Lyrics & Wondering - A Thought on Advent

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Oh Advent, how I struggle with thee. Between the Hallmark movies telling me I just need someone to help me find my Christmas cheer, the to do list that I truly do love fulfilling, the gifting, the parties, the traditions we're trying to begin and maintain with our children, the keeping Christ in Christmas, I mean, pick your typical mantra and what ails you at the holidays and insert it here. Oh, and don't forget to rest in there somewhere, right next to the partridge in a pear tree and my Grandmother's coffee cake recipe. I just... love this time of year, and equally dread its arrival. Now that its here, I think I've finally figured out what I need in order to make it through all this holi-drama... I need those people in that manger scene in my home to be real. I need them to take on flesh and bone and faith and be real to me.

I think what's frustrating about this scene from a Biblical sense, is we know so little about it. Literally, all we have from scripture are these words from Luke:

So Joseph also went up to the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem....He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
— Luke 2:4-7

The angels that appear to the shaking shepherds also make mention of a birth and say in verse 12 “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The shepherds then seek them out, and they find this little family in verse sixteen, just as they were told they would; together in a stable with a baby in a food trough.

If you know me in real life or online, its pretty hard to miss that I love music. This year, I have had an album by an artist named Andrew Peterson on repeat called “Behold the Lamb of God.” The songs on the album are like a musical storybook that bring the foretelling and coming of Jesus to life from Genesis until His birth and offers such a vulnerable perspective of the ancient texts that guide us into Advent. One of my absolute favorite songs on the album is called “Labor of Love,” and it serves as a narrative for Mary that is beautiful and breathtaking. It reminds the listener about how raw that Christmas night in a barn must have been for her and for her loyal Joseph. The first lyrics go like this:

“It was not a silent night; there was blood on the ground.
You could hear a woman crying in the alleyway that night on the streets of David's town.
And the stable was not clean, and the cobblestones were cold.
Little Mary full of grace, with the tears upon her face, and no mother's hand to hold
It was a labor of pain, it was a cold sky above.
For the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart was a labor of love.”

I don't know about you, but the first time I understood what that lyric conveyed, I was transfixed. It made that simple Nativity scene come alive to me in a whole new way. It put flesh on bone and brought the simple faith of a young, scared Jewish couple into whirling technicolor. As I've stared at Mary in a whole new light, it has also moved my eyes to the baby in her arms. Fully God. Fully man. A baby in a barn. Then, I stopped, and this thought came to me: Why do we believe that baby Jesus didn't cry?

I look back in the frustratingly detail limited ancient text and see nothing about what baby Jesus was doing and all I see is that he was born, and that he lay in manger. Now, maybe its the fact that I have an almost 6 month old talking, but no matter how I've tried, I can't shake the question. I've been able to bring Mary and Joseph to life (thank you, Mr. Peterson), I can weep with them, I can breathe the sigh of relief in afterbirth with them, but I cannot get my head around a silent baby Jesus. Where did that come from? Am I navigating some sort of weird sacrilegious bunny trail down the road of Advent? Unbidden, I hear the old hymn “Away in a Manger” in the back of my mind.

“Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head....

The cattle are lowing
The Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes...”

A-ha! There it is. No crying he makes. But is that real? I think according to scripture... we just don't know. But here's what I'm wondering. Maybe its because I have an almost 6 month old and I'm fresh from the birth experience, but if that baby in that scene is going to be real to me this Christmas, I need Him to be alive. And what is the sign of life from a baby that every Mother who has ever labored has longed to hear in order to ease her pain and relieve her longing for relief? Their baby's cry. Its a sign of life. Its a sign that this baby that has been given to them is with tangibly with them on this earthen sod and wonderfully alive. I just wonder what that must have been like for Mary and Joseph. To know who He was on the inside, but to hear Him, in a mess of hay and fabric, Immanuel, God with us, miraculously and wonderfully alive on the outside. That brings that little scene to life to me. This little family relishing in the mess the great gift that has been given, and I can ache with all of creation as life as this Earth knew it shifted. He is here. He has come. He is alive.

So now, as I still stare down that list, as I plan for gathering with my family, as I intentionally plan out gifting, as I read the ancient story to my children, its just a little brighter. The echo of the chorus that must have come from within the barn rings in my ears. And the cry that shattered hundreds of years of longing reminds me that one day, another sound, perhaps even a cry, will serve as a sign that all of life on Earth will shift again. You see, He did not just come to cause a ruckus and then leave us behind, He came to rescue us, to deliver us and to make way for us to live in Hope with Him forever and ever. That baby in my Nativity Mary's arms; He is alive. Hallelujah.

Ten Years: From Me to You

Dear Em,

Today you are getting married. I would say at this exact time you are waking up as early as I am up now because the Lord is calling you to go sit outside and watch the sun come up. You'll have to sneak out of bed and tip toe over about fifteen of your friends that are sleeping in every nook and cranny of Mom and Dad's house in Knoxville. Once you make it to the porch, you'll hear the Lord speak some truths over you that will still be so fresh in your mind ten years later that you'll be brought to tears as you recall them. Truths like:

“I have called you by name, you are mine.”

“You are my Bride in white.”

“I have loved you with a redeeming love”

“I have chosen this man for you, and you for him. I will not leave either of you”

Your story, babygirl, is just getting started. You are SO young. You don't feel it because in the last four years, you have seen a lot of life. A significant piece of your story has been written in a number of ways, but its not what will define you and it is most definitely not the last chapter. The pain that you still battle with, even on this beautiful misty morning, will not only fade with time, the Lord will use your story of how your husband met you in one of your darkest places, pulled you out and loved you as you were, over and over again.

Photos by Hope Photography

Photos by Hope Photography

However, I must tell you. He will not live on that white horse for long. He is a GOOD man. He is a man who will exhibit incredible character, courage, steadfastness, and integrity over the years, but your husband is not your savior. He is not perfect; only Jesus is perfect. You will learn this the hard way many times over. Then, once you realize he is not perfect, you will try to change him. You will try to talk circles around him to make him understand what you need and what you think he needs. You will wear yourself out because you are not his savior either. You are not perfect, only Jesus is perfect.

You don't have any idea about what your life is about to look like. You will be what some people in the industry refer to as “a road widow.” You will not be good at it for a very long time. You will call it a season instead of his dream. You will be an unhappy person for him to come home to. You will be incredibly unfair and un-supportive. You will selfishly only see the bad and refuse to see the good. In an effort to try and communicate how much you miss him and need him, you will push him so far away that it makes you incredibly hard to love.

One day, however, you will stop seeing yourself as the industry, and many, many, other people around you have labeled you, and you will start to see yourself as part of a team. You will see the many adventures you have been able to have together in the midst of his travel. You will see how incredible he is at his job, how he is living his dream and you are part of that. You will see how his choice to work so hard is because he works hard for you. You will see the gem that he is in a hard industry to remain a man of steadfastness to his integrity, his family and to his faith. You will still miss him and need him, but you will begin to present a more welcoming place for him to be who he was made to be where he is wanted, as he is.

Marriage is nothing like you are expecting it to be. You will not like how much the Lord uses it to reveal your own brokenness and selfishness. But you will see Him so vividly and feel His presence so intensely in how He continually grows, changes, heals and redeems you both over and over again. The joy that comes from the Lord answering sewn prayers are unlike anything you can even imagine.

And then you will become parents. He will be the most incredible father and it will make you fall so much more deeply in love with him. You will have TWO children (which currently, you are still getting used to saying that); a girl and a boy. They will both have names that you treasure because they are ones that tell your story. You will hear his voice read/sing the book Snuggle Puppy and you will melt. You will watch him struggle with the crying (as you will you), and you will both rejoice in the years of more sleep but more words. You will have a Sneech in your family. You will forget car seats, and lunches and learn how to discipline together when you're in two different cities and he will fight for you. He will stand by you and trust you while you hold the fort, and when you feel like his choice to let you handle things is some sort of slight, you will realize its because he values your decision making. He trusts you with his team in his absence. You will learn the need to communicate effectively on a whole other level. You will both learn how to celebrate small victories and how to sturdy yourselves during the long days and short years of hard.

Photos by Olimb Photography

Photos by Olimb Photography

Ten years later, he is not the same man up on that white horse you perched him on, but he is the man that the Lord made to ride alongside you. I wish I could tell you these things so you could be better at loving him and spend less time pointing fingers at him. But you will have a lot of growing up to do, and that process will make you into me. We don't have it all figured out, by any meaI still get it wrong so much, but I'm not you, and I couldn't be more grateful the Lord was not content to leave me as I was that misty morning on the porch.

Today is going to be a good day, babygirl, but just you wait.

Happy anniversary, beloved.

xo

Elsa, Little Carts, and Evaluations

Tonight, I took Elsa with a little cart to the grocery store.

If you have never taken a small child to the grocery store where they have, what our family calls “little carts” (grocery carts that are replicas of the real thing, only pre-schooler sized) its a little like an installment of the Hunger Games, the parent edition, where there can only be one victor. Now in the past 2 years of my daughter's life, I've been able to bypass the “little carts” by either allowing her to “help me” by pushing the big cart, or by allowing her to sit in the big basket to sort and stack the groceries. However, 7 weeks ago, her little brother entered our world, and now grocery shopping is a whole new adventure. His car seat sits in the big basket and much to the confusion of the cashiers and baggers at the check out, he tends to sometimes hold the groceries or they are strategically placed all around his car seat in the basket.

Tonight, I needed to go to the grocery store but I knew what all I needed to get wouldn't fit in the remaining real estate allocated by Baby Brother's place in the cart. My daughter is 4 and very good at it. Today, she put on what she calls her “Elsa” costume (a blue costume dress my Mother scored from TJ Maxx) and refused to take it off. So not only are we walking into Kroger in full “Let it Go” mode, I glance off to the left of the front doors and spy the dreaded “little carts,” and I know in my heart its my turn to “let it go” and let her do her thing on our grocery journey while also providing the extra space we need for the groceries in her cart.

An hour later, we emerged from the store with stickers (for her), caramel M&M's (for me) and most of our needed items, relatively unscathed and only one of us is crying (Baby Brother). As I sit here in the quiet of bed time, it dawned on me that this time last year, I was having dinner with a dear friend in the gorgeous Gilmore Girls-esque hamlet that is The Highlands, NC. We had arrived a day early for the Cultivate Retreat where we both would be presenting as break out session speakers, and we were taking the night to relax and have some fun before the hard work began the following morning.

As I sit here and remember that dinner, I also remember what I was in The Highlands to talk about. “Balance,” the creator of the conference had said. “I think it'd be great for you to talk to us about work-life balance.” Which, in light of my current situation is hilarious, but at the time, I feel like the Lord gave me some insight into a process that I desperately need to revisit. And maybe it can be helpful for you too.

You see, I actually don't know that I believe in “balance.” Jen Hatmaker writes in her book For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, “Balance. It’s like a unicorn; we’ve heard about it, everyone talks about it and makes airbrushed T-shirts celebrating it, it seems super rad, but we haven’t actually seen one. I’m beginning to think it doesn't actually exist.”

I presented to my fellow attendees at Cultivate (who decided that it would be best to sit/lay on the floor and get comfy during my talk-- God love them-- ) that maybe instead of creating a formula for keeping the ever changing scales “balanced” in order for them to define us, there has to be an honest evaluation of what matters to us and what makes us who we are in the season we are in. Once that has been established, then we can make decisions about what's realistic, how we define things like success and failure, and create accurate measurements for what is enough here and now.

If you want to know the Mary Poppins reference... you have to take me out to coffee. ;)

If you want to know the Mary Poppins reference... you have to take me out to coffee. ;)

Man, I need that reminder now more than ever before. Its amazing how much can change in a year. If you had told me that evening in the Highlands that I would be sitting here recovering from a day with Elsa and her little cart, an almost 8 week baby boy, and trying to get back to work after taking a maternity leave... I definitely would not have believed you. It was such a different season, I felt the Lord telling me to be obedient to the next right steps in my personal and my professional life. Things were shifting and I felt more compelled than ever to buckle down in my calling and to dive into more things like what I was there in The Highlands to do, speak, encourage, write, and more. I was walking with a one of my dearest friends who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and as on the 10th of this month, she will have been cancer free in Heaven for 5 months. Things were busy, things were full, but even if much of it was new territory, it was familiar enough to me that small adjustments made significant improvement in how things were handled.

Seen above with my bouquet I created in my friend Em Kennedy's bouquet making break out session at Cultivate Retreat. Photo by Alex Thornton Photography

Seen above with my bouquet I created in my friend Em Kennedy's bouquet making break out session at Cultivate Retreat. Photo by Alex Thornton Photography

Flash forward to now, where it seems like a whole new world has cracked open and presented an entirely different Earth and its overwhelming mostly because I haven't been able to figure out why its so overwhelming. (There's some fellow over-thinker out there that can totally nod their head with me and 'amen' to that, am I right?) An Earth where suddenly a grocery run is enough to make me want to crawl in bed before 9pm with my bag of caramel M&M's. An Earth where I can't tell my friend that that there could possibly truly be another season of Gilmore Girls. An Earth where just knocking 4 things off my two page to do list feels like I should have won a medal.

I think the truth is, I'm overwhelming myself in expectations that made sense a year ago. The same measurements just don't apply. Its time for a brand new evaluation about who I am, what matters, what I'm capable of and what is possible inside of those parameters. That doesn't mean you throw it all out and start from scratch, but it does mean that I've got to... dare I say... "let it go" in certain areas. (You're welcome -- Double Disney reference #ftw). That I've got to press in to the pockets of time the Lord provides, and also rest. That I can't do as many things in one day as I did before, but that there is a new way to get things accomplished. That I need to ask for help and take it when its offered. That I need to believe the Lord isn't surprised by any of this, and He will equip me for the good work He is doing. (Hebrews 13:21)

Photo of me working a wedding with my two week old son by Courtney Davidson Photography.

Photo of me working a wedding with my two week old son by Courtney Davidson Photography.

What about you? Have you been pushing yourself to do “all the things” based on what was working for you before? Your life may not look like mine, but I can almost bet that you are not the same person you were this time last year. What's changed in your world, for better or for worse? Where can you give yourself some grace? Where can you make adjustments in order to have better focus? Be honest, be real and be kind to yourself. This season isn't better or worse than the last, its unique to you now. Don't wish it away, don't shame yourself in perceived failure, open your eyes and be willing to see it as it is. It may not be perfect, but its part of your story. Stop and give yourself the gift of evaluation and allow margin for the new.

And when you are overwhelmed, I highly recommend the caramel M&M's.

Battlefields and Beaches

When I was in 8th grade, our school went on an overnight field trip to Gettysburg, PA. If you're not familiar with that particular portion of American history, Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. I'm a history nerd through and through, which wasn't (and probably still isn't) exactly a quality that would get a 14 year old adolescent girl any points in the perpetual popularity pursuit that is middle school, but standing on the battlefield that day, I didn't care. I was hanging on to every word our guide shared with us about what had happened on those green fields. I could practically hear the guns cracking as they fired. I looked around and drank in the mist as it began to envelope the hillside we stood on. It felt so real to me, I was genuinely worried that the mist would pull back and reveal hundred year old bodies of young boys frozen in death. There was something about standing in the exact spot, on the same grass, under the same trees that bore witness to such life altering events that absolutely captivated me.

This week, I walked out onto another patch of grass in a field far from Gettysburg, with my 4 year old daughter watching a storm blow in off the ocean off the Florida coast. Neither one of us are very good at remembering to wear shoes, and our bare feet were being tickled by the grass as we made our way to the large staircase that led to the beach. This is the place where, up until about ten years ago, my family and I spent almost every summer of my life. While much of its surrounding geography has changed due to weather, time and developing tourism, the vast majority of it has remained relatively preserved. As I walked with my daughter, a thought came to me: “the grass is the same.” Its a kind of grass I've never felt anywhere else. It almost pushes your feet as you walk, practically propelling you into the next step.

Something in that moment, being on the grounds where so much of my story unfolded, sucked me into memories so vivid they could practically cast a shadow. I could see myself marching in the 4th of July parade as a girl, not much older than my daughter is now. I could feel the splash of the water and the endless hours in the pool and in the ocean. I could taste the meal we were having here when I told my parents I had accepted Christ as my Savior at summer camp. I could hear the conversation with my friends that came with me on this trip over the years, expressing dreams and the “I can't wait to be older” wishes.

Unfortunately, in the getting older, the memories became more vivid and more painful. The heartbreak that I brought to these shores. The angst of hormones, body shaming, unanswered questions, and change. The confrontation from my parents that happened here because of a toxic relationship unraveling back home. The confusion I wrestled with on the porch about who I was and what God wanted from me. Or the last time I was here prior to this trip, the uncertainty of a newlywed who didn't know how to walk through her expectations clashing head first into reality. It was almost too much to bear, having my feet stand in that grass, my own personal battlefield, and I shut my eyes, braced for impact, again fearing I would look up and find evidence of what had been lost scattered across the lawn.

When I reluctantly opened my eyes, instead of carnage, a little hand appeared and a voice followed it that said “Mommy, can we hold hands?” My daughter is in a fiercely independent stage of her growing up and so I hurried to take her hand before she changed her mind. Hand in hand we stood there overlooking the beach, talking about how we could see the storm coming and our trip down to the sand may have to wait a little longer. How easy it is in that moment to tell explain to a child how a storm will indeed pass, and things will be right again, but to live that out is painful and time is sluggish.

What would I have said to all those versions of a younger me running around on that springy grass, crying on the porch, or praying on the beach? How could I have ever foreseen God's faithfulness to carry me through, to meet me where I was and to redeem the broken pieces? With the same simple certainty that I can promise my tearful, blonde headed girl that the sun will come back after this storm passes, my Heavenly Father saw me in all the seasons and storms I brought to this shore. He knew what I would look like today, tired in motherhood, but joyful in heart. He knew what storms would pass, the damage they'd leave in their wake, and how He would redeem it all.

It seems so ridiculously simple and almost trite, but walking it out in this moment is anything but. To stand in a place where I once felt unfixable, unlovable and unwanted in a new season that is anything but perfect, but is ripe with answered prayer, feels nothing short of miraculous. To know that He didn't leave me in the carnage of battle, to know that He was that trustworthy all along, that He was always on my side, and to know that He can see even beyond the season of now brings a lump to my throat. The sweetest part of it? To know He isn't finished and He will never stop seeing me. And the same is true for you:

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” - Ephesians 3:14-21 (NLT)

The Road to Palm Leaves & Extraordinary Days

Last Sunday, my daughter and I were pulling into the parking lot of our church and I thought to myself, “OK, palm Sunday is next week, Easter follows... so what is this week?” Then, the answer came to me: “Nothing. Its just an ordinary day.” I pulled into a parking space while my daughter chittered away about who she would see in her class and a thought came to me unbidden “It wasn't an ordinary day to Jesus. In fact every day was extraordinary to Him.”

When I got home, I decided to crack open the Gospels and search for what Jesus was up to the week before what we would refer to as “Holy Week;” the week that begins with Palm Sunday, today, and runs through Easter. If you're not familiar with the books of the Bible, in the New Testament there are 4 books referred to as “The Gospels,” they are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These books contain four different accounts of Jesus' life here on Earth. They each carry unique perspectives based on who the authors were and where their information came from. Only one of them is a truly eye-witness account, the book of John, one of Jesus' twelve disciples, His closest friends and partners in ministry on Earth. The others are written from the pens of second-hand sources who took down eye-witness accounts who saw and heard Jesus in the flesh. Some Gospels share the same account almost verbatim, others leave details and pieces out or focus more on certain teachings and happenings of Jesus. All of them, however, share the essentials of Jesus' message, how He lived and moved amongst the people of Ancient Israel, and most importantly how He died and was raised again from the dead.

The week before Easter, is no exception in the varied account of the days leading up to what many called Jesus' “Triumphant Entry” into Jerusalem, what we now know as Palm Sunday. It earned its name because Jesus came into Jerusalem for the final time before His death to the sound of praise and the waving of palm branches (John 12:13). People lined the streets like a parade, screaming “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” They laid down their coats on the dusty ground in front of the donkey Jesus was riding on (Mark 11:8), and they accented their shouts of praise with the first thing at their disposal, palm leaves.

But what about before all that? What about the days leading up to that moment? What made each day extraordinary to Jesus?

When I looked through each of the Gospels, I searched for a marker in time, a place to start to know I might be in the vicinity of the road to dusty coats and palm leaves. I found Him in Matthew 25 teaching hard lessons in the form of parables to His followers, which led to Him dining in a house only known as “the home of Simon the Leper,” in chapter 26 , where a woman brought a jar of expensive oil, cracked it open, anointed His feet, and wiped the oil with her hair, tears streaming down her face and splashing onto Jesus' feet. Over her head there was mocking of her sacrificial act, Judas, one of His disciples, runs off to make a deal with the Devil and Jesus predicts that another one of His disciples, Peter, would betray Him.

In Mark, I found Jesus teaching about hard things. Things like divorce, predicting His own death and settling ridiculous squabbles amongst His disciples about who is first and last. We also see Him honor and bless a group of hushed children and heal a blind man with a simple word of “Go, your faith has healed you.”

In Luke, I saw glimpses of similarities in the teachings and hard conversations of the other Gospels. We also see Him honor and esteem a poor widow who brings her very last penny to the temple as her offering. He then bursts the disciples' bubbles about how the seemingly strong Temple they are standing in awe of will be destroyed, which leads into a discussion of prophecy, and a promise of how things will go from bad to worse, but in that same promise, that the Son of Man will bring redemption, once and for all.

And in John, I can practically smell the dust of the road as John details the movements of Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. I see a similar, but more detailed, telling of the healing of a blind man, I hear a sermon on spiritual blindness, and the relationship between the Good Shepherd and His ever wandering sheep. Then, I arrive at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, three of Jesus' beloved friends and followers, and Lazarus has died. Mary and Martha are heartbroken, the disciples are full of questions and Jesus weeps.

I wonder if Jesus felt there, at the home of his friends, where things have gone from bad to the absolute worst, the weight of each choice He made to be obedient to His Father that made even the most ordinary day, truly an extraordinary day. Just walking distance from the city where He would enter as a victor but be put to death by the same voices that shouted “Hosanna” over the fringe of the palms, did He weep in that moment because He knew? He knew what was to come? The gravity, the necessity, the temptation to bolt back to Heaven into the safety of His own skin? Here, is where I see the weight of what Jesus is carrying, what He has always carried, break through the surface of His donned humanity. That without choosing the road ahead of Him, without taking each day as its own in its potential for the extraordinary, without choosing to watch the faces of those He loved change from elation to murderous, without being betrayed by a friend's kiss and the sound of the rest as they hit the ground running, without choosing to see the back side of His Father and choosing to bear the weight of the sin that entangles all of us, all that would be left was what He saw in front of Him that day with Mary and Martha: Weeping at tombs.

In John's account of this experience, Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb of his friend, who has now been dead for days. He even goes as far as to ask those in attendance to roll away the stone that has sealed up Lazarus' grave. Then, amongst the confused and frankly appalled crowd, the most amazing conversation takes place:

Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe You sent Me.’ When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’
— John 11:40-44

I wonder what kind of experience this would have been if Jesus had spent His days on Earth differently? I wonder at the power of the words “but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe You sent me.” (v42) I think the days that led Him here, and would ultimately lead Him to the cross, were spent in such a way that we would not be able to miss the reality of Him. The reality of His words, His work, His passion and His love, that's what makes the cross and ultimately the resurrection such a scandalous mystery.

No matter where you are in your life, whether Jesus is nothing but a fantastical idea, a story, a good person in history or in mysticism, or maybe even a bad word in your vocabulary because He has not met your expectations of a Savior, I just want to say this to you:

He knows you.
He sees you.
He hears your wailing on whatever side of the tomb you are on.

Whether that's an internal cry because you have deadened your heart to the cruelty of feeling and it is safer to stay in the hole you've created for yourself, or if that's a literal wailing outside the tomb of something or someone that has been ripped from your reality, reeling at the lack of control, the lack of understanding, and full of all the whys and where were yous.

He knows you
He sees you.
He hears you.
He loves you.

How do I know that? Because He still loved the ones who saw Him walk in each extraordinary day of His ministry on Earth. The same ones who welcomed Him with praise and expectation because they thought they were going to give them the deliverance they sought, but when He didn't, they turned on Him. He still chose the cross. He still died. But on that third day, He was called by the name of His Creator and came out of that grave. Just like Lazarus. When He appeared to more and more people, He made the same offer to every single one of those who had hurt Him, and with no hesitation, to love them, to call them by name, and to not leave them in the tomb of their own making. He became the Savior they desperately needed, not just the one the believed they wanted. Because now, for those who believe Him, they will see the glory of God, here on Earth or one day face to face in Heaven.

Jesus altered our destiny by His choice to let no day remain ordinary. He had a mission, to be among us, to know us from the inside out by taking on our very likeness and to not leave us here hopeless. Hope knows no boundaries this side of the cross.

I once heard someone say “At the end of the worst thing that can happen to me is Jesus.” There are days that that feels enough, there are days that it doesn't. That's the beauty of Him, He can handle you on all the days. Because His days here on Earth were extraordinary, He can meet us in our ordinary, our depths of despair and the heights of our anger. He has hope for you in all the seasons, on any day, because His love for you is one He chose, each day and His hope is one that lasts beyond the turmoil of what we can see.

One day in the midst of His hope, is better than any day weeping at tombs.

Birth Stories

Four year ago yesterday, I knew something was wrong. It was the day after my daughter's due date, and I had spent the entire due date laboring at home, just to wake up the next day feeling totally normal physically but with a tug on my heart that I couldn't shake.

My friend Lauren was coming to meet me for lunch that day, I asked her if we could possibly make a pit stop first, you know, to the hospital. In my mind, I knew the doctors would think I was nuts and send me home, but in my gut, I knew we had to go.

Cut to a few hours later, sitting in triage and the doctor, whom I had never met until that day says "I mean you're all ready late, and you're here, let's induce you." At that point you think to yourself, "oh my word, this is happening! I'm going to give birth today!" Due to hospital politics, bed room and that sort of thing, my first (and yes I emphasize first) induction didn't begin until later that night, which led to another day, and another day, and by this point, my parent panic meter was off the charts.

-This isn't how this was supposed to happen.
-Am I wrong? Why do I feel so strongly that something isn't right and why are people not taking me seriously?
-Is my child going to be OK or is something out of my control going to harm her?
-Maybe I need to ask other Moms/Medical experts for their thoughts.
-I'm failing.

These are all thoughts that didn't just replay over in my mind like a tape recorder those long days in the hospital, those are thoughts I battled with yesterday.

You see that whole crazy ride of waiting and wondering and not eating and more inducing and ultimately having an emergency c-section wasn't a mistake, it's just our story. I really believe my daughter's unpredictable and unplanned entrance into the world really began to lay a ground work for me to grasp some huge realities about being a parent. And not just any parent, her parent.

I'll start with the most important one: You are not in control, but you are not alone.

This world is completely unpredictable. I mean, for the love, it's 33 degrees outside today in Tennessee and we're a week out from Spring's official due date. If we live in a world where the seasons can't even arrive on their scheduled time, why would all the rest of life follow our plans? Kids get the flu, they fall, they don't listen, they say no, others say no to them, they get their hearts broken, and the truth is, we can only control our response to it. But. (And that's a big but) I believe without a shadow of a doubt that we are known and loved by a God who is not surprised by His creation.

Whether it's the creation that we are surrounded by in nature, or the creation He grows within us and births in their perfect time, He does not see any of this as chaos. He sees how it was all made to be, and how it will all turn out.

You were made to be their parent. Trust your God-given instincts.

The reason we ultimately had to have a c-section was because no one thought to check and see how big my daughter was measuring from the inside. Three days and three different doctors later, a wonderful man said "let's do an ultrasound" and realized her head was too large to move through the birth canal.

I remember at one point during my c-section, a nurse said to me "you would never have pushed this baby out." Honestly, in that moment, I was encouraged. There was something wrong all along, I wasn't crazy. There had been something in me, perhaps the Lord preparing my heart for what was about to happen and how it would happen, that knew things weren't going to go down the way everyone said it should.

Now that I know my daughter, that couldn't be more true in how we've made decisions for her. I've had to consciously make the effort to lean into the voice of the Holy Spirit and the instincts He gave me to make decisions for her. Not what a book said, not what was always the most popular opinion, not what social media suggests, but what is best for her based on who she is.


The same is true for you, friend. The main voice that matters when you parent is the voice of the One who made you AND your child.

Every child is different, and that makes them a beautiful part of a bigger story.

My daughter made her entrance into this world in an unexpected fashion that didn't meet my timing or agenda. The truth is, raising little humans is similar. You can provide structure, you can have strong wishes and desires for their lives, you can have an idea of exactly how your days and weeks are going to play out. I have tried to parent from my agenda, but in the end it has left me just as frustrated as I was laying in that hospital room knowing the plan needed to change but feeling defeated that it wasn't happening how I had imagined it.

Ultimately, parenting is about getting to know our children for who they are, for how God made them, and leaning into His plans for your family. They are a part of the story God is telling with your life and you are a part of theirs, and it's beautiful.

You are not a failure.

Just because things aren't going like you expected, just because your child doesn't respond like you want them to all the time, just because there are days where there's more TV than perfectly Pinterest-able crafts and games, just because there are dishes in the sink and bags under your eyes, none of that labels you a failure. Do you love your child no matter how much they challenge you or make you crazy (and sometimes make you feel like you don't like them very much?) Do you get up every morning and care for them day in and day out?  Do you keep moving through a problem on their behalf until there ultimately is a solution? Then, my friend, you are not a failure.

Just like an unplanned and seemingly imperfect birth story doesn't label me as a failure, you doing what is best for your child no matter how hard it is or how it makes you feel about yourself or your plans and going about it imperfectly, but willingly, doesn't make you a failure; it makes you a parent.

Beloved, one of the greatest gifts my daughter has given to me is helping me see that we have to define for ourselves and our families, through the Creator's perspective, what we were made for and to engage the journey to get there, no matter how it looks. Is it messy? Yes. Is it what I always pictured? Heavens, no. But does it bring me an indescribable joy and a whole new perspective of the Father's love for us? Absolutely. I am praying you give yourself the grace to allow that to be true for you too.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to our little Snow White's last day of being a 3 year old. =)

20,000 Words

Last week, I had the pleasure of being a guest on April McKinney's podcast "20,000 Words." April and I first met about 7 years ago when we planned her, and her sweet husband's, wedding together. Working with the soon-to-be McKinneys was one of those first experiences where I felt the Lord meeting me in my work. They wanted to have a fun and beautiful wedding, but more than anything, they wanted their relationship with each other, and with the Lord, to grow in the process.

I also got to see the first glimpses of the cool things God was going to do with April's life as she tried to take the next steps of obedience with her giftings. She has a beautiful story and I love that she's sharing it and encouraging other women to share theirs through her podcast. You should DEFINITELY hit the subscribe button here, so you can follow along on this journey. You can also find our conversation there, or here on her blog.

If you had a chance to listen to our convo, April asked me questions that hit topics across the board: owning and running a business, wedding planning and how to start that process well, marriage, motherhood, and trying to be in the Word in the midst of it all. I struggle to see myself as an expert at ANY of those things, but I can definitely speak authentically from my own experiences and what God has taught me in the process. I listed off quite a few resources and such that have helped me along the way, or that are available now, to perhaps help you where you are. I have listed all of them below (if I missed one you are looking for, shoot me an email!) and I hope that they are helpful to you in your journey.

xo,
Em

*Resources to look in to for next steps in your business that we mentioned (and some extra ones too!)
The Propel Series
-Megan Martin (Branding and Coaching, also leading the Propel Series)
-Ashlee Proffitt (Branding)
-Kristin Kaplan (Business Coaching, particularly in pricing strategy)
-Sage Wedding Pros (For those of us who know NOTHING about business and marketing, this changed my life.)
-Kristen McCall (Social Media Consulting)

*Resources we mentioned for Time/Balance/Boundary/Life Support Shenanigans: (and some I thought of later!)
-The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa Terkeurst
-Lysa's Time Tracker
-She Reads Truth (Online Bible Study and App)
-First 5 (Online Bible Study and App)
-Beth Moore and Living Proof Ministries (there are a million Bible Studies... Truly, any of them would be a great place to start!)
- Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer
-Boundaries: When to say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life -by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
-Our worship Spotify playlist(s)
-"Marvelous Light"- Ellie Holcomb

*Scripture References:
-"While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”
So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle." - Exodus 17:8-13
-"He has made everything beautiful in its time." - Ecclesiastes 3:11
-"The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance," - Psalm 16:6
-"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." - 1 Peter 2:9
- "He will restore the years the locusts have eaten." - Joel 2:25
- "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." - Lamentations 3:21-26

The full quote I mentioned from Jen Hatmaker's book For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, is worth listing out in its fullness for two reasons. 1) Its so true and is worth repeating. 2) It makes me giggle:

"Balance, its like a unicorn; we've heard about it, everyone talks about it and makes airbrushed T-shirts celebrating it, it seems super rad, but we haven't actually seen one. I'm beginning to think this isn't a thing."

For kicks and giggles, because there are many of you who have no idea what MySpace is, this is for you!

Annnnnd finally, remember that one time I mis-quoted my own instagram handle on a podcast? Whoops. I'm definitely not simplyyoursem, My personal/writing/essentially anything not business or wedding related instagram is simplyemhumph. I'm blaming that on the lack of caffeine in my life. Or something.

 

*Photo featured in the 20,000 words graphic is by my dear friend Courtney Davidson Photography

Listening for the Light

In my mind, the last 8 weeks have felt a bit like instruments in an orchestra that all had something to play. However, every instrument was playing all at once. A grouping, that is designed to create something beautiful sounds anything but. It sounds disjointed, dissonant, and deafening. Its been a rough few weeks; no, months. Not just in the obvious, but hidden amongst the lives of others. I have had thoughts, I just couldn't make all the noise stop long enough to say anything.

I have experienced so many emotions, so many words flying around inside my mind and heart, the persistent pecking of noise, that it has actually left me awake at night and some days unable to think clearly or function. Now. I am positive much of this has been exacerbated by the fact that I am pregnant with our second child. Nothing like throwing up at the smell of... well... anything to really keep your spirits up. I wasn't sleeping. I was scared to eat. What I was eating wasn't staying with me. But still all the words and sounds came. The struggle raged on.

My birthday is the day after New Year's, so while the first week of January is always an interesting time of introspection for all people, its always been even more so for me. Another year of my life has come and gone, and another is in front of me. This year, I had the pleasure of getting to spend my birthday and the following days at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. After weeks and week of unrelenting internal struggle, the days after Christmas started to feel... different. The noise wasn't gone, but it had at least dulled to a low roar. Then, on January 2nd, I walked into the Georgia Dome, and some of the first words that were flashed in front my eyes were this:

You called my name and I walked out of that grave. Out of the darkness, into Your glorious day.

Suddenly, it seemed like a great conductor walked in to the hall of my mind and first of all put an end to the noise, but also, with one raise of His arm, brought all the instruments together and led them to what they were created to be; a symphony. A symphony of clear thought, true emotions, and compelled conversation.

Not only did I hear that with the tender ears surrounded by 55,000 young people yelling out their desire for the Light of Life, I heard it with a heart that had been watching and longing for the morning. (Psalm 130:6)

The next three days went on like that. Message after message, song after song, I heard the same theme being echoed over and over again:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
— John 1:5 (NLT)

Hope still exists. It can be hard to find, it often has to be fought for, but it is worth the fight. We are surrounded by hard things, from the smallest scale to the global sphere, BUT this is not how the story ends, friends.

It is OK to be sad. It is OK to have questions. It is GOOD to look around you and evaluate the brokenness of your circumstances or that which affects your community. It is good to weigh what is passing before your eyes and find that something is off. Because it is. This world is broken. This world is hurting. We are broken. We are hurting. But that's not all there is to it. There's more.

We are called by name by the God of the universe. He knows you. He loves you. He wants you just as you are. Just as I am. There is life to be found outside of the darkness that seems to overwhelm; abundant life. (John 10:10) Its not a life that promises things will always be OK, the world is broken, but it does promise we will NEVER be alone in it. (Deuteronomy 31:6-8, Matthew 28:20) Its a life that promises that there is a love for you that is so vast that it cannot even be measured. (Ephesians 3:18).

Friends, its time to come out of hiding. Its time to take that first shaking step out into the Light. There is nothing for you in the dark but fear, anger and a fire of bitterness that will only keep you warm for so long. I know it seems scarier outside, but I promise, out here, there is so much more to see than we can ever even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Hope is here. There is a part for you in it. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering action to matter to someone, its the heart behind it.

We are all struggling against the urge to hide, to drown in the hard around us, and let our confusion and clamor rule us, but let's stand firm together, friends. One step at a time.

So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
— Hebrews 12:12-13 (NLT)

*Update as of January 9th, 2017-- Here are some resources I'd love to share with y'all. First, links to the various talks from the Passion Conference that just rocked my soul.
Christine Caine
Beth Moore
Francis Chan
Levi Lusko
"I Ran Out of that Grave" - Kristian Stanfill (the song I mention earlier in my blog)
"From the Darkness (How Great is Your Love)"- Passion Worship Band(my second favorite song =))
"Worthy"- Bellarive (my tie for second favorite. AND the favorite for my dear friend that came to Passion with me, I had to include it =))

Additionally, I've started my first Spotify Playlist of the year. I'm calling it Awake. That's the best word I can think of through all of this. In addition to recapping these amazing worship songs and sessions via you tube, I am determined to wall paper my mind with Truth by being in God's word, which for me, includes filling our home, my car, my mind with Truth in song. I hope it encourages you right where you are. xo

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’
— Ephesians 5:13-14

Lessons from Looking for Lovely

Are you a reader? I sure am. I don't ever a remember a time in my life when I didn't have a stack of books on my nightstand. The problem for me with books is that I don't just read them, I DEVOUR them. I struggle to get focused on anything else other than a good book. However, I'm trying to train myself to enjoy books a little at a time and not to let my stack get so high because I've been waiting for all that "time off" to read.

Recently, I read a book that I loved so much, I actually sat down and immediately needed to write down all of my thoughts I gleaned from the experience. Its called Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments that Matter by Annie F. Downs. It felt (and still feels) like a significant touch point in the journey I've been on the last eighteen months or so for the Lord to help me re-name and re-identify so many parts of my life through a filter of Truth, not what I had pieced together to be true about myself with the scraps of various opinions and experiences of my life.

From the use of caps locks when she speaks when she's trying to make a point, to the poignant ache I feel from her brutal honesty, I felt at the end of this book that someone I knew had just caught me up on a season of their life.

She put words on thoughts I've had my whole life and didn't even know they mattered. Particularly when it comes to embracing what happened to us as girls in a world where Satan hates our beauty and went after it before we even knew it was something that was ours. Then later in life as we hit 30 and things significantly begin to shift, we have no idea what to do but cling to the belief that maybe I'm lovable, maybe I'm tolerable, but definitely not beautiful. What crap. The Truth is (and always has been) "The King is enthralled by your beauty." (Psalm 45:11). We were created to be His crowning glory. Maybe part of the perseverance is believing in such a way where we can take away the maybes and the justs. That I'm just Emily. Just a Mom. Just a woman who is maybe tolerably pretty or unique or lovable sometimes. Maybe it's about declarations that the Lord says it's true, bigger and more, and that is more than enough. This book left me wanting to dive deep into something that at first I found myself saying "oh this is what I was in the thick of last year!" It helped me to see that there's more. That its a journey woven between the every day steps and not just the hills and valleys.  

"If you don't believe the way you are is God-made and God-loved, the good and the bad, the tight and the flabby, the old and the new, the strengths and the weaknesses, you are missing out on connecting with God on a level that only comes to those who embrace and love His creations. (And that includes you.)" -AFD (p43)

It also reminded me that it's OK to feel. I know that, but I think I needed a reminder that it's OK for ME to feel. I feel big things. When a woman shushes me in a restaurant because she believes I'm talking too loudly for her taste in a public place, I feel that in a big way. But big feelings also need big truth from a big God. Who is not confused about how He made me, who my family is made up of,
Who I married or what I do for a living. The more deeply I allow myself to feel, the more Truth I weigh against my feelings, the more I get to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit.

"Darkness makes us appreciate the beauty of the light. If you aren't allowing yourself to feel the hurt, sadness, loneliness, and disappointments this fallen world has to offer, you probably aren't feeling the fullness of the joy and beauty the redeemed moments have to offer." -(p76)

"Maybe that's what it means to rejoice in our sufferings as Paul says in Romans 5? Maybe when we make our hearts available to the hard moments and allow ourselves to experience God's love in new ways, we are also increasing our capacity to love others." (P148)

More than anything, this book left me feeling spurred on to the work I know Jesus is doing in me. She shares that she's unfinished and her struggle to finish a book while she feels unfinished. I wish I could hug her and high five to that. We are not finished and by golly we won't be until we look Jesus face to face and begin to walk with Him in the life we were made for on eternity. So I want to walk in my unfinished, not become paralyzed by it. I want to do the work in order to grow and reap the harvest I have sewn with tears, and I want to continue to do the work to unearth the lies that have taken root in my life and sew in more truth.

"What God will do with my seeds, when I return with songs of joy, is grow them into somethingfull of color and health and variety and joy and blessing for others.." (P84)

So why post about this book on my blog?
1) I cannot recommend this book enough. It was fun and I laughed out loud a ton, but it also was filled with such tenderness that I wanted to call all of my people and tell them all about it right then.
2) I think this is a new thing I want to explore. I want to share about what I read so that I can retain it better, but also look back and see how it touched me in the future.
3) I think this book is timely for women. It is filled with such honesty and truth during a time about what it means to be a woman feels like it changes DAILY. One minute we are angry because of how someone in the public eye talks about women (and rightfully so), the next a million people (literally)have liked another half naked photo of a reality star on Instagram. If that's not one heck of a confusing message for a gender to wade through, I don't know what is.
4) All of us go through really dark and hard seasons of our life; maybe you're even in one right now. This book shares Annie's process of how she walked through that season for her and its a really precious (and practical) concept for all of us no matter where we are.

You are so loved, friend. I hope you feel encouraged and that your Thursday can only get better from here. Remember: This is not how the story ends.

xo,
Em
 

 

 

Humanity and Hope

A friend of mine sent me a text last night and asked me how I am.

I asked her if she wanted the truth.

The truth is: I'm sad. No, I'm heartbroken. Devastated.

I actually am struggling to find words to even consider the level of devastation that I am currently experiencing.

I have always loved my country. I remember saluting the flag every single day that I was in school from Kindergarten until 12th grade. I remember being the leader in the patriotic parade. I fell in love with American history when my teachers first took us to Williamsburg, VA. I felt the pulse of the excitement and passion that our forefathers were fueled by as they dreamed up a country that could be so different from what they'd known. I remember the first time I understood slavery and what racism really was and feeling grateful (at the time) that our country had grown up since then and shut down those ugly voices. I remember learning the real words to the star spangled banner so that I could audition to sing it before the basketball games at my high school.

I remember where I was sitting in my professor's class when I realized that American history was more complicated than I had ever understood it to be before. I remember learning about women's right to vote being less than a 100 years old, about the Triangle Shirt Factory fire, about how my Mother's high school wasn't integrated until almost a decade after Brown vs. Board. I remember learning about Medgar Evers who was assassinated in my parents' youth and his murderer was finally convicted in mine. I remember where I was when the Towers fell, I remember where I was when shots were fired at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Chattanooga and more.

Do you know what I don't remember?

Someone neglected to mention how devastating it is to believe in something that could let you down so hard.

Here's the thing. I still think that there is something really special about being an American. But that's not my identity. It never has been.

My identity is a human being created in the image of God. No better than any other human being that lives or has ever lived. I was made from the same dust that you were. I was made by the same hands that molded me, shaped me, loved me and then allowed my selfish nature to nail His Son to the cross because He wasn't the Savior I wanted.

America is not our savior; Jesus is.

There is heartbreak across the world tonight. A Mother in the hills of East Tennessee who won't get to tuck her youngest son into bed tonight because he died tragically this morning. Another Mother in Haiti who has also buried her child, has no bed at all because the hurricane swept it away. We are HURTING. We are bleeding out in our hurt. And all I can hear is the cries of an angry mob with pitch forks about how we need a savior, when we all ready have one.

This country will let you down. The people in it will hurt you. Because we are broken, sinful people. And because this world is broken and in it there is disease, hurricanes and car accidents.

Now what?

Maybe... its as simple as a kind voice in the darkness. Maybe its turning off the computer and running in the leaves with your children. Maybe its a donation to a local place that can get clean water to that Mother in Haiti. Maybe its a gift card to a heartbroken friend. Maybe its a laugh you needed, maybe its a cry you've been stifling.

I know what its not though, its not all this noise. Your contribution to the noise won't make this brokenness go away, but it will send a ripple of hurt that your fellow humans and heartbeats could live without.

Its not about making a temporary kingdom great so we can hope for the best, its about fixing our eyes on the One who brings Hope to the Hopeless.

And so Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.
— Psalm 39:7 (NLT)

Delight

Over the weekend, we took our daughter to a theme park for the first time. She had no idea what she was getting into, but from the minute we got onto the trolley that led us to the park until the minute we got back in our car, there was NOTHING that could deter her excitement. Well, except for when we told her she was too short for a ride. But all we had to do was show her another ride and she was sprinting off to the next one.

After one particular ride, she ran up to me and said "Mommy, I love it when I say AAAHH!!!" and squealed with delight. I laughed at her joy. It was hard not to laugh most of the day because her joy was so contagious. I realized in that moment that I could not remember the last time I had laughed so hard, smiled so big, or just enjoyed myself for more than just a moment. Watching my daughter delight in everything from popcorn to saying "aaahhh!!" made me realize: I don't allow myself to delight in life.

Something has happened over the years where joy does not come naturally to me. If I'm honest, I'm still processing this a bit, and I don't have the words for all of it just yet. But what I do know is this: I need more delight in my life.

In light of this, I've compiled a little collection of some things that have brought me delight and I want to share them with you!

1) If you don't know, I have DEEP love for all things "Gilmore Girls." Today, there is a incredibly fun opportunity for anyone across the country to participate in. You can have a cup of coffee at Luke's! Check out the details here.

2) My dear friend Tanya Godsey released her latest album this past week! I can't say enough good things about it. The music is moving, the lyrics are achingly beautiful and the album as a whole is such a testament to God's faithfulness in the crazy journey of life. You can hear a glimpse of it here on iTunes.

3) It finaaaaally feels like Fall. And I love that there are more and more companies that are providing products that bring out the fun in Fall. Like Rachel Allene and her "pumpkin spice and everything nice" or "the leaves are falling my coffee is calling" mugs!

I know these seem like silly things, but that's the thing about delight, it can come from anywhere, and by definition, its something that brings you pleasure. And you know what? In these crazy times, I want to start looking for more things that delight me. It gives way to true joy. And joy is a fruit of the Spirit that equips us to walk in an abundant life and face each day and its troubles with a more firm grip. Life is hard, days are full, but there is a call to make room for delight that I have ignored for a long time. Our heart's greatest delight truly belongs to the Lord, but I think one thing that watching my heart happy little one is teaching me is that if we don't look for delight, we miss out on things the Lord wants to show us or give to us because we're lost in all the heavy. So today, I invite you into my delight.

Over on Instagram, I am hosting a giveaway! I would love for you to take part in it. The prizes are little things (mostly mentioned above) that have made me smile and I hope will for you too! All you have to do is tell me in the comments something that delights your heart. It can be time with a person, watching a sunset, a cup of coffee, or even a ride on a roller coaster; whatever it is, I want to hear about it. On Friday, I will select a winner via a drawing and post it on Instagram. I hope to hear from you.

I hope your eyes are opened to something delightful today.

xo,
Em

Waiting and the Weather

Since I've become a Mom, there's something that I say to my three year old a lot; probably at least once a day. “Please be patient.” And let me tell you. Highly effective. ::Insert eye roll:: Every time, I ask her to wait or to be patient (OK “tell” her to wait... sometimes with great gusto), I know its a fruitless venture. Why? Because toddlers go back and forth between having the world's shortest memory and the world's lowest amount of tolerance for waiting. Not to mention, toddlers need everything on their terms, but simultaneously, they want you to meet their needs with little to no effort on their part. In other words, they're control freaks.

As a parent, my job is to help our gal navigate her control-freak-ness. What if I gave in to her every time she wanted my undivided attention regardless of situation, circumstance or other people involved? What if I was actually able to don that superwoman cape and was equipped to satisfy her every whim as she dashes from ever squirrel and shiny thing that captivates her immediate needs and wants? Total chaos would ensue! We would never get anything done, never eat good food (or eat at all for that matter, until the Hanger took over), and we would definitely never go to bed. My daughter needs things to begin and end. She needs me to say “no” to her, even when she doesn't like it. She needs to learn to wait in line, wait her turn, and wait on her Momma to actually finish the shower she has finally squeezed into the day... week... anyway... (Top knots #ftw).

It is good for her to wait. It is good for her to learn about patience. It is good for her to wrestle with her control-freak-ness.

Do you know who else struggles with that?

Me.

I am just as bad in my control-freak-ness as my toddler. Want to know how I know?

The weather.

Last Thursday, it was supposed to feel like Fall. Why? Because the calendar said “first day of Fall.” However, when I stepped outside onto my porch, it felt nothing like Fall. There was no crisp bite in the air, no warmth in the sun and cool in the shade, no smell of perpetual bonfire smoke in the air. Instead there was oppressive and unwelcome humidity and heat. It was miserably hot and I was mad about it. I was so mad, it put me in a bad mood for most of the day.

“Its TIME.” I kept saying to myself, “Time to move on. This summer has been unrelenting. Its been one of the hottest summers I can remember and that has made life challenging in more ways than one. Things have not worked out when or how I wanted them to, and this whole no end in sight to the heat thing pushed me over the edge. I wanted Fall and I wanted it NOW.

While I was driving along, brooding, I heard a voice that said this: “Wait.”

NO!” I shouted back, “I don't want to wait! I'm over it and I'm ready for some relief!”

I went back to brooding. Which ultimately, if I'm honest with you, carried over through another couple of days; more unmet expectations, more confusion and frustration, no relief. I was so frustrated at myself too. “You're an adult!” I railed at myself. “Snap out of it!”

Saturday afternoon, I was trying to wrestle through all these things. All the words were swimming around in my head and I couldn't figure out what to do with them. I saw this **image I had printed several weeks ago and had yet to hang up in my office laying on my desk.

Hm. Hmmmm.

And then, the whopper appeared in an unlikely place of opening the Word looking for something else. (Isn't that like the Lord?) It says this:

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
— Acts 1:7 (NIV)

Prior to this verse is the disciples asked the risen Jesus about when He would come back and essentially conquer Rome. When would He bring them relief? What you just read was His reply. Two sentences later, He ascended into Heaven. The disciples, despite witnessing His ascension and then an assurance from an angel, went away a bit confused and a bit bewildered. (Acts 1:9-14) OK, maybe bewildered is a strong word, but they definitely don't strike me as confident in the “wait.”

What happened next is one of the most incredible things to ever happen to the people of God:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were being distributed [among them], and they rested on each one of them [as each person received the Holy Spirit]. And they were all filled [that is, diffused throughout their being] with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (different languages), as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out [clearly and appropriately].
— Acts 2:1-4 (AMP)

He doesn't ask us to wait to take away what we want, He asks us to be patient for what we need.

Today, I woke up, and the crisp air has come. Its still warm, but its given up its bite. Fall has seemed to finally begin to take its place in our days. And you know what? It was good for me to wait. It was good for me to remember that I need to be patient. It was good for me to wrestle with my control-freak-ness. Because at the end of it all, the Lord used my longing for relief to reveal to me that there was more to the story. He used it to open my eyes about things I had put off, things my family needed, and to create an awareness of what else was happening around me. He reminded me that He is a good Father, tenderly and sometimes not to tenderly, teaching me about how to encounter the world around me and the people in it. He didn't just relieve me, He strengthened me. He didn't give in to my immediate wants, He gave me what I needed.

But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him]Will gain new strength and renew their power;They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun];They will run and not become weary,They will walk and not grow tired.
— Isaiah 40:31 (AMP)

**The gorgeous artwork was a free download I found weeks ago, but I cannot for the life of me find where I got it from! If it is your work or work you recognize, would you please let me know? I would like to credit them for their beautiful work!

Cultivate

In August of 2014, I walked into a room where I knew only a handful of people, desperately tried to pretend like I didn't work a wedding late the night before and then spend all day in the car to get there. As I stumbled my way over to the coffee cart,  I wondered if I had made the right decision to come there that day. I had left behind an eighteen month old daughter, a wedding season that had been beautiful but brutal on my mind, heart and body, and a to do list two miles long for what was coming. I was drowning in the reality of motherhood and business ownership. I didn't remember what it felt like to not just be moving from the next demand of each day to the next, and living in survival mode. But here I was, in this ridiculously gorgeous setting in Jekyll Island, Georgia, attending, what I thought would be, if I'm honest, just a wedding vendor conference.

I thought there would be good things to learn, pretty things to see, fun flowers to play in (my dear friend/travel buddy/fellow coffee addict and I were going to do flowers for some of the events), good food to eat, and maybe, just maybe, I would justify the stress I was under, with some gained knowledge that would help me feel like I was still in the business and wasn't a total failure in this part of my world, let alone the "life" part, no matter how true that felt.

I think about five minutes into the very first speaker's talk (who happened to be the fab Rhiannon Bosse), I was all ready in tears. Here's an excerpt from my notes from that session:

"Businesses functioning in chaos keeps from working with purpose... Clarity leads to purposeful opportunities, which leads to better judgement, which leads to better time management, which leads to strong boundaries... You are NOT a 24 hour a day business, and if you are, you are not going to be happy."

I was floored. Someone knew my pain and was sharing theirs. But not only were they sharing truth with me and making me feel just a little less crazy, they were going to impart their hard earned wisdom with me with practical steps to try and apply what they were sharing. This wasn't just another wedding conference. Cultivate Retreat was all ready, in the first five minutes, what creator and founder Cassie Cherneski promoted it to be: "an experience that allows you to withdraw, focus, [and] get clarity." (source) It became an opportunity to intentionally press in to the life of my business. To see that I was drowning, and life as I knew it, personally and professionally couldn't go on like this. It was time to cultivate, work, and unearth what had to go in order for me, the business owner, to survive, and make room for some new and amazing things to grow.

One month from today, I will be joining a group of wedding professionals in the mountains of North Carolina for Cultivate 2016. Cassie and her team have an incredible speaker team lined up, in a gorgeous setting at the Historic Old Edwards Inn! I am going with eager anticipation, ready to dive in and make room for more cultivating in my life and in my business. While I'm there, I will also have the great privilege of leading a breakout session that ultimately will serve as an incredible full circle moment for me. I am going to share a lot of the insights that I have gleaned and gathered (and am honestly still working out!) since those special days at Cultivate 2014 about work- life balance and heart-care. I'm so excited I can hardly sit still!

That's me, crazy, stupid, happy and feeling more free than I had in months on the last days of Cultivate 2014 in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

That's me, crazy, stupid, happy and feeling more free than I had in months on the last days of Cultivate 2014 in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Are you signed up to go to Cultivate? If so, let's connect! I would love to meet you! If you are not signed up, the formal registration has closed. BUT! (You read that right, there's a but!) I have it under good authority that if there is someone who was waiting and held out just a little too long, if you reach out hello(at)cultivateretreat(dot)come and state your case... there may be one special spot left just for you! Don't wait. Its going to be an amazing week, and I would so love to sit under the shady trees of the Appalachian Mountains and have a cup of coffee with you as we even attempt to digest all the goodness that will come out of Cultivate 2016.

xo,
Em
 

Real Talk.

Hi, my name is Emily and I am an over apologizer. I walk into so many conversations feeling like I need to explain myself and my failures before anyone can even get a word out. “Here's why you haven't heard from me in so long,” or “here's 100 reasons why I feel like I'm a failure.” That's all I can think of as I try to start writing again, that I need to explain why its been a while. But you know what? The Lord is teaching me about my weaknesses. He is teaching me about surrendering my weaknesses to Him and about how He makes Himself known in my limits. Limits are not bad, even if they're frustrating to a perfectionist with unrealistic expectations on herself. Limits are necessary. I just have to figure out how to function in them in a God honoring way, and not in a life draining and soul scorching way. Can anyone relate? If you can, here's my hug and cheers with a coffee mug to you. Just keep going. Don't quit.

Now that's out of the way... back to what I really came to share today. I've had the opportunity to have some really fun conversations with two women over on Periscope who were married in the last year and a half. Lauren and Audrey have two very different stories, but both had some amazing insight to share with me about what it was like to walk through their engagement and wedding planning experience. Here are a few of my favorite highlights:

Kristen McCall Photography

Kristen McCall Photography

  • Longer engagements have blessings in disguise:

Both Lauren and Audrey were engaged for longer periods of time. Audrey was right at a year, and Lauren was more like eighteen months. Both offered great insight about the blessings that can come to have the time to prepare for marriage but also to make some tough choices that come with wedding planning.

  1. You can save money for things you would like to have for the wedding. Lauren in particular knew there were a few things she really wanted for the wedding, but she would not be able to wisely invest in them right off. She prioritized on the things she knew they absolutely had to have in order to take care of their guests, and then the other things, such as speciality lighting and having a videographer, came later as she and her fiance were able to save for them. In the end, she was so happy with this decision and felt it added to her overall experience.

  2. You can have more time to make the tough decisions. Audrey and her fiance's family are from the same town and are very well known and loved in the community in which they lived. When they first sat down and made their guest list, it was overwhelming in size. As much as they wanted to be able to have everyone there, they also knew that they had two limits: a stewarded budget and venue capacity. Audrey and her family were able to intentionally take the time to go through their guest list and make (all be it hard) decisions that ended up giving them more breathing room in their budget. There were still sacrifices that had to be made, but again, with the time on their side, they were able to wrestle through those decisions and ultimately come to a peaceful place and move forward with great joy and anticipation.

Q Avenue Photo

Q Avenue Photo

Madi Flournoy Photography

Madi Flournoy Photography

  • Photography Matters.

I love that both of these women talked about how much they want to encourage Brides to intentionally invest in a photographer. I'm married to a photographer/videographer (outside of the wedding world) and he and I literally bonded over our love of capturing moments in time. To me (in my humble opinion) other than a planner, a photographer is the most important vendor you hire. They are the guardian of your memories. And for both of these women, that was a significant decision for them as well. In the end, only weeks after Audrey's wedding, about the time the sneak peeks at the wedding photos even began, they experienced a great loss in her family. But during this time of loss, there were beautiful photos of their family together and celebrating her marriage with great joy. And suddenly, its more than just pictures, its memories that are treasured forever. This is just one reason why they personally implore you invest time in finding the right photographer for you.

Madi Flournoy Photography

Madi Flournoy Photography

-Don't just plan your wedding, be engaged.

Both of these women shared several stories with me about how they grew as people and how their relationships grew as their weddings approached. There was much to talk about. There was much to learn. Even people like Audrey and Patrick who had grown up together, there was still more to learn and talk about. For Lauren and Henry, they had met later in their life, which can be such a blessing because you are more confident in who you are, but there is so much more to work through as you learn how to share your life.

Q Avenue Photo

Q Avenue Photo

Ultimately, I think the resounding message is this: whether you are engaged for three months or eighteen months; be engaged. Don't just plan a wedding, be engaged. Spend time together doing things that are not wedding related. Do pre-marital counseling. Don't be afraid to talk about hard things. And don't assume you know everything there is to know about each other... we're talking about a lifetime here. If there wasn't more to learn, what fun would that be?

I am so grateful to both Lauren and Audrey for being willing to share their hearts with me. This short recap of what we shared doesn't even begin to touch the surface of all the good things they shared, but thank you, ladies, for opening your hearts and being willing to share what you learned during your experience. Also, HAPPY 1st ANNIVERSARY, AUDREY & PATRICK! They just celebrated this past week. The best is yet to come, friends =)

I'm looking forward to having more “coffee talk” with women who have stories to tell. We all have one, and there is so much good that comes from being willing to invite others in to learn from their journeys. This is where I want to apologize for not having more of these conversations yet, that I was hoping to do this once a month and two have happened in six months, but you know what. They happened. And they were so good. And that's exciting. The rest, I surrender.

I'm working on it ;)

Kristen McCall Photography

Kristen McCall Photography

Have a great rest of your week, y'all!

xo,
Em

Re-Entry

Hi friends. Its been a while!

I have been trying to figure out how to pick up where I left off. I had such a clear vision in January about where I was going as a person and also in my business and the message I felt that I wanted to share and invite people to be a part of.

I knew that the Lord had given me a word about acts of intention. That I would need to learn this lesson personally and also surrender to Him in the process. I recognized my life was full of haphazard choices and just trying to keep up with all of it. Life. Business. Motherhood. Everything. I actually had the awesome opportunity to speak to a group of wedding planners about balance as business owners and some of the things that had been really poignant to me in the midst of all the new, and a few days after that, I completely crashed. I mean just emotionally CRASHED. And I got the flu. On a destination wedding week. Yeah.

So lot of things happened and then honestly nothing happened all at the same time. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion in coffee shop in Savannah, GA that I felt as though my words and my vision of what I thought the Lord had given me for moving forward had been compromised. It took almost a whole month for me to sort through what was truth and what was a lie in the midst of that, and it totally rocked me for the better, but when I began to resurface, I just didn't know how to start over.

Yesterday, a fellow wedding planner, Kristin Kaplan put out a periscope that I feel like really sealed some of my thoughts about what happened to me. (And also, K, it made me feel so much less alone, thank you for sharing!!) She shared a lot about how to respond to being overwhelmed, particularly in the social media/communication part of this world and sort of wanted to give her followers permission to take break.

I think for me, as I look back, that was the crux. I was overwhelmed, even in a good way, but I couldn't keep up with my own expectations for myself and the plans I had made, even if they were good plans, I was coming apart at the seams in all the plans. Now I didn't have a nervous breakdown or anything, life went on as normal and everything is OK, my heart was just in a very confused state.

For some reason, hearing her say “its OK to take break” almost made me look back on the last couple of months with fresh eyes. I think I had seen my silence as a failure. But instead, it was a much needed space for me to intentionally choose the best yes (as Lysa TerKeurst would say) for my business, my family, and my calling. I feel much less scattered now. The issue is still ever before me, but the Lord is literally revolutionizing how I plan my days. Its an act of intention in itself. And its really, really helped me be better at my job, be a better wife, mother, and I hope a better friend. I'm learning so much, and sometimes I still get overwhelmed in the the learning and like Kristin mentioned yesterday, the information coming at you like crazy can be so intense it knocks you off your feet. BUT. I'm also learning about where to place the boundaries in my life, even on the things I take in. The information I take in and learn from, even it has to have a limit. I can only do so much with so much.

I'm a part of writing class right now being taught by Ann Swindell and she said something last night in class that has really stuck with me. She said “You don't have to fit a mold, you just have to obey the Father.” And I love that. I find a lot of freedom in that. I had made a mold, all be it a well intentioned mold, a mold that was holding me captive nonetheless. All that God asks me to bring is what I have to give. Which is me. My minutes, my hours, my to do lists, all of it. He just asks that I come as I am. And He will reveal to me how to best steward what I give Him.

So that's what I'm doing and what I've been up to! And also why all the silence =) I just didn't know how to start over! My husband travels for a living and in the first few years of our marriage, we quickly discovered how challenging it is to be out of your normal environment and then try to go back to “normal.” Its that period of time between his coming home and both of our adjustment to his presence again. We call it re-entry. You can also think about it in light of being out of town for a trip and then having to come back to your reality. That's re-entry. So. Here I go, this is my attempt at re-entry in the Periscope/social media world.

(If you missed it, check out the scope here!)

In other news, wedding season is well under way! We have all ready had some amazing events over the last 3 months and another one is coming up this Saturday! I'm so fortunate to do what I do and stand in the sacred space of bearing witness to two people becoming one and then celebrating it like crazy. Be sure you are following along on our instagram (@simplyyoursweddings) or even our snapchat (@simplyyoursem) to see the beautiful images and just fun things the Lord is doing in the Simply Yours life.

Additionally, tomorrow, the series I began in February, Simply Coffee Talk, will pick back up with my friend Audrey Sherer! She's amazing. She and her husband, Patrick, have been married for about 9 months and she is going to share some insight in regards to their dating and engagement experience, their wedding planning experience and what the first year of marriage has been like for them. Audrey has awesome blog and social media presence under the name Sharing A Nest. You can check her out there, but you can also tune in with us tomorrow to hear her heart and probably hear us laugh a lot and just enjoy being women who love the Lord and coffee. Also, my toddler might make an appearance, or two. I ask for grace in advance, please! 0=)

Hope you guys have a great rest of your day!

Xo,
Em

Noise

Did you know that Sunday is Easter?

It crept up on me too. I've been wondering how it has snuck up on me like this, why I was missing it, and as I got to thinking about it, this is where I landed: How can I hear and see that the King is coming amidst all this noise?

I don't have to tell you or anyone that we are surrounded by a ton of pain. So much pain that we are a country that stands deeply divided about who can save us from ourselves. This morning, the whole world woke up to the news that bombs went off amongst a very busy metro and airport in Brussels. We are so much more accustomed to receiving bad news that we don't know whatgood news sounds like. Its all just noise.

We long for distraction from what confuses and hurts us, so we immerse ourselves into things that are fun, but temporary. We move from high to high, where we live for the moment and wait, with incredibly shaky anticipation, for the next whistle. And then what? More noise.

No politician, no team, no diet, no hit of caffeine, no distraction, no perfect idea or expectation; none of that can truly "fix" us or save us.

Those in ancient Jerusalem were not so different from us. We just celebrated Palm Sunday. The day that marks Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, where He was greeted by a people desperate for Him to save them from all that ailed them, and begins what we know now as Holy Week.

Their world was seriously broken and run by a corrupt government, just like ours.
People were suffering all around them, just like us.
And their lives were consumed by the noise of economical progress, entertainment and unrealistic expectations of a community confused by culture vs religion, and each man dictated for himself what was wrong and right. Just like us.

But It came down to this. Nothing could save them from what truly ailed them but the blood of Jesus. The same is true for us.

When Jesus went into Jerusalem amidst the shouting and the palm branch waving, He set into motion a series of events that would lead to Him giving up His life for a world that did not want Him. He then would revolutionize the ideas of even those who thought they knew Him by rising from the dead three days later. We were given a Messiah who gave us a merciful gift we could never earn, deserve or find for ourselves. By His sacrifice, He arrested death and made a new way for a life of hope on Earth and a life that's everlasting in Heaven.

This past Saturday, my small group from church spent an entire day sharing our life stories so that we could know each other more intentionally. I think that was the moment that I truly soaked in that it is indeed Holy Week. Listening to these people that I love bare their souls about where they have been and where they continue to struggle, and to confess that the noise surrounding them so often drowns out what they know to be true... It was such an incredibly beautiful picture of why we TRULY need a Savior.

It was a reminder that we are at war with the noise of a world that wants nothing but answers and comfort, at war with a dark and spiritual world that wants nothing but our destruction and our distraction, and we are in desperate need of Truth to permeate every part of our days. We have been given a gift in Jesus' death and resurrection to find true life in the midst of it of the chaos by His Holy Spirit.  We have been given life support in the flesh by the opportunities to share life together amongst other believers and cling to Jesus' Word and His unchanging promises. This is what we truly need to hear. And not just during Holy Week, but always.

Its not small. Its not trivial. Its real. Even in the midst of things that seem larger than life, there is all ready Someone who is larger and stronger than life or death.

He is alive! Death is arrested. And this is not how the story ends.

If you are like me and need something that can penetrate the noise to bring in some Truth, I've made a playlist (naturally). I remember when I was young, my Grandmother would ask me "how can you think/focus with all that noise?" But to me, music isn't noise. Music is a form of life support to help me shift my thoughts into place. So what better way to move the Truth of Jesus' amazing gift of Himself to the forefront of my mind, than drowning out the ugly noise with my joyful noise!
 

Welcome, Spring

Today is the first day of Spring. However, I don't know about where you live, but here in Middle Tennessee it does NOT feel like Spring today. There is a biting wind whipping through the cold air and we are even under a sever freeze warning for the weekend.

I froze in February. It wasn't just because of the cold, it was me. I froze.

I had some amazing things happen in February. I had my first official speaking gig, I was a part of an amazing destination wedding, and I also helped produce a massive fundraising banquet for a ministry that matters greatly to me and my family. But in the midst of it, I got terribly lost.

My heart was all over the place. Anxiety and doubt was keeping me awake at night. I was really frustrated that all of my grand ideas about carrying out the work I began in January were stalling. I wasn't living up to my unrealistic expectations I placed on myself, or even the realistic ones, for that matter, and I was drowning in a sea of confusion. I couldn't even find the words to communicate what was happening to me. My words felt compromised. My vision seemed blurry. I felt I had completely mis-read what I was supposed to doing. I just completely froze.

While I was in Savannah, I finally heard the Lord speak into my fear. I felt the paralysis begin to thaw. And I started to see the light that was coming. And I knew in my heart, I would not stay in the winter.

However, here we are today, its the first day of Spring and it doesn't feel like we want it to.
Its cold.
Its dreary.
We are in danger of freezing over again.
But it doesn't change the fact that today marks the first day of Spring.
So despite how it feels, the truth remains unchanged.

Where do you need it to be Spring in your life? Where do you need to live outside of how it feels?

Whether you need to circle the truth on your calendar in bright red marker (remind yourself that YES indeed it is the first day of Spring and winter is ending!) or whether your heart needs re-focusing on the things that are unchanging about your business/work/calling, your family, your body, your heart, can you take 5 minutes to gift that to yourself today? Put it in front of you where you will be reminded outside of what your heart and mind, and even the temperature, says.

“See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
— Isaiah 43:19

Don't freeze.
Don't give up.

Winter is over. You are alive. And you still have something to say, a work to do, and something only YOU can give to each day.

Welcome, Spring.

 

 

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*Image Notes:
-The tulip image was created using a stock photo from Shay Cochrane's Stock Shop
-The image of the lily bloom is an iPhone image I shot outside the Historic Cotton Exchange in Savannah, GA

Intentionailty and the Process of Perseverance

Hi friends,

The Lord is funny in how He tells a story. That's the only way I know how to even begin.

Walking into this year, from the very first moment I had a distinct inclination that I was on the brink of a season of learning like I had never experienced before. I think ultimately, that was and remains to be the heart behind the acts of intention project. I think I wanted to sew seeds into my life so that whatever I was going to learn would have a place to start. And let me just say, its been quite a ride.

A lot of people have asked me how the project is going, mostly because I think I've been rather silent on the social media front. I think the best way I know how to answer that is, it is definitely going. Going so much I haven't had a real opportunity to use my words the way I would like to over social media. Which when you're trying to walk through a social media driven project, that gets a bit messy, but like I said, God is the one who decided He has a story to tell and things for me to learn.

On our first pass with the snow, there was a break in between the slight dusting and the "holy snow, Batman" we were hit with a day later. I was driving to a meeting near Vanderbilt University's campus. It had all ready been an insane week. My email was FINALLY fixed after 10 days of being messed up, I was short on focused work time and heavy on things that required my attention. My heart was overwhelmed, concerned I was all ready failing everyone in my sphere of influence, and I was late to this meeting.  As I was sitting at a stop light, I saw this guy running in the snow. He was clearly not a seasoned runner and in a lot of discomfort and pain.  For some reason, out of the depths of my soul, I had this overwhelming desire to roll down the window and say "Don't stop! Keep going! Don't give up!"

As I continued to drive, the image of the runner was all over me. Why had this struck such a chord in my hurried heart? Why the desire to emphatically cheer on a stranger? As I thought more about it, I think it was because that was the perfect image of how I currently felt. That I was running hard after a new way of living my life and it was not coming easily and it was pushing me and it hurt.  I realized that because my days were not going the way I wanted, I wanted to quit. I struggle so badly with perfectionism. I put my own spin on it and call it doing things well, but its just plain old crippling perfectionism. If I'm not doing something well, if its not matching up to what I think is good enough, or even intentional enough, I want to stop doing it so I don't ruin it.

But as I watched that runner, as I saw him press on, in horrible weather for seasoned runners, let alone a newcomer, I saw that the Lord was telling me to press on, to press in, to persevere.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

Perseverance is not a pursuit of perfection, its a constant, intentional choice not to give up.

Its finding the small victories in the midst of a botched plan.
Its soaking in the lessons as they all unfold and believing that they are real and lasting even if they don't make it on to your Instagram feed and not one person knows what's happening.
Its sowing seeds in faith and feeling the Living Water starting to make them grow because even when He doesn't have to send encouragement, He does.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
— Philippians 3:14-16- The Message

So all that is to say, I'm still here. I'm still up to my eyeballs in this. There are ideas that I thought were what this project's focus was meant to be that I believe still are, but I think the Lord has expanded it past the start of a new year and a new season. Its opened up my eyes to the process of perseverance and the need to intentionally choose to engage it. And just because the momentum has slowed, doesn't mean I'm down for the count. The race isn't finished. There's more to come. I can't promise it'll be all wrapped up and pretty and on the schedule I set for it, but I'm grateful for a place to share it.

So what about you? On this last Friday in January, where are you? How's your heart?
Whatever it is, the Lord doesn't ask us to come perfectly, He just asks us not to give up.

xo,
Em
 

 

An "Intentional" Update

Hi y'all!

I hope your first two weeks of 2016 have been lovely! There's been a whole lot happening here in our world as we try to get things rolling in the new brand, diving into the #31actsofkindess project, embracing the start of engagement season with an email address that wasn't working until YESTERDAY, putting out my first Periscopes, and just living our life in the post holiday madness of finding "normal."

I think one of the most interesting things about this acts of intentionality project is it doesn't have to a label for the project to be alive. Its been sweet to hear from those of you who have reached out to say "you may not see it, but I'm with you." There are such good seeds being sewn, friends.

I think one of the most challenging things that I have experienced in this process is how much defeat and frustration I and others have all ready felt this year. Personally, I had a major low point the other day and really need to re-adjust in order to move on. I wrote down my thoughts about needing to marinate in Truth. We're not alone in it, friends.

Its amazing in both of these places, the highs and the lows, I have all ready ridden a roller coaster of emotions and actively seen how much the Lord is going to push me into really learning about surrender and grace in this season. And we're only 14 days in.

What about you? How have your first two weeks been? I would love to hear about it. Don't be a stranger! Let's be insta-friends if we aren't all ready ;)

xo,
Em

PS- The image above is from The Gluesticks Blog and she is offering some AWESOME (and free!) printable organizational tools to start your year off! Check it out!

And... that's a great segue to my....

PROMISED RESOURCES!

Here is a list of some of the resources I have mentioned a couple of times on Periscope and on Instagram and I've been promising I would post links to!

Personality Test

-This takes 10 minutes or less. TRUST ME, its worth it!-

Time Assessment Tool

-This is the time counter tool I have mentioned a couple of times. Its past time to discern what is standing in the way of our productivity and what's holding us back from maintaining our goals. I won't lie, this is a humbling experience, but it SO worth it!-

Books:

I've quoted or referred to two different books quite a bit the last couple of weeks. Here is a link to both of those books where you can purchase them on Amazon. I cannot say enough incredible things about both of them! I've also linked to the authors Instagram handles for daily encouragement and general awesome-ness.

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Restless: Because You Were Made For More by Jennie Allen

 

Tell Me Something True

Dear Beloved,

Today is just a day.

You are not a failure, you are finite.
You aren't going under for the year, you're only 12 days in.
You can't change what you can't control.
You are loved even if you are lonely.

Have you ever had one of these days? Where everything feels zero to sixty? Where you move from "I'm OK this isn't that bad" to "THE SKY IS FALLING?" and you don't know how to make it stop? The lies. The intimidating beat down of unmet expectations where you suffocate grace and feed off of fear.

I have.

I've sat white-knuckled in the car, willing myself not to let the tears that are building spill over. I've sat down and tried to breathe through the storm brewing in my heart and mind. I've sat down and made myself think about something. Anything other than how I'm feeling.

Eventually, the clouds do break. And there is some sort of relief that comes. Most importantly, in the calming of the storm, you somehow remember that you will not always feel this way.

What is true about the Lord and what is ultimately true about you exists outside of how you feel.

“She tastes and sees that her gain from work [with and for God] is good; her lamp goes not out, but it burns on continually through the night [of trouble, privation, or sorrow, warning away fear doubt and distrust.]
— Proverbs 31: 18 (AMP)

It burns.

It burns through.

But it doesn't burn out.

Its a choice to taste and see in the burning.

To taste and see that the Lord is good and His love endures forever. (Psalm 34:8)
To taste and see that her gain from her work is good (Proverbs 31:18) because the Lord wastes nothing. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
To taste and see that He works only for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)
To taste and see that He will never leave or forsake. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
To taste and see that He has begun a work that is not finished. (Philippians 1:6)

“She girds herself with strength [spiritual, mental and physical fitness for her God-given task] and makes her arms strong and firm. “
— Proverbs 31:17 (AMP)


What does it mean to taste and see?
What does it mean to burn through the night?
What does it mean to gird oneself with strength?

I think it begins with the Truth. And the truth that I know is written above, but is also penned through song. For me, there are many nights, that for me to keep burning and not to burn out, I have to bathe myself in spirit-led worship. If you're like me, I've made a playlist just for you.

I also encourage you to look up and write down the scriptures above and keep them with you. Moses told the Israelites to literally write God's words on their walls and place them on their foreheads and bind them to their wrists so that the words of the Law would be cemented into their hearts and we would be able to share it from one generation to the next. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) I love that the Lord knows us so well that He knows we need the truth to be that close to us to survive the storms of our own feelings.

Deep breaths. Tomorrow is a new day.

But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
— Lamentations 3:21-33- The Message