Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Find Joy >> right here

My eyes slowly cracked open, sure I didn't need to be awake yet but curious of the time I clicked my phone's home button. 5:56am. I didn't resist my eyes shutting tight.
there is joy in that freedom to give into sleep.

I had tossed and turned, unconsciously searching for a position, snuggled under my layers of blankets and head nestled satisfactorily into my deep pillow, that would end my restlessness. The story of my life is that few mattresses are described as "comfortable enough to be truly restful" by my picky back. Then I found it. The perfect spot. And twenty minutes later it was time to get up.
though it didnt last as long as I would have liked, there was real joy in finding that sweet spot!

Deciding that, yes, I really should eat something for breakfast before leaving for my appointment, I got my milk and cereal out quickly. Finding that the milk had gone sour was disappointing. Yogurt didn't sound good and there wasn't time for eggs. "Maybe there's a Starbucks or McDonalds on the way..." Kicking myself a little for so easily weighing take-out as an option when I operate within a shallow budget, but concluding that it was important for me to do two things: eat before the appointment and make it to the appointment on time, I justified this stretch of the budget. Pulling through the drive thru, heart set on a breakfast sandwich, the menu board reads "Breakfast served until 10:30am". My clock reads 10:30am. "Are you still serving breakfast?" I ask apprehensively, knowing, from experience working in the food industry, those are the words you dread to hear when you've just finished putting all the breakfast ingredients back in the deep-freeze for the day. "Yes, we are." replies the lady at the window and I'm more grateful than the ordinary customer because I know what that "yes" means for the employees. Exchanging eye-contact, cheery smiles, and sincere "top of the morning"s at the window was a my "thank you" and her "youre welcome".
and there is joy in that human exchange of gratitude.

It was tricky to find the building with the office I was scheduled to appear in. Sometimes my GPS gets me close, but not close enough and instead of being defeated by the fear of the unfamiliar I try to remind myself that my brain is full of knowledge and clear reason and proven experience and that we can figure it out! The man taking a smoke break at the door didn't have to greet me and open the door for me, but he did, and when I thanked him kindly he seemed surprised. Unsure what the process I was supposed to walk through at my appointment would be, I waited to see. The fellow responsible for taking my finger prints didn't need to talk to me, he could just as well have been silent, but he noticed I was from Eau Claire, WI and filled the silence, as he swiftly performed his job, with small talk about Wisconsin and the winter weather and Spotted Cow beer. It put me at ease and gave me an opportunity to talk about home with someone who is familiar with the area for the first time in a month.
there is a thin but real joy strung through all of the unknown and mundane of my appointment today, did you catch glimpses of it?

Going grocery shopping on a tight budget after laying awake dreaming of foods I missed eating had the potential to be frustrating. Seeing bundles of lush flowers, just affordable enough to be tempting, at the door did it. I walked around the store, browsing, drinking in with my eyes what I knew I couldn't afford to walk out the door with. I went back to the flowers. I walked around the store carefully gathering items of practicality and indulgence. I went back to the flowers. Desire and impulse and prudence did a little jig and joined together in the decision that I could come back and look at the flowers anytime I wanted for free and, today, that would be enough.
appreciating something beautiful and exercising discipline both bear the fruit of a quiet, confidant joy!

Waiting in a slow-moving line for the luxury of a hearty, delicious, already-paid-for (I love gift cards for that!) meal is just part of life. Turning around to leave, bag in hand, and realizing that I had unknowingly arrived at just the right time to beat the lunch rush put a brighter spin on my wait in line. Made my line seem like the express lane in an amusement park where people with a special pass get to skip the long, winding, roped-off maze line and go right to the front.
fresh perspective brings joy into the hum-drum moments.

Fits were thrown and boundaries were pushed and spit-up came up unexpectedly. First, shaky steps on roly-poly legs were taken and sharing was practiced and new words were learned. The little hands that pushed things away in anger, wrapped sweetly around my neck as goodbye kisses were offered. Parents who can be all-business took the time to celebrate their child's discoveries and achievements with me and shared aloud, to ears glad to listen, the delight they take in their little one.
there is special joy in celebrating the building blocks of daily growth -- especially in children.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Of living in the land of adventure // week 1

Somewhere between the overwhelming uncertainty and surprising loneliness of the utterly new + unknown, and the restful consolation of routine + familiarity there is a place called "adventure". In the land of "adventure" you have a sure-enough footing in something, whether it be the security of a GPS or a companion you trust albeit blindly, that your head isn't muddied by apprehension but is free to drink in the newness all around you. With wide-eyes, inquiring foot steps and a chest full of big dreams to be realized, discarded, or saved for another time, you venture forward. Pressing on, sometimes through unforeseen weather, you collect information and experience and memory and so, in your way, stake a claim in this previously unfamiliar place.

This evening is the one-week marker of my #newjerseyadventure and I have swung on the pendulum of the completely new, experiencing the staggering disorientation that comes from realizing that no one in the sea of people around you for miles and miles knows you personally even in the smallest degree as well as the exhilarating gratification of independent discovery. When no landmark is a gauge to you yet and every road has yet to be charted in your mind's map, you must explore! Starting from the location where you're putting down roots (whether that be a hotel room on a weekend trip or a new house in a town you anticipate living in for the next ten years) you set out with a goal to accomplish that, in an area you're acquainted with, you could typically manage to do with your eyes closed, but here, in this new land, will mean entering the alluring land of "adventure". Soon enough you'll get your barings and will be able to make it not just to "a" post office, grocery store or gas station, but "the" post office, grocery store or gas station you adopt as your own -- the place that habit will lead you again and again.

There is intense beauty in the mystery that cloaks ordinary streets and paints fresh color into the haunts of the locals. This kind of beauty is an acquired taste not immediately pleasing to the palette of anyone raised with an appreciation for the charming glow of an established sense of belonging in a community and the ability to greet each turn in a road or roll of a field with the confidence as of an old friend. It's okay to ease into it. "Adventure" is found down any road which you have never traveled, and there is at least one of those in any town. For myself, I'm delighted to be adventuring on the East Coast, only a handful of hours from a number of well-known cities full of less-well-known cafe corners and overlooked streets. This week I've already become familiar enough with the route from home to work and work to town (more specifically, shopping center), or any variation of the three, that I no longer need a GPS to show me when to turn. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment in this fact, but too a bittersweetness in  reckoning those places now outside of the "adventure" land and into the more "homey" one.

Any adventurer knows the relief of something well-known in the midst of much exploration -- a friend's face or a coffee drink made perfectly to taste. The key to remaining an adventurer in a place you come to know well is to stay curious, to hold onto the bravery it takes to drive headlong down a road when you don't know where it will lead; to branch off the beaten path not heading toward a certain destination but an assured discovery. Getting stuck in a rut can feel like a luxury after the unsettledness of travel or moving, and really it is a luxury -- one we take much for granted, but to continue living in the land of "adventure" you must keep "leaving camp". It's a mission and a game all in one, with very little chance of failing.

// discoveries from this week //
the closest Chipotle - nearest Target - a fabulous grocery store - a central gas station - local post office - a church all my area connections go to - the preschool I now work at - four large shopping centers - two Starbucks' nearby - the Starplex theater that has cheap matinees - a small church I plan on attending - the charming downtown of East Windsor located on a tiny body of water - the whimsical main street of Chesterfield - rural roads I take home in Hamilton - a main highway - one corner of the University of Princeton - a very local Italian restaurant in Hamilton - an excellent bookstore in Princeton along with a handful of fun shops and cafes - the gorgeous river drive of Yardley I mean to return to someday

photo credit: my adventurous friend, Mikayla Michelle Photography

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Holding Fast //

Exploring the possibility of moving closer to BBC for Zachary's final semester I reached out to a friend from New Jersey. She began to make inquiries with her family and friends regarding a place to work and a short-term living situation for me. The door was open and I had decided to walk through it into the unknown, risk, promise + adventure as long as it was possible to do so. A dozen things need to fall into place for an actual move to happen, the first being getting a lease signed by two tenants for the Little House.

I met with a potential tenant a week before Thanksgiving and it sounded promising. She needed a few days to make her final decision. Meanwhile I had a phone interview with a potential employer in New Jersey. It went very well. A position for me was available but could be filled at any time. The soonest I could get out to Jersey and start work was the end of January though. Everything about the job resonated deep and the Lord seemed to whisper, "This is the 'work you'll love' I've been preparing for you since January. The job will be there for you when you arrive. Leave it in My hands."

My faith was strengthened in the waiting and my mind was made up -- I knew that the Lord had my back and was going before me and had a way prepared, I was going for it. Then my potential tenant got back to me and said she had decided not to rent from me. Holding fast to faith I wished her the best and moved forward. I turned in my two week notice at work, touched base with my potential employer, continued to communicate with my friend from Jersey as she waited to hear back from friends and family about possible host-homes. Nothing was certain except that I would finish work the Sunday before Christmas.

Then my Dad's Property Manager called and said he had two tenants for me. We set up a tour. They came, they toured, they loved it. Of course nothing is nothing until its something and I didn't have a signed lease when they walked out that night but I held fast in faith. Freedom from anxiety is found when your hope is in the One who holds all in His hands rather than in the physical circumstances before you.

A lease was signed and my house was fully rented through the end of May. My final day at work was finished. My house was packed up, boxes were moved to storage, furniture was hauled off and my car was filled to the point of bursting. The job in New Jersey was still available. No host-home had turned up in two months of searching and while my friend continued to inquire for me I began searching Craigslist. Emailing and calling on a few, all the doors closed and this didn't unsettle me because I knew it was divine, I knew the Lord was saving me for His best.

Then I found it. A townhouse, a diverse and low-income area, three female roommates in their 20's, all employed professionally in a similar field to the job I was hoping to get, all raised Christian but no longer practicing. My spirit burned bright and warm within me at the mere thought of how many "neighbors" it would have opportunity to breath life into by its testimony of the Lord's fellowship in this place, beyond my comfort zone. I set up a tour. My friend's parents as well as her aunt and uncle looked into the townhouse rental that I was acting on, determined that it was an area they wouldn't be comfortable moving one of their children into and then proceeded to turn over every rock they could to find something better for me. Knowing it would be a risky move to rent at the townhouse didn't shake me up. Confidant in the hand of the Lord I was willing to take that risk if that was the place He had prepared for me.

When I pulled away from my family's home with my car-load of belongings, everything I was leaving behind me was settled but nothing I was going out into was secured. The job was still waiting but could be filled any day. I was still planning to move into the townhouse. Then, about six hours down the road, I received a call from my friend's mom. She said that a family from their church wanted to open their home to me. They were offering a guest room, full bathroom and my own garage stall, as well as access to all the other amenities of the house to me for free. My jaw dropped. The Lord seemed to whisper, "I want to lavish you with the sweetness of this family's generosity and hospitality. This is the place I have prepared for you, would you let Me love you in this way? I love you for wanting to serve and being willing to live anywhere for the purpose of my kingdom. I have lives for you to touch alright, keep following close and I'll show you where they are."

I visited the pre-school I was applying to work at and set up a working interview. That same day I pulled into the rural suburb where my host-family lived and was welcomed into their gorgeous home and kind hearts.  Talking with the owner of the preschool a couple days later we worked together to construct an ideal schedule for me to work, presuming the working interview goes off without a hitch. My original vision of drowning out my anticipation of weekend visits with Zachary by working long hours every day was reshaped graciously by my Father who knows me too well. Freeing up more time each day for rest and exploration and relationship-building, adding variety that He knows I crave and requiring flexibility of me, just to keep my guessing and on my toes and leaning into Him consistently, He had clearly thought this through even more than I had. Figures.

At the end of the week I moved into the Mathai's home, settled into my room and began bonding with this sweet family from India who came to love me so fast. Mr. Mathai delights in sharing what they have, from space in their garage and the work out equipment in their home, to the app that allows me to play music through the whole house and switch on and off the lights from my iPhone. Mrs. Mathai is all warmth and welcome, easing me into conversation and helping me feel like part of the family. When I left home my friends and family were saying, "You'll have to find someone out East to watch Downton with!" May not seem like a big deal, but just because He knew and He can and He loves to give, it turns out that Mrs. Mathai watches Downton Abbey. It is also no small detail that this big sister's heart which is prone to get homesick for it's little brothers and sister would be placed in a home with two young boys to encourage and tease and set an example for. The Lord really thinks of everything.


Back in November the desire of my beating heart was just a chance for nearness after much distance, a chance to deepen + sweeten the solid friendship Zachary and I had going with opportunities to do life literally together. December was the hard winds of reality and impossibilites and questions with the simple promise of an open door and a way prepared to hold fast to. January watched in awe as hearts were moved and opened and my life fell in stride with a whole new world of people + places + possibilities. And all this was merely the introduction, the context with which to unfold what He has in store for me during my five months here. The best is yet to come, but, boy, the journey is rich. #holdfastthepromise #newjerseyadventure

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Find Joy >> right here

Finding joy, right here, right after we said "See ya later!" and took opposite exits on the highway. Right here, when the sweetness of a week visit and getting to do life in person, after doing life long distance for six months, is done. Here, where memories we made are fresh and it's easy to get lost in them and homesick for you rather than being present in the wonder of this moment and the dear people currently in front of me. 

I want to learn to live celebrating! Because, while every day is like a holiday when I'm with you, days like this are part of the crazy story the Lord is writing too and they're rich + important + good. And so I can find joy in missing your presence + voice and I can find joy in how drinking coffee in the morning makes me think of the way you always made me a cup. I can find joy in returning to our old texting habits and I can find joy in the anticipation of what you plan for our next visit. 

Those seven days of waiting for you to get done with work, running errands together and spending time with your mom... watching movies, singing in the car and eating ice cream... I was so present in all of that, I didn't want to miss a moment of it's sweet normalcy. Now, over here in a household of ten there is never a dull moment. We're all doing our own thing altogether, keeping each other laughing and helping out wherever it's needed. It's missing your wit + humor, depth + gentleness but there is so much joy in all of it still. 

I'm in limbo for a day more before I move into my New Jersey home and figure out what this new life 2 1/2hrs from you looks like. Lots of unknowns ahead... And I am crazy excited about it all!! 
There is way too much adventure right here to miss! 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fearless // #making2014count

"'Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know'. Well now they know. LET IT GO. I don't care what they're going to say. // The fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all. Its time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. I'm free. LET IT GO. // Here I stand, in the light of day. Let the storm rage on; the cold never bothered me anyway." // disney's frozen


In 2010 I graduated high school and proceeded to make two brave decisions: first, to not go to college & second, to move across the country and be a part of the first class (the "guinea pig" class as I called it) of Ellerslie in Windsor, CO. I was seventeen years old.

Every graduate knows the pressure of impending freedom from studies and the accumulated burden of expectation to step up and make something of yourself in the world immediately. I had a limited vision for my future and wasn't sure what I was "doing with my life" but along the way two factors helped me weed out opportunities and simplify decisions: first, if I knew that the seemingly logical investment in a future would ultimately be a waste of time toward pursuing the vision for my future, and second, if I sensed that the Lord was directing me in a way, regardless of how appealing or not it appeared to me. In this way I slowly became braver, explored more, took crazy opportunities, and traveled along a narrow path with one constant Companion. I only completed two semesters at Ellerslie when I knew it was time to move on. Against my personal inclinations but in obedience to the leading of the Lord I studied, tested and received a real estate license and worked for a year as a personal assistant to a Broker in Eau Claire. I was eighteen years old. I wondered what I was doing with my life.

The fall of 2011 I was still living at home. I was working but I had time on my hands, no "life", and saw the need for structure, accountability and encouragement in my siblings' independent studies. I volunteered to teach them for my mom while she worked full-time. I didn't realize just how challenging it would be to carry the weight of expectation I was taking on. It was crazy hard. I was nineteen years old.

For two years, as stresses and burdens accumulated, I did the brave thing and soldiered on, teaching + working + living at home + dreaming big. In 2012 I traveled to France by myself to visit a friend. Later that same year I finally made it to India after months and months of praying + waiting and then praying + walking forward in faith. I was twenty years old. The vision for my future was growing sharper and I could tell that change was coming.

January of 2013 I prayed about what the Lord had for me to walk forward in, what the change was that I sensed on the horizon. I don't recall how exactly I knew, but clear as clear I knew that He told me two things: that I would have a house of my own & that I would have work that I would love. He had been tuning my ear to His voice and conditioning my heart to ready obedience and firm faith, preparing me to walk forward in His vision for my future regardless of how unattractive, risky, hard or unknown the way looked, since I finished school -- since birth, really -- and now He was giving me promises to see fulfilled by exercising that faith and obedience.

The house came immediately. I was a homeowner by February. Between the project of remodeling the Little House, finishing up the school year with the kids, struggling to regain the health I had lost to extreme stress and wrapping up a year of working for my Dad (designing marketing materials) in readiness for the next job I would be transitioning into, plans to serve as a leader on the summer youth group mission trip was on the back-burner of my mind. I knew that the Lord wanted me on that trip to Denver, clear as clear, so I was fulfilling my pre-trip responsibilities for it and praying for the team as He prepared us for what He had in store, but that was it. Denver was just a detail off in the distance to me.

My house was nearly ready for me to move into, I was waiting to discover this job where I would find the work I would truly love, and feeling expectant about the simplicity of independence and the fresh slate of "beginning" a life on my own. But Denver came first. The day before we left I remember thinking it was so weird that this trip was preceding my new life. If my faith and obedience failed right then of course I couldn't back out -- however unimportant to my vision for my future the trip suddenly seemed. Truly, His thoughts are far above my own. Our God is SUCH a detail guy. Just when you think you understand the purpose He had behind a time or circumstance you travel a little further with Him and He opens your eyes to even more scope. He doesn't waste anything.

In Denver I met a man. In my year of promises this was not one I was believing for. The Lord drew us together unmistakably though and the friendship that ensued has refined me and drawn "whole Chelsea" out like nothing else. Although I have been a "big girl", handled increasing responsibility and done many brave things throughout my life, I've still seen myself as a scared little girl at my core. That isn't who I was created to be though. Zachary recognized that I wasn't all I was made to be and his gentle, persistant and bold friendship has been used to reveal and to heal and to draw out the woman the Lord created me to be: fearless. It has blown my mind that the Lord, whose hand in my life I am so familiar with now and whose whisper does not fall unrecognized upon my ear, can operate as precisely and personally in my life through the life of another flawed human being as He does just by His Spirit.

The elements of the future I had envisioned for myself aren't preserved in the Lord's unfurling plan, because even the biggest dreams I dared to dream are far exceeded in His plan and are orchestrated together gloriously by my masterful, thoughtful and flawless Father. When Zachary and I talked on the final day of the mission trip I remember telling him, with the joy of surrender causing me to jabber excitedly, that I was so convinced that the Lord's will was more desirable for each and every little area of my life than anything I could dream up that I was keeping my hands open on each piece of the independent life awaiting me when I got home from Denver. I didn't imagine that Zachary would be my friend throughout the journey of moving, settling in, opening my home to a roommate and to the Junior girls of Bethesda, getting a regular job, etc. Nor did I imagine that I would be along for the crazy ride of the hardest semester of his college career. A very intentional long-distance friendship wasn't what I expected to walk away from Denver with. It was all Him. And its risky and hard and full of unknowns, but He is in it and on it and all over it which has freed me to be fearless in it.

While we both knew that our relationship was intended to be long-distance during his first semester of his senior year, as I prayed about the second semester it seemed that the door was open to be closer for those final months. Not because Zachary asked me to come and not because I just got it in my head to go, but because the Lord opened the door and seemed to say, "You have two opportunities: you can either stay in the comfortable though trying long-distance rhythm you two have found or you can go on a wild + risky adventure, move to a new city, realize the fulfillment of My promised 'work you'll love' and have the chance to do-life with Zachary more face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder than you can from home, which will carry with it it's own challenges and comforts."

Something tells me that He knew, He knew that He'd worked enough fearlessness in me that I would jump at the chance for an adventure so full of craziness, wonderfulness and His constance. In the wise words that my Bible study leader from my senior year sent me off on this #newjerseyadventure with this morning: "The older you get the more secure everything becomes. I wouldn't trade it now that we're here, but I kind of miss that stage of life that was full of risk and adventure. You're free! Now is the time to have those adventures."

This twenty-one year old is packed and ready. The road is practically rising up to meet me! At my coming-of-age party when I was twelve my Dad blessed me with that well known Gaelic blessing, "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand." Looking back, the years really do fly, and all the times I wondered what I was doing with my life, the Lord was doing so much in and through it. Now here we are, tomorrow morning I drive away from home and begin this adventure, and I've realized that with the Lord there is much less starting + stopping, succeeding + failing, than there is just continued growth + pruning, resting + moving on. So while it feels like I'm just now "doing something with my life", like my life is just "beginning", its not true. I've been living all along, I've just changed along the way. "We all change when you think about it, we're all different people, all through our lives. And that's okay, that's good; you've got to KEEP MOVING." // the eleventh doctor

So here is to 2014 >> a year of fearless living, brimful of the wild and the wonderful. 


"You walk me to the car and you know I wanna ask you to dance right there, in the middle of the parking lot. // I dont know how it gets better than THIS: you take my hand and drag me headfirst, fearless. And I dont know why but with you I'd dance, in a storm, in my best dress, fearless. // In THIS moment now -- capture it, remember it. 'Cause I dont know how it gets better than THIS." // taylor swift

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Over Tea //

This is what the start of my New Year looks like.
The Little House is all packed up, my bags are situated in my vehicle, goodbyes have been said and hugs have been given generously. I'm leaving on my New Jersey adventure and I don't know when/if I will be back. The 20hr journey is being broken into more swallowable pieces and spread out over the span of the whole month of January. This is a glimpse of the adventure...

January 4th I will drive away from what I call my "hometown" though only six of my twenty-one years were spent here and head to Ohio. There I will be reunited with my dear friend, Samantha, who was my roommate throughout our trip to India a year ago and has since gotten married. (I am excited to meet AJ, Sam! Thanks for opening your home to me for an overnight.)

January 5th the road will lead me to the Bordas residence. After two months I will get to see the dear man's face once more. Visiting his momma and him for a couple of days will no doubt be the highlight of my journey. (So we missed celebrating the New Year together by a couple of days this year... Maybe we can pretend we didn't and re-celebrate it once I arrive?)

January 12th I will be welcomed into the warm embrace of the Whitted family at long last. It's been like two years since I said goodbye to them and promised I'd be back. (Better late than never, right, guys?)

January 18th -- my Daddy's birthday! -- for the first time my vehicle will roll onto the roads that will soon be as familiar to it as the streets of Eau Claire are. What I am sure will be a whirlwind week will commence upon arrival. Introductions, tours, unpacking, exploration and a short adventure into NYC. I can hardly wait to uncover soon-to-be favorite places and get connected with numerous lives yet unknown to me.

Goodbyes are leaving my heart tender and sore, but the bright promise of this taken-chance puts a gleam in my welling-up eyes. My family and I knew that my pioneering-feet were going to venture out into the world beyond my comfort-zone sooner or later -- it just happened to be sooner!

Life-changing, that is what this move is going to be. I don't know what all it will entail, but I know I will be stretched + surprised + delighted. Quite the kick-off to a New Year!

"I'm going on an adventure!" // bilbo baggins