just as bold. (Think “Mumford & Sons in a bar room brawl with Bob Dylan at a punk rock concert,” as he’d say.) To polish it up, Liam Kyle Cahill’s lyrics stay true to his personable nature and big heart.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my friend. Today we’re talking about life, his music, and his encouragement to fellow dreamers. So listen up, friends, and learn how to live it well!

(1) You’ve got a new album called The Key To Happiness. So what is the key to happiness?

LKC: Making music really—that’s what makes me as happy as anything! As far as the title, I think it was more about my pursuit of happiness and the lessons I’ve learned along the way…. When you make the choice to be happy, you are! That’s what I’ve found.

Liam Kyle Cahill on stage

Liam Kyle Cahill performs with friends at his “Ode to Wisconsin” EP release party.

(2) You’re following your dream, working in geology by day and writing songs at night. Congrats! Tell us a little more about your journey to pursue your passion for music—not to mention, rocks—and what it’s taken to get there.

Liam Kyle Cahill on stageLKC: Well, I graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a bachelor’s degree in Hydrogeology, and have spent the last three years doing exploration geology in different parts of Nevada and Utah. I have always connected with the outdoors, and was immediately drawn to that kind of lifestyle before I even knew how to hold a guitar.

But by the end of my senior year, I started writing my own songs and performing around town. The passion for music had always been there my whole life, but I finally had the outlet to create something that was uniquely me. Once I got a taste of that, I never stopped! Now I’m working to find the right balance, advancing both of these loves simultaneously.

(3) In your new song “Life Before Death,” you talk about that tension between nature and technology—that idea to slow down, “cut your chains and breathe life deep,” and really “live it, folks.” What inspired you to share this awesome message?

LKC: “Life Before Death” is a song based on a poem by John Muir, where he ponders these same ideas and what it means to be grateful for the lives we have. I took that idea one step further, challenging our dependency on technology and the control it has on our ability to be content in each moment that we live. Then I started reading Charles Dickens, and the basis for the song thickened. Dickens urges us to live with purpose and embrace the people around us by opening up our hearts and being vulnerable. And when it all comes down to it, that’s what I think music is really about.

(4) As we pursue our dreams, we need people to encourage us. Who’s been with you every step of the way for this project?

LKC_3LKC: There are a two people who fit that description, the first being my good friend and co-producer Dan Ruben. I met Dan at a show almost two years ago and we clicked instantly. When I first started to envision the scope of this record, Dan was able to bring those ideas right to life with bass, mandolin, and drum parts—and the rest is history!

Then there’s Tom Gordon: sound recording engineer, mixing engineer, co-producer, and friend. Nobody has pushed me to grow as a musician more than Tom during the recording sessions we’ve had this year, where he challenged my guitar playing and singing to become tighter than ever. Tom is like the quality control for the album, making sure we get just the right take before we move on to the next step.

(5) What advice do you have for your fellow dream-followers and friends?

LKC: In one of the last conversations that I had with my grandfather before he passed, I asked him what he felt was the most important advice that he could share about following my dreams, and I must admit his answer surprised me: “Don’t let the bastards get you down!” He lived his life by that rule and explained to me it doesn’t matter what other people think of you or your endeavor—if it’s your dream, then go for it!

One Spark cover art

Buy a pre-release copy of Liam Kyle Cahill’s album, and you’ll receive an immediate download of his single, “One Spark.”

Liam Kyle Cahill is currently raising funds to complete his 2014 album, The Key to Happiness. If you resonated with his story and his advice to fellow dreamers, then stop by Liam Kyle Cahill’s Indiegogo page to hear his music and buy a pre-release copy of his album. November 25, 2013, is the last day of this fundraising campaign, and LKC is giving all contributors an immediate download of the single, “One Spark.” As someone who’s been looking forward to a digital recording of this song since I first heard it in a coffeehouse, trust me: This music is worth the listen.

Words by: Ally Siwajian © 2013

Photo credit: Gary Micander and Alex Fleiner (All photos used by permission of Liam Kyle Cahill.)  

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Bob Goff speaks via live stream
Connectivity, Influential Interviews, Scripture Study, Stunted World Changers

Be Available: What I Learned from Bob Goff’s “Love Does” Talk

What if we told people who they are? Not that we commanded: “Be this” or “Do that.” But what if we honestly told people the talents we see within them, the character qualities we appreciate, the stuff they’re just good at?

This weekend, as author Bob Goff spoke to a church crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada, I couldn’t get his question out of my mind.

“What if we’re the ones who say: ‘This is what I see in you’?” he challenged the crowd and the online audience.

How Bob Goff Became Available

Bob Goff speaks via live stream

Bob Goff laughs a lot! I’m glad I watched this storyteller online for good laughs and good encouragement.

In his short talk on Saturday, Bob Goff told of personal experience that led him to this realization. “I was getting less and less available,” he confessed.

In response, he did something drastic. He gave people his phone number. Not just friends. Anyone.

Bob Goff wouldn’t screen calls. He’d just answer, talk for a bit, and encourage the person. If he was spending time with someone in person, then he’d answer his phone and simple ask if he could call the person back. Then he actually would.

It’s such a simple concept. But I find it’s difficult to do.

A Time to Rest, A Time to Invest—in Others

For me, it’s definitely been a busy season. This spring, I finally scored my dream job. But soon I found I had little time for anything else. I’d arrive home from work mentally spent. My creativity for writing—emails to friends, blog posts, or even text message replies—lacked. I became tired. Then I just wanted to retreat.

Time to rest is good. Time to process and to recharge is vital to our health as people. But at what point did we decide to put up the barriers? To screen calls? To only meet a friend when it was scheduled far in advance and fit in “my schedule”?

Bob Goff said: Jesus, “He had more time for everybody.”

Yes, Jesus rested—he slept on boats, and he went away to mountains to pray. But he also aimed to be there for people. On His way to raise a girl from the dead, He stopped to heal a bleeding woman in the crowd. On His journey to Bethsaida, He paused to feed 5,000 people. Jesus knew His mission.

Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: Encourage People

If I want to be a good friend, then I need to take a lesson from Jesus. I want to begin to be intentional about caring for people. It’s as easy as showing people you love them. Since I’m a person who values words, one of the ways I can do that is just to tell them.

“What if we’re the ones who say: ‘This is what I see in you’?” Bob Goff said.

Let’s start telling people what we see in them. I want to live to encourage others in their journeys. All I need to do is be available.

PANS AND PICKPOCKETS CHALLENGE: How do you like to encourage others? Leave a comment. I’d love to talk with you here. 

Words by: Ally Siwajian © 2013 

Photo by: Ally Siwajian, featuring a live stream from Canyon Ridge Christian Church 

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Ally in Reno snow
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream, Stunted World Changers

Birthing the Dream

Dreams are easy to talk about, but they’re more difficult to do.

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Like a seed in the ground, it needs nourishment—from multiple sources—to break free of the tough dirt and sprout above the earth. A dream needs roots, roots that reach deep and anchor it, no matter the storms. It needs a caretaker, a gardener—someone who will take proactive measures to ensure it doesn’t die, but rather buds, grows, and flourishes.

Deciding to Dream

Ally in Reno snow

Northern Nevada: in my element

In January, I chose “Dream” to be my theme for the year. I’d tossed around ideas like Move, Simplify, and Hope. But Dream was the most daunting. That would require work, and through it, all other ideas would be achieved.

So I decided to dream.

Pretty soon, life began to change. Anthony and I felt our time as residents of Reno, Nevada, would be ending soon. I’d been in that town for seven years. We were involved in volunteer activities, loved our church family and local friends, and even considered buying a house.

But something in the back of our minds—rather in the corners of our hearts—rustled. We prayed and prayed and prayed. And we felt it—we are going to leave Reno.

Succumbing to Fear

Anthony and I debated our initial inklings. I continued to write articles about everything from cocktails to curtain designs to bring in money for bills and keep my freelance writing clients. Anthony continued to come home from his biomedical lab work distraught and drained.

Walden's latteOne Sunday afternoon, we sat across the table from a good friend, Ronnie, in one of our favorite Reno spots, Walden’s Coffeehouse. We’re not moving, we told him. There’s just too much on the line. Anthony has a stable job with good benefits. I can just keep flying to Las Vegas on weekends for work. We like it here. We’ll be fine.

Eyes wide, Ronnie missed his mouth and caught his chin in the milky foam of his tea. He plunked the ceramic mug to the tabletop.

“What I’m hearing right now is just a lot of fear.” He paused, wiped the edge of his short beard, then continued. Wherever you go, he said, whether you stay in Reno or move someplace else, God exists and He’s with you.

Discerning Safety Versus Security

Good friends’ words have a way of sticking with you. It was the challenge we needed. Several Sundays later, confirmation came.

4x4 trip with friends

To follow your dreams, be in community. Here’s part of ours: Ronnie, Colby, Anthony, me, and Claire. Snowballs help too.

An artistic fellow and friend, Colby, spoke with us after church. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between safety and security,” he said. Sometimes we choose what’s safe over what we’re intended to do and who we’re designed to become. That sets us upon a trajectory in a certain direction. When you choose safety over security, where does that path lead you?

Anthony and I thought about these words long and hard. It was time to go big or go home, we decided. We’d been going home for far too long. We opted to stop playing it safe.

Dreams Rewritten and Realized

When we chose to dream and we knew it was time for that dream to be realized, we discovered dreams pursued are not easy. They often don’t resemble the dynamics you expected. The framework shifts. The details are rewritten. But the core remains the same.

Los Angeles downtown skyline

Welcome to the downtown LA city skyline.

We dreamt of a place where I could work for a magazine and be surrounded by people to encourage. We wanted an opportunity that also would extract Anthony from a job that was killing him, to instead be in a place that would let him claim his dreams of being a writer—a fantasy novelist, to be exact.

We have found that place. Through a zany series of events, we pit-stopped in my hometown Las Vegas for three weeks, then landed full-time in Los Angeles, California.

It’s different, and sometimes it’s difficult when I think of the people we left behind in Nevada. But as my friend Natalie Rose wrote to me: “Change is hard. God is good.”

Now It’s Your Turn: Pans and Pickpockets Challenge

marigold sprouting

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Then, like a seed in the ground, it will bud, grow, and flourish.

Our dreams are becoming reality. I’d like to encourage you to determine your dreams too.

Start by seeking God with your whole heart. Determine your natural talents, and weigh if your dream is supported by these skills. Become prepared: in your emotional state, your developed talents, and amid a supportive community.

Then, be willing to wait for the right moment when God tells you it’s time at last.

Because the right dream, friends, it’s worth waiting for.

Leave a Comment: Scroll down and leave me a comment below.  I’d like to hear your dream. 

Words: Ally Siwajian

Photos: Ally Siwajian; group photo by Claire Stephens  © 2013

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traditional church with book pages lining front walls
Connectivity, Stunted World Changers

Why Non-Christians Might Feel They Don’t Fit at Church

I am beginning to understand why non-Christians don’t feel comfortable at church.

Angelus Temple skylineChurch people are weird. They hug a lot. They sing a lot. They even have a lot of terms every church person seems to catch that don’t make sense in daily life: prayer request, praise report, clap offering, secular, and even non-Christian. But while these words can be disarming, it’s the stuff that happens in a church service that can make even less sense.

Since I moved to the greater Los Angeles area earlier this year, I’ve been looking for a new church to call “home.” In Reno, where I’d previously lived, I’d found a family in my church. But recently I had to start over.

And even as a Christian, I wasn’t sure how to feel about half the things I saw in churches I visited.

At one church, while people collected tithe (10 percent of your income, given back to God through His church for all He has given you), a young girl belted out lyrics in a solo with a literal spotlight. I blinked. Wait, was there a Beyoncé voice impression scheduled that I didn’t know about?

Then there’s the church with gluten-free communion crackers beside miniscule plastic cups of grape juice. That’s conscientious, I suppose. It just struck me as odd.contemporary church service

Then I saw countless banners, proclaiming the names of Jesus, the attributes of Jesus, the predictions for Jesus. All in jewel-toned primary colors with gold tassels and Brush Script style fonts.

One church had a literal wooden bridge outside for people to walk across as they chose to accept Jesus as the bridge between sinful people and a holy God.

One church had three tiers of balconies, a big screen to see the pastor preach in contemporary style, and stain glass windows as a reminder of its history.

One church had ripped pages of random books stapled to its walls, parchments to signify the story we’re all living.

Some churches have their own T-shirts, their own sunglasses, their coffee shops, and their bumper stickers. Some still use pews and hymnals and an only old-school piano. Some church people even meet outside on the lawns of public parks.

Gluten-Free communion crackersAmid these atmospheres—whether the air is clear or clouded with smoke from a backstage fog machine—are people. And church people can be weird.

I understand, to a small degree, why people who aren’t used to church don’t feel comfortable in our churches. I found my reasons, and I’m sure each person can add their own. I don’t presume to know them all.

Between the communion crackers, the jewel-tone banners, and a preacher’s words, we feel a bit lost.

It’s not familiar.

We don’t feel comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

But church is filled with people.

Many times, I reminded myself that going to a church for the first time isn’t much different than going to a party or going to a first day of school. There’s the introvert who can’t muster the nerve to talk to his neighbor. There’s the know-it-all who forgets she can learn from others. Cliques still form when people find people with whom they connect.traditional church with book pages lining front walls

And if you don’t reach out to others, they likely won’t reach out to you. Sure, you might get lucky. An extrovert might find you on your first day. But you also might be alone for a while. I learned I had to make the effort even at church, and I couldn’t expect everyone to come to me.

Jesus promises to meet you where you are, and He never fails. People try their best to emulate Him, but sometimes we fail. So, please, be patient with us when you come through the church doors.

In the meantime, reach out. Get involved. Team up with someone you meet, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat after the service, and ask questions.

Every church has its own customs. Every family has its own norm.

Like a family member, try your best to connect with others in the house. You may not see eye-to-eye on it all, but you’ll likely find the friendship (or as Christians might say, the “fellowship”) is worth coming together with people different than you.

Together you can discover what church is designed to be.

Photos (featuring churches visited) and words: Ally Siwajian

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trash can labeled landfill
Daily Life

You Know You’re a Renoite When…

Reno, Nevada, isn’t a place you move to; it’s a place you get stuck. At least that’s what I heard from a handful of locals while living in The Biggest Little City in the World. But as a seven-years-strong Renoite who recently relocated to The City of Angels (which is anything but), I can honestly say Reno is a place I’m proud to call a piece of home.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty strange things about Reno. But when you live there, you start to adopt these little habits that, well, you don’t realize aren’t akin to the rest of the West Coast.

A friend from Hillside in Reno once called the Northern Nevada city “The Poor Man’s Portland.” There may be some sense to that. All I can say is: The dream is alive.

A little list of how much of a Renoite I am, despite living in Los Angeles:

Salad in a jar

Yes, it’s a salad in a jar. (Top secret hint: Build your salad from wet to dry ingredients, and it’ll last for three days in the fridge.)

1. I brought my refillable water bottle to work on my first day … and my to-go tea cylinder. Well, it just so happens that So. Cal. break-rooms are ripe with buy-in-bulk bottles of H20. Noted!

2. I make layered lunch salads in mason jars. Wait, why do I do this? *reviews list of Renoite uses for the mason jar: daily coffee mug, candle holder, whiskey jar, flower pot, table centerpiece, spaghetti noodle storage….*

3. I like running … on dirt trails. What, we have to run on sidewalks? This cement will ruin my cankles.

4. I thought Reno’s 395 had rush hour traffic. *sniggers in corner* Oh, hi, I-5! Yes, I remember how fun it was to drive my moving van along your bumper-to-bumper lanes of traffic for two and a half hours. Then my car… and… yeah.

5. I lament L.A. freeway overpasses in need of a good power-washing from decades of smog grime, graffiti, and pigeon poop. To think, I was scoffing at Reno’s city beautification project just months ago. Though I do maintain that butterfly sculpture at the downtown ice rink looks vaguely reminiscent of female organs. Come on, Reno.

trash can labeled landfill

Thank you, chain store coffee shop.

6. I want to be casual friends with my barista. Now I just get confronted by a cold metal can with whether I’ll contribute to protecting the earth or promoting landfills.

7. Bicyclists in Reno wear head-to-toe spandex and aerodynamic helmets. In Los Angeles, they sport straw fedoras and carry enormous striped tote bags.

8. In Reno, I would drive home early to avoid death by iced-over roads at night. But living in Los Angeles, I was told to leave work early to dodge death by Dodgers fans in a traditional takeover of all downtown roads on Opening Day.

9. The great outdoors up north means wide-open space, scenic views, and plenty of solitude. In the big city, it’s a park with graffitied tree stumps. What, I ask, would one gain by tagging a stump?

Lake Tahoe in winter

You just can’t beat views like this. Thank you, Reno-Tahoe, for this moment.

10. I wave at people and ask, “How’s it going?” when we cross paths. I’m sure someone walking along will wave back someday. I mean, with L.A.’s constantly gorgeous weather and no sight of snow, who wouldn’t want to celebrate with me?

Anybody resonate with these? Leave me a comment with how you feel about Reno, L.A., or the differences between your hometown and your latest city. 

Photos and writing: Ally Siwajian © 2013

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