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)


>> 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.


>> gulf shores

We just returned home from the best. trip. ever. We went to Gulf Shores, AL to watch some friends of ours get married, but we also got to do some outlet shopping and beach lounging. When we booked our hotel, we basically went with the most affordable option with the highest rating. We had no idea we were going to be staying in the cutest, most elegant bed and breakfast, Hotel Magnolia.

It was about an 11-hour drive for us, but we still had time to meet up with everyone (the bride, groom, and their bridal party) for dinner at Lulu's, which is an awesome restaurant/outdoor party area right by the water. We ate at colorful picnic tables under a pavilion, surrounded by live music, volleyball, and various outdoor activities on the sand.

The next day, Friday, was Leslie's and my day to do whatever we liked. So we started the morning off with our complimentary breakfast downstairs. This was a pleasant experience, with only one other older lady downstairs eating at the same time as us and old Frank Sinatra style music playing softly in the background.

After breakfast, we hit up the biggest Tanger Outlet Mall I've ever seen. We probably didn't make it to half the stores because we only had this one day to squeeze in shopping and the beach, but we both found some pretty exciting merch. Then we went to Walmart for snacks, went back to the hotel to change and grab the beach bag, then headed to the ocean.

We laid out, played in the water, and people watched. It was hot, but so relaxing and beautiful. After the beach, we stopped by a souvenier shop and got some t-shirts then headed back to our room to get cleaned up. We wanted to eat somewhere special for dinner, and decided on a place in Orange Beach called Cotton's, which was described as "Seafood and steaks in a wood-paneled, 1950s former beach house with water views." It did not disappoint! There was live music downstairs, and Leslie enjoyed crab legs while I ordered the catch of the day fish, which turned out to be grouper. The food was great, but y'all, the frozen margaritas were T.D.F.

>> heading out to dinner<<

>>best margarita ever<<

Saturday was all about the beach wedding! We slept in a little then got ready to go. We drove to Dauphin Island, and in doing so had to go over the craziest bridge...

The island was beautiful, and the wedding was set on the beach outside some condos. It was so sweet to see our good friends get married.

The reception was in the clubhouse room of the condo building, and we had fun dancing and eating. Afterwards, we went back and changed before meeting the bride, groom and wedding party at The Pink Pony in Gulf Shores where we watched some pretty killer karaoke. 

We drove home all day yesterday, and I haven't been able to stop reminiscing about the beautiful ocean and the fun we had the short time we were there. I'm already dreaming of going back!


>> grandma

I saw an elderly lady in Walmart yesterday whose shoulder-length white hair was pulled back with a thin clip, and for whatever reason I was reminded of my grandma and how she might have worn something like that in her hair. 

My mind went on a tailspin of memories about her, flashing one after another like a fast-moving slideshow. I saw her thin frame, apron-clad, standing over the sink. I saw me as a child, drawing one crayon masterpiece after another on scrap pieces of whatever paper I could get my hands on then proudly presenting to her in exhausting fashion. 

I saw her humble abode--a trailer with furry rust-colored, matted down carpet in the bedrooms (which were mostly off limits), a rusty white iron porch on the front and a wooden porch on the back. I loved playing house on the iron steps.

I saw her bookcase stuffed with encyclopedias full of humans' skeletal and muscular diagrams that fascinated me to no end. 

I saw her pretty vintage dresses. Midi length, thinning cotton, floral print, most feminine little things you've ever seen. 

All these vivid memories of my childhood led to me to dream about my Grandma last night. In my dream, it was just she and I. I took care of her in her trailer house. I washed her beautiful vintage dresses and took special notice of all the details in them. We laughed and we hugged.

Then one day, my duties were officially over. I wasn't expected to go back and see her, but I did. She sat frail as a flower in a wheelchair and when I showed up at her door, she smiled. She told me I didn't have to come but she was glad I did. We laughed and hugged and I washed her dresses for her. She told me she had peace.

It's amazing to me that I had this dream. My grandma has been in Heaven for 9 years. I don't often think of her and mourn, but when I think back to being a small child and the memories I have of being around her, that time is so vivid and alive. I remember smells and textures and expressions--little things that haven't faded away with time. It's as if I walked around her home back then with eyes wide open, enthralled and romanced. 

This morning I'm left thinking about my grandma and how she was and is so much more than my limited childhood memory of her. She was once a young girl with dreams and secrets. She was a wife, mother and daughter of the King. She was so much more complex than the simple memory I have of her.

I can't wait to sit down next to her one day and just chat. 


>> valentine's day

This year's Valentine's Day was a little bit more meaningful than years past. Since it fell on a Saturday, we had the opportunity to make a day of it instead of just settling for a nice dinner out after work. The day was also beautiful, sunny with highs near 60. So we took a spontaneous road trip to the little college town where our story began.

We swapped out a romantic candlelit dinner for a greasy burger because it's a time-honored tradition of us to eat at CJ's every time we go through Russellville. We love the 50's retro diner decor complete with a jukebox and sparkly red vinyl chairs that give this place so much charm.

After a late lunch, we drove out to Mt. Nebo, the lookout point with insanely gorgeous views where Leslie proposed to me over 10 years ago.

We sat on the exact same rock where he got down on one knee and just took in the peaceful beauty. In my heart, I thanked God for bringing us to this point in our life and marriage. I told Leslie I'm so thankful we made it through the hard stuff and he agreed. It was simple, yet so sweet. 

Our trip down memory lane continued with a drive around the old familiar town. We even stopped in Kroger (because we don't have those here in Walmart land) and Hastings (possibly the last one left on earth??). We ordered the infamous Orange Cream Dream shake from the Hastings cafe and talked about how the place was the exact same as it was a decade ago. We topped the night off with a quick stop in Goodwill (because I'm an addict) then drove home, reveling in a day filled with simple romance that was so very special because it was a day built around reliving memories and just being together.


>> blessings in disguise

This morning I was on my way out the door to hit up a thrift store before meeting a friend for coffee, when it hit me that I had not done my morning devotional yet. Knowing I had plenty of time before I had to be anywhere, I didn't hesitate to sit down and open up my Jesus Calling devotional to see what the day had to say.

As is a common thread throughout this devotional, the peace of Jesus was the subject for the day. As I read the words on the page, I stopped and re-read this sentence several times in a row:

"Thank Me when things do not go your way, because spiritual blessings come wrapped in trials."

The beauty of those words just struck me. Blessings in disguise.

I immediately thought about my current ongoing trial, which is infertility. It's a subject I haven't touched on in a while on my blog, yet it is always in the back of my mind. And although it has never stolen my joy, it has, at times, made me feel sadness from the depths of my soul that I can only describe as the feeling of loss over something you've never had.

One of the verses that coincided with today's devotional was James 1:2. (I'm also including verse 3.)

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow."

I sat and took in the words. I thought about the fact that I have a trial in my life. I thought about how so many times in the past 4 1/2 years I've viewed infertility as a curse of sorts, a robbery of a blessing I felt I deserved. I've thought of it as a test of patience. But not often have I thought of infertility as a blessing. Not often have I thanked God for it.

But this morning I did. With a sincere heart, I thanked God that Leslie and I have not had a baby yet because we are growing spiritually through this, and our story is being written in a way that will allow us to minister to others.

Days like this are good days and are more frequent than few here lately. I truly see this road we're on as God-given, and the beauty of being in His will is undeniable. I still greatly desire to be a mommy, and I will still be sad every month that it doesn't happen. But I will always pick myself up and place myself back in His arms, having faith in His sovereign will.

For anyone reading this that might be struggling with infertility, I want to share a song that has great meaning to me. It's called Sovereign Over Us by Michael W. Smith. Sometimes I pull the lyrics video up on YouTube and just revel in the truth that God KNOWS and He is working for our good. What the enemy means for evil and defeat, God works it for our good. We just have to choose to trust and never lose heart.


>> a week with molly

My sister and her husband left for their very first mission trip together a few days ago and will be in Honduras for a week. They entrusted their little one to Leslie and me, and we couldn't have been more honored...or excited! Dry run at parenting...here we came!

Our first full day together was Saturday. Molly impressed us by sleeping all night in her pack & play without waking up until about 7:30 am. It was brutally cold, so we stayed home all day. Molly stayed in her pajamas until after her morning nap (which only lasted about 15 minutes), then I dressed her in her Razorback outfit that her mommy had packed for her in anticipation of the big AR/LSU rivalry game.

We spent the day playing in between meals, snacks and naps. In the afternoon, we got some thundersleet/small hail.

Molly had a cold, hence a very snotty nose, AKA crusted, boogery hair. We gave her a bath before putting her down for the night and watching the Razorback game. I also had a cold, so my body was exhausted by the end of the day! But it had all been so enjoyable, I couldn't wait to get up and do it all again with Molly.

The next day was Sunday, and even though we desperately wanted to put Molly in her Audrey-Hepburn-style black pea coat and go to church, we opted to stay home on account of both of us being sick. We declared this day pajama day! It started snowing in the afternoon but ended up only being a heavy dusting on everything. This day ran smoothly in that Molly napped for longer lengths and I got all my usual Sunday chores done and even cooked a pot of chili for dinner. 

Leslie has been such a great teammate through all of this! I walked in from blow drying and straightening my hair Sunday evening, and he was changing a poopy diaper! So needless to say, I was sad to see him go back to work on Monday.

Today is Monday, and I'm going to try to recap the days as they happen from this point forward. It's another frigid day--highs in the low 20's! But Molly and I got bundled up and had our first outing anyway!

All we did was to go to the post office, but I was proud I was able to get us both bundled and the car warmed up for us. I did forget to defrost the rear windshield though...oops! Almost nailed it.

Whereas most babies might fuss to be oitside on such a cold, blustery day, Molly smiled when the frigid wind hit her face. She is seriously the most chill baby. She has pretty much only cried when we've had to suction out or wipe her runny nose.

Then my parents came over to visit for a little bit and brought me Sonic for lunch. Molly loved getting to see new faces...I wonder if she is getting tired of seeing mine... I mean, this is the look I got as I sang to her at lunch:

Maybe it was because today was my first full day alone with a baby in my care, but I was wiped out at the end of the day. Leslie brought me home a surprise Pepsi and, let me tell you, a small gift never meant so much to me.

Moving on along to Tuesday, which is the day I'm typing this. I took the day off work to save my mom from having to come over 3 days in a row to watch Molly. Not to mention, I wasn't quite ready to leave her. Listen to me; I sound like a real mom. 

Getting out of the house is good for both Molly and me. So today we went over to my sister-in-law's house for lunch and to let the kids play. Molly lit up when she realized we were in a new house filled with new but familiar faces.

On the way home, Molly fell asleep and didn't wake up until I got her out of her car seat. I'll admit, yesterday I was feeling weary and questioning if I was cut from the same cloth that makes stay-at-home moms love what they do; but as I gently took off Molly's coat and boots, laid her in her bed and brushed the hair off her forehead, I knew there would be no greater way I could ever spend 
my days.

So today was just a really good day. I even conquered another first: taking a tiny one to the grocery store. We only had to get three things but it went seamlessly!

Wednesday and Thursday I went back to work, and my parents came over to watch Molly. Thursday afternoon, the temps were in the 50's so Molly and I went outside for some much-needed fresh air and sunshine!

Friday was Operation: Let's Get Out of the House. Molly and I met up with friends at a local burger joint for lunch.

Then we headed to Target for some good ol' fashioned "clearance end cap browsing" and met up with my sis-in-law and her little nuggets.

Then to top the day off, Leslie and I took Molly out on a dinner date for some yummy bbq! 

On Saturday morning, Molly woke up before we were quite ready to stop being snuggly in bed. So I went and got her, and we all snuggled a little bit longer!

It was rainy all day, but we got out to the grocery store to shop for Thanksgiving meal items to contribute to our church's drive to feed families in our area.

The highlight of the day was taking Molly over to Leslie's parents' house to watch the Razorback game.

It was such a joy watching them play with her and love her as if she could be their own grandchild. And we worked really hard on teaching her "Woo Pig Sooie!"

On Sunday, we woke up feeling sad that it was our last day to have Molly but also excited to see Charlie and Emily again. Molly was still asleep when it was time to get her ready for church, so after she had a solid 12 hours of sleep, we had to wake her up, feed her breakfast, get her dressed and fix her hair all in about a 25 minute time frame. I was sweating because as the minutes ticked down, I couldn't get her tights to fit on her legs and had to improvise with a pair of leggings (from the dirty laundry pile, shhh) and socks. We were about 15 minutes later than we wanted to be getting to church, but it wasn't a big deal because a breakfast was being served instead of having first service.

After church we had lunch at home and laid Molly down for a quick nap before heading to the airport to pick up Emily and Charlie.

It was pure magic seeing this sweet family reunited. Molly took it all in stride but I could see gladness and a sense of comfort on her face once it set in that her parents were home. I watched everyone hug and thought about how amazing their week must have been serving Jesus in Honduras. I also thought about the amazing week I had as Molly's pretend Mommy and had to hold back tears at the sheer greatness of it all.

The week we spent with Molly will be forever treasured in my heart. I learned so much about what it will be like to be a full-time parent some day, and I fell even deeper in love with a very special little girl.

Emily texted me a few days after getting home and said that she had mentioned Aunt Martha to Molly. She said this is how Molly responded: