8.11.2016

Embracing the Mess



"Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning."
Lamentations 3:23

With each new sunrise, we are given a fresh shot at this thing called life. Sometimes we wake up and hit the floor running, creative ideas spinning in our head. On these days, nothing can bring us down. We sing in the shower, wave to the neighbors, and hit all the green lights on the way to work. Other days are just plain hard. Painful circumstances that we feel the weight of can keep us burrowed under the covers and immobilized. But because we are adults, we often have obligations and schedules to keep, so we force ourselves to get up, put on a "happy" face, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until we can drop back into bed at the end of the day.

Pretending and going through the motions of life will always get the best of us eventually. At some point, we have to be real about the struggle we can't shake. We have to take a day off from pretending and allow ourselves to embrace the mess and face it head on.

A few days ago, my sister came over for a marathon viewing of Fixer Upper episodes and just to catch up. Due to my husband and I being in the middle of painting our kitchen cabinets, my house was in disarray. (We're talking Pyrex bowls and crock pots strewn everywhere from the living room ottoman to our bedroom end tables.) But quality sister time trumped the condition of my home, plus I knew she'd have McDonald's breakfast in tow, so I swung the front door open and welcomed her into my messy world. 

Over our breakfast sandwiches, I told her how overwhelmed I was feeling with everything around me being so out of place. Then, with Joanna Gaines' shiplap dialogue in the background, I got honest about all the burdens I was carrying: my messy house; all the half-finished projects looming over me; the beginning of a new school year that I as a teacher am preparing for; and, of course, that ever-present desire for a baby. Everything I had been keeping inside came unexpectedly spilling out like a flood.

Even still, I was trying to hold myself together and not lose it completely. Unfortunately, the straw that broke the camel's back came when I let my new puppy back in the house from being outside.  She ran inside covered in clumps of mud and grass, leaving a messy trail behind her. I picked up my puppy to clean her but immediately broke down crying. My sister took it upon herself to get my broom and sweep up the chunks of mud that littered my kitchen floor. She didn't complain or tell me to get it together; instead, when I apologized for being such depressing company, she walked up to me, wrapped her arms around me, and told me, "It's okay to have a messy day."

Her permission for me to not have it all together was exactly what my soul needed. But she also loved me enough to not leave me to drown in my own pity. Instead, she motivated me to get proactive about taking care of business and reclaiming my joy. We gathered up some of the excess clutter I had already bagged up to donate, and we loaded it in my car.

We also decided to treat ourselves to burgers for lunch because not only was it good for me to get out of the house for a little bit, but my sister knows eating out fills my proverbial love tank. (I bet you didn't know there was a sixth love language. And that it involves cholesterol.)

By the time we got out and about, I was feeling much less burdened. My sister's presence alone had played a part, but what resonated with me the most was her grace towards me when I was in a very messy place, both emotionally and physically. Her permission to embrace the mess, along with her companionship in the midst, made a world of difference to me.

So many of us are hurting and barely holding it together. There is so much healing to be found when the mask is removed and we acknowledge our struggles. I encourage you to find that safe person whom you trust and invite them into your mess. Find someone who will listen, encourage you with Biblical truth, and pray with you. Find someone who, after doing all these things, will encourage you to put your armor back on and fight for something better.

If you are not currently struggling, then ask yourself: To whom can I reach out, wrap my arms around, and give permission to have a messy day?

{Published on bravegirlcommunity.com}

7.11.2016

When My Strength Runs Out


I don’t want to write this post. I don’t want to let the world know that I am struggling. I’m okay, but I am struggling. I’m joyful, but I’m sad inside. I’m numb, but I’m trying.
The past few years have been a roller coaster of emotions for my husband and I. And though I feel like a broken record talking about our infertility struggles, it’s where my heart is right now. And I’ve learned that being anything other than real gets pretty draining.
So, here’s the deal: In the past few years, I’ve struggled with sadness, bitterness, numbness, and depression. And because I so desperately want to glorify God through this battle with infertility, I subsequently struggle with shame that I have let myself hit such low points instead of perfectly, at all times, trusting my unknown future to a known God.
I got tired of being let down each month when pregnancy wasn’t achieved, so I tried to convince myself I might be better off if I didn’t care so much. In my efforts to become more apathetic about being a mom, unfortunately, other good, healthy emotions hit the road as well. The “protective” wall that surrounded my heart quickly became hardened and impenetrable. Not only did relationships suffer because of my lack of effort in maintaining them, but my home suffered. I could only muster up enough motivation to do the bare minimum. What that looked like for me was basically just doing the laundry so we would have clothes to wear. I also became good at putting on a facade of a clean house by straightening up but never actually cleaning. My dishwasher ran on schedule, but my floors never got mopped. The bathroom sink might have gotten cleaned, but maybe not the shower. Whatever I could muster up enough stamina to do for fifteen minutes every few days got done. Otherwise, my couch and I shared a lot of wasted, quality time together.
At this point you’re probably wondering why I’m putting all this out there. To be honest, I’m wondering the same thing myself. The only thing I can figure out is that my heart doesn’t want to fake it anymore. I’m done with facades, shame, and secrets. I believe it because I’ve experienced it: secrets lose power over you when you bring them to the light. I know I’m not the only person trying to act like I’ve got it all together on the outside while I’m dying on the inside.
So, in the spirit of being real, I’m going to share a snippet of one of my journal entries from September of last year:
I’m too scared to say it out loud and don’t want to add another burden to a busy world’s plate. But I think I’m depressed.
I lie on the couch, warm tears softly streaming down my cheeks, thoughts cascading through my mind of my dirty bathroom, unmade bed, half-completed projects, and dust-ridden furniture. My disdain for my laziness is strong, but I’m immobilized by a numbing, dull pain.
I’m tired. Annoyances have become heavy burdens that I feel in my chest. Simple tasks have become laborious exertions. 
I’m surrounded by people, but I’m all alone. I’m left behind. I’m not a mom.
Lord, I’m so tired. My soul yearns for you, but I can’t muster up a cry out to you, only a whisper of your name. I continue shoveling food into my ever-swelling face.
God, give me joy. Give me energy. Give me faith that moves mountains.
May I some day be brave enough to share these words with someone to help them.
Though I may be in a pit now, my God won’t leave me here.
Every morning, the sun rises on a new day. Every day is His. I am His.
So…are you guys still cool with knowing me, or did I take it too far? This is one of those awkward, I’ve-said-too-much-I’m-just-going-to-walk-backwards-out-of-the-room moments.
But in all seriousness, if you see me on the streets, I probably appear super joyful. That’s because I am. The joy of the Lord is truly my strength, and because he lives in me and I have a strong support system, most days are good.
I am no longer in the pits of depression; thankfully, the Lord carried me through that pretty swiftly. I do, however, still struggle to overcome the numbness. These days, I rejoice when I snot-face cry because that means I’m feeling something. I still entertain the idea of mopping my floors without ever actually getting it done, but Lord knows I’m gonna get there some day.
I have allowed hope to regain entry into my heart, even though that means disappointment could possibly follow on its heels. I’m learning that I can’t feel the good without feeling the bad, and after not feeling much of anything, I’m totally ok with strapping myself back into the roller coaster of emotions and just letting go. I know my God’s got me in the valleys just as much as he does on the peaks.
I take comfort in knowing God knew we would walk through dark days while on this earth, so he filled his word with many encouraging verses such as Romans 12:12, which says: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” That is just one verse out of many that encourage patience through trial; standing firm; relentlessly trusting; and never growing weary.
To those who have been struggling like I have, God’s grace is big enough to cover the mess we’ve been swallowed up in. And when we get to the place where our strength runs out, His is there to carry us the rest of the way.
He is sovereign and perfect. May we all find rest and healing in his massive, loving arms.

6.22.2016

Vacation in Orange Beach

June 10-17, 2016

Day One. Lots of driving. Twelve hours to be exact. Lots of snacking on grapes and gouda. Lunch at a jank Wendy's. Molly was a trooper. Made it to our condo and ordered pizza at an ungodly hour.


Day Two. Woke up to a beautiful view that we had been unable to appreciate upon arrival due to pitch black darkness. Went to Walmart for groceries and essentials. Did some swimming at the pool. Ate dinner at Cobalt, the restaurant within walking distance from our condo. While we waited on our table at Cobalt, we walked the boardwalk to the beach and searched for seashells.



Day Three. Started out rainy, so Emily and I got some good patio time in watching the storm pass. Then we all got to spend some time at the beach. The guys went fishing in the evening then brought back some Thai food for dinner. Emily and I stayed up late hanging out on the patio.


Day Four. It was a hot one. We went to the Gulf Shores zoo, where a dream of mine came true: I met a sloth. Two to be exact. Sid and Sylvia, both dead asleep the whole time. Then we ate lunch at Lambert's, and I got hit in the back of my head by a thrown roll. We went to the outlets after lunch, then the guys went fishing off the dock again in the evening. Pretty much every time they did that, Emily and I hung out on the patio after Molly went to bed.


Day Five. We all went to the pool together and hung out for a while until it started pouring down rain and storming. The guys cooked steaks and hamburgers, and we ate lunch at the condo. We hung out low key, mostly outside on the patio, until dinner at Cotton's.


Day Six. The guys went deep sea fishing the first part of the day, so Emily and I took Molly to the beach to look for seashells even though it was lightly raining when we left. We got caught in a torrential downpour while we were out and laughed hysterically as we got soaked to the bone. The rain finally let up, so we got a nice walk in before going back to the condo and taking showers. We got fixed up for family pictures, and after the guys got done with their post-fishing naps, we walked back to the beach for a quick cell-phone-do-it-yourself-humidity-hair photoshoot. For dinner, we used the red snapper Charlie had caught while deep sea fishing and made fish tacos. This was by far my favorite meal we ate all week. I actually made nachos out of mine with all the taco fixins.



Day Seven. The guys went golfing early, so Emily and I took Molly to the pool for one last shot at some sun. We played with her in the water and laid out for a while before taking her back to the condo for a nap. After the guys got back, we spent time together at the outlets, eating Mexican food at Cactus Cantina, then getting awesome homemade ice cream at Matt's. Wanting to soak in our last night of vacation, we all went to the beach to watch the sunset, fish, and hang out as individual couples/families.


Day Eight. Time to check out of paradise and head home. Had lunch in Yazoo, MS at a BBQ joint that lets their patrons write on their walls. We had to pull over somewhere around Pine Bluff, AR after dark because it was storming so bad, Leslie couldn't see to drive. Then we hit road construction around Little Rock that really slowed us down. It was 2 am when we got to Charlie and Emily's house, so Leslie and I spent the night there before returning home the next morning, retrieving the pug, and unpacking.


This was my first solid week-long vacation of any kind, so getting to spend it at the beach, at an amazing condo, with people I love made it such a special trip. It was the perfect mix of relaxing and fun. Can't wait to go back some day.

6.08.2016

The King's Daughters {a poem}



We are Daughters of the King,
but doubt controls our life.
Consumed by problems of this world,
each day is full of strife.

More aware of others' thoughts 
than those of Him above,
we blend into this fallen world,
loving what they love.

We hate the number on the scale,
a battle we can't win.
Yet so afraid to tell a soul
we're starving to be thin.

We find our worth in the words of others
or in the arms of men.
We see ourselves as damaged, ruined;
our souls feel dark with sin.

Addictions fed in secrecy
have led to shame and guilt.
We're trapped inside a hollow shell
of the "perfect" life we've built.

The lies we've heard have become truth,
and we're tired of fighting back.
"Unworthy" has become our name,
defenseless to attacks.

These are the Daughters of the King,
the ones for whom He died.
The ones He aches for when they hurt,
the ones whose tears He's dried.

The ones He created so fearfully, wonderfully--
the jewels in His crown.
He craves us, sees us, chases us;
He never lets us down.

Already set free, yet walking in chains,
we're called for so much more.
The victory is ours to claim
when it's Him we're living for.

He calls us precious, prized and His,
He's spoken for our hearts.
He fights for us and pleads for us,
Forgiveness He imparts.

Lights of this world, He tells us to shine.
He made us to stand out.
He calls us brave and capable
to conquer fear and doubt.

He says, "Arise. Converse with me."
"With you I will abide."
You'll find in all things, looking back,
He never left your side.

Beloved in His eyes we are
and safe we'll always be.
Forever treasured, beautiful,
Accepted and redeemed.

And so it is well with our souls
when we can just believe,
and walk in truth of all He says
of our identity.

We are the Daughters of the King,
the ones no longer bound.
The ones to whom He's given hope,
a future, and a crown.


Published on bravegirlcommunity.com

5.07.2016

A Beautiful Storm


I've had the phrase "A Beautiful Storm" in my head for weeks now. It's a strange oxymoron. How can something so tumultuous be considered lovely? How can something painful also contain such beauty?

My husband and I, after almost six years of battling infertility, got a phone call yesterday from the fertility clinic with the results of our first round of IUI (intrauterine insemination). We were giddy and hopeful at what the results might be. I had even taken a photo of the sunrise that morning with the plan to post it the day I announced our good news of an achieved pregnancy. I had allowed myself to imagine hearing the words, "You are pregnant" for the first time in my life.

But instead, I heard the voice on the other end of the line say, "The results are negative." And the storm clouds rolled in right on cue, bringing along self-pity, hopelessness, and just plain sorrow.

So here I sit, cheeks tear-stung, with the intention (and determination) of telling you that even in the midst of this storm, I still see the beauty in it. Not because I'm anything special or more spiritually mature, but because I can't deny the beauty I've seen transpire over the past few years. I refuse to not see it.

Please, even in the midst of your own struggle, try not to roll your eyes, close off your heart, or write me off. I know what it's like to read a verse of encouragement quickly, not truly believing those words apply to me. I know what it's like to feel crappy and want to make a home of it, complete with tacos, a heavy blanket, and no social contact whatsoever.

Some of the best advice I've ever heard is that God is big enough to handle our emotions. Whether we're angry, hurt, or confused by our circumstances, we are allowed to cry out to him and beat our hands on his chest. I believe allowing ourselves to feel pain is healthy and keeps us from putting up so many emotional walls that we go numb. The problems arise when we give ourselves permission to camp out in the negative emotions and to stay in a place of darkness, never opening our eyes to see God's potential plan or purpose.


Being able to see the beauty within a storm is understanding God's presence in the midst of it. For me, I've grown deeper in my relationship with God over the past few years because I've needed him more. I've experienced more intimate conversations with him, spent more time in His Word, and felt his comforting arms wrapping around me when I've needed it the most. I can also see God using this season of infertility to work in my marriage. It's no coincidence that my husband and I are closer than we've ever been because of this heartache we are walking through together. Unified in our desire to be parents, we take turns being strong for each other during the hard times. And in moments when we're both down, God always shows up, surrounding us with friends and family to love on us, check in on us, and care for us.

Choosing to see the beauty in your storm also means considering how you'll have changed by the time the winds die down and the sun reappears. I'm always fascinated by the weathered, tattered, calloused hands of an older man, roughened and scarred from the labor of a hard but productive life. Those hands tell an interesting story, one worthy of admiration and respect. Those hands tell the story of a man who didn't give up.

While I'm not saying I want calloused hands when I get older, I am saying I want to leave a legacy of someone who never gave up. I want to walk through trials remembering that I'm someone who has been promised a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I'm never alone because I am His. (Joshua 1:9; Deuteronomy 31:6)

No beautiful statue is created without some chiseling. The more intense the chiseling, the more intricate and admirable the result. Could it be that the more time God spends chiseling us, the bigger plans He has for us? Could it be that He loves you so much He's giving you a story worth telling some day?

I encourage you to look around and see the beauty surrounding you. How can you walk away from this storm stronger? What are you learning about yourself? About God?

Let's pretend we're seamen and resolve to sail our ships with strong, weathered hearts, doused in truth from God's word, strong eyes focused ahead on Him. When the waves crash over us, let's cling to our Solid Rock of Salvation and relentlessly trust Him.

"...But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Romans 5:3-5

{Published on bravegirlcommunity.com}


3.25.2016

#NoFilter

Oh, the laborious task of editing a selfie before posting to Instagram. Am I right, ladies? Blemish remover, add a tan, maybe a little makeup. Air brush and adjust shadowing. I've been known to even slenderize an arm or two. Heck, just for kicks you can even do a little face swap with a pretty friend or celebrity. Surely I'm not the only one who's ever wondered what my hair looks like on Kris Jenner's face?

The reliance on filters to create a better version of ourselves is an epidemic, and it goes way past the finishing touches we put on a photo. The "I woke up like this" facade carries over into our relationships and how we present ourselves.

We walk into a room full of other women and not only begin immediately critiquing ourselves against everyone else, but we have a way of putting on our best face and instantly transforming into someone who can fit in and be liked. How quickly we can go from the frazzled woman who was yelling at our husband on the phone one minute before, to the social butterfly who can cheerfully compliment a stranger's highlights, while in the next breath volunteering to set up a meal train for another lady who just had a baby. Heaven forbid anyone know we are already maxed out or just really want to be at home in bed.

There is no room for insecurities, shortcomings and honesty about our sin when we are in the company of other women. Or at least that's how we behave.

What if at our next girls' night out or bible study, we resolved to use no filter? That is, we take the messy woman that God created us to be (and loves so dearly, I might add) and laid her out on the table. Be honest about our struggles. Be real. Be relatable.

I have never felt a stronger connection to someone than when they are sharing their testimony with me. I admire the woman who is brave enough to stand up in front of a room and talk about her brokenness and God's redeeming power over her life. The woman who resolves to use the hard and the ugly in her life to help someone else understand they aren't alone in theirs. The woman who's walked through drug abuse, an eating disorder or bitterness over a loss, and is willing to stand up and say, "I've struggled with this; now whom can I walk alongside on their path?"

Here's the thing: we all struggle. No matter how perfect our makeup is, how on trend our outfits are, or how big our smile is, we are all imperfect beings dwelling together on an imperfect earth. All a filter does is mask the imperfections that we all have and create a false projection of perfection, which no one can relate to. So why do we continue to isolate ourselves from genuine community by wearing our masks? Since we all wear them, why don't we all agree to take them off at the same time? Or I'll take mine off first if it means it will give you the courage to follow suit.

It's scary taking that first step, but the rewards are unifying, and, sister, they are freeing.

I encourage you to take off the mask, erase the filters, and embrace the fearfully, wonderfully created YOU. Be a trailblazer for other strong, confident women.

And while you're at it, delete the slenderize app.

{Published on bravegirlcommunity.com)

9.21.2015

>> the wall

Today I came face to face with the invisible wall that holds me back from true surrender to God.

That wall. I've felt it for a while now. No matter how much I learn or grow in my relationship with Christ, I still feel the wall's presence. It keeps me from ever truly overcoming. It keeps me bound by anxiety. I find even in the midst of serving Him in ways I never have before, I can still feel the weight and pressure of the wall. Victories, though worthy of praise, are only partial, as I've never been able to fully scale the wall.

I recently began co-leading a small group in my women's bible study. That sentence alone speaks volumes as to how God has moved in the heart of and life of this social-anxiety-ridden, people-pleasing, introverted, non-risk-taking, confrontation-fearing, timid Daughter. Victory has been achieved in that I am able to push through the anxiety of leading and speaking, able to push through the fear of what others are secretly thinking about me. I am free enough to push through and serve.

But is partial freedom the only freedom I'll ever know?

The wall.

The wall that fifteen minutes ago, I prayed about. As I read Jennie Allen's book, Anything, in preparation for this week's bible study meeting, I prayed:

God, I know I'm on the cusp of full surrender. I don't think my heart is fully ready to sincerely say, 'God, I'll do anything for you.' I'm still so held back and bound by something. I feel like I'm teeter-tottering on top of the wall that keeps me running full-speed to You. What is holding me back? What can I not let go of?

Then I continued reading. Jennie (in her book) told me that the thing I most fear is the thing that is most controlling in my life. She asked me: What are you most afraid of losing?

I stopped and I thought because I wanted to answer it right and honestly.

The thing I fear the most is losing everyone I love around me...having no support system...being alone.

Jennie told me to stare it in the face, to picture my life alone. I did, and I cried. It hurt and it scared me.

Snot and tears pouring down my face, and heart beating through my chest, I was finally able to identify THE WALL. The wall keeping me from full surrender:

God isn't real enough to me for me to have true comfort.

I don't fully believe that I am never alone. I don't know how to feel His Presence. My relationship with Him isn't real enough to me.

I have been His for 27 years, but today I asked him to become REAL to my beating heart. To become real to the heart he's inhabited for so long. How many of us live with someone for decades and never put the effort in to really getting to know them?

This life isn't about having a safe routine, doing the same thing every day. It's not about desiring a baby and asking my genie God to make all my dreams come true.

This life is about knowing God.
Who is He? Is He truly my first & foremost, my all-in-all? Who am I in His eyes?

This life is about experiencing God.
Playing it safe has kept me from needing to see God come through for me. I am learning that it is through risk that God becomes more real.


In order to demolish the wall, I will take more risks. I will intentionally put myself in situations where His Power alone will carry me through. When I recognize fear and anxiety creeping in, feeding me with doubt, I will recognize that as a cue from God, telling me to do it anyway.

He and I are in this together. This relationship. I've always been pursued. It's time for me to scale the wall and run fast and full of freedom, in pursuit of Him.