a month of gratitude

Oh, hello there. It’s nice to see you again (and happy November!). I thought I’d pop in really quick to give you a heads up on what will be happening around here over the next month.

During a meeting at work today, we were going through an exercise in an attempt to help define what our personal core values were. One of the prompts was to write down the top dozen qualities you’d find in an ideal person. Not ideal as in perfect, but ideal as in the person you’d most like to be.

Among others, two of the qualities I wanted my ideal person to be were content and present.

My desire for more of those qualities in my life wasn’t surprising to me. I live in a dream world so often because I believe the lie that it’s so much better than my reality (it isn’t). Because of that, I often struggle with feeling discontent with my life.

As I was thinking about a tangible way I could practice being content and present in my life, practicing gratitude came to mind. And here’s the thing – I can’t be thankful for what my life holds if I’m not paying attention – paying attention to the small, the big, the good, the hard of life and engaging with it all.

So, for me, November is going to be about practicing contentment and being present in my life through paying attention, and documenting something I’m thankful for each day. That feels appropriate for the month of gratitude, yes?

I’ll be documenting those moments here, every day – mostly to give myself some accountability, but also because I hope you’ll join in! Some days may just be a photo and a few words, some days may be longer essays. But, my hope is that at the end of the month, present and content will replace fear and discontent as the normal default of my heart.

thank you 2013

It wasn’t until I was in college that I truly started practicing thankfulness. It happened one Sunday night after being challenged to write down five things I was thankful for each day, no repeats. 

I decided to give it a shot, and seven years later I’m still doing it. I’ve talked about thankfulness before here, but it’s one of those topics that I don’t believe you can ever really talk about enough. The more I actively practice thankfulness, the more joy I experience on a daily basis regardless of my current circumstances. When I stop and recognize all the gifts I’m given each day, I become overwhelmed with how rich I am. 

Since the end of a year seems to be the natural time for reflection, I could think of no better way to celebrate than by sharing the 2013 highlights of my lists.

2013 has been one heck of a year. Here’s to the past 12 months: 

– Marrying the man God created just for me. The amount of love and generosity we experienced from family and friends throughout the entire wedding season. Getting to spend the year living together and watching God begin to mold our hearts together. The incredible fun and joy that marriage brings alongside the hard work. 

afterlight

– Having the privilege of traveling to places I’ve never been with people I care about deeply. Costa Rica with Taylor, St. Louis to visit dear friends from Puerto Rico and Wilderness Ranch backpacking camp. 

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– Going to Colorado this summer with Taylor: getting to be together in the mountains that mean so much to us, seeing dear friends, and getting to care for and love on our Wilderness Ranch friends while they were evacuated due to wildfires. 

– Skyping with Shauna Niequist, and how God used that to give me the last push I needed to start a blog. 

– His faithfulness in small steps I’ve taken toward pursuing writing: new connections made, hearing stories of people I don’t know being impacted by the words here. 

The incredible opportunity to go to India with Light The World, and use my writing to help support JOYN, an organization who is doing incredible things to bring restoration to the people in Northern India. 

the JOYN family

– What God did in my heart while in India: reminding me that his kingdom spans the globe, that friendships and love can cross cultural, physical and language boundaries. That all people are valued and deserve to be treated with love, care and dignity. That joy doesn’t come from becoming worldly rich with material things. It comes from realizing how rich we already are, how valued we already are. Joy comes from restoration that happens in Jesus. 

– Taylor and I’s community of friends and family in Austin. How it has grown, changed and evolved over the last 3 years, yet has been sustained. 

 

– The Coulter’s, Francois’, and Coleman’s to walk through newly married life with. 

– A sweet puppy named Rio, who makes us laugh every day. 

– My dear grandpa: getting to see him more than usual this year, hear stories of his life, and have beautiful hand-made keepsakes in my home to always remember him. 

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– This truth: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

And so so so much more. 

I’m excited to walk into 2014 with expectant hope that I will experience more of God there. Let’s get this party started. 

Happy New Year! 

themes for summer: part II

Four and a half months ago my husband and I got married. As some of you might know, one of the greatest parts about getting married is the end of your engagement. Seriously. Now I know why, back in the good old days, the man peaced out for a while to prepare, and just came back when he was ready to take his bride. It can be brutal.

One of the most popular questions we were asked during that 4 month period was:

What’s been the hardest part of being engaged? 

You know what our answer was? Registering. 

Super spiritual, right?

Registering. It’s like an insta-fight. Tell me you’re not going to get ticked off at your fiance when you’re standing in Bed Bath & Beyond at 8:30 pm after you’ve both worked all day, staring at a wall of silverware trying to pick one of the 3,457 options, while being ravenous with hunger because you haven’t eaten anything since lunch? Tell me. I mean, why can’t we just have one option for silverware? Then we can all be united, and not compare ourselves and the world would overall be a better place.

Anyways.

We pushed through. We finished the registry (praise all things holy). And then something crazy happened: people started showering us with gifts. It was like Christmas everyday for two months. The boxes at Taylor’s parents’ house just kept piling higher and higher, and every time we would visit there was something new to unwrap.

Then we got married. And the boxes.kept.coming. Our apartment had a never-ending tower of cardboard for a solid month.

When the gifts finally slowed, and everything was in its place we realized that our friends and family provided us with literally every single thing we needed. I look around our apartment and can count on one hand the items that we owned before we were married. Every other solitary thing, down to measuring cups and dishtowels and soap dispensers, was given to us in one way or another. And we didn’t earn any of it. During this time, it hit me that getting married is either the largest scam on the face of the planet, or an incredible picture of God’s overwhelming love and provision for his children. 

I choose to believe the latter, and am overwhelmed with thankfulness every time I walk in our home. It’s more than enough. We have been spoiled by an abundance of generosity. We want for nothing.

How much more so am I spoiled with the love of my Father? How much more generous is he with me, in giving me his Son Jesus? How much more so has he provided for me in simply giving me life, since I deserve death?

The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. 

I love this translation of Psalm 23. It reminds me that I already have everything. If I truly believe the Lord is my Shepherd- that He is protecting me, guiding me, rescuing me, making sure I’m fed- then there is nothing in this world I could possibly need that He hasn’t already given me.

My only reaction to that is gratitude. Thankfulness that leads to worship. It can only be that.

My freshman year of college was the first time thankfulness really entered my radar. One Sunday night at Young Life club, our leader told a story of how he challenged a friend to write down five things he was thankful for each day for a year. No repeats. At the end of his four years in college, his friend handed him a notebook, with pages completely filled with things he was thankful for. Our leader challenged us to do the same.

So, I did. During my journals in college, you will find a list of five things I’m thankful for in front of every entry. Sometimes it was as small as coffee in the morning, and sometimes as big as seeing YL kids begin walking with Jesus. But every entry mattered. They mattered because God changed my heart through practicing thankfulness. I realized that even my worst day with Jesus still beat my best day without Him. That in the midst of hurting, God is still good and He is still on his throne. 

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Then, the first two years out of college happened. I experienced heartbreak, failure and brokenness like I never had before. In my life, God has walked me through tough seasons. No one is exempt from those. If you follow Jesus, you will suffer.

But this. This was unlike any of the previous seasons, which is no way lacked significant pain and heartbreak. This type of brokenness was the I can’t bear to get out of bed in the morning because the ache is my heart is too great type of brokenness. I cried and cried. I wrestled with the Lord. I asked Him “Why?” over and over and over. I asked him “Why not?” even more.

“Why couldn’t I do this or that, or be with this person or that person?” “Why am I here, and not there? Why can’t I be there?” Why not?”

I was desperate for answers. I cried out, pleading, demanding to be answered. And the answer I received was,

Wait, trust me.

That was not what I wanted. I did not believe it enough for me, and my heart grew hard.

I felt abandoned, and like the Lord had failed me. I started to believe, although I couldn’t articulate this at the time, that God was punishing me for my failures. I started to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t enough, that I was paying my own price. 

If you look at my journals during that time period, there are no lists of how I saw God that day. You will find very few, if any, lists of things I’m thankful for. In the midst of heartbreak, I stopped practicing thankfulness and started believing I had nothing to be thankful for. That is not a good place to be.

It affected everything. How I thought about life, how I acted towards people, how I dealt with my work and home and friendships. Lies became so rooted in my brain, that I’ve just recently been able to identify them as such and begin the hard work of uprooting and replanting.

Thankfully.. yes, very thankfully, God finally said “That’s it” about a year ago. And to my surprise, he began unashamedly showering me with love from all sides. I began dating Taylor, which showed me a side of Jesus I’d never known before. Our community of friends blossomed, and he gave me an incredible group of girlfriends to live life with. You should see them rally when people are in need. It’s truly a beautiful thing. Taylor and I got engaged and the amount of love and provision we received only escalated. All the gifts, the showers, the parties, the friends staying up late to do wedding crafts, the prayers, the celebration. God shoved it in my face… in his ever-kind, gentle way… that I was loved, and lacked nothing. He reminded me that He had not abandoned me. That I am his child, and he never would. He was not absent during those two years, I just couldn’t see what He was doing. And probably because I’m stubborn, He decided to show me all at once. When He did, I could not deny his love. My heart began to soften, and thankfulness began to return little by little.

photo 2Last week, I got a letter from my sister. The letter’s only purpose was to tell me she loved me, and was thankful for me (She is awesome). Inside the letter was a list I wrote at the end of my freshman year of college titled “Thankful.” The list was 100 items long. She found it as she was cleaning out my old room, and thought I would like to have it. As I re-read the list, I was once again overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness. He is so good.

So I’m practicing thankfulness this summer. It’s the only appropriate response I could possibly imagine for the Shepherd who gave everything, so I would lack nothing.

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What are you thankful for right now? I’d love to know!