Engagement and Gratitude

Our engagement started in my apartment. I was wearing a Boston Red Sox t-shirt and Nike shorts when Matt walked in with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers. The bouquet contained peonies, my favorite, and all sorts of other pretty things. I noticed the twine holding them together, and I thought it looked ridiculous. But I ignored the twine for the moment, deciding I would take it off later, and found a vase.

It was a normal night where we hung out and made dinner together and ate at my secondhand round, oak table. And after dinner, as Matt started an incredibly intentional conversation about our relationship and our love for each other and what’s to come, he started to unwrap the twine that bothered me earlier, somehow extracted the ring that was hidden inside, and before I knew what was happening, he was on his knee with a ring in his hand and I was screaming yes before he could even get the words out.

We spent the next hour looking at each other in awe, then at the ring, then back at each other. We laughed and screamed and chattered in disbelief and excitement and gratitude. I was impressed that I had no idea what was happening until he was on his knee and he was impressed that he completely surprised his nosy, intuitive, and impatient now-fiance.

The past eight months have been beautiful and crazy. They’ve both gone too fast and not fast enough. We’ve made a million decisions on invitations and guest list and decor. We’ve called our parents a billion times to ask questions and get feedback and say thank you. I’ve run tons of ideas past my amazing bridesmaids as we enjoyed the opportunities to talk more often. And in the middle of all the decision making, Matt and I would remember that we are going be married at the end of all of this and we’d start smiling and laughing and dreaming all over again.

And now, as I sit in front of my computer waiting for the wedding programs to print out with a billion things on my mind and copious amounts of gratitude in my heart, I can’t help but reflect on and remember this season that will be over in just two days.

Matt is my favorite person– he is kind and loving and smart. He loves Jesus with everything he has and pursues Christ with a mature tenacity that pushes me to do the same. He’s good at grace, really good at it, and he has this witty humor that makes me laugh everytime. He is quiet and careful and slows me down, which if you know me, are all things I need often. He’s my balance and my person and the thought of getting to do everything together for the rest of our lives gets me all giddy excited all over again.

And after Matt, when I think through the different months and milestones of our engagement, I can’t help but think of our people, of our community. Matt and I learned that we’re not in this thing alone, that we have an incredible army of people rooting us on towards each other and towards Christ and these past several months I’ve been sitting in awe at all the love that has been poured out on us.

Our marriage is going to affect more than just us and I’m excited and hopeful to see how the Lord is going to use us to build people up in our community and how our people, whoever they may be in our different seasons together, are going to build us up and support us in the ways we need. And if our engagement is any indication of what’s to come, I know we’re going to be taken care of well because our people have taken care of us in more abundant ways than we could have asked for.

So to each of those people: thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We couldn’t have done this season without you and we won’t be able to face the coming seasons without you. The Lord has created us for community, and through our engagement, we have experienced this truth in so many tangible ways through the showers you planned and surprised me with, all the pieces of advice, all the offers for help, and all the grace during the crazy weeks when we had a billion things on our minds. We hope to extend that same love, grace, and encouragement to you when you need it.

And so, as we finish up the last of the to-do lists and go through what might be the busiest, craziest, most exhilarating day of our lives thus far, here are a few last thoughts: engagement is so much more than the pictures and the dress and the ring and the reception looking perfect. It’s more than working out a ton and eating well to ensure the dress fits perfectly or pleasing every single person who will show up. And I’m writing this to you because this is what I need to remember the most right now. Engagement is this unique form of community and companionship, a beautiful in-between period of anticipation and preparation and excitement that the Lord knew we needed to prepare and to get ready for something that’s so much bigger than us– a reflection of His relationship with His people. It’s this season to remember and to learn more about the Lord’s heart for us and how that can transfer to our love for each other in the most intimate relationship we can have here.

I know these next few days are going to fly and so soon we will no longer be able to identify ourselves as engaged, but married. And as excited as we are for our life together, I needed to remember this time, these past eight months where the Lord has proved his faithfulness and provision through each other and those around us. Thank you for being our people, for reminding us of the goodness ahead and to focus on what matters, and for loving us so, so well. 

 

 

 

 

Quitting the Competition

I grew up around football fields. Every summer and fall I sat at practices and scrimmages, with fold-out game chairs dug into the dirt, sitting with my mom in front of our car that was backed up to the field with the hatch open. We watched the boys play four days a week, my brother and his friends, while my dad coached.

As fall arrived and game days came, once I was old enough, my dad had me come onto the sidelines with him and count plays, making sure every player got his twelve in for the game.

This job was my thing. I had the opportunity to be involved in the energy of the competition, playing an important role as my dad counted on me to make sure every kid had their shot on the field. With my clipboard tucked in my arm, I stood my ground and carefully paid attention to every huddle and timeout, striking a tally when a player on my list ran in.

I spent my childhood around competition, every weekend of later elementary and middle school riding to the fields with my mom and choosing sides, tallying marks on my clipboard year after year.

But as I’ve grown up and found myself in different communities, I’ve taken this idea of tallying plays with me. Life was the field and everyone was fighting to run in and get that tally next to their name. I held the clipboard in my mind and started keeping track.

She landed that leadership position? Tally. Oh, started dating that guy? Another one. She got the praise from the professor on her idea for a paper? Tally for her. My running pace was quicker than hers? Tally for me. But oh, she ran five miles today? Man, that tally is actually hers.

I became frazzled as everyone around me was receiving tallies and I felt stuck, like my tallies weren’t as good, and concerned that I only had three while they had sixteen.

And thus began the competition. How can I do better, run more, be more attractive, and get smarter? I needed more tallies because that’s where I was not only counting my worth, but also the worth of the women around me.

The danger really hit hard when this started to be a problem that moved from my head and into my relationships. This competition manifested itself in every passive aggressive thought, inhibiting my ability to love and connect with the women I share life with in my community because I was constantly discounting their struggles because of how many tallies they had.

What this tally system does is inhibit our ability to sympathize with those around us. We think because they have that “thing,” they can’t be struggling as much as we do without it. It minimizes other people’s struggles, casting them on a different team, and making it impossible to connect.

Viewing life as this competitive thing is the easiest way towards isolation. And as I’ve learned to stop keeping score, I’m finding myself more sympathetic towards others and able to have richer relationships because of it.

So unless you’re actually on a football field counting plays, trash the clipboard. It’s gotta go. Start viewing the girl standing next to you in chapel with that ring or your roommate who seems to have it all together on the same playing field as you because well, you’re on the same team.

“The Lipstick Gospel” and the Power of Story

Today I want to introduce you to a writer that has encouraged me the past several months. From my experience in reading her words, Stephanie May Wilson is an encourager, a lover of celebrations and life, and a follower of Jesus. I stumbled upon her blog this past summer and spent several nights staying up way too late reading through her posts while consistently thinking, “I’ve felt that way too!”

She shares her story authentically and offers wise advice, especially in regards to relationships and living in Jesus well. I’ve followed her since I discovered her words and today I am so, so excited to share her new ebook, “The Lipstick Gospel”!

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“The Lipstick Gospel” is simply a story of how she found Jesus in the unexpected while traveling Europe with friends after a difficult break-up. This story resonated with me, not necessarily because I have the same story, but because through her story I was reminded of God’s incredible faithfulness, grace, and redemption.

I’ve been thinking about stories recently, about how vital they are to our well-being and in our relationships and how we are so inherently drawn to learning about other’s stories. I’m reminded how learning about each other’s stories creates a compassion in us for others and, recently, for me, has been a reminder of how good and faithful our God is.

Stephanie’s story is no exception. Through her honest confessions of discovery and escaping and traveling and learning and healing I was reminded of a simple aspect of the Gospel—how God’s love drives everything. Of how He desires to reconcile with His people and how He can meet us where we are, no matter how far away we think we are from him. This has been an incredibly refreshing truth to dwell in recently as I’ve been wrestling to remember His love and His faithfulness and His ability to fulfill His promises to His people.

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“The Lipstick Gospel” chronicles Stephanie’s journey towards this truth as well, not holding back her struggles along the way. I cheered her on as she discovered the goodness of Jesus and in the process, was reminded that the truth of salvation she discovered in the Sistine Chapel is the same truth we need to be reminded of every day, no matter where we are in our faith journey. The honesty of her past validated the need to expose ours in order to let go of it, that sometimes we just need to get away, and that no matter what, the Lord will always meet us where we’re at.

I’m thankful for Stephanie’s story and I hope you will download the book (for FREE!), curl up on the sofa as the temperatures drop this week, and get lost in someone else’s story for a while. Remember that our circumstances are never too much for Jesus and that a life in Jesus, along with hardship and questioning, is also meant to be one of joy and laughter and the celebration of living in true freedom.

Download Stephanie’s book here and check out her website here. I’m so excited to be sharing her with you all and hope you find her words encouraging.

Finding Good in the Cornfields

I absolutely love everything about fall. It’s always been my favorite; I love the low, overcast clouds and cool air and changing leaves. I love the refreshment fall brings after a long, hot summer filled with activity and movement and sun. It’s a time to settle down and be cozy, preparing to move from outside to inside for a season.

Because of the way my student teaching schedule worked, I had the past two weeks off. After a short summer and my first student teaching experience, these two weeks to enjoy my favorite month were celebrated and enjoyed. During this time, I reflected on the past autumns, especially the ones I’ve spent at Taylor. It hit me how this is my last fall here. Fall in Upland is one of my favorite things and knowing I won’t be able to experience it the same way after this year feels like I’m on the verge of losing something big.

I’ve been asked before if I like going to school in the middle of the cornfields and my answer is always yes. I’ve come to love every season here, but fall in the midst of cornfields has it’s own beauty that I cannot get tired of. It’s open here, there’s space to explore and to slow down and to build relationships with those we live with and those we learn from.

This place is built around community and creating relationships with those we share space with. And during this particular fall, I am reminded of how my relationships here carry more meaning and life and joy than I realized.

I’ve felt that the past few months I’ve spent in Upland living in the brick house with some of the best women I know has been idyllic, almost like a dream. We talk together and laugh together, sing together, cook together and run together. We come from different places and have different desires, but we aim to live well and authentically, seeking to glorify God on the way.

The community I’ve experienced with my housemates is safe and challenging, fun and peaceful and alive. In the midst of excitement from the change to come, my heart hurts while I think towards graduation, moving somewhere new, and leaving this space with these people.

It’s hard for me to imagine a community quite as good as what I’m experiencing right now.

I think back to how I got here, to this house with these four women. God provided. God provided so well in the best way possible. I’m happy here with these people. I’m learning from the way they live and the way they see the world. Living with them pushes me to love better, to laugh fully, and to think about myself less.

Sometimes it’s hard to be fully present in all the good. I sit on our porch or in our living room or at the table with my people and wish these moments wouldn’t end, that I wouldn’t have to stop living them after this year. I think about the longing I’ll experience for this community once we graduate and live in different corners of the world.

But thinking this way, thinking about future longings robs me of the ability to be present and soak up all the beautiful things happening right now. I don’t know where I’ll be after graduation, but I do know that God will provide me with a space to live and a community to share life with just as He has this year.

I don’t want to look towards my future with disdain and fear because of what I may or may not experience again. God is too good for that. He promises us His best, to think He won’t provide His best again in a different space with different people creates this limited box in our minds of His power and plans. We have to trust that Jesus will provide for us tomorrow just as He has today. We have to start waking up every morning in thankfulness and rhythmically be reminded of His love and grace and ability to provide for us in every moment.

Right now, as I sit on my porch and look up at the changing leaves and overcast skies, I’m thankful for where I’m at because I’m happy here. I’m safe here, I laugh here, and I love well here. I’m grateful for the women I live with and the amount of joy they’ve brought to my life. I’m thankful that the Lord has given me this year with these people to learn and to love and to live life together.

Give thanks for the people the Lord has given you and live well in that community, investing in your friendships and trusting that Jesus has tomorrow covered, that He promises you His best even when you think it may end.

The Process of Living Simply

Living simply is a concept that has captivated my attention for a few years now. Through my experiences and studies and relationships, I’ve become attracted to the concept of simple living and it’s been something I’ve started to practice while at Taylor and a lifestyle I plan to pursue after I graduate.

When I first started reading and learning and studying what it meant to live simply, a lot of what I found had to do with living “green” and in tiny houses and wearing the same outfits a lot. While I agree that these aspects can contribute greatly to simple living, I don’t think that they fully encompass what living simply truly means.

I’ve wrestled with this concept, feeling like I’ve messed up my practice of living simply a thousand times. I felt that there were restrictions and condemnation around this lifestyle, that when I didn’t perfectly fulfill the lists of physical things I needed to do the label would be stripped from me and therefore, I wasn’t worthy enough to be pursuing this life. This bothered me and one day I decided to really figure out what living simply meant to me.

So in this pursuit of simplicity, I looked up several different definitions of “simple”. I decided that if I wanted to live this way, I had to specifically know what I was trying to do and why I was trying to do it, without condemnation and feeling restricted. After looking through many definitions on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website, the one I found that most fits the life I want to live is defined as: “not limited or restricted: unconditional”.

In a paradoxical way, I’ve discovered living simply has a complex depth to it. It’s a fluid concept, changing alongside the people who chose to live it out. With each transition and ushering in of the new comes an altered version of simplicity tailored specifically to the life it accompanies.

Because of this, it’s important to remember that your story of simplicity will look different than mine, and that’s ok. Your simple lifestyle is just as valid and meaningful.

To me, simplicity doesn’t primarily look like living “green” or only environmentally friendly or in an extreme minimalistic way, although I think it involves those things and they’re aspects I’m learning to practice as I live in a house with friends who also value a simple lifestyle.

Simplicity means more to me than that, it runs deeper than the physical reality of my surrounding environment.

To me, living simply means living closest to the things that matter without the distraction of excess.

Living simply means investing deeply and wholeheartedly in my relationship with Jesus, my family, and those around me. It means working hard at the things that matter, such as teaching and writing and consistently learning and growing as I aim to love those around me in the purest way possible.

Choosing to fully live this way means I have to cut out certain aspects of my life in order to fully engage in the relationships and moments and work I find meaningful.

This takes sacrifice and intentionality and making hard decisions.

Living simply means I have to analyze how I spend my time, shifting a few things around and carving a few things out completely, such as excessive time on social media or leaving my phone behind during dinner. By making these small decisions, I’ve found the space to fully engage in what matters because I have the time to do them, such as being with Jesus and unrestrictedly doing life with the people I live in community with. I’ve found the time to run, to write, and to laugh. I’ve been less distracted or worried about getting everything done because I’m being intentional with how my time looks, cutting out the meaningless activities.

Simple living looks like evaluating how I use my resources and deciding what to invest in and what to skip out on, being intentional with how I spend my money and what I choose to buy in order to reap the benefits. By choosing to buy healthy, local food and pay for meaningful experiences with people instead of flippantly shopping every sale, I’ve been more satisfied in my body and experiences and financial situation.

Through these decisions I’ve found that I have more time to spend pursing what matters, more energy to participate in healthy, full relationships, and more resources to invest in what is beneficial. By cutting out the excess, by cutting out those things that distract from what I am made to invest in, I’ve found abundant life and meaning.

This is why I choose to engage in the process of simple living. I want to open up space to dwell in the things that matter, to live closely to those things and experience life in the most raw, authentic way possible; the way I believe the Lord intended us to experience it. Simple living is an ongoing, unlimited process, one that will change as I do, but the purpose stays the same. I want to live closest to the things that matter most, which takes sacrifice and work in every circumstance.

I hope you find a few spaces in your life to clear out and start to make room for what matters to you, for those things that fill you with life and love and a deep sense of meaning. Living simply means to fully engage in the life the Lord calls us to without restrictions and distractions, to experience every drop of it. I wish you well in this process.

presence.

God is big. We know that, right? He is constant and Holy and sovereign, His presence fully with us always.

But how often do we forget about his presence? The fact that He goes before us in every circumstance, struggle, day of work, and conversation. A dear friend of mine from school who is working in Memphis this summer called me over the weekend. As we chatted and caught each other up on our summers, she expressed her realization that God is already working in the schools she is working in, despite the challenges and fallenness. These were such refreshing and needed words to hear, how God is before us and already working in the places we are,  the places we long to see redeemed and fulfilled through truth and salvation.

I started to think about how different my time at work and interactions with my coworkers, my main community at this moment, would be if I walked through the doors everyday knowing God was already there, working in ways I couldn’t begin to imagine. How differently would my conversations look? How differently would my attitude be knowing that it wasn’t my responsibility to bring the presence of God into whatever space I occupied because He was already there?

God calls us to be in the world and not of the world, to engage with those around us and create community where we are in hopes to share the life and truth of the Gospel. I feel like so often I take this command to be and share the Gospel as the responsibility to bring the presence of God into whatever space I’m in during that moment. I forget that God already fills that space, that he is fully aware of the work that needs to be done. I simply need to recognize and submit to the work already happening from a Power much higher than I.

One main way to recognize and engage in God’s presence is to be present. I believe He calls us to be present where we are at and to engage in the understanding that He is working. This concept of being present is simple, but significant. It can cause us to let go of our bitterness towards a corrupted environment motivated by our perceived responsibility to save. It can cause us to take a step down into reality, to love others without grumbling, and to bask in the reality that God’s presence is there. Once we start believing that it is not our job to save others or our responsibility to make sure God’s presence surrounds the places we are at, we can then lean into the reality of God already working and do the transforming work we are called to do, love others.

We live in a fallen world filled with sin, corruption, death, and emptiness. I promise that I don’t know all the answers. But I do know that God is here and He has significantly more knowledge and understanding of the happenings of this world than we could ever begin to fathom. I know that He is working and that He takes the responsibility to fill every space with His presence, it is simply up to us to be present and love those he has placed around us in the hopes that they, too, will recognize the perfect, beautiful, healing, and glorious reality of God.