He sets the lonely in families.

“God sets the lonely in families…” – Psalm 68:6 (NIV)

During the school year, at least once a month (sometimes more), I find myself making the 30-minute drive to the home of some dear friends. I usually am there for dinner, and most often, I bring my famous dessert, “Ashton’s Berry Surprise”. Most of my time there is spent with the husband and wife of this dear family, but of course I’ve gotten to know their children as well.

Over the summer, I find myself there more often. Last year I was there for both Memorial Day and The Fourth of July, for a jam making day, and for more dinners than normal. This summer has included dinners and even a sleepover–me with the kids while their parents were out for a night. When the Fourth was starting to draw closer, I was invited to join this sweet family for the day. They usually have lots of us over for dinner/swimming/fireworks, but they invited me to join them in the morning at a small town parade they go to each year. I said I would think about it–not totally sure that I wanted to mess with parking there and all. A few days passed and I got a text saying that one of the sweet boys had offered up his room so that I could spend the night and ride with them to the parade. I wouldn’t have to mess with parking on my own or anything like that. My heart immediately warmed, and I thought of Psalm 68:6.

He sets the lonely in families.

For years when I thought of this verse, I thought it meant a replacement of sorts. That when God sets us–those of us who are lonely–in the hearts of families that our desire for a family of our own is being replaced because He’s given us this other family, these other people. I don’t think that anymore.

I deeply desire a husband and children of my own. I want to be married and to have babies and to be called Mama. I really do. But I don’t think that Him setting me in the hearts of this family (or other really sweet ones at OBC) means that my desire is diminished or lessened or even no longer existent. Nor do I think it’s a replacement. He has given me this family for this season. For what purpose?

Well, one reason I think is to learn from them. I’m not promised a husband or children, but I can still learn how to be hospitable, how to show grace, and how to handle conflicts. And if God ever does give me a husband and children, the time spent here will be all the more valuable. As I observe conversations and listen to discipline and parenting, I see more of Him because I see different people who are His children. I can watch how siblings interact—something I never got the privilege of doing—and I can see how brothers act and are taught to act. Most of my friends growing up had little sisters. I never really saw brothers be brothers. Should God ever give me boys, this observation will not be in vain.

But what if He doesn’t–the question I ask myself far too often instead of reminding myself to trust and obey God today. What if He doesn’t? Well, I still don’t think this will be in vain. I get to be part of a family that is bigger than mine, which I believe is a representation of the family of God. And while it’s hard at times when I take other people’s kids to the pool or I watch a husband kiss his wife when he comes home from work, I think being part of a family, as a single person, is one of the most rewarding things God allows us to do. It reminds me of His provision and His care and shows me His kindness in ways I wouldn’t experience with just people my age or in my same stage of life.

God sets the lonely in families.

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U.K., Days 5-6

When Emma Kate and I decided to make our trip to Europe only a trip to England, I said, “We have to stay in an AirBnB for one night and eat at the local pub. We just have to!” I may or may not have had unexpected dreams of our trip turning into Cameron Diaz’s in The Holiday. I was just hoping two sober Jude Laws would appear at our door. I mean a girl can dream, right?

Anyway.

I spent a lot of time researching this when I had the flu (because what else is there to do?), and I was set on us visiting the tiny little village of Castle Combe. EK came up about two weeks before we left, and she said, “Tell me why we need to go.” Apparently I convinced her because we did go there. But first, we went to DOWNTON ABBEY!

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A quick back story…when I worked in Student Ministry in college, I once had a period of two weeks where my boss was out of the country on a mission trip. Because of that, I had some “overtime” hours, and when he got back, he basically told me to take the week off except for our events. I had a whole week open, and I had no idea what to do. Grant said, “Go home and watch Downton Abbey! It’s so good.” So, I did. And it was.

When we realized how close Highclere Castle was, the castle where they filmed Downton Abbey, and the castle where a real life Earl and his wife STILL LIVE to this day, EK and I decided to head that way. We rented a car, drove the hour-and-a-half from Oxford, and spent the morning there.

It was beautiful.

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We toured the castle, and it’s still pretty much set up like it was during filming. Of course, we couldn’t take pictures, but once we headed outside, it was worth it. The grounds were so green and beautiful. I was blown away!

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While this wasn’t actually the church from the series, we pretended it was. Ha. But, this is the church in the nearby “Highclere Village”, which was adorable.

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From Newbury, where Highclere Castle is, we headed west about an hour to Dyrham Park. I was set on us having a night in an airbnb near some cute village, and I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed with our accommodations or the village. This is the view from the farm where we stayed. It was quite idyllic. We stayed in a converted barn, and we had the loveliest host. He recommended that we go to Castle Combe, so I was glad that my idea of going here was supported by locals as well.

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After settling in, we drove the half hour or so to Castle Combe, and I was not at all disappointed. This is just one of the many rows of quaint homes in the village.

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There’s not much in Castle Combe…a church and a pub and a hotel. And LOTS of adorable homes. I guess that the residents work in Bath or one of the other nearby towns. I’m not sure. But, it was so cute and I couldn’t get enough of it!

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I’m pretty positive this was a memorial to those who died during World War II. I was reminded of how many people lost their lives to either WWI or WWII while we were in England. Very sobering.

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This was the hotel/resort? that is in Castle Combe. We managed to sneak our way onto the grounds, which was really not all that hard but did go against all of my rule-follower tendencies. However, it was worth it!

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After exploring Castle Combe, which really didn’t take that long because it is quite small, we headed back to Dyrham Park and went to dinner at the local pub. Apparently these Brits take their pub going a little more seriously than we expected–we were asked if we had reservations! It was really quite beautiful inside, and we sat near a fireplace and ate by far the best burger I’ve ever had in my life.

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The next day we drove to Bath, and again, I documented my love of window boxes, which the English do quite well.

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We didn’t actually go to the Roman Baths because we were very museum-ed out at that point, as well as not thrilled to pay $25ish to see the Roman Baths/wait in a long time to do so. We did wander and see some of the other sights–The Jane Austen Centre, the Royal Crescent, the Circus, Bath Abbey, etc. The architecture there was phenomenal!

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I also really wanted to see this bridge, Pulteney Bridge on the River Avon. Once we saw this, we were pretty much done because we needed to get back to London before dark and we still had one more stop to make.

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Our host in Dyrham Park told us to go to Tetbury, which was on our way back to London. We did, and while it was also full of cute buildings like this one, we quickly realized we weren’t really in the key age bracket to fully enjoy Tetbury. It was full of antique shops and pricey hotels and restaurants–not things in our budget for this trip.

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We wandered for a bit and ended up in a coffee/bicycle shop. We got to do what I think was my favorite thing to do in England–chat with the locals. Except this local was from Australia, so we got to talk about that, too.

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We got back to London after our little jaunt to the countryside, and we were welcomed back by THE SUN. It was a welcoming sight to two weary travelers.

Summer!

I often joke that I am my best self during the summer, but I’m not totally joking. I so enjoy the summer, the slower pace, the chance to read, and the opportunity to travel. While I enjoy the school year, the summer is such a nice time to reset and relax. As of today, I’ve been out for a week, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I know that in a few weeks, I’ll be ready for the routine of the school year again (maybe), but for now, I’m soaking up summer!

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While it wasn’t quite yet summer yet (even though it felt like it), Jordan and I went down to Beaufort and Emma Kate met us there for Memorial Day weekend. We got to spend one day at the beach, but the weather wasn’t so great, so we drove to Charleston for another day. We spent Memorial Day biking around Beaufort before heading home, and it was a fun end to a fun weekend! It’s fun having my friends become friends.

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We celebrated my friend Kelly’s birthday at what seems to be our new birthday place, Tupelo Honey. While lighting isn’t the best and we didn’t quite manage to make sure the exit sign was out of the picture, it was a fun night out with some of the sweetest friends.

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I headed to Augusta last Tuesday, and I met my friend Casie for breakfast on Wednesday morning. We went to a new-to-Augusta place, and I ordered what I thought was a normal pancake. And well, this came out. The shirt wasn’t planned, but let’s just say the best caption for this picture is, “Y’all. This pancake!” 🙂

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I got to have dinner that night with my dear friend Chelsea (you really need to read her blog). We’ve known each other since elementary school and have been close friends since high school. We were talking about a post I’d submitted to Stand for Life last year that they recently reposted when she said, “I know I’ve read that a few times. But each time I do, I think about what you went through to get to that point to be able to write that.” It was just a sweet reminder of how long we’ve been friends and of how much she’s walked through with me.

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I had a wedding to go to in Pensacola this weekend, and when my dad mentioned that to his friend Johnny, he invited them to come down as well. We walked near their house and went biking before I headed to the wedding. While we did a lot of driving in one weekend, it was fun getting to be with my parents and their friends for a bit.

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My friend Addison is one of my oldest friends. I really don’t remember not knowing him, while I know there were years when I didn’t. We grew up at church together, and we went to middle and high school together. We stayed friends after college, but we managed to keep in touch better because he lived with my friend Kaila’s boyfriend (now husband) in college. It was fun getting to see him get married this weekend and spend time with some old friends!

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The wedding was of course the most fun because anytime spent with your BFF is fun, even if you both have weird sunburns (please ignore my major burn/tan line on my arm). But really, so glad we get to share friends and go to weddings together and hang out in random places.

I’m back in CLT now, and I’m ready for a summer full of books and slow mornings spent drinking coffee on my back porch. I have a couple of low key trips planned but not much else. Here’s to a restful summer!

A Few Recommendations:

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | I saw a friend post on Instagram about this book last year, and I finished it last week. It’s the story of a doctor who is diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Incredibly fascinating (I always have found the medical world interesting) and very raw and honest.
  • Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush | I really like the Bush family, and I’ve had this on my “to-read” list since it came out last year. It was sweet, an easy read, and a fun little look into their lives.
  • Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson | Lots of friends have talked about this book, and I’ve had it for a few months. I finally managed to dive into it last month, and I’m glad I did. Anderson discusses the importance of humility in all seasons of life and how Jesus Christ was the best example of true humility.
  • Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot | As always, Elisabeth Elliot’s work manages to wreck me. Written in her true to self form, quick to the point yet compassionate, this book reads almost as if it were a journal or a note to a friend. I really enjoyed this one.

Currently Reading: 

Year 26.

Year twenty-six has been the hardest of all my years so far.

I know that I’m still young, and I know that I have so much more life ahead of me, Lord willing. But, it’s still been the hardest. Halfway through my twenty-sixth year, and I’m ready for the next one.

I started year 26 fresh off of a break-up and in the middle of a hard (but SO VERY GOOD) year of teaching. I came home after an emotional Christmas break and ending up celebrating my birthday with people whom I hadn’t planned on spending the evening with but am so glad I did. January was full of snow and cold temperatures, February flew by quickly, March started off with the flu and ended with England, April was all about England and rushing to finish things at work before the school year ended, and May has been…well, May (and all the mamas and teachers said AMEN).

I’ve hit that point in the school year where I’m exhausted and so ready for summer, but I’m also still in the midst of a year of life (personally) that’s been hard. It’s been nothing like what I thought year 26 would be. It’s been full of weddings and baby showers and trips and books and friends and church. But, it’s also been full of reminding myself that God is good, that He has a plan for me, that the fight for joy is worth it, and that this life is not eternal but I will spend eternity with Him. In the middle of all that, I’m still an adult who is trying to pay her mortgage, go to the gym three times a week, work well, and somehow maintain a social life.

Year 26 is hard.

Tonight, I went to the Pregnancy Resource Center of Charlotte for a church partnership event. Led by the efforts of a dear friend, our church is partnering with the PRC, and we were able to learn more about their ministry tonight. Numbers and statistics were given to us, stories were shared, and lives were touched tonight. We walked through the center, saw rooms where women are counseled, and wrote cards for those who choose life to be able to open up once their baby is born.

I sobbed the whole night.

At first it was a tear or two, but then the reality hit me. Twenty-six years ago a twenty-six year-old woman was making the same decision we were abstractly talking about tonight. She was deciding whether or not to choose life. I’m not sure how hard the decision was or was not for my birth mom about actually choosing life (not the giving me up part because I know that was incredibly difficult). Based on what I know about her life and convictions, I’m assuming the “choosing life” part was easier for her than some of the women we heard about tonight.

But, still. I know how hard my life is right now (please don’t hear that as a complaint; the Christian life is just not easy at times). I know the battles I fight and the sins I struggle with. I know how hard it can be to find contentment in Christ and to find joy in Him on days when life isn’t going my way. I cannot begin to imagine adding an unplanned pregnancy to that mix.

Oh, how thankful I am that she chose life. That in year 26 for her, which I’m sure was one of her hardest as well, she chose life for me. She did one of the most selfless things and chose life for a baby girl who would one day grow up to be a woman who loves to eat lemons and cries her eyes out when abortion is brought up.

Because, by the grace of God, a woman whose twenty-sixth year was far harder than hers, life was given to her. And she is able to live out that really hard twenty-sixth year. Praise the Lord.

 

 

2018 Summer Reading List

Memorial Day screams to me the “kick-off of summer”, which means to me that it’s my time to read all the books. I was at the beach this weekend, and I did manage to finish a book and make some headway on some others. Here’s my reading list for this summer.

What are you reading this summer?

Two JCrew Dresses

Today, I put on my second JCrew dress in the last nine days.

I typically save my JCrew dresses for special occasions–weddings, graduations, celebrations, funerals, etc. In nine days, I’ve gone to two of those: a wedding and a funeral, both of them involving church members and both of them taking place at my church.

Nine days ago, I donned my new coral JCrew dress for a wedding. My friends Chad and Aubrey got married, something we’ve been anticipating as a church for a few months. Many of us were there to celebrate, and it really was a joyous occasion. The next day, we got to rejoice again as one of our other members had an incredible “win” in his career. We headed into the week full of thankfulness and joy for what God was (and still is) doing in our church family.

On Wednesday, an email went out that the daughter of a couple from church had passed away unexpectedly. She was just a couple of years older than me, and while I’d never met her, I’d prayed for her and heard about her. I was in a community group with her parents for over two years, and because of that, I knew some of her life story and just how much they loved her.

Just two weeks ago, our community group met for the last time for this school year and in it, we prayed for this couple because they were moving (and now have) from Charlotte to be closer to their adult children. We prayed over them, thanked them for their service to OBC, and were so encouraged by what God was doing in this new season for them. I watched them dance at the wedding just days ago, smiles lighting up their faces.

And then this.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain they are going through, and my heart keeps breaking for them.

Today, I donned my black JCrew dress, the one that gets worn for funerals and the occasional celebration. I walked into the place that I walked into two times yesterday, and where I walked into just last weekend for a totally different worship service. The atmosphere was clearly different this time; the hush was audible in the sanctuary. Our congregation was weeping with those who were weeping. Our members were serving this family in one of the best ways they could through the ministry of presence.

After the service, I went with a friend to pick up food for the dinner the church was serving the family later tonight. As we headed out, I said to her, “I’m really proud of our people.” She said, “Yeah, today is one of those days where I’m grateful and reminded of the good people we have here.”

Our people showed up this week. I was blown away by the servant hearts, the willingness to sacrifice for this family, and the amount of people who served this weeping family in so many ways. From those who provided food to those who ushered to those who greeted and to those who manned the parking lot, our people served well. I saw stay-at-home-mama after stay-at-home-mama at this funeral. That means babysitters and money and so much sacrifice to be able to minister to this family. I saw businessmen and seminary students who are in the midst of finals at this funeral. I watched our congregation minister to this family in ways like we’ve never been able to before because we’ve never really had anything like this happen before.

I saw today, and over the last week, really, how our congregation serves and lives out God’s commands. The service of my sweet friends to empty-nesters to couples in their seventies and eighties encouraged my soul so much. I don’t think I can say it enough: I am so thankful for the men and women who quickly, willingly, and joyfully serve each other day in and day out at OBC.

While I didn’t want to wear a JCrew dress on a Monday for the reason that I did, I am so grateful that I got to wear it and stand by my precious brothers and sisters today as we worshipped our Savior and remembered the life of one of His daughters.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15

 

When He Uses Sickness

A couple of weeks ago, I went home for the weekend to attend a wedding shower. My trip was short, and I had to be back at church early on Sunday morning, so I was up and on I-20 by 6 that morning. Later that afternoon, I babysat for some friends, ate dinner with them, and I immediately came home that evening and threw it all up. I absolutely hate throwing up, and I usually try to avoid it at all costs. Before I started teaching, I felt very much like Jerry Seinfeld with his non-vomit streak.

However, I have since lost that after becoming a teacher. You just get sick a lot more. That night, I chalked it up to watching 15 kiddos, teaching 24 kiddos, and not getting enough sleep over the weekend.

After I texted the mamas of the kiddos I babysat that night, I sipped on a cocktail of Coke and Pepto Bismol and headed to sleep. I thought I would be fine, but as I sent a text to our secretary at 1:45 that morning because I was still sick and knew I wouldn’t be at work the next day, I realized I wasn’t good.

Thankfully, probably due to a diet of toast and applesauce and Gatorade for the next day, I didn’t get sick again, but I did not feel well. I spent most of the day lying on the couch, rewatching some of Friday Night Lights, and just resting on a day that wasn’t originally supposed to be restful. That evening, I realized that I was supposed to be bringing dinner to friends the next night, and I started to worry. They had a new baby. What if I was still carrying something that I could give to their newborn?

After she and I texted about it, we decided to put off dinner until the next day. Of course, that sort of threw off my plans, but little did I know how the Lord would use that time in a way that only He could’ve orchestrated.

As I stepped into their house two days later, I felt my phone buzz. After unloading everything one could need to enjoy tacos, I pulled out my phone and read the message. This was not a message I had planned on receiving, just like getting sick wasn’t something I’d planned on happening. However, the message I got couldn’t have come at any more right of a time or in any more right of a place.

Without going into too much detail, I can just say that there isn’t a better person in my life than this friend whose house I was at that night to handle this situation. She knew all of the details, and she was able to counsel me in the way that I needed in that moment–all while holding a newborn and eating tacos, too. Had I been at her house on the night I was supposed to, I would’ve received this message without her there for me, and I’m pretty sure my response to it would’ve been different had that been the case.

Sure, I don’t like getting sick. I really hate throwing up. I’ll do whatever I can not to throw up. However, I can honestly say after this crazy situation, I’ve never been more thankful for random sicknesses that include throwing up.

Lately, I’ve been learning (more and more) about our plans not going our way and praying each day with open hands, ready and willing to receive whatever God has for us. That often includes things we don’t plan, and while sometimes those are things we don’t like, there are also sweet surprises along the way from God. I’ve started asking myself two questions at the end of each night: 1) What didn’t go the way I planned for it to go today? and 2) How did God surprise me today? The answers vary–sometimes the surprises are bigger than others, and sometimes my day does go the way I planned. Either way, this has helped change my heart and attitude in the matter. My day is no longer mine–it’s His. I can just humbly receive what it is He’s given me and trust that it’s for His glory and my good.

Even when that means throwing up at two in the morning.