Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Find Joy >> right here

// God with us //
(wherever we go!)


walking forward

(by faith)
into the great 
// unknown //
of a

photo credit: Availeth Photography

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Over Tea //

On a frigid winter day like this, tucked inside, reheating the kettle of water for the fourth time...
We've been talking about my move to New Jersey and you've asked, "But what about your house? You just got settled into it!"

Yes. It's true. The past ten months of home ownership have been a fantastic experience of being able to truly test the limits of my ability to make a home and a life on my own. The risk, the experiments, the mistakes, the limitless dreams, the limited budget, the hard work and financial responsibility grew me. Having the blank canvas of a whole house to fill was a beautiful challenge. Like a photographers portfolio my first remodel displays some of my very best work -- from vision casting to demolition, to remodel and decorating. I am so content here in my Little House. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Yet this extravagant blessing of a house has been a blessing meant to be shared. I knew this from the beginning. It is my pleasure to move out and move on and allow other people to inhabit the refuge I've created. It's my joy to leave beauty behind me as I journey on.

But at the end of the day, it is just a house. A house I labored over and poured myself into and made my own, yes. A beautiful and charming and restful place that most people don't get, certainly not as their first house, yes. But still just a house. There will be more to come.

[And the shine goes out of any place you stay, no matter how lovely and cozy, if it isn't the center of the Lord's will for you. I'm following the one who didn't have a place to lay His head during His ministry on the earth. I've concluded that even a cave becomes a beautiful refuge if that's where He is.]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Welcoming in // junior girls

When we came home from Denver with our newly established bonds of community, my soul's sister Greta relentlessly asked Ali + I to lead her small group. Over and over she asked. I smiled amusedly the first time, said, "Oh maybe..." the second, really listened the third time and started to pray about it after the fourth. I opened my heart then and there to these girls -- I didn't realize it at the time. As I prayed it was pressed on my heart that Ali + I were meant to lead the Junior girls' small group this fall. So we signed up. And when the leadership board wanted to match us with the Freshman girls instead because we were younger and inexperienced we stood firm on what the Lord had called us to and He changed hearts. We were granted the Junior girls with the leader's blessings!

My Little House has always been a blessing meant to be held in open hands and shared with many. It's been a place of refuge for each person that's stepped through it's door and opening it up to the girls was the no-brainer of a lifetime. 

I'd never led a small group before, but I had a model. It was definitely outside the model of most small groups led in our church, but I trusted that since the Lord apparently wanted it done, that He would also change hearts in the leaders and parents who may come against it. See, we weren't going to do a "traditional" study -- with a book, and homework, and discussion questions, and prayer requests -- we were going to do community instead; intentionally open and vulnerable and honesty and caring community. I didn't know what it would look like. It wasn't neat and tidy. But we did it. 

It started with creating an environment within the group where the girls felt safe and wanted and heard. A place that we genuinely cared to hear each other's hurts, where it was safe to be raw and where they knew that their burdens would be lifted, prayer would be offered and truth would be spoken into the hurt and confusion. A place that we were sincerely interested in each other's celebrations, where it was encouraged to rejoice and laugh and cheer each other on. And when I say "we" I don't mean just Ali + I, I mean all the girls -- all of us working together to build this Body close. This took weeks. And I wondered if it was working at all. But then I saw the quietest girls begin to boldly open up, saw the silliest girls share what Jesus was doing deep in them, saw all the girls look at-home and loved and restful. One night only one girl shared because she had a lot of hurt that needed spilling out and relief-finding and to be healed with love. The other girls speaking truth into her life and praying for her was what was needed that night -- so that's what we did. Another night we just sang worship songs all night. Praising our God for Who He is. This was done in the midst of a month where we were all weary and faint from life. Some nights the girls shared a lot -- whether it was what was going on in their lives or what the Lord had shown them recently. Other nights I would share vulnerably about what He was revealing to me in my life and I watched as the testimonies of Our God met girls right where they were at. 

There were nights where we said very little of consequence, where we snuggled on the couch and were just exhausted together. I felt like I was failing as a leader those nights but later on I saw what a treasure it was to have a group so at-home with each other, so at rest in my space and under my authority, that they could totally relax and be comfortable in total silence. 

Near the end of the semester we tried something new. We had gotten to know each other broadly as a group but I wanted to provide an opportunity for the girls to get to know each other more personally than sitting in a circle once a week affords. So we wrote letters to each other. And that was maybe a little awkward and stretching at first, but it turned out to be some of the sweetest nights of bonding we had. These hearts were knit together. Perhaps not as tightly as the hearts of the Mission:Denver team got knit during our mission trip -- but as tightly as they were meant to be in this season. They have bore my burdens with me, have celebrated the exciting developments in my life, and are sad to see me leave. Can they ever know how the Lord used their care to minister to my heart and heal it of its belief that though it give all the love it has it won't be truly + unconditionally loved in return, that once I leave I am forgotten, that the impact of my life is like a foot printed washed away by the waves? To not just have been their leader but to be their sister -- that shows me like nothing else that it worked, we really did community together. 

And to think that this happened because of the relentless love of one dear girl... because we said, "Yes" out of our weakness and led from a state of dependence on the Lord... because I opened my heart and I opened my door over and over to sweet strangers who became my soul's sisters. I'm just so grateful to have been a part of it, to have been used to touch their lives for a few months, to have our stories interwoven forever. He uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Over Tea //

If you were here I would tell you that I am moving to New Jersey next month and that I am so excited and that there is so much to do! But first I'd tell you a little bit of the story behind my move -- because I'm a story-teller and I love to give context.

five months ago //
I was finishing up the remodel of my Little House and preparing to move into it. But there was a nine day stretch in between my move, my transition from living at home to living on my own -- young and single and independent -- where I was an assistant leader on a mission trip to Denver, CO for our youth group. I had a pretty good idea of what the Lord wanted to do through me on this trip but I had *no* idea of all the things He had up His sleeve for me. (I'm still finding out to this day!)

five months ago //
we pulled the church van up to the apartment complex we were going to be housed in for the week. Two of the interns with Mission:Denver were waiting in the courtyard to get us situated. My first glance was of Zachary. My first thought was, "Lord, I did *not* come here to meet a man." Funny joke!

five months ago //
after focusing hard on doing our jobs and avoiding each other all week long, Zachary came outside and engaged me in conversation for a good hour on our final day of the trip. We said goodbye the next day and really, I never thought I'd see him again. The Lord had other plans. Long-story-short, we kept in touch.

As Zachary finished his internship in Denver, went back home, started Senior year... As I moved into my house, found a roommate, started a new job... We "did life" together -- long distance. Crazy similar and wildly opposite of each other we became best friends. After a couple months of getting to know each other, I missed him. On a whim I went to Pennsylvania to visit him for a weekend. He thought I was crazy. But he likes crazy.
There was a good chance that we would meet up and it would be super awkward. After all we had only talked once during our week "together" in Denver. Now it was just he and I and his Mom for a weekend. There was that chance. But when my 15hr drive ended at 3am with me pulling up next to his house and he came out to welcome me it felt like coming home. It was nothing but confirming of how real our friendship was. So natural it was nuts! I didn't want to go home again.

a month or so later // 
all I asked for for my birthday was to get to see him again. Sappy? Maybe a little. But it worked! In October, the weekend before his mid-terms, he came to Wisconsin and stayed at my family's home -- met my family, saw my town, visited my Little House, and reconnected with the group that went to Denver. They were just a little excited to see him again. Putting him back on a plane wasn't what I wanted to do but I did it. The countdown until his Winter Break started for me that day.

two months ago //
when we said goodbye in October we were planning to see each other again over his Winter Break. I took the week between Christmas and New Years off of work in advance. Somewhere between then and now, the Lord put an adventure in motion.

(less than) one month ago //
Some friends were interested in renting my house, but to rent to them would require me moving out of it. This was an open door to move closer to Zachary -- a chance to "do life" face to face a little bit more and long distance a little bit less. Lots of prayer, a nudge in my spirit to talk to a friend overseas, several Facebook messages and a few phone calls later, a potential move was in place.

last week //
i turned in my notice at work. A lease hasn't officially been signed by my future renters yet, a host-home in Jersey hasn't been secured yet, and my job as a classroom assistant in a preschool out there isn't set in stone yet, but I just know that I am supposed to walk forward in this knowing that the Lord is aligning everything -- He goes before.

So, a little under a month from today, on January 5th, I'm packing my car on up and moving on out East. There are new chapters to be written in my friendship with Zachary, there are children to love and help mold, there is whole new set of people's lives to touch, there is a brand new city to explore. There is stretching to do, there are adventures to be had and more wild and wonderful plans of the Lord's to have unfolded before me as I walk forward in crazy obedience to His voice. And for the record... I did not see this coming when we pulled up to that apartment complex in Denver this summer!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christening the door you walk through //

  It's never happened before and maybe it won't happen again but it happened this one time for more reasons than I can comprehend. I've been led to pray plenty of times. The Spirit knows how to nudge me, He knows my ear is tuned to His voice. He knows how to burden me, to share His anguish with my heart and let it fuel my simple faith. Usually this is how it works: I get the nudge, I pray what is put on my heart, I believe He is who He says He is and that He wills that this be accomplished, and I leave it in His hands with complete faith. This can take less than five minutes. The time doesn't matter, eloquence doesn't matter, whether your eyes are open or closed doesn't matter. It's about obedience, a tuned ear, a heart position, and faith. This one time it went like this... "Will you keep watch with Me?" He nudged familiarly. "Yes." replied my willing heart. The burden came. This was an all-night thing. This was a watch-until-morning thing. This was a stay-awake-with-Me-in-the-garden thing. A prayer partner was necessary. A space to stay awake all night in was necessary too. The "Little House" wasn't even finished yet, there was limited electricity and no running water, but the heat was on. As soon as I texted Ali to ask her to keep watch with me, she dropped everything, grabbed coffees and committed to be up with me through the whole night. That's the Body of Christ in action, people. It was beautiful. Like foot washing. We met at the Little House, cleaned the floor, rolled out my rug, moved the couch in, plugged in two lamps and settled in for the long hours between 9pm and 6am.

  The peacefulness of the night, words of worship echoing through the dark, and two souls gladly sacrificing a night of sleep to stand guard in the spiritual realm for a dearly beloved child of the Lord's. It didn't look like you may imagine. We didn't have a string of words coming out of our mouths for nine hours. We didn't struggle to stay awake, it was as natural as if it was the middle of the day -- the Lord equips us for what He calls us to do. When the Lord would put something on my heart I would pray it. When certain lyrics jumped out of the songs in the background I sang along in agreement and proclaimed-faith. When the Lord would lead Ali to a scripture passage she would read it. We shared testimonies from our lives with each other. We sat in silence and stillness. And when the sun came up and Ali went home, the burden lifted from me and I felt sleepy for the first time all night. When I locked up and drove home, it never occurred to me that that was the first "living" I had done in my new home.
  I wanted to have a house-warming party once I got moved completely, settled in and had everything the way I wanted it. As time has gone by plans for such a party have continued to be pushed back. Instead of inviting everyone in at one time, the Little House is getting shared slowly, intentionally, personally, quietly. From day one it has been a blessing best shared, a refuge of peace and comfort, something not just beautiful to look at but beautiful to be in. And it was christened with that night of prayer. That was the house-warming party. At the Little House's most humble stage of furnishing, with nothing to offer for refreshment but what had been brought. That's what made it homey before I even made it my home. When people step inside they sense it -- the heart position, the attentive ear, the warm invitation of a familiar voice. They don't even realize it, but I recognize it in their body-language. The longer they stay the more rest they receive and when they leave their hearts are more full than when they first walked through the door. Do you know the joy of happy obedience and open-handed (open door) living? If you're ever in the neighborhood, please step next door and share this blessing with me. To give is truly better than to receive.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Favorites!

WATERCOLORS BY ALAIN // jennifer verme's son ~ pureandlasting.com

This kid inspires me. (read his story) And his art is stinking gorgeous! Each 9x12 print is selling for $25 and there is a limited supply so hurry and grab yours! http://www.pureandlasting.com/watercolors-by-alain/

JOHARI CREATIONS // lindsy wallace ~ lightbreaksforth.com

My gal Lindsy and her friend Erika just launched this incredible market for fair trade items. Again, stinking gorgeous! You need to go look just for the pure beauty of the website. Oh, and there are several great giveaways for Johari products going on in the blogging community right now so you might want to get in on that too. MercyInk giveaway // Lauren Casper giveaway // A Harvest of Blessing giveaway

SHE DOES JUSTICE // shedoesjusticeshop.com

Already such a fan of the scarves and, um hello, the cinched or twisted head turbans! But the latest additions to the online shop for littles? They melt me. So cute!!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Couch Rebels // in print!

Super excited to announce that 'Couch Rebels' is officially IN PRINT! 
This was a crowd-published book, a compilation of several short stories, and the whole goal of it is a cause. Through partnership with Blood:Water Mission every copy sold is providing clean water for three people who lack it. I'm honored to have been part of the project and I cannot wait to see how many lives are impacted as a result of it. Grab a copy here: KINDLE or Paperback

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What if we actually stepped next door?

  When you're a part of a family where slowly but surely all the kids are becoming adults, you buy a lot of clothes for birthdays and Christmas. Kids grow, their shirts get too tight, pant legs become too short, shoes begin to squeeze feet too tightly. Life happens too, clothing gets worn out (no pun intended), holes in socks, thread-bare sweatshirts, stained pants. The list goes on. Then there are practical things like buying new underwear from time to time just because its hygienic to do so or, if you really don't like to do laundry, buying new ones frequently enough that you can avoid washing old ones altogether, and replacing socks for the fifth time this year because the darn washer has managed to eat all the matches and all you have is a drawer of mismatched socks left.
  We don't dwell on it too much because we can afford to buy new clothes (even if they are from the clearance rack or simply new-to-us from a second hand store or garage sale) when they are needed. Thinking of the Israelites fleeing Egypt and traveling to the Promised Land, does it even occur to us in our Midwest shopping-mall minds that their clothes were bound to wear out and that they couldn't stop and make new clothes? It occurred to our God. [Deuteronomy 8:4] He is a God of detail. He is a provider God.
  It hits me though, when we go shopping for a back-to-school outfit or special Christmas dress-clothes, just as a treat not because we need them, what a luxury that is and how I am part of the privileged percentage of the world who has that luxury. It strikes my heart as we shop for needed clothing that the little girl I packed two pairs of socks for in my Christmas Shoe Box last year has certainly long since worn through them and needs new ones just as much as I do. And what about the orphanages and baby hospitals I got to send boxes of clothes to earlier this year? Those kiddos are growing and the clothes sent over will not clothe them forever -- they are constantly in need of new items to replace the ones being worn out at this moment and bigger sizes as the children continue to grow up. 
  I love packing Shoe Boxes. It's something I look forward to each year. I give sacrificially of my finances to fill them, pack them with care and pray for the children they will bless. But even with the sincere generosity and compassion going into these gifts, I feel like I've been missing something. Its too comfortable, too disconnected. If I can pack a box full of gifts I bought with my own money and send them across the world with loving thoughts, why can't I meet eyes with the homeless man whose needs I am faced with (and able to meet I might add) as I walk by? It is easy to give online, its comfortable to drop off a donation and drive away, it feels good to think you're making a difference overseas without having to leave home. We've missed something. The man in front of me who is homeless needs socks, I guarantee you that. What's so different about giving socks to a little girl over in Africa and giving socks to this man in front of me? Relationship. It is scary to walk up to a stranger, its risky to reach out and actually take someone's hand. We love to give, even sacrificially, but we are afraid to get involved. 
"And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'"
// martin luther king jr.

 Even with our good intentions this is what we have been blinded to. Our giving is not about us, it's not for us. I want to be connected to the life that I am giving to, I want to see their need and meet it in a personal way. I want to be invested in them. I want to buy new socks for the little girl I sent some to last year but I can't because we aren't connected. However, I can walk across the street and engage with the person whose need I see right there. I can know their name, I can invite them into my story, I can reach out my hand every day to them. I'm challenged by this myself and I want to challenge you with it as well. This year lets step out of our comfort zones, lets stretch, lets go deeper, lets become vulnerable and empty ourselves a little more so Jesus can fill us up with more of Himself. This year, what if we actually stepped next door?