a messy, beautiful holiday season.

I'm sitting here on our soft, leather love seat, with the lights on our Christmas tree and our few, scattered lamps providing the only light in the room.  And as I'm sitting here, trying to wind down after the work day, trying to think about what else I need to do to be ready for work tomorrow, to clean up the house, to make for dinner tomorrow - my thoughts keep going back to how the holidays always seem to bring pain along the joy.  It's as if every year, in the midst of buying and wrapping gifts, lighting advent candles, hanging ornaments and putting up greenery, stories of the pain and loss of those we know and love also must come along for the holiday season, balancing out the sense of joy with a feeling of sadness, and calling us to share not only gifts but also the burdens of those we love.

This season, the tree is as bright as ever, and the holiday season is ever so sweet, but it also brings with it stories of sadness in the lives of those we love…the loss of our friends' father, the loss of a child, and a broken marriage keeps reminding us this season that life is painful, too.  At church on Sunday evening, we heard these same sentiments echoed from those around us, sharing the concerns, hurts, and brokenness of loved ones that inevitably share our thoughts this holiday season.

One thing I've learned in life is that pain and heartache cannot be avoided, and should not be avoided, because they shape and grow us in ways we cannot anticipate until we have gone through them.  I feel as though Ben and I have been spared many of the sorrows that others face, but we still feel it for them, and with them, and each experience our own little sorrows along the way.  One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, writes that there are three things she has learned to be true in life:  that we are messy, ruined people; that we are loved beyond imagining; and that we are in control of so little.

The holidays this year seem to be a reminder of that for me.  In the midst of celebrating the holiday, I cannot hold back the hurt that will inevitably enter the lives of those I love,  and I can't solve the world's problems, or even my own, at times.  But I can trust that along with the hard times, come good times, and that I am loved beyond what I can understand.   Along with the bitter, comes the sweet, and when it feels as though it has been raining forever, the sun breaks through.

I think it's fitting, somehow, that pain enters the holiday season.  Jesus' birth was likely not a beautiful, cozy, peaceful event.  It was a birth - and that means messy, dirty, painful, and certainly not silent.  There was hay, barn dirt, farm animals, and I'm sure more than a little fear and uncertainty in Mary and Joseph's minds about what was going to happen next.  An empire, the status quo, and old ways were being overthrown - and a new way of loving God and each other was being ushered in - with this painful, beautiful, messy birth of a baby boy named Jesus.

Sometimes I think about what I would say to my younger self, looking back at the past couple years of my life.  The thing I usually settle on is something like this - "Don't be afraid.  Yes, there are hard times in life, there will be anxiety, fear of not measuring up, and brokenness in relationships and lives.  That comes with the territory.  But there are also joyful moments, so full of life and love and amazement that you have to be thankful for the painful ones because they help you to realize and fully experience joy with a thankful heart."

If you're also feeling the weight of brokenness along with the joy this season, let these words be for you too.  Experience the bitter along with the sweet, the night along with the morning.  Let the hurt draw you close to the One who entered the world to bring a kind of love to your life that cannot measured or held, but must be received and given.


The Little Things

When you've made a move to somewhere new, especially when it's somewhere very new to you, you realize how much the little things matter.

I think it's because there are so many big things going on - like trying to figure out where to buy groceries, which box all your missing shoes must be in, and missing the people who make up your daily life and know you best - that it is small things that make all the difference.

It's the cards you receive in the mail from family and friends, welcoming you to your new home;
the evenings you get to Skype with family from home;
finding good coffee in your neighborhood;
and weekend adventures to find homemade ice cream.

It's people at church, making you feel comfortable and inviting you out to lunch to get to know you;
realizing you know how to get home without using the GPS, even if it's just from the grocery store down the block;
and it's the moments of peace in the midst of unfamiliarity
that make the big things seem like they're going to be just fine.

(A card we received from Ben's grandma - isn't it sweet?!)



Images from our life in NC so far...

... more to come!

We are Broken Fragments

(In response to a Sunday evening service filled with sharing, tears, and brokenness)

We are broken fragments; 
at times, near tears, and sighing 
under the weight of the burdens we carry.

Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.

We are broken fragments; 
and we are hurting; 
at times, we are quiet, consumed by our fear
of stigmas, of vulnerability, of others' opinions of us.

Come unto me, all who are weary,
and I will give you rest.

We are broken fragments;
some of us in small pieces, shattered by broken dreams,
missed opportunities, and daily struggles;
others rebuilding, mending from past hurts,
moving toward wholeness day by day.

Lord, let us be swept into Your current of love.

We are broken fragments;
some of us reaching out, yearning for Your touch;
others of us are just here, 
waiting to be seen, known, and understood.

Your presence is my stay; 
a word of Your supporting breath 
drives all my fears away.

We are broken fragments; 
but in our brokenness, we are real, 
we are honest with ourselves
and with You.

Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.

We are broken fragments;
fragile, but like glass, we reflect Your light,
shining on us, warming us, giving us comfort and courage;
working in our brokenness to form us 
into stained glass works of art
that will reflect Your hope, Your grace, and Your love
to all who will see.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. 
Where there is blindness, we will pray for sight;
where there is darkness, we will shine His light.

We are broken fragments;
but daily we are being transformed into Your likeness.
In our brokenness, make us humble;
in our brokenness, make us vessels of Your love.

1, 5 - by Marty Haugen, 1987, GIA Publications, Inc.
2 - Matthew 11:28.
3 - © 1993 Expressions Of Praise Music.
4 - Isaac Watts, 1719.


My $3 Home Office Makeover

After reading 6 Tips for Designing a Cheery Home Workspace, I looked at my "home office" and realized I need some color and organization on my desk.  Although I don't actually work from home, as a full-time graduate student, I spend a lot of time writing and reading at my desk.

When I took a hard look at my desk, I realized how little workspace I actually had.

As you can see, it is lacking color, organization, and my post-it notes hanging on the wall are not exactly classy.  But I don't have money to spend on revamping my work area, so I decided to see what I could do with what I already had.

The first stage was de-cluttering.  I took the non-essential items off of my desk and into the rolling cart I have next to my desk (from my teaching days).

The rest of my papers went into my desk drawers, which were also cleaned out and reorganized.     

Next, some color was needed.  I started by looking for colorful things that I already had on my desk that I use as more prominent centerpieces.

After cleaning up my desk, moving things off, and pulling a few more colorful items that I had around the house, I came up with this:

 The last step was where my $3 renovation came in.  I purchased two black frames from the Dollar Tree, filled them with two inspirational quotes from Pinterest, and hung them up with picture hanging supplies that I also got from the Dollar store.  All together, this is what I came up with!

I'm enjoying my clean, organized, and colorful desk already!



Ann Voskamp shared this song a few days ago, and ever since, I've been singing it constantly throughout my days.

Singing in the shower, singing while I read, humming while I rinse the dishes and do the laundry.

It is the most beautiful song.  I go to a church that sings hymns, so I have an appreciation for the meaningfulness of the words usually found in hymns.  But I love when someone can reframe a hymn in a beautiful, creative way.

Maybe you'll start singing this too...

...Lord, abide with us.


How to Feel Better on a Down Day: Tips from a Natural Worry Wort Trying to Live More Faithfully

Distract worry with music, or an audiobook - using noise to drown out the ‘noise of worry’ works!
Memorize Bible verses that comfort and remind you that character is built during hard times
Take care of yourself - exercise, stretch, and eat well.

Listen to the news or a boring audiobook to fall asleep at night
Don’t be afraid to wake up your spouse or call a friend if you can’t sleep.

Don’t look at Facebook when you feel bad about yourself!
Don’t compare yourself to someone else.

Watch a funny movie or sitcom.
Watch a serious movie - the cry will make you feel better.

Drink a small glass of wine before bed.

Don’t blame your spouse for not understanding how you feel.

Think of how you give grace to others when they make mistakes, and make the decision to give that same grace to yourself.
Go out to lunch with someone.
Take yourself out to a coffee shop to enjoy a good, hot drink, and a good book.

Love those around you, and yourself.