To the Seventh Day Adventist Church

To the Seventh Day Adventist Church,

My name is Claira Eastwood. I was dedicated when I was baby and baptized when I was twelve. I have gone to SDA schools and churches my entire life, and I currently attend an SDA university. My dad is a pastor and I grew up spending lots of time in churches. I went to an SDA summer camp from 2009-2013. I was the Religious Vice President my senior year of high school, and I have taught two sixth grade classes baptismal studies. I have spent countless hours, days, and weeks in churches and on retreats. Since birth, the Seventh Day Adventist Church has been part of my life. My name is Claira Eastwood, and I am angry.

This past week a committee got together on the east coast. I have done my best to understand what this committee was put together for and what decision they had to make, and this is what I’ve come up with- a committee got together to decide whether or not this church will allow it’s representatives to speak about and for those who have repeatedly been pushed away. This vote has given the people at the top of the church power to tell pastors what they can and cannot say. No one knows for sure how this will turn out, but I have my suspicions. The way I see it, this vote has taken away free speech and has told many, many people that the things they’ve gone through and even who they are as people are not things that can be talked about in the church. The way I see it, this vote is pushing away groups of people who “do not fit” a certain set of expections this church has tried to put on them. If this vote has hurt you, I am sorry. I am so sorry that a group of people have made a decision that will inevitably push people away from this church.

This morning I got up, got dressed, and went to church. My church is in the basement of the University church. My church serves coffee outside and has Christmas lights all year long. My church has drums. My church lets you wear jeans if you want to. My church talks about all the things we were told not to talk about. Today my church talked about the committee vote. On Tuesday there will be a meeting where a group of people (myself included) will attempt to figure out what to do next. Until then, this is what I have to say:

My God is a God of love. My God is a God of peace. My God is a God who loves the people this church* tends to push aside. My God is a God who will listen to you sing quiet hymns but will also dance for joy with the sound of drums. My God is a God who does not care what denomination you belong to. My God is a God who loves you no matter what your race, your sexual orientation, or gender identity may be. My God is a God who has loved everyone since before they took their first breath. My God is a God who is near to the brokenhearted, who is strong when I am weak, who has never left me and who never will. My God is a God who will leave the ninety-nine to go search for the one who has been voted out. My God is a God who has comforted those who were hurt by the vote. My God is a God who is bigger than this vote.

To those of you who have been hurt, I give you a quote from Kate DiCamillo, author of The Tale of Despereaux: “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.” Please keep sharing your stories. Remember your strength. Do not let yourself shrink away, because you are the one who has the most to say. I promise to listen to you. I promise to do what I can, because I am not going anywhere.

Today in my church one of the pastors told us “not to leave our home.” He told us that we were needed right now, and he’s right. At the end of the sermon, we all sang a song called Jesus at the Center of it All, and as we stood there, singing, I couldn’t help but believe that I was standing in a room of people who are going to change the world. We are a group of future teachers, doctors, engineers, artists, and yes, there are more than a few future pastors as well.

There were people in that room who were hurt by this vote, myself included. There were people in that room who will not rest until a solution has been found. There were people in that room who will still love, and love, and love, and love with all their hearts. I promise to be one of those people. Almost two years ago, I had a teacher tell me “don’t leave it, change it.” To the Seventh Day Adventist church, you have messed with the wrong generation. And we will not hesitate to let our voices be heard.

- Claira Eastwood

“Jesus at the center of it all.

Jesus be the center of your church.”
~ Jesus at the Center of it All


*I should make it clear that when I say “this church” I do not mean everyone in it. There are people in the SDA church who are kind, accepting, and welcoming people. In this letter, when I say “this church” I am talking about and to the people who made this vote happen.

To My Baby Cousin

To My Baby Cousin, 

The day you were born, I was on an overnight all school trip. I was sharing a two bed room with three other girls, and was sleeping on the floor on top of some blankets. I had a cold, my nose was completely stuffed up, and I'd forgotten my water bottle at home so I was very thirsty. Even so, that night remains one of my favorites of my entire life. When your older brothers were born, I didn't know my England family very well. But a couple months before you were born, I'd visited England for a couple weeks. I went to Scotland with my aunt (your mom), and we talked about what your name might be. I remember thinking that you were going to be the closest thing I'd have to a baby sister. 

I have a cousin much closer in age to me (and, actually, it's her birthday today), and I always thought of her as my sister. Even so, as I grew up I always wanted a baby sister. Someone I could impart my accumulated wisdom to. Someone I could be immensely proud of as I watched them grow up. Someone who could be the flower girl at my future wedding. So when I found out my aunt was pregnant with a girl, I was ecstatic. I love your older brothers with all my heart, but the idea of having another girl in the family was very exciting. 

But back to the day you were born: I had been tossing and turning for a couple hours before I heard my phone chime- signaling that I had a message on Facebook.  At this point, I knew two things: You were due very, very soon and Facebook was my only form of communication with the England family (at that point). So, I rolled over and checked my phone. It was a message from our Nana, saying that my aunt (your mom) had gone into labor. It was very early California time, and I'd signed up to help make breakfast for the whole high school the next morning. Still, I stayed up until you were born. Our Nana gave me updates periodically, and I was one of the very first people to know your name. 

Last March, I got to meet you for the first time. For a two year old, you were quite sarcastic, with a definite flair for the dramatic. I was very proud. I went to your Sabbath School with you. We read stories, danced in chapel rooms of a college dorm, and blew bubbles. You made me laugh and smile, and since I came home I've missed you very much. 

This is all to say that you are one of my favorite people. You have been there for some of my favorite memories, you make me laugh, and you really are the closest thing I have to a baby sister. Plus, I have another person to talk to about Jane Austen when you get a little older. I know, I'm pretty far away right now. And I know, you'll probably never read this. But even so, I hope you know how much I love you and how much I miss you. But, if all goes according to plan, I'll be real close in about a year. Either way, I'll see you soon. 

Love, 

Me

To all the Incoming Freshman Girls

To all the incoming Freshman girls,

Welcome! The next four years of your life are going to go by at a crazy, lightening fast speed, so hold on to your hats and take it all in. As someone who has just graduated about two and a half months ago, I thought I'd compile my best advice into this open letter for all of you. So here we go:

Find the people who don't make you feel like Freshmen. There are definitely doing to be the people who see you and don't want to give you the time of day simply for the grade that you're in. There are going to be the people who tell you to move so they can sit where you are, and there are going to be people who scoff when you express a fear about your first time taking finals. But there are also going to be the people who don't make you feel like that. There will be people who will lift you up and show you how to be the person you want to become. There will be people who support and encourage you, and there will be people who remind you to keep breathing when life knocks all the air out of you. Find those people, and remember them when you're no longer a Freshman. 

If you're anything like me, you are going to fall into a deep infatuation with two people. One is going to be your complete opposite, but will probably have a few amazing qualities that will make you overlook all the stuff you'd normally run far away from. The second will be someone who you think is perfect. They'll be kind, they'll make you laugh, and they will make your life seem better than you thought possible. What possible trait do these two people have in common? They'll both break your heart. In different ways, mind you, but they will. Learn from each heartbreak. Remember that you are so incredibly young and have so much life left to live. Remember to surround yourself with good things and remember to let go when you need to. Someday you'll find someone who won't break your heart, and the people who have will be like the stepping stones to that person. 

Find a strong group of friends, but be willing for that group to change. Find a group of girls who make you feel strong, and powerful, and talented, and beautiful. Find them so you have someone to cry with when you go through the heartbreak, and someone to laugh with when life hands you something so beautiful you don't know what to do with yourself. When the group changes, let it. Time will change people, and that's okay. Make sure you have those few friends that will always be there, even if you move away. Find a boy who is a friend, and will always be a friend and nothing more. Find him so you have someone to go to the banquet with when you really want to go with someone. Find him so you have someone to protect you when you're scared but to still show you you're brave enough on your own. Find him so you have someone to look at stars with when you're sad. 

Don't fight the other girls. If you like a boy and he likes another girl, don't hate her. You'll waste energy that could be spent writing the next great novel or practicing for an audition. Don't hate her. It isn't worth it. Lift each other up, because there are enough problems in this world and we don't need girls picking on other girls for reasons that will just seem silly four years down the road. 

Figure out how to curl your hair, or at least find a friend who knows how and can do it for you before your first big Christmas event. Trust me, in four years you'll thank yourself. Wear makeup if you want to, but don't feel like you have to. Cut your hair, or grow it out forever. Wear the clothes that you like. Use a really colorful backpack or a black one. In the end, these things don't really matter, but in a way they do. So do what you makes you happy, because how you felt is all you'll remember later. 

Do all you can to open as many doors as possible. Join choir and drama if you want to go into musical theatre. Do sports if that's what you love. Study really hard for all your tests and quizzes. Don't give up. Get involved. Be kind. Find a song that you absolutely adore and play it all the time. Read good books. Go to the birthday parties. Remember that there are things you need to worry about, but there are so many things that you really don't have to think about yet. Believe in yourself, because as cliche as that sounds, it's still very important. 

Lastly, ignore all my advice. Sometimes, the best parts of your life happen when you say you're going to figure things out by yourself (this isn't always true, but sometimes it is). Part of the joy of finishing high school is looking back and knowing that you grew up a little bit. And no amount of homework, projects, or advice can make that happen. The mistakes that you make, the friendships that change, the broken hearts, and the old pictures where you tried to curl your hair and it didn't work out are the things that do. Those are the moments that make you look back and smile. So stand up as tall as you can, and go enjoy the next four years. 

Love, 

An Incoming (College) Freshman Girl

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"Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

To My Class of 2018

Hello,

It's been a while, I know. We graduated two months ago, and for some reason that feels like a lifetime ago. It's been a while since I've written a piece in which at least one of you played a important part. Since graduating, many of us have started forming our lives into what we want them to look like. We've gotten jobs, traveled a bit, and, for some, have seen each other for what may be the last time for a while. 

I don't know what the next year has in store for you. I don't know if I'm going to see any of you again. I don't know a lot of things. But there are a few things I know for sure, and there are a few things I wanted to let you know. Take this as my final piece of knowledge and advice I can give you: 

To the future teachers, remember kindness. Remember the teachers you've had that impacted your life. Remember to teach love and peace. Teach  your students writing, and teach them empathy. Teach them math, and teach them joy. Teach them to remember their worth, and teach them to believe in themselves. Remember that no matter how stressed, or tired, or angry with the system you may get, you are doing a good thing. You are instructing the next generations. You are impacting what our world could look like. Take that seriously, but every so often don't forget to take a step back and look at your students. Look at their faces- how full of ideas they are. Cultivate a child's joy, and don't lose your own joyful spirit. You are going to be the teacher someone remembers. 

To the future doctors and nurses, I don't know how you do it. I have already seen you studying for these upcoming years, and I have no doubt in my mind that you will get there. You will be the person people go to when the worst happens (though some may be there for the best moments life has to offer). Please do not be afraid. Please do not forget to breathe in the wake of disaster. Please always remember why you started, and where you want to end up. You want to help people, and I admire that greatly. You are capable. 

To the future entrepreneurs, I believe in you. You have ideas worth sharing, and you have ideas that no one else has. I've seen you present speeches and tell stories. I've witnessed your imaginations in action. Put it to good work and I know you will end up where you want to. I know things won't always be perfect or go according to plan, but I also know that you have the courage, the heart, and the spirit to keep going after what you want even when it's hard. You are a storyteller, use those stories for good. Use them to create the businesses we need. Your ideas can change the world

To the artists, I hope to see you soon. Whether you draw, or paint, or write, or act, you are very talented. I've seen you share your work, no matter how afraid you may have been. I've watched you grow in how you express yourselves, and I know that growth will only continue. Use your art (whatever it may be) to scream out your anger, cry out your sadness, and dance out your happiness. Remember that we are all artists, no matter what our medium may be. If you make music, use the instruments and melodies to reach the deepest parts of people's souls. Music can do that in a way nothing else can. If you write, remember that dialogue is also music. If you draw, remember that there is beauty and grace in everything. Artists, don't let yourself get burned out. Art is living, and there is no easy way to put pain and heartache into something beautiful without reliving it again and again. Take time for yourself, and remember to take a step back to view things from every angle. There may be something magical just around the corner. You are the magic in this world. 

To the undecideds, you are braver than I will ever be. Keep going into the unknown. Trust yourself. Trust that you know what you want, and trust that even if you aren't completely sure of even that, you will eventually find your place. Think of a time when you were unsure, and think of the time right after that when everything became what it was always supposed to be. That will happen again- always remember that. Whether you become a healer, a fighter, a thinker, or an explorer, keep believing that you will fall into the right things. The best parts of this world were created by those who were unsure. You are courageous. 

To all of you, I hope I will never forget you. High school had it's many ups and downs. There were moments when I wanted to leave, but there were certainly moments where I wanted time to stop so I could stay in moments forever. In our time together, we got lost in our purposes and got lost of purpose. We ran miles and lost battles. We loved and fought and laughed and cried. I loved spending my last two years of high school with all of you, and I honestly can't wait to see what you all do with your lives. 

When you think you're at the end of your road, look up and believe that there is something better out there. When you feel that you've drifted off to far, look down and let your fears settle. Always find things to be thankful for, and cry when you need to (instead of waiting until your Parent Tribute so you sob through the entire thing and no one knows what you're saying... or the equivalent of that). 

Keep getting lost. Keep doing what you know is the right thing to do. Keep finding the funny side of every story. Keep changing your minds. Keep bravery in your left pocket and kindness in your right. Keep your head up. Don't listen to the people who say you can't do whatever it is that you want to do most. Remember that fear is a liar, and remember that you are all so brave. Remember that there is a time and a season for everything, and you can go at your own pace. You are loved. 

I love you. Thank you for everything. 

~ Claira 

 "And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places." ~ Roald Dahl 

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places." ~ Roald Dahl 

To the Class of 2019: Some Things You Should Know

Real quick, while this is a letter to the class of 2019, I am specifically talking to the new senior class of the school I just left. Some of these things could apply to everyone who is graduating next year, but most of are specific to those graduating from the school I graduated from. 

To the Class of 2019,

You're here! This is the home stretch of your high school career, and I can promise you one thing: it will nothing like you expect it to be. Yes, you may know which classes you're taking and where your locker is and who your best friends are, but you still have no idea how different this year will be from what you expect. With that in mind, I thought I would put together a small list of things I would have liked to know, so here you go: 

This year will be more stressful than you thought, but it will also be less stressful than you thought. There were times last year where I wasn't stressed at all. Everything was going well. All my homework was done and I was working with people I liked for group projects. My family life was good, and I was excelling at the things I loved. But then there were times when I wasn't getting an essay in on time because the conclusion wasn't coming together. There were moments where I was so anxious everywhere I went that even my own room was a stressful place to be. I struggled with my mental health last year in ways I had never struggled before. Senior year is stressful, but there are good moments. Savor those good moments because they will make the stressful ones worth it. 

You will experience things differently. If you're like me, you will feel nostalgic all year long until everyone else decides to be nostalgic as well. I was sad about graduating all the way from August to the end of April, and then May hit and all my emotions completely disappeared. I was so stuck in my stressful headspace that I didn't let myself think about anything besides school and homework and enrolling in college. By the middle of May I started to feel nostalgic again, but those feelings always disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived. In this upcoming school year, your floods of emotions may cause you to experience things differently than you have in the past. The Christmas banquet may be the best one ever, but you may find yourself on the verge of tears the whole time. Same goes for basketball games, and choir performances, and maybe even the last period of your least favorite class. Just remember that whatever you're feeling is completely valid, and it's simply your own way of preparing for the many changes that are ahead. 

Teachers are there to help you, even though it doesn't always feel like it. I have always been that person who is on the teacher's side, but last month, during one of my few mental breakdowns, I exclaimed that none of the teachers understood all the stress I was under, and none of them seemed to care about it. My mom smiled and nodded and waited for me to climb out of my hole. There will be moments where it feels like no one, especially the teachers, cares about what you're going through academically. It gets really busy really fast, and the end will creep up on you no matter how many countdowns you have on your wall. When it feels like the teachers don't care about you, remember that it's their job to make sure that you do well. Ask them for help, and listen when they give you information that will inevitably come in handy later. 

Some final things I'll leave you with - Remember that vulnerability is courage, and remember that you are all so brave. Remember that any of you can change the world. Remember that you are smarter, stronger, and better than you may think. I hope you all know these things, and I hope that you don't forget them when this upcoming year gets rough. Be there for each other, help one another through whatever this year will throw at you. Lastly, remember to have fun. This is your senior year, and there is nothing that feels the same as walking onto campus the first day and knowing that this is your year- the year where you know more than you have ever known, and the year where you are more prepared than you ever have been. Go out there and live your year to the best of your ability. I know all of you are going to do amazingly. 

~ Me, Class of 2018 

To Those Who Brought Me Here

This letter was taken from the family tribute I read during the first night of my graduation weekend. Most of this has already been read out to them, but I've added more since then. 

There have been a few times in my life when I have had to take a step back and look at all the people who have helped get me to this moment, but none of those times have felt like this one. This one feels a little bit bigger, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it definitely feels strange. There are so many people I could thank. I am constantly surrounded by friends and teachers who have helped me become this person that you see standing here right now, but there is no way I would be this person without my family. So, to…

Grandmom & Poppy - Both of you up the most generous, kind, hardworking, and intelligent people I know. You have fed me, housed me, helped me through geometry and algebra. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully comprehend all that you have done for me. Both of you have made my life as wonderful as you possibly could. You are my twin pillars- strong and sturdy, there to lift me up when I fall and to show me how to catch all the stars I could possibly hold. Without the two of you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I am so proud to be your granddaughter.

Mom - For the past 18 years, you have given me everything I could possibly need or want. Notebooks for school and for writing down poems. Food for our house and for SA events. You have showed me how to see the good in everything. You have talked me down from many a figurative ledge, and you have always been there to pick up the pieces when I’ve fallen apart. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a best friend for a mom, but I’m glad that I did. You have filled our home with love and with music, with poetry and with happiness. You have made my life what it is, and while I know it hasn’t always been easy, you have been the strongest role model I could have asked for. I love you so much. I am proud to be your daughter. Thank you for everything you have given me.

Austin - For the past sixteen years, you have been the constant in my life. Throughout our childhoods, we have shared rooms, toys, and fights. We have gone through ups and gone through downs, but, still, you have always been there. When I have a problem, I know you are there to listen. When I need someone to be excited about something with me, you are the person I know I can always go to. I am so proud of everything you have accomplished in your lifetime, and I know that you will continue to do amazing things. I am proud to be your big sister, and I love you very much. 

The "Senior" Girls -  All of you will always be the senior girls to me. My life would not be the same without all of you. Each of you have shown me how to be a better thinker, better speaker, and better person. Without any of you I wouldn't have become the person I am. I wouldn't have grown up this much, and I wouldn't have learned all I did in the past two years. All of you have touched my life in ways I didn't even think were possible and my life will never be the same, and for that I will be eternally grateful. To all of you- thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to be better. Without you, I truly don't know where I would be. 

There are so many more people that I could thank for all they’ve done. Friends, teachers, people who have lifted me up when I’ve fallen and placed me on higher ground so I could regain my standing. Those of you who have taken time out of your busy schedules to talk me out of the ditches I’ve dug for myself, thank you. You know who you are. Thank you for listening to my stories, my thoughts, and my qualms. Thank you for early mornings and Friday talks. Thank you for making me smile, making me laugh, and for crying with me when I needed you to. I don’t know where I would be without any of you. I love you deeply. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Love, 
Me