unplanned

Nothing of the past few years has gone as planned.

I broke my ankle at camp, came home, then turned around and went to AUSTRALIA (the next summer–not with the broken ankle). Um, hello, so unplanned. But then God, in His kindness, let me spend two sweet summers at camp.

I graduated a year later than planned. No harm, because it meant that Kaila and I became BFFs. And let’s be real, y’all, God blessed be greatly through that whole process. And still does.

I moved to a city where I knew NO ONE. Again, not a problem because I love Charlotte, my OBC family, and ALL that God is teaching me here.

I sit at a Panera tonight, totally unplanned, because my internet is out. I brought a ton of work home to do, and then brought it to Panera, to hopefully complete, yet here I am pounding away on this space I’ve neglected for months. I feel as though–no, I know God is teaching me something about my plans because hardly anything has gone the way I’ve planned these past few years or specifically the past few months. Sometimes it’s been big things (i.e. those above) but other times–and honestly the ones that have impacted me the most are the ones like tonight. The middle of the nights where I wake up sick, the dinners I have to cancel because of said bad internet (I’m looking at you, AT&T), the lazy Saturdays that get postponed because of babysitting or dinner offers, the books that don’t get read because of the books that are more appropriate for the time being, the household chores that don’t get done because of phone calls or friends who just need to listen.

The things that I tend to view as not important because they weren’t written down in my planner but the things that God calls so important.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–this need to be and do all the things yet somehow still connect with our Savior on a real basis and be open to all of the plans He has for my life. I’ll be honest–I don’t think I can and do and be all things to all people. I’m not that egotistical. But I do struggle with doing all of the things I’m called to do, all of the things I’ve planned to do. Especially when they aren’t always the things He’s planned for me to do.

In our student ministry equipping hour (Sunday School for those of you who grew up in the 90s, like myself), we talked about our daily fellowship with Jesus. And, as always, when I’m the one teaching/facilitating/leading small group discussions, I feel as though I get so much more out of it than those who are listening to me do. We ended our time talking about the things that distract us from fellowshipping daily with Jesus. For them it was a mixture of friends, technology, pets, etc. One of our students just said, “life” and I wanted to hug him because YES.

It all distracts me. Finances. Friends. Family. Fellowship. Community Group. Volunteering. Working. Insurance. Writing. Reading. Watching The West Wing. Going/not going to the gym. Traveling. Painting my nails (that’s so dumb but incredibly accurate). Shopping. Spending quality time with the people God has placed in my life. Ironing my clothes. Meal planning (my you pick two from Panera was definitely not scheduled for tonight). Podcasts. Visiting friends. Reading blog posts and articles. Serving at church. Preparing for anything that I feel the need to prepare for.

Everything distracts me.

We all have these grand plans that we go through life making. From the time we can talk, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. I’m guilty of cultivating this lifestyle–it’s something I’ve asked my students each year that I’ve taught (and maybe we’ll write about it tomorrow during writing time). We dream and daydream and desire a life that is written by us. A life that has a beginning and a really sweet ending. A life that doesn’t involve hurricanes or terrorist attacks or cancer or miscarriages or even something like singleness. Because, for me, I know that’s what it boils down to.

Singleness is hard. But what is harder for me is accepting that my life may never go the way I’ve planned it to go. Never. 

I’m not going to sit here and write a sad and sappy post about how I might be single forever. I’ve played that pity party card one too many times. I don’t know whether I will or won’t be single forever. But what I do know is that I won’t. 

Those two words–really the words, you won’t, have been going through my mind for the past 48ish hours. I was praying on Saturday, trying to get to this place where I blocked all of those ridiculous distractions out of my brain and just listened to God, but of course I only had about seventeen minutes to do so. But, God, in His infinite wisdom, used those words to teach me something. Something that just started to make sense as I sat here and typed.

You won’t live a life you’ve planned. You won’t know what’s next. You won’t do everything on your to-do list, in your time. You won’t. 

But He will.

I know it can be a bit of a cliche, especially in the Christian circles, but remembering that it is all in His hands is such a sweet comfort. It’s a promise that I forget so often, but I want to remember more and more, to mediate on each day. He is sovereign. He’s got me.

Even if–no, when this life doesn’t go the way I’ve planned.

So, there’s that. There’s where I’ve been the past two/three months, trying to learn exactly what God’s teaching me all through fighting distractions and living a life that is so unplanned.

But oh so sweet.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, friend. Sorry for the rambling, but these thoughts just needed to get out. 
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He has said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled
Fear not, I am with you; oh be not dismayed
For I am your God and will still give you aid
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand
When through the deep waters I call you to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless
And sanctify to you your deepest distress
When through fiery trials your pathways shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply
The flame shall not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake
How Firm a Foundation, Norton Hall Band arrangement
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empty.

Almost all of the walls are empty, free of mirrors and paintings and pictures. So many pictures packed away. The built-in bookshelves in the office? The ones that make that room my favorite in the whole house? Other than one shelf that holds the rest of the books I’d like to read in the next couple of weeks, they’re empty. Only a globe sits on the bookshelves in the living room–because how do you pack that anyway? Lots of my clothes are currently serving as the padding in between frames and glasses, winter shoes are in a box, and my dad keeps asking when he can come take the dining room table and pack it away in their house.

The house feels empty.

But, how can it? How can this place feel so empty? This is home. My home.

I specifically remember sitting on the spare bedroom bed in this house when my grandmother still lived here. I was in seventh grade. My parents were out of town to celebrate their anniversary. It was fall break, and our youth group was doing our version of Extreme Home Makeover at a house downtown. I can’t remember the details, but I was upset with my youth pastor about something. He told me to pray about it, and I did. That night, while sitting on that spare bedroom bed, I came across Colossians 3:13, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” That verse hit me like a ton of bricks that night, and the Lord used that moment to soften my heart and give me the grace to forgive my youth pastor.

That happened in this house.

It was just the beginning. The beginning of four years of college that would come where I would live in this house. Where I would learn and grow.

Where I would watch one of my best friends (who was my roommate at the time) fall in love with the man whom she would marry a couple years later.

Where my small group girls would come over and crawl in my bed with me on Saturday nights. We’d laugh and cry and stay up way too late but somehow we’d manage to make it to church on time the next day.

Where I would come home after a summer in Australia to a house full of friends who were there to surprise me and welcome me back to Augusta.

Where I’d cook my first Thanksgiving turkey and cram twenty or so people–the same people who came every week for a Bible study that semester–into my dining room so we could have a Friendsgiving.

Where I would read hundreds of books, experiment with countless recipes found on Pinterest, write more lesson plans than I’d ever imagined writing, and put off ironing so many times that I realized that ironing is truly my least favorite chore.

Where I moved in on June 10, 2011, incredibly bitter and frustrated at God that I wasn’t getting to spend the summer at camp but in hot Augusta with a broken ankle to boot (pun intended). I never could’ve imagined all the sorrow, all the confusion, all the joy, all the changes that would come over these past four years.

This house may be empty (well, almost) now, but oh, the memories that are there to fill my heart from these past four years. I’ll cry when I drive away from this place later this month, not because of the emptiness of the house, but because of how good God has been in this place. How full I feel in the midst of all the empty.

It’s March?

I have written on this blog exactly two times this year. Two times. At the record I’m going, I’ll be good to write once a month. Hey, that’s probably a realistic expectation based on this year so far.

Anyway, the past two months have literally flown by, and they have been incredibly full. I could sum it all up like this: two trips to Asheville, a trip to Charlotte, eight full weeks of student teaching with one holiday (plus two sick days, but we’re not counting those), weekends full of working at Bath and Body Works and cooking for the week ahead, weeknights full of babysitting, four mandatory seminars, processing the death of my grandfather and ALL that encompasses, afternoons full of telling myself to go run but IT’S JUST SO COLD OUTSIDE AND WE DIDN’T EVEN GET SNOW, and nights lying in the bed wondering where God’s going to take me next on this journey.

I graduate in exactly 67 days (not that anyone’s counting or anything like that), and other than two trips in May that are planned already, I’m not sure what my life is going to look like after May 8th. THAT SCARES ME TO DEATH.

Those of you who know me well know that I am a planner through and through. It’s in my nature to plan, to figure out the details of things, and to like to just generally know what’s going on next. I’m good with details. There’s something I’m absolutely confident I’m good at, and it’s planning. Except for when I’m having to trust God with the plans.

Deep down, I know. I know He’s got me. I know that He’s going to provide in His time, His way. He always has. He always will. But, there’s this part of me, this part of me that Satan knows all too well when he whispers thoughts of doubt that cause me to question God. In all of my 23 years of life, I’ve never not known what’s going to happen after the end of a school year. I’ve never not known how my summer is going to look–even after the one where I broke my ankle.

I have to remind myself daily, sometimes hourly and minutely, that He’s got this. I think of all the unknowns in my life and how He’s made something beautiful out of them. Camp? Wow. I could talk for days about how He made beauty from ashes there. Australia? Again. Such a reminder for me of His faithfulness in my life. My birth family? All the answers aren’t there yet, but He has been so sovereign, and I know He will continue to do so.

So, why do I continue to doubt His goodness and faithfulness when it comes to a job for the fall? Because I’m human, I guess. I’m not sure. But, what I am sure of, is even in this messy, BUSY season, He knows it all. He hasn’t forsaken me once, and He never will. That’s the hope I’m going to cling to for the next 67 days PLUS the rest of my life.

The Redemption of a Broken Ankle

Two of my most memorable trips to Camp Cedar Cliff occurred during my senior year of high school. I remember being incredibly skeptical before I went the first time. Who on earth would want to spend four days in the woods? (Five-and-a-half years later I would argue that I do!) However, after being forced out of my comfort zone in more ways than one (HELLO hike to the rappel site), camp was slowly but surely forming a small place in my heart. After spending another week there at the end of my senior year, I knew I was hooked. I wanted to work at camp.

When I think about the person I was during freshman year and the person I am now, I sometimes want to go back and slap myself. Why in the world did I ever think I could go off to camp for six weeks without a) preparing myself physically (camp has some hills, y’all) and b) preparing myself spiritually. Freshman year was such a TRANSITION for me that I could write post after post after post about how weird yet good yet WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE that year was. So, when I fell on the third day of staff training and broke my ankle, there was this weird part of me that was at peace. I wasn’t ready to spend a summer at camp. I just wasn’t.

Fast forward two years later, and I’m off to camp again. There was this part of me that consistently thought YOU’RE GOING TO BREAK A BONE. AGAIN. But, there was another part of me that just knew, oh I KNEW, that God had planned for me to be there that summer. I was so sure of it. And, He had. I spent the whole summer working, growing, healing, serving, loving, receiving, and so much more. One of my favorite parts of that summer? My friendship with Kasey.

That was Kasey’s first summer on full-time staff. She didn’t work the summer I broke my ankle, and if I had worked that summer, I can probably guarantee that our paths wouldn’t have crossed like they ended up crossing. But, God. Y’all, His sovereignty and goodness just blows me away. BLOWS ME AWAY. Like, only God could redeem my broken ankle.

Kasey and I celebrated our birthdays together this past weekend. We painted and dined and laughed and talked and even cried. It was bliss. On Saturday night, Kasey and I were making dinner while snacking on chips and hummus and salsa. She’d just shown me something rather personal, something that was an answer to many prayers we’d both prayed over the past year-and-a-half, and I started crying. (What a shock that I was being emotional.) All I could say was, “I just keep remembering what you walked through last summer and this just shows how faithful and good God is.” She teared up a bit, too, and said, “Look at us now.”

Look at us now. She was standing in her kitchen wearing socks with chacos, my stuff was strewn about all over her apartment like I lived there, and we’d spent the afternoon getting tea at an Asian tea house in Black Mountain that was more of an adventure than either of us had expected (one for the books, huh, Kase?). To me, it was just so God. She has grown to be one of my dearest friends, and I love how God has used her story, her life, her struggles even, to minister to me. It has been one of the sweetest blessings in my life.

All because of that dang broken ankle.

as sure as the sun

This semester has been long. This semester has been hard. This semester has been defeating. This semester has been nothing like I imagined it to be. My life has been nothing like I imagined it to be.

I’ve come to terms with some harsh realities this semester. The life I had planned for myself isn’t the life I’m living, and on some days, that makes me so very mad…at God. It took me a while to admit that, and it’s still very hard to write. Why should I be mad at God? What right do I have to be mad at Him? Because my life is different than I planned? No, not at all. He even PROMISES us that He has plans for us that only He knows. Why should this be at all a shock to my system that my life has gone differently than what I expected?

If my life had gone according to plan, I would have gone to Auburn, and I would be engaged or seriously dating someone by now. I would be graduating on time, I would weigh a little less, and I’d probably be driving a newer car right now. If my life had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t have broken my ankle or gone through the endings of long friendships. I wouldn’t be going to a different church than my parents, I would have a higher GPA, and I probably wouldn’t be studying to be a teacher.

However, if my life had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t have been able to meet and make some of the best friends I could’ve ever imagined. I wouldn’t have worked at camp with the people that made last summer so incredibly special, and I can probably guarantee I wouldn’t have gone to Australia. If life had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t have met my birth dad nor would I have seen him and his wife get baptized. I wouldn’t have been able to see Jack grow up or be there on the day Joe was born. I wouldn’t be in the education program with some of the sweetest girls ever, and I wouldn’t be growing more in my faith because I’ve had to really make it my own in this past year.

It’s hard to remember the times He’s been faithful when you’re walking through things that seem hard, or even are hard. Compared to a lot of my friends, I haven’t had “big” struggles this semester, but I’ve still had struggles. PRAISE JESUS, He finds them equally important. It’s easy to think that He doesn’t care or that He doesn’t see. But, oh, friend, He does.

God is not overlooking some of the details in your life. God is orchestrating ALL of the details of your life. – David Platt

I recently bought the album “As Sure As the Sun” by Ellie Holcomb. Honestly, the only reason I bought was because it was going to only be $2 after I used two coupons at Family Christian. That had to be two of the best dollars I’ve ever spent. The lyrics of the first song absolutely blew me away, and I was hooked.

As sure as the sun will rise and chase away the night / His mercy will not end / His mercy will not end

While it’s hard to remember or even “see” His faithfulness, the rising of the sun is such a clear and perfect reminder. Each day it rises. Each and every single day, that sun comes up. And each and every single day, God is just as faithful as He’s been and as He always will be.

“Let us acknowledge the Lord, let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear. He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” -Hosea 6:3

This is one of the Scriptures that the song “As Sure As the Sun” is based upon. As I was at camp last weekend, I noted how everything seemed to be in full bloom. The last time I was at camp was in January, so everything was dead. But, in April, things were blooming and beautiful. It was so apparent that “the spring rains [had] water[ed] the earth”. God’s faithfulness was so evident to me in that moment. I’m praying that this will continue to be the case, and that God’s faithfulness will be as obvious to me as the rising of the sun.

beyond measure

It’s no secret that I absolutely love camp. I adore every minute that I get to spend in those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I have just fallen in love with that beautiful place. However, as beautiful as camp is, that is not the reason why I love camp so much. I love camp so much because of the extraordinary way God works there through the ordinary people He has in place there.

I’ve honestly been looking forward to being at camp for the past two or so weeks. Even though I’ve seen and talked to some of my favorite people from camp, I just wanted to be there with them. Even if it meant working one looooooooooong retreat. I drove to Greenville on Friday and met up with my friend Emma Kate. We then headed to camp, where it was freezing, and I got to see lots of wonderful staff from this summer! And on Saturday morning, it just got so much better…

…I got to meet the newest member of the Duke family, sweet Levi Jude! I love the Dukes, and they are in their last couple months at camp. I’m going to miss them lots as they head off to Maggie Valley, so I’m extra grateful for this time I got to spend with them!
How SWEET is this picture of big brother Elliott with Levi?!
Of course, no visit is complete without time making this girl smile and laugh.
Favorite quotes of the weekend from Anna: “Mom, can Ashton and Emma Kate come pick me up for dinner?” and after dinner, she’s chewing something, so when I ask her what she’s eating, she says, “I found a little piece of chicken stuck in my mouth so I had to finish it!”
Gosh, I just LOVE her.
Like I said, camp is an absolutely beautiful place. I’ve been there in the spring, summer, and winter, but this was my first fall experience at camp. Lots of the leaves had fallen, but there were still a few trees that were just screaming for their picture to be taken. Gorgeous!
It was Abby’s birthday on Sunday, so we all got the chance to sing to her, eat some brownies with her, and celebrate sweet Abby! She was my supervisor and mentor this summer, and this woman is full of wisdom and grace! I so enjoyed getting to be with her.
And to top off my wonderful weekend, I got to have dinner with this girl on my way home on Sunday (photo taken this summer). One of the staffers that was at camp this weekend had been in Clemson earlier last week and got to see Mary Leslie, so I decided to text her and see if we could meet up. It worked out well, and it was just such an encouragement to be with her.
This past weekend, I felt so blessed. I kept thinking that if I’d stayed at camp two summers ago and hadn’t broken my ankle, that I wouldn’t have met some of the people who made this summer so special and who still bless me every single day. God has really blessed me beyond measure, and I’m so incredibly grateful for this season of my life.
 
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

sovereignty.

After EIGHT crazy weeks of Senior Staff Training, Staff Training, and Camp, the summer at Camp Cedar Cliff has officially ended. At the beginning of the summer, the staff wrote these “Letters to God” where we just basically poured our hearts out to the Lord for the summer. We prayed for the summer and asked God to do certain things in our lives, in the lives of campers, and in the lives of other staff throughout the summer. One thing that I asked was that God would do something totally unexpected. And He did.

During my sophomore year of college, I walked through some pretty hard stuff, mainly having to do with some really long friendships ending. I won’t go into too much detail here, but basically I’m no longer friends with some people whom I’d been friends with for over a decade. Many times during that process, I would ask God, “Why?”. “Why are you letting me go through this stuff? This isn’t good.” And I never got an answer. Never once did the Lord say, “I’m letting you walk through this for this reason.” Not until this summer.

This summer, I supervised and mentored fourteen 15-17 year olds. I specifically spent time with three of the girls, and I got to know them and their hearts pretty well. About halfway through the summer, two of them came to me with stories so similar to mine that I had to laugh. I thought, “This is crazy. There is no way they are dealing with some of the same things I dealt with.” But they were. And I was able to walk with them through some really hard stuff, I was able to give them advice since I’d literally been in the same spot they were in just a couple of years earlier, and I was able to pray with them that God would be sovereign in this area.

It didn’t really hit me until Saturday at just how sovereign God had been in that area of my life, really in all areas of my life. None of this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t broken my ankle in 2011. Knowing that God used that awful summer to affect, greatly, this summer pretty much blew me away. I never would’ve guessed that the lessons I learned then would be applicable to some high schoolers this summer. But that’s how sovereign He is.

We sang this song a LOT this summer, and I absolutely love it. I’ll let it speak for itself.