30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

30 Days of Celebration: Good Books and Great Authors

Is there really anything better than a good novel?

I mean, really.

I just, love stories. I love stupid stories, I love sappy stories, I love sad stories. When I was in middle school, I would read at least a book a week, always caught up in a story. Granted, they were all about vampires and 12 year-olds falling in love, but all the best books are, right?

For some reason, in the season, I stopped reading. I didn’t mean to. I guess I figured I didn’t have time for it. And, to be fair, when you spend 98% of your day worrying and freaking out about the future, you don’t have time for ridiculous things like having fun or doing something you love.

But when I was home for Thanksgiving, I picked up a book, and it kind of felt like coming home. Books have so often been my home, and my closest friend. There was a time when I wouldn’t leave home without my novel, and I was never not in one. Ever. I felt naked without having a story to fantasize about and characters to root for. And every chance I got, I would jump back into the story, nose in the book, completely oblivious to the things around me.

I like thinking about how God wrote the story of my life, like the very best novel. And I like to think about how He reads it from Heaven, every day, and He smiles because He knows the good parts and the ending and He’s not afraid of it the way I am. Hard seasons seem pointless until I remember that any author worth their salt writes conflict into the story. No one would read a book where nothing ever changes, and no character development ever happens. And God’s worth His salt. So He writes those things into my story.

What makes it hard is that we can’t flip the the last page. We can only live the one we’re on, and we simply have to trust the One who knows things that we don’t. But, really, all we have to trust is that our Author wrote a good story. One made especially for you and for me. I think celebration, in its essence, is just realizing that. It’s being thankful to be in the story.

Just like the characters in your favorite novel. You read on because you want to see what happens next. Why don’t we live our stories with that same eager expectation? I really think it’s because we don’t trust that anyone good is writing it.

But the Bible says that every day of our lives were written in God’s book before one of them happened. Man, if I could actually grasp that in my heart. Would’t that be something. Wouldn’t that change the way I saw everything?

 

 

 

30 Days of Celebration: Honesty

30 Days of Celebration: Honesty

I’m not very good at being honest. Not with others, not with myself, and not with God.

I don’t like to be anything but fine all of the time, and when I’m not I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to voice the way I feel, which is particularly difficult because I’m one of those people who feel a lot of things.

But these days, I can’t afford not to be honest, not with myself and not with God. There’s too much change, and there’s too much transition, and I drown in my thoughts if I don’t put them in the light. And that takes honesty.

And honestly, these past three months have at times felt torturous. I went from one way of life in college and then everything was flipped upside down in an instant. I don’t like time alone, and I get a lot of it. I don’t know what to say to myself and I don’t function well.

Honestly, my head feels like it’s in a cloud most of the time. I don’t know how to be an “adult”, and it freaks me out. My faith is tested these days, and it doesn’t always stand up very straight. I go weeks without really reading my Bible. How do I take the faith I’ve claimed my entire life and actually give it feet?

Honestly, I know God lead me to South Carolina, but most of the time it feels like a mistake. Surely, it shouldn’t be this hard. I shouldn’t feel like I’m losing my mind, and I shouldn’t be so tired. I should know how to rest better. I shouldn’t be scared all the time. And I shouldn’t blame South Carolina. But, honestly, sometimes I do.

 

But it’s ok. That’s what honesty does, is it puts all of the monsters in the back of my head into the light and I realize they’re not actually all that scary. They only have power over me because I give it to them. I give all of my fears and doubts and worries little dark rooms in the back of my brain and I let them sit there, unattended, spreading poison to everything they touch. But honesty is the antidote, honesty is what flings open the closet door and gets them out into the sizzling sunlight.

And there, my little monsters slowly die. They can’t thrive under such exposure. They lose their power. And I realize that everyone has little monsters, and we would all be so much better off I we just took them out for a change.

 

I had coffee with an old friend last weekend, and after updating her on life in South Carolina, she told me that she was surprised. I had told her of my struggles and fears and she told me that she thought I was doing just fine. She had no idea. And why do we make room for such lies? Why do we tell each other half-truths? What good does that do?

I celebrate a God who lets me be honest. He’s not afraid of it. He encourages it, and it is medicine to my soul. I don’t know what I’m doing, but God does, and somehow today that has to be enough for me.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Beginnings

30 Days of Celebration: Beginnings

Not endings, but beginnings.

I mean, I can see it all as endings all the live-long day. I can choose to do that. But then I get stuck in all the goodbyes and miss all the beginnings.

I like hellos. They’re new and exciting. They’re the beginning of a book, the start of a chapter, and they’re fun.

I’ve been meeting a lot of new faces in this new chapter, and if I’m honest I’ve gotten stuck on the cup being half empty. Yes I miss my old faces and friends, but these new ones are my new adventure, and I don’t want to miss it.

Today I drive back to South Carolina, and although my heart wouldn’t mind being in Pennsylvania a few more days (or weeks), I have to embrace what’s next for me. No matter how hard it is, how it feels like running through thick, wet sand at times, I know it’s where I’m supposed to be so I go.

The goodbyes and heartache don’t need any extra attention. They demand attention whether or not I give it to them. They’re loud, and they captivate me too easily. It’s the beginnings that need my eyes, it’s the adventure that goes unnoticed. The celebration of the next chapter.

So I’m gonna try to put a megaphone up to the half-full cup. I want it to speak the loudest. Today I sat on my Pennsylvanian front porch, the very place I interviewed for the life I live now, and I prayed different prayers, 3 months later. I prayed that I would have the heart of a child. That I would see the wonder in moving and meeting new people and the possibility of it all.

I prayed that there would always be magic in my heart for the Christmas season, and that I would laugh- at myself, at the excitement of life. I prayed that my heart would be light as I drove back today, because if I don’t pray for lightness it will be bogged down. There are always 2,000,000 things to worry about, if I give them a place in my life.

I don’t want to give them a place in my life.

Thank goodness Jesus calls us to be like kids, because I want to be like a kid always. Especially today.

30 Days of Celebration: Old Friends

30 Days of Celebration: Old Friends

Today I’m thankful for old friends.

In a season of new friendships, there is so much power in seeing an old one. This morning, I drove 30 minutes through the freezing rain to meet an old friend. We met on the stoop of a storefront, shivering against the cold, to find our chosen cafe closed. So we did what you do when you don’t know where to go – we went to Starbucks. We turned two armchairs so that they faced each other, and as the bitter wind hit us every time the door opened, we sat knee to knee and talked about our lives.

3 hours passed like it was 20 minutes, and I bathed in the reality that this person knew me before this stage of life and she knows me now. She was able to shed light on my tendencies, on my struggles, on why my mind reacts to these changes that way it does.

And we talked about her, and the college she still attends, the one I’ve left behind. I told her what I wished I had known as a sophomore, and we reveled in the fact that we’re learning the same life lessons at the same time.

So many “you too?” moments. And that’s what friendships are for. It’s realizing you’re not actually as crazy as you think you are, and sharing laughs over our misfortunes, accepting the reality together that life hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would. It’s a place to admit that you have a broken heart, and to say it plain, the way it has been begging to be said.

And new friends can be good for that, but there’s nothing quite like old friends (like Ben Rector would say). Tomorrow I go back to my new friends, and I’m thankful for them, but I’m also thankful that it’s okay to revisit where I’ve been.

I think I’ve been viewing this transition out of college as a thick black line, where college was on one side and my new life in South Carolina is on the other side, and they can’t touch, and I must leave the past behind. But I’m learning that it doesn’t need to be that cut and dry. Instead, this change can be like various shades of grey, and it can take time. I can give my heart time to move on.

And today, it was ok to meet with an old friend. I’m really glad I did.

There’s nothing quite like it.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Tree Farms and Traditions

30 Days of Celebration: Tree Farms and Traditions

I come from a live Christmas tree kind of family.

This means that every year, usually the day after Thanksgiving, we load up the mini van and head out to the Christmas tree farm. And we walk around all the trees and choose the best of the best of all the Douglas Firs. And we load it up, on the roof of our car, bring it home, and listen to the Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas album as we hang our extremely home-made ornaments complete with macaroni hot-glued onto pictures of us in 3rd grade.

Today is no exception. And the traditions remind me of the great story written for me, the one I don’t deserve, but one that begs for celebration.

And today, after a bumpy season of transition in so many ways, the tradition is especially powerful to my heart. And though I’m tempted to question it and wonder why I was given so much when so many have so little, I am reminded over and over that it’s ok to just take it for what it is. It’s ok to laugh with my siblings, to take pictures with my sister, to enjoy the day given to me.

And so today, I drink hot chocolate and watch Elf with the people that mean the most to me, and I draw the line at anything short of celebration. It’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to celebrate.

Sometimes, I get really caught up in everything I can’t control or change, and therefore wonderful realities and gifts are overlooked because I’m so caught up by my lack of control. But I’m learning, my lack of control is a gift, because I can’t bear the load. It’s not my job to control things, but to appreciate the way God does.

I asked a mentor of mine recently for one sentence of advice. If she could give me one nugget of wisdom in this season, what would it be? She told me that where I am, whatever season of life and whatever situation I find myself in, to trust the One who brought me there. To trust that He knows what He’s doing, that He really has the best for me.

And that’s what I remember this tree-cutting day. I remember that I’m a part of something bigger than me, and that the Great Author is writing the story. And I rest into that, no matter how impossible it seems at times.

30 Days of Celebration: Rest is Okay

30 Days of Celebration: Rest is Okay

I’m thankful today, on Thanksgiving, after 6 months of absolute insanity in my life, that I don’t have to be anything I’m not.

My mind has literally not been able to keep up with it all, but I’m learning that that’s ok. I didn’t realize, growing up, how much pressure I put on myself all of the time to be a certain version of myself, one that’s capable and goal-driven and gets things done on the daily. These days, I just can’t. It takes all of my energy to transition my entire life to South Carolina, and in the moments of rest I’m just tired. 

But of course I’m tired! I slave-drive myself into thinking that tiring things shouldn’t make me tired, but they do, and that’s ok.

And today I’m thankful that’s it’s ok. It’s ok to need to rest, and it’s ok to rest.

It’s a bit of an act of humility, I’m learning. The world will keep spinning if I take a day to read a novel for fun. Why do I think I can’t?

 

So today I celebrate because I don’t have to take myself too seriously. God just doesn’t require from me what I require from myself. So I can rest, and breathe, and be thankful for the woman I am today, even if she’s not always the person I would choose to be

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Micah 6:8

30 Days of Celebration: Home

30 Days of Celebration: Home

Home. Today I celebrate home.

After 3 months in South Carolina, the car rolled back into my Pennsylvanian driveway last night. It’s a weird feeling, to come back to your family’s home when you’re making your “own” somewhere else. This in-between time can be so overwhelming at times (ok, pretty much all the time), but now I’m home. And I pray that I can take it all for what it is, not what I expect it to be.

But today, I guess I celebrate the things that don’t change. Same house on the same street in the same town in Pennsylvania. Same grumpy old dog. Same floor lamps and bar stools and bed that I’ve slept in since I was 8. Same crazy family with the same inside jokes, and the same way they always have a way of reminding me of my story, just being near them.

New is good, but old is home. New will become home, over time, but I’m learning that it’s ok that it isn’t yet. It will take time to make my South Carolina town home. More than 3 months, and that’s ok.

But old is familiar, and it helps me breathe and think and laugh in a way that the new can’t all of the time. It helps me figure out how I feel, what parts of my heart are still broken over all the change. What parts of me are changed for the better.

It helps me be honest with God, to cry out as the disciples did in the boat – “Do you not see? Do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you see my broken heart in a new state? And I know He does. Home reminds me of that. Home helps me remember.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Grace for the Exhausted

30 Days of Celebration: Grace for the Exhausted

It’s the day before I head home for Thanksgiving and I am exhausted. 

Actually, I’m not sure that exhausted even covers it. I feel like I “wake up” but a very heavy sheet of rock has covered me and actually I can’t move and it seems all but impossible to get out of bed.

These last three months have been many things. Exciting, new, memorable, challenging. Overwhelming, scary, stretching. But restful has not been one of them.

Rest for my body, sure. But more than anything, rest for my mind. It took me several months to realize just how badly I allowed anxiety and worry to rule my mind, and when they are on the throne there is just no rest. There can’t be. There’s always something to freak out about, to be uneasy about, to work through over and over until it feels like poison and stings to the touch.

Possibly the most interesting discovery of this season has been how critical I am of myself, how I won’t let myself be who I have to be. It took me a while to realize that the constant criticism about how I was adjusting and feeling was coming from no one but me. I became a slave driver with myself, never satisfied by my rate of adjustment.

But today I’m thankful that God doesn’t treat me that way.

The Bible describes me as a sheep, which for a while I took offense to. But on my most sheep-worthy days (AKA, every day lately), I find rest in it. I’m not expected to be anything more than a sheep. Sheep are like the dumbest and least productive animals ever, so if I’m nothing but dumb and unproductive, I’m actually right on track. Which kind of rocks, actually.

Without the faith in a loving God, being a sheep means you’re eaten alive. In a “survival of the fittest” world, being a sheep is deadly. So you have to be a slave driver, you have to strive, you have to somehow be more than you know that you are.

But I woke up this morning, and I literally sat on my bedroom floor with a blanket wrapped around me absolutely certain I could be nothing more than a ridiculously exhausted version of myself. But I’m a sheep, remember? What do you expect?

And I am thankful beyond measure that I have a good Shepherd, one who lays down His life for me, who will fight off the bears and save me. One who came so that I could have life abundantly, so that I can go in and come out and find pasture.

I’ve always loved John 10, but it has taken on an entirely new meaning these days, when my sheep-iness is blindingly obvious. Thank you, Jesus, for being the good Shepherd. I know I need one.

 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

John 10

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

It’s not even a little bit hard to celebrate today.

My heart still sings as I think back to the last couple of days. I visited my favorite little town in Ohio, and my heart was filled to the brim just being there.

It’s odd, visiting your alma mater just months after graduating, feeling like you’ve been gone for ages and yet everything seems exactly the same. But I needed it.

I needed the late night boy talks in the dorm, laughing hysterically on the air mattress splayed across the floor. I needed the Christmas decorations in the student center. I needed the hugs (ALL the hugs), and to be reminded how precious it is to invest in the lives of others. I needed the familiarity of it all, and I breathed it in like it was medicine.

I love that campus. I love the cafeteria – the cereal dispensers, the soggy breadsticks, the chocolate milk nozzle. I love the stiff furniture in the dorm lounges. I love the lake, and the walks around the lake and the reflection of the sunset in the lake. I love the classrooms where I learned about myself and God and random things about biology and stuff that I’ll surely forget.

I love the fact that suddenly I can think, and breathe, and laugh in a way I haven’t been able to for a while.

But more than anything I love the people. I love the people who I would see in the cafeteria, the conversations had over chocolate milk and sub-par Italian. I love the laughter shared atop uncomfortable couches. I love laps and laps and laps around the lake during long talks about boys and faith and boys and classes and boys.

I love it, and therefore I celebrate it. And this weekend, even though my status as a student is in the past, I was reminded that the people aren’t. I was assured that the relationships are alive and pick up right where they were left off, and that the lessons I’m learning in South Carolina my lovely friends are still learning in the cornfields of Ohio.

So my heart is full. And I take it with me back to the land I was called to, and I anticipate what the Lord has up His sleeve in the next chapter.

And I shed a few tears on the plane, smiling at pictures taken and memories made while I was there.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Names

30 Days of Celebration: Names

I attend after school evangelism clubs these days as a part of my new job. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I am a part of kids lives for just over an hour, kids I had never met a month ago. New kids every week, mostly, but every so often I get to repeat schools and see the same little girls week after week, and it fills my soul, the new familiarity of it all.

I have learned something, something I didn’t fully understand before. There is immense power in being known, in being seen, in hearing your name called and being looked in the eye. I feel as if, before this season, I have always had that in abundance, which is purely a gift from God in every way. But lately, I am beginning to understand our need for it. My need for it, and these kids’ need for it.

I am curious, constantly, about their stories. Valery, the quiet, gentle girl I get to see on Thursdays, with beautiful, long curly hair. Noah, the hilariously adorable kindergarten on Tuesdays. Sweet and disobedient Anthony, who I see on Wednesdays, who wasn’t there last week, who I was told got suspended. They are all people, and they all need to be known. They’re not different from me, nor I from them.

And so I try, in my one hour, to be a person in their lives. A person who sees and loves another person. Not an authority figure, not a teacher, not a “grown up”, but  child of God loving another child of God. I try to see them as God sees them, and I fail horribly every week, I’m sure.

But I’m also learning that it doesn’t take much. None of us really need praise or accolades or things. We just need to know we’re valued, that our lives have worth, that we are known. And if I lose sight of those truths on a daily basis, I am certain these kids do too.

So I catch their eyes, and I call them by name, and an interesting thing happens as they bloom in front of me. The shy ones catch my eye back, I needing their recognition just as much as they need mine. And I feel as if this is the heart of ministry, of being a Christian. It’s not about the programming, it’s not about the eloquence of words. It’s about making every single person you come in contact with known under your gaze.

As I sat in the airport this past week, settling into a chair and waiting to board, a list of names was called over the loud speaker. I’m usually not very tuned into announcements in airports, but this one called my name. Literally. Amongst a list of names read was mine, telling me to come to the front desk (to pick up my boarding pass, I soon learn).

And it struck me, how long it had been since I had heard my whole name. It feels like eternity, at least. But it had power. Names do. I felt known, I had a name. And I am always, I’m learning, craving for it to be spoken.

And yet, I celebrate because I am learning in this season that my name is more than letters on a page. My identity rests in my very bones, in my title as an image bearer of God. And with every breath, even in the middle of a city of strangers, I am known simply because of who I am. Names change, thoughts change, tendencies change, seasons change. But who I am is inherent, in my DNA. I am a child of God, and nothing can ever change that. It requires no recognition, demands no notice. It simply is. I think of how God tells us to be still and to know that He is God. It is as if we are the moon and He is the son and we simply reflect who He is without having to do a thing. We just sit there. We are just still.

And that is something to celebrate, because I cannot muster up identity every day. It takes far too much energy, and I fail pretty much every time, especially in a season of change. But today I rest into the identity I can never lose, and I pray that the kids I come in contact with would know it, too.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10