Goodbye Later, Hello Now.

I hesitated a bit before I hit those delete buttons. Tiny X’s in the center- a first step to saying goodbye to phone apps. As I parted ways with my daily habits, I started to wonder what would fill that extra bit of time. What would replace those quick, mindless moments of scrolling down a news feed. Those little apps allow me to keep up with other humans- to encourage them, rejoice with them, weep with them. Like (love) or dislike the moments they share. Validate, invalidate and affirm their experiences.

Fast-forward to somewhere around day three of disconnecting- I woke up with a light heart and a focused mind. Something felt different in a way I could not quite put my finger on. After a few minutes in deep thought, the change became apparent- Gratitude.

I like to fool myself to think I’m accomplished at practicing gratitude.  I practice all the things a good, “gracious” person would- sending up praise for my unanticipated blessings throughout the day, thanking folks who make my life a little brighter, recording in my “Daily Gratitude Journal”, regularly. An ugly truth graced me with perspective- these routines of gratitude are surface level.

Living a life of gratitude reaches depths far beyond these basic practices. Perhaps the greatest way to show gratitude is living in the now. I began to connect the dots and see how social media plays a role in all of this. How these little apps that help us to avoid missing other people’s moments, can lead us to miss our own.

We open an app and we are instantly bombarded with new information- some good news and some bad. A loss, an engagement, a baby, a natural disaster, a wedding, a national uproar. As we scroll “mindlessly”, we are actually internalizing these things. A hyper-focus on other people’s news. Our mind shift gears to the future. What will happen next? – in other people’s lives. Then we are prompted to consider our own futures- the potential for good and for bad. What will happen in the future with our jobs, our relationships, our families?

“Be anxious for nothing. But in all things by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

During the quiet moments, disconnected from social media, gratitude and intentionality became my mantras. I realized that God reveals life’s beauty in all of the little moments. The crisp air of a new morning, the exchange of a smile and nod with a stranger in passing, the sound of the rain, the scent of the seasons changing. Instead of consuming myself with keeping up with people (literally and figuratively), I asked the Lord to help me self-reflect.

I was able to keep up with the people I needed to- no details missed. In fact, time away actually prompted me to contact the people I love a little more. I replaced the time I spent following my plethora of social media friends, with calling and writing cards to my real friends. I neglected relying on hitting a thumbs up symbol to acknowledge that what was going on in their lives was seen, important to me. And I took the time to reconnect with my two best friends- myself and the Lord.

​All of the little moments add up. All of the time, here and there, spent on social media adds up. And when we put time with God and ourselves in the place of it, those tiny moments end up creating a day full of recognizing God’s grace and the blessings we are surrounded with. That, my friends, is gratitude- overwhelming gratitude. Be careful not to miss the now, while focusing on the later. After all, the later is not guaranteed.
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.



Love is Here

Sitting in a local coffee shop – quaintest and coziest I ever did see, my favorite. The walls are adorned with calming colors and the neatest art. Antique phones and aged books line the wooden shelves. Handmade signs and trinkets capture the hearts of each customer – a colloquial atmosphere that encourages folks to turn from strangers to friends. It’s just me tonight with my bible, journal, and some good eats. Accompanied by the love of Jesus and other smiling visitors, seeking a recharge. I hear conversations around me that I want to join in on, but can’t seem to find the courage today. Two times before, at this very place, I have met new friends. Overheard them talking about life and Jesus and other random things and interjected. But on this night, I am feeling less than outgoing.

Then, a man walks by who I recognize as the owner- dressed in a simple grey t-shirt and jean shorts. His eyes are kind and his glasses are distinguished. I have seen him and his wife before, their warm smiles on the website. I watch them make rounds and smile genuinely at the people, each time I am here. Warm smiles that would make any soul want to reciprocate, even on the most dismal day. He starts towards me, tidying up the tables and saying his hellos- and I muster up the courage to speak. “You’re the owner, right?

A delightful conversation is sparked by those four words- the four “scary” words that I have harbored countless times as I’ve sat in this very place. He proceeds to tell me about how they got their business started- he and his wife- a true testament of the Lord’s faithfulness. They have a daughter who is becoming a woman – her first date ever tonight, the night of junior prom. I watch the reflection in his eyes- a father realizing that his princess is becoming a queen – letting go, reluctantly. He seems confident in the way he raised her to be – a young lady with a strong faith, not into the skimpy dresses or superficial attention. A lady raised in the admonition of the Lord. We continue. He wants to know all about what life as a counselor and educator is like so I share some stories of taking care of hundreds of kids, the richest to the poorest, from broken situations. I admit to him that each day is rewarding, but things can become overwhelming. He reassures me that I am making a difference and being a light. After a long week of work crises- I needed that.

As our conversation subsides, the girl to my left initiates a new one. While I spoke with the owner, she had been listening. Her ears perked up at the conversations we were having, relevant to the paper she happens to be writing. We talk and talk and talk, sharing stories, finding connections.
The final interaction of the night is the most memorable. A lady enters with worry in her eyes. She has dark hair and tattoos decorate her legs from the knees down- a gallery of body art. She meets her friend who is sitting to my left and begins to chat. She holds back tears as she shakes her leg restlessly. I look over and give a warm smile. “I’m sorry- my daughter got hurt at school today and is in the hospital,” she says. Her friend interjects – “And on top of that she has leukemia. She has been in and out of the hospital for chemo all year anyway, so sadly, she’s no stranger there. She is 8 years old. It sucks but she is so strong.” With a heavy heart, I express empathy. I am at a loss for what else to do. I watch the mother go back and forth between drinking wine and caffeine, seeking some unknown solace or energy. My eyes close and I say a silent prayer for her.

​As I pack my stuff to leave, I am discontent. I want so desperately to let her know that I am praying for her and her baby girl. Just as I am about to get out of my seat, the owner appears near our tables. He greets the friend of the weary mother and calls her by name. Turns out she’s an employee here- dropping by on her night off. She introduces the owner to her friend, and shares the story of the ailing, little 8 year old fighter. I can tell the owner’s heart is breaking for her, too – I see it in his eyes. Thinking of his own daughter who is at prom tonight. Knowing that this mother who he is meeting may never get to share that special moment with her baby girl. He stops and sighs, “Can I pray for your daughter? Do you mind us praying together for her, right here and now?” The woman is surprised and responds with a hesitant, “Sure, yeah that’s fine.” I immediately jump in and ask to join- my heart in alignment with the owner’s but him saying the thing I hesitated to. And we bow our heads together. A group of two Jesus lovin’ people and two who doubt that God is real. We pray for the health of the baby girl, the revelation of God’s plan, the serenity and comfort of the parents who are giving their all to care for the child they created. As we open our eyes, there is not a dry one. “Thank you…thank you,” the mother whispers in gratitude. We part with a hug and I let her know that my prayers will continue. And as I walk out of that café, I suddenly understand what the sign means. Love is here.

From Broken to Beautiful

Time heals all things.” We say and hear this phrase often and it provides us with a glimmer of hope and promise. Hope that discouraging situations will improve. Hope that negative things will come to past. But the truth is, time does not heal all things. Jesus does.

​Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on how this truth has played out in my own life. Two years ago this time, I was living for me. My dreams and desires, my will and my way. Sure, I knew the Lord, but I could wait a little longer to fully commit, right? That is what I thought, until God stopped me dead in my tracks. I recently saw a quote that said “You don’t know God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.” It took a humbling experience to show me what that quote is all about.

It was December of 2013. Like any normal year, I was getting into the holiday spirit. Frantically shopping for the perfect gifts, enjoying holiday parties and celebrations, getting the house cozy and “Christmasy”, and making plans with loved ones. All was joy and folly until a wrench was thrown in the plans that I had for my life. Over the span of a few hours, my reality switched from holiday cheer to an officer standing before me to deliver bad news that I prayed was not true, “I’m sorry.” My world stopped. My joy was instantly annihilated. There was no way it could be true that the guy I had grown to love and given all of my heart and time to decided that this life was not worth living.

It was as if time stopped. Just ten days before Christmas, holiday preparations were replaced by funeral preparations. The special gifts I bought for him became meaningless accessories, and the time I planned to spend joyfully with loved ones turned into time spent shedding tears and soaking up encouragement from my closest friends and family. I looked at the world around me. Other young people were enjoying the prime of dating, marriage, and starting families. Why did God choose me, a 22 year old, to lose love so unexpectedly and tragically? Why did he choose me to suffer this sadness and embarrassment. There were so many questions and for the first time in my life, I had no answers. Not one. I could not explain what I did not understand.
I fell at the feet of the Lord in prayer and soaked the pages of my Bible on countless nights with my tears. One night as I was reading Proverbs, the words resonated with me in a way they never had before.

“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.

After sinking into the depths of my own emotions, I eventually realized that there was no way I could ever understand. Sometimes we drive ourselves crazy trying to understand God’s plans for this rollercoaster we call life. We hold on to the guilt and the “whys” from the past and we dwell on the uncertainties and “what ifs” of the future. All the while, God is giving our anxious hearts reassurance to trust his plan. Whether or not we choose to seek His guidance is up to us. Everything is not meant to be understood. Every ending is not meant to be happy. And most of life’s questions do not have answers. It stinks to accept this sometimes. But you know what makes it better? Trusting that the Lord will see you through any and every circumstance, no matter how ugly or unpleasant.
I decided to choose an attitude of joy to help me cope. I looked around at all of the beautiful things that remained in my life. I decided to live my life for Him, with the realization that He is the ONLY constant. During the quiet moments of grieving, when friends and family have to go about their business, you are left alone in the presence of the Lord. Yep, just you and Him with no distractions. And He is ready to listen if you call on Him for help. We can choose to be silent and stubborn. Or we can choose to cast all of our cares on Him. People will leave you temporarily and permanently, and when that happens, God is always ready to embrace you with open arms and ears.

As I accepted gratitude and faithfulness as a lifestyle, I began to notice my life taking a turn for the best. Although it felt like my life was in shambles because of the loss, the Lord gradually began to put the pieces back together. And in the midst of it all, he made my story more beautiful than it was before:
Acceptance into graduate school, followed by gaining new, forever friends with beautiful souls in my grad program. He gave me a church family of people who I have grown to love like real family. And He gave me the chance to love again- this time with the perfect man who understood and accepted my brokenness. A man who even after years of living without his parents, models the perfect example of choosing joy in the midst of unfathomable losses. A man who only makes me cry when I am laughing too hard at one of his jokes.

And here I stand, two years later. Same old me, but a brand new outlook on life and priorities. There are still some things I will never understand, but you know what? I’m okay with that. We have to trust the Savior with all of our heart and all of our mind.

Your story probably looks a lot different than mine. But I am willing to bet that there is something in your life that needs healing. Maybe it is regret. Maybe it is constant worry over a mistake you made. Maybe it is feeling rejected by something or someone. Or maybe you have yet to experience these things. Trust me when I say that there will come a time, my friend. And when that time comes, the Father will be waiting for you to turn to him for comfort. And just like that, a story can go from broken to beautiful.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.” Psalm 28:7

Sending Holiday Blessings to you all.

Remain Hopeful. Stay Anchored. Refuse to Sink.