Misc. · Practical

A Look at How I Journal

old journal stackWhen most people find out that I keep a journal, their response is along the lines of: “Wow, that’s impressive; every time I’ve tried to keep a journal it just hasn’t worked.” It’s always an interesting response to me, because I don’t believe a person can “fail” at journaling. It’s something you do for yourself: recording whatever you want to, however you want to, whenever you want to. There shouldn’t be any pressure to make your journal anything but the space you want it to be for you.

In the spirit of that, I wanted to share how I personally use my journal. Not simply to give you ideas, but also to encourage you about how limitless, personal, and valuable a practice it can be in your life.

What I Write

There are a few things I (currently) record in my journal through words and writing.

Gratitude lists. If you’ve known me for nearly any length of time, you know that I don’t shut up about gratitude [and if you didn’t know that, you can read this]. Cultivating a grateful heart has completely changed my life in the best ways. The only thing that is a guarantee for me to journal every day is a list of the things I’m grateful for throughout the day. Writing these lists is the highest form of self-care for me, and re-reading them over time is a delight all over again.

When I wake up, I write the day’s date, pen the words “Thank you for:” in the corner, and start bullet points down the side of the page. I fill in the list as things come, or in a moment when I need to focus on building up the good. Sometimes the list will fill the page, other times I’ll draw a dotted line to make it a separate column from something else I’m putting in. I don’t have a minimum or maximum daily count; I just let it happen naturally and allow myself to be pleasantly surprised.DSC00314

Scripture reading log. I don’t follow a reading plan. I tried to in the past, and sometimes it worked for me, but often the plan would ask me to read too much in one sitting, or would make studying scripture feel like something to check off my to-do list instead of something to pour myself into. Right now, I simply read one chapter of the Bible a day. There are some days I don’t read the Bible, such as when I had pulled a near-all-nighter doing homework in college and could feel my eyes closing but was still reaching for my Bible when I heard clearly in my spirit: “Tessa– go to bed. Your mental health matters to me. We talked today, it’s fine.”

I decide which book to read by alternating between the Old Testament and New Testament in their orders. Recently I finished reading Numbers, and I am now reading Matthew; next I will read Deuteronomy, then Mark, and so on. If it’s a more difficult book to read, such as the books of the Law, I will also read a Psalm.

In terms of recording my scripture study, I pen a bracket and the name of the book and chapter I’m reading that day. As I read, if something stands out to me, if I have thoughts, or if something confused me and I did some research, I will write notes on those things or even process them through writing. Once I’m done, I pen the other bracket at the end. Sometimes, there are days I read the chapter and simply don’t have anything to say about it. In those cases, I will still pen the other bracket after the book name and chapter, so I remember I read it. It’s okay to not “get something” out of scripture every time you read it; desire to learn is already a delight to Him.

“Proper” journal entries. When I have a lot of feelings I need to sort through or when something happens in my life that I want to remember, I write a journal entry that resembles what most people probably think of when they picture journaling: straight up writing, stream-of-consciousness.

I think what intimidates most people about keeping a journal, what makes them feel like they’ve “failed” to keep theirs, is that they imagine they need to write entries like this every day. I definitely don’t write entries like this every day; I only write them when I want to, when I have something to say or process. If I tried to write entries like this every day, I would probably start getting discouraged and feel like my life was boring! They’re helpful and enjoyable when they’re written out of desire rather than duty. I just write what I care about; it isn’t for anyone but myself, so there’s no pressure.

Drafts. Occasionally, if I want to write something for my blog but am unsure about how much of my personal story and feelings to include, I’ll write the first draft in my journal. Sometimes it truly is a first draft. But sometimes, once I’ve gotten it all out in my journal, that’s where it stays, because that ends up being the best place for it to live. Starting blog posts in my journal has become a healthy habit for me because, to be honest, I’ve probably avoided some conflicts by doing it.flowers and journal

Book notes. Every once in a while, I will read a book so impactful that I want to take notes on it. When that’s the case, I write the name and author of the book, then below that I’ll record quotes or what I’m learning. When I stop reading for that sitting, I might write down which chapter(s) I read in case I want to find something in context again. I draw a little swirly line to separate my book notes from any other journal entry that might go on that page. It’s interesting to re-read later and see how my book notes have similar themes to my regular journal entries and scripture studies from the same timeframe.

Beginning-of-the-year thoughts. I don’t really set goals at the beginning of the year, but I do like to dedicate the first page of the year to writing out a few hopes for it. If I start a new journal in the middle of the year (which is a guarantee for me because I fill them with so much), I rewrite those hopes on the first page of the journal as a reminder.

Calendar notes. I have a calendar on my desk and do not at all ask my journal to function that way, but I do like to make a note of holidays, birthdays, and milestones next to the day’s date, just so I can easily remember if I look back.

[I also use a prayer journal and a poetry journal, but I like to keep those separate from the rest of my writing.]

How I Decorate

A colorful, thrown-together journal might not work for everyone, but it adds some extra sunshine to my life to be able to decorate my pages. Most of my decorations end up serving a purpose, too! I use a few different things.

Quotes. I’ve always collected quotes from anywhere I find them, so incorporating them into my journal pages makes a lot of sense for me, and also makes it a bit easier to find one if I want to go back to it.

I write them on any blank spot on the page I’m currently using. I prefer to use fun gel pens or markers, but if I only have my simple black pen with me I don’t mind using that, either. Cursive hand lettering looks pretty regardless of the pen you’re using.

I don’t really go looking for quotes to add in, because I regularly find a good amount that leave an impression on me in everyday life– from songs I hear, tweets, Pinterest, books or blog posts I read (I don’t often take notes on whole books like I mentioned earlier, but sometimes there are just lovely lines, aren’t there?), movies I watch, Tyler Knott Gregson’s poetry blog (swoon), and anything else relevant for me at the time.

Photos. At the end of every month, I look through my photos and print out a few highlights from that month to make a page or two into a mini scrapbook. I write “[Month] Moments” at the top of the page, arrange the photos to my liking, attach them with regular scotch tape rolled on the back, then add any little commentary I want to below the photos. Sometimes I won’t have a photo from something that happened, so I’ll bullet point those moments somewhere on the page. If there are photos from a particular event and I also have a little memento from it, such as a concert ticket or wristband, I like to pair those together.DSC00457DSC00323

If I have strips from a photo booth, I like to add those into my journal, too, but I probably wouldn’t wait until the end of the month. I would instead just add them when I got them, on the journal page from that day. I do the same with movie tickets.

Apart from my monthly scrapbook page, I regularly add in a random photo or two to most of my journal pages, simply because it brings me a little burst of joy; I’m very visual and love having lovely images around me. These random photos aren’t usually my own, instead I scroll through my Pinterest and find a handful that I want to print out. I print them wallet-sized on regular office paper from my home printer and save them in an envelope I’ve attached to the back page of my journal (if the journal doesn’t have a built-in pocket) until I want to use one. Sometimes the photo fills in an empty space on the page, other times I add the photo first and work around it. How I execute all my creative journal additions depends on my mood, which I like, because my feelings seem to be reflected on the page visually even if I didn’t write a journal entry about how I felt.journal spread photos

Washi tape, doodles, & stickers. These things generally serve as space fillers and just add a nice bit of color and interest to the pages.oooooooooooooo

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my journal, and that maybe you’ve even found a spark of inspiration for your own. Don’t succumb to any pressure you feel to be a daily writer, or make every page a work of art, or do anything a certain way. Just do it for you.

Do you journal? What works well for you? What about it makes you happy?

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Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

flower walk, pink and treesGod knows how to love you.

He knows what’s going to reach you. He knows how to show you love in a way that will connect with you and make its truest mark on you.

He doesn’t love like people do.

People have loved you, but not perfectly. Sometimes, their love has manifested as dominance and even control. And it scares you, makes you build your invisible boundaries so that people can see you but can’t know you. You are open and honest and don’t hide your true self from anyone… but never do you give yourself to anyone. You let them see, but don’t let them touch. Because if they can touch, they can hurt. You don’t want that to happen to you anymore. So you hold up your invisible boundaries, so that you are visible but not truly vulnerable.

You know love is giving. That love is always a risk. But the cost… you’re not sure you’re truly willing to pay it.

She tells you that to love is to be willing to be broken for their sake. And that in order to be loved, you must make yourself vulnerable to receive what they give… which makes you vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. You know she’s right. You want to listen to her.

But you realize that in your efforts to keep people from controlling you, you have begun to act controlling toward them. You’ve learned to maneuver conversations and interactions so that you can keep anyone at a subtle distance, to protect against the chance of them hurting you. And when He shows you that you’ve even extended that to how you relate with Him… it terrifies you. Because who is He, truly, if He isn’t the image you’ve crafted of Him for yourself? If you can’t ignore pieces of Him and pretend He’s someone He might not be?

You pray a prayer you can feel the danger pulsating throughout: “Reveal your true self to me. Help me to accept the way you want to love me, even if it’s not a way I’d ask for.”

He starts answering. But not in ways you expected. And you even expected the unexpected.

He shows you a young man. One who is sweet and humble, but not without being strong and bold. The young man leaves soon, but not without searing that image in your mind. Part of you slowly begins to believe those things can coexist, gentleness and strength. Part of you begins to see that strength makes you feel small, but doesn’t have to in the ways it has before. Instead of intimidating and scaring you, this strength can make you feel safe. You don’t have to feel powerless. You can feel wrapped in it, and it can warm the winter in you. Among the wild mess inside you, there’s a moment of clarity, and you realize that is what’s happening.

You realize it is Him doing it.

You see that His love is meeting you in ways that will get through to you. He’s been going at your pace. Instead of demanding you change so that you can be loved, He has been entering what’s there, even your vices, and loving you. Not simply in it, but with it. Anything, He says, to be with you.

Anything to love you.

He knew what would reach you. You hid, but He still saw you and knew you. He became the shape that would fit the hole you’d found yourself in.

He knew the deep desires you barely knew existed in your heart, and He entered them, met them in ways you wouldn’t have thought. You didn’t think to want these things, because you didn’t believe you were the kind of person who would ever have them. But He brought love home to you, in a bouquet of flowers bigger and more elegant than anything you’d ask for. It blew you into wide-open wonder and gratitude. But you weren’t looking at the flowers when you thanked Him– you just looked at Him. You met His eyes with your teary ones, and you just looked at Him. Because He was the gift. He didn’t only give you flowers; He had given you His heart. Himself.

Love is giving. The giving of yourself for their sake. And He knows that more than anyone. He always has.

He’s been doing it right under your nose this whole time.

You thought you had to do the hard work of breaking down all the lies that live in your core before you could let yourself be loved. You tried to take steps to do so, and it was beautiful and brave of you. But He chuckles, and He murmurs into your ear that only one thing has ever been necessary.

All you had to do was lean into Him, and let Him love you.

So that’s what you do. You close your eyes, lean against His chest, feel Him wrap you close.

And you let Him love you.

“Simple trust is your participation.”   –Eve by Wm. Paul Young

Soul Food

Soul Food {May 2016}

sf may 2016

This year is moving by so fast! The events themselves seem to be slowly pulling along, but January feels so near and recent. Life is good even though it’s wild. Here are some of the things I took with me on the ride this month.

Music

  • Social Club Misfits. Fun yet truthful rap; listened to them pretty consistently this month. “Marriage Goals” and “The Misfit Generation” are my two favorites from their new ep.
  • “Fragile” by Jillian Edwards. Such a calm, sweet ballad that I want to wrap myself with and just rest in.
  • “Oh Sing Sweet Nightingale” from the Cinderella soundtrack. The nostalgia in this is a comfort, but even more than that, the beautiful, sweeping tune carries me away to a dreamy place.
  • “Grows Old” by Thirdstory. This made me gasp. The haunting, 50’s-inspired vibe paired with their incredible harmonies– gorgeous. Absolutely stunning.
  • “Poison & Wine”, “To Whom It May Concern”, “I’ve Got This Friend”“C’est La Mort” and “Disarm” by The Civil Wars. I know everyone already listens to them, but I just now got around to it, and wow… their homey, sentimental, poetic music is absolutely lovely. Obsessed. “I missed you, but I haven’t met you, oh but I want to…”
  • “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber, the Arman Cekin remix. I know I recommend a version of this song like every month, but I just keep happening upon good ones, man!
  • “Can’t Sleep Love” by Pentatonix, the Danny L Harle remix. So much fun to dance to oh my goodness!
  • “Goodbye” by Alyssa Baker. Somehow this song brings me back to growing up, and the kind of music and “I wonder if” feelings I was surrounded by when I was younger.
  • “Still Your Girl” by Fleurie. I aspire to make music as beautiful and dynamic as this.
  • “Waiting For My Time To Come” by Colony House. My boys always feel me.
  • NF’s “Therapy Session” album. First: I cannot think of a cooler name for an album. Second: wow he is real. The sincerity and passion had me sold three songs in. I also love the unique orchestral hints; he made it compliment rap very well. “How Could You Leave Us”“Breathe” and “All I Do” are my favorites, I think.
  • Authentic Fiction. The music-making persona of the one of a kind artist Jordan Watts, whom we lost three years ago. I found out that his loved ones released an album of his music (both finished tracks and raw takes) to honor him; it is such a gift. To still be able to hear his voice… I can’t put a price on it. He created such beautiful things. Listening to him gives me the best kind of heaviness in my chest. Find the album on iTunes and on Spotify. We love you so much, Jordan.

If you want all of this music in one convenient playlist, I gotchu! It has all my recommendations from 2016 so far, so the most recent are near the bottom.

Movies/YouTube/TV

  • Ant-Man. I didn’t really have expectations for it, but I ended up enjoying my experience with it so much! Interesting story, witty and charming characters, lines that genuinely made me laugh, and cool action that wasn’t gross. I will definitely be watching it again! [There is some language in it.]
  • Spiderman 2. The Tobey Maguire versions are cringey to me now, but I still can’t help loving them. Spiderman is my favorite, forever and ever. Also Mary Jane is just the worst, wake up, Peter.
  • My Neighbor Totoro. The artwork is beautiful. The characters have such a contagious joy for life and all the little things in it, and their story is just a fun, heartfelt, wondrous journey to step into. My brother has been recommending it to me forever and I finally listened; he, as usual, was right.
  • This video that Switchfoot and Relient K made to announce their upcoming tour. Absolute gold.
  • The music video for “Up&Up” by Coldplay. I recommended the song last month, but the video came out this month and it’s too incredible to not bring up. It is a piece of art.
  • The Mentalist. I don’t really watch TV, but you’ll catch me watching reruns of The Mentalist every week. Each character is absolutely wonderful, and it’s the least gruesome crime investigation show I’ve seen. Win.
  • This vine. Oh my word this vine.
  • This video of Jake Gyllenhaal and Jimmy Fallon spitting food at each other. I know: gross. But I was in genuine pain from laughing at this. The pie! THE PIE!
  • Sinbad: Legend of The Seven Seas. Nostalgic and mythology-filled.
  • Good Mythical Crew. Getting to see the behind the scenes shenanigans of the hilarious crew of a bizarre but great web show? My Saturday morning happiness.
  • Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? It’s always been one of my favorites (again, you can see how much TV I watch); just a cozy thing to nestle in and watch when I want to.
  • The Merrell twins being adorable and riding around in the car. They are the cutest people on the planet and I’d love to be friends with them!

Books/Blogs/Articles

  • “Jesus’ Flipping Tables Isn’t an Excuse for Your Online Rants” by Jesse Carey. The title pretty much says it all, but read the article anyway. People using this excuse for their anger in any context has always bothered me. God is God and we are not.
  • “I Went to a Strip Club” by Anna McCarthy. Love is for every single human on this earth, and we get to give it to them. I love this so much.
  • This article reporting on the science behind gratitude– how it literally rewires your brain. If you know me even a little bit, you know I am a huge advocate for gratitude as a lifestyle. I love seeing biology echo what Scripture and my own experience already prove to be true.
  • “Don’t Always Follow Your Conscience” by Andy Naselli. This was just interesting food for thought, the idea that sometimes our consciences have been trained in ways Scripture hasn’t told them to be. I’m still ruminating over it.
  • “Did God Give Me Cancer?” by Zack Hunt. This piece is beautiful. All could benefit from reading it, and from knowing who our God is and isn’t.
  • “What Happened When I Stopped Feeling Gulity for Wanting to Get Married” on Dear Wild Heart. Her church upbringing and experience mirror mine so much, and the more people I talk to the more I hear the chorus of “me, too” ringing out. This was a soft hug of encouragement and a kind reminder.
  • “Let The World Change You: A Commencement Address Do-Over” by Rachel Held Evans. Wow I relate to this. “I thought the world needed my answers, but as it turns out, I needed the world’s questions.”
  • “I Tried to Follow 8 Different High School Dress Codes & It Was Frustrating” by Kristin Chirico. I must admit: I go into big time mama bear mode when it comes to how people treat teenage girls. This article/experiment is such an interesting and important perspective to keep in mind when we consider our young women, and what we’re teaching them about who are they and their place in the world. She makes so many solid points.
  • I’m a failure of a bookworm, as my Goodreads reading challenge tells me every time I log on. But you can still follow me there if you want to see that I do in fact read books and have thoughts on them, even if I’m slow at it. Maybe this summer will be the turning point.

I’m taking part in the “What I’m Into” linkup over at Leigh Kramer’s blog. If you like round-up posts like this you can go there and find others!

Testimonies

On Insecurity & Contentment (Or, When Clichés Tell The Truth)

DSC03824Growing up, I was never really too down on myself. Because I was convinced make up, hair dye, following trends, and the like were all pointless (maybe even bad),  I had to be content with myself the way I was. Of course I still had insecurities, but for the most part I just knew I was different and that I had to be genuine about myself. I didn’t really focus on my appearance that much.

The past year or so, I’ve grown in terms of how I view myself. I dyed my hair to a color I loved and learned how to take care of it; I collected a few little make up items and liked what they could do; I started dressing a bit more like a grown up version of myself (which is still pretty colorful and wild, let’s be real). Because I was starting to actually view myself as an adult, I was learning that I was in charge of myself, and that there were new worlds I could explore. I’ve been enjoying these worlds a lot, for the most part.

I’ve never really been concerned with being more relevant. But lately… I have.

I wonder if it’s because I entered these new worlds, worlds that encourage self-improvement and high standards I’d never sought to meet before. Without make up/hair dye/whatever, if you aren’t keen on how you look, you can’t really do anything about it. So you learn to accept it and live with your focus placed elsewhere. With those things, however, you can change a lot about what you don’t like. It’s really nice. But if you use them and still don’t feel great about yourself, it stings more. Because you tried to hide the insecure places, and they still peek out and bother you… maybe even make you feel inferior to those who do what you’re doing but seem successful at it.

I feel similarly about exercise. I wasn’t regularly exercising until about six months ago, and now I feel like it’s a hugely important duty for me to maintain my body, or even to make it better. Because exercising has improved my shape a little, and a few people have even noticed. Sometimes I notice, and get excited about it. But now I have this fear of not being able to keep it up. I started exercising purely because I wanted to get a better grip on my struggles with anxiety; I didn’t expect any of this to come with it.

I didn’t really deal with these feelings and fears before. But now I do. And something else has come with it, something that is devastating me: comparison.

I find myself looking at old photos and getting annoyed or even mad at my past self for her weight, which was never really noticeably bad. But worse than that: I look at other women and see things I wish I had… and things that I’ll judge them for having. Because I’m more self-conscious than I was before, I am now more apt to see issues in others and be a more harsh, judgmental person. I compare myself to them, wanting what they have, and I compare them to me, thinking they should want what I have. I hate seeing this in me, and I hate letting you see it; it’s embarrassing and painfully vulnerable. But it fully convinces me that judgmental, cruel people truly are just insecure people who want to feel better inside. People always say that, but I never saw the reality of it before it became my reality.

Dang.

Part of me wonders if I started a lot of this because I fell for someone who seemed to live in such a glittering world, and I wanted to measure up. I didn’t want to be invisible or unsightly or subpar; I wanted to be beautiful and noticeable… to be good enough for his world. And maybe I began tearing down other women in my head because I didn’t want to compete with them, because I had no hope in winning against them. What stupid games we play, thinking anything in life is a competition we have to beat others in. Thinking love is something we win from people.

Yesterday, I liked how I looked, so I took a few photos. Then I saw photos of other gorgeous women, and I didn’t like mine anymore. I met the reality of another platitude– comparison took joy from me.

I think I’m sharing these things with you just to show you how true those platitudes are. Because I’ve heard them my whole life, but I’m just now seeing them manifest. And wow… damage happens when you don’t see or truly believe in something that’s happening inside you.

When I’m alone, just focusing on enjoying what I have and being grateful, I like myself. It’s when comparison and standards come in that I begin to doubt and get anxious and defensive. I have to focus on gratitude. Gratitude for this body I have to live in; for a lifestyle that really works for me; for fun ways to explore expressing myself; for the beauty other women possess; for the unique images all of us get to carry that are a piece of the image of God; for the worthiness of the individual; for people who build others up; for the ability to compliment instead of compete. It is in gratitude that contentment will live and thrive.

So, thank you, Father, for all of those things. And that you like us even when we can’t like ourselves.

[Listen]

Testimonies · Thanksgiving Projects · The Basics

There Is More: On Gratitude

I’ve been keeping gratitude lists for around three months now. Ann Voskamp shared undeniable evidence in her book, One Thousand Gifts, that joy comes from gratitude, evidence I just could not argue against. I don’t know why I wanted to argue, why I didn’t want to believe there was a key to joy; maybe I thought it was too easy, and feared that meant I was responsible for my own bitterness. Well, that fear was real. I did have to own up to my cynical heart, and it didn’t feel good at all. Even as I began to write gratitude lists, I was still battling with struggles and sadnesses, and my circumstances didn’t get better.

I kept writing. I kept listing the things I saw, things that were good around me, even if it was something like “donuts,” or “paint marks on my skin,” or “warm hugs from a friend.” And I started seeing that giving attention to the good things does not mean ignoring the bad things– it means celebrating that there’s more in life than the bad things.

Ann described it as winning back some ground. When we see and name and give our attention to the good things, we are telling the bad things that they don’t reign; we are keeping the hard things from taking more room than they require or deserve. There is more to life. There is pain and hardship, yes, and there is more. When I started using the lists as a way to see the good, instead of a way to fix what was wrong, my heart began to change. And when I started being grateful to the Lord for those things, instead of simply being grateful inside myself, I started seeing that it was His love surrounding me.

Everything, everything, is a gift. And in times like this, when I am reminded just how messed up and broken I am, it hits me that I don’t deserve anything. That absolutely everything is grace. Everything is given to me by my Father, for my good; given because He loves me. Sometimes I still write the lists out of habit because the hard things seem more prevalent than the good. But my love for my Father grows every day, as He continues to love and I learn to love back by saying “thank you” for each gift I can find. There is always more. There is always grace.

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”  -John the Baptist, in John 3:27

Every November, I do some kind of gratitude/positivity project for Thanksgiving. Because gratitude lists are a daily habit for me now, this year’s project is a collage of the gifts I recorded in my journal, written on strips of paper with colorful markers. There are numerous layers to this collage, and it was made solely during the month of November.

Immeasurable grace, all around me, hardly captured. I can never stop being grateful.DSC02569

On Media & Art

Notes from “One Thousand Gifts”

Multiple people told me about “One Thousand Gifts” and about the power of gratitude. I knew I’d end up reading it because I already loved Ann Voskamp’s writing, but I wasn’t sure how much she was going to convince me that gratitude was something that was going to shape my life. I thought I’d be encouraged, but not changed.

I was so wrong.

Gratitude has so much more power than we could think… could hope. The way Ann explained gratitude and it’s relationship to grace and to salvation itself… I’m tearing up writing this, because I don’t know how much longer I would have lived in the dark, cynical world I’d found myself in if Ann hadn’t shared her raw stories of experience that give her credibility and undeniable evidence for how true her life-breathing words are.

All is grace. No matter how much I want to believe otherwise, I know. All is grace. What I experienced as I read this book will not leave me. I hope everyone finds what I found because of it. I see my intimacy with Jesus growing infinitely, as I thank Him for his grace-gifts.

I like to share pieces of books I love so that they end up recommending themselves. I took many more, but here are some of the notes I passionately scribbled as I read.

1000 gifts 11000 gifts 21000 gifts 3“When I’m present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God. In His embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and… holy. Here is the only place I can love Him.”

“Only the Word is the answer to rightly reading the world, because The Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, ‘I know. I know.’

“… that I’d day after day after day greedily take what looks like it’s good from Your hand– a child gloating over sweet candy… but that I’d thrash wild to escape when what You give from Your hand feels bad– like gravel in the mouth. Oh Father, forgive… should I accept good from you, and not trouble?”

You may suffer loss but in Me is anything ever lost, really? Isn’t everything that belongs to Christ also yours?

1000 gifts 41000 gifts 51000 gifts 61000 gifts 7“To lack faith perhaps isn’t as much an intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a good God.”

“My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy. Flames need oxygen to light. Flames need a bit of wind.”

Testimonies

On Cinderella, Choices, & Saying “Thank You”

I woke up to quiet. I’ve been restless inside myself, begging for quiet mornings. This morning I got one. If only for a few minutes, I got one.

And I didn’t say thank you.

I had a small breakfast and dressed in comfy clothes. I carried my laptop under one arm, books and journals under the other, as I made the short trip to the living room. There, I listened to music I love; I laughed and read stories; I had a satisfying lunch.

And I didn’t say thank you. Because I didn’t see why I needed to.

I decided to go out into the yard, to find a secluded place I could read. The sun was out but not blazing, a soft whisper of summertime’s end. I was looking for the right spot, but along that journey… I began taking photos. Of the bushes my neighbors have tried to destroy only to see them flourish more; of the overgrown trees and plants that don’t allow me to visit the pond anymore but somehow hold an air of mystery now; of my cat, who sat calmly next to her favorite hiding place; of the single apple fallen from the tree. I just kept taking them.

And I wondered if this was a way of saying thank you.

I know that gratitude holds power. I know it does. But it’s hard to do. It’s hard when I don’t want to be where I am, when all I can think about is leaving because everything I want to do is not here. Ann calls it the hard eucharisto, the painful thanksgiving. She knows it well. I know I have no excuse for my stubbornness. Yet I persist in it. Secretly, even to myself, I think I pray for patience and for trust. Because Ann also says my lack of thanksgiving is evidence of my mistrust in who He is. And I know she’s right. I know that I am angry at Him because of where I am.

I watched Cinderella this evening, the version that came out this year. I was charmed by the imagery. I remembered one of my best friends telling me how much it had meant to her, what the movie taught her. And I awaited being able to see what she spoke of.

I didn’t think it would teach me something different, something of my own.joyous cinderella

Ella was gracious, gentle, loving. Her mother’s words lived with her: “Have courage, and be kind.” She did everything by these words, told them to herself more than daily. They were her guard rails, to help her carry on when she grew weary and to guide her choices, big and small. I kept seeing her live them out, kept hearing her whisper them to herself, and I eventually thought: “I wish I had a simple set of words like this to help me remember, to shape my habits and my heart.”

Then I remembered that I do have that.

He told me, “Just be with me. I’ll teach you love, to love me and others and yourself.”

I’m almost crying. Oh, I need to learn love. And only He can teach me.

He is to be my guard rails. He and His love are to carry me when I’m weary and to guide my steps– if I allow Him to be the central piece of where I am. Allow Him to teach me love. Because He loves me enough to allow me to say no. He doesn’t have to do any of this for me; He does not owe it to me and I am not deserving of it. But He’s the one who knows love. And love does things like this. Love is grace-filled. Love is a continual giving. Saying yes to Him and His consistent presence with me is an acceptance of grace, of His gifts to me.

It’s saying thank you. Something I need to learn. Something He teaches in His love lessons.

Ella’s circumstances did not determine if she would live in her mother’s words or not. She chose to. Every day, she chose to serve others. She chose to be gentle and humble, yet strong, in all her interactions. She chose to find magic in the things around her. She chose hope. She chose forgiveness. She chose to be genuine, even if it made her different from those around her. Sometimes things became too heavy, yes. But her faithfulness served her. She kept choosing to have courage and to be kind, no matter the darkness and hopelessness she lived in. And it was that faith and steadfastness that brought her out, brought her into love and safety and opportunity to live.Cinderella wedding

My circumstances don’t matter– my choices do. My choice to be with Him, my choice to thank Him for all His gifts to me… my choice to learn love from Him. I can do that every single day, no matter where I am or what’s happening to me. I can be faithful in that. And I can see the grace here, and I can have hope for somewhere new someday.

And I can say thank you for all of it. Because He’s in all of it.