Sunday, December 30, 2012

Coffee: Grace to My Heart

There is something kind of magical about local coffee shops. They are the places that nurse my heart and help me to breathe and relax. So today I found a little coffee shop in downtown Greensboro to let me heart rest once more.

I wanted Christmas break to be a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, but it simply has not been. This break has been more exhausting than anything because my days have been dictated by being mad and frustrated... at myself. 

I cannot meet the expectations that I have for myself. I measure myself against perfection and these days perfection seems like a foreign concept.

I know that I will never be perfect. I know that God does not expect perfection. I know that Jesus is perfect. But even though I "know" all of that... I surely have not been living like that.

And it has made my heart a little dry and my soul a little sore.

I am supposed to have it all together. I am supposed to be all smiles all day. I am supposed to be a good gift giver. I am supposed to love selflessly. I am supposed to show Christ to my family. I am supposed to be the social planner. I am supposed to know how I feel. I am supposed to always be on the go. I am supposed to be encouraging to others. I am supposed to read my Bible everyday. I am supposed to have it all together. I am supposed to be optimistic all the time. I am supposed to have a lot of friends. I am supposed to be fearless. I am supposed to be patient. I am supposed to be wise. I am supposed to show everyone grace. I am supposed to live out of honest and vulnerable places. I am supposed to be............. perfect.

But I am not. 

Quite frankly, I do not know if I have perfected a single one of those things these days... or if I have even half-way succeeded.

Rather these days of "break" have consisted of a watered-down version of myself that is tired and sick... a version that is irritable and sad and anxious and not very nice. It's a version that's fire for Jesus seems like a bonfire that is slowly dying. 

And if there is one thing that I am definitely not good at, it is showing myself grace.

But today, I am putting my foot down. I am choosing to show myself some grace and I am choosing to not measure myself against a mark of perfection... a perfection that I will never reach.

Instead of staring at my own imperfections and all of the places that I am falling short these days, I am choosing to sit at the foot of the cross. I am choosing to hand Jesus all of the broken pieces that make up my life and give them to Him.

So I'm embarking on the process of letting my tired heart heal and rest.

It is going to be a process, but it's starting today... in a little coffee shop on Tate Street... at a table that is shaped like a coffee mug (I think Jesus knows me really well).

So I'm showing myself some grace today with a little latte. 

"For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." - 1 John 3:20


"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved." - Ephesians 2:4

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Hunt for Christmas

I love the holidays. I love everything about the Christmas season. For a person who delights in the little things, Christmas time is delight overload and it's magical and wonderful.

... the twinkle lights ... the baking ... the gingerbread houses ... the Christmas parties ... the shopping ... the decorations ... the gift wrapping ... the bows ... the nativity scenes ... the peppermint everything ... the music and carols ... everything Christmas ... it's simply delightful

Since my friends and I were fifteen we have been having the same annual Christmas party. It's always at Katie's house and it's always full of some of my favorite memories. We have continued the tradition since all going our different directions in college and each break I always look forward to the party that brings us all back together.

For a little trip down memory lane...

2006: We were fifteen and sophomores and knew not a care in the world.
2007: We were sixteen and growing up and didn't know how to pose for pictures.
2008: We were seventeen and seniors and never got a whole group picture...
2009: We were eighteen and freshmen in college and crazier than ever.
2010: We were nineteen and loving college.
2011: We were twenty and getting old and tackier than ever.
The memories have been plentiful and I am so thankful for each person in each one of these pictures. Some friends have come in and out and then some other friends have been there from the beginning. Some of them know me better than any other people ever will because we have been together for so long.

And each year, the night before the Christmas party all of the girls come to my house to bake cookies.

Meet Danielle, Paige, Caitlin, Pooja, Katie, and Sam.
My besties since I was thirteen... kind of hard to believe.
Needless to say, the traditions do not end there. That is what I love about Christmas time. It is full of traditions and in turn, full of memories. Each year I look forward to Christmas beginning in October (but I do decline any Christmas celebrations until after Thanksgiving).

This year is different though. 

It doesn't feel like Christmas. It doesn't feel like the holidays. And the parties just aren't the same.

And boy let me tell you, I have tried to make it feel like Christmas...

I have tried nearly every Christmas-y drink at Starbucks. I have driven around to look at Christmas lights. I have had the music playing since the day after Thanksgiving. I have made the shopping lists. I have gone to Dave Barnes and Friends Christmas concert. I have sent out the Christmas cards. I have baked the Christmas cookies. I have kept my mom company as she has wrapped countless gifts.

I have really tried...

And on top of it all, the annual friends Christmas party just isn't quite the same this year. We're getting older and the family obligations are increasing. More of us seem to be traveling or seem to have people that are calling us other places. So this year, rather than the usual party, we're doing dinner at a nice restaurant all together. We're getting old and this is the last Christmas that it's guaranteed that we'll all be in Greensboro.

So it doesn't feel like Christmas. It just doesn't. And I have been a little bummed. Well actually, a lot bummed... because I love this time of year so much and it has been kind of a let down.

But in this season of not quite delight with Christmas, I have been able to see the truth... the real truth.

And the truth is that Christmas is not about the lights, the parties, the cookies, the shopping, and all of the music. It is not about all the things that have brought me so much delight in the past.

Christmas is about the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and is about finding delight in Him. 

So that is where my focus is this year... on the birth of a child that completely turned the world upside down.

The Christmas story is so often told just like that... as a story. It is romanticized and told in a way that is often distant from our beings now. But the reality is that our lives were forever changed the moment that Jesus was welcomed onto the earth in a stable in Bethlehem. The Christmas story is not distant at all, it is the gospel.

Jesus' birth changed everything. He is Immanuel... God with us. There is something so incredibly beautiful about that... God with us... God... with ... us... 

God came to earth as a man and lived a perfect, sinless life. He died on the cross for our sins and was the ultimate sacrifice. He then defeated death and overcame the grave. Jesus has made us all new through the cross and the resurrection.

God came to earth Himself to be our savior. He is no longer a distant judge who we cannot commune with, but is God with us. Jesus Christ came to be trusted, leaned on, communed with, and walked with.

We now walk with God because Jesus Christ was born.

And in that, I will find my delight this season. My delight is in Immanuel... God with us. 

So it might not feel like my usual Christmas, but that is okay. I am making it my goal to spend the rest of this holiday season simply reflecting on what it means that Jesus is God with us. I challenge you to do the same.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rags to Riches: Lessons from Nashville

Over Thanksgiving break I was bit by the travel bug. I was ready for a little traveling adventure and I knew that Christmas break would be the perfect time. Lucky for me, Jen (one of my housemates) texted me the next day asking if I would want to go to Nashville the first weekend of break because she had a job interview there. DUH! I was sold... Nashville, the home of country music, sounded delightful and just where I wanted to go.

It was decided. Anna, Jen, and I would go to Nashville right after Friday morning exams. Oh and the most exciting part, Amanda, would drive down and meet us for the weekend. Yes, please. Jen would have her interview Saturday morning, but the rest of the time we could explore and enjoy the music city.

Planning the actually logistics of a weekend trip to Nashville all happened a week before we left. I remembered my last traveling adventure over Fall Break and decided that a "plan" would be a good thing.

On that adventure Sarah, Anna, and I had no plans other than a plane ticket to Denver, CO and a house to stay in the first night.... the rest was figured out in the airport and on a minute to minute basis. There was a brief two hours when we considered staying in a stranger's mountain house in Breckenridge... It was free, in Breckenridge, and he seemed really nice... Lucky for us, reality set in and we realized maybe not the best decision. But we ended up booking some random hotels all over the state and our spontaneous Colorado trip was beautiful and wonderful and just what I needed at the time.

And the only thing planned was the flight we were about to get on and our first night's stay...
But it ended up all being perfect... exploring Denver, hiking, four-wheeling, seeing snow, visiting Crooked Creek... all perfect and all a truly beautiful gift from God.

So in comparison to Colorado, I thought we had it all figured out... We had booked a hotel, bought tickets for the Dave Barnes and Friends Christmas show, got restaurant recommendations from Macon (a Nashville native), and we even had directions to where we were staying. And when our parents asked about the plans, we said we had it all figured out and to not worry.  Surely we had it all together... or so we thought.

So this past weekend Anna, Jen, and I hopped in the car right after mine and Jen's Friday morning exams and were Nashville bound.

I love maps and love seeing where the road tripping is leading.
Making it to Tennessee was perfect and an absolutely beautiful drive through the Appalachian mountains... I LOVE MOUNTAINS.
After stopping for a snack in Asheville, NC we decided that we would just drive straight to Nashville and get dinner once we were there. It would be a little late for dinner, but we just wanted to get to the Music City.

After a good eight hour drive we made it to Nashville and were hotel bound. We wanted to check into our hotel before going to get dinner and before starting the evening. We were all really tired... I had maybe slept four hours the night before and had just come off a long week of exams, but we wanted to enjoy Nashville for all that it was.

Now all that we knew about the hotel was that it was cheap because it fit into our college budget and that it was in the "Downtown/Opryland" area. We had booked the hotel off of Expedia and it seemed like a really great deal. The downtown area was just where we wanted to be and it was close to Jen's interview on Saturday morning. And it was the perfect price for us college students... As college students loving adventure we knew that we couldn't stay in a super nice place so we were fine with bumming it and Jen brought her sleep sack just to avoid the sheets of the hotel bed.

As we were getting closer and closer to the hotel we started getting further and further from the seemingly safe parts of Nashville. We were entering into the much more run down and sketchy side of the city. I could hear Anna squirming more and more in the back seat and I was just laughing because that's all that I know to do in unfortunate situations.

After passing some old abandoned buildings, some stray dogs wandering around, and some large crowds of people we arrived at our hotel... our hotel that was really a motel because there was outdoor access to all of the rooms. And upon pulling into the parking lot of the hotel, we were starred down by a large group of guys just chilling in the parking lot. We were not comfortable... as twenty-one year old girls who do not know the area, this was not where we wanted to be and was surely not where we wanted to be staying.

But we thought we had it all figured out... We thought our plan was flawless... And I surely was not ready to accept defeat in this plan.

We stayed in the car for fifteen minutes, stomachs growling, contemplating what to do. We could just get over our fears and just stay at the hotel and "hope for the best." We could stay there one night since we were already there and figure out something else for the second night. We could just find a new hotel all-together, which would involve spending more money. Or we could sleep in the car since that would be free (this was never a real consideration though).

In this time of contemplation, tears started coming down my face. They were tears of frustration and of exhaustion. I just wanted this trip to be fun and cheap... not really sketchy. I can say now, crying was definitely not the solution to the problem, but it was the only thing that seemed adequate at the moment.

After talking all together, Anna, Jen, and I decided that we would go drive around downtown (the area we thought we would be staying in) and just see the prices of other hotels and see the availability there. We were driving up and down Broadway (where all the honky tonk bars are) calling hotels and seeing what it would cost to just stay there one night. We figured by the second night we could come up with a different plan.

All of the hotels in the area would be over $200 a night and would not include free parking. It was not an appealing price at all, especially coming off the cheap, sketchy hotel... and it was definitely not in the price range of the cheap college student adventure to Nashville.

We kept driving in circles contemplating what to do... just stay in the sketchy hotel where we would probably be fine, but where we would hardly sleep because we were nervous... OR just accept defeat in the original plan and pay a lot more money for the really nice hotel in the really nice location.

Eventually we decided... we would just splurge and book one night in the Hampton Inn downtown and then figure out another plan for the next night. I wasn't overly thrilled about the price, but it was getting late, and I was hungry and really exhausted and just wanted out of the car.

Jen called her mom to make sure that it would be okay to just put the hotel on their credit card for the night and we would just pay them back once we got home and get it all sorted out. Her mom so graciously agreed. We had to admit a little defeat to our parents though, which is never ever fun.

After booking the hotel and checking in, we were finally parking in the parking garage when Jen received a text message from her dad. It was simple: "The hotel is on me for both nights. You girls enjoy and have fun in Nashville."

Say what?! No more sketchy hotel, no more splurging on our parts, no more driving around aimlessly... instead we were getting a really nice hotel with fluffy white sheets, in a really great location, for two nights... all FREE to us.

It was perfect.

Except it was a little hard to except. I felt stupid that our plan had failed. I felt indebted to Jen's dad. I felt guilty that we had to ask for help.

But slowly those feelings slipped away and we got settled into our lovely hotel room. It had fluffy white pillows on the best mattresses. We were greeted by lemonade in the lobby. And we were a two minute walk to everything we wanted to do in Nashville.  This hotel was way better than any place we had ever imagined staying in.

The trip ended up being quite delightful. Amanda came down Saturday morning and spent the day and night with us. We explored downtown, visited the Vanderbilt area, did some shopping, saw Dave Barnes and Friends Christmas concert, went to Midtown church, and ate at lots of fun places. It was a wonderful way to begin this Christmas break and it was with some of my very best friends.

And I learned a lot about God... and the plan He has for us.

We ate at The Old Spaghetti Factory and got to play in this really fun Christmas train.
There is nothing like a huge Christmas tree and best friends to put you in the Christmas spirit. Thank you, Anna and Jen, for being the best friends to road trip with and for your traveling spirits as well.
So incredibly thankful that Amanda could drive down to Nashville to meet us and spend some time with us. I am so blessed to have a best friend that lives twelve hours away, but that I still get to see and adventure around with.
The Dave Barnes and Friends Christmas show was absolutely wonderful. Dave Barnes is absolutely hilarious and I was laughing the entire time. And his "friends" performing were some of my most absolute favorite people... they included Drew & Ellie Holcomb and Andrew Ripp.
"It's a crazy town full of neon dreams. Everybody plays, everybody sings. Hollywood with a touch of twang."
So the weekend worked out... better than we had imagined.

And that's how it is with God. Life with Him is way better than we can ever imagine.

So often we try and plan our own life. I know that I do this. I always come up with the plan that I think will be "best" and I do everything I can to act on that plan.

We come up with the "next semester" plan, the "next year" plan, the "five year" plan, the "ten year" plan, and then even the "life plan." Now all those plans may be full of great goals and ambitions and lots of fun adventures, but if they are not God's plans then they certainly not the BEST plans.

We all so often plan our future out without considering what our Heavenly Father has in plan for us. We often do not ask for help or guidance. We just barrel forward with what we want and hope for the best.

That is what we did with Nashville. We wanted to go, so we planned the trip. We booked a hotel without much consideration of the location and were just hoping for the best... well the best did not happen.

When we are not seeking the Lord's will in our life or when we are giving Him the cold shoulder in our plans we miss out on all that life can be... we get the sketchy hotels. We get a life that is manageable and is okay and is sometimes exciting, but it falls short of all that it can be.

We have to ask God for guidance and we have to ask God to show us His plans for us and we have to let God in.

In those moments we will find life that is truly abundant and is all that God intended for us. It is life that is full of sparkle and is beautiful and wonderful. And it is all part of a plan that we do not come up with... it is from God's plan for our life. It is a life that leads us to knowing Him more and to us bringing glory to Him.

We never imagined that we would be in as nice of a hotel that we were this weekend. But when we finally broke down and admitted that our plan was way less than ideal, and we asked Jen's parents for help we were given something way more abundant than we ever imagined. All we asked for was a credit card to temporarily book the hotel with, instead, we were given two nights at a nice hotel with great service and really nice sheets.

God wants to give us more than we can imagine, but we have to let Him into our lives and into our plans. We have to admit that our plans just are not cutting it. My plan and my way of doing things is simply not working.

But with my Heavenly Father there is life and there is beauty and there is excitement and there is someone holding me up when life does get rough. The cool thing too is that God can rescue us and He wants to. He wants to swoop in when we admit defeat.

This gift of life with God and in His plan is all free. There is nothing that I can do to earn it. It is truly by the grace of God that we can know Him and can walk with Him. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8). With that grace of God there is no room for guilt or regret, there is only freedom. 

It's simple: God knows best. I do not.

And after being on this journey with God for a while now I do realize that His plan does not always lead me to four star hotels with best friends in really fun towns. I do know that it has brought me to places that are hard and where crying seems to be an everyday occurrence. It has brought me to places where my heart is broken, but the journey is always best with God. In the darkest places and in the deepest valleys, Jesus is holding my hand and is crying with me and comforting me. I know that I cannot do this "life-thing" on my own. I just simply cannot.

I am thankful for this reminder this past weekend. I am in a season where "life plan" is brought up in nearly every other conversation. And this weekend I was reminded that this "life plan" is not my own, it is the Lord's. 

I am beyond thankful that it is in this plan that I will know Jesus more and that I will be in a plan that is meant to glorify Jesus more. "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:11-12).

My prayer is the same as that of Paul for the Ephesians:

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to the his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."


Side Note: I must give credit to Anna for all of the wonderful pictures that I put on this blog usually. She is the photographer of the McMansion and is a true lover of pictures... and she is really, really talented. She has her own photography blog and you should really check it out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sizzle and Pop Semester

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don't want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.” - Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines 


[A few of my favorite things from this semester...]

1. Dates with this dear friend, Jen, to fancy desert places and to the movies just because we can.  Jen is one of the wisest and most sincere people that I know. I feel truly blessed to have her in my life and I cannot wait to see where the Lord moves her next year. I am really really really hoping that it's to the West Coast.

2. I live in a house known as the McMANSION. These girls are my absolute best friends here in Chapel Hill and they know me so very well. We have fun together and we dress up like nerds for dance parties and we just live our lives everyday in the Lord's freedom. They are the most wonderful friends and housemates.
3. I got to spend this Thanksgiving at my family's lake house with my family and it was extremely relaxing and peaceful. My brother, Cole, came home from his freshman year at college at Salisbury University in Maryland so I got to see him for the first time since mid-August.
4. So sometimes we sneak on the football fields for photo shoots and take ridiculous pictures, making ridiculous faces, in ridiculous poses. But these girls are the absolute best and I LOVE Carolina football.
5. When holiday season rolls around in Chapel Hill there is always an excuse to get dressed up in some costume and to celebrate. For Thanksgiving this year, the girls of Blue Kenan decided to have a Pilgrims and Indian feast. It was mighty delicious and it was full of some of the most fun people.
6. Getting dressed up, spending the evening with the best Young Life team around, and watching one of your old teammates walk down the aisle to marry her best friend? Yes, I would call that one of my favorite things.
7. These friends are known as the kitch snitches and they make me smile each and everyday.
8. Some nights it only makes sense to drop everything you are supposed to be doing and to go play in the rain and to jump in the most epic of puddles and to have attempt to float down McCauley St.
9. It was such a blessing to have nearly all of the McMansion parents to our house for a tailgate before the Parent's Weekend football game. It was so fun hosting them and having them all meet.
10. These ladies are some of the juniors at East Chapel Hill High and they inspire me each and everyday and I cannot imagine my life without them. I love them each so dearly and feel blessed to be their Young Life leader.
11. Fall is most definitely one of my favorite seasons and the pumpkin patch makes me feel like a kid again.
12. In my adventures to Colorado over Fall Break I got to see this guy at Crooked Creek. He has become one my best friends after interning together the past two summers and it was such a blessing to be able to see him while we were out there.
13. The vastness of the Lord's creation was impeccable while we went 4-wheeling in a valley in Colorado. It was a beautiful and adventurous trip and I was constantly being swept away by the Lord's greatness.
14. These two girls, the most bestest friends in the world, planned the best surprise that I have ever received. Amanda, my bestie from Indiana, flew in to surprise me for a weekend and Syd helped it all go down. I have never felt more loved by my friends than I did that weekend.
15. It feels like a perfect night for breakfast at midnight, to fall in love with strangers. We're happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It's miserable and magical, oh yeah. Tonight's the night we forget about the deadlines, it's time. Thank you, Taylor Swift, for midnight Waffle House inspiration and thank you, Jesus, for best friends.
16. I have spent countless hours with these dear friends and teammates meeting, praying, and living life together. They have seen me at my worst and at my best and they are the best people to have by my side as we lay down our lives and attempt to love high schoolers like Christ has loved us.

What have been some of your favorite parts of the semester? Where have you seen and experienced Jesus? What are your hopes and goals for next semester?