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!

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The Secret of Contentment

The Secret of Contentment – a state of mind, not a matter of circumstance.

The secret to contentment is owning a Bentley. Just kidding. Ashley took this picture of us at a wedding and I just wanted to post it.
The secret to contentment is owning a Bentley. Just kidding. Ashley took this picture of us at a wedding and I just wanted to post it.

I am three months into my marriage, three months into a new job, and have lived three months in a new city. I am already restless. This is a large part of who I am, a part of my struggle. My entire life has been a series of phases – when I was a kid, I played every sport available to me, took tumbling classes, tae kwon doe, piano, guitar, rode horses, had a paintball phase, loved camping, had a stint where I was obsessed with Star Wars, the Chicago Bulls, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and NBA Street Ball 2k4. I was involved in at least five different extracurricular groups in High School and was all over the place.

College was no different – I was involved in a lot, traveled a lot, did a lot. Many of the absolute best memories of my life so far occurred in the midst of the freedom and adrenaline that comes with the adventure of “new”.

I was an overachiever and a bit of a flake – changing my mind and my interests at the drop of a hat and burning through the “next best thing” like it was my entitled right to do so. It was really fun, actually – I did so many awesome things, traveled to a lot of amazing places, went to great concerts, and made friends all around the world. I don’t think I would change many things about my past. But I had – still have –  some lessons to learn from it.

The danger of a life like that is this: discontentment. Because at some point, you have to reel in your wanderlust and think about your roots, your legacy, your loved ones, the life you want to lead. You have to realize that the things you’re chasing satisfy you temporarily, then bore you, and the addiction continues – you need another fix.

My husband taught me that when he asked me to marry him. I ran from him for years, terrified of commitment and that love would tie me down from experiencing whatever “next best thing” I craved next. Then God began to teach me the value of commitment, the divinity of promise, and the need for His children to invest themselves in things for the good of humanity and the glory of God. Not just use up experiences for our own fulfillment, and move on to the next best thing, the next “temporary high”. How does this bring value to our lives, and more importantly, how does this benefit the good of all?

If you’re like me, you’re afraid of living an un-extraordinary life. You are afraid of getting to the end of your days and realizing you didn’t live a wide and full life like you always dreamed you would. I used to think the way to prevent a disappointment like this was to live harder. Do more. Be better.

Now I think it’s about letting go.

There is a big difference in seeking fulfillment and finding contentment. When we seek fulfillment, we put the burden on ourselves to give our life meaning and purpose. We try to do admirable things so that the story we write with our lives is one worth reading. We want to do something worth remembering, something to make an impact. So we strive to do that, we push aside everything else – commitments, relationships, roots –  to try and make that happen.

Finding contentment is about being passionate about one thing – loving God and loving people – and trusting God with the rest. It is about ceasing to find your identity in your work output, your social media clout, and your influence. It is about being faithful and finding joy in what God has put before you, instead of wishing for something else. It is about loving what you have, instead of obsessing over what you want.

When I was freaking out about marriage, my friend Andrew gave me the most useful and practical analogy. It went something like this:

“It’s like your at a fancy buffet, Madisson. You are looking at all the delicious things you could choose to eat, and God walks up to you with a plate full of food saying, ‘Take this! You’ll like it – it’s good for you. It has everything you need. I know it!’ But you’re looking over his shoulder at all the things you didn’t get to try, only thinking about the things you’re missing out on.”

I often struggle to find the line where our efforts meet God’s will, so I keep trying to balance dreaming and doing with patience and practicality.  For example, I have a dream of living overseas. But what a fool I’d be to rip up the roots we already have here – to leave family and work and community and ministry – just to move to Europe or Africa for a year because I want to and think it would be adventurous and fun. Adversely, what a joy it would be to move abroad for a year if God placed an opportunity in front of us and gave it purpose.

Contentment is something firm to stand on. It’s not letting praise get to your head nor failure to your heart. It’s a laser-focus on what matters, walking a path that winds through deserts and gardens and stormy weather and sickness and health and ultimately knowing where the path leads, even if at times you can barely walk it.

There is a desire for contentment that often eludes us. “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” ― Spurgeon

We seem surprised when then rich and famous struggle, take their own lives, deal with addiction, citing that they had, “everything they could want.” Likewise, we seem surprised when we see poor families who are rich in joy and happiness, saying something like “they have nothing, but they’re so happy anyway!” But it is a lie to believe that contentment has anything to do with having plenty or being in want. Perhaps that’s why the rich and famous seem to be involved in scandal after scandal – when your dreams are realized and you’re still unhappy, what do you do with that? And to use Andrew’s analogy again, perhaps the blessing of the poor is that they aren’t tempted to look over God’s shoulder at what they don’t have, but instead are thankful for each gift.

It’s easy to talk about theories of contentment, harder to actually put them into practice.

I am making a commitment this week. A list of things I will and will not do – simple things – a list of ways to be present and thankful. Maybe you can make your own list.

1. I will not go ok Kayak.com or look at Groupon Getaways, Travelzoo, or Cheap Caribbean this week. Because I just went to Mexico on my honeymoon and am an entitled idiot for thinking I have to go on another big trip this year.

2. In the time I will save by not looking at every budget travel site known to man, I will read a book this week. I will underline my favorite passages and enjoy the warmth that comes with relating to an author.

3. I will wear a scarf and boots and go on a walk down our long, wooded road with my husband to celebrate Fall weather and Fall things.

4. I will cook a healthy and delicious meal – or at least try to – light some candles, turn off my phone, and sit down at the dining room table with Bryant to eat it.

5. I will go meet all the neighbors on our point that I haven’t met yet and leave them with baked goods – so domestic. (This is actually a bribe so they’ll think fondly of us even when we don’t mow the yard regularly.)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(1 Timothy 6:6-12)

If you’re looking for purpose, look around.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Praise God that we are not reconciled to Him by our own efforts – by the “good” things that we do. I cannot imagine a life comparing myself to others, trying to be good “enough”, and the unbelievable rat race that would ensue. Actually, that’s probably exactly what’s happening in the world, which is why so many people are losing their minds in their pursuits of success. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

I memorized the above verses, Ephesians 2:8-9, as a kid in a scripture memorization class. We were talking about the plan for “salvation” – or, how to be reconciled with God. Somehow, I feel like I always overlooked verse ten. When I was younger, I used to think about God’s “will” for my life as a puzzle that one day I was going to figure out. I remember being so shocked when someone told me that a “blueprint was never going to fall from the sky into (my) lap.” How inconsiderate of God, I thought, to not tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m doing my best here, right?

We all want our life to count for something. I would like to suggest that we overcomplicate things. If we’re looking for purpose, we should look around. In verse 10, we are reminded that while we are not saved by our “good works”, God delights in giving us opportunities to serve him and serve others. How silly it is that we think our purpose in life is centered around our career, or marriage, or whatever. It’s in everything. We miss God when we look past today and tomorrow to make self-serving plans for a future that we can’t control.

When I look around, I see need everywhere. That is not an exaggeration. I see poor people who lack basic needs. I see addicts who lack freedom (a good moment to note that most of us are addicted to something, whether it’s something “socially acceptable” or not). I see successful people who are spiritually or relationally poor. I see loneliness. I see pain. I see neglected and unloved children. I see my own selfishness and how quick I can be to impatience. I see a God who loves justice, who has prepared good works for his people to do – and a gracious place from which to do them – and I see people (me, you) totally missing it.

I see these things and I see an invitation to come alive. God’s gift of salvation is not just an invitation to skip out on hell. It’s an invitation to live. Our pain is an invitation to experience God, and the pain of others is an invitation to find our God-given purpose in loving, serving, & giving of ourselves. In John 10:10, Jesus says he has come so that we may have “life to the full.” I used to think that was a Carpe Diem kinda thing – sort of a battle cry for adventure and love and all things that are good. Now I think about how the reality of life includes lots of darkness, and being fully alive means embracing the good with the bad – being brave enough to notice the need around us, and using whatever meager resources we may have to help. We will never do this perfectly, but it is important to try.

Looking back on my extraordinary, ordinary life, I wonder how many times I’ve missed out on the “good works” God prepared for me because the opportunities didn’t satisfy my ambitious spirit. I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed because I thought I was “overqualified” or “above” an act of service. Or too busy. Or to prideful.

I am trying to stop searching for purpose in the extraordinary and explore what it looks like to be simply faithful with what God’s placed in front of me. My peers and I sometimes seem so busy trying to be extraordinary. Maybe what the world needs are ordinary, faithful people who are committed to serving others at the expense of their own ambitions. It will always be a work in progress, I will never arrive, and as soon as I deal with one problem another one will arise. Still, I find so much hope and peace knowing that no matter where I go or what I do vocationally, God will be there, and he will be providing good works for me to carry out. He will be inviting me to come alive no matter my circumstances, no matter my job, no matter whether others see me as successful or not.

And for that I say with confidence, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

Growing Up

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Swinging over Edinburgh, Scotland.

9 January 2014

Something is happening to me. I think it might be called growing up.

Right now I’m on a flight from London Heathrow to JFK, rounding out a 12 day holiday in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I’m exactly where I want to be – going home, that is. On Tuesday in a letter to Bryant, I wrote the following:

“We are on the bus from Cork to Galway and I’m a little homesick. Homesick isn’t actually the right word – I’m not afraid, bored, feeling trapped, or any sort of lonely. Rather, I’m thinking about what’s at home and knowing it’s so much better than what I see here.“

Many things in life are a matter of perspective, and mine has been shifting. I love this quote that my friend Jennie posted recently – “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” (Miriam Beard). That has certainly been true in my travel experiences, and the situations I’ve found myself in over the years have given me perspective, new theological questions, a deeper sense of humility, sympathy and understanding for different ways of life, and an appreciation for culture. I also love the thrill of exploring a new place and meeting new people – it’s like a breath of fresh air in my lungs and can be addicting, really. At times the world has seemed bigger – so many people to meet, countries to visit, and things to learn. At other times, the world has seemed smaller – similar physical and emotional needs across cultures, improbable connections with strangers, and how quickly a location and people group can find a place in your heart.

However, in our culture and in my own life, I’ve seen a growing trend of “wanderlust” that is often just thinly veiled discontent. Travel and adventure, seizing the day and being free can often be a popular way to run from hard work, from commitment, and from investment – anything hard, permanent, or taxing. Lately, I am beginning to realize a few things…

It is my duty to be a responsible citizen.

I am almost 23 years old. I am an adult. Although somewhat true of our entire lives, something is certainly true now – my generation is beginning to have real responsibility for the world and all the good and bad that comes with it. We are moving from 22 years of education into a more tangible place of responsibility. In the truest sense, it is up to us to take that responsibility seriously. It is time for me to learn – really learn – how to take care of money; how to be a good steward of what I’ve been given and how to practice generosity. It is time for me to learn to see and meet need. Maybe you are way ahead of me and your paradigm shifted when you were sixteen – I thank God for you. But for me, although I was learning and doing important things in college, most of it felt like a practice run of sorts.

Life is changing.

I think I grew up subconsciously thinking that even though I was getting older, my parents and grandparents were always the same. As I looked forward to turning sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, I only thought about myself and the excitement that becoming a young adult would bring. Then one day I looked over at my little brother and he was six feet tall. My Mammaw was taken last October by cancer. And the friends that I grew up with and love dearly are getting married, moving away, having children. Life doesn’t slow down for anyone. And we don’t have much time together. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:14. We hear it all the time, don’t we – “Life is short.” But isn’t it? I wonder sometimes what my life would’ve been like if I’d taken a different road. It might sound silly, but I wonder occasionally what my life would look like today if, instead of selling my horse and focusing on sports in high school, I would’ve continued to make horseback riding my first priority. I’ll never know. What a strange thing it is, to live. We spend so much time trying to manage the opinions of others; so much energy trying to build our own wealth, popularity, and status and it’s so insignificant. We try to be perfect and drive ourselves crazy doing so, but don’t realize we’ll never get there because everyone’s standard of perfection looks a little different – you just can’t please everyone.

I’m here – I’m a college graduate looking into the great unknown, even though my “unknown” may have a few more pieces in place than many others in my position. I am getting married in June and moving to Charlotte. I am living in a little green house with a red door. But I’m here and I feel the pressure – the pressure to make a lot of money, the pressure to be independent and successful, the pressure to be beautiful and intelligent and well-traveled. And I feel myself pushing back against it all, asking, “Why?” “What is the point?”

As I begin this new chapter of life, there are lots of things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be so all over the place that I can’t truly “do life” with the people I need and people who need me. I’ll always be adventurous, but I don’t want to idolize the pursuit of the next-best-thing. The past four years of my life I’ve traveled so much and been involved in so much that i’s been hard for me to truly, deeply invest anywhere. I don’t want to settle into a 9-5 job and making crock pot dinners for my hot and holy husband every night, totally insulated from the world around me. I want to dig in. I want to be ready to see and meet the need around me. I want my home to be a place that is known for having an open door and my table to be a place where full, life-giving conversations happen. I do not want to be tempted to find security for my future in false places – everything that is not from God can be taken away in an instant. Instead, I want to experience God more deeply by living life in a way that makes faith – the sense of trust in God’s provision – necessary. I want to be aware of my dependence on God. I don’t want my faith to be myopic and overly introspective – instead I want to life in the belief that I cannot “grow in faith by sitting alone and trying to flex my faith muscles…but by putting myself in situations that require faith.” (to paraphrase Jim Martin in The Just Church).

This whole post has been a stream of consciousness. I’m not sure that there is a thesis that can wrap up what I’m trying to say, and these thoughts are a product of studying scripture (Ecclesiastes, Isaiah 58, Luke 12), reading several books, and musings from the journey that God has me on. I think part of this is an urging to look at yourself and the motivations that lie behind your actions. Do you serve others? If so, why? Is it to look good to the folks you want to impress? Is it to feel good about yourself? Or is it truly from a benevolent and selfless place that is focused on the need of others? I admit that throughout my life, many of my motivations have been from a selfish place.

Are you filling your time by pursuing things that have no eternal significance? Do you romanticize travel and adventure to the point that they are idols in your life – things you do not to better understand the picture that God has painted with humanity, but rather to look and feel cool and adventurous and free?  Do you go on mission trips and have intense emotional experiences about the depravity and suffering present in our world, but make yourself a hypocrite by insulating yourself from the suffering and pain that is close by you in your hometown? I did for a long time; sometimes I still do.

Sometimes in the Christian life it is hard to find the balance between giving, giving, giving, and finding the freedom to experience joy and have fun. I find this commentary from JI Packer on the book of Ecclesiastes helpful:

“Fear God and keep his commandments; trust and obey him, reverence him, worship him, be humble before him, never say more than you mean and will stand to when you pray to him; do good, remember that God will someday take account of you, so eschew, even in secret, things of which you will be ashamed when they come to light at God’s assizes. Live in the present and enjoy it thoroughly; present pleasures are God’s good gifts. Though Ecclesiastes condemns flippancy, he clearly has no time for the super spirituality which is too proud or too pious ever to laugh and have fun. Seek grace to work hard at whatever life calls you to do and enjoy your work as you do it. Leave to God its issues, let him measure its ultimate worth – your part is to use all the good sense and enterprise at your command in exploiting the opportunities that are before you. This is the way of wisdom.”

Decisions about life and the future.

“I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”

THAT is the most common phrase I hear from people my age. We are early twenty-somethings who are making big-kid decisions for the first time. We want everything and are therefore paralyzed from moving toward anything. Our lives have consisted of school, then more school, then more school. For many of us, our biggest decisions have been about romantic relationships or how to spend our precious summer months. All of a sudden it’s time to walk down a career path, talk about marriage, and to step out of parental co-dependence into a world that is much less structured and kind. My intention is not to downplay the difficult decisions that many of us make during our adolescent years, because they certainly seem (and may very well be) huge when we’re faced with them. However, this new season of independence is equally liberating and terrifying. Here is what I think God has to say about it:

Find your identity in Jesus.

I will say that I am pretty okay with the future. For the most part, it doesn’t freak me out too much lately. But there are days – times when I get lost in thought about all the things I want to do, and I go into a manic job-application binge. During these times, I spend an hour on indeed.com feeling frustrated and thinking that I will be a boring old lady with nothing to offer the world. I worry about my ability to get my foot in the door somewhere; to be in a place that facilitates upward mobility and gets me closer to my ”dream job.” I worry that I will get stuck somewhere and that I won’t ever travel again, won’t ever have a thriving career, or will be miserable doing menial work for my entire life. I wonder if I’ll have children and have trouble prioritizing them over my career. I was thinking on this yesterday and all of a sudden I realized a common theme in my thoughts.

Me.

Me…my career, my success, my life, and ultimately my identity and my worth.

This is an ugly realization. Many of the things I want to do in life are careers that allow me to ”help” other people in tangible ways. I am interested in social justice, cross-cultural  relations, religious freedom, humanitarian aid, and poverty alleviation. So how do I get off making those things about me? If someone else told me that they approached these worthy causes with such selfish ambitions and motivations, I would think they were a horrible, selfish person. But it is the truth that rears its ugly head from the depths of my heart when my fears start churning.

So I am faced with a truth. I am a selfish person. I am never enough and no matter what I do, it will never be ”enough.” I rarely meet the expectations I have for myself, and when I do meet them outwardly, my motivations are often tainted by some remnant of pride. I look around and see the amazing things that others are doing and I rarely measure up in comparison. I lose perspective. I get bitter.

Then I remember what God says about me. That I am so very ordinary in my human-ness, but of extraordinary worth in the eyes of God. That my identity is not found in what I do, but in whom I belong to.

”You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians :11

This is my identity in Christ. I am washed clean. In Christ, I have been brought to fullness. (Colossians 2:10). I look at this nifty list and remember that my life is not my own: Storyline Blog – my identity in Christ. Go Donald Miller.

I remember that I was bought with a price (Jesus’ life and death and life) and that God has saved me from a life that is all about ME. He has saved me by his grace through my faith in Jesus, not because of anything I’ve done. And he has prepared good works for me to do – also not about ME. He has asked me to think about myself less so I have more time to love and serve others.  Hear ye Christians, please do not raise money to go on a mission trip as an excuse to travel. Please do not lead a Bible study so you can look cool and spiritual. Please do not apply for NGO jobs because they are hip and trendy and you want to be hip and trendy. Please DO all of the aforementioned things with a pure and humble heart. The people around you need you and the love that you can offer them because of the love extended to you, by God, through Jesus.

So when you’re making decisions, join me in trying to think less about yourself and more about honoring God and serving people. I have a lot of work to do in this area. What will benefit society as a whole? What will reconcile people to each other and to God? What will help people have their basic needs met?

The conventional wisdom of today tells us that true happiness comes in the freedom to pursue whatever we want whenever we want. In my life, that eventually manifested itself as an inability to commit to anything, extreme indecisiveness, and the worst case of wanderlust you’ve ever seen. That is not freedom, it’s slavery to a life and to desires that are all about ME. Take my word for it, or don’t, and spend your entire life searching the world looking for the next best thing.

Now read as Tim Keller puts my thoughts into more eloquent words than I could ever hope to:

1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3-5a)

2. Submit your whole mind to Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

“Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5b-6)

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7-8)

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:10-11)

As I meditated on these five elements–rooted in his grace, obeying and delighting in his Word, humble before other people, sacrificially generous toward our neighbor, and steadfast in trials–I thought of Jesus.

The New Testament tells us that the personified ‘divine wisdom’ of the Old Testament is actually Jesus.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

And I realized that:

a) Jesus showed the ultimate trust and faithfulness to God and to us by going to the cross,

b) Jesus was saturated with and shaped by Scripture,

c) Jesus was meek and lowly in heart

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30),

d) Jesus, though rich, became poor for us,

e) and he bore his suffering, for us, without complaint. We can only grow in these five areas if you know you are saved by costly grace. That keeps you from idols, from self-sufficiency and pride, from selfishness with your things, and from crumbling under troubles. Jesus is wisdom personified, and believing his gospel brings these character qualities into your life.

A Year in Review: 2012

I can be a pretty sentimental person. Yesterday as I sat around the breakfast table with my immediate family and my grandfather (Papaw), I asked everyone to name their top three best memories of 2012. It certainly wasn’t difficult for everyone to come up with three things, but we were all in agreement that it wasn’t our favorite year. Transitions are sometimes hard, busyness can take over our lives, money is a little tight, and we lost my Mammaw – holidays and Sunday afternoons are lacking without her. But this we all know – we are so blessed.

One thing I have learned well this year is that God seldom works in ways that are easy or comfortable. And I am thankful. Because the times when I’m stretched, challenged, overwhelmed, and weary are exactly when God molds me into the person he wants me to be. It is then that I really learn to trust Him and lean on Him. It is during those times that God is most glorified – because it’s just so clear that I can’t do anything without his strength and support holding me together.

By his grace I can take the hard road that leads to life. I can think on the sovereignty and goodness of God. Think on His promise that HE is able to work everything together into something beautiful. Yes, even this seemingly meaningless inconvenience might just be the hand of God at work to grow patience, kindness, and goodness in me…It’s complicated to reconcile a God who works through pain. It’s tough to trust in a Lord who allows suffering and inconvenience. It’d be a whole lot easier to mindlessly promise myself that Jesus always wants to make life easy, but I don’t think that’s how He works. If anything, Jesus uses dark colors when he paints. He’s into streams in the desert and life out of death. – 10th Ave. North “Overflow” Devo

This year I’ve done some incredible things.

  • Rang in the new year in Times Square, NYC with my brother and a million of my closest friends.
  • Visited a new continent.
  • Dug trenches in the Costa Rican rain forest.
  • Shook hands with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  • Chased giraffes through a South African field.
  • Co-founded an IJM campus chapter at App and pulled off (with lots of help) a 27 hour standing vigil to raise awareness for victims of violent oppression.
  • (Sort of ran) the Color Run – my first 5k.
  • Road tripped to D.C. & Jackson.
  • Chopped off a foot of my hair for locks of love.
  • Attended my first NASCAR race. #rebelyell #bristolbaby
  • Met Needtobreathe…twice…(stalker-fan.)
  • Driven all over Auburn’s campus in a white 15 passenger van yelling “Roll Tide” just because I can.
  • Driven 3 hours to see an 80’s cover band.
  • Started dating a wonderful man (again).
  • Watched Food, Inc. which essentially ruined my life.
  • Learned to love sushi.

Tonight I am at home with my family, enjoying a cozy night in after working all day. I may not even make it till midnight. Tomorrow, a new year begins. A new adventure. Tomorrow I head to Passion 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. I fly straight from there to California to see San Francisco with Mom and visit friends from my semester abroad.

Here’s to a new year – a new start for those who need it, a new adventure for those who want it; just another day.

When you were YOUNG

I think often of my childhood. And how amazing it was. And how priviledged I was/am.

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I mean just look at that. Giving my dad the business at age 5 days.

My childhood is full of lots of hilarious stories, as I’m sure many childhoods were. I feel like I did a lot of funny things as a kid. I went through a lot of phases. Allow me to show you a small sample of these abundant phases:

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The piano phase.

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The raging party animal phase.

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Racquetball Phase.

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The cowboy/indian phase.

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The ballet phase. A very short phase.

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The “bad A” phase.

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The barney pajama/terrorizing maison phase.

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The lazertag phase.

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The HANSON OBSESSED phase

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The horse phase. Not really a phase…still love this

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The “let’s climb everything” phase.

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The “I may look sweet but I kick people in the face at recess” stage.

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I don’t even know what this is, its just appropriate.

Phases not pictured: the Star Wars phase, Paintball phase, Michael Jordan phase, tadpole catching phase, camping phase, perm phase, softball phase, soccer phase, basketball phase, hunting phase, cheddar feti phase, skateboarding phase, guitar phase, and so many more that I am sure I’m forgetting.

I want to sit down one day and try to write down the memories that I have, I think they would be a good read. And maybe a little exaggerated with time.