Criminal

Confession:  I love true crime stories.  They are oddly fascinating. In a different life, I would be a forensic psychologist if only I’d done something with my Psychology degree.

I stumbled on Psychology late in college.  I was surprisingly good at it – exceptional, actually – if I am allowed to brag a bit.

I love trying to figure out exactly why people do the things they do – even ordinary day-to-day people. In all actuality, I probably spend too much time thinking about such things.  However, this is where my fascination with criminals in general comes in.

I want to know when what they did becomes their plan A.

When does killing someone, or stealing, or what-have-you become their best option?

When does that seem like a good idea?

At what point do you make that choice?

It’s baffling, really.

With all that being said, you’ll understand why the podcast, Criminal, caught my attention (http://thisiscriminal.com).

Before you jump to the same conclusions I did: don’t.  It is not what you think it is about – how someone committed a crime or how they caught the perpetrator.  There is some of that, but really, it’s just a collection of quirky little stories about people who are criminals, were criminals, or were impacted by criminals.

The episode I listened to yesterday affected me on some deeper level I haven’t yet uncovered.

It is episode 49:  The Editor.  Criminal’s website sums it up best:

In November of 1988, Robin Woods was sentenced to sixteen years in the notoriously harsh Maryland Correctional Institution. In prison, Robin found himself using a dictionary to work his way through a book for the first time in his life. It was a Mario Puzo novel. While many inmates become highly educated during their incarceration, Robin became such a voracious and careful reader he was able to locate a factual error in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. He wrote a letter to the encyclopedia’s editor, beginning an intricate friendship that changed the lives of both men¹.

I was touched by this story for many reasons.  For one, Robin [the convict] and the encyclopedia editor became pen pals of sorts even after he was out of prison.  But that is just the beginning…

Robin went from not being able to read to not being able to read enough.

He was formally uneducated but became more educated than many people simply by reading – to the point he could fact-check an encyclopedia.

It is a story of beautiful ironies, of redemption, of second chances, and of generosity, kindness, and loyalty – all while he was in prison.  It’s as if prison held his body captive, but at the same time it freed his mind and opened doors to a world he might otherwise not know.

Perhaps I’m stunned by it because it is in stories and ironies like these where I see God’s hand and His grand design of working good through pain – even if it goes largely unnoticed. It is the grandest of things aside from salvation that He does.

I’m so thankful He is the kind of God who knows better than us – who uses our pain to transform us and accomplish something better.  He never leaves us as we are even in spite of ourselves.

1Judge, Pheobe (Producer); Spohrer, Lauren (Producer). (2016, August 26). Criminal [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://thisiscriminal.com.

Sunrise

2016.

It is an even year.  Some of you know my theory of even years which was passed down from a friend.  And she is right, the even years (those that end in even numbers)…well, I wish we could skip them except they come before odd years, which oddly are not odd.

Where was I?

Oh yes.  It is an even year; therefore, it is kicking my butt all over the place.

It has been a hard year:

A year full of change and chaos; of dying to self and of realizing exactly how selfish I can be.

It has been a year of frustration, of challenge, of discouragement, and of doubt.

I am surrounded everywhere by the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, the difficult and the flat out embarrassing.

I’m getting pretty good at apologies and admitting I am wrong (much more than I originally suspected) :)

I’m also getting pretty good at realizing I need help more married than I ever did single.  Its a different kind of help but help all the same.

I learned quite quickly – and am still learning – the first year of marriage is HARD…maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Why do people not tell you this? They tell you marriage is hard, but they don’t really tell you it starts immediately.

There have been some strikingly beautiful moments mixed in with the hard, the difficult, and the disorganized.

Moments of bliss and of unadulterated happiness.
Moments of belly laughs and love so grand I think my insides will burst.
Moments of loveliness so overwhelming it leaks from my eyes.
Moments of forgiveness and grace so humbling I know I don’t deserve it.
Moments of reconciliation so beautiful it takes my breath away.

It is in those moments I realize its all worth it.

I confess, haven’t prayed consistently this year.  There is a reason Coffee with Christ hasn’t had a post since February….because I haven’t had coffee with Christ.

Last night, though, I did pray, and something happened that hasn’t happened in a while:

I became a warrior….
a soldier…
a fighter.

Satan has been trying to steal something precious from me, and I’ve been blind.

I will not let him have it.
I will fight with everything I have.
And I will ask others to fight along with me.
But more importantly, I will let Jesus fight a battle I cannot even see.

I prayed last night like I’ve never prayed before.
I prayed a battle prayer.

By the time I was finished, I realized I was standing instead of kneeling.

I was dazed.

Have you ever prayed that way? It seems weird and disconcerting.

This morning I awoke before the sun crept over the horizon. I snagged my coffee mug and watched. The sunrise is a beautiful thing. I’ve only watched three with purpose in my forty-plus years.

I watched as the sun lit up the mountains below.
The leaves of the trees where the beams were shining made them look illuminated from within.

They were glowing.

As the wind flipped the leaves about…they sparkled.

I was sparkling once.
Somewhere I lost my sparkle.
Somewhere I started to look like the grey and dark trees the sun had not touched…
a silhouette of who I really am.

Then, I realized…the only thing that makes one tree sparkle and another one grey…was the sun.

It is the same for us.

The Son illuminates us.
The Son makes us sparkle.
The Son makes us dance.
The Son makes us who we are meant to be.

The darkness is what makes us a silhouette of who we really are,
And I’m tired of sitting in the darkness….

I’m going to get up and watch the Son rise every day.

It’ll be hard…
It’ll be difficult…
It will be a battle…
because the darkness does not leave without a fight.

It’s a good thing I am a warrior…
with a Mighty Fortress as my God.
A Bulwark never failing.

I will not let Satan have what he wants.

Arise, Son, Arise.
For You must win the battle.

On the Day of My Wedding

I haven’t blogged in 6 months.  That’s shameful.  I also haven’t taken down my Christmas decorations either.  (I’ll sit here for a minute while you judge.)

But I HAD to blog today because today is a blog-worthy day.

For almost 2 decades, I have pounded on the floor of God’s throne room for this day to come. I have…

shed an ocean of tears,
experienced heartbreak,
wondered why,
and wanted to give up countless times,
but God gives us the desires of our hearts.

Some people think that verse means God gives to us whatever our heart desires. It is God in the fast food drive-thru. Others think – when we are in a place of right fellowship with God – His desires become ours, and thereby He gives us the desires of our hearts.

I think the latter is very true, but there is another option.

I know with all my heart that God gave me the desire to be a married. It wasn’t something I, personally, wanted. It was something He innately created within me to crave. I’ve wanted to be a wife…a mom…to be a helper…a partner. He GAVE it to me just like he gave the desire for a son to Hannah and Sarah, or the desire He gives teachers to teach, or doctors to heal.

God places inside us the desire He has for us in our hearts. He gives us that want…that drive….that yearning…and the perseverance to keep pushing…to keep praying…to not give up hope when the fulfillment eludes us.

And – the bigger the dream – the more likely we’ll have to wait for it – because in order to be good at it and to give God the glory He deserves, we have things to learn.

In my case, I had a lot of growing up to do.

I was afraid of my own shadow in my 20s.

I learned that the world isn’t a scary place.
I learned how to be a professional in the workplace:
how to pay my dues,
how to work hard and diligently at any task assigned to me whether I liked it or not.

I had to stand on my own in my late 20s learning the finer points of…
home buying,
house keeping,
paying bills (aka adulting).

I had to learn to like my own company, and I found out that I really like my sense of humor.

I also had to learn how to be lonely.

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places. So, don’t feel sorry for me. That’s where I found Him.

In my 30s, I learned that life is FUN.

I learned that I could run, and swim and bike.
I learned that I could physically cover 70.3 miles in one day under my own physical power.
I learned that I loved the outdoors.
I learned how to paint pottery.
I learned how to knit.
I learned I love writing.
In a nutshell, I learned I could be creative, mentally tough, and physically strong.

I learned to love and accept people that were very different from me.
I learned about giving and receiving grace.
I learned that not all girls are full of drama and even the ones that are, are worth loving.

But the most important thing I learned in the waiting is that God is very real and very personal and that He is near all the time.

He whispers daily.
He shouts occasionally.
I find Him best when I am quiet and still.

I learned that His Word is a treasure, and that – for some unknown and unforeseen reason – I have the ability to teach it.

I learned that He loves me more than I could possibly imagine and more than anyone on this earth possibly could, and because of that love, He used all this time to train me, and to turn me into the person I needed to be in order to be a wife…a partner…a helper…and someone who loves Him more than I love him.

God works His purposes out over time…and He does, indeed, give us the desires of our hearts.

So, at the age of 42:

I’m going to the chapel,
and I’m gonna get married.

And God blessed me with a husband that is ABUNDANTLY more than I could’ve asked or imagined.

Hallelujah! Glory to God!

Wandering Wednesday #4

Whoa! Have I done some wandering these past few months!! And – in looking at the calendar today – many more adventures are heading my way!  There have been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of lessons learned, and a lot of adventures. So…let’s get to it.

Things I’ve learned include:

…sometimes its best to let big things go and enjoy the little things,
…I hate fighting,
…and I do not know how to rest when things are unsettled.

I’ve learned:

…that it feels awesome to pay off your car,
…that it’s OK to be inconsistent when you have too much other stuff going on,
…and how to make some really cute baby gifts.

IMG_1487 I’ve endured:
…silly frustrations at work,
…a speeding ticket,
…and the ridiculously oppressive heat and suffocating humidity in the state of Alabama this Summer.

I’ve endured:

…some “minor” surgery on my arm.

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That bruise is from the bandage believe it or not!!

…an upper-respiratory infection,
…a strained back muscle,
…a trip to the ER,
…dogs being sick,
…and cat sitting [who am I becoming?].
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I’ve traveled:

…to Auburn for the NGAAL Conference with this hottie,
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IMG_1259Playing dress up is so fun.

…to the beach a couple of times (GLORY!)

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…to Blackshear, GA to meet the mom and extended fam where hanging out in the hammocks was pretty darn relaxing!

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…to Lexington, KY to visit some of my favs.

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…to Tampa on business (but with a pretty fantastic view)

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I enjoyed:
…seeing dolphins at the most perfect moment imaginable,
…seeing The Little Mermaid at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival,

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…hanging out at Go Red for Women,

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…an awesome spa day with the girls in the middle of Nowhere, AL.,

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…being Locked In – TWICE!

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WINNERS!

LOSERS!

LOSERS!

Y’all really should try this if you have one in your area.  It’s awesome.

In looking back, I think the chorus to this song fits this season well…it’s one of my favorites these days.

And it’s Good
I got more than I ever thought I would
I can finally see how all the wrong turns and the heartaches
the lessons in the mistakes
help me count these blessings like I should
and it’s so good.

Good, Dave Barnes

Be Still

Wait…Be still,” was the faint whisper I kept hearing deep in my soul amidst the chaos in my mind.

But how can I be still when my world seems to be in falling apart?

I fight my flesh.
I fight the incessant need to interject into Your work.

It is best left alone.
You do not need my help.

Forgive me for not waiting well.

I pace about back and forth…
back and forth…
back and forth.

I am weary and exhausted. What I would give for a word from You.

A word of comfort.
A confirmation that You hear.
A sign of that You are working.
A sign that You – instead of me – are fighting.

At moments that pass all too swiftly, I have peace.

There is a confidence in You and in Your direction.
The boat seems steady.

But it is fleeting.

Another swell of worry, doubt, or fear comes raging at my little dingy.

I am being tossed about.

I am tiny in such rough waters.
I want to paddle, but it is futile in such raging seas.

I need Your protection from the waves.
I need You to steady the boat.
To keep it upright.

And I am reminded…

I need Thee.
Oh, I need Thee.
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh bless me now, my Savior
I come to Thee.

And so I come…

weary
worn
worried

I come with my mess.
I come distressed.
And I cry out to You.

Merciful, Lord.
Hear me.
Stoop down.
Rescue me.
For I am Yours.

I need thee.
Oh, I need thee.
Every hour I need thee.
Oh bless me now, my Savior
I come to thee.

Hosea: You Broke Me

Unexpected mercy.
Is the greatest thing to find.
When you’ve been broken many times.
– Mandi Mapes, Love Story

Me and The Girls are about to wrap up a study on Hosea. When we picked it, at first, I was hopeful. The caption of the study is “Unfailing Love Changes Everything.”

Sounds awesome. Right?

Plus, after reading Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love it can be viewed a bit romantically:

Boy loves girl. Girl is a prostitute. Boy loves her any way. They get married. Girl runs away and prostitutes herself into slavery. Boy chases after her and buys her back (multiple times) because he loves her that much.

But when I re-read the book of Hosea in one sitting, I had a terrible feeling things were about to get ugly in my life.

You see…I’ve found that whatever bible study I’m doing at the moment tends to shape the events that transpire in my life. I’m more of a hands-on learner versus a book learner. So, I guess God really wants to make the lessons jump out by making me walk them in some form or fashion.

(Note to self: Become more of a book learner.)

So, why did I think things were about to get ugly? Because this last time when I read it, I felt God pointing a finger at me.

Turns out…

I’m not the good guy in the story.
I’m the prostitute.

And let me tell you, my life for the last 6 weeks has been tough on many levels, and Hosea challenged me. It challenged me…

To see the ugly in me;
To see the beauty in God’s constant love and repeated forgiveness;
To be grateful for the grace and mercy He extends every single time I screw up;
To accept His discipline as love;
To realize that – in order to show God’s love to others – I have to extend that very same grace, mercy, and forgiveness time…and time…and time again.

Tough stuff.

But may I be so bold as to suggest that I am not the lone prostitute shamefully kneeling before God?

Even if you don’t want to see it – you are too.

We all stray – and even run – from God;
We all repeatedly rebel against Him;
We all look to other things for satisfaction or comfort;
We all sell out and make sacrifices to the little gods in our lives – the gods we’ve fashioned with our own two hands.

But here is the beautiful part:

He goes and gets us in the middle of our sin and buys us back.

Every.
Single.
Time.

He doesn’t chastise us when we’re back.

He is gracious.
He is merciful.
He is forgiving.

He welcomes us back with open arms, and He restores our position.

The book of Hosea is ugly…it is beautiful…it is challenging…

And it really does change everything.

Restoration

Then Jacob said to Joseph, “I never thought I would see your face again, but now God has let me see your children, too!”  – Genesis 48:11

I’ve always loved the story of Joseph.  He is one of my favorites.

Often, I have put myself in his sandals wondering if my behavior would be similar to his given the same circumstance.

Let’s be clear:  I am quite positive it would not be.

Today, I put myself in Jacob’s sandals.  Today, I imagined myself in the sandals of a man who lost someone he loved more than anything.

It isn’t hard to imagine what that is like.  Nearly everyone has experienced that particular heartbreak whether it is losing someone you love through death, divorce, or disagreement.   If you haven’t experienced it..well…you just haven’t lived long enough… because it will come.

It is inevitable.

But look what God does!  Read Jacob’s words:

I never thought I would see your face again, but now God has let me see your children, too!

I wept when I read those word.

Wept.

I’m not talking about a glistening tear rolling softly down my cheek.  I’m talking about body shaking, face-contorted, ugly-girl weeping.

Why?

Because Jacob thought his son was dead.

Dead.

Not-coming-back-ever-dead.

Yet God restored abundantly more than Jacob could think or imagine.

And I think He still does.

It might take years of waiting…
years of growing…
years of mourning…
years of praying…
and it might not look exactly the way we expect (or want)…

but we have a God that restores!

He fills in the holes others leave behind, and He does it in the most surprising ways and usually when we least expect it.  Just ask Job.

Restoration & healing are what He does best.
It’s His thing.
He makes all things new!

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. – Rev. 21:1

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” – Rev. 21:5

If He will do that for the earth, don’t you think He can do that for you?

Golden Days

From where I sit, the day is filled with sunshine, a light Spring breeze, and moderate temperatures.  It is a glorious day.

I think this is what our days will be like in Heaven.

Everything will have a golden glow reflecting the rays of Light.  Plants and creatures will grow from soaking up the Living Light, and everything will blossom into beauty.

I wonder…is there pollen in Heaven?

I know.  It’s a deep thought.

But I think Revelation addresses it:

For it is written: “…there will be no more crying or sickness or pain.”  (I’m quoting that by memory so I’m probably getting it wrong).  Since pollen produces tears, sneezing, and sometimes wheezing, and since there are no tears or sickness in the New Heaven and the New Earth if there is pollen, it will only make things grow.

This excites my Benadryl-ed self.

However, while we’re on this side of the New Jerusalem, I keep the tissue handy and be grateful for the pollen that turns my car yellow and hangs in the air like fairy dust, because without it trees and flowers and grass would not populate the Earth.

God is magnificent in His thinking.
Marvelous in all His ways.
The Earth declares His glory.

Wandering Wednesday #3

Soooo…I’ve been away a while.

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been wandering around doing adult things like…

  • Learning just how selfish I can be
  • Enduring more adult conversations (do they ever get any easier?)
  • Learning patience
  • Recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis & sinusitis
  • Being humbled by my lack of gratitude at times
  • Replacing an A/C unit,
  • Dealing with some puppy pranks early demolition on a home improvement project.

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There have been grand adventures too.  Adventures like…

Celebrating the birth of this handsome man. I’m so glad he was born!

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Taking a little vacation time in February.  Can you say, spa day?
IMG_0942That vacation also included hanging out with friends and family I hadn’t seen in far too long and a little trail run wog (that’s where you walk more than you jog) on a beautiful Saturday at Monte Santo State Park.  Beauty abounded.

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Saying Goodbye to the Bravermans.

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Does anyone else out there watch Parenthood? Did you bawl like a baby when it ended?  I know I sure did.

Training (and successfully completing) a 10K that has been on my race bucket list for a while.

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Taking in this view on a wonderfully, relaxing trip to the mountains…except…ya know…when Robyn’s car wouldn’t start.

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Buying a cocktail dress for $1.53 to attend a fabulous event with an even more fabulous fella.  Such fun!

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Squeezing what could in all probability be the cutest baby in the entire world.IMG_1033

I know.  She looks terrified and confused.  But isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

Celebrating Holy Week in grand style!  I don’t care what the song says, Christmas in not the most wonderful time of the year.  Easter is.  This year we added a Saturday night Easter Vigil in this stunning church…

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With the tremendous help of some awesome people, we also pulled off an Easter Brunch.  I took a chance and let my work, family, and church worlds collide.  It was so wonderful to see some of my favorite faces on my favorite day of the year.  It’s definitely likely to become tradition even if my feet haven’t full recovered.

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Participating in Birmingham Reads with these awesome co-workers.

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I have some upcoming adventures too, but you’ll have to wait on those.

Now you know what I’ve been up to.  What’s going on in your world?

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2014: The Year of Change

2014 started off rough and was full of waiting and watching and wondering.  In many areas, I felt displaced, disconnected, or discouraged, and right when I started to grit my teeth to just get through it, it did a 180 on me.  It has been a strange and wonderful year.  Memories I’ll carry with me are…

Best New Year’s Resolution:
Trying new foods, and by “new foods” I basically mean foods that normal people eat that I’ve never touched like yogurt…and blueberries…and key lime pie, for example.

Scariest Moment:
Crossing a (bleep)ing rope bridge on a zip lining nightmare adventure. I didn’t know if I was going to die or if I just wanted to die. Horrific.

Funniest Moment:
This really should be a top 10 category I have so many of these, but if I have to pick just one it would be almost flying off the back of a treadmill at the gym because I accidentally set the speed to 14 mph.

I was almost one of those YouTube video people, y’all.

Weirdest Month:
I’m not sure why this continues to be a category, but I like its uniqueness.  So, I pick… August.

Biggest Obsession:
Dexter.  

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Does anyone find out that he was a serial killer?
Does he go to jail?
How does it all end?

Completely obsessed.
Go ahead…judge me.

Favorite Read:
ummm….I don’t think I read one single book in its entirety apart from Bible Study. I guess I can put that down as a 2015 resolution, huh?

Favorite TV Show:
Parenthood. And I have the t-shirt to prove it.

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Favorite Bible Study:
The Power of God’s Names by Tony Evans

I can never, ever get enough of learning about the character of God. It brings me to my knees every time.

Best Vacation:
A weekend trip to Blue Ridge, GA to do absolutely nothing. GLORY!

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Favorite New Experience:
Can yogurt count? I seriously love yogurt, but that feels like cheating since it was in a previous category.  So, I’ll go with taking a calligraphy class. What can I say? I’m wild and crazy.

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Best Spontaneous Decision/Best Purchase:
Deacon: Goodness this dog makes me laugh.

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Biggest Loss:
Saying goodbye to my church home of seven years. The relationships formed were relationships I fought for. I miss seeing familiar faces, but sometimes, it is best to move on.

Biggest Accomplishment:
Running my first 5K trail run with everything I had and finishing 3rd in my age group. BLING! BLING!

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A close second was surviving 3 months with a 19-year old roommate. (I love you, LC.)

Best Conference:
Hutchmoot.  In all fairness, I only went to one conference.  Apparently, learning was not high on the priority list for 2014.

Biggest Disappointment:
Getting a stomach bug while on a business trip in Chicago.

Biggest Surprise:
Ending up at a Presbyterian church. Whaaaa?

Most Memorable Moment(s):
Having a rat run around your garage with its head stuck in a mousetrap is pretty memorable, but let’s go with something more festive:

I was anxious before an event and I will never forget my friend’s face when she looked me dead in the eye (with crazy eyes) and said, “I’m gonna need for you to get your head right.” It makes me laugh every.single.time.

Most Embarrassing Moment:
Having to leave a date because I was having a panic attack.

Anxiety disorders are real, folks.

Biggest Blessing:
This man…because apparently anxiety attacks don’t scare him.

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Favorite Gift:
A handmade quilt that was started in the 1950s by my great grandmother and finished by my mom. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Thanks for the memories, 2014.  You’ve been a little schizophrenic, but I appreciate the variety.

Fear & Faithfulness

My life has been turned upside down lately and seems to be a complete mess…

Work seems to be uber-stressful (which is odd for me). 
I have a roommate for the first time in 12 years.  
My health has been sub-par (but not serious).
And the little annoyances and problems of every day life that normally don’t phase me seem to be overwhelming. 

These recent events brought a post to mind that I wrote for the Valleydale Women’s Ministry blog last year.  If you’re stressed out, or anxious, or have ever been in the past, I hope you keep reading.  I hope it brightens your day as you realize that He can use your stressed out, anxious self for good and for the glory of His name. 

I had a delightful opportunity to teach Breaking Free From Fear.  Ironically, I had to take a couple of sessions off because I was struggling with anxiety.

(God has the most wonderful sense of humor. Don’t you think?)

I’m still not sure what was going on, but for a few weeks I felt like I was being tortured from the inside out. Physically, I thought I was going to jump out of my skin.

I couldn’t sleep.
I couldn’t eat.
I couldn’t think.
I couldn’t focus.
I was exhausted.

I can’t articulate properly how much it pained me to struggle with fear while I was supposed to be teaching on that very topic. I mean…I knew all the church answers.

I tried to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I prayed for peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
I recited every scripture I could possibly think of that had to do with fear.

But still my anxiety persisted and Satan had a field day. He tried to convince me that I had no business teaching. He tried to persuade me that people would think I was crazy. He told me my God wasn’t faithful and His Word was ineffective. All of these things compounded my anxiety.

Mercifully, my symptoms dissipated after I quit taking some medication, but the questions in my heart still haunted me. I felt like a failure. I beat myself up for letting my fear overcome my faith, and because of this, I was certain I had disappointed God and that He could never use me. In three words: I was crushed.

I took these hard feelings to God. Immediately, in my mind, I saw an image of Peter sinking. He was waist deep in rough seas with fright filling his face, and an arm reached out to save him.

It was the last lesson I taught before taking a break, and it was crystal clear in my mind.

Peter – perhaps sinking more in panic than in the waves – might not have found his faith that day, but what he did find was grace.

You see, Jesus didn’t give up on Peter because his faith wasn’t perfect. He didn’t walk away from him because of his fear (Matthew 14:25-31). He didn’t just save him.

He used him.

He used him as the rock on which to build His church (Matthew 16:18).

Sure. Peter’s story teaches us how to step out in faith and walk on water. It teaches us how to keep our eyes on Jesus instead of looking around at the raging storm. But it also teaches us that God doesn’t give up on us. He uses those whose faith might falter momentarily. He uses people willing to persevere when they think they’ve failed.

He used Peter.
He can use me.
And He can use you if you let Him.

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” – 2 Timothy 2:13

Definition

I have learned that my definition of things are sometimes very different than God’s definition. For example, things that I consider as painful are things God calls “good.” Take discipline for example. No one that I know likes disciple.

It hurts.
It is uncomfortable.
It brings out dross in our hearts.

Yet the Bible teaches us that it is for our good that He disciplines us.

Last week, my Facebook feed was abuzz with the Osteen’s. Many Christians are coming down hard on them because of the prosperity gospel they preach. I even posted a link to a message about how the prosperity gospel isn’t Biblical. However, the trouble, it seems, is not in whether or not God promises us prosperity. The problem is in how we define it.

Could it be God’s version of prosperity it is not in bigger toys, better houses, expensive cars, and higher salaries? Could prosperity really be defined in terms of the spiritual and eternal achievable only through more Jesus, more Holy Spirit, and more God the Father?

Don’t Wait Until Wednesday

Back in 2013, as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to send a note of encouragement to someone every week.  The idea was to hopefully brighten their day and to also instill a little more gratitude in my life. I kept things old school…with pen to paper and with a stamp through the mail. It was so much fun that I kept it up. So, every Wednesday I sit at my desk and draft a letter.

Some weeks, the letter conveys my thanks.
Other weeks, it expresses my sympathy.

Some weeks, the letter is a prayer.
Other weeks, it is words of encouragement in the midst of a battle.

Some weeks, the letter contains my congratulations on a job well done.
Other weeks, it is meant simply to brighten a day.

Some weeks, I send more than one letter.
Other weeks, I struggle with writer’s block.

To avoid the latter, I started to keep a list of people that are noteworthy. This Wednesday, I sat down to write a note to the next person on my list. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized it was too late.

How can it be too late to send a note of encouragement?

Well, it just so happened that on Tuesday, I attended her funeral.

She didn’t know how I felt about her.
She didn’t get to smile when she opened something in the mail that wasn’t a bill.
She didn’t know she had touched my life in an extraordinary way simply by being who she was.

So, I’m chunking the list. Life is too short.

Tell someone that you love them today.
Encourage someone today.
Say thanks today.
Make someone smile today.
Send a note today.
Take a chance today.

Don’t wait until Wednesday.

Follow

Will you follow Him here to the place of sacrifice?
Will you follow Him where tears flow?
Where pain knocks?
Where fear beacons you to turn back?

Will you follow Him through shame to redemption?
Through angry and bitter tears?
Will you follow Him through the valley?
Will you follow Him in the wilderness?
Will you follow Him here?

RATS!

Ok. Ok. Ok. There are four things you should know right off the bat:

1. I am deathly afraid of rodents – especially rats.
2. I have a weird fear of dead animals.
3. God has a sense of humor.
4. God’s ways are not our ways.

About a month ago, I left some new, unopened bags of dog food out in the garage (bad Nikol!).  I noticed some little holes along the bottom and knew immediately that a rodent of some kind was nibbling on it.

No problem.

The food went into a Rubbermaid container, and an awesome neighbor set some rat traps for me (which he would come check so I didn’t have to see and dispose of a dead rat – Praise Him!).

Little did I know this rat was smart, sneaky, and really, really wanted some dog food.

After a couple of days the traps were all tripped. There was no rat in the traps, and the edges of the handles of the rubbermaid container were chewed up. GROSS!
IMG_0177Let the horror begin…

Early one Sunday, I was sipping on my coffee in a chair that sits next to the door leading out to the garage. Suddenly, I hear – just on the other side of the door – a rapid tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Terror gripped me. I held my breath. Maybe I was just hallucinating.

A few seconds later….

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

I thought my heart was going to explode.

The only thing I thought to do was flick the light on, kick the door, and pray that was not what I thought it was.

Suddenly, silence.

I sighed, made a mental note to have the traps reset, and after about 20 minutes my heart rate returned to normal.

About an hour later…

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

WHAT?! You have got to be kidding me! Have mercy, Lord!

I kicked the door again, grabbed my phone, and called my neighbor to come reset the traps. Who cares if it is 7 AM on a Sunday!

Neighbor #2 to the rescue. Look at what the little monster did to an “air-tight” dog food container.
IMG_0179This was war, people! And sometimes wartime requires some creativity: Since the rat wanted to get into the dog food so badly, we gave him what he wanted.

We took some dog food and sprinkled it on the bottom of the rubbermaid container.
The lid was strategically placed like a ramp.
The dog food would be irresistible to the rat. He would climb in, but he wouldn’t be able to get out.

It was a long shot. But would you believe that it worked?

Would you also believe a co-worker had to come look inside the container to see if it worked because I was too chicken? He took care of the varmint, but he made me look inside beforehand.

Guess what?!

The rat wasn’t the gigantic hissing monsters with snarly teeth and beady red eyes I pictured in my head. He looked kind of cute, sad, and helpless sitting in the bottom of that container with his last supper.  And I felt kind of silly for being afraid of him.

Progress made to conquer fear #1. Whew!

Grateful for that drama to be over, life returned to normal until two weeks later.

I walked into the garage to get my running shoes out of the car and heard the most atrocious sound. It sounded like a bird flopping around on the ground and something dragging on the concrete. I turned around to see a gigantic rat RUNNING AROUND the garage with a mouse trap stuck on its head!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This cannot be my reality.

Neighbor #2 to the rescue…AGAIN. He took care of him, but y’all…I don’t know that I will ever be the same.

And that might be a good thing because apparently we are conquering fears.

Now, I’m not so scared of seeing live rats. In fact, I pray for the dead ones. I walk outside without fear and check the traps all by myself HOPING there will be something dead in it.

Isn’t it interesting how God works to conquer our fears? Often, we pray for God to protect us or deliver us from the things we fear. But sometimes, He wants us to conquer that fear by making us face it because that is how He sets us free. Most things that we are afraid of are just like that rat: they seem like gigantic monsters in our head, but in reality they are nothing but sad, helpless, little creatures at the bottom of a rubbermaid container.

Yep.

God has a great sense of humor.

And.

God’s ways are not our ways.

Wandering Wednesday #2

June almost sucked the life out of me.  I’m feeling a little A.D.D. That must mean it is time for a Wandering Wednesday.

Work projects kicked into high gear making for long nights and busy days.
I’ve had some disappointments. (Who hasn’t?)
Cried some big tears.
Dealt with some awkward, awkward moments.
Had one too many adult conversations. (Lord, give me strength!)
Replaced an A/C unit.
Had a crown replaced (and not the kind that goes on your head). This was me on more than one Monday.

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(You’re welcome)

Engaged in The Battle of the Wills with this fella.

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We’ve been through 3 cones and about 300 bandages. Repeat after me: I will not be defeated by a dog. I will not be defeated by a dog. I will not be defeated. by. a. dog.

Fortunately, there has been some oases amidst the chaos.

There was geocaching with my work team. We traipsed through the woods (sometimes in our socks because we made poor shoe choices). We climbed mountains (or hills). We laughed. But mostly, I just stood around and looked confused while they found all the loot. You know…kinda like a regular work day.  Besides, nothing says team building like walking on the side of the road, holding a phone, and looking like an idiot.

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I brought home a little bling from an Xterra 5K in May. 3rd place in my age group, baby. (We won’t talk about how many people were actually IN my age group.)

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I tried my hand at sewing a baby blanket. There were so many things that could’ve gone very, very wrong but it all worked out in the end and all my fingers are still intact.

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I was introduced to the coolest purse in the galaxy. You can swap out the covers on these little bad boys which might just change my life.  Check out Miche’s website here.

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I checked taking a calligraphy class off my bucket list. So fun!

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I even got to put my toes in the sand. (Glory!)

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And I’ve enjoyed countless 25 cent Icees with this little gem.  It’s the little things, people!

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I finished this bible study with the gals. (Come Lord Jesus!)

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And painted some canvases.

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…aaaaand went to an 80s themed surprise birthday party. I moused and sprayed and curled and sprayed and teased and sprayed and scrunched and sprayed and poofed and sprayed my hair for 30 minutes. The 80s were exhausting and apparently filled with hideous attire.

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Well, that’s it for me.  Here’s to hoping July is more low key than June.

What have you been up to lately?

The Registry

I found myself recently strolling through Buy Buy Baby with a gift registry in my hand.  At some point in time some dear friends walked into the store, went down each aisle, and lovingly selected exactly what they wanted for their upcoming bundle of joy.   I’ll save you the blow-by-blow of how I searched high and low for exactly the right nipple; how I combed through every bib imaginable to find the one with the little yellow bees; and how I wanted to slam my head into the wall while searching for no-skid, roll-down, ivory socks for a 0-6 month old.  (Can we discuss for a moment why those things even exist?  Is there some super baby that has been able to walk at 6 months and slipped because the socks didn’t have grippers on them.  I mean….come ON!!!)

Anyway….

Did you know that God has a registry too?  It is called The Book of Life (Rev. 13:8).  John MacArthur describes this book as “the registry in which God inscribed the names of those chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world.”

Let’s think through that for a minute.

Before God decided to make the world He sat down and wrote a list.  The list contains names of individuals.  These individuals span the ages from the beginning of the earth until the end.  They are the ones He chose.  He selected them from every person that would exist through the entirety of history.

Many have walked this earth.
Some walk it today.
Only God know how many more are to come.

The thought that somewhere in Heaven there is a book so ancient it existed before time is pretty staggering.  But to think that my name is written in that very book makes me want to fall prostrate on the ground in awe.

If you know Him – if you belong to God – He wrote down your name that day too.

He took a pen (or whatever you write with in Heaven) to paper, thought of you, and wrote your name.

He chose you.
He wanted you.
You are His.
And your citizenship lies in Heaven.

Amazing!

Yes?

God reminded me this week of the power of my words – not only to others – but to Christ.

Recently, I asked someone to do something. They agreed, but when the time came for them to close the deal, their response was, “Oh. I thought you were kidding.

How many times have I done the same to God? I’ve told Him I would…

follow Him anywhere;
do anything He wants me to do;
pay any price.

Then, He asks me to…

do something uncomfortable,
or scary,
or outwardly foolish,
or embarrassing.

My palms sweat, and my heart pounds. I hope He is kidding, but it turns out, I’m the one kidding myself.

Lord, help me to heed whatever Your call. Help me obey with abandon. Change my heart into one that delights in service to You whatever the cost. Help to remember our covenant is real and binding with eternal consequences both for myself and others. Let my “yes” really be yes.

Shadowland

This year, God has been fairly quiet. I’ve felt few promptings and whispers to my heart. At times, I’ve wondered…

…if God has left me,
…if I did something wrong,
…or if I’ve not done something that perhaps I should.

Then, I read in Revelation these words about the throne room of God:

The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones – like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow….from the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder…In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal. (Rev. 4:3, 5, 6)

Look at the descriptions:

brilliant as gemstones…
like a rainbow…
flashes of lightning…
rumbles of thunder…
sparkling like crystal.

Y’all! I’ve been so caught up in hearing from God that I missed actually seeing Him.

Suddenly, the twinkle of a diamond on someone’s hand is a tiny peek at the glory of God. The beauty of a rainbow is now a glimpse of what encircles His head. The shimmer of a crystal vase in the sunlight is a trace of what rests beneath His feet. The fear and awe thunder brings is a whisper of His actual voice.

Are you looking for God? Do you see Him in what is around you?

We live in a land of shadows. Everything He created is a glimpse of Him.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20).

Seven Words

Seven words are following me.

Back in January, they popped up as David’s prayer in Psalms and became mine as well.

They snuck up on me again during Holy Week only this time they were the last words of Christ.

I entrust my spirit into your hands.” (Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46)

Heavy words.

Spoken first by the one with a heart like His.
Spoken again by the One who had His heart.

When the disciples heard Jesus utter those words, they were probably on the verge of panic.  Their hopes and dreams were wrapped up in Jesus.  How could they process that promise now hanging on a cross about to die the shameful death of a criminal?

They believed in Him.
They hoped in Him.
They followed Him.
He was their life.

As they stared at what appeared to be the death of their promise what went through their minds?

Panic?
Doubt?
Fear?
Disbelief?
Anger?

He told them before what would happen.  They didn’t understand.

Maybe you have a promise hanging on a tree.  It is a promise seemingly unfulfilled. And like the disciples, you don’t understand.

You believe in Him.
You hope in Him.
You follow Him.
He is your life.

But how will you process it?

Will you be as brave as David in the midst of his distress?
Will you be as faithful as Jesus in His dying?
Are you able to say despite what comes:  “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands?”

Wandering Wednesday

So…it appears I just took an unplanned writing break for the past 3 months. Wow! Where did the time go? I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things, even if I just reach out for a one-liner or some wanderings.

Things have been kind of slow in the writing department because my life is pretty uninteresting right now. Yet, somehow, it is uninteresting and busy. How does that even happen? There is a lot to do every day but to what end? I’m calling it my Wandering Phase because it feels like I’m in between destinations. For example:

  • My accountability group took a break for about 6 months. We’re down by one, but we’re trying to get our feet back under us. It’s not the same.
  • I’ve been visiting churches for the past 3 months. I’m trying not to be bitter about the process, but I hate starting over. It’s hard.
  • My department at work moved under a new division head after 7+ years. Learning new roles and figuring out how old ones fit is always an interesting process. It’s uncomfortable.
  • Everyone seems to be up in this single gal’s business and I’m not sure why. Some people mean well, and some people are just plain mean. It’s disappointing.
  • Prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling and God is pretty quiet these day making me feel even more disconnected and uncertain. It’s frustrating.

But there have been good wanderings too…

Remember this little guy? (His name is Deacon, by the way.)

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Well, now he is this not-so-little guy.

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Is it wrong to confess that I didn’t like him for the first three weeks? Probably. But we’ve worked some things out and now that he doesn’t whine constantly and isn’t peeing in my house every 10 minutes (literally), I’m in love with him.  He’s a sweetie.

I can’t give Deacs a shout-out without giving Ellie one as well. She’s a trooper. Look at these faces, y’all! Would you get anything done with this much cuteness around?

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During Puppy Chaos 2014, I taught Zechariah. I had no idea what I was getting myself into by picking the study, but it was worth the time & effort

I’m toying with the idea of doing another triathlon.  It’s crazy.  Some of you may know that I’m a recovering triathlete. For those of you who didn’t, don’t get too impressed. My motto is: “I don’t compete. I complete.” Big diff.

I’m doing some creative work…like making this trophy for a weight-loss competition at work.

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I know. I know. It’s a masterpiece. Stop it!

And to inspire all my awesome creative endeavors, I stayed out late on a school night to see Dave Barnes in concert. I scored some pretty awesome seats, and it was a pretty awesome night where my face hurt from laughing so hard.

IMG_3373I’ve also been spending a lot of time in nature. I love the extra sunshine daylight savings time brings. There is nothing better for the soul than to take in this after being cooped up in a grey cubicle all day. Don’t you think?  It’s refreshing.  

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Oooooooo! Let’s not forget Holy Week. I took it to the next level this year by taking a full week of stay-cation. It was glorious – as Holy Week should be.

Now you know some of my wanderings. What’s been going on in your neck of the woods?

2013: A Year of Adventure

Seeing that it is the last day of January you might think a 2013 recap post is long over due and you would be right! Things were a tad bit crazy during December, and then things went really bonkers when this little thing came home with me in January. Lord, have mercy!

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It must be said, 2013 was a fantastic year jam packed full of adventure! I traveled near and far sorta near. I went to a couple of conferences, taught Bible Study to a group of phenomenal ladies, tried some new things, and made some improvements. It was a year of growth which is what I should expect after the pruning that was 2012. Yesh!  Here are some highlights:

Biggest Blessing:
Celebrating my birthday with friends in Charleston, SC at this fantastic loft!

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Best New Year’s Resolution:
Taking the time once each week to send a note to encourage or thank someone via snail mail.

Scariest Moment:
Learning that Ellie has Exercise Induced Collapse in front of a preschool neighbor.  Utter terror.

Funniest Moment:
I was heading to Decatur for a surprise 18th birthday party for this beauty.

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Prior to leaving I uttered to her mom the most prophetic words that will likely ever come out of my mouth:  “What if she sees me while I’m driving down the interstate?” Forty-five minutes later she calls my cell phone & wants to know why I’m on I-65 and where I am going because she was behind me!!!  I should’ve won an Academy Award for the acting that ensued in the next 3 minutes.

Weirdest Month:
December

Biggest Obsession:
The word “harvest.”

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Do not ask me why.

I just saw it everywhere.

Favorite Read:
Trusting God by Jerry Bridges

Favorite TV Show:
Scandal.

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Well written.
Well acted.
And not a single episode that hasn’t left me speechless.

Favorite Bible Study (to redeem the previous category):
David by Beth Moore

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Best Vacation:
A glorious combination of Savannah, GA and The Masters.

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Favorite New Experience:
Segways!!!  If you can swallow your pride long enough to get over the geek factor, they are FUN and hands down the best way to tour a new city.

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Best Spontaneous Decision:
Emailing a friend I hadn’t seen in 7 years and driving to Lexington two days later to see her and meet her husband and fabulous kids. Aren’t they the cutest family ever?

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Biggest Loss:
35 pounds and over 60 inches of me :)

Biggest Accomplishment:
A stray dog we loving referred to as Ruby took up residence at our office building.  She was incredibly skittish.  It took us 6 months and countless weekends to catch her but we finally did!!

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Best Conference:
Hutchmoot

Biggest Disappointment:
Having to cancel a trip to visit a dear friend in San Antonio.

Biggest Surprise:
Watching Auburn win the Georgia and Alabama football games in the most stunning moments in college football history. There simply are no words.

Most Memorable Moment(s):
For an entire week the company I work for celebrates their employees.  I work with some pretty awesome people and we had some great competitions & great laughs but I will never forget singing at a “concert” during a pizza lunch.  I was scared to death!

Most Embarrassing Moment:

I was teaching a class on “Breaking Free from Fear” and had to take a break because I was suffering from anxiety attacks.  True story.

Favorite Gift:
Building this masterpiece with Robyn for her nephew’s birthday. The piece is officially known as CarterTown and is worth $1,000,000.

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And there you have it!  2013 will likely go down as one of the best years in this blessed gal’s life!

(Re)Thinking Christmas: Silence

Houses throughout the country right now are filled with the sounds of children pattering down stairs and giggling with delight as they stare at the toys a fat man with some reindeer and a sleigh magically left for them last night. There are sounds of wrapping paper being ripped, of ohs and ahs, of thank yous, and of cheer.

But my house…well…my house is quiet.

There seems to be something inherently wrong about a quiet house on Christmas morning.

The rooms are not filled with people.
The kitchen is not busy with food preparations.
The sounds of the clacking of silverware on plates is nowhere to be heard.

It is simply quiet.

In Christmases past, the quiet house would go unnoticed because of the clatter in my head. While my house was quiet, my heart was not, yet it felt more empty than the rooms. The silence made my soul ache for life-long dreams unfulfilled.

A quiet house is not how I imagined my 39th Christmas on this earth.

There should be a husband.
There should be children.
There should be toys and presents piled high.
My living room should be cluttered with chunks of wrapping paper right now.

No. This is not how I envisioned my 39th Christmas because for the first time I am grateful for the quiet.

You see…I have what few people have this morning:

…time to think about its uniqueness,
…space to cherish its significance,
…a moment to ponder the holiness of this day.

I am reminded of:

…a faithful God;
…and a promise kept.

I am grateful to sit – not in a living room littered with clutter and clatter – but in the throne room of my King.

One day – God willing – my house will not be silent on this blessed day, but for now I will relish its stillness.

No.  It is not how I imagined my 39th Christmas on this earth.

It is better.

Oh come, let us adore Him.

Unworthy

Let’s ponder for a moment the omnipotence of God. It is mind-blowing.

He is capable of doing the most difficult of tasks by opening His mouth and taking a breath.

His whispers can level towns like matchsticks.
The thunder of His voice resounds for miles.
Hurricanes & tornados are only shadows of His strength.

The stroke of His finger carves out canyons.
The palm of His hand molds stone into mountains.
He wields the waves as He wishes.

He heals lepers.
He causes the blind to see.
He parts waters.
He breaks down walls.

He has the power to save the lost;
to call to the dying, the broken, the damaged;
to change an evil and sinister heart into good.

In His power we are restored;
we find salvation;
we find rest.

He does not keep His power to Himself but shares it with us through the Holy Spirit.

His strength sustains us when we are too weak to move.
His strength upholds us when we cannot go another step further.

But perhaps the greatest display of His power is in His restraint of it. He could smite down this dark and evil world and be just & right to do so!

Oh, that we might adequately fear Him! Look around and gaze at the marvelous grace He extends to us each and every day simply by allowing us not to perish. We are unworthy.

Heart Healer

Lord, heal my heart.
Whatever it takes.
Whatever I need.
Heal it.

I can’t see how.
I can’t see when.
But I know you are a heart healer.
Will you heal mine?