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Sweet & Salty: On Joy and Bitterness {ft. a Character Study: Naomi}.

I’ve had better days.

A bit before 2017 rolled around, I wrote a post on how 2017 would be better than 2016. 2016 brought on a lot of pain and suffering in the form of a mental illness {see the “Unashamed” tab}. It brought on a lot of heartache and bitterness as I longed to return to Nash and be loved by my Waco friends.

Then 2017 hit and it has been better — God’s provided me with an amazing, entry-level dream job; He gave me a new church home and provided new, grounded community; lately.

He’s opening up opportunities for me to serve locals on Forest Ln — people I work with, climb with, eat with, drive by, pray for — from all walks of life: every age, race and socioeconomic level {many are impoverished}; and to fully seek healing redemption through Him and Him alone.

He’s given me a core group of women my age and life phase that hold me accountable to discovering His Truths and living them out daily. We call ourselves the “Wine, Whales & Word” tribe. I cannot say where or who I would be without them during this crazy, fun season of life.

Sometimes life is sweet. Sometimes it’s salty.

My TVC Dallas Home Group and I are walking through Ruth. Starting yesterday, we plan to read it all the way through {it’s four chapters long} each week, to deliberately meditate on the scripture, to earnestly analyze characters, culture, Creation and Christ in every word and between every line.

Yesterday we walked through Chapter 1. I believe God is forever, always, eternally sweet, but life can sometimes be salty.

Poor, Sweet Naomi — her husband and two sons all died within a short span of time. She was left a widow without children with two women who were destined to become cultural outcasts unless they remarried soon.

Before their deaths, Naomi was named “Pleasant.” She experienced the pleasure of loving and following God, of living a life under His provision and guidance. But after their deaths, she changed her name to Mara, which directly translates to “Bitterness.”

I think bitterness is a valid emotion — when people wrong me, I become bitter. Today was a very bitter day: my pants broke, my stomach hurt, employees related to my work {not people I work with} were being unkind, impatient and downright rude, my back started to physically ache from the anxiety and stress.

Joy is also a valid emotion — as Believers, we are equipped with eternal joy when we accept the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us. We are called to a joy that never ceases, to thanksgiving in all circumstances {1 Thess. 4:16-18}.

Joy partners with seven other Fruit of the Spirit — please note: it’s only one fruit, this means the Fruit of the Spirit is one entity, embodying seven traits {Gal. 5:22-23}. It does not stand alone, it must work alongside love and peace {they are the three foremost fruit that truly marry each other in union}.

As people, we choose to be sweet or salty. We get to decide.

Today, I was salty. I slightly snapped at my poor work husband Cedric when he playfully teased me as he always does. I decided to be bitter to dwell in anger and regret and contempt. My day was awful to me, so I wanted to be awful in return.

Sweet Penny from Downtown Fort Worth Sheraton chose to be sweet. She reached out in hopes that our firm would give them business. Sweet Penny delivered a Tiff’s Treats package to me: cookies, ice cream, milk.

These three things will always brighten my day. But snail mail in particular really gets me going. It really makes me grateful for the sender’s intentionality and genuine pursuit of my gratitude and love. It takes more work to call a company, ask for a delivery, pay for a package, than it does to text me, “Hope you’re doing well.”

Sweet Penny gave me faith in humanity again. She made me feel “Pleasant,” just like Naomi felt pleasure before her trials. She reminded me there are kind, patient, good people in this world who love to serve, share and give.

It is not up to me to decide if we give Sweet Penny and the Sheraton business, and Sweet Penny knows that. But she chose to send me some love anyway, to brighten my day just because she can, and just because she had the opportunity to.

I want to be Naomi.

I like to choose pleasure, I like to choose joy. I will choose bitterness and contempt on off days, I will experience down moments and unkind souls and humans who test my patience and my ability to love and be loved.

But I want to be Naomi — I want to experience God’s goodness, promise, provision. I want to taste and see — figurative cookies, ice cream, milk — literal joyful moments, people, places — that God is eternally sweet to me and sweet to everyone He loves.

Who are you today? Who do you want to be? And how can you become that person? Stay tuned for a later character study on Ruth, Boaz and Mara. Stay tuned for a post on how to overcome bitterness and bask in eternal joy.

Blessings,

Naomae

For the record, I have zero regrets for using that pun.

*S/o to SJ, MCD, AML, RDLC and a couple of new faces eager to join us soon.

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Waiting on God 101.

I know how to wait.

Or at least, I think I do — most of the time. I’m used to waiting on men, waiting on change, waiting on flights, waiting on food, waiting on traffic lights, waiting on lines.

But waiting on God? For some reason, that’s harder for me to tackle. Maybe because I can’t physically see or audibly hear Him.

Maybe because some days it’s hard to picture Him as more than a figment of my imagination. Maybe because I’m often too stubborn to remember He manifested himself in Christ, lives through the Spirit in me and works for my good every day.

Waiting is the worst.

Sometimes, I pray for patience. But then I learn the process to obtain patience entails waiting, so I usually take it back — can you take prayers back? Like unkind words or jeans that don’t fit?

Waiting is always uncertain — it can last hours, days, weeks, months, years. At times, waiting periods may pass in the blink of an eye. But others may not be so quick, they are painful and arduous and test every ounce of perseverance within me.

I’ve spent my lifetime waiting.

Not in this lazy, complacent way where I just sit and wait for good things to happen. Not in this overbearing, manic way where I run fast and chase after good things.

Somewhere in the middle, where I find peace in the present and satisfaction through productivity.

I’ve waited for my guy to come, I’ve waited for my medication to work, I’ve waited for a job, for a place to call home, for a friendship, for a degree. I’ve waited for short periods and long stretches. I’ve waited for the world to change (as my man John Mayer sings).

Here are my tips on waiting:

  1. Gain perspective. Think of why you are waiting, and what for. Think of how to use your time and resources wisely. How can you spend your energy? Who can help you in this waiting period?
  2. Pray. A lot. We are called to “present our requests” to God with “prayer and petition.” I think of a dorky petition I signed in middle school to allow gum chewing on campus. God probably has bigger fish to fry than gum privileges, but perhaps He wants us to approach in the same manner — with a plan, with support, with tenacity.
  3. Remember hope. It is with the Hope of the Lord that we truly survive, and more importantly thrive, during our waiting periods. We cannot do this alone, not without the support of friends & family, and surely not without God on our side.
  4. Weep. The older and hopefully wiser I become, the more likely I am to weep, to truly mourn for my hurts and heartaches, and for those around me. When I miss something or someone, when I beg God to deliver me, I often curl up in my bed or fall to my knees. I cry out to God, because He promises to hear our cries.

There are so many ingredients to waiting contently, waiting patiently, waiting in a strong and respectful manner. All of my suggestions come from the God-breathed Scripture, the gift that is His word. I would get nowhere without it.

Friends who are waiting, be encouraged by this: you are never alone. We wait for good news. We wait for good friends. We wait for better days.

When we wait on God, we will not be disappointed. When we wait for Him, He will reward us here on earth, and permanently in Heaven. When we wait, we grow.

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In the Darkest Moments: On Peace That Transcends.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

Long before I was diagnosed, I saw the pain and hurt of my friends and family. Divorce, deaths, diagnoses tore them apart from the inside-out. It ripped their hearts into pieces and they dove into depression or became addicted to whatever vice to briefly fix their pain.

Sometimes, bad things happen to me.

Sophomore fall was my hardest semester of college. I suffered from betrayal of those who were close to me, I became bitter and distraught. My life felt desolate and isolated.

I wandered in my own desert, longing for Christ’s eternal water to quench my thirst.

My diagnosis last year tore my world apart. I honestly thought I peaked in college and that I would never be able to work, function or love again. I feared that my life would amount to nothing and I’d be stuck in a constant cycle of major depression and minimal joy.

But during even the lowest of lows, I remembered core truths:

  1. God works for my good.
  2. God loves me.
  3. God never changes.

When my world shatters, I get down on my knees.

One of my very favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:7. This is how it goes:

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (NLT).

It’s hard for me to pray when I’m hurt. My instinct is to get mad at God, to put on my gloves and smack a bag and scream until I weep. I feel forgotten and used and trapped.

It’s easy for me to pray when I’m whole. I’m madly in love with my God and my friends. I feel joyful and independent and confident.

But God pursues us when we’re both: when we’re black and blue, and when we’re silver and gold. He seeks us out with his never changing grace and mercy. He scoops us up in His strong, brave arms.  He says, “You are allowed to feel, just know that you are always mine.”

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with peace.

I’m in a strange period of life: ending a PR internship, seeking something more. I’m open to new opportunities near and far, similar and unfamiliar.

I’m ready to dive headfirst into my next adventure, because I just know God’s cooking up something good.

I experienced the deepest heartbreak in 2016, but God’s brought so much healing in 2017. In the most painful moments when I doubted, He met me while I was curled up in bed in a puddle of my own tears.

He said, “There, there, dear daughter. Let me stitch you together with my love.”

When you are down and when nothing seems right, when you’re right in the eye of the storm, remember: God works for your good. God loves you. God never changes.

You can be angry, you probably have a right to be so. You can be sad, you probably have a right to be so. But you can also rejoice, because in the hardest moments, God’s already ahead of you, prepped to heal you, ready to make you whole.

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Home Sweet Home: On Travel & The Holy Temple.

home is a really weird concept to me.

I now live in the same house I grew up in. It’s this really adorable two-story in Richardson. I’m the same bedroom. But it looks a lot different now than when I was five. I can still recognize who is coming up the stairs by the patter of their steps. It’s home to me.

But Waco used to be my home. It was familiar and comfortable and safe. Then I turned Florence into my home. It was welcoming and breezy and warm. Even Nashville was my home for a bit, it felt kind and pure.

Not many people can use the phrase “home” easily. But I’m quick to the punch. If I’m settled (which can take only a few weeks) and I feel safe, I’m ready to call it so.

The more I wander this earth, the more I realize that God is my home. Heaven is my home. I’m not made for this world. I’m called to a higher, purer, holier place than this. Heaven is safe and familiar and comfortable. It’s welcoming and breezy and warm. It’s kind and pure.

but i’m god’s home, too.

Ephesians 2 says that the Body of Believers are “joined together in Christ, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”

“Through Christ, you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.”

I often forget I am a holy temple for the Lord. Sometimes my words, thoughts and actions don’t reflect it. Sometimes a curse word slips, or a lie, or I think a mean thought about someone. But I am built to be Christ’s temple. What an honor!

We are The Holy Spirit’s dwelling place. When I think of dwelling, I think safety and peace and comfort. I think of a refuge and a safe haven. I feel calm and warm and at ease.

We are the place The Holy Spirit feels safety and peace and comfort. We are its refuge, safe haven. We make the Spirit feel calm and warm and at ease.

So wherever I flee, wherever I roam, wherever I call home, I can know that 1) my true home is Heaven and 2) I’m the Holy Spirit’s home.

God is for us. God is with us. God is in us.

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Do Something: Thoughts on How to Respond to the Syrian Crisis.

Photo courtesy of The Odyssey

There’s a lot happening in syria right now.

I’d like to start off by saying 1) this is not a place to scrutinize Trump’s latest attacks on Syria and 2) I am the furthest thing from a political genius. Also, please follow the underlined linked phrases in this post for more information from reputable sources.

As a journalism major, I think there is so much value in engaging in conversations about current events. As a Christ follower, I think it’s vital we understand such events and discover how God wants us to respond in whatever is happening in our world.

In case you missed it, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in an attack on his own people last week. According to my research, at least 70 people died. The “fog of chemicals enveloped men, women and children, leaving many to suffocate, choke or foam at the mouth (Chicago Tribune).”

I watched videos and read articles that described the attack and gave a recap on the Syrian crisis. And oh my goodness, my heart absolutely ached for this nation, for its people and for our world.

One particular article from CNN told the story about a man who lost 25 relatives, including his wife and twins, in the attack. I cannot even fathom the heartbreak, devastation and utter loss this man must feel. I mourned for this man and his family, and for all of the other victims in the attack.

so what can we do?

My dear friend Rosie and I discussed how Christian Americans (and also just Americans) can feel disconnected to tragedies that happen on the other side of the world. We read articles and hear stories and our hearts break, but it seems like we are too far away to do anything.

We decided on a few basic steps in response to the crisis:

  1. Educate yourself. We cannot ignore what is happening in our nation and in our world. Watch the news, research articles (avoid “fake news” sites  –lol– that are not credible) and be hungry to know more.
  2. Talk about it.  We must engage in conversation about worldwide tragedies — like the Palm Sunday attacks — because we are all God’s people and we all matter. If we do not discuss them, then we essentially act like 1) they do not matter and 2) they did not even happen.
  3. Pray. Pray. Pray. We each pray in different ways, but we Believers pray to the same God. And He is the God who hears us, intercedes for us, directs us and loves us. He’s the God who protects, delivers and defends.

But wait. There’s even more.

There are refugees that live in the United States at this moment. And not only ones from Syria, but other nations who are also trying to escape terror in their countries. According to the Star-Telegram last May, at the time, Texas led the nation in number of refugees resettled. Dallas resettled nearly 700 last year.

There are so many nonprofits and ministries that engage the crisis by reaching out to local refugees, because they need love, care and attention, too. They need basics like clothes, toiletries, toys and books for school. There are also multiple charities collecting donations to aid Syrian refugees.

So guess what? You can do something.*

god calls his followers to do something.

He doesn’t necessarily call each of us to quit our jobs, pack our bags and fly to Syria. But He does call us to do something, absolutely anything to help the people He loves, and the people we are also called to love.

So start with baby steps. Start by learning. Start by talking. Start by praying. Start with what you have — a compassionate heart that reflects our Creator’s — and who you have — God, your church, your community of Believers.

Just do something.

*If you do not know of a ministry or nonprofit you can get plugged into, shoot me an email or comment below. We’ll find you something.

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2017 Will Be Better {On Bravery & Faith}.

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2016 was the very worst year.

As my first year out of college, it was supposed to be my year of independence. I moved to Nashville, hoping to stay and find a full-time job there.

But instead of thriving in Nashville at my dream job, I ended up coming back to Dallas early and getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The rest of the year consisted of counseling, finding out the right combination of medicine, and a never-ending struggle with on-and-off depression.

I felt the opposite of free and independent and confident and joyful.

I felt trapped and dependent and terrified and devastated.

2016 was my very bravest year.

I packed my bags and moved to a state I had only been to once before. I came out of the bipolar closet and exposed my deepest insecurities regarding my disorder. I attended group therapy and revealed stories of my past I barely allowed myself to remember.

There were many moments I hesitated, and asked myself, “What are you doing?” I stopped in my tracks and wondered if I was really capable to make my next move.

Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and made the first step, packed the first bag, wrote the first line, spoke the first word. I mustered up courage when I feared I had none.

2017 will be better.

I don’t hope for better, I don’t pray for better, I am prepared and ready and absolutely sure it will taste and sound and feel so much better than 2016.

The good thing is, I have already survived the very hardest year of my life, the worst diagnosis, the most unexpected news.

The better thing is, every promise God has ever made to me will always be kept. So when He says He is good, He is good. When He says He works for my good, He works for my good.

The great thing is, I am never ever alone. Not only do I have my family and friends, but I also have the God of this Universe on my side, and His Spirit alive in me.

So when bad days and diagnoses and news come in 2017, I can know that with a little bit of bravery and a whole lot of faith, I will survive, and maybe even thrive.

Friends, even if you didn’t have the worst year of your life, have faith that God still works for us and with us and in us. He does not leave us amid our struggle and worry and doubt.

He fights for us. With us. Beside us.

So let’s say goodbye to 2016. And welcome a better 2017.

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Just Around the Big Bend: On Suffering & Satisfaction

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I camped last weekend.

My friends Brian, Sarah, and I made the 10ish hour drive down to Big Bend National Park.

Our first full day there, we decided to hike to Emory Peak, Big Bend’s highest point. At 7,825 feet, this hike was more like a trek for an out-of-shape, wannabe adventurer like me.

It was rough.

Minutes into the walk, I was already panting. Then my calves began to hurt. Then the sun came out, and I sweated like none other.

I wouldn’t define my uphill battle as suffering, but I sure wasn’t thriving. I often asked myself, “Why was this a good idea?” Then I pictured me passing out and rolling down the mountain. Doubts and insecurities crept into my mind.

Mental illness is very much a part of human suffering. Bipolar disorder challenges me because I have little to no control of my moods: I can be happy one day, and hopeless the next.

When I am down, I feel like I am lost in the valley, desperately trying to find a way uphill to a better view, a better state. I doubt my ability to get better, I become insecure about every part of my being. Fear and uncertainty plague my thoughts and interrupt my dreams.

It was worth it.

The top of the peak offered some of the best views of the area below. Mountains and deserts and valleys unfolded beneath my feet.

It was a beautiful, breathtaking sight. My doubts and insecurities stilled. And peace and hope filled my mind.

There is so much satisfaction from overcoming challenges. Each time I come out of my depression, I am thrilled to feel like myself, like a human again. I call up friends and schedule outings, I just want to be around the people I love to show them my true self.

It’s a beautiful, breathtaking moment when you realize the storm has passed. Doubts and insecurities dissolve. And peace and hope reign.

We can make it through the valley to stand on the mountain.

I had a student minister who always said, “If you’re not in a storm, you either just came out of one, or are headed toward one.”

There will be storms, and they will tear apart your life without asking permission. Lightning will strike, thunder will roar, and you will hope and pray to be saved by sunlight.

Make it through the storms, withstand the tests and trials down in the valley. Look up to the mountain, know there is refuge and hope and goodness ahead.

Because the mountaintop view lets you see and understand the trek you hiked, the fears you battled, the storms you faced. The mountaintop moment satisfies you by knowing your suffering was worth it.