Who I Am Today

Two years of my life stand out to me as being especially formational. The first was my freshman year of college, when moving out of the house and navigating life independently for the first time brought plenty of challenges and growth. The second was this past year, 2016.

I have had a difficult time writing anything for a while. Cut me some slack, people – since my last confession, we bought a house, welcomed a puppy into our new home (Monkey, just in case you’re reading this, you’re the most beautiful dog in the world), survived two holiday seasons, joined a new church, and I took a graduate course in theology and applied to grad school. I have also deactivated my Facebook, so there’s a 97% chance that no one is reading this post.

It’s also hard to write because talk is so cheap.

The thought of writing something made my stomach turn a little, because I think of all the times I’ve given advice that I can’t take myself, or shared anecdotes of overcoming things that come right back. The world really doesn’t need another person like me writing blogs or tweeting from an ivory tower while the WORLD BURNS.

But, another thing happens when I don’t write, and it’s that I don’t know what’s going on in my life. I forget to check in and reflect, and things start to feel like they’re just one big blur. I’d like to write something about how this past year has changed me and redirected my life, but it feels absolutely overwhelming to try and begin shaping that story, because I wasn’t writing through it. Here are the main takeaways:

  • I read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and it was the catalyst in helping me understand that I had some serious blindspots and ignorance when it came to the reality of racism in our country and how it affects individuals, families, communities, and our justice system.
  • As our country imploded in 2016 with protests, riots, officer-involved shootings, and tons of headed conversation around race, I tried to read a lot and ask better questions to my black friends. And to believe them when they said things like this.
  •  I came under the personal conviction that my lack of proximity to people who were suffering or on the margins of society wasn’t Christlike. For years I’ve had a “world-changing” attitude that led me to do things like intern with International Justice Mission (the absolute greatest, btw), fundraise for different causes, and lead service trips, but I had very little proximity to people who weren’t white, middle/upper-class, college educated Christians. I should note that I love white, middle/upper-class college educated Christians, and I am one, but the point I’m making here is that being surrounded by one perspective allowed me to easily dismiss other perspectives and stunted my ability to empathize.
  • I ALSO came under the personal conviction that my interactions with “the poor and marginalized” were not really compelled by the love and humility of Christ, but were more about making myself feel good and making others think I was a super Christian. I still struggle with this, and probably always will. There have been some very, very good words written about this in Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurtsor you can get a general idea by listening to this lecture from Steve Corbett.
  • Charlotte ranked dead last in a nationwide study on upward mobility. Out of the 50 largest cities in the USA, Charlotte ranked 50th when it comes to children being born into, and staying in, poverty. I live in Charlotte, and I can’t abide that. I feel a sense of personal responsibility to do something, not just cast a vote or donate money to help someone else do something. You can learn more about the study and what Charlotte is doing about it here. If you live in Charlotte, you should read the whole thing! It is so important and so eye-opening.
  •  I started asking God to help me know how to respond to all that I was learning, because things are complicated. How do I relate to people when we share no common life experiences? How do I serve people without having a God complex? How do I love people in a way that addresses their physical needs without robbing them of their dignity? Here’s the conclusion I have so far: I don’t know.

So here’s who I am today:

  • A member of a multi-ethnic, uncomfortable church plant team that will soon be West Charlotte Church.  It has been very cool to see God’s good plan in moving us to West Charlotte and giving us experiences to change our perspective just before we met the McKnight and Martin families, who are planting a church 2 miles from our house.
  • Uncomfortable – I mentioned that our church plant team was uncomfortable, and I mean that. I also love it. Forever, I’ve been involved with ministries and churches where I was the majority and found it very easy to relate to and connect with others. On our church plant team, where people come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, it takes some WORK to develop relationships. It is so worth it. I think this is the first community that I’ve been a part of that acknowledges and celebrates its diversity.
  • About to be a graduate student (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Heading back to get my Master’s in Social Work in August. Excited to learn and gain a skill set to serve Charlotte better.
  • HUMBLED. Like, just very aware that I have no idea what I’m doing. Very aware of my need for God. Very aware of my need for my church family and their wisdom.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about the journey I’m on, and at the same time, I feel so vulnerable that sometimes I feel queasy. Here’s to doing hard things!

Brides: Create Intimate Moments

If I could offer one piece of advice to future brides about their wedding day, it would be this: create intimate moments.

I woke up on my wedding day at 4 a.m. in the fetal position. I was a total ball of nerves – I think I ate one bite of a blueberry bagel the entire day, and felt like I was having a complete out-of-body experience. It wasn’t cold feet, it was just impossible for me to process the gravity of the day and bear the weight of the expectations I had set for such a profound event.

In hindsight, I can see that my wedding weekend was like a well-planned wave that I was riding. My bridesmaids began arriving on Thursday, we had a lake day with the boys and my bachelorette party on Friday, and on Saturday we had a bridal luncheon and rehearsal dinner. Sunday was the wedding day, fetal position day.

The older I get, the more I realize that I have a deep need for processing experiences. If I don’t, I can’t be present. I’ll shut down on the big days if I don’t have a moment to breathe. I am Stonewall Jackson. I don’t cry, I just get steely and uptight. It happens when I have big “goodbyes.” It happened at high school graduation and college graduation. Unfortunately, I always realize that too late in the game. On my wedding weekend, my bridesmaids were everything that I needed them to be and more – thrilled, squeal-y, prayerful, thoughtful, helpful, and SO fun. So was my family! As is so often the case, the problem wasn’t my circumstances, the problem was me.

Now, I have to give myself a little grace. This was my first rodeo, and I’d only been in one wedding previous to my own – I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. But in hindsight, I realize that from Thursday – Sunday, I didn’t have a moment alone. Not a moment for thought, for prayer, to write, or to just be. Not a moment to process what was happening to me or the commitment that I was making. And when I woke up at 4 a.m. on June 22, 2014, I was too far gone. I did not know what to do with myself. I did not know how to feel. I was Ricky Bobby.

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All was not lost – I remember clinging to my dad just before walking down the aisle, and saying vows that I really meant. I remember dancing with my dad and laughing our heads off. And it worked! I got married to the love of my life. I really think God was glorified in our ceremony. Pictures were taken. People danced. Nearly everyone I love was there, even though I didn’t get the chance to talk to many of them. We left in a blaze of glory/sparklers and in the aftermath, I think it took me approximately three days to feel emotionally available.

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Many brides describe their wedding day as a blur, and I don’t claim to be offering a conclusive solution to that problem. But – I can tell you what I would have done differently. I would have tried to create intimate moments.

I would have stolen an hour of time just with Bryant the night before our wedding to talk about how excited we were, to pray together, and to be giddy. I would have taken time just with my mom, and just with my dad, to process that I was about to leave them and become one with my husband. I would have taken some time to myself to pray and understand my emotions.

I’ve seen friends do this well. I know couples who have taken 10 minutes after their ceremony before pictures and before the reception just to process together the fact that THEY’D JUST BEEN MARRIED. Our friends Haylee and Nick had a “last dance” together – everyone stepped outside of their reception venue to line up and prepare for their exit, and they had one last dance together alone before leaving.

This post is not about the first-world problem of not having a “perfect” wedding. Reflecting on my wedding day allows me to realize that I have wasted too much time waiting for life’s “big” moments, only to miss those moments because I don’t know how to be present in them. It has been hard for me to admit that I have regrets about my wedding day, and the perfectionist in me has had a hard time letting this go. I feel like there’s pressure to pretend that it was a perfect day. It was intrinsically good, but it wasn’t perfect.

Taking the time to reflect on this day helps me see times in my life where I’ve failed to be, as Shauna Niequist says, present over perfect.

Present over perfect looks like laughing my head off with Anna Dimock at her rehearsal dinner as we try to cut a chocolate cake and it crumbles all over us and into the floor.

Present over perfect looks like taking the scenic route home with my dad after work, even it if takes longer, just to enjoy the time together.

Present over perfect looks like giving up on the fancy meal I tried to make that ended up gross, throwing it in the trash, and ordering a pizza + jumping in the lake with Bryant instead.

Present over perfect looks like laughing at myself when I spilled raspberry vinaigrette all over my khaki pants at work and laughing instead of crying. (I think?)

Sometimes I get this right, but I too often get it wrong. I am praying that God gives me, you, us more opportunities to live more fully wherever we are!

These Things I Do

I was honored to author a guest post for my friend, Anna, at www.ihearditwithmyeyes.com this week, titled These Things I Do.

It can be so easy for me to slip into patterns of measuring my spiritual health by the things I’m doing – not by what is going on in my heart between me and God.

These Things I Do is about taking an honest assessment of your spiritual life to discover how you are experiencing God’s grace and interacting with the truth of the gospel. 

Head over to www.ihearditwithmyeyes.com to check it out, and to read more from Anna and Lauren! 

Losing Control

On May 25, 2015 – Memorial Day – I took the first step. I admitted I had a problem. I was completely out of control in the most literal sense – that is, I was on a tube behind a ski boat in the middle of a busy lake, flying over wake and screaming my guts out.

While the “normal” version of myself would have found this enjoyable, the new, not-improved version of myself that has been displaying itself recently did not find it enjoyable. Instead of an internal monologue of “woooooohooooooo” or “yaaaaaaaaaas”, I was having more of a “this-is-definitely-how-we-are-dying-in-a-freak-accident-this-is-the-end-i-love-you-mom-and-dad” moment. When I was SURE my shoulder was about to come out of socket, I let go and went skidding across the water.

Spoiler alert: I did not die in a freak accident that day, but the panicky way I reacted to something that should have been fun made me realize that something larger was going on in my heart. We’ll call it anxiety.

Though I have been known to stress out from time to time, historically speaking, I am not a worrier. Then, on a sunny day last June, I married a man who likes to do gainers off 60 foot cliffs and things might’ve started changing for me around that time. Granted, I was the one who (accidentally) led us through python-infested mangroves on our honeymoon, but I am not one for danger.

I think my anxiety began with what we’ll call the Great Sunscreen Battle. The Great Sunscreen Battle was a long and circular battle, which can be summarized like this:

Me: Babe, can I put some sunscreen on your back?

Bryant: No, I don’t burn.

*Burns to a crispy lobster red*

Me: Bryant, you are burnt.

Bryant: No, I just tan red.

(Repeat)

At some point I started researching melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and things really started deteriorating from there. I became convinced that my life partner was surely dying of skin cancer, and probably right after we had 5 babies, so I’d be left alone with a brood of towheads that would never know their daddy. I did not think about this all the time, but I started to dread the sunscreen conversation every time we were headed to the lake or beach.

There was also the bike ramp, which I enjoy seeing happen on Nitro Circus, etc., but not really when no one’s wearing a helmet and launching themselves off of our dock over a precarious piece of plywood. I’d cringe every time Bryant went over that thing, imagining things going awry before he made it to the end of the dock and him hitting his head on one of the posts.

Then there’s the whole driving situation, which is that Bryant is a terrifying driver. And he’s always on the phone for work, answering a thousand calls and listening to a thousand voicemails, so I started thinking about that a lot and experiencing the impending doom of a traffic accident in Charlotte’s terrible rush-hour traffic.

I was sure that if I could just convince him to wear sunscreen, to wear a helmet, to not be so reckless, to keep his phone in his glove box when he drives – that I could keep him alive forever. That if he would just do what I said, then he wouldn’t have to die of preventable causes.

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…like cliff jumping…

This past week, it seems like tragedy after tragedy had occurred – not to my friends or family, but to friends of friends. A woman from Charlotte was hiking with her family on Crowder’s Mountain and stopped to pose for a picture with her husband when she slipped and fell 150 feet to her death. An entire family’s life forever changed in the blink of an eye. Two girls I went to school with have died over the past two weeks in tragic events. Last week, a family that attends my church was rear-ended at a red light and their 2-year old son and unborn child were killed in the accident.

I can’t explain the heaviness on my heart for the tragic deaths of these people I don’t really know. I can tell you one thing though – it made me terrified. Terrified because I may be able to convince my husband to wear sunscreen (we’ve turned a corner here, PTL) but I cannot keep someone from rear-ending him in traffic. I can’t keep him from contracting a disease. I can’t keep him from slipping and falling to his death in a freak accident. I am not in control. I don’t think I even realized I was trying to be in control.

I have really been wrestling with God about this for a few days. I thought I was pretty good about trusting God with my stuff and letting go of things I can’t control – but my hands were closed on this one. HOW CAN I LIVE when the people I love could just die at any time from a freak accident? How can I live knowing everything I love will slowly start dying off if I don’t die first?

I realize that the following is a reference to AA’s 12-step program, but I always hear people (sometimes jokingly) say that “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” I did that, and decided to look up step two…

“Come to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.” 

Wow. I’ll restate it this way:

Step 2 – Have childlike faith.

This is one of those lessons I never learned personally. Jesus says this in Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

To quote my wise little brother – “Childlike faith” is a great term because it emphasizes our ignorance and impotence compared to God as well as his provisory love. Children can trust because they understand that they know little about the world they’re in, and they know they can’t provide for or protect themselves, but they know for sure that their parents can and will because of their love for the child.

My friends Laura and Jason recently had an adoption fall through a week before the baby was due. The birth mother just changed her mind. There was no good explanation for this – why had God prepared them for this child and led them down this path, only for things to fall apart at the last minute? We talked about childlike faith – Laura and Jason could trust God’s goodness in a situation that they don’t understand, or they couldn’t. Thousands of questions really came down to that. They can trust that God has a better or different plan, or they can be angry and bitter. Those seem like the only two options.

If the gospel is true, the ultimate reality that is yet to be realized is hope, not despair. I really believe that Jesus is going to make all things new. I really believe that we are a tiny dot somewhere in the arc of a long, redemptive story. But it’s so easy to forget that – to get so wrapped up in our own story and our own needs and wants that we lose perspective. But because I don’t know what God is up to, ever really, except for writing this long story of redemption, it does take FAITH – real faith – to trust in God’s goodness. Most of the time when we talk about faith we’re struggling to have it, rather than actually exercising it.

So choosing joy in the midst of tragedy and courage in the midst of fear sometimes takes this childlike faith – Yes, God. I will trust that you are in control and I am not. I will trust that you have a plan for the Earth, and recognize that the Earth does not revolve around me. Yes, God, I will trust you, because you see everything eternity past and future, and I see the slightest wedge of my individual reality in my individual lifetime.

I get why religious skeptics think faith and the message of the cross is foolishness. If faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” I’m not sure I can win any argument, much less one about matters of faith that have come from years of study, reading, experiencing God, and living in Christian community. Childhood is a state in which people seem so helpless, so impractically optimistic, so immature and unaware of the world. Yet I’ve realized that no amount of intellectual knowledge or striving has brought any real peace to my troubled heart, so I cling to the redemptive truth of Jesus’ promises.

The older I get, the more I admire this kind of simplicity. Not just materially, but also in patterns of thinking. What I’m not commending is ignorance, but rather a thoughtful choice amidst the chaos to avoid overcomplicating matters of life. I have a coworker named Marge who is my hero. Her husband died suddenly two years ago, and she is one of the most lively, social, joyful, lovely and bright people I’ve ever known. One day I asked her how she had coped with the loss of her husband, and how she continued to live such a full life without her life partner of 50+ years. I remember being struck by the simplicity of her answer: “You have to believe that there is still life to be lived.”

There are times in my life when I’ve been bogged down by big questions – existential questions, self doubt, questions about my beliefs and their role in society, IS MY HUSBAND GOING TO DIE? I enjoy being thoughtful about these things, except the husband dying thing, but sometimes I get so deep in my own head that I can’t see simple realities, simple truths, accept and act on what IS instead of my idea of what should be.

There is courage and maturity in admitting you’re not in control. And once you work through the fear, there’s also peace.

“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)

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How to Visit Greece on a Budget (and other ways to fail when you try)

Well, friends – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again –  no adventure is any good without a little misadventure, and based on that standard, this trip was one for the books.

This Grecian dream first became a reality when I was enjoying one of my favorite pastimes during a lunch break – looking up flights ok Kayak – and I noticed dirt cheap flights out of DC to Athens. I immediately called Bryant three times, causing him to step out of a meeting because he was afraid it was an “emergency” (it was), and we ended up booking the tickets after taking a few days to think about it.

I should now mention that these cheap tickets were with Russian airline Aeroflot, and that our layovers were in Moscow. When we bought the flights, we had a 2 hour layover on the way there, making our travel time about 14 hours (great for US to Greece). On the way back, however, we had a 17 hour layover in Moscow. We were actually really excited about this, thinking we’d be able to see some of Moscow – the Kremlin, Mummy Lenin, etc. – a city we’d likely never visit again.

Let’s start from here.

STEP 1: Buy cheap flights through Vayama with seemingly terrible layovers in the wrong name.

About a month after we booked,  I realized I’d booked the flight in my maiden name, then sent my passport off to be renewed in my married name. This is a big, bad problem…it’s not easy to change your name without paying tons of fees. Just ask Adam West.

After realizing that, our flight from Moscow to Athens was cancelled,  making our layover 11 hours instead of 2.

We then realized that Vayama, the online booking agent we used by Kayak’s recommendation, was completely useless in helping us navigate these changes, and I spent hours on the phone over the period of a month getting a different answer from every person I talked to. Cheers! Don’t use Vayama. Ever.

About a month before the trip, I was finally sent confirmation that I could get on the plane – which was a little nerve wracking.

STEP 2: Make the most of a long layover.

I always imagined Russia to look very bleak and grey, and maybe that’s still true for Moscow proper, but I was surprised how green and forested the outskirts of Moscow were from the air. It was actually quite lovely. The airport (SVO) was also nice. We complained about our cancelled flight and resulting layover at the Aeroflot desk, and 10 minutes later we were following a tall, blonde speed walker who handed us off to a mustached lady who let us to a charter bus. A whole charter bus for four of us…

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We drove right across the runway to a security gate and were taken to a nearby hotel, where we checked in, were escorted to a floor with a security guard, and left to rest. I keep referring to this as “house arrest” because the security guard was there to keep us IN, not to keep others OUT. But the room was simple and clean and we slept a full eight hours and were given a free meal before being escorted back to our charter bus, this time full of foreigners like us.

STEP 3: Accidentally book the best hotel/hotel room Athens has to offer.

Upon arriving in Athens from Moscow, we caught the very last train of the night from the airport into town. A sudden concern for our own well-being after sitting on a airplane for so long inspired us to carry our luggage up six flights of stairs instead of taking the teeny refrigerator-sized elevator up. When we finally threw our stuff down in the room we were ready. to. crash.

UNTIL…we realized we had a private balcony with this view:

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Hmmmm wat? I booked this hotel thinking it was barely not a hostel, but it was actually the greatest. The Acropolis is a sight to see, especially lit up at night, just looming 512′ over the rest of the town. Bryant and I jumped up and down on the balcony, before heading to the rooftop garden to enjoy the view. Heading to Athens anytime soon? I can’t recommend A for Athens enough.

STEP 4: Only spend one day in Athens.

Once the sun rose on our beautiful view, you could see the abundance of graffiti and trash that covers Athens. I wonder what Athens would look like had spray paint not been invented? Hard to say. We headed to the Acropolis first thing after breakfast on the rooftop garden of our hotel, as we’d heard it gets very crowded in the early afternoon.

People have been building and destroying things on the Acropolis since the FIFTH CENTURY B.C. – let that sit for a minute. The views from the top of the ‘crop (TM) were beautiful – Athens just seems to go on forever.

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We arrived thinking we’d be able to take a self-guided tour but were surprised that few artifacts/structures had so much as a plaque telling what we were looking at. I left feeling like a failure who needed to take a class in Greek history, or at least watch a documentary. I imagined Plato giving me a chastising glance at my lack of historical appreciation for what I was seeing. But then things started to look like this:

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So we got the heck outta dodge.

We walked around the old town the rest of the day, through a bunch of flea markets and shops and the National Gardens. I bought a new purse and Bryant fell down some stairs and spilled his coffee all over himself. All in a day’s work. We got some gyros for two euro and watched the sun go down on a Greek rap battle from our hotel balcony.

If you’re a regular gal like me and are spending a week in Greece, not an aimless backpacker with an affinity for Greek history, don’t spend more than a day in Athens. We enjoyed our day, but I don’t know what we would’ve done with another one.

STEP 4: Ryanair to Santorini

When heading to Santorini, Ryanair, one of the dirt cheap airlines in Europe (I once flew across Spain for 12 euro), is the way to go. Flights from Athens to Santorini are only about 45 minutes and only marginally more expensive than a ferry, which will take you 5-8 hours. Ferries are a great option for getting from island to island, but fly from the mainland to Santorini.

STEP 5: Pick your village

I consulted Santorini Dave to determine that Oia was our place. You should too: http://santorinidave.com/

STEP 6: Air BnB

I am a huge fan of Air B&B, and it’s gotten so popular you can find a place pretty much anywhere these days. Air B&B is a website that allows anyone to rent a shared room, private room, or whole place out to travelers. I’ve had several great experiences with this service, and you get a lot more bang for your buck than you would at a hotel. We stayed at an incredible villa in Oia, the “postcard” town on the island. If you’ve seen the pictures of whitewashed houses stacked on top of each other, they were probably taken in Oia. We stayed at the Villa Marina, and it was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that there were constant crowds at the entry gate to our place trying to take pictures.

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STEP 8: Splurge wisely

Here’s how we ate well and had a blast without spending tons of money:

FOOD: We packed quite a few snacks in our backpacks (cheddar bunnies, cliff bars, etc.) so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy snacks in the airport or on the island. We also went grocery shopping on our first day and bought some basic items so we didn’t have to eat out each meal. Instead of splurging on every meal, we ate a lot affordable and delicious crepes and splurged on a few meals here and there. Our BEST meal on the island (maybe our best meal ever?) was at Roka, our second-best at  The Red Bicycle, and we also paid an outrageous price for some fresh-as-it-gets scorpion fish at Katina. Our favorite breakfast/dessert place was Melenio Café – unreal fruit and yogurt parfaits and good coffee for breakfast, endless amazing desserts for after dinner.

FUN: Renting four-wheelers is a must – you can drive them all over the island and spend days exploring the other villages and beaches. Take these (sort of) trusty steeds to the lighthouse for some spectacular views, to Perissa to drive along the beach, and park in Fira to explore.

One thing to note about Santorini is that it’s not a “beach” place – there are several beaches, but they aren’t what you’d expect. The Red beach and White beach can barely be called beaches (my humble opinion), and the black beach (Perissa) is pretty great except for the fact that the sand is black and will blister your feet – flip flops are a must! If I were you and you were me, we’d spend a day at Perissa and skip the others. Amoudi Bay in Oia is the best place for swimming, but is more like what we’d call a swimming hole in the states. All rocks, platforms/cliffs/rocks to jump off of, etc. The water is gorgeous and crystal clear, but very chilly even into June when we went.

Here’s Bryant doing a gainer at Amoudi Bay. He lived.

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Our big fun splurge was a sunset catamaran cruise that included snorkeling, dinner, and a stop at the hot springs (skip these, they are lukewarm at best and will ruin your bathing suit). That was easily one of my favorite days, and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the island. There are many companies offering this type of cruise for similar prices.

Our catamaran captain Ilia. Best friends.
Our catamaran captain Ilia. Best friends.

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Finally, I’ll end this post with the donkey rides. You may have seen movies that were set in Greece, and seen people gracefully ride a donkey sidesaddle to their quaint accommodation. This is a lie.

First, the donkeys are mules, and the rides are only available from Amoudi Bay up to a residential area in Oia. It’s strictly a touristy thing. The day before we took our mule ride, we watched from our balcony as a mule spooked and took off up the hill with a girl as she screamed “STOP” over and over in the most blood-curdling voice I’ve ever heard. I think she will be scarred for life.

But, since we are decent horseback riders and it was only 5 euro, we decided to do it anyway. It was hilariously miserable – our mules jostled each other like a group of preteen boys trying to win a three-legged race all the way up the hill, dragging our legs on rocks and running into each other the entire time. The pinnacle of suffering came when another mule turned the corner in front of me, stopped, and pooped DIRECTLY on my thigh. DIRECTLY ON THERE. I think my face in the photo below just says it all. Bryant and I will probably laugh about this experience fifty years from now. It was terrible and everyone should do it.

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If you made it through all 1,882 words of this – I commend you.

 

6 Steps to Cultivate Community

When our Bible Study group cracked Acts 2 last Tuesday, it didn’t take us long to dive deep into conversation about “community” – what is it? How do we cultivate it? What does it look like at this stage of life?

Acts 2:42-47 paints a beautiful picture of community that the early church modeled. They were devoted to one another; committed to learning and praying and breaking bread together. They “shared everything they had.”

It’s no secret that cultural and technological changes have drastically changed the way we interact with one another. Moreover, my husband and I live in a city where it takes around 30 minutes to get anywhere – double that with rush hour traffic. This alone makes it difficult to have commitments on weeknights, and when you add in work and travel schedules, it becomes clear that having good community is not a passive process.

Here are six simple ideas we try to embrace…

Continue reading at: http://blogsbychristianwomen.com/2015/06/6-steps-cultivate-community/

How We Rest

When getting to know people, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is your favorite place on earth?” When I try to answer this question myself, I tend to think of moments in time rather than locations – rounding Camps Bay in an open-top bus as the sun sets; waking up on June 23rd to hop a plane to Mexico; driving country roads with my Dad in his convertible and blasting the instrumental version of Eleanor Rigby – I savor these memories with tenderness and joy. But a specific place?
If you were to ask my husband the question, “What is your favorite place?” he’d respond “EDISTO BEACH” loudly, and with conviction. He’s been making memories at a family house on the sound side of this quiet island since he was a kid, and his enthusiasm for everything about it is unmatched. We took last Friday off and headed south for the long weekend, and one of the friends who joined us happens to be a talented photographer – thanks Sarah Pascutti for the images!

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Seeing my husband’s unbridled joy at sitting on the dock for hours in ratty shorts and a straw hat, catching blue crabs and “living off the land”, made me thoughtful about the rest that he needs, and how rest looks different for each of us.

I used to think of rest as the antithesis of work –  doing nothing. So I’d do my best to have a restful “lazy day” by laying on the couch and watching TV. At the end of a day like this, instead of feeling refreshed and whole, I’d be stir crazy and on the brink of an identity crisis.  I realize that some of you may be thinking my dream is to spend a Saturday on the couch, and that is ok. I enjoy inactivity in short spurts, but I’ve had to realize that long periods of inactivity do not rejuvenate me.

Rest, rather than being the antithesis of work, is about freedom. As Tim Keller puts it,

God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Bryant’s demeanor while we were at Edisto is the best example of rest as a “declaration of freedom” that I can think of. Those who have visited that island with him know that he is free there – enthusiastic, energetic, and, at the end of the day, exhausted. He comes alive and brings the rest of us along with him. As our friend Hannah put it, “I wish we could just bottle (this version of Bryant) up!”

Ironically, the more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I am, the harder it is for me to do the things that actually make me feel rested. As mentioned above, long periods of mindless inactivity do not make me feel free, and do not make me come alive. They make me feel like a slave to laziness, to indifference, to next episode playing in 12 seconds… It’s less about turning off my brain, and more about feeding my soul the right things.

For me, as someone who does not “downshift casually”, rest is an act of will – something that I have to prepare for and then intentionally carry out.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking…The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction (Tim Keller).

Prayer is rest. Reading is rest. Writing is rest. Taking a canoe trip across the lake with Bryant is rest.  Quiet conversation with soul-friends is rest. Taking a walk with my Mom is rest. Meditating (I’m terrible at this) is rest. Even exercise can be rest. This is how God restores my soul, grounds me, and reminds me of his goodness in the Psalm 23 sense:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

What God Taught Me About Marriage Taught Me About God

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Easily the most life-changing lesson I’ve learned in the past year is that of commitment. As I’ve written before, commitment is not something I naturally valued. As I look back on the past 18 months, I can see the big, big ways my life has changed and it goes back to this paradigm shift that occurred in my life.

As humans in general and especially as Christians, we build our lives on beliefs and values. However, many times, we don’t live as if what we say we believe is actually true. Instead of exercising faith, we struggle to have it at all. Instead of acting or reacting in the way we always hoped we would, we freak out. We act on what we feel, not what we claim to know. We act on our short-sightedness, not from a place of patience and courage. We like to think that we are in control.

The thing is, we really have little control over the things around us. But we can make commitments – and by doing so create safe places to be, grow, and find reconciliation when we mess up.

When I married my husband, our past experiences had already taught me that life together would not always be easy, and that there would be times I would want to bolt. So when I vowed to stand by him for life, I was telling him that I would not leave him, and that when our romantic love was running on empty, the commitment that I made to him would sustain our marriage. As I’ve heard it said before, “the love does not sustain the commitment – rather, the commitment sustains the love.” My commitment to him is the foundation of our marriage, and the love that we share is a product of that promise that I will not leave him. There is a lot of freedom in that. It means the success of our marriage does not depend on how our hormones are behaving that day or how often I get butterflies when Bryant walks through the door, but rather on the bond we have created through our commitment. This commitment frees us from being ruled by our emotions – and sometimes I have a lot of emotions. The commitment we made allows me to act from what I KNOW, not from how I FEEL.

My relationship with God used to be a roller-coaster as well. When I wouldn’t sit down for a “quiet time” with God for a week, I would experience guilt – like I had stood God up for lunch and we weren’t “good”. When I would mess up – sin – I would get all emotional and distraught and just confuse myself because I was so dramatic. When I wouldn’t “feel” God, I would wane in my faith. A sobering thing started to happen when I began to think about my relationship with God as a COMMITMENT…a simple concept that had been lost on me until I started to walk in out with Bryant. I realized that my relationship with Jesus was a commitment just like my marriage is a commitment – meaning that I act on what I know and what God has promised rather than how I feel.

There are plenty of days I don’t feel like honoring my commitment to follow Jesus’ teachings and to do all the crazy things he claims – love my enemies, show hospitality to strangers, die to my own desires, etc. But If I believe that he offers LIFE that is truly LIFE, I press on to try to carry out that commitment.  I am not pretending I am great at loving my enemies and what not – these things are hard with God and impossible without Him, but I am trying to learn and grow.

Our emotions are a tricky thing. It matters how we feel, but living a life with the aim of avoiding every difficult feeling, either consciously or subconsciously, is not going to get us anywhere. Things are hard, and that’s how we grow. Sometimes our emotions are wrong. Sometimes people say things and we take them the wrong way. Sometimes we read situations wrong. Acting off of these wrong emotions often brings about negative consequences. Sometimes we just need to talk ourselves down. Pick our battles. Let things go. Think about the impact that our words and actions have instead of justifying everything we do by how we were feeling at the time.

My commitment to Bryant doesn’t dissolve when I no longer feel the way I did when I made the commitment. In the same way, my commitment to God is not based on my emotions. I am thankful for the freedom in this good news.


Promise keeping is a powerful means of grace in a time when people hardly depend on each other to remember and live by their word.

A human promise is an awesome reality. When a woman makes a promise, she thrusts her hand into the unpredictable circumstances of her tomorrow and creates an enclave of predictable reality. When a man makes a promise, he creates an island of certainty in a heaving ocean of uncertainty. Can any human act, other than the act of forgiving, be more divine?

(Lewis Smedes)

My Anti-Bucket List: The Things I Won’t Do

Our sweet, simple Casa de Rogers.

Bryant and I were having a talk last night about how fast time is flying by – how weeks fly and we do all we can to keep up with work and friends. Our life really is quite simple – we both work full-time, are involved in a spiritual community (church + small group Bible study), we both act as volunteer tutors once a week, and we both love having people over. We don’t try to do anything big and complicated, but it often seems like just working and keeping up with friends and finding time for our marriage leave little room for anything else – hobbies, projects, exploring new places in Charlotte…

There aren’t many “things” I want to cut out of my life. Again, our life outside of work is based on relationships, and that’s how I want it to be. However, I find myself wishing I had more time to do the things I love. Instead of cutting “events” from my life, I started to think a little differently – what time-wasters can I eliminate? What thoughts to I need to “take captive” so that my mind is centered around the things of God?

Some of our Charlotte community last weekend celebrating Bryant’s baptism.

I first heard of the idea for a list like this from author Shauna Niequest, and my friend Ashley reminded me of it last week. The idea is that we “prune” our lives – get rid of good things to make way for the best things or the right things. Instead of a “bucket list”, make a list of things I won’t do.

Before I started writing this post, I had no idea how hard it would be to say “never”.  I’ve realized that these “things I won’t do” are more like “things I will try hard not to do” – so many days I’m living the Romans 7 life – For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

For what it’s worth after that disclaimer, here’s my list:


The Things I Won’t Do

Apologize for liking to write.

I love to write. I love to explore a thought or idea, to reflect on something I’m learning, and I love the conversation that sharing my writing brings about. It is one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever done – it wakes my soul and gets my mind going. It gives me a space to experience silence and solitude that I can’t seem to find doing anything else. So, instead of feeling insecure and worrying that others will think my words are silly and uninformed, I will just write. And I won’t apologize for liking it; for the good things it does for my soul.

Make the bed

B and I are getting pretty grown up, but we have not reached “pillow sham” level adulthood. We have a sheet set and a quilt, so even when we “make the bed”, so our distinguished guests can come over for distinguished dinner parties (sarcasm), it’s nothing to write home about. I’m not even sure it counts as “making the bed” if all you can technically do is pull the quilt up…? We used to have a white comforter with shams, but it got demoted to the guest bedroom for reasons involving red clay that appeared in our washer, etc. So we don’t…or can’t…make the bed. Mom I am so sorry.

Debate the gray instead of engaging real issues

In this culture of outrage, it seems that everyone is always angry about…everything. I am not a naturally critical person, and I remember feeling steamrolled sometimes in my Political Science classes when many of my classmates seemed to be so fiercely opinionated. From where I sit, it seems that the people who make real change are rarely those who have enraged, inflammatory things to say. The people who seem to have the most impact on the world for good – the people I’d consider personal heroes – are humble, compassionate servants. Bold and gentle, because you can be both. They are hesitant to say things that draw attention to themselves, but work tirelessly to defend the cause they care so deeply about. They don’t waste their time debating gray areas on the internet – they put some skin in the game and go to work. My heart is to be more like that.

Ignore complicated realities

I believe in truth. The absolute kind. And while I think there is black and white in this world, the way we engage situations is rarely black and white. To ignore the more complicated reality behind what’s “black and white” is to dehumanize the problem. For example, I tutor kids that, statistically speaking, are likely to live their entire lives below the poverty line. One boy in our group can’t read, write, or speak in English – yet he has advanced to the fifth grade. These are good kids. They have changed the way I view education, immigration, and have reminded me that everyone has a story. Neither they nor their families deserve the blanket statements and stereotypes that are spoken over them. They humanize the problem, and it’s a paradigm shift for me.

Hate the government

Did you know that an estimated 4 billion people live outside the protection of the law? Did you know that someone who sexually assaults a child in Bolivia is is more likely to die slipping in the shower or bathtub than to be sentenced to jail for their crime? Yes, our government and justice systems are flawed. That much is obvious, especially after a week like this one. But I thank God that our country does not experience the kind of systematic violence, corruption, and gross injustice that is a reality for half of humanity. I do realize I’m writing this as a middle class white girl, and do not mean to understate the issues our country has. Check out ijm.org for sources and more info – and maybe a little perspective.

Knit

I have friends who are expert knitters. My friend Nannette could probably knit something nice enough for me to live in –  I mean as a shelter, not as a piece of clothing. I’m saying she might be able to knit a house. I went on a retreat last Christmas with my family and knitted my little heart out trying to create a “cowl” or “chunky scarf” (I think this is the easiest thing you can knit?) as a therapeutic activity. It was an utter failure. I am not sure I am delicate enough to knit, or patient enough, and since I have the attention span of Donnie from the Wild Thornberries it is pretty hard to keep count of the stitches. So I don’t/won’t knit.

This was fun. What’s on your list?

A Longing for Shalom

Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Have you ever longed for it?

When I was a kid I used to think heaven would be a bunch of castles on a cloud made of glass and gold and jewels. The only “jewels” I was familiar with were the ones in my Pretty Pretty Princess game and my mom’s costume jewelry, so in hindsight it was a tacky, tacky place.

Then, someone told me that heaven was where we “worshipped God forever,” so I took that very literally and assumed it meant that we’d stand and sing songs at God while he sat on a throne in front of us. Forever. Which sounded kind of horrible, if I’m being honest.

As an adult, I haven’t thought much about heaven until recently, until I was in a “rut”. “Rut”, for me, this time, can be translated as “I have woken up for five days in a row and carried on with the mindset that I am a general failure of a person.” Dramatic? Yes. True? Mostly.

For the first few days of my “rut” I tried finding perspective and deciding that I was going to “feel better because I should”. Sometimes when I’m feeling a little low, I forget that it can be a struggle to choose joy and thankfulness over “blah”. Being joyful on easy days is simple, but I often forget that being joyful on a difficult day is not a passive process.

Against all logic (You have a great family! Jesus! Great friends! A great job!), I’ll find myself back on the couch again, sinking deeper into a routine that does not feed my soul anything but junk. (Side tangent: Are you in a rut? Stop watching TV. Deactivate your Facebook. Seriously. Go outside. Read. Write. Feed your soul good things.)

During this time, I read Shauna Niequist’s blog post titled “You Are Enough“. In it, she makes the case that each of us is valued because we are created in the image of God. I read that, and decided I didn’t care – decided it just wasn’t “meeting my standard” to be valued equally right along with every other human on Earth (cringe). That didn’t sit well with me, no, I needed to be the best human out there! Sorry Mother Teresa, I’m gunning for your spot. (Someone could write a book on how everything I just said makes me a terrible human, but let’s carry on…)

Seeing such ugliness and self-centeredness in my heart led me to admit there was a deeper issue going on that I needed to get introspective about. Not pollen, not hormones. Sin.

We humans have quite a bit of capacity for good, but our real specialty is taking the good things God gives us and making them cheap and empty with our sin. When I pause to take an honest assessment of myself, I see that this world is not as it should be, and I’m part of the reason it’s not. Sometimes the things I like most about myself turn into the most self-destructive parts of my life. Ambition, for example, can be directed at worthy and purposeful things that I can do heartily unto the Lord. Or, I can get competitive and only think about being better than everyone else around me, which is all about me and completely rejects the Body of Christ God asks us to build up in 2 Corinthians. There are a thousand things that were created for good that we drive to ruin. Consider alcoholism. Consider the commercialization of sex.

From where I sit today, I don’t wonder or care too much about what heaven will look like. Is it even three-dimensional? Will the food be any good? Wait – will we eat? I don’t know much about how I’ll spend my time either, or if “time” will even exist in the way we grasp it now. I doubt it. But I think I can imagine how I’ll feel – whole.

God has given us desires – things we all desire. To love and be loved. To be valued. To be cared for. We all have these desires, and we all try to fulfill them in different ways. More times than I’d like to admit, I turn away from Jesus and what I need and toward something I think I want.

An example: We have the desire to love and be loved, but instead of “considering others better than ourselves” and “bear(ing) one another’s burdens” in deep relationship with each other (a way to healthily fill that desire), we are glued to Social Media. Instead of doing the dirty work of relationship, we want to be admired from afar and show only our “best side”. It’s cheap and empty. It accomplishes the exact opposite of what we really need. It creates distance and removes purpose instead of facilitating love and grace in real relationship.

In one of my favorite teachings of all time, Tim Keller talks about the biblical concept of shalom – universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.  (Find it here: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/justice) The idea of shalom is everything in God’s creation weaving together as it should. But we contribute to the breakdown of society when we put ourselves first, he says. We put ourselves first because we desire to be important and valued – and our pride leads us to believe that we aren’t important or valued unless we reach some threshold we’ve created in our minds. I’ll be ________ enough when I ____________.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” – C.S. Lewis

So now when I imagine heaven like this:

A place where I know fully what I sometimes believe on my best days – that I am already loved and valued by God in a way that I cannot acquire anywhere else no matter what I do. I will finally know and operate out of that in full.

I imagine heaven as a place where all the desires of my heart are fulfilled, but not the ugly, sinful desires that pride draws me to.

I imagine heaven as a place where I can enjoy God and others fully because I will see that I AM, in fact, deeply loved, wanted, and valued by my heavenly father. A place where I can finally enjoy the good gifts that a good God wants to give us, without trying to use them for my own selfish gain.

Can you imagine? A place where these desires we try to fill with all the wrong things are finally being filled with all the right things?

Can you imagine the joy? The contentment? Can you imagine the companionship you’ll feel with others when the thought of comparing yourself to them never crosses your mind? Can you imagine the freedom? The things we want on earth – peace, an end to suffering – all becoming true?

“When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both the body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.”

– Tim Keller

I dream of a place where my soul feels at home. I see glimpses of heaven – in the commitment my husband and I share, in the love between my parents and I, in friends who embrace their broken parts and mine too. I used to get freaked out by the idea that I won’t be married in heaven (Matthew 22:30), but this paradigm shift opens up a whole new way of thinking – I now imagine being so satisfied in my desire for love and companionship that nothing will be lost. (I still hope I get to hang out with you in heaven, babe!)

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So, do I long for heaven? Now I do. Definitely not the formal, stoic “let’s sing at God forever” heaven I used to imagine, but shalom. Every time I see my selfishness, I long for a day when I can fully consider others above myself. Every time I watch the news and my heart breaks for this world, I long for it. Every time a baby is born with no one to care for it, I want Jesus to come back. Every time a child is abused and my stomach turns and my chest tightens, I long for something that I don’t see here, but I believe will come.

I don’t long for heaven in a morbid way, not in eagerness for death. But in eagerness for life. For shalom.

“Has this world been so kind that you should leave with regret? There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis