Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012.

I always get a little nostalgic this time of year. While my memory is still ridiculous, the lines are getting a little blurrier and I find myself having those conversations with friends and family that I never understood as a child. You know, they go something like "Wasn't that back in '97 or was it '96?...no wait, I know it was in '97 because that's the year we blah, blah, blah, blah".

2012 has been a good year. Sure, there were some potholes along the way but the highlights far outweigh them. It's always been a challenge for me to define something as "the best" or "favorite" but for the sake of posterity I will do it today so a hundred years from now my great great grandchildren can see what their hip and cool ancestor did during the prehistoric times when personal autos had wheels instead of wings.

Best Song: "The Once and Future Carpenter" - The Avett Brothers. If you haven't seen them live please make it a point to do so in 2013. And buy a ticket for me while you're at it.

Best Quote: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."- Neale Donald Walsch. Challenge accepted.

Best Meal: Brunch at Bouchon in Vegas. I can pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch day after day, but there are times when I still think about this meal. It was that good. If you  haven't been there yet please make it a point to go in 2013. And buy a plane ticket for me while you're at it.



Best Breakfast Spot: Mama's Boy in Athens. Sure, it always wins that vote but I can think of 4 breakfasts that I had there this year in particular. The food is always good but those conversations are what I will remember most. I think we are forgetting the value in genuine conversation because our phones and computers and tablets make it so much easier for us to type words instead of speaking them.

Best Moment: How can I list one when an entire year is made up of 525,600 minutes? [Clarification: I have no idea if that's actually the number of minutes in a year, but you're welcome for getting that song from Rent stuck in your head too. The season of giving continues!] Easily, because not every moment looked like this:

Very rarely am I totally surprised. Clearly I had no idea this was happening. Sure a singing and tap-dancing chicken is oh, what's the word: AMAZING but it was all the faces that you don't see in this picture that I could see from my vantage point that made this moment the best. The fact that they took the time to orchestrate it for me is still totally humbling. Oh how I miss seeing those faces on a Monday through Friday basis.

Best Trip: Vegas. Duh. I have no idea why it's my happy place because I'm not much of a gambler, I prefer my alcohol to be poured and served in glasses between 8 and 16 oz in size instead of dispensed from a frozen slushy looking machine into a plastic Eiffel Tower almost as tall as the real thing, and well, then there's my stance on cigarettes. But the mountains that surround the city are gorgeous. There's always something new to see and do. I've loved it since I went there the first time 5 years ago. Because only my mama was gutsy enough to ask the question many of you are wondering: No, it wasn't tough for me to be back there. That was over 2.5 years ago. The only time I even made an association between the city and R was when I saw a random milk truck because the logo for the milk sold out there is a cow jumping over the moon and he would always buy me that kind of chocolate milk when I was in town. Weird, right?

 
Also weird: The life-sized version of this picture. What in the world, blogger?

Best Book: "Bossypants" by Tina Fey. I laughed out loud so many times when reading this book beach side this summer. I kind of wish that I could be friends with Tina Fey in real life. I also kind of wish that I could be beach side right now.

Best Accomplishment: Going to the dentist. Oh you laugh, but I have a completely irrational disdain [read: fear] of the dentist. Then I broke my tooth while flossing earlier this year and that required the assistance of a medical professional. What's that? Did I have any cavities? Nope. Not a single one, Thankyouverymuch.

Really? I'm ending this post by talking about my trip to the dentist? I've got to accomplish more in 2013. Good thing I'm outside my comfort zone.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The fat lady has sung.

Do you want to know a sign of a good vacation? Waking up and not having a clue as to what day of the week it is. It seems like just a few days ago I was rushing around in preparation for Christmas and now the 2012 edition of the most wonderful time of the year is just a distant memory. Who here thinks that Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year? Who here waits in eager anticipation for December 26th?

I do love Christmas, but I would be lying if I said that throughout my history of holiday seasons I have never had a less than stellar one. As weird as it may sound I tend to think that's a perk of having multiple trips around the sun. We easily and sometimes flippantly chalk it up to "that's just part of life" but once we've lived through some of those "just part of life" events that happens to everyone else, I think [and hope] we become more sensitive and compassionate to those around us who have more scrooge and less spunk in their steps this time of year.

Because none of you have the time, patience or desire to read about how I've spent every single riveting second of the last 2 weeks, this year's post will hit a few of the highlights as well as some of my favorite things in general about Christmas.

Free Time
By the time January 2 rolls around I will have had 18 days straight of PTO. Sure, I love my job but I love it more when we've had some time apart. Now that I think about it, I don't think I've worked a full week since the week before Thanksgiving. [Not because I'm lazy, dear state taxpayers, but because I have tons of leave time accumulated.] Anywho. I love, love, love staying up late and sleeping later. Am I the only one whose definition of sleeping late has gotten much earlier over the years? I've always been a nightowl but against my will I've turned into a morning person too.

Friends & Family
First there was Nashville with the family to see Justin and Sarah play the Opry at the Ryman. No, I will never get tired of telling that story because I will always be so proud of them.

And then the week before Christmas I spent time with a few of my very favorites. One-on-one time catching up on life was so good for my soul. Of course there's never enough time to see everyone I want to see, and we're always so busy talking that we never stop to take pictures but that's alright. We'll take pictures when we're 75 and look at them while wondering how we've managed to maintain such a youthful glow throughout the years. And then we'll inquire about a group discount for cataract removal.

Oh, and of course Christmas Eve at Mu and Pop's house with mom's side of the family. Selfishly I wish we could slow the years down and particularly those nights because until I have my very own little family one day, this is my chance to witness the excited chatter and the sound of a thunderous herd of kiddos running through the house because they have so much energy and excitement about Santa's imminent arrival that if they had to sit still they would probably just pop. And spending time with the rest of the crew is pretty ok too.

Starbucks Red Cups
Yes, I know it's a major marketing plot by the evil Starbucks elves, but I don't care. They aid in my Christmas cheer.

Christmas Movies
Christmas Vacation is my most favorite. I also love Elf and naturally the classics. I must confess I even enjoy those ridiculous Hallmark Christmas movies. Stop rolling your eyes. Of course they are hokey and cheesy. I generally roll my eyes are similar movies unless I've been drinking out of the red cups. I blame the evil Starbucks elves.

Christmas Cards
Love them. I love sending them. I love receiving them. I love blogging about them.

Gifts
Absolutely it's better to give than to receive. There really is something so fantastic about seeing the people I love light up over receiving a gift that I picked out especially for them. Yes, I wait until the last minute to go out and do my shopping but I'm continously thinking about what  I'm going to get beginning around October. Yes, as a matter of fact I do love to coordinate gift wrap and spend time making the packages look pretty. I don't care that the paper is going to be ripped to shreds. No, I don't know how to tie real bows but I sure have fun trying.

It would be silly to say that I don't like receiving gifts at all. Of course I do. See that green box? Inside was a charm bead for my bracelet that has "sister" engraved on it. All those years of asking Santa and Jesus and whomever else would listen to me beg for a little brother or sister has paid off in countless ways. And to think I finally got that role when I had given up and resigned myself to the fact that I was destined to be an only.

Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's
If loving them is wrong then I don't want to be right. I've been on a strict sugar diet and these little gems are a staple. Yes, they do pair nicely with hot chocolate or coffee as evidenced by the pantry positioning.

Christmas Songs
I have a "rule" about only listening to Christmas music between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My own rule was broken when I started listening the week before Thanksgiving this year. The Starbucks red cups made me do it. One exception to the rule: Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas". I have been known to spontaneously belt that one out in the middle of August. Don't judge me.

Books
For those of you out there who have forsaken your first love of bound books in exchange for an eReader, here is a reminder of what actual books look like. [I'm a laggard but I suspect my near future includes a Kindle or Nook or something fancy and new-fangled because moving reminded me of just how heavy and space hogging books can be.]

I'm a super nerd when it comes to reading over the holidays. This is the 2012 Christmas Collection. I started with Night Circus but have peeked at the Stephen Colbert book because it's not a cover-to-cover read. It's hilarious and comes complete with 3-D glasses.

Meaning & Magic
This figurine has been in my mom's house since I was a little girl.

I think mom and dad got it as visual aid to help me remember the order of importance between Jesus and Santa. I'm so very thankful that they allowed me to get caught up in the excitement and experience of Santa and all that goes along with him. [Even though I was completely weirded out over the fact that we so willingly allowed some strange man in our house while we slept, I sure did appreciate the loot he left behind.] Kids at Christmas remind us to be carefree and full of excitement over the possibility of what's in store for us in the morning. Santa will always be welcomed in my home.

All of the hustle and bustle we get caught up in this season is made possible because of the greatest gift any of us has ever been given. Yes, even greater than those years I got the Swatch watch or two Cabbage Patch Kids or that silly leather bomber jacket that everyone in the 6th grade just had to have. In the Gospels, the Christmas story is told in both Matthew and Luke. A couple of years ago Andy Stanley did a series called "An Unexpected Christmas" using Matthew's account and I love it. I love it because it's real and a reminder that Jesus came for all of us, not just a select group of holy rollers. His lineage is pretty  interesting. This talk by Stanley is pretty timeless and maybe I'll watch it again. If not now, maybe in August or something. It's appropriate for more important and better reasons than Hard Candy Christmas during August karaoke. It is accessible right here, or through a simple search using "Andy Stanley An Unexpected Christmas".

Sure Christmas Day is one single solitary day on the calendar. It's a day that leaves us exhausted and full and left with the chores of cleaning up and putting away. But it leaves us with so much more if we let it. Full hearts. An eternal perspective. The promise of a highly anticipated tomorrow.

"This is love: not that we loved God but that he loves us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." -1 John 4:10-11



  

Monday, December 24, 2012

We're still here.

No one actually thought that the world was going to end on Friday just because once upon a time the Mayans said so, right? Sure - it was a great excuse to throw or attend a party because there's just not enough eating and drinking and being merry already happening this time of year. I am happy to report that I did discover a new favorite wine from Trader Joe's in celebration of/preparation for the Mayan Apocalypse. It's a red that pairs nicely with a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich from Mama's Boy the next morning.

Before I actually sit down to type a blog post, I come up with a rough draft of it in my head. [I might have used the same approach with my grad school applied project.] Earlier last week I was thinking about how I was going to blog about what we would do during this week if the world really was going to end on Friday. How would we live? Who would we see? Where would we go? And then that unimaginable Friday morning happened. The end of the world came far too early for some precious souls.

There's really nothing that I can write here that hasn't already been written in a more eloquent way. I didn't plan on writing about it but before I yammer on endlessly about this being the most wonderful time of the year and all the ways that I love Christmas, I just feel like it's appropriate to acknowledge those young lives and the ones who were lost trying to defend them. 

What happened in that elementary school or the events in that young man's life leading up to that morning will never make sense to our human minds. We may try to understand the why or the how, but there are some things that will never ever make sense. For me, this is one of those things. Instead of getting completely bogged down in the media coverage, I've spent a lot of this week praying for those moms and dads and thinking about what we can learn from those kiddos.

A couple of weeks ago I started reading John Eldredge's book "Waking the Dead". In it, he uses Saint Irenaeus's famous quote: "The glory of God is man fully alive." I've heard this many times before but it really struck a chord with me in the wake of Friday morning.

Even if we've never raised a 1st grader, we all have an idea of what 6 and 7 years old looks like. We've seen it in nephews or nieces or younger siblings. We've been it. The argument can be made that every age is the "best age" but at 6 and 7, there is such childhood innocence that hero worship is usually still reserved for immediate family. Older siblings are the best body guards and playmates available. They haven't realized that in just a few years they will be teenagers which means being an expert in life so there's a genuine and natural curiosity about the world. There's a recognition of differences between people but those differences are usually welcomed because 6 doesn't understand socioeconomic status or political platforms. Six isn't perfect because there's a knowledge of right and wrong. There's consequences. There's the ability to get angry and frustrated over circumstances. There's also the ability to forgive and forget in time for recess.

First graders are full of life. Each day they bring God glory without stopping to think about it. Maybe it's because they aren't focused on the doing, they are just focused on the living. Where is our focus? Are we so focused on the individual tasks that we forget the  bigger purpose and reason behind them? This quote is a great summation of a general theme of some stuff that I've been learning and coming to understand for the last several months. Maybe it's just me but I think there's a general tendency to think about God in terms of eternity so there's the knowledge that we'll be fully alive forever when we're with him in heaven. But this world is not just a really cool airport that we're in for a layover until then. We bring him glory when we approach each day with a bit of childlike innocence and energy. What if we met strangers with a sense of curiosity and respect, offered forgiveness as freely as a first-grader and willingly shared our possessions without considering the dollar value of them? What if we could read those questions without the cynicism and jadedness that we learn so well in adulthood creeping into our minds? I don't write this to make life sound so simplistic and idealistic that if we just follow these easy steps life will be a cakewalk. Because it will not be. I do think there is no harm in deciding to try to live more fully alive. We might surprise ourselves. We're still here. Let's get started. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"your life looks like fun."

Today's subject line is inspired by a comment that a friend made on my current Facebook profile picture. When I read it my initial thought was something to the effect of "really? because your life looks like more fun."

The grass is always greener, right? How quickly we all too often fall into the comparison trap. Clearly Facebook was created to remind us of all we don't have but should have at a particular stage in the game of life. Ok, I'm just being a little dramatic with that last sentence but how sad that there's some truth in it. Or maybe it's just me that feels that way.

Her comment was good for me because it kind of snapped me out of my current funk. Admittedly this time of year, I get a little jealous of those ridiculous pictures of ridiculous elves doing ridiculous things around the house. [No offense to my elf on the shelf loving mama friends out there. We all know that my elf would be the most ridiculous and over the top one of all and the photo documentation would cause everyone to block me from their FB newsfeed because I would post pictures ad nauseam.]

My life doesn't just look like fun; it really is fun. It's nothing like I thought it would be or even hoped that it would be at the ripe old age of 33 but it's good. And it's fun. There's nothing that drives me crazier than a woe is me single gal lamenting over her current state of affairs or lack thereof. Honestly, I am hesitant to ever discuss or write about my own single state because I don't want to come across as one of those girls. Not to mention my feeling on how some parts of one's personal life should remain personal. More importantly than not appearing like I am one of those girls, I don't want to be one of those girls. I wasted a lot of time in my early 20's being one of those girls. I can't get that time back and I regret it. People always said "just wait, one day you'll get married and blah blah blah" and I got stuck in the quicksand of the "just wait" part.

Before I left Athens, I had dinner with a sweet friend who is in the same stage of life I was in about 7 years ago. She was in a thousand weddings in about a dozen days' time. Not in a single one of them did she wear the pretty white dress. I tried to be a source of encouragement by telling her what I wish someone with the benefit of age and hindsight had told me. I told her that I wish I knew when it was going to be her day or how much longer she was going to have to wait for it to be her turn. I also told her that it very well could be much farther into the future than she ever dreamt possible. BUT in the meantime I saw her doing a fantastic and amazing job at living her life. And she needed to keep doing that instead of getting discouraged and giving up because "all the good ones are gone". [News flash: They are still good ones out there, gals. Quit crying in your Ben & Jerry's and taking the easy way out by settling for the Target version of the high-end design. You too, guys.]  I told her that I was so proud of her because she was out and about. She was having fun. That made her attractive. And any dude worth his salt would see that quality in her and appreciate her and want her for that. I mean sure, that's what all the single gals say to make themselves feel better, right? No. Only the brilliant and amazing ones. :)

I've hoped for a husband. I've prayed for a husband. I've waited for a husband. I've quit talking to God for long periods of time because after doing all three of the aforementioned things, I never got a husband. And finally, it dawned on me that there's time and room for both. Sure, I'm probably never going to be married for 60 years but that's ok...less time to get fed up with his antics and sick of cooking his dinner and picking up his stinky socks. I keed, I keed. But just because I may never be married for 60 years that doesn't automatically equate to never being married. Why does it take us female types so long to make that obvious connection? Because our pre-frontel cortex isn't fully developed until we're 25, that's why.

This mentality doesn't end when the honeymoon begins. Next it's kids and jobs and houses and vacations and retirement plans and finally, one upping Frank and Ethel by picking out the best headstone at the cemetary. 

There's a line in U2's song "Beautiful Day" that I absolutely love. It's so simple, yet so true: "What you don't have you don't need it now." Can Bono get an amen? I am guilty of forgetting that at times, but I'm trying to do a better job of remembering.

Maybe this is one of those posts that I'm going to need to go back to and re-read when I find myself in the pit of despair - please get the movie reference, people. One day when the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars and I'm married and busy putting the needs of someone else before my own, I want to ultimately be able to look back on this part of life and say "geez, I'm so glad that I got to have that fun before I started having this fun." Hopefully though this will serve as a good reminder for someone else who feels that they are stuck in a holding pattern that just won't let go. There are many things in life that we cannot control or change no matter how hard we try. But there are some things that we can do or control. Like getting out there and having fun with the current hand of cards we're holding. I need to stop craning my neck to see my neighbor's hand while wishing I could hold those cards. Because the truth is, we've all got a joker that no one really wants. A new hand will be dealt sooner or later and it's our job to play every single card wisely and well. [My apologies for using weak playing card analogies. It seems that I woke up in Vegas one too many mornings this week. More on that another day.]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Carb-Loading

Eventually I'm going to have to stop eating leftover mashed potatoes and cake for lunch and dinner in the name of  "carb-loading". I've got to get it in my mind right this minute that eventually is now instead of when there is no more left. For Thanksgiving this year, my contributions were slow-cooker creamed potatoes [real potatoes, none of that flaky business in a bag], scratch biscuits for the dressing, sausage balls for the pre-party, and pumpkin bread. So really, I contributed starch. To use my grandma's expression "it was good, even if I did make it." I love cooking and baking. I actually prefer baking to cooking because with baking you have to be more precise by following the directions exactly. Oh how I love a good set of clear directions with a known outcome. I especially love cooking and baking for the people I love the most. I'm a nurturer so it's another way for me to take care of them. You know, by filling them full of sugar and cholesterol in the name of love. 

Anywho, Thanksgiving came and went and I didn't even post anything about gratitude or all the things I've been blessed with. It's not that I'm not grateful and goodness knows, I've been blessed. But honestly, I spent a lot of last week thinking about those folks who are in their first round of holidays with an empty seat at the table. I have a precious, precious friend in this season right now and I wish so badly I could just fast-forward through it for her and make it all better. Typically when we think about "firsts", they are milestones that we want to celebrate and remember forever: first steps, first day of school, first kiss, first date, etc. The first "without" events though are a little different. Until you've been through a round of them, you don't really know how to address them with people in the middle of living them. And still because we're all different and we all grieve and heal differently, there's no prescribed one-size-fits-all method. For me, the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without dad wasn't really as hard as I was anticipating it. I think it's because everyone around me was on watch to make sure I was busy and occupied. And I kept myself busy and occupied through making sure mom and the boys were occupied. I was planning on it being tough so when the days came and went, it really wasn't. However, I was totally unprepared for the first birthday that rolled around when daddy didn't call me first thing in the morning to wish me a happy birthday. That was the toughie for me. And we're not even huge birthday people, but missing that standard real life moment that I had always counted on is what serves as the greatest reminders of loss for me. The sting of it never goes away completely, but I'm so thankful that God has given us the capacity to celebrate in the midst of sorrow. Our hearts can simultaneously break with grief and burst with love. I cannot help but think that our loved ones hope that the love we feel far surpasses the grief we bear. For those of not in that season right now, but know someone who is, I think all we can do is love them. Consistently. And treat them like they are normal people. Because they are normal people. Don't be afraid to ask about how they are doing, but don't feel silly for asking if they saw that commercial on television for Sears that looks like a movie-trailer too. [Which speaking of, have you seen that commercial? Hilarious.]

I didn't intend on that little tangent when I sat down to write about excessive consumption of empty carbs, but I guess it needed to be said. Where was I? Oh yes, carb-loading. In 6 days I'm running my 5th half-marathon. The last one I ran was 3 years ago which means my knees are three years older. By no means am I old and I will absolutely get ticked off when some 68 year old sporty granny cruises right on by footloose and fancy free as I'm sludging through mile 11 as a reminder of my "youth". I'm starting to get that nervous feeling in my stomach. You know, like maybe I'm going to be that girl they have to cart off on a stretcher. Typically that anxiety doesn't set in until I'm all settled into my corral downing another salt pack.  What's that? Maybe that feeling in my stomach is a result of too much cake and mashed potatoes? I guess that's a possibility too.

Stay tuned. With any luck I'll finish the 13.1 in my best time yet, win a couple of grand in a slot machine [Is it possible for lightening to strike twice?!?!] and finally get a photo with Elvis. A girl can dream, can't she?

Monday, November 19, 2012

There's a first time for everything.

The other night my mom told me that I was a diva. She might or might not have been justified in such name-calling, but we'll get to that in a minute. I would argue against the title because would a diva go to Target in her Southern hometown on a Saturday afternoon without a trace of make-up on her face? Doubtful. Speaking of, I really need to stop such antics before there's unnecessary chatter and speculation that I'm down with some sort of terminal illness. Unless practicality over not wasting a day's worth of make-up for a 15 minute trip to the Target pharmacy constitutes terminal illness. While I'm on the subject of the Target pharmacy, I just got a phone call from them informing me that the insurance company refuses to pay for my Differin gel because I'm over the age of 30. Really? Is this what health care reform is going to look like? Because I can promise no one wants to look like the un-medicated version of my jaw line. [Good thing I'm building my mother's case in my own very weak argument against it.]

Anywho, for those of you who accidentally stumbled upon this post while searching for "Target Black Friday deals" or something equally as important, I'm temporarily back in my mother's house until I figure out what zip code I want for my next one. Quick review:
  • I haven't lived in my mother's house since 1997.
  • I haven't shared living space with anyone for more than a couple of weeks at a time since 2003.

So maybe some of you are wondering how all of this is going. My dog loves it:
The cat hates it:
 
I plead the 5th.
 
Is it ideal? Absolutely not, but good heavens, what an easy problem to have, in the grand scheme of problems. I have a roof over my head and a mother who would open her door for any of her children no matter what. Yes, I had better check myself before I wreck myself.
 
My mother can only get away with calling me a diva because she's a saint. I once said so in a Mother's Day post here and 4 years later, it's still true. We absolutely have our differences, but that's probably why in the long run this whole little phase will be more manageable than it could have been. So why did she call me that in the first place? Because my 14 year old brother refused to use his own bathroom and took over mine. When all I wanted to do was slather on some acne cream and take out my contacts and go to bed like any other hip and happening early-30-something bunking at her mom's house. Good. Lord.
 
While I'm on the topic of moving back home, I'll note a few other observations for the sake of posterity because one day this will all be a fuzzy memory and I'll be whining about why I didn't take advantage of this time while I had it.
 
The city has made me soft. Target is now a 40 minute venture round trip. I have to drive somewhere to go running. I miss local restaurants. I miss living less than 5 minutes from a Starbucks no matter which direction I go. I miss my hip and trendy mega-church right beside my little apartment.
 
To be fair, rural living has its own charm. What's not charming about coyotes howling in the distance or random shotgun fire while out walking the dog either late at night [coyotes] or just after sunrise [shotguns - it's gun season, you know]? Word to the wise: Never watch The Walking Dead at 9:00 and then walk the dog when living in the middle of nowhere. Never. Ever. The leaves are much more colorful and pretty. The Blue Ridge mountains stretch along the horizon. I can easily pick out the constellations because the stars are brighter. The air is probably a little clearer. But I think I've decided it's this kind of stuff that long weekends are for. At least at this stage in the game for me. Mama asked me the other day if I would raise kids in the city. To which I blithely responded, 'why not?' But where I'm going to raise my unborn babies is the last thing on my mind these days. I'm much more concerned about finding my stone loaf pans before Thanksgiving at this particular moment. Besides something makes me think that I don't have to worry about raising babies anytime soon as long as my living arrangements match those of Howard Wolowitz.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Matter of Faith.

There's an unanswered email in my inbox from October 22. In the grand scheme of things, not that many days have passed since the 22nd but more than I typically allow to go by before a response. The primary reason for my delay is that in the email, there's a question about my faith. Specifically, my faith in relation to this new career move that I've recently made.

On more than one occasion I've tried to blog or journal about my faith. Sure, it's been an underlying theme in many of my posts but not once have I ever been able to successfully share in a clear, succinct manner my story in regards to my beliefs. Perhaps a reason why is because for me, faith has never been a clear or succinct topic. When I'm really honest, the best way I know to summarize my personal faith is an infinite loop of belief and doubt.

Dictionary.com defines faith as:
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing
2. belief that is not based on proof
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.
5. a system of religious belief
 
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
 
I spent most of my Sunday mornings during childhood on a wooden church pew but refused to say that Jesus was my savior until the summer before I went to college. It was 7 years after that before I finally took the plunge publicly through baptism. I didn't say that he wasn't my savior- I just didn't say anything. Why? Because I was afraid of being wrong. I let the "what-if's" rule. I needed to see it to believe it. By nature, I am a pretty logical person and I've always had the tendency to think through multiple scenarios to determine potential outcomes. [No wonder my friends stopped inviting me to all the cool, fun parties during high school.] I determined that the only way that I would really know for sure, for sure that he was would be when eternity became my reality. By then though it would be too late to come back and say "hey everybody, guess what, it's true" so I was in a bit of a conundrum. By both sets of definitions above, it doesn't take Sheldon Cooper to conclude that I was a person bound to struggle with faith. [And if anybody knows about conflict between logic and faith, it's Sheldon Cooper.]
 
For me, faith is a very, very personal matter. Sure, it's worthy of conversation and we are absolutely supposed to share our stories of faith, but I've got pretty strong convictions as to the when, hows, and whys when it comes to discussing it. Some folks will cringe and tsk, tsk when they read this. Others will be thankful. It's a subject that is a challenge for me to talk or write about for multiple reasons: I'm not very Bible savvy. [Yes, I know the remedy for that.] I'm forced to become more vulnerable when I talk about it because my faith has evolved as a result life experience. [We're all just like onions with multiple layers. Ever slice open an onion? Exactly.] Faith is continuous. I love to be able to tell something from start to finish so that I can make the connections as to hows and the whys, but my faith journey will end when my life on this earth does so that's impossible to tell from start to finish [Lucky for you, my 3 readers, because could you imagine how ridiculously long that blog post would be?!?!] And finally, I don't really feel like a very good example of someone with great faith. I've always tried to be a good example but throw me under a microscope and there's plenty of room for improvement. [I finally found my Bible the other day. I was more concerned about unearthing my coffee maker in the great move.]

Here's what I've come to understand about faith thus far:
  • I do not have all the answers.
  • If I had the answers, I would have no need for faith.
  • I need it. I think we're naturally wired to need it.
  • It's ok to live by both logic and faith, but there are some things that cannot be logically explained or understood. Each element has its rightful place. Knowing how to employ both is key.
  • My faith cannot be contingent upon a what's in it for me attitude. Because what's in it for me may be only a small portion of a much bigger and more important plan. I'm learning [and trying] to become less selfish with my own agenda and let go of it for a much better one. That doesn't mean that I have to completely abandon my hopes and dreams. I think we are absolutely supposed to have them. I just can't be so narrow minded that I don't allow the possibility of something unimaginable to happen. Expect the unexpected. Let's just say that I'm a work a progress. A very slow, stubborn work in progress.
  • My God is faithful to me when I have none. Evidence: There have been plenty of situations that I could not figure out how I was ever going to move beyond. [In 2 years or maybe even 2 months I will go back and read the previous sentence and roll my eyes at such a "pit of despair" proclamation. I love hindsight.] Sure I've gotten tripped up along the way but not once have I stalled out completely. That's not my own doing. 

Sure, I wish I knew the purpose in this move or why I'm here in this particular place at this particular time, but I've also learned not to look so hard for those kinds of answers. I may not ever fully know all the reasons or details. I'm a rat running in a wheel if I try to speculate and fit my present into a prescribed set of reasons to determine what this is leading to before I get there. I'm continously perplexed as to how my decisions and the master plan intersect, collide, or run parallel with each other. Try as I might, I will never reconcile this great mystery.  Thank God for faith.

People are weird, weird, weird.

When I was in college, one of my Psychology professors would declare that at least once during every class. The course was Abnormal Psych so I walked away from that upper division course with an understanding that people are in fact, weird. I love that I went to college to study a topic that the rest of society acknowledges as common sense. Anywho, I'm in the middle of a blog post that I just cannot finish because it's forcing me to think and feel and be transparent so in the interim on a lighter note, I'm sharing evidence that people are in fact weird.

My friend Jenny is the source of inspiration for today's post because she enjoys looking at the key word searches for her blog in the stats as much as I do. [I love that I have friends who are almost as nerdy as me!]

Here is a snapshot of this week's key word searches that led strangers from the unknown to stumble upon this little blog of mine:

These are almost as good as the "sexy senior citizens", "chocolate lab tattoos", and "I'm a new smoker" searches from days of yore.

Oh the wisdom of Dr. Jim Coone that was lost on the 21 year-old version of me: "People are weird, weird, weird."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Full.

On my last day of work at The OC, I was serenaded by a tap-dancing chicken. Clarification: it was actually a person dressed in a chicken suit but y'all: a singing, tap-dancing chicken came to work and sang...to me. That's one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that as much fun as it is in the moment, it's just as fun to talk about it later. There's video documentation of this whole occasion floating around Facebook, but here's a still shot:
Shortly after the video was posted I got a text from a BFF that said "you look extremely uncomfortable in the dancing chicken video. It's hilarious." She was correct on both counts. I loved the dancing chicken, but I was rendered utterly speechless when it was happening. [Please see pic above as evidence of my natural awkwardness.] As I was looking around the office surrounded by the people I had worked with for the last 5 years, not only was I at a loss for words, I was completely and totally humbled that they had orchestrated something so fantastic specifically for me. I felt so undeserving. I still do.

When the song and dance was over with all eyes on me, I realized that I was going to have to say something. It's times like these when one-dimensional words never do justice to what I'm feeling on the inside. The only way that I know to describe it is that I just feel full. Like, filled to the brim with joy and appreciation and love and well, emotion...full. I tried my best to verbally communicate that but I'm not a very polished impromptu speaker because I tend to think about a conversation or event even after it's done. I need time to respond to something. Factor in the tears and it was just a bit of a mess. Places you will never find me: participating in a political debate. In that particular moment, I was full.

It's only been one week since I left the little city that I slowly grew to love. Yesterday I scheduled some meetings and appointments in town to coincide with election day, and I had a work event in town today. This evening as I was driving out of town, I realized that I could not stop the tears that were once again determined to fall. I would be lying if I said that there was not a single trace of sadness in them, but mainly it was because I was just full after two very full days. It's one of the best feelings I know.

Last Thursday at family dinner, my cousin Kyle looked at me and asked "So what's the plan, Heather?". Frankly, these days I cringe at that question, but as I was driving tonight, I realized [ok, I realized it a long time ago, perhaps " finally admitted" is more appropriate] that for far too long I have been so focused on getting to the future and the next item on the agenda that I tend to look at individual days as "just another sleep until..." instead of individual and unique 24 hour increments of time that I will only get once. So the plan right now is to try my hardest to have a full day. Each day. Sure, not every day will include a singing and dancing chicken, but something standard like a 2.5 hour conversation with the stylist at the salon can factor into the equation for a full day if we allow it to. [Yes, I was in the chair for 2.5 hours yesterday. No, my hair looks nothing like Jennifer Aniston's.]

Very, very slowly I'm learning that the best days are the ones that cannot be summarized by checking items off of a to-do list. And this is coming from a girl who loves checking items off of a to-do list as a measure of accomplishment. The best days are ones that are felt in a way that cannot be described any other way but as being "full".

My cup runneth over.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Soundtrack: What happened to 92.9 & 96.1 Edition?

[The title is less thematic and more of a question.]

Remember how back in January I declared to blog more this year than last? I'm not certain that I'm going to accomplish that goal because we all know that sooner as opposed to later I'll run out of things to say for a little while. I suspect that some of you are hoping that "sooner" comes very soon. The good news is that even when I'm yammering on endlessly here in the blogosphere, my preference is actually to listen. Well, to some extent. More on that later. Today I bring you some of my current favorite tunes that is music to my ears.

Madness - Muse. I like this song almost as much as Uprising. And that concludes my comprehensive knowledge of Muse-ic.

Midnight on the Interstate - Trampled by Turtles. Where do these groups come up with their names these days? I mean, seriously. For instance...

Man on Fire - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Ringtones. I heard this song on Parenthood, I think. Who here is watching Parenthood this season? I love the Braverman family. I do not love that Christina has cancer though because my eyes are red-rimmed and puffy at the end of every episode. Sometimes I forget that the Braverman family isn't real, but then it doesn't make me feel any better when I remember that they are not because there are real families everywhere dealing with the same issues this television family deals with each week. The Braverman's just have the luxury of living it with cool theme music in the background.

One More Night - Maroon 5. Since my first true love - Justin Timberlake - recently married, I decided it's time to crush on a new musician. I'm not typically one for super inked up bodies and skinny jeans but Adam Levine wears both quite well.

Stars  - Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. I'm always jealous of a girl that can play both the guitar AND piano. Or just one of those instruments for that matter. My parents should have forced me to learn how to play a musical instrument. Darn them for letting me choose my extracurricular activities!

The Once & Future Carpenter - The Avett Brothers. Seth and Scott are two of my favorites but watching Joe Kwon the crazy cellist play during their live shows is probably one of the primary reasons I saw them three times in less than a year. I also love the rich meaning found in their lyrics. Particularly the message in this song.

Babel - Mumford & Sons. I'm talking about the entire album, not just that title track. I love, love, love Mumford & Sons. I declare this one better than Sigh No More. If my daddy could hear me declare my love for a banjo-centric group such as this, he would roll his eyes and shake his head because I always complained endlessly when he would listen to anything with a banjo in it. I can't declare a favorite song, but I do love Ghosts That We Knew mainly for the arrangement of stringed instrument goodness in the middle of it (I am quite skilled at speaking technically, aren't I?). It's like church for me. While I'm on the topic of church...

Jesus Paid It All - the Kristian Stanfill version. I'm not a girl that really likes to show emotion in church but it never fails: I cannot listen to this song live without crying at least one tear, sometimes two.

Stubborn Love - The Lumineers. How ironic that a song with this title follows a song about unconditional love in my little line-up. 

Striking Matches...Y'all. Their new EP is out! Now. Check out their website to see for yourself all of the exciting happenings that is going on with them right now. I am so proud of them! A song of theirs will be on that new show Nashville on ABC very soon. They are kind of a big deal on iTunes right now. They've always been kind of a big deal to me.

Two Step - DMB. This one never gets old. It's certainly a sweet life, isn't it?

Home - Phillip Phillips. Let's ignore the fact that it's from American Idol and that it was on every single Olympic commercial back in the summer. If this song doesn't make your heart full of happy, then we need to work on that.

Free/Into the Mystic - ZBB with a hint of Jimmy Buffett. I always love a good cover musical mash-up. This is one of my very favorites.
 

Till the World Ends - Britney Spears. So sue me, I kind of love Britney. Dance on, fellow fans.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A couch. A camping chair. A crate.

While today's subject line does sound like an element of a bad joke, it's really just the main contents of my apartment these days. What can I say, what I lack in accessible worldly possessions, I make up for in written words here on the blog.

I am continuously grateful for my fantastic family for coming to help me load everything up and carry it to the next [still undetermined] destination. Something makes me think this guy's appreciation isn't as great.
He's less than enthused to not have the foot of the bed to sleep on for the next week. Take a number, buddy, I'm less than enthused to not have a bed to sleep in the for the next week.
Cash the wonder Lab knows something is up, and he will not let me out of his sight. Which really is no different than the last 4 years of my life now that I think about it.

At least I have options in the event sofa sleeping becomes too much of a first world problem for me to continue to endure. Seems that I've got a friendly neighbor. When I went out to leave on Sunday morning, this was on my windshield:



Poor guy really had no way of predicting that grammatical shortcuts are a major turn-off for me. You know, because otherwise leaving random anonymous notes with a phone number on an old gas receipt is how I've always imagined the future Mr. Heather Page would make his introduction.

When Ethan came over on Sunday night and I showed him the picture, he giggled and giggled like a school girl. I'm not sure what was so funny, the fact that someone showed interest in his sister or that he was thinking of all the times he tried a similar tactic and it didn't work for him either. He didn't laugh too long though because he's smart and knows better than to bite the hand that feeds him. During our most recent dinner outing, we had fun brother-sister bonding served with a side of cardiac arrest:
I can't believe he's been in Athens since August and hadn't discovered The Grill yet. Of course, I should probably be thankful that he hasn't because we all know what conditions make for the most enjoyable trips there.

It's officially my last full week as an Athens resident. It's bittersweet but I'm excited because I still have a couple of more fun stops to go before I finally head out for good. [Until week after next when I'm back in town 2 days in a row.] The last few weeks have been fantastic. Great times at great places with great people. I think one of the main takeaways from my "farewell tour" is that when I get to where I'm going next, I hope to remember to treat it as if I'm already on my way out of town. It's so easy to take people and opportunities and fun for granted because we can always find time for that tomorrow or next week or the next. Until suddenly we can't and there's more people and opportunties and fun to be had than there is time to have it.

Carpe diem, indeed. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Advanced Education.

The song stuck in my head on today's run was "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons. It's a current fave but on this particular day, the last part of the chorus set off a little debate in my head. It goes like this: "but then I'll admit I'm just the same as I was / Now don't you understand that I'm never changing who I am"

The question that came to my mind was should we change who we are? Because never is a pretty strong word. The deep philosophical conclusion that I arrived at fairly quickly somewhere around mile 2 was that it depends.

Then I started thinking about it within the context of my own life. Fact: In 10ish days, I'm leaving this town a changed person from the girl who arrived here 5ish years ago. I moved here for the purpose of advanced education. My goal was to be here 2.5 years. Max. It was a means to an end that would in theory broaden my career opportunities with the added bonus of my boss finally hushing up about how I needed to go back to school. Because I came here with that goal, I suffered from a pretty severe case of tunnel vision until I finally graduated [a semester behind schedule] and realized that it was ok to like, even love, where I was at even though I had determined in the beginning that I would not.  

So, yeah, about that advanced education that brought me to Athens. Unbeknownst to me, I was in for so much more than I had imagined. I will always remember Dahlonega as the town where I lived when I became a "grown up". My first real job, my first apartment, my first apartment without a roomate. I cannot say for certain yet, but I think Athens is going to be remembered as the town where I lived when I gained an understanding of what it means to live. Not physical breathing and eating and sleeping, but actually living. Because I've lived many years waiting to start living. Does that make sense? Probably not, but we all get trapped in the "I'll do this when..." cycle every once in awhile. I was trapped in it for a long while.

I'm sure years from now I'll still be tracing lessons learned back to this stage of  life but before I shift my attention to the next stage, I feel it necessary to document a few big ones now for posterity to ensure they do not get lost in the shuffle. Plus, you would quickly be bored out of your gourd if I documented them all here in the public domain.

As trite as it sounds, Faith, Hope, and Love hit the highlights.

Faith. I learned that it's pretty easy to say that you have it until something big happens that brings it into question. Never have I read, journaled, questioned and studied my faith like I have here. Talk about higher education.

Hope. I learned that as long as we have hope, we have a chance to make tomorrow better than today. I learned that it's hope that enables you to survive the things that until you're in the middle of them, you would have never been able to imagine experiencing. I have learned those unimaginable experiences are quite subjective and different for everyone so our compassion is much more necessary than our judgment.

Love. I learned what it means to love another person more than myself. This was a biggie for me. I learned that it's risky. I learned that it's worth the risk. I learned to let down walls and be loved. This was a biggie for me too. It's risky too. Worth it? You bet.

So back to my original question and answer. I think if we refuse to change, we are refusing the opportunity to grow. If we change for the wrong reasons, we will never grow. If our ears and nose never stop growing, why should our brains and our hearts?
 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Girl Should Not Live On Cookies Alone.

When I'm stressed out I do one of the following: run, bake, and write.
Saturday, I ran 8.5 miles and wrote some notes. Sunday, I baked 4 dozen cookies. Monday, I ran 3.5 miles. Today, I'm blogging. And I just offered to bake pumpkin bread for a pal to take to a breakfast tomorrow.
It's nice to know that my coping mechanisms are fully functional.

While I'm on the subject of stress, let's just go ahead and get a few things straight. Sure, I'm twirling my hair and wondering how in the world I'm ever going to get every single thing on my to-do list accomplished. [A good start would be to get off of the silly internet.] Yes, that's stressful. BUT, it's not "your dad has a 10% chance of living through the night" stressful. I've experienced both types, and I've learned that when one is in a really critical, stress-inducing situation, one does not have time to document miles ran and cookies baked on a blog. In other words, I'm not complaining. I believe the term for this they teach the youngsters in Health Psychology class is "eustress". I suspect that the term which best describes me right now is "frazzled" or "Liz Lemon". Because it's normal to unknowingly drop your keys when walking the dog in the morning only to return back to your locked door before realizing something is missing, right? And then you get to retrace your steps completely while on the hunt for said keys. In the rain. Or refer to a male coworker as "Ms." in a printed document for a little event that I'm responsible for planning at work. Hello, Monday. You really should come around more often.

My Monday continued when I returned my defective running shoes that I had previously ordered online to the local sporting goods store in my future town. If you are my FB friend, you've already seen the bang up job the postman did of hiding them upon delivery:

I still giggle when I think about his decision to put the doormat over a gigantic box as a cover. While at the store, I learned that they have been discontinued and it was that pair or nothing. I might have grieved the loss by swearing off running for good and drowning my sorrows in a Five Guys cheeseburger. I'm super stoked to start the hunt for a new favorite running shoe because I have about as much success in that area as I do in finding an intelligent and charming man who appreciates my sardonic wit and humor. Hmmm, maybe one works at the shoe store. Two birds, one stone. Oh how I love efficiency.

For dinner last night I had some of the cookies that I baked on Sunday. They really complemented that burger from lunch. That is one thing that I don't mind about being a little bit stressed because my metabolism responds by morphing into that of a 14 year-old boy's. I can eat and eat and eat and not gain an ounce. It's deee-light-ful. The other day I took the baby brother to lunch and ate more than he did. He's 19 and looks like this:
Tall and skinny [and incredibly adorably cute but I'm a big sister so of course I could be biased]. I am particularly fond of this picture because it was taken recently and he's wearing a shirt of mine from when I was in the 9th grade. In fact that's really the only reason why I'm including the picture. What? Didn't every girl from Georgia go through a future-lumberjack stage and wear flannels from American Eagle? It was only a phase, people. I'm a total girly girl. I've always admired Ethan for his ahem, sense of style. Down to the black crew socks with shorts and Sperry's. Lord bless the middle child. Anywho, back to my metabolism. I try not to take it or my good health for granted and abuse it so I must check myself before I wreck myself and abstain from eating cookies for dinner 3 nights in a row. Starting tomorrow. I'll probably run out of cookies between now and then anyway.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Bourbon. One Scotch. One Beer.

Perhaps you're wondering why the title of today's post is inspired by a song that my mind most commonly associates with George Thorogood's voice. You really shouldn't waste your time wondering such things, but the truth is I would like two of each, please, bartender. I suspect just half of one though would send me straight into a state of slumber that would make Rip Van Winkle look like a power napper.
 
See this?
 

It is a snapshot of my work desktop earlier today. Ridiculous. Yes, one could argue that what is even more ridiculous is that I stopped to document this nonsense. The snipping tool accessory is my new favorite discovery though so I make the most of every opportunity to use it. [And that's why you should elect me Queen of the Nerd Herd!]

This is a fantastic illustration of my current state of affairs. Lots of important things to do. Lots of things that I want to address. Yet I'm dragging my feet because while I know that there cool things ahead in some new windows, I still really like my current view. So I want to keep them open a little longer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Insane Courage.

So, remember my last post about Stone Paths? I wrote it as a reminder to myself. Actually many of my posts serve that purpose because if I put it here instead of in a journal there's a little bit more accountability to actually walk the talk I'm so good at talking.

Here's the deal: I am dug in with both heels on my current stone. I wrote that post late Friday night when I should have been sleeping [or packing boxes]. In fact, I should be packing boxes right now or at least chipping away at something on my to-do list that is so complex it closely resembles an org chart of the soon-to-be consolidated institution I know and love dearly. There is nothing about me that wants to leave Athens. I'll write about that irony another day.

On Sunday I went to church and I'm a little surprised the bulletin didn't say "Dear Heather, listen closely 'cause this one's for you." because hello, relevant. Now, if you happen to be reading this and the word "church" makes you break out into hives, stay with me. Please. I promise not to preach. Thank you.

Have you guys ever seen "We Bought a Zoo"? I haven't either. However the current series at church is titled "20 Seconds of Courage" inspired by a part in this movie. Here's the hyperlink if you want to catch the under a minute snippet. The point is that Matt Damon's character is talking to his son [I think] and tells him "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."

When I'm really honest with myself, I know that there are times and situations when I'm driven more by fear than courage. It's nothing that I'm exactly proud to shout from the rooftop but it's me...HP. Now I'm not talking about conspiracy theory bury all of your money in coffee cans in the backyard type of fear. I'm talking about the fear of being told no or rejected therefore I just choose not to try. Sure, it may be great that I am hardly ever told no, but I have significantly limited my potential for "yes". I get that the person I'm hurting more than anyone is myself but good heavens, who all am I not helping as a result of this mindset? It's quite ridiculous when I actually type out the words.

At some point in the sermon the pastor mentioned that today is the day of salvation and I honestly kind of stopped listening for a few minutes because I was busy writing the following in my journal:
Today is the day of confession.
Today is the day of surrender.
Today is the day of obedience.
Today is the day to choose faith over fear.
Today is the day of freedom.

I think it's fear that often prevents us from confession, surrender, and obedience which is turn prohibits us from living a life where we are free to live courageously. We're afraid someone may find out there actually is a heart under a tough as nails surface. We're afraid that if we stand up for what we believe in, we will be shunned by the people we want to like and respect us. We're afraid that if we stop trying to control circumstances then our lives will spin completely and totally out of control. We're afraid to let go of our own agenda to take hold of a better one. By "we", I mean "I'. I'm guilty of all of those things and it's quite exhausting to let fear lead.

Sure, having courage can generate a type of fear too, but it's typically pretty temporary when we experience the outcome of showing courage. I have much more regret over decisions made in fear than actions taken in courage. So, if we truly believed that showing just 20 seconds of insane courage would lead to something great, what would we accomplish? We can hold our breath for 20 seconds and live to tell about it. This means we can be courageous for 20 seconds and live to tell about it too. [Most of the time. Unless your definition of courage involves only actions taken by Evel Kneivel.]

What does 20 seconds of courage look like?
Saying yes to an unknown future filled with potential that is yet to be seen?
Saying no to instant gratification in exchange for something better a little further down the road? Calling a friend and saying "I'm sorry"?
Calling a loved one and saying "I forgive you"?
Asking her out for coffee?
Telling him you're just not that into him?
Texting "99999" to a disaster relief agency?
Committing to volunteer somewhere outside of your comfort zone?
Admitting you were wrong?
Recognizing and celebrating the accomplishment of someone in your circle?

The possibilities are quite limitless. I actually need a few minutes of courage to catch up on some things that I have been allowing to hold me back. It doesn't matter where I start, as long as I start. So um, please remind me of this, ok? Thanks.

Fill in the blank: Today is the day of _________________________. Go ahead. Go insane.

"This is my command - Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." -Joshua 1:9

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stone Paths.

Earlier this week I told what is a pretty significant part of my story in a matter of seconds. Isn't it strange how time shaves major life events down into simple bits and pieces of common conversation? While I was talking, in my mind I was thinking about how funny life can be. Or maybe it's just my life that's funny. You know, we shouldn't mistake events that are ultimately recounted in a couple of sentences as being insignificant or determine that what we define as "the past" is just time wasted. Honestly there are times when I get really hung up in that twisted line of thinking. It's a trap that completely defeats the whole point of the story. I don't believe that the point of the stories that shape our lives is for us to become good storytellers. Sure, the stories that we share verbally in Cliffs Notes format have purpose and depending upon the version they are comedic, tragic, or simply a great mystery in a "was I on drugs or something?" kind of way. But. The point of these stories is for us to become the people we were created to be and to live the lives that we were put on this earth to live. I'm a visual learner and the visual image that comes to my mind when I think about this is a stone path. Think Thomas Kinkade original cottage in the woods type scene. There's a nice little walkway with stones placed in a way that isn't perfectly uniform leading up to the front door. The stones are a little asymmetrical. Some are pretty and smooth while some have really jagged edges. Each stone has a purpose in that it directs us to where we're going and it keeps us out of the muddy muck along the way. If just one stone is missing, it creates a large gap that slows us down or keeps us from getting where we want to go. Sometimes we have to take really big steps between each stone while there are others that almost touch each other. Each stone represents an event or chapter in our story. High school, college, jobs, relationships, deaths of loved ones, moves, etc. Just as multiple stones are required to make a path, multiple events are required to make a life. The trick is to not get stuck on or lament over the existence of one of the stones. As long as we continue to wake up and walk each morning, we still have work to do and much to anticipate. That's a good thing. Keep walking. There's another stone just ahead.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What a Mighty God We Serve.

Am I the only one who grew up in a small Baptist church whose youth choir would sing a song by the same title as today's blog post? Alrighty then.
For the last few weeks this has been the almost constant "theme music" running in the back of my mind. I guess it started in early July when the family of Hannah Johnson Rinehart began telling so beautifully a story of our mighty God at work in her life. I have known Hannah since college so while this is a new chapter, she has been a beautiful example of overcoming the odds and giving God the glory for many years. I would encourage you to praise Jesus and pray for Hannah's continued healing if you are not already doing so.

There are days when I become so overwhelmed by the bigness of my Savior that it's difficult to imagine that the same God who created this
also created this

And not only did He create that little red-headed mess, He loves it [me!] infinitely and knows it [me!] better than anyone on this planet will ever love and know it [me!]. What's most amazing about this realization? The depth of his love and knowledge is limitless and is for all of His children, not just yours truly.

Because He knows us so personally and deeply, He knows exactly what we need. Since He's the God who provides [Jehovah-jireh for those of you who enjoy the many names of God], not only does He know what we need, He provides what we need...when we need it. Am I the only one who is blown away by that? Sure, we grow up in church hearing this over and over again but do we really believe it? Do we believe it when the odds are seemingly stacked against us and there is no way out for as far as our short-sighted human eyes can see? Honestly, I am better at believing it some days than I am during others.

This morning these were the 3 verses related to my morning devotion:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." -Proverbs 3:5-6

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." - Romans 5:1

"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you." - 2 Thessalonians 3:16

When I'm completely honest, I didn't think to myself "hmm, I wonder how I am going to incorporate this scripture into my life today". But as the day progressed and events unfolded, I did take comfort and find peace in the truth in those words.

And then. [I love "and then's".] Over my lunch hour I worked on my Bible study. Y'all, Beth Moore is like a Bible study drill sergeant. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but she is intense and requires lots of homework. I'm going through her James study right now and my verses today were James 1:5-8:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

Today I needed wisdom. Who am I kidding, I need wisdom every single day that I live, but especially today. Did anyone here notice that James tells us that we are to ask God for wisdom? Why should we ask for wisdom when He knows our needs and thoughts better than we do? Why doesn't He just automatically provide us with wisdom?

Maybe it's because true wisdom comes from God so that by seeking Him and asking for wisdom, we are in a better position to combine wisdom with knowledge to make good choices. Maybe it's because as soon as we think we are capable of doing something all by ourselves that is contrary to what we know about Godly wisdom. We are absolutely incapable of anything without God's hand in our lives but because of God's hand in our lives, we can overcome seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. Or we can just make good choices. Not all matters in life are major, but God wants to be in all of them - major and minor.

Today I am thankful for the reminder to pray for wisdom. I need to filter my words and actions wisely when being a friend, or an employee, or any other role that I fulfill from day to day. If I want to tell God's story through my story then I cannot leave Him out of the decision making process. Trust me, I've done it and those are not the kind of stories that I want to share at dinner parties. They are, however, the kind of stories other people love to share at dinner parties. And who here really wants to be a dinner party conversation topic? Exactly.

This passage also tells us what to do about doubt. This is no mystery: don't do it. Why not? Because didn't I just read this morning elsewhere to trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding? I believe that I did. What happens when I lean on my own understanding? I fall flat on my face. Not literally but the image that comes to mind is of me literally falling flat on my face because my understanding is about as strong as one of those super super skinny dowel rods that I always asked for each time I went to the hardware store with my dad when I was little. [Whatever, I was kind of a nerdy kid.] What? When we acknowledge him in all ways, he directs our paths and makes them straight? Oh, got it. So a straight path leaves little room for doubt doesn't it? Ok. So that means that I'm not supposed fix things the way that I wish I could? Perhaps maybe my role is to sit quietly and pray without ceasing [and speaking!]? Hmm, well that's wise, now isn't it?

This really isn't rocket science and I applaud you all who never ever struggle with this kind of stuff. For those of you like me who finds peace and assurance in knowing that God is in the details even when the details seem very small, perhaps this will serve as a reminder that while something like a morning devotion or lunch hour Bible study may just be our routine, it may come to us on a particular day and at a particular time in which we are to use and apply to something that so much greater and bigger than just ourselves.

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen!" -Romans 11:36