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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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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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/

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)

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)

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.”

Beautiful timing.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

My internship with International Justice Mission finished up on Wednesday with the end of the first annual Northstar conference in Atlanta, GA. The conference was initiated by IJM’s Student Mobilization team for the purpose of equipping college student leaders with an interest the work of justice/the modern-day abolition movement. During our last evening session, I was sitting next to Gary Haugen (IJM founder) as Louie Giglio took the stage and began publicly thanking Gary for his faithfulness in IJM for the past sixteen years. I just sat there, glancing back and forth from Gary to Louie and having this weird out-of-body experience, thinking to myself, “HOW did I get here?”

What’s true is that there is no explanation for the things I’ve done, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and the things I’ve experienced other than the gift of God’s grace. Let me say that again – it is by God’s grace that I’ve ever done anything noteworthy. When I look back on my life and trace God’s hand throughout it, it is so clear that I’ve had little to do with anything.

I had nothing to do with so many of the things that have made me who I am. I had nothing to do with the fact that I was born into a loving, whole home and raised by parents who love Jesus and love each other really well. It had nothing to do with me that I was given the opportunity to be educated. It had nothing to do with me that my parents taught me the importance of hard work and helped me believe in my abilities. I’ve just tried to do the best I can and squeeze a lot out of live as God directs my steps. Sometimes I do that with a pure heart, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’ve run from what he wants for me and doors have slammed in my face. Sometimes I really screw things up and forget the purpose for which I was created, and try to make life about achievement.

I like this quote from Dallas Willard:

“Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless, well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God. Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning (an attitude).

Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other, remarks on his own efforts for Christ: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (2 Cor. 15:10) The supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.”

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect. Until a few years ago, I felt pretty good about getting what I want and doing things myself without ever really, truly understanding my need for God. That’s a problem for many reasons, but especially when it comes to grace. You see – we need grace, and without it, we’re doomed to a life of never meeting the expectations we set for ourselves. But we can’t rest in grace until we realize we need it.

God wanted to show me some things about His grace this summer. He wanted to show me that walking with Jesus is different from working for Jesus. So he put me in a community of people who valued intimacy with the Lord over worldly success, over popularity, and over charm. He put me in a community of people who live as if what they believe is actually true; people who are desperate for God because they’ve put themselves in positions where they are sure to fail unless God shows up. People who were exercising faith, not just struggling to have faith –  “Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. Most of what we think we see as the struggle OF faith is really the struggle to act as IF we had faith when in fact we do not.” (Willard)

God chose to put me in such a community, and he chose to do it in the world’s most powerful city. Have you ever been around people like that? In case you’re doubting that they exist, here’s some of them:

God used these people to sharpen me in the Proverbs 27 iron-sharpens-iron kind of way. My friend Laura taught me the incredible value in having a friend who is willing to gently call you out on the junk in your life and won’t let you justify your way out of it. My friend Katrina taught me a lot about thoughtful question asking and active listening as a way to draw people out. My friend Kevin was an amazing example of someone who knows how to have A LOT of fun while still taking intentional time to think through and reflect on (and write out) things that God places on our hearts. My friend Hannah taught me a lot about the value in being vulnerable and real and asking yourself hard questions. My friend Michael taught me a lot about being intentional with people and seeing how “inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on…” (Hebrews 10:24-25). My friend Nathaniel taught me a lot about what a kind, solid, wise man looks like and was a great example of humility and integrity. My friend Ellen made me better by being one of the most genuine, authentic people I’ve ever known.

I could go on and on, but I’m leaving in an hour and a half for Las Vegas, so this post will have to be continued at a later date, or on a later plane.

To end, I’m so thankful that God put me in D.C. this summer, that he surrounded me with the most amazing community I’ve ever witnessed, and drug me through some challenging stuff this summer. I am thankful that he closed other doors, that he didn’t let me come last summer, and that he didn’t let me breeze by just going through the motions of life. This summer I was built up in faith, surrounded by people whose lives demonstrated God’s love, and who will have an influence on my life for many years. And on top of all that, I learned something about my career and what jobs I might be good at…which hilariously seems so secondary. He certainly made this summer beautiful and immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.