Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Perspective


Today is filled with gratitude that Jesus didn't come with all the normal pomp and ceremony a royal birth brings.

This year with the birth of Prince George the contrast is all the more clear. Yet, Jesus, who deserved a birth far beyond that of any earthly royal, was born amid livestock and placed in a manger. No comfortable hospital with the finest care one could imagine, but a birth and lodging barely protected from the elements. Even in His first moments on this earth he displayed truth of scripture:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. - Hebrews 2:17
Praise the Lord that the story does not end there.

While His birth may not have been marked by massive crowds celebrating in the streets or the attendance of political and religious dignitaries, it exceeded any fame they could bring. Angels, first one then an entire host of them, radiating the glory of God, proclaimed for the very first time the good news from heaven - that a Savior had been born. Good news and great joy not only to Israel, but to all people.

The means of His birth - meek and lowly, continually reminds us that Jesus' greatness came from  identity as the Son of God, not outward appearances or human expectation.

The royal entrance, not a traditional grand display, demonstrated that His ways are indeed higher than our ways, and that humanity's understanding of God was being stretched as Jesus revealed more of the nature of our magnificent God. God in the person of Jesus, was no longer physically distant, but with us in absolutely every respect.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
The long expected King that came for each of us affirmed by those chosen to join in the celebration.

A rag-tag bunch of shepherds - not those highly esteemed by society's standards, but those with willing hearts to receive and spread the news that the Messiah, the anticipated One, had arrived! In joy and excitement they could not contain what they had seen. Then in following days, the wise men came. Men who held onto the hope and promise in the glimmer of a star - following it until they found the true Light of the world.

So much blessed symbolism of the life Jesus had come to live - the people he would interact with and the message he would spread of faith, love and hope without regard to social class, previous sins, wealth, intelligence, or physical traits. He had come that all of humanity could seek Him and find Him.

May we not forget this Christmas the majesty and humility of Jesus showing up and dwelling among people not so different than us.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Miraculous, Amazing Grace


A few days ago I was completely humbled by two little girls I have never met and more than likely never will meet.

My best friend, Shelby, has been working in special needs classrooms as a substitute teacher.

At lunch that day I had this text waiting for me:
I was in another teacher's classroom helping her with a few students and she was reading them a story about Wilma Rudolph. She said that Wilma went from being crippled by polio to competing in the Olympics. One girl goes, "Wow, a miracle!" and another girl raised her hands and said, "Amazing grace!"
The Holy Spirit convicted me about noticing God's movement in all things, along with a gentle reminder of the verses from Mark 10 came to mind,
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a  child shall not enter it." and he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. - Mark 10:13-16
In my own faith walk, I'm frequently tempted to overlook so many of God's rich blessings. I have heard the story of Wilma Rudolph plenty of times, but had never recognized or acknowledged the miracle and amazing grace bestowed up her life.

It took two little girls that I know only a single glimpse into their story, to remind me of the awe and wonder as part of a child's faith. Their sweet innocence allowing them the beautiful gift of seeing God's movement even in the most simple moments.

Sometimes words fall into Christian lingo and tragically lose the depth of meaning. I am completely guilty of using the phrase "childlike faith" without really grasping the significance of what that really would look like to live in such a way on a daily basis. Yet God is faithful in reminding me that even the things I believe to be stale or worn out hold profound truth. Children see the world starkly different than adults - their perspective is not jaded and cynical by times of misfortune.

My prayer today is that you would experience the awe and wonder of God and see His movement and work even in the most simple moments. May You encounter God in ways that lead you to say, "Its a miracle" and, "Amazing grace!"
 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Prayer for College Students


My friends still in college go back to school today, and it feels a little strange not to be preparing for syllabus day myself. After all, this is the first time in 17 years that August hasn't ushered in a new school year for me.

Inspired by Emily Freeman's sending prayer for college freshmen, my prayer is for all those going back to college right now.

Dear Lord,

May campus be enveloped by your love. May evidence of You be in dorm rooms, in classrooms, and student centers. May the evidence lead to worship that Your glory may be revealed even in the darkest of places.

May there be constant power in faith. Strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ. May their anxieties of fitting in, of difficult classes and professors, of learning about themselves be eclipsed by the recognition that You alone can supply their every need.

May they find in You a fountain of joy. May their friendships be renewed and strengthened this year, may they learn the value of growing in community and grasp the significance of how You have given an abundance time to do this in college.

May You provide servant hearts. May students learn to look for the least of these and care for them just as Jesus did - with compassion and grace. May they see needs and have the passion to serve in however You call them.

May You bring revival. May conversation to turn You, and may students no longer be conformed to the patterns of this world. May they be transformed by the renewal of their minds, that by testing they may discern what Your infinite, perfect will.

May they lean in to the Holy Spirit when things get difficult. At 3AM when they aren't sure a paper will be finished in time, in heartaches, and fears of the future - I pray that they would be led by a peace that surpasses understanding.

May they learn to praise Your name: in those moments that they cannot imagine being any better, knowing that every good and perfect gift is from above. In the moments that there seems to be no room for praise, I ask that You would remind them of Your love and grace.

In the Holy and Worthy name of Jesus I ask all these things, Amen.

Monday, August 19, 2013

5 Things I Learned In My First 5 Days At Work


Alright, I have exciting news to share, I have a job!

Yep, you read that right - I work a  9-to-5 where I wear pencil skirts, button ups, and heels on a daily basis, somehow I have overnight fallen into "big girl" category for real. I really could gush for a long time about how God provided everything I wanted from a first job, besides being in vocational ministry. It's truly a prayer answered  an answer that leads me to nothing but worship of a God who delights in His children.

I'm excited, yet most definitely a little freaked out by my quick shift into the fully adult world.

Yet I just wanted to share the top five things I learned in my first week of work.

You're On A Learning Curve

That's right, the people already in the office (for the most part) know what they're doing. It can be super intimidating if you have a compulsion to know the right answer to the question before its ever asked. Of course, its a really good practice in humility too. I've spent a lot of time learning to listen first, and ask relevant questions second. Rarely are thoughtful questions answered in frustration.

Don't Jump Into Office Politics

Not only are you learning the mechanics of a new job, but there are always social implications to consider when walking into any office. Typically, the desire to be liked and accepted by your co-workers might have you considering picking sides in issues that were in place long before you got there. Wait, give yourself time to truly process all sides of your environment and form your own opinions on everything. It's fine to listen to what everyone is saying, but always know there are multiple sides to every story.

Be Yourself Outside of Work

I definitely wasn't prepared for the work exhaustion. Goodbye afternoon nap time, hello answering phones while you're in the middle of focusing on a detailed task. After the amounts of new information I was processing each day all I wanted to do was go crawl into bed and not come out until morning. however, the highlights of my week came from going for an afternoon run (Nashville had beautiful weather last week) and grabbing dinner with friends to just chat about life.

You Are Not Your Job

If I could stress anything I learned this past week it would be just this one statement. Yes, our job is a part of what we do - after all we spend about a third of our day at the office - but it is not all of who you are. Explore those things, remembering that first and foremost your identity is found in Christ. He defines who you are - not your boss, not your co-workers, not your job performance, not even you. Rest in His truth, especially when you feel confused, inadequate, or overwhelmed.

My prayer is that no matter where you are in life: college student, job seeker, first job, or seasoned veteran that you would allow yourself the time to rest and recognize the beauty in the situation God has called you right now. May we not miss the opportunities to experience, learn, and grow in the season we're in by prematurely rushing in the next stepping stone.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: The Irresistible Revolution


What if Jesus really meant what he said?

This question is what tempered my reading of The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.

Jen Hatmaker in 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess makes a brief mention of The Irresistible Revolution during her month of giving. Originally further down my summer reading list, I decided to bump up Claiborne's book to see what his book said.

Having gone to Belmont, I had the privilege of hearing Shane Claiborne speak multiple times, and his book is just as convicting as his talks. It calls into question not just modes of operation of serving "the least of these", but the faint heartbeat in the modern American Church.

It's not always a message I want to hear, but its a message I desperately need.

Claiborne promotes a way of being Christ followers that stands in stark contrast to the removed existence of many churches. Frustrated by diminishing relevance in contemporary culture, the church has seemingly adjusted to its complacency. We've, for I include myself in this predicament, neglected the poor and the marginalized in our efforts to seek after God.

Yet Jesus spent His time among the poor and the marginalized, so it is no wonder that we struggle to find meaning and relevance in our removed context.

Before I review books, I have a tendency to see what others are saying about the book as well to make sure my thoughts are tempered with some sort of rationality, not just pure emotion. This book is definitely a decisive one.

Yet wasn't Jesus' message, the Good News, a decisive message as well?

I'm convinced in part that many of those who come down hard on this book for being "socialist" or "liberal" maybe are more taken aback by being confronted with places in their life that they haven't surrendered completely to Jesus?

I definitely know I have been. I absolutely don't like being reminded that sitting in my comfortable room, reading on my laptop or iPhone puts me in a social class far above a huge portion of the world in wealth. While I am considerably blessed, the kingdom of God doesn't have exemptions like a tax code. To follow Jesus means everyone. You, me, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, we're all compelled by the Gospel to serve the least of these.

Uncomfortable? Me too.

I thought about, and erased, a few attempts to qualify or justify The Irresistible Revolution, but in reality I would be doing an injustice to the message of the book. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus meant what he said, regardless of how comfortable I find the message.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rhythms of Life: Silence


There are natural rhythms to life.

In fact, an often quoted scripture from Ecclesiastes points to this phenomena:

For everything there is a season, and a time
for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and  a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time  to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
One thing I missed until recently in these rhythms of life is the necessity of both ups and downs. I anticipate things such as planting, healing, building up, laughing, and dancing. These are good things, they bring happiness to the soul.

Yet for each of these aspects its opposite exists as well: breaking down, weeping, mourning, tearing. Then there are the three I really struggle with accepting: killing, hate, and war. None of these things are pleasant, and rather than embracing them as aspects of life that come in seasons, my solution is to attempt to compartmentalize them and tightly micromanage them into non-existence.

Recently, I have experienced a lot of silence from God. As a person who prefers to hear directly from the Father on a consistent basis, I struggled with the silence. First of all, it landed at the close of my senior year of college, a point where I expected God to be incredibly close. Yet most of what I had was silence.

Deafening silence.

God was speaking into the lives of many of my friends, why not me?

I went on a frenzy of trying to figure out if it was some part of my life causing God's silence. One month of quiet times I spent in stillness, hoping that the remedy to the silence was to "Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth," (Psalm 46:10).

My normal mode of quiet times is to write out my prayers, because handwriting things helps me to maintain focus, rather than the random course of distracted tangents I encounter when I pray in silence. So I tried going back to just saying simple prayers, and still more silence.

Then something profound happened, a God moment to use Christian lingo. I began to recognize and relate to biblical characters who experienced deafening silence. The Psalms where people cry out to God for His presence or His voice came alive to me. I identified with chunks of the Bible that previously had felt elusive in their content.

Do  I want to hear more regularly from God again? Absolutely. Am I learning to rejoice in all circumstances? Most definitely. Would I trade this season of silence, as trying as it has been? No, because God has continued to use it for His glory and to bring me to a deeper understanding of scripture.

What rhythm of life do you struggle with, how can you learn to look for God in the place you are at now? My prayer is that whatever season you find yourself in, You will continue to seek after the Lord and learn to understand His wisdom and teaching in every rhythm of life.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker


I knew by the end of the first page, I was in trouble.

The prickling in my heart that I've come to know as the Holy Spirit's conviction started bearing down on me.

I have terrible consumerism habits.

Exhibit A: The morning I started reading the book, I had just bought three pairs of shorts online. I had planned on getting two, but if I bought a third pair, I got free shipping. So I bought three pairs of shorts.

7 by Jen Hatmaker made me confront my habits of consumerism that constantly tell me I need more. Habits I justified because most of my wardrobe comes from Target, Forever 21, and now the new H&M in Nashville. People, I'm not sporting haute couture on a daily basis. See! I'm not spending lavishly, everything is good, right?

Then a couple of verses were whispered into my heart:
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." (Matthew 15:18)
Our words (and actions) come from the state of our heart and they show our character. Therefore, my battle caused me to constantly want things, all sorts of things: shiny things, colorful things, things I try to fill my life with that don't satisfy.

Which of course brought me to another passage from Isaiah 55:
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." (v. 2)
I am guilty of make pretend shopping lists. Lists that include owning ever color of 5" khaki shorts from Old Navy, shoes from Target in 3 more colors when I already own 2 pair, and there's always one (or five) more dresses that could be added to my wardrobe.

I may not already own these things, but the intent of my heart is what matters.

I am grateful that 7 really shook my heart up. Especially when I got to the chapter on giving up possessions. My emotions flitted between sheer panic of God calling me to let go of worldly possessions to embrace Him and crying as I read Jen's experience with the homeless on Easter and a six year old little girl named Nene that got one of her handbags.

I was tore up. For those that don't speak Southern, I was wrecked and completely convicted about what I place my priorities in. I have a closet full of beautiful clothes, yet I still want more. Maybe it's time to reflect redefine needs, wants, and the looming "must-haves" list. Instead of wanting it all, my satisfaction might rely on contentment with what I already own.

Beyond my own experience with the book, I also would say that 7 is a great introduction to the concept of fasting. In the circles I grew up in, there was little to no talk about this very Biblical topic, and Jen's book does a great job of explaining beyond "you should do it because Jesus mentioned it." Not only does she talk about it, she spends seven months fasting in a variety of ways, theory and application at its best.

If you're looking for a book that shares truth and causes you to consider exactly how you spend your time, money, and resources 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is the perfect next read.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Apple Slice Battle


"I think they should outlaw fruit," the seven year old I nanny told me yesterday. I'm not sure who "they" includes, but evidently they are some force that makes up the laws about what is healthy for young children to eat.

I really enjoy nannying, it is a refreshingly slower pace than my four years of college. Not to mention, my job requirements include spending all day playing games: Wii Bowling, Barbies, The Game of Life, Tag. You name it, I've probably played it.

However, sliced apples have become the bane of my existence.

Okay, I'll admit that only a nanny (or a desperate parent) would confess their nemesis was chopped fruit. I realize I have happily traded in the stress of research papers and tests for the life of getting a 7 year old to eat her apple slices.

Allow me to explain: Part of my job is to make sure she eats her fruit serving at lunch. She knows that eating her fruit is healthy for her. She knows that it will make her stronger. These facts about the benefit of eating her apples is not fully convincing. Instead, she takes her sweet time to finish the five slices of apple on her plate. Sometimes to get her to eat them, I even have to remove all distractions to make sure she eats the fruit.

It never fails to amaze me how God can use anything as a teachable moment. This summer, a very loud lesson came in the form of apple slices - because sometimes faith is a lot like a 7 year old's battle with the apple slices.

I know that following Jesus is healthy for me.

I know that following Jesus will make me (spiritually) stronger.

Yet how many times do I take my pretty sweet time in listening and even more so following through with what He calls me to?

Yes, God taught me a faith lesson in apple slices. Just like the little girl and her fruit, sometimes He even has to take away all of life's distractions so that the only thing I can focus on is living out my specific calling. Jesus continually invites me to be a part of sharing His story and showing His love to a broken world in desperate need of a Savior, even when I am reluctant to take a bite of spiritual fruit.
"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" - Psalm 34:8
Perhaps its time to stop hesitating and truly taste God's goodness. Whatever situation God is calling you to trust and follow Him, my prayer is that you would stop stalling or making up excuses to truly enjoy the goodness of the Lord.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Happens When God Picks


I attended a worship service last night, and the following passage from 1 Corinthians 1 was mentioned during the sermon:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are," (27-28, emphasis added).
Recently I perceived my life to be filled with these "things that are not". Fairly quickly I could create a list in which I don't measure up to the world's standards. Not to mention, inadequacies such as foolish, weak, low, and despised are not the characteristics I care for people to think of me as.

Yet that is what God chooses. 

Foolish. Weak. Low. Despised.

The list includes things plenty of people believe about themselves, yet are too afraid to admit aloud or even to themselves. Everybody have memories of things they did that fall into one of those categories, a tell-tale sign of our broken humanity.

While thinking about the type people Jesus chooses to fulfill His mission in the world, I began to wonder about my own description. More often than not, I take those moments where I feel foolish, weak, low, or despised and sweep them under a rug or shove them in a closet never to be seen or heard from again. Yet Paul is relaying that Jesus wants those moments and traits because they serve a purpose.

I missed the memo about that part of following Jesus when I surrendered my life to His lordship.

The purpose of using our weakness is that it brings glory to God. If it seems a little paradoxical at first, hang on. God is infinitely better at everything than us, and as a result of the fall from Eden, humans are very broken individuals who need a Savior. What better way to display His greatness and might than to take our shortfalls and still use them for His purposes? The world doesn't use foolish, weak, low, and despised people - but God does.

What are the "are not" places in your life that perhaps like mine are waiting to be used as a light for others, pointing them to Jesus? Instead of looking at the shortfalls as negatives, why don't we begin to view those as places as room for God to work and reveal His glory in our lives.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Camping Trip, A Cookout, A Sleepover


We laughed.

If you knew my friend group and our skills at planning events, you'd realize that first attempts, second attempts, and sometimes all the way to Plan Z fall through.

This weekend was no exception.

The original plan had been to go camping. The weather was to be warm and after the ridiculously long winter with snowflakes in late March, all the girls were excited to spend time outside.

Naturally, we were blissfully unaware that the first weekend that campgrounds are open evidently should be a national holiday. Each place we tried to reserve a spot, they were completely full. There were two camp sites within a reasonable distance around Nashville.

The backup plan then was to have a cookout and a sleepover. This time we thought we had it all figured out. We planned out grilling stuff, food, and driving arrangements. It was all set - a perfect evening to spend outdoors. That is, until we realized there were no grills which is slightly problematic if you have around a dozen hamburger patties and hotdogs that need to be cooked.

In the past, if I had gone through two plans falling flat, there was serious potential for meltdown mode to begin. Instead, I laughed. My friend laughed. We started calling everyone that was on their way to reroute them to my friend's house where we spent the next few hours swapping stories over delicious food.

The realization that everything worked out quickly brought to mind Proverbs 31:
"Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come." (Proverbs 31:25)
I've always been puzzled by exactly what caused the Proverbs 31 woman to laugh. Was she laughing because she had everything provided for, an insight I had yet to learn, or her way of dealing with fear and uncertainty?

Now I'm wondering, was she laughing because she ultimately knew it was in the Lord's hands - the truth that even the best laid plans are nothing compared to His will?

Think back to a situation in which your plans went a completely different way than expected. What was your response: anxiety, anger, fear, laughter, doubt, control, or joy?

My prayer is that you will begin to see the mess ups, the imperfections, the not-as-planned moments in a new light and learn to release the negative in order to embrace and laugh at life's little twists and turns.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Power in Vulnerability


I realize the contradictory nature this post's title.

Being a Political Science major, I've spent the past four years learning how to minimize one's weaknesses. I've spent hours reading and writing papers on how to reduce one's vulnerability whether you're a nation or a political candidate.

Yet, there's something I never learned from a textbook, a journal article, or class lecture:

Being vulnerable in your own life can be one of the most liberating experiences.

Last week I sat in a circle with four other women that I've shared life with for almost an entire school year now. I knew that instead of just telling them to be vulnerable, I was going to model it.

Truth: I was absolutely terrified and it took everything within me to not bail at the last minute.

I began to realize in my life I've spent so much time and energy trying to cover up my inadequacies, but it came at the cost of the freedom from guilt and shame. I cared more about what other people thought of me than I would readily like to admit.

Last Monday night I shared more of my testimony than I have in a very long time. After I had shakily told the not perfect and pretty side of my story, something inspiring happened: the other women began sharing their hearts - the struggles and messy parts of their lives too.

In that moment, all the fear and anxiety welling up inside me over being vulnerable began to melt away and I could feel the weight of carrying around my lack of authenticity begin to lift.

The secret I learned: I wasn't alone.

There, dear friends, is the power in being vulnerable.

I really believe the enemy uses guilt and shame tactics to isolate us and make us think our problem is too big and scary for anyone else to want to deal with because it makes us ineffective. Yet the Bible gives us a much more satisfying view of community:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)
Is there something that is holding you back from the freedom Christ gives? I encourage you to find a healthy community to be real and authentic with: share your struggles, seek healing and accountability, and pray for one another.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Quiet Little Snowflakes

April is only a week away, but you wouldn't know that from the tiny snowflakes that keep floating past my bedroom window.

Yet snowflakes are such a reminder of stillness to me.

The do their own thing, gracefully fluttering down from the sky even when the weather should be in the seventies and I would be wearing shorts.

They don't mind that they're interrupting my regularly scheduled programming, my expectations for what the day should look like.

They just keep on their steady path towards the ground.

Yesterday at church the lesson was on following Jesus. Admittedly, I was tempted check out -supposing that I've heard the sermon eight million times before, and there's nothing new to learn. However, as we looked at Jesus' call to some about the cost of following Him I was struck by the end of Luke 9.

Today the snowflakes remind me, once again, of the passage from Luke:
"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)
There is so much significance placed on looking forward and maintaining focus on what is coming.

The little snowflakes outside my window appear to have mastered what I struggle to understand: they follow a steady, carefree journey towards the ground. They don't get the opportunity to glance back at the sky and question what was left behind.

Today, I want to learn from the the snowflakes: my destination clearly in front of me and the path it must take being filled with a graceful move toward what lies ahead.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: Mended by Angie Smith


This book was a delightful surprise in every sense.

First off, it was a birthday present from my dear, dear friend K. I love the story of how she came upon it: she stood in the Lifeway store and prayed for what book to get me. As I will go on to explain, it is blatantly evident that the Lord was in on her getting this book for me.

When I first got Mended, I was in the middle of a nightmare semester for me academically, emotionally, and spiritually. My life was an utter mess and I felt like I was grasping at air in my attempts to hold onto any semblance of normal. This book could not have fallen in my lap at a better time.

Her story of the loss of a child might not at first appear similar to the disastrous semester I was having, but the words on ever page transcended specific situations and spoke to me in powerful ways.

I cried. I laughed. I struggled.

The words were a comfort in reminding me of the love of my Savior even when it was painful. I was challenged to deepen my faith in the midst of not hearing from God in the ways I wanted. The timing of me reading the chapters and how it related to my own life made me bust out in fits of giggles multiple times.

I even went back and bought K her own copy.

I started to write a review, and ended up writing about moving forward in life.

Needless to say, this book taught me to look beyond my tired state of life and place my life into the waiting hands of Jesus to be mended.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are entirely my own, I'm not being paid in any way to review this book.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Memories and Moving Forward


Memories have this haunting tendency to come back to me through rose-colored lens.

When this happens, I have a deep desire to curl up and stay put forever in a time that has already passed. I've even caught myself praying to God to let me be, "the girl before {insert a difficult struggle here}."

God doesn't want me to go back. For one thing, He created all of us to live in a linear time frame, perpetually going forward. I have zero ability to stop and rewind time, and if I were able I'm fairly confident certain memories would be continually looped - reliving over and over days I wished would never end.

In my desire for the past, the Lord whispers to me the words of Paul in Philippians,
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (3:13-14).
Sometimes, these words make me want to throw a temper-tantrum that would make any three year old proud because its difficult to let go of good things. The past contains a certainty that the future with its multitude of frightening possibilities can't offer me because I can't be sure that today and tomorrow will be as good as the one's I've already experienced.

However, even those good moments I want to live again were once only possibilities. If I spend today wishing for the past good times, I am surely robbing today of its potential to be even better than those experiences.

If you struggle to see today's possibilities as good, I pray today that you will experience the freedom in trusting God with your future. May the Lord use this day to awaken your soul to the good moments that today will hold if you'll only release your iron grip on the past in order to grasp today's gifts.

Some days the gifts are easier to recognize than others, but ever day is filled with moments sent from God if we only take the time to look around for them. If you have nothing else, admire the beauty of God's creation.

Don't let yesterday's moments steal away today's potential for joy.

Forget what lies behind. Strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on, beloved, press on.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Believing In God's Fulfillment

Perhaps, I'm a crazy woman. Yet, at the same time the Biblical woman I'm talking about today probably seemed a little crazy at first.

Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, must have came across as a bit crazy too.

Lets review:

She wasn't married yet.
She was having a baby.
She claimed to still be a virgin.

If I heard that on the street today, I would think she was either lying, or I would try to come up with some medical answer for what she was experiencing. Let's be honest, anyone would recognize that in her story, two plus two wasn't exactly adding up to four.

However, the glimpse of Mary's pregnancy presented in Luke 1 demonstrates for us how God's narrative is so much bigger than our human understanding of a situation.

First off, the reader finds out about Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, who in this middle of this story is going through her own awesome example of how God was moving and working because she is finally having a baby - a son who the world will come to know as John the Baptist.

Elizabeth is rejoicing at how the Lord is also working through Mary, a beautiful example of how sisters in Christ encourage one another. What struck me as I read the passage in Luke was the last verse,
"And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." -Luke 1:45
Ever had God tell you something you were not sure would work out?

Sometimes God's plans leave me utterly confused. When I can't easily see the path that A will lead me to C through B, I begin to waiver about the Lord's plan. I start seeing all the obstacles, and forget that my God is so much bigger than any of the hurdles or detours I might have to go on to get where I'm going.

Honestly, I struggle with control because sometimes the path I'm on does not appear to be the most obvious path that my human thoughts went to.

Sometimes I even question if God has forgotten His words to me, and I begin to wrestle with whether they will be fulfilled.

Granted, when I think about fulfillment, I so often view it through the lens of whether His plan looks the way I envisioned it happening in my head. More times than not, His plan turns out differently than my imagination. However, if I took a moment to look back on my own life, when I fully surrendered to God's path, His direction lead me on better adventures with more exciting stories than I could ever come up with.

So even when your story doesn't add up neatly, when God has given you a task that can only be accomplish by divine intervention, I pray that you will hear the words blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment...from the Lord.

Its easy to want to rely on our own understanding, and looking beyond it and believing that God will fulfill His words to you regardless of how far-fetched they seem doesn't always come naturally. Ask Him to show you how mighty He is to act beyond your understanding.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Front Porch Ramblings

I love giving things names.

Maybe it has been inherent in human nature ever since God gave Adam the task of naming all the animals in Genesis 2:19-20.

Today though I get a special privilege of revealing my new domain name and blog title:

Front Porch Ramblings

The process to getting to this name wasn't an easy one. I'm easily an over-analyzer and I thought I needed a perfect domain name. I guess I should have re-read my own post, but I was rather determined that the right name was out there if only I could grasp it.

I wanted something small and brief, but that spoke volumes at the same time. Easy to do - right?!!?

Then I thought about front porches.

I grew up in the South, and front porches are special places. They're places where community gathers. They can become a refuge for solitude. They're also front row seats for watching a summer thunderstorm roll in.

Some of the best moments and conversations of my life have occurred on front porches. I spent so much time listening to my dad's stories and talks about life and meaning on a front porch. Which of course, as an awesome friend pointed out, is reflective of my spiritual walk too.

So welcome - grab a cup of coffee, a glass of sweet tea, and settle in for front porch ramblings.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lessons from the Sand and the Sea, Part 2


Well my long-anticipated Spring Break is finally over. I traded in my couple hours every morning of  listening to waves crash on the sand in favor of the passing cars on the busy street outside my window.

Like so many other times, I built up expectations in my head of what the week would look like, and its funny how those rarely line up with real life. The best part? Real life is much better.

If I don't let go of my plans and my ideas, I miss out on the even bigger and better plans God has waiting for me if I only choose to step outside my little bubble I've created.

Is it terrifying to let go? A hundred times yes. Will it be worth it at the end? My experience says yes.

Sometimes it feels like we throw around these verses, but my prayer is that you'll look at them with new eyes,
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
Oh how precious it is that we have a God who hears us and tells us to come find Him with all our heart! The idea of all of who we are - every single little piece of ourselves - whether we think its significant or not, He asks us to bring to Him. Its to experience true freedom.

As you go throughout your day, join me in looking beyond what we've imagined life to be so we can find the story God is writing upon our hearts and live it out.

The best is truly yet to come.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lessons From the Sand and Sea, Part 1

Photo Credit: K. Hall

Okay, so I know I really am looking out at the Gulf of Mexico, which is in fact, not a sea

Yet there's just something calming about walking into your condo for the week and being greeted by sights like the one above.

Yesterday morning, I giggled when I started my quiet time and it happened to be about Jesus walking on the water. I mean, what better timing than my first full day at the beach?

Here are some of my thoughts as I read the account from Matthew 14:22-33:

Often, I tend to forget that Jesus was walking on water. I mean I know it, but I don't think about how big of a miracle that was, that He just was walking along on the water, like this was a totally normal incident.

When the disciples saw Jesus, they thought he was a ghost. How often do I mistake the presence of Christ in my life as a "coincidence" or forget to attribute the supernatural to the Lord?

To calm their fears, Jesus tells them, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." Oh how I daily need reminders that the Lord's work is not scary.

Peter's response is to question if its Jesus, and the only way to prove what he said was to take a step of faith. Do I take steps of faith in order to find Jesus, or do I want the finding Jesus to come first before I step out in faith?

We so often focus on Peter's doubt that caused him to sink, but lets give him credit, as long as he set his eyes on Jesus, he walked on water too. How can I display the glory of the Lord as long as I look to Him to give me everything I need?

While your spring break may not lead you to the beach, or you may not have one at all, I pray that you would take the questions to heart and learn to take faith steps with the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Lesley

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beach Must Haves: Tunes

Its almost here. I can pretty much smell the beach already. Saturday morning will be a blessing. One thing though is for sure, I love music: Folk, Top 40, Oldies, Country, Christian, 90s, Rock - okay, you get the point.

So when thinking about approximately a 10 hour drive to the beach, the music you listen to is important. I find my biggest struggle is finding appropriate music. Now, the Bible does not spell out a playlist for you, but it does set out guidelines for life that teach us how to evaluate the content of the music we listen to:

1 Corinthians 10:23 explains it this way:
"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.
And Romans 14:13:
"Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." 
When I look for music, I try to find songs that are helpful, build up, and is not going to cause another to stumble in their faith.

Now for the part you really want, suggestions to add to your playlist. Admittedly, I am going to be in a car of all girls, so boy bands and Spice Girls are always fair game. So here are my suggestions:

More Recent Stuff/Top 40:

Keep Your Head Up - Andy Grammar
Fine By Me - Andy Grammar
The Outsiders - NEEDTOBREATHE
Drive All Night - NEEDTOBREATHE
Slumber - NEEDTOBREATHE
Don't You Worry Child - Swedish House Mafia
Wannabe - Royal Tailor
Me Without You - TobyMac
On Top of the World - Imagine Dragons

Country:

Knee Deep - Zac Brown Band
Blue Clear Sky - George Strait
It Must Be Love - Alan Jackson
There's Your Trouble - Dixie Chicks
Days Go By - Keith Urban
Passenger Seat - SHeDaisy
Something Like That - Tim McGraw
Why Don't We Just Dance - Josh Turner
Springsteen - Eric Church
Southern Comfort Zone - Brad Paisley


Older But Still Good:
Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
Good Vibrations - The Beach Boys
I'm A Believer - The Monkees
Superstition - Stevie Wonder
You're My Best Friend - Queen
Uptown Girl - Billy Joel
(What A) Wonderful World - Sam Cooke
The Longest Time - Billy Joel
I Want You Back - Jackson 5
Bring It All Back - S Club 7
I Want You Back - NSYNC
Larger Than Life - Backstreet Boys
MMMBop - Hanson

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beach Must Haves: The Essentials

Okay, so the other day I started a mini-series on my spring break plans.

Today, I'm continuing it, talking about the things that any beach trip requires.

And the top list is as follows:
Beach Essentials

So starting from the top left and working clockwise:

Beach Towels

I tend to be rather particular about my beach towels. I mean I don't feel like I'm asking for the moon when looking for a. longer than my 5'2" b. cute c. reasonably priced. So when these came up on Target online (similar ones are sold in store) I couldn't pass up the chance, plus the last time I bought beach towels, I was in middle school.

L'Oreal Kids Swim Shampoo

It sounds a bit silly, but this stuff works. No chlorine smelling hair and it gets all the salt and sand out of my hair.

Sunglasses

I once again don't spend too much money on sunglasses because I have a talent of breaking or losing them.

Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunscreen

I have zero desire to prematurely age my skin, so I lather this stuff on. I'll still get a gradual tan, but no burn.

Hot Pink Nail Polish

If you saw my swimsuits, then you know they are mostly neutrals, so I spice it up with some bright, neon even, nail polish. Its a way to be bold. Very Bold.

Hair Elastics

I have a great ability to lose far too many hair elastics, so I buy an inexpensive pack of these because they keep my hair up and when the ocean, swimming pool, or hot tub inevitably steal one I didn't spend a whole bunch of money on them.

What are your must-haves for a day at the beach?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Look What Came In The Mail


OhmygoodnessitshereandIcan'twaittoreadit.

I totally know that there are no spaces in the last sentence, but really my mind thought that as practially one burst of thought.

Either way, the book I've anticipated being here for quite some time has arrived!

On Christmas break I went to the CRU Midsouth conference, Encounter. At one point they split up guys and girls, and Emily Freeman was our phenomenal speaker.

I sat and listened to her in awe (no, really). Not only has her talk transformed how I look at my life, there also happens to be a funny story to go with it:

I was sitting with the other girls from my campus, when something in my brained clicked. She has many of the same mannerisms as me. There, in the very back of the auditorium, I felt like I was looking into my mirror on stage, down to the way she made nervous comments to herself. I leaned over and said to my dear friend, "I feel like I'm watching myself," to which she replied, "Oh my goodness, I was just about to tell you that!" Then and there I decided I needed to read Grace for the Good Girl.

While I haven't met her in real life, her topic of letting go of the try-hard life makes me feel as if we're in some ways kindred souls.

So, yes, I'm ready to finish the long list of half-finished books, so I can finally open this one!

What books are you far too excited about reading?

Grace and Peace,
Lesley

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Beach Must-Haves: Swimsuits

Sometimes talk about modest falls on deaf ears because as girls we don't really understand the importance of it.

Now moving on to take a moment out to talk about modesty and the beach: I know its hard. I hated for YEARS the quest to find appropriate swimsuits. I needed no convincing that they were a mythical creature that people talked about, but really didn't exist. Really, I felt doomed to swimsuits that were designed for little old ladies.

So when I do find an appropriate swimsuit, I do a happy dance in the middle of the store. Then, I share them with you as an encouragement to keep looking!

Below are swimsuits (or pretty close copies) of the swimsuits I'm taking with me to the beach:

Spring Break Swimsuits

Chic:

Straight clean lines, a very normal silhouette for a swimsuit. I like this one because its a basic, but its not old-lady. Plus, sheer is in, and I happened to snag this swimsuit a couple years ago (ahead of a trend for once!).

Preppy:

I know what you're thinking, now HOLD UP, you said we were talking about modest swimsuits. I know, this one on its own isn't appropriate. However, I'll be spending a good portion of my time on the beach actually in a tank top or tee shirt and shorts, and a full swimsuit is just too warm to be wearing under all that on the beach. Plus, the bottoms are a great mix with the next,

Classic:

Ah, the tankini, every girl's favorite in-between for not having on a bikini, but not stuck with the limited options of one-piece swimsuits. For me, its love, and a perk of this particular swimsuit is the strap is detachable, so when I'm tanning no tan lines.

Feminine:

I got the swimsuit pictured in navy last year, and it might be my absolute favorite swimsuit purchase ever. For once modest and attractive fit into one swimsuit, and I call it a win!

So my advice is that you just keep searching - the vintage trend right now is a very, very good friend to us. Good luck, and happy swimming!

Grace and peace,
Lesley

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spring Break Is Almost Here!

Spring Break is two weeks away.

Let me repeat that, Spring Break is two. weeks. away.

I shall have my toes in the water in a blink of an eye.

I love spring break because I get to roll a few of my favorite things in the world into one:

Beach

Okay, its pretty typical, but there's no way getting around how awesome the beach is: sun, sand, and salt water are all beckoning my name.

Ministry

Say what, what now? Yeah. I'm part of CRU and they have a spring break conference called Big Break where we go out and talk to the people on the beach in attempt to get into spiritual conversation. Last year was a struggle for me, but with a new attitude and a new motivation I'm hoping this year I can be more confident.

Friendship

Some of my best friends in the world are going, and its my last Spring Break as a college kid. I'm looking forward to creating more memories that even top last year's.

Oh, and did I mention the beach?

Over the next two weeks I'm planning on sharing my secrets to having a fun beach stay! Fashion, music, and food to come!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent: The Process of Giving Up

Today, plenty of people around the world will begin the sentence, "For Lent, I am giving up..."

Sometimes its because its the cool thing to do, or it somehow gives others the impression that you've got this "Jesus-thing" down.

Honestly, I think many people use Lent as a time to re-invent the New Years resolutions that they've already given up on. We translate things like "I'm going to be healthier this year" into "I'm giving up [sugar, coke, processed foods] for Lent."

Instead, I urge you to spend time today really considering how you fill up your time and what stops you from getting closer to God.

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus reminds those listening to the Sermon on the Mount,
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," (ESV).
 The key I've learned is understanding that treasure is not always a possession, its what we consume our lives with. The main point is: if it is not God, its wrong.

Now are the things standing between us and God a lot harder to give up? Absolutely.

This year it was hard to pinpoint the biggest thing affecting my relationship with God. I realized that it was procrastination, that I used fillers such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest instead of spending time with the Lord. Therefore,as of today, I'm giving it up, trusting the Lord to fill my time with Him.

So, what are you giving up to spend more time with God?

Grace and Peace,
Lesley

Monday, February 11, 2013

Washed by the Water

Music transports us. Sometimes its to a different place, others a different emotional state. Lyrics, Christian or not, frequently point us back to Christ.

That's what NEEDTOBREATHE's song Washed by the Water does for me.

I call it my God song. Its my song that He uses to remind me He is always present.

I loved this song before it became my song with God. I think that's why He chose it to remind me of Him.

In the past year I've had a couple times when the world I had created, figured out, decided was the right completely dissolved right where I stood. I was terrified of a future I was unable to control.

Sound like a familiar situation?

Each time, right after when I got into my car, I kid you not, this song came on the radio.Coincidence? I don't think so. I firmly believe it was divine providence on the part of a Savior who created every aspect of me and knows me better than any human will ever know me - and wants good for me.


To make it all better? I love water: oceans, lakes, swimming, creeks, puddles...you get the picture.


On multiple occasions, sitting in the middle of random parking lots in Nashville I burst out in tears, overwhelmed at the beauty of the truth behind the lyrics and how they applied to my life so much:
Even when the Earth crumbles under my feet
Even when the ones I love turn around and crucify me
I won't never ever let you down
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water
 This song is more than a song to me, its my anthem of the way God does not leave me no matter what the particular circumstances of my life look like.
No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. - Joshua 1:5
In whatever present situation you find yourself in, take a moment out to look and listen around for how the Lord reminds you of His presence and ultimately His control of you life.

My prayer is that you will be washed, no engulfed, in the waters of Christ's love.

Grace and Peace,
Lesley

Saturday, February 9, 2013

An Introduction, a Confession, and Everything that Lies Between


Well, if you were wondering what in the world the sticky notes thing was doing just chilling at the top of the page, here's you're chance to find out.

Sticky notes is something I do on a semi-regular basis. When I have a profound (or sometimes not so profound) thought, I write it on a sticky note, plop it on a my sticky note wall where I continue to think about it each time I see it.

So when I was creating this blog, I knew this was one of my quirks I needed to share with the world, and so today is the day of introduction to the sticky note.

Of course, this is where the confession time comes in. I am a perfectionist. Yes, I'm sure you've heard a bajillion people say this before. What some perfectionists won't tell you is that it can be immobilizing. Seriously. We want things to be so perfect, that instead of doing it, we end up procrastinating because we can't get it right in our head or in real life.

Yet in following God is not about perfect, in fact He alone is perfect, so really my attempts at perfection are fruitless. Instead, God calls us to be faithful. Proverbs 3:3-4 even tells us,
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. (ESV) 
What holds you back from being faithful?

My perfection got the best of me for a few days, and I ended up not writing here because I did not have the perfect thing to say to you, some uplifting story from my week or the most fantastic insight in the Word. Yet, that is not what God called me to do, I'm called to love and be faithful, which is why today I'm attempting to fulfill my purpose and write.

Another little truth from this verse, Success in the Lord is contingent on our faithfulness.

So next time you being to question your success, stop thinking in the world's terms, and ask yourself were you faithful to what God asked of you?

Whatever it is stopping you from being faithful - be it perfection, fear, lack of preparation, or a multitude of other things - my prayer is that the Lord will release you from it. Join me as we ask God freed from the lies holding us back and run wide-open in the direction He has called us.

Grace and Peace,
Lesley

Monday, February 4, 2013

Verses to Live By

In college I was first introduced to this idea of a life verse. Somehow, for normal people, its supposed to work that you pick a Bible verse that you think defines your outlook on life. On the other hand, if you're me, the verse finds you, follows you, and practically beats its way into every aspect of your life at every possible moment until you just begin to embrace it.

You may now  be asking, what is my life verse?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2  ESV).

First, I must admit that the depth of meaning in this verse is an on-going learning process, and God reveals new things about His character and His plan for my life as I grow deeper in my faith. Now after letting you know the vast majority of this verse is still beyond my comprehension, here's what I have learned from this verse:

My Life Isn't Going To Be Like Everyone Else's.

While sometimes this idea can be blown way out of proportion, for me its about how I interact with people in the world opposed to looking like the world in the way I dress, or what I read, or even what music I listen to. If I am completely disengaged from my culture, how am I ever going to reach those who need the love of Jesus the most?

I really believe this is where my heart lies, in letting others know that not conforming to the patterns of this world does not automatically mean submitting your life to being a social outcast. Does Christ's love for you and Holy Spirit dwelling in you change your perspective? Absolutely. Am I  suggesting that you must give up every single pop song on the radio and tell you that you can only read the Bible, and not fiction? Hmmm, more than likely not.

Funny part, the verse talks about discernment. Which is necessary, because sometimes things we believe we enjoy are not good for us spiritually, emotionally, or physically, and they do need to be removed from our lives.

The good news: being different from this world is not a social death sentence. 

Big secret: not everything fun automatically goes into the harmful/bad category.

Over time, you begin to learn what is profitable to following Jesus and what becomes a stumbling block to your faith - pretty much a rough definition of discernment. My desire is that I can share with you ways to interact with, but not conform to, a culture so desperately in need of the hope and saving grace found in Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace,
Lesley



Friday, February 1, 2013

The Beginning of Inspiration

What inspires you?

Take a moment out to list them in your head, write them down, say them aloud, whatever method works best for you. Just be honest with yourself.

John 10:10 tells us that "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly," (ESV). While I have heard this verse plenty of times in a variety of contexts before, day to day life tends to overrule the meaning of this verse.

Frequently I find myself forgetting the third part - the fullness of life I am to enjoy because of Jesus' life. Life is not meant to be just what is necessary, its mean to thrive. Even as my senior year of college is in full swing, the prime of my life, I still sometimes ask: am I doing this to just get by or am I living out life abundantly?

The question I began this post with I posed to myself, and it sparked the idea within me to write. Writing is my outlet to processing the world. I can start with a clean page or an empty word document and an endless stream of possibilities lay before me. Imagination brings forth ideas, ideas find life in words, and words allow us to interact with ourselves, others, and our Creator.

Of course, this leads me to the purpose of this project. Its to inspire, challenge, and reach out to young women as we use our lives for the glory of God. While following Jesus' teachings and instructions is frequently perceived as restrictive or plain, I urge you to look for evidence of Him in the things that inspire you.

My prayer is that you will begin to see that a life given over to Christ is not boring or typical, in fact, the journey is often downright unpredictable.

Grace and Peace,
Lesley