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9/21/2011

the light in the middle of it all

We were in the car last night, following time spent with our community group, when I said the words. They were words I had thought and prayed over. Words that I felt the weight of earlier in the day. But I had yet to speak them aloud or to admit the defeat I felt.

I had mentioned how I was struggling. I had previously mentioned how I had felt stuck in everything. But there was more.

"I feel like every door is being slammed in my face."

He didn't say anything. He didn't have to. Because I knew that he understood. He had been there before, and I had stood by him, helping him and offering whatever support I could.

I went onto to explain that it literally felt like every door. Volunteering. Figuring out what career path I want. Exercise. Being healthy. And more. It was everything.

My statement led to a further discussion. Because we both aren't sure of where we are called to work or to give of our time. Sometimes I think I know but then something (or several somethings) happen, and I am thrown back into not knowing.

He told me that he wants to feel called to climb the corporate ladder but that he doesn't. And I feel the same way. I want to feel called to live a life that is considered normal. Because that is safe and it is easy. It fits into a plan that other people can understand. It follows a timeline that makes sense.

But he doesn't feel called to climb the corporate ladder. And I don't feel called to fit into a mold someone else has created. Admitting those things are, at least to me, just as scary as admitting that I feel like every door is closing in my face.

I still feel that way this morning. There was no miracle overnight. Nothing happened to completely open every door I want to have open.

I know that there is a reason for every door being closed. I know that it is good for me to be broken of my need to plan and think that only my plans are the best. And I also can somewhat grasp the fact that my life is not meant to follow a path that society sees as normal. But that doesn't make it easy.

All of this swirled in my mind this morning as I drove through one of the more affluent historical areas of town. The houses are ones we love and dream of one day owning. They are cared for with pedicured lawns. Inside I imagine there are clean wood floors and walls without cracks running from top to bottom.

Suddenly it hit me. Or maybe it wasn't so suddenly.

My life is not to be measured in the way I want it to be measured. I am not to compare my career and the steps I take with the career and the steps someone else takes. God has a plan, and His plan might not line up with what the world considers as success. But it is His plan, and I have to follow His plan.

Having a realization of any sort is scary but it requires a response. I can respond by being faithful and stepping into His plan. Or I can respond by ignoring the realization and continuing on the path I am creating.

I saw a tweet earlier today that read "God has called YOU. Focus on HIM. Not on what everyone else is doing."

I know my response to both the realization and to the tweet needs to be to listen. And then to focus on Him and on what He is calling me to. It's what I want my response to be. I just don't know how to quiet the sound of culture, the sound of my own mind, the desires of my flesh, the constant comparisons that are hurled toward me.

Maybe it starts with accepting the slammed doors. Or maybe it starts with not worrying. Or maybe it starts with sitting in silence (also something I struggle with doing). Or maybe it is supposed to just start. With no rhyme or reason. No planning. Just a deep breath in through my nose and out of my mouth. Tension released. Eyes closed for a moment. And then a timid step forward. Or maybe it's supposed to be a brave step forward with my eyes open and hands balled at my sides.

The first step is always the hardest. And each time I think I am past the first step, it comes back. There is always a new first step to be taken. Sometimes it's the same new first step over and over again.

I thought through all of this as I drive the thirty minute stretch of I-35 from my house to my office. And just as it happened last night, I felt stuck. With every door slammed in my face. And I found it hard to know what to do. Thoughts of how to start this new life of living for Him and not for me or the world and what my first step would need to be.

My life is so often busy. And so full of stress. I think most people's lives are. And the busyness and stress pulls all of us down. Tears us apart. Makes it almost impossible to do anything but live for the moment and live life in a way that makes sense to others.

I wanted to give into it during that thirty minute drive. To forget everything I had felt earlier. To once again toss aside the notion of living for something so much bigger than my short time of earth. And then I took one deep breath followed by another deep breath and then another. Until finally, my head was clear and my heart rate normal again.

Life is not meant to be lived rushing from one moment to another. It is also not meant to be lived for other people. It's something to enjoy and it's something that should reflect love.

So I am taking the first step. Eyes open. Hands open. Breathing in deeply. Letting go of my expectations and comparisons again. And hoping that there will be no falling back. But knowing that there is a God who loves me enough to support me and push me forward (again) if I do fall back.

(title from "all i have" by mat kearney)

9/18/2011

this weekend...

Our actual anniversary was on Tuesday night, and we spent time eating pizza and then with our community group. On Friday night, my husband made reservations at a Japanese Steakhouse, and we dressed up to celebrate our anniversary.

I found myself confused on what to eat. Steak and lobster? Just steak? Just sushi? I decided on a combination of steak and sushi, and so I started with a Lady Love Roll. I also drank a large Sapproro.

With the sushi gone, we settled in to watch the chef prepare our main courses. We also moved away from the table to protect our eyebrows from being singed.

And then we ate (and ate and ate) freshly cooked steak and shrimp. There was also delicious fried rice to be enjoyed. We finished the night with a piece of anniversary cake on the house.
 
At the end of Friday night, we settled in to watch "Felicity" on Netflix Instant. WeI continued to watch the show on Saturday as I set about sweeping and dusting the house. There was a break for errands to be run, and then I came back home for more "Felicity" and more cleaning.
 
As I started the final episode for the day, the rest of my family decided to take a nap. With them sound asleep, I left the house for my final errands.
 
With the house clean and flowers on the table, we were ready for friends to come over for a night of dinner and laughter.

Within thirty minutes of their arrival, dinner was served. We feasted on garlic bread, caesar salad, and spaghetti with meatballs. We also consumed a few glasses of wine and a bottle or two of beer.
 
With full stomachs, we left the dinner table and then moved onto the game portion of the night. There was Playstation Move to be played before we all agreed on playing the never-opened game of Loaded Questions.

It was a much-needed night with two friends Justin went to college with. Two friends who started dating at the exact same time Justin and I started dating. He was with Justin when Justin purchased my engagement ring.

The questions in the game were a mixture of ones that made us laugh and ones that made us think. My favorite question was "what would you name a song written about your true love?" Justin responded: She Be Makin' No Sense. Mine was: Overanalytical Believer.

Dessert was homemade organic brownies and either vanilla ice cream or mint chocolate chip ice cream. I chose vanilla and also had another glass of wine.
We spent Sunday in a similar fashion to last week. It started with sleeping in until 8am and then there was worship and a great sermon. We followed it up with lunch with my in-laws before I came home and claimed the couch and television for more "Felicity." We also cuddled with our dogs and watched them wrestle on the floor.
For dinner, we joined my mother-in-law and father-in-law for onion burgers at a new local restaurant. It was a nice change of pace and also nice to not cook after doing enough dishes to last me at least a week.

I plan to rest for the remainder of the night. There is laundry to put away, but the rest of the house is clean. Monday will come quicker than any of us would like, but I am extremely excited for the week. I feel like God has huge plans in store; I just need to get out of the way and let Him do His thing.
Sunday Snapshot

9/15/2011

a common fear

I had a moment last week. It happened after a morning meeting. Loaded with papers to hand out to co-workers regarding the United Way Drive, I felt content. And joy. And I realized that the things that frustrate me are things I can change.

I started to write about it. I started to document my desire to find joy in the moments of my current life. But then a few things happened, and I stopped. I didn't stop because I no longer wants to find joy. I stopped because all of a sudden I was being pulled in several different directions. There were endless possibilities, and I felt that I would be a liar and a fraud to write about contentment with where I was in life is I was also considering other possibilities.

And so I took a much needed break. Instead of looking at everything as a possible post, I spent time being quiet. Instead of wondering about every Bible verse I saw on twitter or received in my Inbox (and thinking it applied directly to whatever circumstance I wanted it to), I spent time praying over the verses and time re-reading our nightly devotionals. Instead of fitting the words into my life, I allowed the words to speak to the places they needed to speak to.

It sounds a little silly and strange. But it was what I needed.

I also took a much needed break from counting every single calorie. And I took a much needed break of rushing to the gym at lunch and also after work. I changed my priorities from being solely about me and placed them back on other people.

I'm finding a balance. It's a balance of putting myself first but of also not forgetting to serve others. It's a balance of finding joy in my life but also seeking out other avenues. It's a balance of being content but not becoming comfortable. It's a balance of praying for specific things but also listening to hear what God's plan is.

I've always been aware that He has a plan. But being a planner myself, I often think my plan is His plan. Sometimes it might be. Other times it might not be. And while I have said (to myself and to others), that I trust Him and will follow His plan... I really think to myself "but I know what His plan is, so things will happen this way..."

There has not been a time when I have not been aware of this trait. I've always known that I take things and spin them into what I want them to be. I judge the situation and overthink everything until I am convinced that I know how things will go. When things don't go the way I planned, I crumble and wonder why.

And the reason? I think it is to break me, in a beautiful way, so that I let go of my desires when they don't line up with His.

This goes along with every aspect of my life. Friendships, marriage, even weight loss. Every aspect of my life is a reflection of Him, and so, as difficult as it is, I have to let go of every aspect of my life and allow Him to determine it's course.

On top of letting go of control, I've also realized that the story that is my life, while full in many ways, could be even better.

Several months ago, I read A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller for the second time. The first time I read the book I devoured the words. The second time I took my time and ran a highlighter through the words that spoke most to my heart. And I was determined to live a better story.

I think I did - for a time. But then I got tired. And life got hard. And I forgot that struggle is what makes a good story. Until yesterday, when I was reminded of the words and of the fact that I have the chance to make my life what I want it to be.

I needed that reminder. I probably need a reminder like that once a month (or maybe once a week).

I don't know what my story looks like. I don't know where to spend my time. I don't know what to give my heart to or where God wants me to use my talents. Sometimes I wonder what my talents are as well as what my gifts are. But I do know that my story is to be more than what I've made it out to be.

I also know that by living a better life I will feel more joy and maybe more contentment. And by living a better story, I will let go of my plans and my judgements - allowing God to be the one in control of it all.
Here's the truth about telling stories with you life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it. It's like writing a books, and it's like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain. - A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller
(title from "in your hands" by bebo norman)

9/13/2011

through the rest of my life

Three years ago today, I exchanged vows with my husband. We didn't promise to care for each other in sickness or in health. Or in richness or poorness. Instead, we found different words to exchange - words that meant something more to me - to us.
Leslie, I love you and I know that this love is from God. Because of this, I want to be your husband so that we might serve Christ together. Through all of the uncertainties and trials of the present and future, I promise to be faithful to you and love you. I promise to guide and protect you as Christ does his church, as long as we both shall live. God's Word gives us the perfect example of this love in Christ's death for the Church. I shall try always, with God's help, to show you this same kind of love, for I know that in His sight we will both be one.
Justin, I love you. I prayed that God would lead me to his choice. I praise Him that tonight His will is being fulfilled. Through the pressures of the present and uncertainties of the future I promise my faithfulness, to follow you through all of life's experiences as you follow God, that together we may grow in the likeness of Christ and our home be a praise to Him.
No one stood beside as we pledged our love to each other. Friends came to the front and read poems or verses.
I love you, not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you, not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you, for the part of me that you bring out. I love you, for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart, and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out, into the light, all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite far enough to find. I love you, because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life, not a tavern, but a temple. Out of the works of my every day, not a reproach, but a song. I love you, because you have done more than any creed could have done to make me good, and more than any fate could have done to make me happy. You have done it without a touch, without a word, without a sign. You have done it by being yourself. Perhaps that is what being a friend means, after all. - “I Love You”, by Roy Croft
They say they will love, comfort, honor each other to the end of their days. They say they will cherish each other and be faithful to each other always. They say they will do these things not just when they feel like it, but even -- for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health -- when they don’t feel like it at all. In other words, the vows they make could hardly be more extravagant. They give away their freedom. They take on themselves each other’s burdens. They bind their live s together... The question is, what do they get in return? They get each other in return... There will always be the other to talk to, to listen to... There is still someone to get through the night with, to wake into the new day beside. If they have children, they can give them, as well as each other, roots and wings. If they don’t have children, they each become the other’s child. They both still have their lives apart as well as a life together. They both still have their separate ways to find. But a marriage made in heaven is one where a man and a woman become more richly themselves together than the chances are either of them could ever have managed to become alone. - Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words
Ultimately there comes a time when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something, which has to be created. To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take. If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation. It takes a lifetime to learn another person. When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling. - "The Irrational Season", by Madeleine L'Engle
Our mothers struggled to light the unity candle only to have it blown out minutes afterwards.
We exchanged rings.

These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever. These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future. These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other. These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind. These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and as in today, tears of joy. These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children, the hands that will help you to hold your family as one. These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it. And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch. - “Blessing of the Hands", revised by Rev. Daniel L. Harris
It rained all day leading up to the ceremony. The day was to be held outside. Our wedding coordinator suggested moving the ceremony inside, but I refused. I wanted an outdoor wedding. It was my dream. And just as I slipped my hand into the crook of my father's elbow, the rain stopped.
 
The ground was wet, and clouds lingered in the sky. Raindrops glistened on the luscious gardens, and our guests sat underneath tents. The reception was inside of the house rather than on the deck. And the ceremony went as planned.
 
I've said before that God orchestrated the wedding. He made the lighting perfect for pictures. He ensured that the hurrican threatening the Gulf Coast spared my parent's house while they were in Oklahoma City for my wedding. He brought together two families and created the family I have now with my husband.

But his orchestration didn't end with the wedding. It continues in the daily life of my marriage. Even when the storms threaten to keep us indoors. Even when it seems all hope is lost and that we will be swept away by a hurrican. He shows up. Right as we are about to step outside of our marriage. Right as we are ready to move on from where we are. He comes in and reminds us that He is there and will always be there.
 
That's why we're still married today. We are just two sinners saved by grace. And we have a God who loves us enough to fight for us (and our marriage) on the days that we are too tired to do anything but fight with each other.

(title from "we are man & wife" by michelle featherstone)

9/11/2011

this weekend....

I arrived at the Oklahoma City Zoo before 7am on Saturday.
And walked three miles around the zoo - seeing zebras and other animals. 
The purpose was to raise awareness and prevent suicide, as well as to remember those who have been lost. And I rediscovered a passion to be there for people.
I spent Saturday afternoon napping on the couch with two of my favorite dogs. Brandy is pictured here.. 
We tried a new local restaurant on Saturday, and I ate the bison burger. It was delicious.
Sitting outside, we enjoyed the grey sky, cool air, and city we live in. I felt grateful and hopeful for living where we do.
I drank a frozen caramel blend coffee (with whipped cream) and ate a cupcake before taking this picture. They weren't the healthiest choices (something I am struggling with right now), but it was nice to enjoy.
I also enjoyed time with my husband and friends watching a live band at a local coffee shop. It helped that one of our friends was in the band.
On Sunday morning, I didn't set the alarm and lounged in bed, instead of going to the gym, while the dogs chewed on bones. Rascal is pictured here. All he really wants to do is sleep, eat, cuddle, and chew.
I ate frozen yogurt with my mother-in-law. We tried a new shop, and my favorite flavor was the no-sugar added strawberry.
I also purchased new clothes in a smaller size. It's exciting to me to be able to buy smaller clothes even though I get frustrated at how every size is different at every store and with every brand.
We gathered with people from across the city and participated in corporate worship. God reminded me of His presence and made me excited to serve Him and serve this city. He also reminded me (all weekend really) that He is in control. I will daily be saying "I trust You" and asking for guidance instead of going my own way.
And I finished Sunday night with homemade red beans and rice. We ate dinner sitting on the couch surrounded by our dogs - our little family that I so love.. 

My heart is full. So is my stomach. My mind is racing. My hips still ache from the three mile walk (pulled tendon), but I feel ready to tackle the next week and excited to see how God moves in the next few days. He has a purpose and a plan. And His way is always best. I can't wait to stop worrying and allow Him to do His work in me.

9/02/2011

this isn't easy; this isn't clear

Not yet old enough to drive, I sat in the backseat with a friend of mine. It was the first time I had worn all black out of respect and the first time I'd stared loss right in the face. He was someone I knew from the ugly and messy years of junior high school. Ninth grade came, and just as had happened with the start of sixth grade, we went our separate ways. A dividing of friendships into different high schools due to rezoning.

I didn't think of him much. We had shared a few classrooms and maybe some laughs, but there was no deep friendship.

But when I heard that he was gone, I remembered. I remembered sitting in the hallways. I remembered talks by the lockers. I remembered all of it.
You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be. -Chuck Palahniuk
We were sophomores in high school. It's a time in life when everything seems that much harder. It's a time in life when no one understands. Many of us would be lying if we said we hadn't ever thought about it. When people are mean and you cry yourself to sleep and spend hours with a tightness in your chest, it's hard not to think about it.

Life would be better for everyone if I weren't here. Will things ever get better? Why is this so hard? I just don't think I can do it anymore. The thoughts go round and round in young minds. Parents and teachers tell you that it gets better. That this will all pass. And you want to believe the, but it is so hard.

He was on the football team. His letter jacket hanging next to a picture of him. The casket was closed. The funeral was held at the church I had attended Vacation Bible School as a child. It was the same church I decided that I believed in Jesus.

We sat in the balcony, near the back. I don't think I cried, but I could be wrong. I remember the lump in my throat and feeling how overwhelming this all was. We watched the remaining members of the football team walk in with their heads down. They wore letterjackets to remember him by. And his mother following. She was inconsolable.
As anyone who has been close to someone that has committed suicide knows, there is no other pain like that felt after the incident. -Peter Greene
That was my first funeral. I didn't understand it all then. I was only a teenager and still caught up in my own world of frustration and anxiety and crying myself to sleep some nights. But I knew that he was gone. I knew it had been his choice. And I knew he left behind so many people grieving for him, wishing he hadn't left, and wondering what his life would have been like.

It's been about 10 years now. I can remember the whisperings in the hall about his death. The details that were shared. The way people were shocked. Even the cruel jokes some high school students told. I remember the conversations I had with friends and the shock I felt that something like this had happened.

Life might not follow the path I thought it would. But that's because it is life. It is always changing and always moving. Even when it feels like there is no hope, there is. Even when you feel like you are alone, you aren't. When it feels like no one understands, remember that somwhere in the big, beautiful and messy world there is someone who does understand.

We are all connected. Our lives intertwine through the internet, mutual friends, and even the movies we watch. There's something bigger than any of us that holds everything together and keeps every heart beating. There is so much to live for. Even when it is dark and seems like the sun will never shine, there is more to live for. Eventually the sun will rise, and you will be blinded by the brightness.
If you're feeling low, don't despair. The sun has a sinking spell every night, but it comes back up every morning. The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. -Dolly Parton
And that is why I am walking. There are events happening across the country over the course of the next year. One will take place in Oklahoma City on 9/10/11. And I will be there to walk the three to five miles. I will be there to remember those who have been lost, to fight for those who think there is no hope, and to raise awareness of this epidemic. It's time to do something, and while it might not be much for just one person to walk, I know God has huge plans to join many people together and walk for this one cause.

There is the opporunity to donate. I'm hoping to raise $150 at least. But to me the money isn't as important as people joining together for one cause. Understanding of the prevention of suicide is important. Joining together to combat the darkness that plagues so many is important. I'm excited to share this journey with as many as want to walk alongside me (our group is Frontline Youth) or walk in their own cities. All donations will go directly to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Over seven-million dollars has been raised so far. We can end this and remind people that they are loved beyond measure.

(title from "when a heart breaks" by ben rector)

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