Love Never Fails

I think we need to understand some things about love. About real, true love. It can be beautiful and exciting — it’s pure, it’s healing, and it’s holy, and we need to make sure we understand it.

Love, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a strong or constant affection for a person.” I agree with this definition, but there’s more to be said; there’s more to be done. Love, in the Bible, is put to action:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Love, as defined by society, is only the feeling — the warm feeling of only doing what your heart desires and what wouldn’t emotionally hurt the other person. It’s based on passing emotions, something no one should have to work at. It’s the butterflies-in-your-stomach, jittery, swooning feeling you get when you look at a person you care about. You can’t control it, you don’t want to control it, and it’s the best emotion in the world. Within the right context, these are all very good things! There’s nothing wrong with getting these types of love-feelings.

But real, Biblical love is something more solid, withstanding, and even more beautiful than this. I don’t think I would even classify it as an emotion because it doesn’t depend on feelings to exist. Real love is an action.

It’s accompanied by patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, morality, truth-telling, and it’s strong.

Merriam-Webster’s definition says “constant affection.” Almost anything we do that’s constant requires effort and work. I think this word “constant” aligns perfectly with God’s definition, because love doesn’t give up. Those who truly love are patient and kind, and they don’t give up on a person.

They don’t leave their brothers and sisters in the dirt when they’re struggling because they don’t want to deal with it. They don’t give up on someone who’s isn’t quite grasping the truth; they keep trying to teach because God doesn’t give up on them. They don’t forsake their spouses just because one or both parties have changed since the wedding day.

Real love works. Real love gives. Real love won’t bend to the world’s influence.

Real love isn’t easy — we have to work everyday to be loving, to understand how to love. We have to put the amount of effort specific to the love we’re giving. When we love someone, no matter who it is, we’ll work to show them that. We’ll work within ourselves to really love them, and not just act like it. Giving up isn’t an option — love endures all things; love never fails.

But it doesn’t mean we let sin abound. This means that if we truly love, we will be patient, but disciplinary. We won’t let our brothers and sisters continue in sin because we know what that could mean for their souls and for ours. If we really love, we’ll teach the world about the light and truth of God’s word, and we’ll show them Christ through ourselves. We won’t let God be blasphemed and His word twisted by untruths.

There’s another facet to love: correction.

1 John 4:8

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God is love. God is the embodiment of love; He possesses each and every trait listed above. How can we compare God to a passing, fleeting feeling? How can we compare our great and holy Creator, the very one who sustains us and is patient with us each and every time we forsake Him before giving Him our all, to an emotion? We can’t set Him on the same plane as something the world portrays to us as wavering, unsteady, and circumstantial. And if we can’t put Him there, then we can’t put love there, for God is love. 

Our parents correct us because they love us. Hopefully our friends correct us because they love us. Because if we were never to receive correction, how would we ever be able to progress?

Correction in the Bible

In each of his letters, Paul begins with a greeting. They usually include a note of thanksgiving for his brethren, emphasis on the good that church is doing, and then he goes on to offer ways in which they can improve to please God. At the end of each letter, after his correction, he bids them farewell, and wishes the grace and love of Christ and God be with them.

We’re given all these letters of firm correction, but we wouldn’t dare say Paul didn’t love his brothers and sisters. Because it’s clear that he did! He even suffered violence and imprisonment trying to teach them what was right.

Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18) took Apollos, who was actually speaking boldly of the way he understood the Scriptures, aside to explain the word of God to him more accurately; he obliged because he loved God. Philip (Acts 8) stopped to explain the book of Isaiah to the Ethiopian eunuch not because he was prideful or a know-it-all, but because he wanted this man to be part of the Kingdom. All of the apostles and other disciples went from city to city proclaiming God’s word because they loved the people and wanted them to be saved.

Love is going to act upon what is right — on solid, firm truth, not just feelings of affection. Because feelings of affection can lead us down paths that we never dreamed of. We can have these loving feelings toward sin, toward things or people that we aren’t meant to emotionally love, that are opposite of what God has commanded we love. They can drive us into darkness instead of into God’s light because they’re not always the same as the logical truth.

2 John 6

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

Because God loves us, He gave us His word — He gave us this New Covenant to live by. He knows what’s best for our souls, and because He wants us to have a hope of being with Him in eternity, He disciplines us through His word. Everything God does for us, including discipline, is because He loves us. It’s because He wants us to be with Him.

Everything Jesus taught and everything He did while He was on earth was because He loves us. If we want to shine Christ’s light, we should love the way They love, with both God’s mercy and justice in mind.

If we truly love God, we’ll do His will, and we’ll pay attention to all of the truths found in the Bible, not just the ones we like. We won’t base our decisions and our loyalties on feelings. If we truly love people, we’ll treat them the way 1 Corinthians 13 describes real love — with patience, humility, kindness, hope, while bearing their burdens. We’ll walk in truth, show them truth, and proclaim to them truth because these are things that will lead them toward heaven.

 

// How do you show love to others? What are some ways to do this? Or verses about love you want to share? I’d love input in the comments section. 🙂

Feel free to follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest! You’ll find all the things I like to do, and more Bible-based truth.

Love Never Fails Pinterest graphic

 

 

 

 

The Living Will Lay it to Heart

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV).

I used to have a hard time understanding why the writer would say something like this. Why would anyone benefit more from sadness, grief, and mourning than joyful fellowship? What does this mean?

I learned the answer to my questions over time, as I grew older. Funerals are not particularly fun events to attend. They aren’t exciting or happy; in fact, I usually end up in tears even if I’ve never met the person. They make my heart hurt for the family and friends because they’re now missing their loved one. They make me wonder why things like this happen to some people, to people who are wonderful people and others who seem too young. But it’s grown more apparent to me over the years that this is exactly why the Ecclesiastes writer says what he says (despite the fact that it’s an inspired message from God).

The living will lay it to heart.

Heart-wrenching times can be the most heart-changing. The still-living will have a chance to reflect on the purpose of life. Those with honest and open hearts will observe their lives and the state of their souls in that moment – second-guess the way they’ve been living, or decide just in what ways they could be better. They have an opportunity to learn Who is in control and just how short this life on earth is. It’s a somber occasion that could be life-changing to those who haven’t yet found life in Christ. A funeral could be the moment when someone realizes that they want what Christ offers because that person now sees how much time is lost by waiting. Realizing that only God can fill the void. Even just that one soul whose eyes were opened in a house of mourning will be rejoiced over (Luke 15:7).

I’ve never been to a funeral or memorial service in which God wasn’t mentioned, one in which some trace of faith wasn’t shown. I’m sure there are some in which He isn’t acknowledged, but He’s there nonetheless; He still sees, and He still knows the state of each person’s soul. During grief is when people want to talk to God the most – to understand the situation or at least find some inkling of comfort. It shows that God will be praised in all aspects of life. God will and should be praised even in the darkest times because He is the light (1 John 1:5). If God is on our side we won’t be surrounded by darkness.

I’ve come to appreciate funerals and use them as a chance to pray for yearning and hurting souls, pray for my own soul, that I’ll live a life worthy of my calling (Ephesians 4:1). I hurt for people and with people, I cry and comfort and love, and it’s because of God that I can do all of these things. It’s because of God that anyone can move forward after a loved one’s death. I’ve learned to pray the hardest and display the biggest faith because of my attendance at funerals. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to sit in my feelings for a while because I know I’m laying it to heart. The lowest points in life are often the most eye-opening moments – the ones in which I come to see God’s majesty more clearly than ever. I never want to discount the grief that those touched by a loss have during this time, but, more often than not, it takes an event this extreme to bring others to the realization that their lives are worth something to God, that they need to live a Christ-filled life.

God is there, and He is working. I pray that everyone’s eyes are opened, no matter the reason – because a life in Christ is worth the grief and worth the tears. They won’t last long, and time certainly won’t last long enough to miss the open door.

1 Thessalonians 5:2 (ESV)

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

 

Chronicles and Reflection of This Holiday Season

I’m dreaming of a 75-degree, rain-soaked Christmas. Where the weather is, indeed, frightful, but the family is delightful. A Christmas filled with laughter and love and home-cooked ham. Where the gifts are many, but the spirit is more. A busy, busy Christmas that can make you exhausted in only the best of ways. Far-away family returns for a meal and a swapping of gifts, and children come to you with big hugs and bigger hearts. In this Christmas, families and friends are united, the days are merry, and the homes are ever-bright with both Christmas lights and thankfulness.

This was my Christmas. But before we can get there, the rest of the season has to preface. Christmas isn’t just a day to me – it’s a whole, month-long holiday season (as I briefly mention here) that starts with overwhelming love and thankfulness.

Home is Where the Christmas Trees Are

John Mark and I had a long Christmas, starting with decorating our little home (which may explain why I’ve been so quiet the past couple of weeks). I think it’s important for couples to start their own traditions after they marry because traditions can help them bond even during the busiest and most stressful times if they keep it up – that goes for anyone! Our first new tradition (which I hope will stick) was to buy a live Christmas tree, even though our apartment would probably be considered too minuscule for most people to house one, but we determined to make it work.

So, after I had sufficiently decorated the rest of the apartment, we set a day to drive down the road to the little Christmas tree lot we kept passing. When that day came, we got in the car after he came home from work, went to buy Christmas lights, and then drove to that Christmas tree lot. This is something I’ve only done once, so it was exciting to be able to pick out a live tree to put in my apartment. (A real tree! In my house! I’ll never be over it). We picked out a tree within our price-range that looked perfectly symmetrical and perfectly green and perfectly perfect in every way, and we brought it home. As soon as the tree hit the tree stand in our apartment, I was opening boxes of lights and ornaments, completely ready to go. I was finished decorating it by that night, and could not have been more proud of our first tree. Something about the twinkling lights giving off the only light in the room makes my heart happy.

IMG_3519

A Surprise Birthday Party and Other Shenanigans

We have a couple of birthdays in the family thrown in right before and right after Christmas, so we always take time to celebrate those, as well. John Mark’s is one of them. His comes a week before Christmas, and I was determined to celebrate. My friends and I threw him a “reverse surprise party.” This was a last-minute, thrown-together, completely hilarious little party that I would definitely repeat. While John Mark was at a Bible study (in the home we would be having the party), my friend Bess and I went to a few stores. Read: way too many stores for our time slot. We picked up ice cream, cupcakes, candles, helium balloons, party horns, and sports-themed hats. While she drove us back to her house with a very sleepy, unhappy baby in the back seat, I assembled 29 candles in the ice cream (yes, the ice cream), which is his favorite – Blue Bell Cookies ‘n’ Cream. Bess and I got to the house completely flustered and we told her husband and another friend we were there, and that they needed to come outside. As we were all outside getting ready, John Mark was watching the baby inside the house. So we donned our party hats and horns, clumsily walked to the front door, gathered like carolers, and rang the doorbell. It took him a minute, but eventually he opened the door, and we immediately started singing “Happy Birthday” to a very embarrassed and thankful John Mark, after which we made him put on a hat and blow out his candles.

Later in the week we went home to spend some quality time with our families, celebrate his birthday another time, watch a dear friend graduate from nursing school, then we came back here for his actual birthday. (Oh, you thought that already happened? Nah). That Sunday we went to worship services as usual, and I made him a cake before he opened his present from me. Which, by the way, was all six of the Star Wars movies that are already out.

IMG_3595 (1)
Here we are with hats and our friends’ baby boy.
IMG_3583
John Mark with the cake I made him

And So Christmas Begins

The next week we planned for Christmas. I had already bought and wrapped most of the presents, so I just had to get ready to leave (more about that here) and, because we were going to be staying for over a week with our families, we had to make sure all of our overnight plans for the week of Christmas were in order. We had picked a day out of this week to spend Christmas as a couple – something extremely important to me. We opened our gifts to each other that Thursday night by the light of our tree, and planned to do stockings the next morning. When we got up the next morning we both opened our stockings, which was very much like an extra Christmas morning and children excitedly chattering about Santa’s arrival.

A few hours later we were on the road to home once again! We split the time as evenly as possible with our parents and stayed part of the week with both. Our family Christmases didn’t start until Christmas Eve, but we spent some relaxing time with his family for the first few days. Once Christmas Eve hit, we were hit head-on with that that crazy-busy Christmas I described way up at the beginning.

Where do I start?

It was an odd Christmas this year. Most of the week we (mostly just me because I’m nervous about bad weather upon hearing it might come) watched the weather because of tornado warnings and heavy, heavy rain. We spent Christmas Eve with John Mark’s dad’s side of the family. We gathered for a meal and gifts, the next day was Christmas morning -there were three different celebrations that day: Christmas morning with my side’s immediate family, then my mom’s side (described here – scarily accurate again this year), then back to John Mark’s parents’ house for his immediate family. The next day we met his mom’s side of the family for a lunch get-together, and then went back to my parents’ house for my dad’s side of the family. Not only was Saturday Christmas on my dad’s side, it was also his birthday! We had a two-in-one Christmas and birthday party that night. He has a selfless heart, so he never likes to pair his birthday with Christmas – he just wants to let the family open presents without the attention on him, but we always have a cake and presents for him anyway. Are you dizzy yet? Me, too. In a wonderful, beautiful way.

I’ve always loved how just a simple meal can bring about the happiest of conversations and the best memories. It’s rarely about the food when we get together for holidays; it’s about the hearts and souls coming together to share love and light during a special time of year. We had family of all ages, and we enjoyed every bit of it. All of us different, but all united in purpose and love. I couldn’t help but sit back and be thankful for overwhelming amount of family we have. The word “overwhelming” takes on a different meaning when you change your mindset. So many people complain about how busy their holidays are because of how much family they have to see and how busy they’re going to be. Those things are true! I understand the stress. But once you realize that all of the “overwhelming” family is there out of love, you’ll think of it a little bit differently. I tried to take on a slowed down mindset and applied some of these principles even during the busiest of days because it’s the best kind of stress. It’s the kind that’s only harmful if you let it be harmful. I chose to sit back, soak it in, and let it be.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, birthdays to holidays, it was beautifully busy. Now, it’s time to turn over a new leaf, and I wouldn’t have had the year end any other way.

IMG_3624
Merry Christmas and a happy new year from us to you!

 

 

 

8 Ways We Can Serve Others

Serving is one of the biggest responsibilities Christians have. It’s one of the most rewarding things for both the servant and the receiver, and there are so many ways to do this! The word “serve” is a verb, and a verb implies action. We are told to actually do something for someone. Kind words are great, but actions go a long way. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few good deeds (some for no particular reason), and it made me feel loved, understood, wanted, and encouraged.

Recently I was at a Bible study, and this was a topic that came up. We were asked to think about ways we can serve others – to get creative with it. You have to tailor a service toward the person (a lot like choosing an audience when you write). What would make that person feel the best? What does he or she really like? We didn’t have very much time to discuss what we thought, but since then, I’ve been brainstorming, and here’s what I came up with.

1. Send a card.

I love love love writing and receiving cards! It doesn’t seem like very many people do this anymore, so it’s especially heart-warming to get an encouraging letter to your mailbox. I think sending a card is a great thing to do because the receiver will feel loved and if you’re sending the card, you get to be reminded of your blessings. You could send holiday cards, birthday cards, or old-fashioned letters on stationery. It takes some effort to write a card, address it, and send it, and that’s part of the joy of receiving it! You know someone put in the effort to do something kind for you.

2. Take a meal to someone (or just a snack!)

This is probably one of the most-done acts of service I’ve seen. When someone is sick, they get a meal! Had a baby? Meal. Surgery? Meal. Just moved in? Meal. You get my drift. It’s a pretty easy thing to do for someone – you can just make a double batch of whatever you’re having that night, and take part of it to someone who could use a little encouragement or company. Although it can be cliche and overdone, it’s a very thoughtful thing to do, especially for someone who lives alone or isn’t able to make a meal for herself. It could even just be a batch of cookies, brownies, or a big bag of snack mix. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

3. Visit people.

A lot of people, especially elderly people or others in nursing homes, really just need some company. They don’t want a meal or a card – they want a visit. Sometimes the best thing you can do is go sit and talk to people. You could meet them to eat or to get coffee and catch-up, or if they can’t get out, just go see them. Let them talk to you about what’s going on in their lives; listen to them and try to understand what they’re saying – maybe take that information and see how you can help them further! When my grandfather was in the nursing home, we would go visit him. Even if he was in the middle of a nap, he jumped right up, so excited to see someone in his room who wanted to visit with him. I could really tell how much it made his day just by the look on his face.

4. Take someone a gift basket.

Pay attention to what people around you are talking about and how they’re feeling. You can easily make a gift basket to meet their needs. Use your resources to help other people. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I took a basket to one of our new friends who had a terrible cold and was working 12-hour shifts at the hospital. We decided to take her a basket with a couple of oranges, Epsom bath salts, an essential oil “cold bomb” blend, and a couple of other things that always make us feel better when we’re sick. Plus, we had all of these things on hand already! We took it to her house the next day, and she was thrilled. It wasn’t much, but anything in a basket sounds great to me.

5. Clean someone’s house.

It’s so helpful when people are busy and overwhelmed, and someone comes in to clean their house just because they want to. This was both mentioned at the Bible study I talked about earlier and something I’ve seen firsthand. Several years ago, when my grandmother passed away, my family had some wonderful friends who came into our house while we were taking care of funeral business and standing in long visitation lines and cleaned our house. They vacuumed the floors, picked up the (extremely messy) rooms that both my brother and I lived in, cleaned the bathrooms, kitchen, and probably more that I didn’t know about then. They knew extended family would be coming over, and that we would have visitors coming to bring us food, so they deep cleaned our home. It didn’t hit me then how kind of a deed that was, but thinking back on it, I can imagine just how much that comforted my parents.

6. Make something.

If you know a person who doesn’t have much money to buy clothes and you can sew, make them clothes! Dorcas (Acts 9) did this for people in need, and she was such a servant that she was restored to life so she could help others keep serving. If you know someone who needs help with repairs, do that. Some people quilt, some crochet, some know how to make things with wood or paint on canvas. If you can make something with your hands that would be useful to anyone, do it! What a wonderful surprise it would be to have something you need handmade by a person you love.

7. Read the Bible to someone.

When my grandfather (on the other side of the family) had dementia, he couldn’t read the Bible like he used to and always wanted to. One day I was reading a devotional book along with my Bible and he kept sitting up straighter to see what I was reading, and I finally asked him if he wanted me to read to him. He nodded that he did, and I ended up reading the entire book of 1 Peter (if I remember right) to him. He listened so carefully, and at the end of the reading, I said, “You used to read this a lot didn’t you?” (more about that here) He nodded and said “yes.”  We never know who needs help reading, who longs for the Word of God, but struggles to get through it or understand it. Pay attention to other people, and meet their needs!

8. Invite others to your home (or to a restaurant).

Since John Mark and I got married, we’ve gotten to enjoy a meal with at least three families in their homes, with one who paid for our meal at a restaurant, another family included us in their family meal outing later, and were invited to another home but we had already made plans that day. I was still getting used to a new place, and both of us were getting used to marriage, so it was nice to be able to eat a meal prepared by someone else and enjoy their company. Even if you don’t feed them, you could have them over for a game or movie night, light snacks, even overnight if they need a place to stay. Even if your house is small, you can have a couple of people over (something I’m learning). It’s really the thought and the company that counts. If you can’t have them over for food for some reason (the people we went out to eat with were having kitchen renovations done), I’m sure they wouldn’t mind going out to eat with you.


 

There are many more ways to serve people, but these are the simplest ways I thought of. People of almost any age can serve in these ways! I did some of these in college and even while I was still in high school, and they were beneficial to all parties. Don’t get too shy or insecure or busy to serve. You never know whose day you’ll brighten.

 

We All Need To Slow Down

We’re going home for Thanksgiving with our families this week! After tomorrow, I’m going to be taking a break from the computer for a few days to spend time with them.

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of year in which families can get together (some for the only time all year). It’s a time in which we have the opportunity to free up our schedules and simply be with the people we love, thanking God for the blessings in our lives. I talk a lot about how much I love Christmas, but to me they go together. I think the holiday season coming up is one of love, thankfulness, and joy; it’s all one big reminder that there’s so much more to life than we remember sometimes.

Especially after recent world events, I’ve been thinking harder lately about the blessings in my life. It’s caused me to realize that I need to slow down. I took a step back and looked at my life. I have overwhelming, undeserved blessings. I have good health and a roof over my head. I have a husband, friends and family who care for me, a new family to be a part of, and material blessings that I can’t count.

We all need to slow down. Our society lives life frenzied and rushed, seemingly only thinking about things that won’t matter once this life is over. Materialism lures us in, only to cause stress and busyness. Which leads me to this: Life is a gift; it’s not certain. Take the time to to stop and breathe – to count the blessings you have and thank God because all good and perfect things come from Him (James 1:17). The world is far from perfect and far from peaceful, but no matter the bad, God is love. He brings peace.

We shouldn’t rush through life, taking everything around us for granted. As of now, I’m choosing to live an intentional, purposeful, slow-paced life because that’s what I need. I need to focus on the big picture and take everything in. I firmly believe it’s what we all need. We’re not meant to take up our time rushing and worrying from one day to the next.

Try it; put busyness aside and, with a clear head, spend time with your loved ones – make it intentional. Take a day (or two days!) to take care of yourself and nourish your soul. Spend time in prayer and in the Word. Appreciate what you’ve been given. Make a habit of being grateful, and take time to slow down – just see where that leads you.

 

 

I Got My Dream Job

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a marine biologist (what was I thinking? I’m not good at science). As I got a little older, I thought it would be cool to be a journalist in a big city, which morphed into just wanting to write.

By my transition from high school to college, I wanted to be wife and later a mom. I went through college, and eventually earned my Bachelor in English, but I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere; I was restless and thought what I was doing was pointless (deep down knowing it really wasn’t). There was never an academic niche I felt like I really fit in and had a passion for. I knew I could write, but I never thought I was getting anywhere with it. So I hoped and prayed I could have the “job” that I wanted. The one I didn’t always like admitting to people. The one I got funny looks for talking about.

I wanted to work from home. By that I mean be a homemaker and write in between, but it’s hard to do that if you’re a family of one, providing for yourself. So I continued school and my on-campus job, patiently waiting to see what opportunities would be opened to me. God has answered my prayers beautifully. He’s opened up doors for me that let me write, be what my husband needs, what my church needs, what my friends need, and what I need.

Two years ago I found a man that I fell in love with (actually, he found me). Here are our first photos together. 🙂

Thankfully, his job allows me to stay home and be his helper. To most people it’s an old-fashioned, unconventional job.  My husband goes to work Monday-Thursday, and I get to keep up our apartment, cook our dinners (or try to – still working on that one), and make time to help others when they need it. I get to be and feel useful.

IMG_3427
My husband is a forester. I have to share this precious picture of him before work Monday morning. I got to go with him part of the way to work because his work truck was in the shop.

God has allowed our relationship to grow in a beautiful way. It’s a way in which our lives aren’t rushed, and we can spend time growing together in Him. There’s not a better feeling than knowing I’m doing a job that God intended me to do (Genesis 2:18). I’m proud to have a job that can further His kingdom, one in which I get to respect, love, submit to, and work with my husband. Because I married such a loving man, it’s easy for me to submit to him. He doesn’t abuse his headship or leave me out of decisions. We’re equals in our relationship – equals with different and important jobs, and we both recognize this. We both recognize that we’re useful to each other equally. I’m thrilled to see this part of God’s plan working in my life.

Apart from my home life, I still get to write. I get to use my gift to share my life with others in an effort to encourage and inspire. I no longer have to squeeze this kind of writing into my schedule like I did in college, feeling guilty that I never had time in between classes and homework. Writing is something I get to make time for during my day, and it’s something I can do while still carrying out my  stay-at-home wife responsibilities.

11895171_872607106153002_8729459140147426202_o
Wedding photo courtesy of Elles Photography

I’m not a mom yet, but one day I hope to be, and like my marriage relationship, I hope to be a mom who glorifies God. Because it’s all going to be part of my exciting, God-given, life-fulfilling job. I know it takes patience, and my job will always come with its own challenges, but I also know that I can have joy through those challenges with God in my life and Christ in my heart.

Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good for those that love God, for those who are the called according to His purpose.


i-got-my-dream-job-2

My Self-Esteem Comes From God

There’s so much emphasis in the world now about self-esteem and freedom of individuality. These things are good. While I think they’re both very important, I’m here to say that mine comes from God.

For most of my life I’ve struggled with insecurity. Sixth grade was when my insecurity really started to show itself. I had started at a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders. Fifth grade was great because I was still in the same class as my best friend, and my twin brother was on the same “team” as we were (team = group of three teachers among which the students would change classes for math, science, and English). But when I got to sixth grade, lots of things were changing. I didn’t have very many friends in my classes, my friendships were shifting around, people started gravitating toward different interests, and I was starting to struggle in certain school subjects. Not to mention that this was the time in my life when I was starting to experience changes within myself and see the world as it is instead of from an innocent child’s world-view. The new school wasn’t my favorite because it had only been built a year before my class arrived – they were still working out logistics, and were extremely strict because they didn’t balance discipline with love. This only added to my insecurities because I thought I couldn’t measure up.

I got to middle school, and cliques started forming. I was making new friends and keeping old ones, but I still felt like I didn’t fit in, and I was different than a lot of people I used to be close to. I liked academics and music, and I didn’t think I was considered “cool” or “popular.” I had middle school acne, braces, and my hair was frizzy. (Just FYI, I did finally learn how to use a straightener. Phew. 😉 ) I was really little so my clothes didn’t fit right. Once I got to eighth grade, my self-esteem was getting better. I didn’t care as much about fitting in with my classmates, but I still struggled with self-image. I struggled with that “everybody-is-looking-at-me-and-thinking-bad-things-about-me” feeling.

Sometime around middle school. I had received a trophy after a voice recital...but I still didn't look very happy.
Sometime around middle school. I had received a trophy after a voice recital.

High school was its own beast. My problem spiraled from normal, puberty-age self-esteem issues, to obsession. Tenth through twelfth grades were especially rough in this area. The perfectionist in me started to show. I compared myself to everyone around me based on my clothes and academics; nothing I did was good enough. I loved my life! But deep down I didn’t quite love myself, and that kept me from achieving so many things I would have liked to achieve. I could have been better at sports, band, art, or even academics if I had felt better about myself and pushed myself to try harder. I just didn’t think I could do it or even that I was worth it. When I was good at something, I didn’t think I was or ever would be…so I quit. I put myself through countless personal struggles because of my lack of Godly self-esteem.

My brother and I at a football game, probably my junior year of high school
My brother and me at a football game, probably my junior year of high school. Getting there, but I still don’t see genuine happiness.

My senior year of high school, I decided it would be best for me to leave my hometown and attend Auburn University. I had been to some football games, visited a church there that I loved, and my best friend and brother were going, so I knew I would be OK there, and I loved the idea of starting over. I knew I could grow if I forced myself out of my comfort zone to live in a brand new city with brand new people and experiences.

This was a life-changing decision.

Not only did I grow academically, I grew personally and spiritually. I still dealt with lots of insecurity (with added anxiety, but I felt much better about myself with a brand new start. My sophomore year of college was when I really decided to get it together and truly find myself. I tried on-campus counseling for my anxiety; I tried meditation and yoga because I thought maybe I just needed to calm down. I even thought about getting medication. During counseling, I was having some relief, but I still didn’t feel satisfied. I still felt like something was missing. That year I prayed, studied my Bible, and loved myself the hardest I had in a very long time. By my senior year, I was taking much better care of myself. What I realized was that I needed to pour myself into loving my God and He would help me love myself. I’ve always known that, but I had never really known it until that year. That was the year I started this blog – to share the renewed joy I had found.

I have never been more right about something in my life – that more prayer and Godly focus was what I needed.  I had always believed this was the case, but I was in a rut that I needed help getting out of. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Counseling jump-started the process – helped me get out of myself – and God led me to the end. By my junior year of college, I had a new-found confidence, a boyfriend who would [exactly two years] later be my husband, and pure joy in the Lord. I had found contentment in myself and my God, instead of the world. It’s beautiful how much I can see God’s plan working when I let Him take control. Trust me, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

The summer before my senior year of college. Sure, I was in my favorite place, but I had pure joy glowing from my smile!
The summer before my senior year of college. Sure, I was in my favorite place, but I had real joy glowing from my smile!

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t still have my own struggles – that I don’t still have bouts with insecurity or anxiety. I do. What I am saying is that God, my friends, and my brothers and sisters in Christ have made those burdens so much lighter. I now truly believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). I’m able to write this to people I don’t even know – and may never know – because I’m confident in my God’s abilities, and I want everyone to know that. My self-esteem doesn’t come from my clothes (although I like having pretty clothes), it doesn’t come from the people who surround me, or the popularity I have; it comes from God. My individuality comes from my born-again identity in Christ. And it comes from the love He had to sacrifice His Son for me. For my self-doubt and my God-doubt. God wants me in heaven with Him one day, and that’s better than all of the physical beauty, worldly individuality or popularity anyone could ever have.

IMG_3416

3 Things I’m Learning Through Marriage

As a lot of you know, I got married almost 3 months ago. It’s been the best almost 3 months of my life so far, but like everything else, it definitely comes with those famous life lessons. Both my husband I learn something new about each other every day.

1) Patience is everything. John Mark and I love each other very much, but being with another person 98% of the time does require patience. We pray for patience in everything every day (and thankfully he consistently reminds me to be aware of tests of my patience every day). Impatience sneaks up on you. It hides in your bad moods and then right when you need the most patience, it shows itself. We live in a very small apartment, which is actually a blessing. We’re always bumping into each other in our tiny kitchen or both trying to get ready in one room to go to worship services. If you know me, you also know tiny places are NOT my favorite places. Even though I’m a tiny person, I like to be able to have plenty of moving and breathing room (all very neatly organized), so this is probably this biggest patience-tester. Too add to it, I like constant communication; he just likes being in the same room. We organize things in very different ways; we like very different foods. Now, don’t get me wrong. None of these are bad things! And they’re completely expected when people decide to get married. We literally signed ourselves up for it. 😉 But compromises have to be made and patience with the help of our God is required.

2) Never, ever let yourself stay in a bad mood. You know how being around that person at school or work or wherever who’s always grumpy can automatically grate at your nerves, leading to your very own bad mood? Marriage is exactly the same! No matter what’s bothering you, you can’t let it ruin your attitude or your day because it will rub off on your spouse (or at least end up hurting their feelings) and nobody wants to two frustrated people in one place. That doesn’t make for a healthy home life. I like to tell people, “I have a lot of feelings.” I’m easily unsettled, frustrated, and annoyed – but I’m also easily amused, excited, and made happy! At any rate, this one is something I really have to work at if I don’t want to make his day miserable, as well. I believe that this can show him that I appreciate him and all of the hard work he does for our little family. Be considerate by being happy.

3) Communication cures most problems. We don’t argue very often – rarely, even. But if we ever do, it’s only because we have failed to communicate in some area. This happens in every type of relationship. Imagine if we all communicated perfectly with each other – wouldn’t life be at least half of a piece of cake? I think so! John Mark and I are open books, which is something I’ve always loved about our relationship. Talking about everything is extremely helpful. Talk about your fears, loves, hates, excitements, problems, or just about what happened during the day! So far I’ve been a stay-at-home wife (looking to be a work-at-home wife in the near future), so I don’t usually have much going on during my day except household chores, grocery shopping, getting dinner ready, and trying to get everything organized so our home is as neat and frustration-free as possible. I’m thankful that this is something I can do because I get to create a happy environment thats ready whenever he arrives home from work each day. I try to stay positive and present myself with a good attitude when he gets home – because, hey, this is a form of communication, as well! I also make a point to ask him how is day went every day as he does the same. Even just a smile can cheer the other up. To me, it’s the little things.

I know I have so many more lessons to learn as the years go by and I, by no means, know it all, but these are some of the most valuable ones I’ve already been learning in the first 2.5 months of marriage. I think these are just basic, everyday relationship skills that everyone needs to remember, but I’ve found they’re even more helpful within the marriage relationship – which is absolutely beautiful!

So, what about you? Any married people out there have more tips or realizations? Talk to me in the comment box below! 🙂

Photo courtesy of Elles Photography: ellesphoto.net

what-im-learning-through-marriage

Takeout Box of Kittens

I’m fairly new to creative nonfiction, but I love the freedom it gives me to write about experiences my family, friends, and I had without having a set structure. When I began exploring creative nonfiction, I thought it was only stories about life. But it goes deeper than that. Creative nonfiction can be a teacher, a friend, a comfort, or simply a good read. It goes beyond writing and into the realm of deep thinking.

This is an experimental creative nonfiction piece I originally wrote for school in April. It’s about an experience I had when I was young that I tried to connect to a bigger picture; it’s one of only a few creative nonfiction pieces I’ve written.


Takeout Box of Kittens

As my mom and I drove past my dad’s printing company, we saw a box. Just a small, red takeout box turned upside-down on the parking lot, under the big, familiar awning. We went there every day, but usually we didn’t see litter. My mom said she hoped it was nothing bad, and she decided that we should pull over and pick it up because it made the parking lot look trashy, in turn making my family’s business look trashy. “Who would have left something like this here?” she said. Her tone said “yuck” and her face said “I’m appalled.” So, we pulled into the lot. Leave it to my mom to leave a parking lot looking spotless.

She pulled in and parked diagonally because no one was there, and we wouldn’t be long. It didn’t take her long to rush out of the car and over to the box, with me tagging along behind her like I always did. As we got closer to the box, we heard a small squeak coming from underneath it, and I think we even saw it move, but that could have been my imagination. We looked at each other skeptically. Surely there couldn’t be something alive under that disgusting box. I think my first thought was “Food is making a noise?” followed shortly by “probably a mouse or something.” Most of my memory of this moment is blurred except for getting out of the car and standing behind my mom, peeking around her because this felt like a big deal to me. It felt like we were doing something dangerous or even that there was something dangerous under the box, ready to jump out at any moment. It was kind of like an adventure to me. I think I had seen too many movies.

We walked a little closer to the box and I said, “That sounds like a cat.” When I said it, I didn’t think I’d be right. She hesitated. Then she picked up the box, still looking at it like a monster with three heads. But as she turned it over, sure enough, there were three kittens, probably only days old. One was black, one was spotted, and the other was gray. They were matted and scared, pawing helplessly, and their eyes weren’t even open yet.

Once mother cats have weaned their babies off of their own milk, they try to teach them to hunt for food or want them to start eating solid food instead of drinking milk. They want them to learn to be disciplined enough to live on their own after roughly ten weeks, according to The Nest. If they’re wild cats, the mother will teach them how to hunt outside. If they live inside, she might move them near the food bowl so they know what to expect and what to try to eat. She wants to put them near solid food to make their transition easier. Around ten weeks old, they can begin the transition to living on their own.

At this point I was thirteen and I needed to know how to start transitioning to making decisions on my own. I would also be more surrounded by things my mom couldn’t control, but I was still dependent on her for because I hadn’t fully grown up.

I still stood behind her with jumbled thoughts going through my mind. I took most things I did pretty seriously, and I was always worried about the next decision I’d have to make: school, friends, whether or not I should tell my mom I wanted to quit piano lessons, and now these kittens. I wasn’t really sure what how to feel about this, but I remember being angry at whoever abandoned them and sad because I thought it was inevitable that they would die. Is it really that hard to take them to a shelter instead of dumping them in parking lot like trash? Luckily, my mom made this next decision for me. She decided it would be a good idea for me to take care of them, probably as a learning experience or just something for me to play with because they didn’t look diseased, but mostly likely the first answer.

So, I took them home even though my dog Sammy wasn’t too happy about that, and my brother is allergic to cats. I took care of them anyway because I thought Sammy needed to learn to have visitors of all kinds. I snuck them past him quickly, even though I knew he caught their scent, and followed me, wagging his tail all the way to the back of the house. We told my dad and brother as soon as we got home, and they thought this was a random experience, but it was a great idea to take care of the kittens.

As much as I wanted to, I didn’t name them. “We can’t get attached,” my mom said. I still needed to find a place to keep them. The best place we could find for them was the little screened porch on the back of our house. We got a bigger, cardboard box, filled it with old blankets, and let them sleep in it. I think it was either spring or summer, so they wouldn’t have gotten to cold back there, plus it was the best place so that Sammy didn’t try to eat them before I could save them. I knew he would try because I saw him kill a baby squirrel once in the backyard.

For three weeks I took care of my new little friends, and I almost felt a motherly instinct come out even at age thirteen. I bottle-fed them warm milk in the mornings, after I got home from school, and then before I went to bed every night. It was no easy task making sure I gave them all just as much as they needed before leaving them alone. My mom made sure I took care of my new responsibilities along with my homework. Every morning I would go back out there, feed them, and rub their little heads before I left them alone for the day. What I didn’t know then was that my mom was teaching me responsibility, teaching me to be a mother, and I never even knew it, so I couldn’t even whine about it. This was a task I actually enjoyed.

By ten weeks old, kittens probably already know how to hunt and take care of themselves. At first, the mother might not know what to do, and some say she will even roam around the house looking for her babies. But once she realizes that they aren’t there, it isn’t too hard for her to let go and let them go off into the world on their own. Kittens, on the other hand may be more confused when they have to leave their mothers because they don’t yet know what to do since they have been more used to being dependent on another animal to show them how to live.

I always made sure to play with them and cuddle them because they didn’t have a mother to welcome them to the world. I thought they must have known they were left alone for who-knows-what to happen to them. So I had to love them. After a week or so, I saw got to see their eyes finally open, and this was amazing to me. I had taken care of these kitten to the point where they could even walk on their own. I took care of them so much that I forgot my cardboard, blanketed box isn’t where they were going to stay. Eventually I would have to take them somewhere else and trust a different family to take care of them if they stayed healthy. I realized why my mom said we couldn’t get attached – because we couldn’t keep them.

When the time came – when they were big enough, and their bellies were full enough, my mom and I went together to take two of them to the animal shelter. One of my friends had decided she wanted the little black one, so she took it home the day before. I gathered up the two that were left in their box with the blankets we gave them, loaded everything in the car, and went to shelter.

We walked into the big room full of animals in cages; I had my box of kittens in hand and a sinking feeling in my stomach. I looked around, taking in the horror and wished even more that I could keep the kittens. I wasn’t sure if they would be able to make it in this loud, unfriendly place. My mom explained the situation to the workers, her tranquil voice trying to reach above meowing, barking, and yelping. They agreed to take the kittens, and told us that the shelter would try to find them a home as soon as they could. They said that usually people would rather take the babies than the older animals, so they had a good chance. I doubtfully handed over the box of kittens I mothered back to health with tears welling up in my eyes. I was uncomfortable handing them over to a stranger after being their mother for three weeks. The rest of this story is blurry to me except for the drive down the hill, away from the building. After my mom and I made sure they would be taken care of and given to a good home, we left the shelter.

It seems like driving is always the worst part of a situation – a recurrent theme in my life, and a result of my sentimental nature. There’s either anticipation about where I’m going or the anticipation of the future once I leave.

As we got in the car, our eyes overflowed with tears. We didn’t speak as we drove away, and I think my crying made her cry, too. We seemed to both have a silent reflection, and we laughed in the middle of our tears, as we always do because we feel like we look silly. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but I realized later that I think she loved the kittens as much as I did.

Unlike the human mother, the cat mother won’t always recognize her baby after going long periods of time seeing it. Because they no longer have a similar nesting smell, it’s harder for them to recognize who each other is. They will treat each other as strangers. But if the mother and babies stay together, it’s said that their bond only grows stronger, much like my mom and me, and even other children and their parents. The cats may form social groups and work together to raise any new litters of kittens that come along, as I like to think my mom and I will do when I have kids. I already was feeling that maternal instinct to take care of the kittens.

I think my mom even loved seeing me grow up a little bit. Since then, when I’ve brought this up, she’s told me how great it was that I took care of them, even telling me, “You nursed them back to health! You were a good little mom.” I’ve realized how proud she is of me in everything I do, not just because of kittens.

My mom and I seem to have a similar relationship to cat families. There’s the recurrent theme of motherly nurturing and discipline together. When I was a kid, I was dependent just like kittens. I needed all the help I could get to learn how to properly function in the world. That’s what I think is so important about this event in my life. Like the cat relationship, if human mothers and children don’t have these kinds of moments, and don’t allow themselves to spend time around their mothers, they can lose touch and lose that familiar feeling they once had with their child.

If they’re sent away like strangers, they will come back acting like strangers, and they won’t be recognized as the children their parents are used to knowing. Once human babies grow up and have their own babies, they can work with their mothers as a team to raise the new additions. The relationship between human mothers and their babies, no matter how distant, isn’t meant to be breakable, especially if it’s allowed to nurture and grow. Universally, the maternal instinct between mothers and children is something that might not only have to be understood after you have a child for yourself; it’s something that starts forming long before then. Maternal instincts are almost built into us. We just have to train ourselves to know what to do with it.

The instinct women have to take care of their children is so similar to cat mothers, and it might even be universal. These weren’t human babies; they were cats, and I still felt the need to raise them myself. I didn’t know then that this moment would be something that I treasured or learned, but as soon as we left that shelter, something had changed.