Mothers, Scary Teachers, and Beyonce

Two weeks ago a friend asked me to write a few sentences about a moment that affected my life for part of an art project that she’s working on.

First, I sent her much more than a few sentences

Second, I was surprised at the moment that flooded to my memory.

I could have thought about my tales of unrequited love: the heartbreak, the listening to sad Avett Brothers songs on repeat, the walking around Paris on a semester abroad in tears over a boy  4,000 miles away.

I could have thought about meeting Tim, the moment that has come to be known as the-first-time-love-was-requited -and-thank-goodness-it-had-never-been-before-because-THIS-guy-was-worth-the-wait. Our wedding day, too, was certainly a life altering, things will never be the same again, type day.

Maybe even the day I realized how much of a happy feminist I am, because that certainly changed a lot about my life.

Instead, immediately upon reading her question, I thought about something kind my mother did for me in 4th grade.

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In 4th grade I had a teachermiss_nelsonr that books like Miss Viola Swamp are written about: mean ones who seem to hate children. She was short, had long nails that were often painted blue, yelled a lot, and on several scaring occasions snapped at me in front of the class to stop being so shy. This, by the way, is a terrible tactic and I feel confident in saying that it has never once worked on any shy student. If anything, it made the butterflies that fluttered around my stomach everytime I had to speak in front of the class turn into pterodactyls.

(this is the first time I have ever written out the word “pterodactyl”. It took a while and involved googling because my entire life I had been one thousand percent sure that it started with a “T”) 

I can remember two days when I pretended to be sick so that I wouldn’t have to go to school.. and both times it worked. I figured that I was a pretty stellar actress, though it didn’t occur to me that maybe this wasn’t the case, considering that my mom never fell for my lies any other time, ever. Many days I simply cried over going.

During Christmas break my mom told me that when school started back up I would no longer be in the same class. There was a switch, she said, and I would be going to Ms. C’s class instead. Life was good for 4th grade me after that: I never pretended to be sick to get out of school and even though passing my previous teacher in the hall was a nightmare and I would very nervously look at my feet while doing so, I was thrilled over the magical switch that had taken place.

The reason for this change in classrooms, of course, didn’t occur to me for quite some time. Truthfully I was just happy it happened: I didn’t care what prompted it. I didn’t realize that this convenient arrangement came by way of many meetings with the principal, paperwork, a hard conversation with my former teacher, and a lot of love.

My mother knew I wasn’t sick (after all, I was her 5th child: she’d seen her fair share of genuine sickness, and “nice try” sickness by the time I came along), and she also knew there was something wrong with her daughter dreading school so much – for the first time ever. Lots of kids don’t like going to school, but there’s a line between just not liking it and being terrified of it. My mother had been a volunteer in my classroom and she knew my teacher well. She liked her on certain levels, largely because my mother loves people in a way that I one day hope to, but she too wondered how a woman who seemed so unhappy teaching kids ended up teaching kids.

I know now that on the last day of school before Christmas break, while I was gathering up my christmas crafts to bring home, my mother nervously pulled my teacher aside and did something she didn’t want to do. My mother is the text book example of what it means to be loving. She loves the unloveable (which sometimes means me) and wishes nothing ill on anyone – even those others might say deserve it. She is always so careful to not offend or belittle other people, not because she’s passive (you obviously haven’t met my mother) but because she cares so deeply for the feelings of others. And yet, being this way and caring so much, even knowing that it would likely cause hurt, my mother told my teacher privately: “I am truly sorry if this hurts your feelings, and I will still help in your classroom if you need, but my most important job is protecting my daughter. She is going to be starting back in a new class after the break.”

This isn’t the kindest thing my parents have done for me. As a matter of fact, there are thousands of stories of love in my childhood and for that I am more grateful than I can say. Yet this is the one that came to my mind at the question: describe a moment that affected your life.

Why?

I think learning the truth of this simple story -the way my mother had basically fought for me – was the first time I had a taste of the weight of motherhood and the incredible, beautiful, and welcomed burden of protecting your child’s whole self. The business of parenting deals with all the facets: making sure your child has enough to eat, but also making sure their spirit doesn’t feel stepped on. Teaching your child to feel brave enough to speak what’s on her mind, but not allowing others to shame her shyness. And it means protecting all these facets even when it is wildly uncomfortable to do so.

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If you’re wondering, my teacher didn’t take the news very well. She was offended and she was upset and she wasn’t at all blamed for feeling as such. Some time later she ended up moving into our neighborhood and wouldn’t you know it, she and my mom were able to kind of sort of be friends. My mom has used this as a life lesson before: always be kind and gracious even when it’s difficult. You never know who is going to move to your street.

This is similar to Beyonce’s advice of “always be gracious, best revenge is your paper“, but it’s way better because the best revenge is being nice to people who don’t warrant your niceness.

Work: not so much a love story

We recently purchased a new computer that has the most updated version of GarageBand on it. For my husband, a very talented musician who has been without recording equipment for a very long time, this is very exciting.

“This is so perfect for demos!”

“These drum tracks are so intuitive – such a good stand in till my buddy can write the drums!”

Etc.

We have had this computer for 6 days and I believe he has logged 10+ hours already working on ideas. In fact, right now as I use the computer he is sitting on the couch with headphones in listening to his drafts over and over again on his phone, finding ways to make them even better. Timothy loves music and it shows, because he’s very good at it. And even though he is talented enough for it to be, music isn’t his paycheck.

And this is something that he and I have been talking about a lot lately.

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A few weeks ago I was home visiting my family, a little south of Tampa, down where breweries and coffee shops aren’t on every corner. I rubbed shoulders with my parents, my aunt, some cousins, some-not-actually-related-to -me-but-basically-cousins and at one point it occurred to me that none of us were really talking about our jobs. Looking around the room I saw Publix employees, a custodian, a lawn man, and people like me who worked at a company they liked but grew up dreaming of working somewhere that seemed more grand. All jobs that take as much hard work as anything else (maybe even more so – a lawn man in the Florida summer? yikes), but jobs that are kind of ordinary. Jobs none of us necessarily dreamed about. This felt vastly different from my life in Tampa where it seems jobs are your identity. And the cooler the better.

My family didn’t all talk about their jobs because their jobs aren’t the things they are most passionate about. And what a nice idea: our vocations aren’t our passion – other things are. For myself and the people in that room, our jobs are just a job. And to be honest, it felt really nice to not feel like a dummy for not having an edgy profession. Maybe it’s just me, but all the pro bloggers and coffee roasters and people who own their own businesses and those who make Instagram posts about hustling hard and “if you love your work you never work a day in your life”, just make me feel less-than because my job isn’t instagram worthy.

I’m not insulting those jobs, of course,  but I’m insulting the idea that we are our jobs. That we’re only as cool as our jobs. That we must talk and dream and write about our jobs always because our jobs must be our biggest passion. Our jobs need to be unique. Our jobs need to be able to be done in coffee shops that we can take photos in of us doing our jobs. In our culture, selling things on Etsy, is infinitely more applaudable than working at Target. Should it be? They both take a lot of hard work, they both allow parents to provide for their families. Why is one better?

I work for a non profit that I believe in and where my participation brings me happiness, but it is not my dream job. It’s also not a glamorous job – my office building looks like the set of a 90’s sitcom with terrible art on the walls and most of the day I leave voicemails for people who have ignored my calls (My dear volunteers: I can tell when you have denied my call because no phone on earth rings twice and then goes to voicemail without being prompted to). But you know what? I don’t have a dream job. There isn’t one thing that, right now in my life, I envision myself doing and being so wildly joyful over. Other people feel this way (and they should follow those specific dreams if they have them), but I don’t, and so I am no longer letting myself think that makes me lazy, boring or stupid.

I have many passions. I spend my free time doing things that make me feel very content, very satisfied, and very happy… then I go to work because they’re separate, and that’s okay.

Timothy is still sitting on the couch listening to his demos and when he sets his headphones down and goes to work on Monday to do something not at all related to playing guitar, that’ll be okay too.

We should work hard at whatever it is we do. Every job has worth, but no job determines worth. 

And also, your talented isn’t diminished if one person or four thousand celebrate it. The top (by a landslide) commenter on my blog is my mother and that’s a-okay with me.

Hi, mom🙂

 

Timothy, my husband.

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It feels like a crime – like I’m fighting against all that is right and good and natural – pulling away from the curve of your neck. That space where I rest my head. My forehead and nose cradle the line that rises from your shoulder to your beautiful jaw; that space where I fit. They say home is where you lay your heart – I think home is being nestled against you like two perfect puzzle pieces. Where I feel the warmth of your skin pressed against my face. Where your beard faintly rubs against my hair line as you speak. There’s never a good enough reason to leave this spot. No appointment so important or hour too late. For when we separate, my face feels cold away from your skin and my eyelashes beg to dance on your neck.

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Sometimes when I flutter awake in the middle of night I reach out and rest my hand on your back or your shoulder or your arm. Because you’re there: taking up space in the most private of spaces. Because I have you to reach out and touch. I reach for you because you’re mine, and I’m yours and we have vowed to always rest next to one another. I reach out for you while you’re so deep in your own sleep because I want to redeem all the nights I fell asleep so lonely. I think of those nights and my heart aches for my younger self, wishing she knew that you were coming. I think of the nights I cried myself to sleep, then I think of nights when we first met and I fell asleep thinking of you. Now you don’t just fill my thoughts, you fill my space. You’re there. I listen to you breathe, to your heart, and I thank God for your dependable lungs and heart and body. I ask Him to keep them working so hard and so long so that you and I have no shortage of these moments in our life together. I keep my hand on your back as I fall back asleep because you’re there, and I can.

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We often say to each other as we’re half out the door, “hey! you’re my best friend!” and you are. Wholly and truly, my best friend. You’re my safe space and home base and my true love. My heart was fragmented when I met you; tired and delicate, worn and used. I’ve seen you tenderly love so many people since I met you, and the first one I witnessed was me. You loved me like I had never been loved from the very start. You felt safe immediately, even when we introduced ourselves and laughed and told stories that very first night when you filled the only empty seat at your favorite Mexican restaurant, which happened to be next to me.

My heart rejoices at the thought of that empty seat next to me being filled by the man who would redeem every heartache. The curve of your neck is my safe space, your place next to me in bed is home, and you, undoubtedly, are my best friend.

 

The photo above is from a shoot we did with our super talented friends, Jake & Katie for Jordandene

 

 

 

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Resurrection

“Well I don’t think there is a better time to struggle through something than tonight,” she said to me. “Life is hard, God is good. That’s all I know.”

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It was Maundy Thursday and I was very broken. So much so that I didn’t have the ability or strength or wherewithal to notice the beautiful irony of feeling so heavy on the day that Christ felt the ultimate heaviness. I yelled at God in the middle of my living room much like Christ yelled in the garden two thousand years before me, also on a particular Thursday.

I always pictured Christ kneeling very elegantly, in the way we often see in paintings when I read that scripture. Even though it says he “fell on his face”, I still paint a much more “holy” picture in my mind. An image of Christ saying a holy prayer in a holy and tragic garden. Fearful, but in control. Worried, but still peaceful.

But maybe He wasn’t. He probably wasn’t. Falling on one’s face doesn’t indicate peace. Maybe Christ looked more like how I looked last Thursday. Stomping and pacing with clenched fist and clenched teeth and stinging tears and worrying a little bit about people overhearing but not enough to stop from yelling. Maybe he had a headache from crying like I did. Maybe he also counted on God to understand cries when He couldn’t think of words. He threw himself on the ground and I yelled in my living room.

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She invited all of us from House Church to come to a Maundy Thursday service that night. She actually had invited us to come to services all throughout the Lent season but I never once gave the invitations a second thought, truth be told. I can always come up with excuses to not have to challenge myself.

When I sat back down at my desk, utterly defeated from yelling at God and hearing nothing in return, I saw her email and felt just broken enough to get out of my own way and attend a church I’ve never been to before. Really, I was hoping I would find Him there because He didn’t seem to be anywhere near me. I texted her that I was coming with a really bitter comment about feeling abandoned and broken and heavy. “Well I don’t think there is a better time to struggle through something than tonight,” she said to me. “Life is hard, God is good. That’s all I know.”

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On top of feeling so wildly crummy from that afternoon, I was late and I hate being late. The door creaked really loudly when I opened it and some people looked at me and I hate when strangers look at me. I was wearing my purple work polo and I hate looking like a golfer. I wasn’t at my best. I sat in the very last pew even though she had saved a seat for me. I didn’t want to have to walk by anybody. The speaker was finishing up when I sank into my seat and ended with the words, “the table is ready”.

I cried as I watched people I didn’t know take communion. God had stripped away parts of me that day. I realized I had believed lies about myself for years and years and years and it hurt, deeply, to lose them even though they needed to be removed. I hadn’t earned the grace that was poured out on that table.

She took communion with her family and while walking back to her seat she saw me and walked back to me with her hand out and asked if I was ready for communion. She walked with me, put her hand on my back as I took it and sweetly laughed when I didn’t know what to do with the little plastic cup that we don’t use at our home church. She came back to my seat with me but quickly got up when she noticed another person (I honestly don’t know if she even knew him or not) sitting alone. I watched her walk with him to the table too. She gently touched his shoulder when he wiped tears from his eyes. That’s who she is: she’ll walk up to the communion table three times if it means that no one has to do it alone.

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I’ve known this sweet woman for about 7 years, which is wild to think about. I met her very quickly after I started going to Watermark and she spoke truth and wisdom and beauty into my life in a way that no one except maybe my mother ever had. I loved her immediately. I loved the way she used her hands when she talked and the bold lipstick she wore and the way she talked about God.

When I look back honestly, I think I put her on a pedestal. To me she was perfect, and that’s always a dangerous way to feel about someone. Because she wasn’t, none of us are. Things broke a couple years into our friendship and because of how infallible I thought her, I handled it poorly. I was scared and honestly angry because it felt like my foundation cracked a little. Our foundation isn’t supposed to be built on other people, we know that we know that we know that, but sometimes we build it anyway. We expect mere humans to be Christ. That is simply always asking for trouble.

About a year after the break I moved to Memphis. I didn’t reach out to her when I was in town and her address was never one I wrote on letters back home (my heart weeps at the thought in hindsight). After I moved back I was too consumed with my own transitions and goings on to notice that weeks and months and then a year passed before I saw her on a Sunday morning. She was sitting two rows ahead of me and my heart stopped for a second when I saw her–I didn’t know why. I wasn’t afraid of her or angry at her. She had just become a sort of stranger to me. And maybe on some level I knew that I had been a terrible sister to her.

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But there we were, sitting in a church I had never been in before on Maundy Thursday. I wept and spilled my soul to her. I told her about the lies I had accepted as truth for years and how awful it felt to realize that. And I told her about the parts inside of me (like my fear of not being capable or smart or passionate) that probably are lies, I’m told they’re lies, but feel completely like the truth. I told her about not hearing from God and I told her about being really angry. I counted on her to understand my cries when I couldn’t think of words.

This friend that I realized I had missed terribly prayed with me, for the first time in years. She again spoke truth and wisdom and beauty into me. She told me I could lean on her faith and that we’re bounded together in Christ. We apologized to each other and said “I love you” about 17 times and really really meant it. We stepped over the broken bits and were alive again.

I believe in resurrection because I believe that God brings things back from the dead every day. I believe He raised His son after three days in the tomb and has been raising things back from the dead ever since.

Collecting

 

Last month Timothy and I were perched at my embroidery booth at the Tampa Indie Flea. It’s a local art market that gathers once a month and on two occasions I’ve sold some hand embroidery there. Being an introverted vendor there is actually very exhausting because hundreds and hundreds of people come through and making small talk and answering the same questions (“how long did that take to make?”) over and over again is my literal nightmare. But many of those individuals are sweet and encouraging, so it’s worth the very real struggle.

One such shopper was a woman probably in her late 60’s. She walked up to us in bright colored sneakers and work out pants, a crochet vest with eclectic brooches pinned to it, big earrings and a big personality. She complimented my work and said “My husband and I are passed the point of collecting things now, so I can’t buy anything, as nice as they are. We spent 50 years gathering things and buying stuff we thought we absolutely needed and now we’re trying to get rid of it all! You both are young and probably knee deep in collecting still but boy does that change!”

Then she made a joke about how “snobby south Tampa richie rich’s” never stop collecting but that’s just one of their many problems. She was my spirit animal.

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Timothy and I were really struck with this idea. Seven months into marriage, we are DEFINITELY still collecting and building and piecing things together. Sometimes we’re collecting then returning and collecting something different (because those curtains were cool at first but we ‘collected’ a new rug and now they’ve gots to go). We’re searching yard sales and family closets and Home Goods (the homeland) and the Indie Flea trying to find the pieces that feel like home. Our apartment is about the size of a closet, but it feels no less loved than a mansion to us.

The quilt on our bed was made by my mom’s mom, who I never met. Her name was Charlotte and she loved the color purple, which is why purple stitches and fabric spill over the quilt. She died many years before I was born and certainly never knew of me, but I feel so connected to her when I pull up the quilt that she made with her sweet hands that might have looked kind of like mine.

On the bottom shelf of our living room bookcase is a soccer ball signed by Rod Stewart. Not exactly a piece I dreamed of having in my home one day, but a special souvenir of Timothy’s from when his step dad worked on Rod Stewarts tours. Few people know that Rod Stewart was a soccer player before becoming a singer (myself included before Timothy told me) and every time someone comes over and notices it they wonder out loud “… but why a soccer ball?”

For weeks we searched through craigslist looking for a couch that we could afford with our pittance of an income. One day a nice neutral couch in our budget popped up and we sprinted to go see it. On the way we set up signals to give to each other in case we didn’t like it. You know, in case the people seemed like the kind who definitely had sex on the couch (not sure how you can tell if someone is a do-it-on-the-couch kind of person) or something like that. We weren’t going to outright say no but instead settled on “we have other couches to go look at too so we’ll let you know.” Which was a lie. In the end the couple seemed very much like the kind who kept it in their bedroom (am I going too far?) and we bought the couch. Getting our new-to-us couch up the stairs to our apartment was the hardest thing we have ever done. Timothy yelled, I cussed. We scratched the legs and tour the back a little bit making it look infinitely less nice than when we bought it, but it was ours. It was the first big thing we bought together and remembering the insanity of bringing it up the stairs always makes me smile.

Two favorite items in our collection are custom portraits from two artists I love. The first portrait was one I ordered a month and a half early for Timothy’s birthday. The artist (Lauren Noel) only takes custom portrait orders a few times a year, and they always sell out fast (REAL fast, like I had so set a reminder on my phone and have her website up & ready to purchase). Coincidentally, it arrived on our wedding day. Our wedding was in the afternoon and when we arrived home – to officially our home for the first time – it was waiting at the door. In my excitement I made Tim open it that minute.

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My husband and I, in front of the Memphis bridge, painted by LadyNoelDesigns (LadyNoelDesigns.bigcartel.com)

For my birthday (which hey, is today) Timothy got me the second portrait in our collection. Extra special, this one was made by a personal friend I happen to adore for a thousand reasons. Though we’re the subject in both, they’re as different as the women who made them and each so special. Often I catch myself feeling all warm and fuzzy over the thought of our future kids (our maybe future kids) looking at them and remarking “I can’t believe how young you look!”

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My husband and I with all our favorite things painted by Kelly Hewitt (melodiousmonster.com)

To be sure, the best parts of our collections are the memories that we’re making as we learn how to be husband and wife. Dancing in our living room, taking walks in the first neighborhood (of most likely many) that we’re taking up space in together, getting in arguments that end in laughter.

Over the years we will add many things to our collections, maybe even people. And that sweet spirit at the indie flea may be right about one day wanting to cut our collection down, but for right now I’m loving the collecting.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day: a day to celebrate the achievements of women in all kinds of areas and to reflect on the movers and shakers who are fighting for equality and improvements for women. What a glorious thought! Indeed I quite wish my entire Tuesday could have been spent talking and learning about women who are fighting for all of us (instead half of my day was sitting at a cubicle and leaving voicemails for folks ignoring my calls – such is life). I wish I had been plopped on a couch with my favorite female friends, sharing our plights as women: the highs and the lows. Instead of listening to answering machine messages, I wish I had been listening to brave women talk about their hopes for our sisters and their fights against the injustices facing so many. But I’m thankful that those conversations still happen. Maybe they didn’t on International Women’s Day, but I hear brave things every day. I hear empowering things and heart breaking things and stories that make me so happy and proud to be a woman. So, I guess I can let it slide that I was in an office that looks like an office set straight out of a 90’s TV show instead.

 

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I took this photo from a friend on Instagram because the words were so overwhelmingly lovely to me 

And I am very proud to be a woman. I’m thrilled to be a daughter of Christ, a lady and a gal. My culture didn’t raise me to be proud of this (not with words like “girly” being an insult, and “running like a girl” being synonymous with running like an idiot) but Christ did, my parents did, and many others in my life did. And actually, they had to battle pretty hard against what my culture told me about being a woman because culture was (is) LOUD. And also wrong. From culture I heard that I was weaker than men, way too sensitive, too fat, too tall (someone told me once that I would have a hard time finding a husband because of my height #vomit. The joke is on them because I am 5 inches taller than my husband and he doesn’t give two whats about it), an object for men to enjoy, but also a whore for getting any attention from men. Culture wanted me to be held responsible for my own actions, and also the actions of men who couldn’t control their own.

I’m very thankful for the messages of truth I have continually been told that counters all this nonsense. The truth that was written to me in scripture, in letters from my mother, in hugs from my friends, in passionate conversations over cookie dough.

So today, on a day to celebrate the fact that women can now run for President (regardless if you want to vote for her or not) but to also acknowledge the big steps we still have to take for true equality and safety for women around the world, I want to simply write little love notes to the women who have made me proud to be in their club.

To my mother (and to my father, too): Pink may have been my favorite color when I was little, but instead of dressing me as a pink ballerina for Halloween, you made me a pink Power Ranger costume. Thanks for that. I felt things very deeply as a young girl and was so easily heart broken. You never once made me feel silly for tears. You told me that it meant I had a big heart and when I got older that would help me love other people well. You bought me dresses when I loved dresses and nothing but pants when I felt too self conscious to wear dresses in middle school. You never put me in a box labeled “YOU’RE A GIRL SO THIS IS WHAT THAT MEANS”. But more than that, you told me your stories very honestly. Your stories that devastate my heart, frankly: stories of abuse, stories of strength. Your stories of working hard to care for your children, no matter when that meant barely having time to rest and not allowing any junk food in the house because you couldn’t afford the doctor. You taught me to never ever believe that women aren’t as strong as men, because when I look at you (and so many of the mothers who I work with every day) I see nothing BUT strength. I am eternally grateful to you for not keeping these stories from me. Sad as they are, they have shaped me and the way I view my own gender. I remember in middle school I repeated the slang phrase “wife beater” referring to the white tank tops that guys wear (a very common slang term, something I had heard in school and didn’t even for a second consider the meaning) and calmly you said, “Don’t say that.” Why? “Because I was a beaten wife.” You didn’t point this out because it hurt your feelings, you pointed it out because domestic abuse isn’t funny and the fact that its so common is both unacceptable and a tragedy.

To women like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey: Rachel, Sarah, darling friends who I have never ever met – the words in your blogs and books have brought such light into my soul. Truthfully I don’t think there are two authors who have been more impactful on my faith and my own self-awareness. You taught me that the F word (feminist – yikes!) isn’t a bad one. Actually, it aligns quite beautifully with the gospel and the teachings of Christ. You taught me that God loves me so individually and specifically as a woman. He didn’t call me to be a wife and a mother and a submissive little dear. Rather, He called me to be those things (perhaps differently than the church has sometimes taught) along with so many other things! He called me to make noise! To care about injustices! To marry a man who considers me his equal and partner in decision making! To sometimes submit and sometimes to stand firm! He may or may not have called me to be a mother (the jury is still out) but if He did, it’s so that I can build up my children to cherish the gifts and strengths of both men and women. You told me that men and women are both so complicated and intricate and necessary. Without knowing it, you spoke to all the hunches I’ve carried all my life that I kept quiet (“is being a wife really the highest calling for a woman?” “If so many women are such great teachers, could it be that God is actually cool with them.. teaching?”) and you put a megaphone in front of them. Rachel, you said you learned about feminism from Christ. Well, thank you for pointing out the way to allow me to do the same.

To my female friends: Thank you for being the greatest of community. A community of truth and encouragement that has never once rolled its eyes when I started yelling about how “ITS ABSOLUTELY INSANE HOW COMMON IT IS AROUND THE WORLD THAT WHEN A WOMAN IS RAPED ITS CONSIDERED HER FAULT. BEING SEXUALLY ABUSED AND TRAUMATIZED IS HER FAULT. HOW MESSED UP IS THAT!?” because you also care about those things. Because you care about God’s vision for our world, and you know this isn’t it. I owe much of my confidence to you. It’s a lot easier to have confidence when you have amazing, strong friends standing behind you, propping you up. I hope to always treat you all as valuable, capable, extraordinary beings. Because that’s what you are.

To my female friends who are doctors and engineers and tattoo artists and other professions not typically female: You’re amazing. You have told me stories of feeling like you have to work twice as hard as your peers just to earn the same respect. You’ve said that people have been surprised at your abilities entirely because you’re female. Once a patient of yours even complained to you about not having seen a doctor all day because they assumed you were a nurse, despite your white coat, ability to diagnose and answer questions, and you know, your name tag that says “Dr.” Thank you for not becoming angry over this. For not throwing in the towel. For working twice as hard when you needed to and for smiling and saying “thanks” even though being told “wow, I didn’t expect this from a girl” isn’t actually a compliment.

I am so proud to be complicated and sensitive and gentle and strong, and to know that these things aren’t contradictory. I am proud of my sisters who are taking stands for our tribe, and thankful for my brothers who are doing the same. Happy Women’s Day, friends, may we continue working to make our world even better for our daughters and sons.

A Letter for B:

A Letter to B:

You texted me two weeks ago and told me that I needed to write. You said, “Girl. It’s been 1.5 months since your last blog post. … Write. Thanks”. I told you that I hadn’t had any ideas! That my plate has been full! That I haven’t had the time to sit down and put words into sentences that mean sweet things!

But then I started thinking about you. And suddenly sweet sentences were easy.

You’re the person who always tells me to write. The person who always encourages me. The person who still takes the time out of the being the world’s busiest med student to read my blog and text me about it.
When I reflect honestly, I don’t feel that I have encouraged you the same way you have encouraged me. In my eyes you are always so capable and brilliant and throughout all these years of knowing you I knew that I needed you to cheer me on, but I may not have always stopped to see if you needed someone to stand on the sidelines cheering, too. You helped me study for exams and bought me pizza when I passed (because pizza has and will always be the perfect food for celebration and grief and sadness and boredom and literally every emotion). You made big deals out of things that could have fallen by the wayside. If our friendship has ever felt wonky and lop sided and uneven, I’m sorry.
Moving forward, I want to make sure that you are ALWAYS encouraged by me.
I hope you know that I carry you around with me always and when you text me and ask that I pray for an exam, I do. I always do. When you honor me by sharing your fears with me (and your tears), I don’t shove them away – I hold them carefully in my hands. I often forget to follow up with you and ask how your heart is doing, largely because I’m consumed with myself, but it’s never because it doesn’t matter to me. I think God has created such a wonder in you. He has gifted you so, so much. You work very hard and I never want to dismiss or make light of that, but please know that it was God who gave you a brain that understands genetics and medicine and muscles. And he’s going to use all that (that which is so foreign to me) for incredible good. You’ll see. Stay strong, darling. “.. knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I cherish you for who God created you to be. I cherish you for the way you have sweetly loved me. I cherish you for allowing me to be in your inner circle. And maybe I shouldn’t, but I cherish your biting sarcasm and bitterness. Because I think you’re hilarious. And a babe. But I’m getting off topic.
B, I absolutely love you and more than that, I believe in you. Keep going, my darling friend.

The Church & Books.

The church I attend every Sunday is called Watermark. It is the home of many young souls wild about Christ and old pews and lots of coffee. Our pastor teaches us about the incredible symbolism and intentionally of God in scripture and we sing songs about love and grace and trials.  After service, children run through the aisles as parents gather together. Our building once held ugly carpet and a 1960’s baptismal and many loyal Baptists who sold their building to us for far less than it was worth.  We said we wanted to raise our children in that building and learn about God together and though our offer was about half of those who wanted to knock the church over and build apartments, they picked us to fill the rooms.

I’ve attended this church for about 5 years and it’s precious to my heart. It is not, however, the only church I attend.

My other church is sometimes at the kitchen table, sometimes outside on a picnic blanket, sometimes in other states. Most recently, that church was gathered in my living room in the form of book club. Six of us, holding “Cold Tangerines” in our laps, talking about the ways that Shauna Niequist seemingly stole pages from our diaries and wrote the words of our heart. We remarked how relatable her words on celebration were and how jealous we were of her travels and how we need to stop living like we’re waiting. Life is here! It’s now! It’s exploding out of every clap of laughter!

Candle light bounced off our wine glasses and we ate more baked brie than our diets would have permitted.  We unapologetically followed every rabbit trail that came up in conversation and somehow turned Shauna’s words on joy into sharing stories of embarrassing haircuts and outfits in middle school (think wayyy too short bangs and neon green overalls). We laughed so hard that we cried. We sat that day’s busyness and bothers at the door and were present for one another.

We didn’t talk all that much about God but I think that when His people are gathered together in friendship and joy and lightness, it’s still church. It’s still life giving and gorgeous.

Book club. Church. Praise God.

The Most Important Thing We Do.

I have decided that I will never ever again ask someone, “so how’s married life?!”

It isn’t a good question. It’s surface level and always asked in passing. It’s a feeler’s and introvert’s nightmare. Because what I want to say… is that it’s really good and so hard sometimes because you have to apologize a lot and often for things you have never had to apologize for in the past because you’ve never been married before and you were always able to make your own decisions and do things the moment you thought of them (that’s me to a T – I have to do everything the moment I think of it. My new husband, it turns out, does not share this crippling desire) and you always were able to watch whatever you wanted in the evenings and you never had to share your popcorn. But it’s all still really okay because now you have someone to help you wash the dishes and you get to lay down next to each other at the end of the day when the phones are put away and the blankets are pulled up to your chin and you talk about the silly bits of the day that had passed and those moments easily make up for every blunder.

Instead, though, I just respond with “Great!”

But it’s so much more layered than “Great”! It’s so much greater than that word does justice and it’s so much trickier than you expect! It’s allowing a colorful Star Wars pillow case to be on your all cream colored bed because your husband loved it, and it’s being the person who bought it for him in the first place – knowing that it would clash in every way- because life is more than keeping your home white on white on white (no matter what instagram says). It’s watching movies you don’t really care to watch (two weeks ago we watched both Braveheart and You Drive Me Crazy) (how good is Drive Me Crazy?) but who cares because you’re hanging out with your very best friend.

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One of the best parts, to me, has been praying together. Sometimes we both pray, sometimes one of us prays the entire time if the other is feeling heavy. Sometimes it’s entirely about others and sometimes it’s entirely about our relationship. Every time, though, it’s good.

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Last night, after devouring a sleeve of Saltine Crackers for dinner, we pulled two of our wobbly dining room chairs together. One of us was about to make a phone call to a family member and we weren’t excited about it because truth needed to be spoken and love needed to be given and Christ needed to be reflected. And that’s really intimidating sometimes. We knew that it had to be God speaking – that He had words to share with his beloved and our mouths were just going to be the vehicle that he would use. We asked God to get ourselves out of the way. We asked him to prepare the heart and the ears that were going to receive our phone call and to be oh so present.

Sometimes when I pray, particularly out loud, I start to realize things only as I am saying them. It’s the same as when I write – I don’t have the words ahead of time, God tosses them to me as we go and they usually are ones that I needed myself. Last night as we were praying, I heard myself say “God, let us remember that loving other people is the most important thing that we do. We get distracted with our hobbies and friends and the people we wish were our friends and our list of tasks, but all of that pales in comparison to the importance of loving other people.”

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And now, an overheard conversation between Katie and her incredibly patient Heavenly Father:

“Hey, Katie. God here. Loving others is the most important thing you do. I noticed you were spending a lot of time doing the opposite of that.. so I just thought I would remind you. ”

“So true. Could you come back in like a second? I have to post on @choosetampa and like all the tagged pictures, it’s a whole big thing..”

“That’s not even importan- no. Listen, your time could be wiser spent. Loving others is the most important thing you do.”

“That makes so much sense, God, but I’ve only watched the entire series of Gilmore Girls seven times and I know I can make it eight*. Hey, while I have you, go ahead and bless Amy Sherman- Palladino because this show is just..”

“What? Just- Katie, for once in your life be cool. I’m telling you to do one thing. One thing. Love others. Write letters and cook a meal and help people move even though it’s hot (I hear you complain – I KNOW it’s hot) and make difficult phone calls and use your money for wiser things and, seriously, pay attention to the things that people are carrying because as my daughter and my love, I expect you help carry that weight right off their shoulders.”

*I have watched the entire series of Gilmore Girls WAY more than eight times. Way more. Embarrassingly more. Team Jess till the day I die. 

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Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Loving others it the most important thing that we do. It’s the best use of our time and money and hearts. Friends, I’m going to try to love you so much better. Timothy, I will spend my whole life learning how to love you like Christ. 

The Things I Wouldn’t Dare Forget

At this time last week I was fiddling with my rose gold hair pin in the bathroom. Timothy was on his way to come and see me for the first time in my wedding dress – the dress that had hung in my closet for 5 months, waiting and waiting for the day I could finally dance in it. Our day was everything we wanted it to be and this first week of marriage has been positively blissful.

Leading up to the wedding there were a few comments that were repeated over and over and over again by different people. The biggest one was that the day would be over before we knew it. That it would blur past us and at the end of the day we would find that we had missed things. “Don’t worry too much about the details”, they’d say, ” you won’t think clearly enough to even see them on the day of!”

Ultimately, I suppose this was true. I didn’t notice the center pieces on the reception tables, though it took an hour to put them together. I didn’t even think to look at the cake all assembled, though you must know I gave specific instructions to my sister to bring me a piece the MOMENT it was cut. Some dance songs played without my even hearing them and even some guests came and went without my getting the chance to see them. Try as I have this last week, I can’t even bring to my memory all the lovely words our pastor said during our ceremony.

I missed some things. But I would not say that it was a blur.  I would not say the details hadn’t mattered. Maybe the aesthetic details didn’t impact the day very much, but details mattered. My wedding day didn’t zip past my eyes as quickly as people had said it might. I may have missed it when “Don’t Stop Believing” played during the reception, but the things that mattered the most are engraved into my soul.

I will always remember the most precious friend who spent the days before the wedding working at the church with me. With her beautiful  baby strapped to her chest, she ironed table cloths and made my bouquet. She kept ladders sturdy and helped me create the altar at which I would be wed.

I will always remember the gathering in the kitchen of women I love putting together fruit kabobs the day before the wedding. I sat on the sill of a big bay window holding that sweet baby in my arms and watched my sisters and mother and aunt and friend laughing over bowls and bowls of fruit. Their joy, their willingness to serve, to help, was positively radiant. I’m thankful for their laughter that echoed through that kitchen and rested on my anxious heart.

I will always remember how I felt gathering up my wedding dress and beginning the walk towards a turned away Timothy. We saw each other before the ceremony because we wanted that moment to be just ours ; we had waited and counted and paced for that day and that moment was deserved by only us. I could tell even from looking at him from behind that he was nervous. I had heard him in the other room struggling to get his tie just right and the nervousness from his fingers seemed to have taken over his whole being. When our photographer told him to turn around, he did so slowly.  When he saw me, his smile took over his entire face and the nerves he had been wrestling with turned into the most lovely laugh. I picked my dress up a little higher and shuffled as quickly as I could into his arms. The arms in which I have always felt safe and loved. That day  more than ever, those arms were my home.

All our wedding photographs were taken by Sindy Gonzalez. She is one of the most incredible human beings we know, and an amazing photographer || www.verancephotography.com
The moment we saw one another for the first time on the most special day of our lives. All our wedding photographs were taken by Sindy Gonzalez. She is one of the most incredible human beings we know, and an amazing photographer || http://www.verancephotography.com

I will never forget the moment right before the doors opened for me to walk down the aisle. It was the most real thing I have ever felt. It was similar to the feeling you get when you’re at the top of a roller coaster, or when someone holds your hand for the first time. It reminded me of when I said goodbye to my parents the first time I moved away, or when I loaded up all my things and drove away from people I loved and moved to Memphis. Those moments when you’re about to do something that scares you, but you’ve been led there by God so you know that it’s good and right and true. I walked down the aisle with both of my parents because the three of us have always done everything together. They’re my people. My best friends and my foundation. Standing there in the hall, with my mother on my left and my father on my right, all the nerves that I had some how avoided leading up to that moment ransacked my heart. “Saturn” by Sleeping at Last started playing, my mother put her hand on my back, and the doors were opened. I was scared, so I did what I had alway done when I was scared: I squeezed my father’s arm. He cupped my hand with his giant, familiar hands, and led me through the doors.

I will never forget the sight that awaited me once I began walking down the long aisle to Timothy. Looking back at me with such love where the faces of almost everyone I love. The face of a friend who traveled down from Atlanta to be part of this day. The face of a friend that I have known since first grade. The friend who prayed with me when I needed it the most, the friend who traveled to memphis to visit me when I lived there and was so lonely. I saw friends who were carrying burdens and brokenness. Friends who sat aside their own hurt in order to be joyous with me – what exceptional community. I saw my family. Family who had to travel a long way to come but came anyway.  I saw my nephews who were more like my bothers when we were growing up. I have looked into their faces a million times before this day but seeing them in that moment was the most important of all.  I saw the precious woman who gave birth to me – our matching blue eyes filling up with tears.

I will always remember serving communion to all of our guests. Timothy held the wine, I held the bread and we asked all those who loved Christ to join in with us. God was so present in that moment. I saw Him in every person who came to us and partook in the body and blood of Christ. I saw Him in every shoulder squeeze and hug that were snuck in. The last thing Christ did with his people before he was crucified was take communion. The first thing Timothy and I did in our marriage was the same.

I will always remember the fullness of hearing Timothy say his vows to me. Words I had wondered if I would ever hear, words I don’t deserve to hear. I looked into the eyes of the man that I love. The man who God used to change my life. The man who has taught me grace and love and how the gospel plays out in our lives. The man that I prayed for before I knew him.

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These  are the things that really count in a wedding day. These are the things that matter… period. Community and love and grace and Christ.  These details mattered. It mattered that the people who were part of my day weren’t strangers, but those who had made big impacts in my life. Anyone could have done my hair, but it mattered that it was one of the most lovely girls I have ever known. A friend who had loved me out of some heart break and who shared my joy on this day so authentically. It was important that the friend who did my make up had allowed me to intrude a day at the park years ago because my heart was so sad. She had been at the park with her children when I texted her. She brushed my hair out of face and poured wisdom into my heart as her kids played in the background.

Centerpieces and bouquets and favors don’t mean anything. Those are the things that blurred past. What lingers are the things that I wouldn’t dare forget.

Lesson Learned: Celebrate Everything

Some time ago I sat down in Oxford Exchange and began writing a book. A book about the things that I have learned from the beautiful men and women I have rubbed shoulders with and embraced over the years. This task will take ages but I am not letting myself be flustered by that. The truth is, I do work full time at a non profit that takes an emotional toll sometimes, and I am planning a wedding and trying to cling to God as my life is about to change. The writing is slow. It’s slow, but it’s good. To my soul, I mean. I was revisiting some of the first essays I wrote out – still very rough, just like me – and I decided to share one. This last week brought along a rockslide. Fear and the slamming of doors. Now more than ever, I need to remember the importance of celebration. 

This particular lesson was taught to me by a beautiful blonde, who, states away, is still celebrating with me.

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I guess the real first thing she ever taught me was to cook dinner for people you love. Get yourself a round table* and sit at it with new faces and old faces and beloved faces. The first time she invited me over for dinner at her round table she made a light and fresh and healthy homemade meal. It was delicious and made more so by being followed with giant bowls of ice cream. We sat crisscross, knee to knee, with our mountain sized bowls of delicious frozen calories in our laps. We chatted and laughed on a day bed she had in her living room, which was being used as a couch until a cheap one could be acquired. Some time later I would sleep on that very bed while temporarily living with her after returning to Tampa from a year in Memphis, TN with no home. But I’m jumping ahead.

That evening was the first of many times I was impressed with her. Her eyes sparkled when she spoke about the friends she had moved away from and the city that was engraved in her heart. She told me about the life celebrations her community would have back home. They celebrated everything together. “Why should only people who are getting married and having babies get presents and parties in their honor?!” they questioned, and so new jobs and new homes and new attitudes and all exciting moments received acknowledgement. How beautiful.

I think that’s the way it should be: everything should be celebrated. Everyone should receive photo books and love letters. Everyone should have his or her name on a banner every now and then – especially if it’s homemade bunting. While the old saying ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing’ can be true in certain circumstances (I’m looking at you, Target), I do not believe it applies to celebrations. Or dessert. Yes, I am quite certain that the authenticity of lifting one another up will never grow out-of-date.

And the why of it is very simple: there are plenty of things in every one of our lives that are heavy. There is no shortage of worry and stress and heartache and fear in my life or in yours. If the weights on our shoulders were literal and not metaphorical, chiropractors would be the busiest people in the world. We’ve all got really heavy things. We’ve all cried ourselves to sleep, snapped at our loved ones because of stress, wandered away from God through the misconception that we have to handle things ourselves. With heaviness often comes loneliness and the feeling that we’re the only ones who have experienced such garbage.

I’ve felt this way a million times: right now as work has thrown for a scary loop, when I was feeling the weight of the seventy thousand emotions that came with moving to a new state alone, I believed that no one on earth could have possibly felt the turmoil that I was feeling. I was wrong, of course. As we always tend to be when we think we’re the only ones.

This is a really basic example, but some months ago I met up with an acquaintance from high school for drinks. She was the one who asked me about meeting up because I wouldn’t have asked her if my life depended on it. Suffice it to say, we weren’t in the same social group back in high school. And by that I mean she was IN a social group and I spent my Friday nights eating Chinese food with my parents and watching “My Best Friends Wedding” every single week (no regrets – Rupert Everett is a peach, plus I can probably lip sync “I Say a Little Prayer for You” better than most as a result of so many rewatchings of that film).

She was beautiful when everyone else was an awkward teenager, and she was confident in a way I could have only ever dreamed of being. She was always very kind, but her friends tended to be… well, not so nice. They weren’t outrageously impressed with the tall gangly girl who wore a lot of band t-shirts and skinny jeans and stammered every time she talked. And they were not subtle about it (y’all, be nice to every single person you have the chance to be nice to. Even if it kills you… which it won’t, because being nice isn’t that difficult. Don’t be the mean person that quiet people like me grow up to write about).

Essentially, she was out of my friend league. Imagine my surprise when six years later we both found ourselves living in Tampa and she asks me for drinks. I tried on three different outfits and ventured downtown to see her. My, was it a lovely evening. We talked about traveling and flirtatious elderly Italian men, had cocktails I couldn’t really afford, and laughed about high school. In talking with her I learned something very important, something everyone in high school needs to understand: the people who seem to have it all together and also crushed when someone doesn’t like them back, also feel weird in their skin, and are figuring it all out as they go, just like you.

I’m finding the same concept to be true in adulthood as well. Every time I shake my fist at the air and yell “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING AND EVERYONE ELSE IS GOING TO MEDICAL SCHOOL AND MOVING TO LONDON AND RUNNING THEIR OWN BUSINESSES AND I’M MAD ABOUT IT”, I very quickly come across a friend who shares the same sentiment. Turns out most adults don’t know what they’re doing. Who knew? I am stumbling through life as I go, reaching for God spastically like a cat that just fell in water, half listening to His instruction but also kind of panicking. And so is everyone else, at least for a season. That, my dear reader, is the most concise definition of adulthood I can muster.

Therefore, because everyone feels weird and life is hard and sometimes we feel so terrifyingly alone, and because we’re all submerged cats panicking (is this the best metaphor I could use? Probably not), those moments of getting on dry land, temporary as it will certainly be, need to be acknowledged. More than that, they need to be celebrated. In celebrating together, we will be lifting one another up in beautiful community that will refresh our own souls as well as whoever’s name is on the banner.

So what I would like you and I to do next time someone finds himself on dry land is to not just send a text about it or leave an encouraging emoji filled comment on their instagram. Make them a banner, invite just a few lovely souls over, pour some wine, and celebrate. No matter how busy you are, no matter how underwater you yourself are feeling at the moment, praise Jesus when someone else has come out of the waves.

If life is going to be hard and heavy anyway (and it will be), we might as well walk through it hand in hand and really celebrate the heck out of anything and everything we’re able. 

* A note about tables: I’m no craftsman or designer, but I am here to say that there is a reason King Arthur’s knights sat at a round table. When you get your own home or apartment, get a nice set of white dishes (they’ll match every cool and colorful and eclectic thing you bring home from a thrift store) and a sturdy round table. Here’s why: it is much more conducive to seeing the candlelight dance in everyone’s eyes when you’re in a circle, the support is in the middle so there isn’t any awkward banging of knees as you sit hip to hip (I’m 5’10 and nearly all leg so I feel I have the authority to say that wrestling with a leg on every table corner is unacceptable), and it’s easier to cram a whole gaggle of loved ones in a circle than a square. Seriously, get yourself a round table. Go to thrift stores, go to garage sales, go wherever you need to go that fits into your budget, but get one.

That’s an order. **

            ** A note about my note: my handsome fiancé read this while I was writing and he said, “Well, you know there really WAS a significant reason that the knights sat in a circle. And it had nothing to do with dancing candlelight”. So, okay, sure: if you’re going to be a history snob about it, the candlelight probably had nothing to do with King Arthur’s design intentions. But it should have.

When God Keeps His Promises

I was sitting in a kitchen I had been in a thousand times before. A kitchen in which I’ve laughed so hard I cried, a kitchen in which I’ve yelled and endured yelling, a kitchen in which I shared meals and blueberry crumble with people I loved. The blue curtains were letting in perfect sunlight as I watched her freckled hands slice a green pepper as she spoke. The glide of the knife moving in rhythm with her words. Her movements were graceful and methodic, but the story she was telling was beautiful. It was a story of redemption and resurrection and grace, a combination that can give you goosebumps. She moved her long hair away from her face as she told me about the very real ways that God has led her out of a wilderness. She had been like a small sparrow unable to break through the canopy, seeing rays of light but not the fullness. Now she was basking in the light of her Father and she was radiant. People seem lighter when they’re so entangled in their Heavenly Father. There’s no mistaking it. She shone in a way that only those who know how deeply they are loved by Christ can shine.

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She had read through some of her old journals earlier that day and she said that all she could do was cry. Old journals are the most raw of biographies; they sit stately on the shelf, with worn pages pressed together carrying secrets and heart break and memories that had to be remembered. Journals hold all the questions that couldn’t be answered and authenticity we are afraid to show people we love. Sometimes journal pages are love letters to God, sometimes they demand His response. For those who put pen to paper, a journal is a piece of their heart. Journals can be time machines filled with old wounds. Journals are proof that God does what He says He will do. My precious friend recalled the very deep things she had felt and cried the tears of a loved daughter when she realized how God had led her away from the deep and dark wilderness.

He said, “These are the things that I do, I will not forsake them.”

Isn’t God so big when you’re hearing things like that? He doesn’t even fit in the room with you – He’s positively overwhelming. No matter how often it’s easy to not notice His presence, I feel it is impossible to not see his calloused hands working alongside yours when someone is speaking of redemption. It’s an honor to hear these stories, to be trusted with truth and vulnerability. Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, I pray for a million more afternoons like this one. A million more stories of praise, a million more faces to look upon with love, a million more interactions with a God who doesn’t leave us in the wilderness.

Paris in Summer

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Four years ago it felt like the city was ours. Running around with wide eyes and backpacks slung over our shoulders, doing our best to assimilate but still gawking over the cafes that the Fitzgeralds wrote in and the streets where our favorite films were filmed. Remember when we were sitting in a park and suddenly realized it was the same park from 24e Arrondissmenet, the short film from Paris, je T’aime? Or when we very-much-on-purpose found ourselves in the same Café that Amelie had been filmed in? I had my first Crème Brulee there and cracked the top the very same way. We were all young, students immersed in our studies of art and culture and humanity, devouring museums and baguettes. We walked on the edges of fountains, wrote our names on locks that would remain forever (sighed four years later when “forever” found an expiration date), drank wine by the Eiffel Tower, and pretended to be French students for discounted Louvre tickets.

Four years ago it felt like the city was ours.  As if the streets had been paved for our footprints, the lamps installed to light our late night walks, the art curated to feed our souls. Didn’t it somehow feel that we were the only ones there? Amongst all the crowded metros, didn’t it still feel like ours? Paris has a way of doing that; of making every traveler feel like she belongs to them. What a saucy little minx, that Paris.  Even knowing that four tourist filled summers have passed, I still feel as if those streets were mine. Those croissants were mine, the glorified Rembrandt paintings were mine, and the city was mine.

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There’s something about being an art student in Paris. You already know that the Mona Lisa is much smaller than most people realize. You also know that the reason it was such an important piece of work at the time it was created was because of the painting technique DaVinci used – not because the subject was some mysterious woman. You don’t crowd around to see her. Incredible as she is, you know there’s much else to see. After all, there are Titian works to be found and a particular Oath of the Horatii to look in on. Paintings looked at in text books for years – paintings you wrote essays on and copied for practice –  suddenly in front of your face. You can see the brush strokes. The brush strokes! Indeed, being an art student in Paris must feel similarly to how normal people feel when they see celebrities

Time really paused four years ago. Our normal lives didn’t exist much in Paris and perhaps that’s why she is so easy a city to fall in love with. Paris tosses your heaviness aside and grabs you by the hand, whirling you around and around in a dance as dizzy as the Moulin Rouge.

Our fearless leader and program director quoted A Moveable Feast to us before we left for Paris. He said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”. Friends, we feasted indeed.

Small Weddings and Big Feelings

I haven’t written anything in quite a while. This fact has been brought to my attention by several incredible friends. I am wildly appreciative of the people who say “Hey, you haven’t written anything lately. Write something.” Because I know they aren’t doing this because they’re bored and need something to read. Lawd knows there is an endless number of buzz feed articles about cats to keep us all entertained. They encourage and poke me because they know that writing is in my soul. And when something is in your soul, you need to do it. You need to connect with it. I need to work through all my feels with a keyboard and my friends know that. Therefore, thanks for the texts and facebook comments and the shoulder squeezes.

The reason I haven’t written in quite some time is because I’ve been having a hard time breathing lately. Metaphorically.

Reason number one that I haven’t been able to breathe: I was unemployed for the month of January. If you haven’t been unemployed before, it’s a lot of fun. You sit around waiting for friends who have jobs to get home, you try to find errands and outings to fill your time with, except you have no income coming into your dwindling bank account so there really isn’t much room for this, you submit application after application after application and make awkward phone calls to supervisors and associates who don’t care about hiring you, and if you’re like me, you watch the entire collection of “Friends” (which was conveniently uploaded to Netflix the week my place of work closed) and pretend to laugh when your roommates comment, “Watching Netflix AGAIN?!?!” when they arrive home from their jobs. It’s a riot. Except that it’s actually the worst. I’m very thankful that this period lasted only one month, as I know that many brave souls have had to endure the terrible unemployment season far longer than that. At the end of January God did something really cool and opened up a door for me at a particular non-profit that I had actually applied at months earlier when I had no idea the job I currently had would be ending. They hired me within a week. Thanks, God. Even though it’s been nearly 3 months, I still feel very “new”. I’m learning new things every day because there are so many different issues that can arise. And feeling on your toes 24/7 is exhausting.

Reason number two that I haven’t been able to breathe: Ya’ll, so many things are happening. Friends are getting married, friends are having babies (LITTLE ORANGE SEED IS HERE! If you remember, I wrote a letter to my favorite friend’s sweet baby-girl-to-be, who I call “little orange seed” because that’s how big she was when her sweet momma told me she was coming. Now she is here and beautiful and dainty and taking up space in a world that is so lucky to have her). Friends are getting promotions and writing books and creating things that blow me away. I’ve never had so many parties to go to and reasons to smile.

Reason number three that I haven’t been able to breathe: Reason number three is my favorite reason. On March 14, my sweet Timothy asked me to become his wife. There were tears. And all the feelings. Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.16.32 PM

As we started planning, everything came together surprisingly quickly. I found my dress (THE DRESS) on my first day looking, we had already known we wanted to get married at our church, and we knew that our budget was teeny tiny so making a guest list was easy. Easy in that we weren’t able to invite many people and didn’t have a lot of slots to fill, AWFUL FOR THE SAME REASON BECAUSE I LOVE SO MANY PEOPLE AND I WANT ALL OF YOU TO BE ABLE TO COME. As everything was getting decided within those first couple weeks of being engaged, we realized we didn’t need a long engagement. Nor did we want one because we are two anxious love struck Christians and let me tell you about love struck christians.. they have short engagements. But while all the big things had already been figured out, suddenly a million and three medium and small things came rushing to the top of our To Do Lists. You guys, planning a wedding is exhausting. Because it’s not just the wedding. Its the wedding, but it’s also finding a home and signing leases and setting up the rehearsal dinner and moving and registering (which yeah, is really fun) and figuring out how to get internet set up and reading about different bank accounts and doing engagement pictures and having doctor appointments and having confusing phone calls with printers and SO MANY OTHER THINGS. And I am not complaining about being engaged. I am ecstatic to be marrying Timothy. I wouldn’t trade this stress for anything. But it’s still a stress and it can still be stifling.

During the process of planning, we have decided to forgo many traditional wedding-y things. We are not having a bridal party. People are not watching us cut our cake. Guests aren’t getting favors (sorry not sorry). One reason for this is because, as I said, our budget is small. I mean, SMALL. And honestly, we couldn’t care less and that’s only because of the way God has worked in our hearts.

The bigger reason is pretty simple too: my path to Timothy was really hard. It involved tremendous heartbreak and entire summers spent crying myself to sleep. My “search for love” brought me my biggest scars and lowest moments. In fact, when I met Timothy I was a broken vessel. That’s why falling in love with him wasn’t sparks! and fireworks! and whirlwinds! It was a sigh of relief and the feeling of home. I am humbled to be with Timothy. I am overwhelmingly thankful. My God let me endure terrible things while waiting for Timothy, things that even caused me to doubt His goodness. Standing on the other side, I can see the ways that he was preparing me. God used those things to shape me into the person I needed to be before meeting Timothy. Because of this: because of the incredibly bumpy and painful road that I treaded to find him, I want our day to be the same sigh of relief that meeting him was. I don’t want it to be Timothy and I going through the motions of a wedding. I don’t want it to be a day that is designed to impress our guests. I want it to be he and I, standing in the church that changed my life, holding hands with tears in our eyes and experiencing something holy. I want to hug the friends who helped carry me to this place (oh, so many friends helped carry me with their words and embraces), I want to dance with my husband (my heart still speeds up a little whenever I say that), and I want to eat a taco (yep, tacos, because we are who we are).

I’m so excited for our day. I’m thankful to my Father who brought me to Timothy and who has helped he and I both to remain focused on what truly matters on that special day. I’m thankful for the ways both of our families have already helped us and for all the friends who are going to be called up to help with wedding crafts (ya’ll better get your crafting scissors ready..). I’m particularly and overwhelmingly thankful for the friends who have shared my joy even though they have their own painful things on their plates. You all have been a living, breathing picture of community.

And with that, I have to go call up our caterer because the list doesn’t end.

Familiar Eyes

My knees were shivering and my hands were trying to keep warm in my pockets as I wiped tears away from my eyes with my mustard yellow scarf. We were standing together in the empty parking lot of a college whose students had long gone home. “I don’t want to leave just yet, he might still come. Can we just pray for him and wait a few more minutes? I know that feels stupid. I don’t know what else to do.”

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In the interest of full disclosure, I stole this picture from Timothy’s instagram. But hey, whats his is mine.

I had first encountered him several months ago at the restaurant I worked at. He came in with an elderly woman who obviously did not know him but wanted to help him out. She bought him a few tacos and before she left, with tears in her eyes, she told me to be kind to him. I meandered over to talk to him while he shyly ate his food. “Are you from Tampa?” I asked, not knowing what else to say and feeling so aware of how loud I sounded in the small and empty restaurant. He looked at me with sad, deep brown eyes.  His eyes were so familiar to my heart. My precious nephew has looked at me a million times before with eyes so similar. He looked so young – certainly not as old as I was. He shook his head no. I asked a few more questions and he politely answered as he ate. He asked me if the place where I worked was hiring but because he had several tattoos on his face, I knew that there was no way he would ever be hired by the uppity and judgmental management I worked for. He thanked me for the food and left. And while watching him go, I cried. Because I didn’t know a single bit of his story yet my heart still felt the weight of it. Because Christ called me to love those in need and I didn’t know how to.

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A few weeks ago we were out to celebrate. Timothy was offered a job we had been praying for for a long time and margaritas with friends seemed the most perfect way to cap off a day of exciting news. He and I both had a very hard season of hunting for jobs and feeling like “less thans”, and within the same week our God brought us to beautifully open doors. An honor we truly do not deserve. We were nearly to the restaurant.

We had just gotten off the highway and were stopped at a light that almost always included a homeless man at the corner with a sign. Usually it’s awkward and sad but forgettable as soon as the light turns green. But tonight, when I glanced over, I saw a pair of familiar eyes. “It’s him!” I yelled as we drove away. It was that sweet boy. That sweet, young, weighed down boy that I had met months earlier. We drove around the block, parked on a bumpy brick street, and walked over to him. He remembered me nearly instantly and I felt more humbled than I have ever felt in my life. We told him that we didn’t have anything with us, and we had to be somewhere in just a few minutes, but we wanted very much to buy him dinner. We made plans to meet him back in the same spot in two hours.

We hoped to bring him to a shelter and we knew we needed more room than Timothy’s tiny kia. A kind and creative and wonderful friend who had been at dinner with us agreed before the question was even out of my mouth to come with us.

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He didn’t come. And he didn’t come. Over and over I asked God for wisdom. Do we dare leave and miss him? Maybe someone else helped him out and took him to a shelter? He had told us that he slept in the park so any kind of shelter, especially on a cold evening, would be such a blessing. I didn’t know what to do.

So we prayed. We bowed our heads and we asked God to reveal Himself so fully to this man He created and loves so deeply. This man who has infinite value, this man who is in no way lesser than us. We asked God to stir in us, to give us divine insight to know what to do.

I felt so small and entirely helpless.

I felt angry at the pastor whose phone number we had been given as someone who may be able to help. He told us that “they were all crooks” and to not waste our time. I felt disappointed in myself for not knowing of safe and loving homeless shelters in the city I live in.

I felt thankful for the men standing on either side of me. On the left, a dear friend who offered to help us with no questions asked. On the right, my sweet Timothy. Men who prayed alongside me and who cared that I was cold.

I kept my eyes opened as we prayed, every so often scanning the sidewalks, hoping that he had just been late. I looked down at our feet and recalled how I had imagined this night playing out: there would be laughter, salted rim margarita glasses, a blatant ignoring of the clock growing later. I was so suddenly overwhelmed with the sense that nothing I have is mine.

Nothing in my life was my doing. The new job that I am so excited to have? I didn’t deserve it any more than this boy deserves such a job. And you don’t either. Nothing we have is truly ours and nothing we have gives us more value than the people who are sleeping in the park.

I started @choosetampa because I believe in this city. I believe in the people and the creativity and the vibrancy. And I very much believe in the brokenness that is held within our city walls. We must be kind to one another. We must love and give and build.

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Our circle dissipated and our cars were started with heavy hearts. We pulled out of the parking lot to head to the homes we all felt very unworthy of having when I saw him. Walking down the street with sad and heavy and familiar eyes.

Where I Was Five Years Ago

I believe Time Hop is one of the most incredible iPhone apps of all time because it is a marriage between three of my very favorite things: sentimentalism, nostalgia, and memories of myself. If you aren’t familiar, each day time hop will show you pictures you saved on your phone and posts you made on facebook and Instagram years passed on that same day. So today is January 17th, 2015: on time hop I see what I posted on January 17th, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010. Every day is a new walk down memory lane. I have remembered beautiful things that I have slipped my mind, I have seen Instagram posts long forgotten that now sting a little with painful memories, and I have looked upon my words and photos and the people in the photos with some serious hindsight. I’ve become fully aware of how little I knew in the years passed.

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This morning was a glorious Saturday because no alarm was set. No errands or obligations awaited me this morning as I watched the shadows dance on my wall while the sun delicately covered my room. I picked up my phone from the nightstand, scrolled through instagram quickly, and clicked on Time Hop.

One year ago today I shared a precious painting the little I had been a nanny for created. Two years ago I kindly shared a buzz feed article ranking Mary Kate and Ashely movies – you’re welcome, all. I was reminded that four years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon with sweet friends making homemade burritos. In the photo are three friends: two of those faces are married today (and one is pregnant!) and the third friend is engaged to marry someone he had no idea he loved four years ago.

Five years ago flooded me with memories:

IMG_3103Five years ago today I was standing in a brand new dorm room. I had just transferred to USF and it felt like the first real thing I had ever done. The first step towards something. The first bloom of a magnolia tree. That day was so full of promise and mystery and excitement and loneliness. I didn’t know that my love for photography would wane – that this degree I was working on so diligently would one day just be a line on my resume and not the passion of my heart. You can never know such things ahead of time. Instead, I stood there in that dorm room dreaming of all that I would be. I put up my polaroids, bought myself some flowers, and went to a dorm meeting that proved to be a waste of time.

Five years ago today I was standing in a brand new dorm room, smitten with a boy from home with whom I had spent many late nights at IHOP. Nights filled with pancakes and life stories and butterflies fluttering around my heart. Our friendship was true and deep – void of any shallowness. His authenticity got me in a moment. I moved to USF before finding out if those pesky butterflies were mutual: if there was any hidden agenda behind our long and easy conversations. I worried the two hours between our new respective schools would feel more like the atlantic ocean than a manageable drive. About a month into my time at USF he and I were not messaging and laughing nearly as much as we had prior, but still he and a mutual friend of ours visited Tampa for a show at my favorite used book store. There was a lot of weight on this visit as we shuffled through the rows and rows of books. We pulled out books from the shelves, remarking how great of a read this book was and how too self-aware that one was, flipping through pages and allowing that that unequivocal smell of old paper to fill the air. All the while I knew we were ebbing away from one another. I changed clothes four times before meeting them and ultimately I regretted the outfit I chose. It included a waist belt with a bow that I was fiddling with the moment he mentioned this cool girl he was working on a paper with. A few weeks later he started dating her and I ate a lot of ben and jerry’s in my dorm room while I watched Modern Family. 

Five years ago today I was standing in a brand new dorm room of a school at which I had one friend. A friend who I felt understood my soul. A friend I thought would be mine for ever and ever. Nights without studying were spent in one another’s rooms watching Will and Grace and When Harry Met Sally and speaking in dramatics. We talked about love with an authority we did not possess – so sure we understood this vast, impossible idea. We would decide, “We should play tennis. We would probably be really good at tennis if we tried” only to play once and spend most of the match standing at the net talking about the crazy stories people wrote in her creative writing class. Then we would decide, “We should start running. We would probably be really good at it” and then we would run a few times, sign up for some 5k’s, and then eat pancakes at home instead of going to the race. We were very much in our own bubble, a characteristic of our friendship I now know was not beneficial. I relied too heavily on her for all of my community needs. Plus, when you’re in your own bubble you tend to be far too harsh on those not part of it. We spoke very bitterly of others and it was poison to our hearts – the exact opposite of how God calls us to handle other people. Our friendship began five years ago and only lasted for three despite how strong I believed it to be. There is a wedding coming up in a few months for some mutual friends of ours and she may be there. I imagine us seeing each other through a crowd of well dressed wedding goers, and if that truly happens it will be the first time seeing each other in over two years. I shared homes with this friend and all of my heart, and now we tend to only text each other when a new David Beckham commercial comes on during the Super Bowl. I believe there are 83 reasons why our friendship didn’t endure, but each one of them makes me heavy hearted.

Five years ago today, as I stood in that brand new dorm room, I had no idea of what would await me. I didn’t know the next five years would include finding a church that would help me fall more and more and more in love with Christ. The Kathryn in that picture didn’t know the fullness of her God. I didn’t know my value was from Him and not from my weight or degree or how artistic I could be. I didn’t know my heart would be crushed so many times in the years to come, by friends and by guys. I didn’t know the sins I would fall into, the sicknesses that would disrupt my family, or the way God would resurrect all of that. I didn’t know the books that would come to change my life, the art that I would create, the way writing would speak to my soul. I didn’t know I would move to Memphis for a year and I didn’t know that there I would fall in love with a man who is shorter than me (the Kathryn in that picture was far too insecure about being 5’10”) and my very very best friend.

Maybe on January 17th, 2020 I’ll click on time hop and remember the words that I’ve written today. I’ll smile and lovingly shake my head as I remember everything that I am feeling this Saturday morning. Everything that today feels big and important will feel as small as the crush I had back in 2010. I will have endured more pains and hardships and love and light and I will think how 2015 Kathryn had no idea what was coming for her.

The Giving is Sweeter

I am sitting in a Starbucks as I write this (so stereotypical I could die), drinking a beverage I in no way enjoy. But we have an arrangement, Starbucks and I. I buy one of their fancy drinks, they let me plop on their wifi for two hours while I make weird faces at my computer screen as I try to write a post. Across the table from me is my editor: a sweet boy who eats really quickly who I also call my boyfriend. His warby parker glasses are sliding down his nose as he works and occasionally we make eye contact and smile at one another.

We are in a hard season together, my boy and I. God is teaching us to seek Him, and even though He is the most beautiful thing to ever bask in, for some reason this is a terribly hard lesson. In this moment, nothing is secure except God and each other. And that is kind of wonderful. This relationship, this man, and this season is entirely different from anything I have ever experienced. In hard ways and in beautiful ways.

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I have no idea what I’m doing here. I’ve never been here before. In relationships, yes, but never in anything that resembled this pairing of Kathryn + Timothy. Everything prior was heavy and difficult and sad. Long threads of bad decisions with too much emphasis on people who didn’t and couldn’t love me like Christ. People that I didn’t and wouldn’t love like Christ, either. My track record is not pretty. I have had relationships that only existed because he and I both wanted someone to complete our individual dreams without being willing to sacrifice… anything. Without even really wanting our individual dreams to intertwine. Those relationships ended in yelling and hurt feelings and with me stomping down the front porch steps in the most dramatic exit I have ever made to this day.

To have this man sitting in front of me: this man who has endured my yelling and craziness and tears and who has decided to still sit across form me at Starbucks, is something that I have never experienced. This is all new territory. I know, now, how selfish my past relationships truly were only because of the way God has revealed Himself through Timothy. Because of the way he cares for me and for the ways that I long to care for him.

That’s the difference I’ve found: I know that I am selfish in our togetherness, and I detest it. I am no longer content with serving only myself. It’s my nature and always my gut reaction, but it has become the thing I hate about myself. Now, I long to love Timothy like God loves Timothy. I long to respect him and build him up and talk to him like I would talk to someone of infinite value – because he is of infinite value. It has become of the utmost importance for me to show him that I love him. I want to buy him treats at the grocery store and listen to the music that he writes and not complain when “The Walking Dead” is on. These things aren’t always easy to do – I really don’t like “The Walking Dead” – but my heart wants to be better and better at doing them because even though it’s hard, there is such joy.

This Christmas we traveled up to Memphis to see his family, the first time going back since our move to Tampa. My heart was a little heavy because I have never spent a holiday away from my precious family before. Every single Christmas morning I have ever had started with waking up in the home I grew up in. It began with eating warm cinnamon rolls, and ended with visits to friends who were as close as family – friends I’ve loved a very long time. Every Christmas I have ever had has been filled with comfort and longevity and familiarity.

This year all of that was being traded in for something completely different. A trade I had never been willing to make: no holiday, Christmas or otherwise, had been given to another person before. I am far too sentimental to surrender such things easily; to put down my traditions for someone else’s. I never had even the slightest desire to do so.

I packed my bag, bought presents for people I didn’t know well enough yet to buy good presents for, and walked hand in hand to Gate A30 with the most handsome and excited man in the Tampa airport. My soul so very much aware of all that I was about to miss.

As it turned out, seeing Timothy so wildly and obviously happy amounted to a lot more than missing my traditions. Suddenly I understood why people are able to make sacrifices for the ones they love: sometimes, they aren’t really sacrifices. Or, they are but they don’t possess the negative connotation we so often give to the word. They’re only good. My heart was content knowing that I wasn’t missing out on a single thing. Seeing Timothy play with his nephew, hearing the way his Tennessee accent twanged through when he talked with his dad: these moments sparkled more than all the christmas lights in the world.

I don’t know anything about relationships. My past will support this and the number of times I find I must apologize to Timothy also show it to be true. That two people with different interests and opinions and backgrounds decide to come together doesn’t make an ounce of sense. And yet in this weird world that I don’t understand, I am finding my heart more full than it’s ever been because I have the opportunity to love someone above myself. I don’t do this well, but the rare moments I sit back and let him be full are glimpses of God’s Kingdom around us. And they are the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen. May we allow Christ to teach us how to love. May we be willing to put our ‘wants’ on a shelf and find that the giving really is sweeter than the getting.

When You’re Lying Awake at Night:

There is something so incredibly human and so wondrously raw about lying awake at night. About being heavy, about worrying.  I can’t decide if it makes my heart light to know I’m not alone, or heavy because the thought of others so burdened is heartbreaking. We think and we analyze and we panic so thoroughly that even sleep can’t always give pause to our rampant minds. This is exhausting. This is weariness. This has been my week.

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And all I can say is, when you’re awake at two in the morning, with tears in your tired eyes and heaviness in your heart, remember to whom you belong.

You belong to the One who was and is and will be. You belong to the creator and master. To Love itself. You belong to peace and grace and joy incarnate. You have been seen. In a world of chaos, in a world of mass communication and sounds and messes of people, you have been seen. You have been picked out and adored. You have been known fully, for better or for worse. And yet you have still been loved. Your darkness hasn’t scared away your Father. Your shortcomings haven’t elicited God to throw up His holy hands and be done with you. As you are lying there, staring at the ceiling fan and wondering if you have made the right choices, remember. I have drowned myself in second guessing and what ifs. I have imagined the paths I did not take, with outcomes far more lovely than my current lot. I am the queen of wondering and worrying, but I am surrendering my crown and remembering.

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Remembering that God’s timing isn’t ours: it’s deliberate and wise and right. And sometimes it seems slow, but He says to wait for it: It hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. His movements, His stirrings, are intentional. Every gift He’s given me, every freckle on my face is intentional. Because our God isn’t distant. Even at two in the morning. Especially at two in the morning. Like Joel and Clementine lying side by side on the frozen Charles, staring at the night sky, our God lies next to us and after every time we mutter, “Lord I can’t handle any of this”, He softly answers, “I can“.

Remember that no matter the number of things that are unclear, no matter how many doors you are waiting on, no matter how many things feel “paused” or in limbo, there is never down time for Christians. We are never useless. We are never sitting on the sidelines. I wasn’t picked for a single sports team in high school (for wildly good reasons), but God hasn’t benched me once. There are still people to love. There are still songs to write to God. You have things to do. You have many things to do. I do too. We need to be love to our roommates, you need to encourage your spouse, you need to tell your children about Jesus. These are the things that count. These are the things that are gold. You, my friend, are astonishing and wondrous, but you are not big enough to ruin God’s plans. Be still. Put those heavy things down and remember. Remember you aren’t of this earthy kingdom. It’s regulations and measuring sticks and ways of distributing worth do not apply to you. It’s apples and oranges: our jobs and salaries and instagram feeds mean nothing in the kingdom to which we belong.

Praise God.

Praise God that my Heavenly Father is awake every night with me. As my heart is tempted to collapse under the weight of worry and wonder, He holds it with a strength unattainable by man and a love that no romantic could imagine.