3 girls in a hardware store

I need you to imagine a beautiful Christmas tree. Picture strategically placed ornaments, twinkling lights, branches flocked with snow and glistening diamonds reflecting off the tree. Now imagine the majestic pine toppling over.

From the other room, a friend and I watched as one guy repeatedly lifted the tree like one would pluck a turnip from the ground. After several times, we finally decided to investigate. A closer look led us to a full-blown operation. Two guys under the tree and my little friend delivering orders. Apparently, the tree stand broke sending her creation into the wall.

Three of us girls rallied up and headed to purchase a new stand. My very determined friend spotted them right away. We collectively decided that the most expensive one was the only way to go. Besides, it came with a “limited lifetime warranty.” Whatever that means.

She proceeded to tell us that she also wanted to prop up the tree to make room for presents. All she kept saying was, “we need wood, the kind that’s stacked.” Absolutely stumped, we brought in two poor unsuspecting lumber guys. With our five minds attempting to decode what she wanted, we finally came to the realization that she wanted a pallet.

A few laughs and head scratches later we found some. Only they were way too big and would cost an additional $15. The guys must have been bored or felt pity because they mentioned a smaller pallet size usually thrown away but a manager needed to be paged.

Without hesitation, the words slipped out, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always, no.” A phrase my step-dad would often share. They got a small bout of inspiration and decided to ask on our behalf.

So we waited. Half expecting rejection but to our surprise, the manager said, yes! There we were… three happy girls strutting down the aisles with our shiny new stand and 2 FREE pallets.

I share this story because my friend is tenacious in everything she does. I admire that about her. She puts her mind to something and makes it happen. I think that’s what gave me the boldness to speak up. Watching her relentless pursuit of getting what she wanted, left me with no choice but to be on her side.

How often do we just give up or settle? How many times do we pay the extra $15 for something we didn’t even really want? Friend, we have got to stop folding and start persisting. Did we bug some of the employees? Probably. Did we look silly and open ourselves to rejection? Definitely. But we also ended the evening re-decorating an elevated tree.

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Dirty Little Secrets

I’ll always give you just enough of my story but never the rigid details. I’d love to take a nail file to smooth out the sharp edges but it would take years to sleek. The parts that still sting when touched. So when you ask, I quickly answer with something superficial just to get you off my back.

How much do we really let others in? When people ask how we are, an automated reply slips through our lips before we actually give it thought. Because giving an honest answer could crack open a dungeon of paraphernalia. Once exposed, debris of information just might get into the wrong hands.

Does anyone know that you cry yourself to sleep?
Does anyone know you had an abortion?
Does anyone know you were abused?
Does anyone know you lost the love of your life?
Does anyone know you throw up your meals?
Does anyone know how much you hate your reflection?
Does anyone know you want to die?
Does anyone know about the bottle of pills you have, just in case?
Does anyone know you are gay?
Does anyone know you can’t remember the name of the person you had sex with?

Yeah. Let’s go there. Let’s talk about that.

You see my friend, you aren’t as alone as you think. These questions have all been answered yes many times before because incredible people have shared their stories with me.

As honored as I am to have been trusted with such information, I can’t help any of them. Yes, I listened. Yes, I love them. Yes, I care and cry and hurt with them. However, I cannot take any of their pain away any more than I can smooth the edges of my jagged past.

That’s just it, though. None of us are meant to fill voids in another’s life. So, I nudge you toward the only one who can, Jesus.

I know His people get a bad wrap. They are called hypocrites, liars, they can be extremely judgmental and rude. I only know because I am one of them. As much as I try, I just can’t seem to get it right all of the time.

I risk introducing you to all of this because Jesus isn’t the problem. He isn’t any of those things. He is loving, forgiving, intentional and direct. He loves you so much that He doesn’t want you to live in that scary dungeon anymore.

It isn’t easy. In fact, that door just might feel like it weighs 704 pounds and you cannot do it alone. Find some people who care. When that still isn’t enough, look to see that Jesus is there waiting to rip that door right off its hinges. Not ready to expose and laugh, but to expose and cover you with love and compassion only He can give.

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There’s still hope

Up until recent building, our home was near an open field. Critters, including mice, would make their way into our garage. One day, when cleaning out junk, we discovered a nest of six disgusting newborn mice.

They needed to be killed. A fact I understood but, for some reason I stared at them and began to ugly cry. You know the kind when your face scrunches and the others around can’t help but laugh? That is exactly what happened. My husband and soon to be sister- in- law lost it. Their laughing made me laugh but the tears just kept coming.

Something about those helpless and hopeless mice got to me. I think it was knowing that they were born for nothing. So, as morbid and dramatic as it sounds, I used a cardboard to place them on the other side of the fence. I knew my heroic efforts wouldn’t make a difference it but maybe they could have just a little hope at life? Or at the very least, become food to help an owl.

I read a passage today in Ecclesiastes that says, “For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope.”

As long as you are alive my friend, you have hope. Life may feel hopeless and you might feel worthless, but as long as you have life, you have a chance. Learn to laugh at your silly mistakes and learn to change from the big ones. Start over when you fail and try something else if “it” doesn’t work. If someone hasn’t told you today, I believe in you, and you are loved more than you will ever know.

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African Adventures

My trip to Africa comes in sporadic memories. Twelve days in a foreign country and different time zone tends to blur some things. So please bear with me as I do my best to describe the indescribable.

When I close my eyes the first memory is a twelve-year-old girl’s imperfect yet bright smile. I looked right into her chocolate eyes as she embraced me, a complete stranger. Joy radiated from every part of her and for the first time in years, I felt peace.

What many people don’t know is that over ten years ago I felt a pull to take a trip to Africa. I learned of these children who they called “throwaway kids” children with HIV or AIDS. For nearly a decade, I waited and hoped to one day meet them.

This was my moment.

Children flooded around me as I felt more love than I had ever in my entire life. It was true, it was pure, it was unconditional. Just like the love only Jesus can give.

For years I have lived guilt ridden and ashamed of a past I thought I let go. Unintentionally punishing myself for the lack of “Christian” qualities I possessed. Weighed down with church rituals, Bible Studies and an image of what I thought leadership to be. Nothing like what I felt when those kids wrapped their arms around me. Nothing like the life of freedom that Jesus offers.

I didn’t experience miracles or see crazy things. I did see love though and that is the point. There is no way to sound less “creepy” or “weird” because to be honest, being a Christian is just that- weird. However, I risk the awkwardness to share a couple of things I know to be true- I know had to have been God.

We visited a hospital. It looked more like a prison or something you would see on a movie based on the projects. Concrete floors, pancake thin mattresses and the smell of must. In this place was a four-year-old girl whose parents just dropped her off. They left without visiting her tuberculosis filled little body.

The government is unlike ours in America, they don’t provide food or clothing to patients so she had nothing. Another team from our group brought her items to bring comfort. A doll, some food and of course their sweet smiles and kind hearts.

By the time I had the opportunity to visit, she was sitting alone in a hallway. Her illness preventing her from interacting with other patients. I felt compassion for this little one because she was sick and alone.

One of the greatest battles to fight when on a trip like this is to grasp the fact that everyone cannot be helped. We were able to help this one though and it was enough, at least in that moment.

Just shortly after, I came across a stunning nurse with bright blue eyes. We started a conversation and long story short, she was a Christian who had also been praying to be used by God that day. She invited us to go down into the maternity ward to pray for a woman who was just experiencing a miscarriage. Fear overwhelmed me.

For now, my story consists of infertility. So to go into a place where I knew what she was feeling was overwhelming. I felt her pain, I knew that there were no words to bring comfort in such a time of grief. I only knew to hold her hand and cry. So here I was, 10,400 miles away from home, empathizing with a stranger.

But that’s not even the story I am leading up to. Across the way was another patient, also recovering from a miscarriage. We walked over and I had the strength for this one. I prayed for her and we left. Well, days later, our dear friend, Sim, another in our group ran into a friend she had met while in South Africa. He shared with her that his wife had just miscarried and she was also able to pray with him. Well, guess what? His wife was the woman we had prayed for just a day before. Jesus saw these two and wanted to comfort them separately and He used us to do it.

Our group was rather diverse. There was a Hispanic, several Caucasians, and a Sikh Indian. Somehow, we were all on this trip in a small town across our world in Cradock, South Africa. Here we also met a Chinese family who resides in this town and uses their wealth to serve children in the area. One of their works takes place at The Amy Bell Center. Each week, over 80 children are given meals 4 days a week after school. A bus picks them up and they get to spend 2 hours together.

A caretaker by the name of Nosiseko stole my heart. Her name means, foundation. It couldn’t be more fitting. We call her Mama. She is a beautifully joyful woman who has seen and felt much pain. With the most genuine heart and humorous spirit, she cares for these children at this hospice. These children who are either affected directly or indirectly by HIV and AIDS.

I couldn’t tell which of the 80 children had the disease. I am thankful for my ignorance because my privilege would only allow me to feel pity instead of seeing them for who they really are, just another child wanting to play. With few options on how to occupy their time, many unfortunately turn to drugs or alcohol. However, in the heart of this town lives a leader unlike any other I have met.

Wandy is a seventeen-year-old boy who has taken it upon himself to start a dance and singing group. He shared with me that he lost his father just three years ago and wanted to honor him by living for Jesus. Instead of turning to other substances, he chose to sing and dance. They can really sing! This was another answered prayer of mine. That we would find a leader there to support after we were gone.

The trip had its challenges. It would be unfair and dishonest to leave these parts out. Different personalities, illness, pride and just plain old human emotions got in the way sometimes. Frustration often flooded my mind until I reminded myself of one simple phrase- It’s not about you.

If there is one thing I left Africa with it is a sense of complete gratitude. A thankful heart for the many blessings I have been given. I refuse to feel guilty for them but instead choose to use this advantage to commit myself to be better. I want to give more, waste less and honestly, just simplify my life.

I refuse to complain about the holes in my carpet when I saw homes with dirt floors. I refuse to complain about what to wear when these kids had so little. I also choose to love life and live it to the fullest. I choose to chase after Jesus every day and if I get the chance to share it with others, I am taking it!

Africa, I will never get over you.

I will never forget your decluttered sun, endless sky, and boundless pasture. When I close my eyes I see the khaki blades of grass swiftly swaying in the wind. Just as the earth should be. Just as it was intended. I want to live as free and as plain as this.

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An open letter to the king of the universe

I walk a tightrope. Caught right in the middle of faith and fear. One misstep might prove that I don’t actually believe. I am ill equipped and untrained for this act.

Generally the ring leader of encouragement, I struggle to find the words to lift my own head. I feel a pressure to be strong when inside I am helpless and weak. 

To some, it seems like a cop out as though I am not trusting God. As if I don’t have enough faith or patience. But I do believe in Him and in His promises. I trust in His word.

I also know that things don’t always work out the way we hope. I also know that sometimes, the answer to prayers is, no. Sometimes, healing doesn’t happen. Sometimes, people are just sick. This is real life. The part that feels like an empty pit. The parts that I so desperately avoid.

As an innate optimist, I find positivity draining from my very soul. I search to refill, and wait for answers but hear only a steady drip into a tin bucket. Emptiness.

I cannot tell if you are telling me, no, or if my deepest fears are screaming loud enough to drown out your voice. I try to quiet my mind but the restless ache in my heart brings unwanted tears.

In the midst of all this, routines must be kept. I cannot stop to feel or cry or break. I have to move forward because I know that one day, you will answer me, and I don’t want to have wasted time wallowing. Help me to find strength in you. Teach me to move forward while somehow remaining vulnerable to your will.

Somehow, Lord, you know the depths of my heart. You, Lord, see my need and know my steps. Your word is a lamp unto my feet.

I will wait for and trust that you have my best in mind. I will trust you because I know that you are unfailing, unwavering and your plan is better than my own. Your ways are higher and if that means the answer is, no, I will accept this path and walk the road less traveled. I praise you and thank you because you are deserving, not because you give me what I want.

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Mistaken Identity

And there they were in all their splendor, with golden hair and sharp teeth. I came far too close to four lions. It didn’t matter that there was a fence separating us because just yards away were magnificent creatures with the power to rip me to smithereens.

I was reminded of a story found in first Samuel. A story right before one of the greatest stories in the Bible of David and Goliath. During his moment of bravery, David reminisces about a time when he killed a bear and separately, a lion. He was a shepherd and it was his duty to protect his sheep.

When one was stolen by the beast, he did what no one in their right mind would. He pulled the lion by its beard, took back the sheep, then struck and killed it.

I find it hard to imagine someone this courageous. Someone willing to risk their life for an animal. But what if it was about more than saving a fluffy sheep? Maybe he was fighting for his identity, which just so happened to be a lowly shepherd at the time. He took pride in his duty and would do whatever it took to protect it.

At the end of the day, our identity is all we have. It is who we are when there isn’t an audience. As I stared at the lions and remembered David, I also remembered who I once was; A girl who believed she could change the world but my identity was no longer one I recognized. The fearless girl who once was so full of life and reckless joy had somehow grown consumed with an image of who I thought I needed to be for everyone else.

My reflection resembled a timid mouse walking on eggshells. Paranoid that if I did or said one wrong thing, I would misrepresent Jesus. But isn’t that just twisted? Jesus offers freedom and we put ourselves chains of religion? What kind of love is that? It isn’t. That my friends represents the image of fear and fear doesn’t come from the Jesus I know.

At the root of who David was lies something, we see throughout scripture. Passion. He fought in epic battles, killed lions and wrote poetry. True identity is the fact of being who you are without apologies. You can be both strong and vulnerable. It is necessary to feel empathy without pity. You can make improvements without degradation. Sure, you may have to face a few lions along the way, too, but isn’t that the point?

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Over 10,000 unread messages were in my email inbox and I am not exaggerating! I don’t know how all of these random messages ended up there. Retail sales, the expensive trip offers, new houses on the market and random fitness tips. I was overwhelmed and honestly annoyed. I tried searching for an email one day but there were so many to scroll through.

I finally decided after weeks of frustration to delete the stinking emails. I was confused as to where they were coming from so I did a little investigating.

Apparently, I gave every single one of these annoyances access to my account. It didn’t matter to them that in 1 year 578 emails were sent to me. I was clueless to the fact that there are settings and I can decide how many notifications I wish to receive. I was ignorant that it was MY responsibility to go in and uncheck the boxes. I was also unaware of one very important option.

Hidden at the very bottom of every email, written in the tiniest of fonts is the option to “UNSUBSCRIBE.” You have to look because it is hidden but it’s there.

All of this crazy reminded me of my brain. Thousands of thoughts wanted and unwanted enter all the time. I just let them stay there until one day, I realize I can’t find what I am looking for. I lose my keys, misplace my wallet, forget appointments and commitments. My mind is overflowing all of the time.

There is only so much space inside of our minds. What are you allowing into yours? It is our responsibility to delete the unwanted thoughts and “unsubscribe” to things that we don’t have room for. Take the time to sift through these thoughts and get rid of the junk mail.

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Let’s Talk About Porn

I was exposed to porn in sixth grade at a friend’s house. It stirred up curiosity as I wondered if every person’s body part looked like that. I wondered if every woman was supposed to express like that, to have big boobs, and blonde hair. I compared her perfectly plastic shape to my pre-pubescent cardboard chest.

So at 12 years old when I should be worrying about homework, I became concerned with the work it would take to look like her. Perfect timing because when a boy pointed out that my legs were just as hairy as his, I was already aware. Only in my house, shaving my legs wasn’t allowed yet. I went home and begged my mom to let me; she didn’t. A different boy ran up and grabbed my butt so I punched him. He said he was sorry and that it was a dare. He must’ve been in a struggle, too. Knowing it was wrong but fighting a battle of his own. Boys will be boys.

Only those boys become men. Whos sexual appetites grow. So women shouldn’t wear things to entice men? Should women be modest? Okay, fine but I also think men should be taught to control their urges.

There was a time in my life when I hated strippers and porn stars. In my mind, they were the problem. Until I learned about pimps and the sex slave industry. Then I grew to hate the men who could and would participate in degrading women. Then, I just hated sex altogether. It was everywhere and ruining everything!

For those of you who don’t know, the enemy is winning. He has taken something God created to be beautiful and turned it into a world of hidden masturbation and guilt. He has taken our innate desires and turned them into something used to control us.

The devil is a liar. Just because it is common, doesn’t make it standard. I have to challenge you to do something. Tell someone. Someone you can trust. You can be free. You can look at women the way God intended. You women, can look at yourself and see beauty. What a better way to keep us enslaved then to keep us in isolation?

Let’s talk about porn.

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9 Tips to Ease the awkwardness of Dating

Dating can be tough. We often create rituals in hopes to get a clear sign of who our “soul-mate” is. So we strategically pick flower petals and hope they will tell us if we are loved? The romantic world is confusing and frustrating but it doesn’t have to be. I want to give you a few things to consider when dating in hopes to make it a tad easier.

1. Find Yourself First
We are always evolving but there comes a point when we become grounded in who we are. Finding your own value system, belief system and what you want is critical. How can you expect to find “the one” if you don’t know what you need or want?

2. They Should Not Complete You
I hope you never have to experience either but life happens. Divorce happens and sadly, sometimes death happens. If you give the other person power to complete you, you risk being incomplete if they are gone. Learn to complement, sharpen and challenge one another. Find yourself improved because of them but don’t expect them to fulfill what you lack.

3. Set Boundaries
Setting both physical and emotional boundaries is a must when dating. Enter every relationship knowing your limits. You are valuable. Not just anyone should be trusted with your secrets or your body. Remember that you are in control of how much you are willing to give. Never let anyone make you feel guilty for this.

4. State Clear Expectations
If you are dating with the intention to marry, it should be made clear. Now, you don’t want to scare the person. If after a few dates you both find a common interest and it could be something more than friendship, then intentions should be discussed.

5. Don’t String People Along
It may be unintentional or on purpose but truth is, it feels nice to be wanted. It is also very selfish. If the other person is more interested in a future, it’s unfair to limit their chance of finding someone who will value them. Your character is at stake and lets’ face it, no one wants to be labeled the “ tease” or to be known for stringing people along.

6. Learn When to Let Go
We might start with certain intentions but somewhere along the way, it changes. Don’t stay stuck out of obligation or pity. It will be uncomfortable but being upfront with the other person is always best. If you notice more fighting, less communicating or are wanting completely different things out of life, it might be time to move on. Instead of trying to force something or change the other person reevaluate the situation.

7. Be Picky
Annoyances and frustrations are a given. Make sure your values line up. Discuss and find that your goals and ambitions for the future will work out. You wouldn’t want to get into a marriage only to find out that you will be hindering each others growth. It is healthy to be a little selfish in this area. You better be darn sure that at the end of the day you will be able to work through the hard times. Also, it is a must to be attracted to one another. I mean, sex is a big part of it all.

8. Stop Looking For Perfection
We all have flaws. One day, you will meet someone whose flaws you are willing to accept.

9. Enjoy Being Single
This is the really hard part. The waiting, wishing, hoping and longing. The lonely nights and often mundane days. It is ok to want a spouse to love and be loved by. However, you will never get these single days back. Marriage is fun and amazing but singleness can be, too.

My friend, you are wonderful. Quirks, talents, and interests make you unique. Never change for anyone unwilling to accept you. Consider the tips mentioned so when the time comes, it will be that much sweeter.

Simply live your life to the fullest and one day, you will find another who has been waiting for you, too.

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Several succulents, cacti, and other beautiful plants were given as gifts on my birthday. I was thrilled with my new little collection because they made my counter so much happier!

Not too long after, the petals wilted, the succulents started to dry up and the cactus even leaned over! I knew nothing about how to take care of them. I mean seriously, who kills a cactus? Poor little guys had no chance.

It wasn’t until someone educated me about the right amount of water, proper soil and perfect exposure to sunlight. Each needed to create the perfect conditions for thriving plants.

Much like these plants, we need the right conditions to grow, too. We go through life trying to survive— my dear you were made for so much more. Learn to thrive! Here are two questions to get you started.

1)How is your soil?

The environment we plant ourselves into does matter. We so often overlook this critical aspect and are confused as to why we aren’t thriving.

Sometimes we find ourselves wilted, dry or overwatered. In the event that any or all of these things happen, we become diseased or even worse, dead. There isn’t much help for a dead plant, except to reseed and replant. Start over. This time, with more knowledge.

You, my friend, have a purpose. Plant yourself and learn what it takes to help you grow to your fullest potential. Maybe it looks like finishing school, getting a certificate, finishing a project, beginning something new, learning to fail or maybe you need to step out of the sunlight for a moment and rest in the cool of the shade. Whatever the perfect conditions are for personal growth, learn and apply them.

2) Who is pruning you?

Pruning is a process in which the “gardener” will trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth. Yet another important aspect of healthy plants I was ignorant to.

We all have areas that need to be trimmed. Maybe we spend too much time on social media or in the mirror, in front of the TV or on your phone? Maybe you complain too much, are lazy or say too many negative things about yourself? All areas that might need pruning.

I ask who is pruning you because we can allow others to prune us too much. We give them the power to cut us down until there is nothing left. Or are we doing it to ourselves? Pruning is intended to help growth and fruitfulness, not to uproot and destroy!

My friend, plants are beautiful and have so much purpose. They breathe in the negative and exhale life. I challenge you to learn more about yourself so you can grow and reach your best! Not only for yourself but so others can enjoy, too!

Happy Planting.

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