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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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Unashamed: When April Showers Don’t Bring Mae Flowers.

They’re supposed to bring May flowers.

April has come and gone — and for the most part, so has the rain — the Dallas Arboretum proves the flowers are upon us — but what if life’s metaphorical flowers, aren’t?

I haven’t been majorly depressed since December — BLESS UP. It’s been a whole new year of adventure and excitement and radiance that I rarely tasted in 2016. The amount of gratitude toward my parents, friends, doctors, therapists and The King has overwhelmed me.

But I think I’m regressing — lately I’ve experienced heavier and lower days. It hurts, as I started a dream job just a couple of weeks ago, and so desperately want to thrive there. I seek out medical, emotional help partnered with a holistic approach to mental health.

Sometimes the flowers don’t sprout.

We go through periods of absolute suffering and pain, we cry out to God for relief, but it seems as if the hope and joy never come upon us. It seems as though we are forgotten and abandoned and He doesn’t live up to His promise to “work for our good.”

Lately I’ve been eating up Isaiah. This morning, I walked through ch. 30. It talks about rebellious people who “speak to us smooth things.” They want an easy way out, they want smooth sailing.

Yet, those people are like breaking “that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found.”

We are Christ’s vessels — we are called to be filled with the Spirit and pour out radical love onto those around us. So how do we refuse to rebel and cling to God’s goodness?

We remember that He will be gracious. He hears the sound of our cries, he answers us. The “bread of adversity” and “water of affliction” make us see our Teacher.

Bread and water are necessities — I’d prefer to live without adversity and affliction. I’d prefer to sail calm waters without blasting winds and pelting rain. I’d prefer to not be bipolar, to not give too much of myself away, to not suffer from anxiety over tomorrow’s.

But He “binds up the brokenness of His people.”

He sees our hurt. He hears our cries. He sits with us. He cradles us. He listens. He weeps. He protects. He provides. He delivers.

He will not leave us alone. He will not let us suffer without Him, His presence, His grace. He will not abandon or forsake or condemn us if we walk in Spirit and in Truth.

He says, “You will not suffer forever. I will stitch you back together. I am yours, you are Mine. We will fight this. We will win. And I will overcome.”

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I Don’t Have a Backup Husband…Anymore.

He is one of my closest guy friends.

He and I go way, way back. He’s seen me wear many hats: the Christian, the Baylor student, the Tri Delta, the PR chick, the coach, the climber, the writer. He’s really an incredible person.

But he met this woman. And he thinks maybeee he’ll marry her one day. Originally, I accused her of ruining my life. I said, “Dude. What about when we’re 40? Who am I supposed to marry then?”

He reminded me it was only a backup plan. I haven’t picked a new backup husband since.

On Wednesday night, my gal pals and I shared Torchy’s chips and queso and delved into this deep conversation on what marriage is, what it looks like, how to wait, and how to give and receive love. It was this raw, honest, convicting conversation.

“Marriage is a gift, not a given.”

Oof. My friend Sarah delivered the truth.

Here’s the thing about marriage: it is absolutely beautiful. God uses marriage as a model of how Christ loves the Church, to show us how He pursues His children, to give us an idea of how unconditional and irreplaceable His love is.

Here’s the thing about marriage: not everyone gets married. I can think of a handful of wonderful, godly women well over 30-years-old who are still single. Some chose it. Some didn’t. Each has an exquisite, intimate relationship with The Lord, and have positively impacted my faith.

“Singleness is a gift just as much as marriage is.”

Yours truly threw this one out on the literal Torchy’s table. I meant every single word.

I’ve never exclusively dated. I’ve been on dates and had those childish summer flings. But I’ve never been in a fully committed relationship.

It used to hurt me a lot. I had this longing to understand how to love and be loved in a romantic way. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to date, like I was unworthy.

Then, it didn’t hurt at all. In fact, what I once considered a shameful weakeness became my greatest strength. It took me about half of college. It took years of prayer and patience.

Every minute of my life is used to follow Jesus and to love God’s children. I am completely accessible to women who mentor me, and to younger friends who I mentor. My flexible schedule and availability to drop-everything-and-run to my friends who hurt are undeniable advantages of singleness.

Benefits of singleness include: I rarely have to shave my legs, I have awesome cuddle seshes with my dog, and I don’t have to share my meal with anyone.

Actual advantages include: free weekends to serve, an undivided attention to seek God first, an availability to dive deep into friendships with other singles (and marrieds, of course).

We are not defined by our relationship status.

We are defined by The Lord, by the incredible lengths He undergoes so we can merely grasp His love for us. We are defined by Christ on the cross, bleeding out for all of God’s children, just so we can call Him “Abba.”

We are qualified by who we are: we are chosen, we are humbled, we are loved. We are qualified by whose we are: The Lord our King. That is all that matters. That is who we are.

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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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Jesus Wept And So Can You.

I’ve always been tough.

Maybe it was growing up in between two boys. Maybe it was being the middle child. Maybe I was born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline?

No matter where it comes from, it’s always been apart of who I am, how I function. Along with this toughness comes a lack of emotions — or at least, a lack of being able to identify and cope with them. If I’m not in my usual state of joy, it’s hard for me to dissect what I feel and why I feel it.

I don’t really cry.

At least, I didn’t used to. Unless I was physically harmed — like stepping through my brother’s fishing hook — the waterworks rarely happened.

The older I grow, the more susceptible I am to crying. It used to really freak me out. What is this water coming out of my face? Where did it come from?

This is how crying works for me: I have to be above an 8 on any emotional scale. So if I’m 8+ happy, sad or mad, tears start to flow (or at least trickle a bit).

When I saw 20+ people come to Christ in a church service, I cried. When I watched the end of Taken when (spoiler alert) Liam Neeson reunites with his daughter and she says, “You came for me,” I couldn’t help but tear up. When I hear stories about genocide and human trafficking, I almost blubber.

Jesus wept, so I can too.

I used to think crying was a sign of weakness, that if I cried, I was just being an average girl who was being overly sensitive. That’s completely untrue.

In John 11:35, perhaps the shortest verse of the Bible, it says, “Jesus wept.”

He mourned the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Though he later raised Lazarus from the dead, he still wept over the pain he felt and saw in Lazarus’ sisters.

Crying is not a symptom of weakness, but a symptom of being moved. It’s like we can’t bottle up the pain/joy/anger we feel, so it starts to flow out of us. It’s the product of being overwhelmed — whether good or bad — and not keeping it to ourselves.

So I’m okay with crying a bit more these days, because God’s really been moving through me lately. He’s frustrated me and given me joy, He’s protected me and tested me. I don’t have to feel weak, but know that I am strong enough to express my emotions.

 

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Make Me a Tree: On Trust & Desires.

Lately, God hasn’t given me what I want.

I want to quit my job and travel the world. I want to move out of my parents’ house. I want a lifetime of free Torchy’s tacos.

So what’s up with that?

Psalm 37:4 says if I delight in the Lord, He will give me my “heart’s desires.” So how come none of the things I want I receive?

Well it goes like this: when we truly, truly delight in the Lord, when The Joy of the Lord is our strength, our hearts’ desires begin to morph into the Lord’s desires.

It’s just like earthly relationships: when we love someone (as a friend or more), we want what they want. We want what is best for them. We desire what they desire.

My innate wants tend to be selfish, self-gratifying and self-rewarding. It’s a me, myself and I attitude. But when I attune my wants to the Lord’s desires for my life, endless reward awaits in heaven (and even on earth).

Our trust must align with The Lord’s desires.

My soul sister of a friend Sarah pointed me to Jeremiah 17 this morning.

V. 7 says:

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. (NLT)”

It compares those who trust in the Lord to “trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.” These trees are “not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.”

Instead, “their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”

I pray God can make me a tree.

I want to be an oak along a river, with deep roots soaking up water-filled life. I want to stand tall and not worry about the heat or droughts of life that threaten to overtake me.

I want to be fully alive, covered in green, and to bear an endless amount of fruit to further the Kingdom.

When my trust runs deep in the Lord, my desires transform.

It isn’t about me, it’s about us — The Lord working with the Church. It’s about glorifying God through my thoughts, actions and words. It’s about seeking out His desires for my life, about living out His will.

So when I wallow in self-pity and ask, “Why don’t I have what I want?” I can dissect, “What do I want, and where does that desire come from?”

If it’s not of the Lord, it’s not something I should truly desire. And if it is of the Lord, and I can rejoice and know that I’m walking with Him.