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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

26 in Year 26.

With my birthday being the first of the year, it is often a good time to reflect on the past year and make goals for the new year. This year, I have 26 “goals” (I’m not sure if all of these actually count as goals) that I want to accomplish. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Go to Europe with EK in the spring.
  2. Spend no money this year on clothes. (My exception will be in Europe/Europe related things.)
  3. Save money as often as possible.
  4. Invite someone over for a meal/coffee/to hang out with at least once a month.
  5. Establish/stick with a better and more consistent gym routine.
  6. Try one new recipe a month.
  7. Be as intentional with my Charlotte friends as I am with my out of town friends.
  8. Visit my out of town friends.
  9. Write more. (I keep this super vague every year, but I still like to have it written down for my sake.)
  10. Try to spend one month where I don’t eat out at all.
  11. Write letters/cards to 6 friends a month.
  12. Memorize a book of the Bible.
  13. Run in some type of race.
  14. Become a better teacher.
  15. Complete one craft/DIY project once every two months. (This side of me has been pushed to the back burner since college graduation, and I want to change that!)
  16. Spend one month social media free (no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter).
  17. Take some sort of non-work related class.
  18. Write in my grateful journal daily.
  19. Get rid of my cable plan.
  20. Cook more.
  21. Come up with a schedule for cleaning and stick with it!! 
  22. Become more biblically literate.
  23. Complete six acts of random kindness.
  24. Make my bed every day.
  25. Even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like it, stay faithful.
  26. Read twenty-six books:
    1. Making All Things New
    2. Rejoicing in Christ
    3. The Leader in Me
    4. The Envy of Eve
    5. The Bruised Reed
    6. L’Abri
    7. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
    8. The Hardest Peace
    9. Future Grace
    10. Fierce Convictions
    11. Keep a Quiet Heart
    12. Humble Roots
    13. How Does Sanctification Work?
    14. Tables in the Wilderness
    15. Hope Heals
    16. South of Broad
    17. It Happened on the Way to War
    18. Mrs. Kennedy and Me
    19. The Last Season
    20. Lean on Me
    21. Greater Than Gold
    22. Little Women
    23. True Feelings
    24. Christy
    25. Gilead
    26. 7 Men

33!

My parents have been married for thirty-three years today. Everyone who knows them knows that they really and truly love each other, really and truly enjoy each other. I used to roll my eyes when people would tell me that my parents are “so cute”, but now I’ve come to appreciate it because I know it’s not so common. I’m grateful for the example they’ve set for me and all I’ve learned from them about marriage. Here are thirty-three things they’ve taught me about marriage, being an adult, and just life in general:

  1. Put the Lord first.
  2. Put each other second.
  3. Put your kid(s) third.
  4. Laugh a lot.
  5. Enjoy each other’s interests/hobbies. My mom goes to spin class with my dad not because she likes spin class but because she loves my dad.
  6. You won’t be broke forever. And if you are, you have Jesus and each other and that’s all you really need.
  7. There’s not a lot you can’t fix without each other and a good YouTube tutorial.
  8. This too shall pass.
  9. Show up. Be faithful, loyal, and committed.
  10. Saying no isn’t the worst thing in the world if it’s the best thing for you right now.
  11. Do what’s right for you, what God is calling you to do. It will probably look different than other families you know. But that’s okay.
  12. Sacrifice for each other.
  13. Sacrifice for your family. My dad does this often and is quick to do so. But my mom worked for years and years not because she necessarily had to, but because putting me through Christian school was what they knew was best for me. So she sacrificed her time to do what was best for me. I’ll always be grateful for that.
  14. Eating Mexican food once a week really is good for the soul. Two or three times a week doesn’t hurt either.
  15. Find the best deal you can.
  16. It doesn’t have to be brand new or namebrand to get the job done.
  17. Work hard.
  18. Be kind to everyone you meet, no matter how they treat you.
  19. Speak your mind, in love. Honesty really is the best policy.
  20. The beach really can be a lovely place, especially if you lather up in sunscreen and sit under the umbrella.
  21. Let each other have a quirky habit or two, that you don’t make fun of. My mom’s? Monitoring all of the levels of liquids of soaps, detergent, etc. in the house. My dad’s? His inability to walk by a room where a person is no longer present and not turn off the light.
  22. You probably can find whatever you’re looking for on Craigslist.
  23. You can also probably talk down the price of said item you found on Craigslist.
  24. Be committed to the local church.
  25. Go out of your way to serve others.
  26. Take care of the widows in your life, even if/when they don’t remember who you are.
  27. Don’t buy anything full price. There’s almost always a coupon for what you need.
  28. Stand up for your beliefs/convictions, even when it’s inconvenient.
  29. Guacamole is actually a pretty good addition to a chip or taco.
  30. Costco also has great deals and can be a fun place to wander around, especially if you live in Augusta. 😉
  31. The best way to go to the movies is to go to the $2.50 theater and to bring your own snacks.
  32. If possible, live at peace with each other.
  33. Love generously.

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.

 

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