Reminders of Grace

A year ago tonight, I sat at a table at a wedding reception for a friend from college and his new wife. The song playing might’ve been a couple-y song (you know, the ones where you need a dance partner to dance with) or not. I can’t remember why I wasn’t out on the dance floor with my friends–because I can say that is something I’ve gotten much better at these days. Going on the dance floor with friends at weddings.

I digress. 

Anyway, as I was sitting at the table, I was talking to the videographer, another old friend, and I got a text from my mom. Ninny is in Heaven, it read. I remember flipping my phone over after I read it, not really knowing what to do. Did I leave the reception? Did I tell my friend I was talking to about the text I’d just received? Did I cry? Wouldn’t it be awkward to sit at a reception crying…because someone I loved had just died

Let me back up. Almost two weeks prior, I’d called my mom, feeling a little homesick. The fall semester had started off fairly, well, weird, to put it mildly. I was incredibly busy with work, hosting a small group, teaching children’s Sunday school, and other life commitments. I’d also had a minor dermatological issue going on, so I was a little out of whack and wanted to be with my people. But before I could get any of this out to my mom, I could tell she was busy. I asked her what was going on—it was a Tuesday after 9pm—and she said that her mom was on the way to the hospital. 

We didn’t really know what was going on at that time. Ninny, my mom’s 95-year-old mom (known as Grandma to every other cousin), lived in an assisted living home just outside of Augusta, where my dad’s mom lived (and still does) as well. She’d been there for over three years, which had been a shock to most of us. After she lost her husband of 65+ years in 2008, none of us expected her to live 8-and-a-half more years. She constantly spoke of going to Heaven, going to be with Woody (my grandpa), etc. She hadn’t been herself for a good 3-4 years, but it was really after Woody died that she stopped being as fun-loving as she’d been when I grew up. So needless to say it wasn’t a total shock to the system when Mom called me the next day and said it didn’t look good. 

But it was a shock to me. I still remember sitting at my desk at work just boohooing like a baby. I tried hard to get it together, to make sure no one saw, but one of or teacher assistants did, and she hugged me hard because that’s what I needed. 

No one knew anything. I had so many plans that week–two concerts, a dinner, and something else, but I cancelled them all. It was also the end of the first quarter, so it was a busy time for me at work. But, I wanted to be with my family more than anything, so when Mom told me everyone was coming up on Saturday, I knew I needed to go home. 

We alternated between spending time at the hospital and getting the house ready for guests. Mom’s sister, my sweet Aunt Lisa, flew up on Saturday. Her son and his family drove over from near Columbia, and another cousin and her family drove up from Tampa. We all got to spend time with Ninny, not that I think she really knew, but maybe she did. After a while, everyone gathered back at our house, and Mom and Aunt Lisa and Sofia, my cousin’s wife, and Sara, my cousin, and I went to look at the nursing home Ninny would be in—literally called The Place—until she died. 

And after that, we shopped. And we laughed. If there is anything my grandmother loved to do, it was those two things. Mom and I took everyone to one of our favorite local shops, and we shopped and shopped. We came back to the house where my dad had chili and homemade pizza and salad all ready. We ate and told stories and laughed some more. We took pictures, which having an 8-year-old try to take a group picture of the adults is clearly something to cause more laughter, so we did that some more too. All too soon, we had to say goodbye and separate, go back to our lives while Mom and Aunt Lisa held down the fort and made decisions for the next week. 

I don’t paint that picture of a family night lightly. We aren’t a family that gathers all the time—we’re fairly spread out geographically, so it’s hard to do. We don’t vacation together each year, or even see each other every year, for that fact. There’s a lot of us, a lot of time and distance in between us, and a lot of lives to live. I say all that to say, that night we shopped and laughed was a sweet gift of grace from our Father. It made this whole confusing process less bitter and more sweet

A full week passed, and my grandma was pretty much the same. She slowly deteriorated more and more each day, but no one knew when she would pass away. I didn’t know if I should come home for the wedding or not. When would the funeral be? We would be traveling for that, so I didn’t know if I should save my days at work or not. I ended up coming home, and I got to see her one more time before she passed away. Dad and I went to Costco and on our way to dinner, we stopped by The Place to see Mom, Aunt Lisa, and Ninny. While there, her doctor came to check on her. Another bit of grace? The doctor she had is the uncle of a dear, dear friend of mine. He’s a believer, and he really made the whole process easier for our family. 

The next day, I headed to Anthony and Kristen’s wedding with Patrick and Kaila. I put the whole thing out of my mind, because, honestly, it could’ve been days before she passed. I laughed with my friends—Kaila and I laughed so hard at one point that we almost embarrassed ourselves—and I celebrated a new union. It was really a sweet day. 

Kaila ended up coming back to our table to get something to drink just a few minutes after my mom texted me. Somehow she knew, in that way that best friends do, that something was wrong. I quickly told her, and before I could even ask, she offered for us to leave. She and Patrick drove me home quickly, listened to me as I needed to talk things out, and prayed for me for the upcoming days. Another bit of grace. 

Mom and Aunt Lisa came home that night while Dad and I waited patiently. We weren’t sure what to do or what they would be like when they came home, so we just waited. And we should’ve expected it—they came home ready to tell us funny stories that had happened throughout the day, from my uncle’s cell phone ringing during a prayer to my aunt sitting on the bed next to Ninny and it moving when it shouldn’t. They weren’t being rude or disrespectful to their mother’s memory, either, by their laughing and telling funny stories. If anything, they respected her most in that moment, because had she still been alive, she would’ve been doing the exact same thing. Laughing and laughing and laughing some more. 

Ninny was a woman who loved passionately, who was always up for a game or a craft, who taught us to laugh, who showed me what it was like to live a faithful life to the Lord, and who is missed each day. She would’ve loved the family gatherings we had over the time she was in the hospital and while planning her funeral. She’d would’ve laughed right with us. And while I do miss her, while I wish she was still with us, I am so grateful to know without a shadow of a doubt that she is in the presence of our Savior right now. And that same Savior gave us the grace to walk through three hard weeks by supplying all that we needed and more. 

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Lavender candles are my new favorite.

One of my favorite podcasts that I discovered this past summer was Stephen Altrogge’s Only The Good Stuff. In it, Altrogge and his guest discuss five things that the guest is currently enjoying. I enjoy this podcast because it’s so refreshing when I feel as though all I hear throughout the day are either negative comments or how something horrible has gone on in the world, again.

So, inspired, yet again, by Stephen Altrogge, here are five things I’m enjoying right now.

  1. Lavender CandlesI walked into Bath and Body Works a few weeks ago and smelled one of these burning and bought one the second they went on sale. I’ve been on a big lavender kick lately since it’s so relaxing, so this candle is being burned almost every night in my bedroom. It smells so good!
  2. Cheeseless Chicken ParmI discovered this recipe during the summer when I tried Whole30. At first I was hesitant, because, well, cheeseless. But, after I made it, I was very impressed! It’s so good. Definitely check it out!
  3. PublixI know, I know, I love Publix all the time, but lately I’ve been enjoying it even more. There is a Publix a mile or so down the road from where I work, and the Publix that is coming to my neighborhood is getting more and more done each day! And, then there is this video they made after the hurricane hit Florida, and oh my word. Who knew a grocery store could make you cry? (Also, this video! Cue the tears.)
  4. Banana Smoothies–I found a variation of the recipe I use on Pinterest somewhere, I think, but I don’t know where it is now. I make a banana smoothie each morning for breakfast and drink it on the way to work. It’s one of the only healthy things I’ve found that actually fills me up and tastes good! I use one frozen banana (chopped up), 2/3 cup of coconut milk, 2 tbsp of peanut butter or almond butter, and a scoop of protein powder. So good!
  5. Lore Ferguson Wilbert’s WritingsI’d read a post or two, listened to her on a podcast or two, and seen a few of her tweets or posts on Instagram, but recently I started following her on Twitter and have been so encouraged. I really enjoy raw and vulnerable writing, especially when that writing encourages you and pushes you back to Christ and His Word. A must follow, if you ask me!

What things are you enjoying this week?

The Grass is Always Greener

During the summer, I made a trip home to see some friends before heading to the beach with friends from Charlotte for the weekend. On my way home, I stopped to see a friend and her children. I’m not going to be too specific as to give away the identity of a friend who doesn’t know a blog post is being written about her, but let’s just go ahead and state for the record that there was a newborn involved, which was the main reason for my stopping on the way home.

I hadn’t seen this particular friend in quite a while, so there was a lot of catching up to do. We talked about her life as a wife and a mom, her husband’s job, the house they’d bought in the suburbs, and how she was going to continue resisting buying a minivan for as long as possible. Then she asked me about my life, and for the first time in a while, I didn’t want to answer.

What did I have that would measure up to what she was doing? She was (and still is) investing in the future generation right there in her home. She prepares meals for her husband and washes clothes for her kids. She makes sure they are learning to share, to be kind, and all that they can about Jesus. She is what I’m sure plenty of us have in our mind when we imagine the “Proverbs 31 Woman”.

This is a friend who has been a friend for years and years, and to be honest, it was hard thinking that I couldn’t share with her what was going on in my life. And it wasn’t her–it was all me. I know that she never would’ve looked down on me for my singleness. Just the opposite, in fact, happened when I did start to share about my life.

I told her about trips I’d taken–my road trip up the East Coast last summer with Kaila, a trip to DC in 2016 with church friends, and at the time, my most recent big trip was our trip to New York over New Year’s. I went to NYC with people she also knows, so I caught her up on our friends’ lives. I mentioned how one friend of ours had moved to New England, and when I said we visited his place before going down to NYC, she kind of got this whimsical look on her face and smiled before saying, “Man, I wish I could do all of that.”

My brain sort of stopped for a minute. What in the world? SHE wants to go and do all of these things I’ve gone and done? When she has this super sweet life right in front of her? She wants to do these same things I’ve done?

I was floored, honestly. Did she not know what a sweet blessing she had right in front of her? Did she not know how many people want exactly what she has?

She does. And she did. And not because I went off on her about it, because that’s not the kind of thing that would’ve been helpful in the moment, especially considering her lack of sleep at the time.

We’re in two totally different places in our lives–hers involve wiping snotty noses, changing diapers, and losing lots of sleep. While mine also involves all of those things (thankfully the diapers are only in the church nursery or when babysitting), none of them are done for my children. My life involves many more road trips and spur of the moment decisions than hers does, but it doesn’t mean that her much more scheduled life is any better than mine.

It’s just different.

And while I still desire to be married and have kids, I’m learning to embrace the different. To be content in the different. And to not think that the grass really is greener on the other side.

Because apparently it’s not.

 

Titles Aren’t My Favorite

I’m so bad at coming up with titles for posts that are really “specific”. I’ve used versions of “lately” and “as of late” so many times that I can’t do it again. So, here’s a post with a horrible title. Consider this my version of a facebook picture where the poster writes, “caption this”.

Anyway. Here’s a post recapping the last few months.

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I spent the last few days of summer with these two cuties. Baker and I decided to smile and laugh instead of crying about our sweet friend Rynn moving to Montana, which she and her sweet parents did soon after this picture was taken. 

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I chaperoned our student ministry’s summer camp, and this was the view we got to see each day! Carrie, my pastor’s wife, came up for part of the time, and she brought me my favorite drink multiple times 🙂 (If you’re ever in Black Mountain, you really should get the Killer Bee from the Dripolator. Really.)

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This was our group, including my pastor and his family. It was such a privilege to be able to chaperone these students and take them to camp in a place that means so much to me. Those Blue Ridge Mountains have always held a special place in my heart, and I love how God can be so kind to us in ways we can’t even begin to expect.

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I started teaching First Grade at a different school this year, and everything about my new job has been wonderful! Praising God for His faithfulness!

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Emma Kate came in town, and it was a really fun weekend. Even more fun than our normal low-key, visit to JCrew weekend because we managed to book a trip to EUROPE for my spring break! We’re also planning to bring backpacks as our luggage. I’m not even sure who we are anymore 🙂

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We headed to D.C. for Labor Day Weekend, and while it was rainy all day Saturday, we had a really good time! We spent most of that day at the Holocaust Museum and the Portrait Gallery (my favorite), as well as eating good food and catching up with friends!

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On Sunday, we went to CHBC for church, ate lunch at Union Market, then headed over to Georgetown to shop/explore. Georgetown is for sure my favorite part of D.C., and it was really fun to get to explore it with these sweet friends!

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I headed to Augusta this past weekend and watched these two play some awesome soccer. I’m also not sure who these two boys are, because they’re clearly as grown as can be, but they called me Ash Ash all day, so I guess they’re Jack and Joe 😉

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When I was home, Kaila also happened to be home, so we hung out with Evan and explored our old stomping grounds. It was fun to hang out with some of my favorite college friends!

So, that’s the past couple of months. Here are some other things I’ve been enjoying the past few months that you should check out:

 

 

 

summer reads

I had been trying to write a real blog post for about a month or so, but I think I use all of my words throughout the day and can never manage to get them out the way I want when I do have a chance to sit down and write. I love the routines of the school year, and I love what I do, but I miss having the mental capacity to really write during the school year. I’d like to try to get better at disciplining myself to write even when I don’t want to write, but that may take a few months/years. I did finally manage to write one this week, one that was fairly raw and real. Read it here.

Anyway, I didn’t manage to read all of the books I’d planned on reading this summer, but I did read a lot of good ones. I always like to document what I read because it helps me remember what went on during that season of my life and what I was learning in that specific season. So, here are a few of the books that I read during my “Summer of Interviews”, as I’m affectionately calling it :), that were really good!

  • Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover. I have probably recommended this book fifty times. I’m not even kidding when I say that. It is SO good. This book is everything I’ve wanted in regards to navigating female friendships in the church as an adult.

Everything in our culture works against friendship. We move at such a rapid pace and live such over-scheduled lives. Whereas marriage, work, and family are permanent commitments, friendship is a voluntary commitment and is therefore easy to neglect. If we’re going to leave room on our dance cards for friendship, we’re going to have to be firmly committed to it and to going against the grain of our culture. – Christine Hoover

  • Adopted for Life by Russell Moore. While this book is geared towards those who are interested in adopting, I found this to be a great resource for those who are adopted. It was incredibly refreshing in some ways for me. I also think that it is a great resource for those who are looking to adopt. However, even if adoption isn’t on your radar, this is still a good book for those of us in Christ–to remember and understand better our adoption as sons and daughters of God.

An adoption culture in our churches advances the cause of life even beyond the individual lives of the children adopted. – Russell Moore

Finding your birth parents, though, won’t tell you who you are. Who you are has been forged by more than genes, coming also from thousands of dinner table conversations, hallway arguments, church group retreats, quiet moments of prayer, and much more. Above all, you are who you are in Christ. – Russell Moore

  • Struck by Russ Ramsey. I read most of this while I was at summer camp with our student ministry. When they were off swimming during free time, I was reading because this was so good. Ramsey tells his story of “encountering death”, and I have to say that this book reminded me that we all suffer in some way or another–and we all will. It’s how we respond and cling to Christ that changes us in those times.

If my affliction was a severe mercy to awaken in me my need of God, the it is a wise gift from a loving hand. – Russ Ramsey

  • Alive in Him by Gloria Furman. I’d heard a lot about Gloria Furman from my friends with young kids. She’s written a book about motherhood that is apparently a very good one. My pastor gave me this book in the spring, and I decided to read it this summer. I enjoyed Furman’s writing and learning more about the immeasurable love of Christ.

It’s a good thing that eternity will last forever, because it will take us that long to experience all the dimensions of Christ’s love for us. – Gloria Furman

  • Not Yet Married by Marshall Segal. I randomly came across this on Amazon one day, a day or two after it came out. I am really glad I bought it, and while there have been many articles and books on singleness, this is one I wholeheartedly recommend. Segal’s theology is sound as well as his advice and wisdom. Sure, Segal is married, but he gets it, and I really appreciated his consistency in pointing his readers back to Christ.

In Jesus, God is always and only doing good to us. He loves our lasting joy in Him much more than he loves our temporary comfort today. – Marshall Segal

  • Unparalleled by Jared Wilson. I read this book because Jared Wilson was the speaker at summer camp. I wanted to have a general idea of what Wilson would be speaking about, so I read it the week before we left. While I enjoyed reading the book, I almost wished I hadn’t until after camp because Wilson practically preached the book in his messages. Which was totally fine, but I felt, at times, that I knew his point before he made it. Anyway, this book is about why Christianity is unique, which was really intriguing to me. Wilson addresses different topics–the Trinity, human life, sin/conviction–and discusses how no other religion is like Christianity. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who didn’t have the chance to listen to “Evening Jared”, as we call him at church, (the morning speaker at camp was also named Jared) preach.

Biblically speaking, Christianity is not an individualistic faith. Christians have a personal relationship with God, but it is not meant to be a private relationship with God. – Jared Wilson

Well, those are just some of the books I read this summer that I’d definitely recommend if anyone was looking for a new read.

Current Reads:

Wanting to Read (a.k.a. I’ve read the introduction already):

What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?

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

5 Things I’m Enjoying

This summer, I discovered a podcast called Only The Good Stuff. Writer/blogger Stephen Altrogge discusses the 5 things that his guests are currently enjoying in his/her life. I often ask myself, while driving to/from Charlotte, what my five things would be if I were on the podcast. Stephen Altrogge isn’t going to have me on his podcast anytime soon, but here they are:

  1. Unsweetened Black TeaI started drinking this when I did my Whole 30 experiment earlier this summer, and now I’m pretty hooked. I usually get the Pure Leaf kind, but I also really like the unsweetened iced version from Starbucks. I’ve never been a fan of black coffee, but I do like this. Who knows? Maybe I’ll rid myself of my coffee addiction altogether. For the record, I know that this still has caffeine, but without the sugar, this is a better option than coffee for me.
  2. Fresh Flowers: The family I nanny for is in the process of moving, and because of that, Anna is cutting her flowers in her garden often. She let me take some home last week, and I have all the heart eyes for them every time I see them. It really makes me want to have a garden!
  3. My Kitchen: Because of my Whole 30 experiment (basically I tried it and failed), I have been spending a LOT of time in my kitchen. I have really enjoyed cooking, washing my dishes, and meal prepping. I’m sure I won’t enjoy my kitchen as much in the school year, but I really do like it now.
  4. Hymns: Norton Hall Band has two great albums out with hymns that have always been some of my favorites but have recently been on repeat a lot. My favorite is “Be Thou My Vision”. I really like the simplicity and the power of these songs. 
  5. T-Shirts: I know this is sort of dumb, but after having worn a LOT of t-shirts in college/during the summer, dressing up for work eventually gets old. I really am glad that I’m able to dress “down” in the summer. There’s just something about a good t-shirt (like a good pair of jeans) that I really like. 

Alrighty, these are my 5 things. Sort of unimportant, but still fun. 🙂