Work The Plan: A Theme for 2017 (3 Months Late)

March 1, 2017

March 1, 2017

Every year, I look forward to a time of new opportunities and fresh starts. Halfway through my 20s, it became common practice to set a theme for my year - a way to align my goals and work toward something specific (or sometimes something not so specific). I choose a theme instead of one word - as is common for many people - because I don't like to be tied down (no one puts Baby in a corner!) to one idea and, for me, choosing just one word is difficult. (Hi, my name is Katie and I like to talk.)

You may remember my theme from a few years ago: What Would A Thrifty Beyonce Do? (My favorite to date...a turning point of sorts). And last year's of Embrace It - an effort to embrace the new city I had been placed in by checking off "must do" Houston things (I'm still working on that list and realized I never wrote a follow up post about the progress of it...typical...I'll work on it). 

This year, in true procrastinator's fashion, I took my sweet time deciding on a 2017 theme. After some reflection, it came to me (that's right - you can set an annual theme in March. You're an adult...you can do whatever you want):

W O R K   T H E   P L A N

Over the last two or so years, I've become very aware of how well I work within a set of boundaries, rules, and/or guidelines. My first taste of this was when I began my Financial Peace Project, holding hard and fast to Dave Ramsey's principles for money. For a year and a half I was diligent with using cash for purchases, working my debt snowball, and telling my money where to go. In 2016, I got S U P E R lazy with my snowball. I was still paying more than the required minimum payments for each of my debts, but I was not working the snowball in the way it is meant to be worked. Because I wasn't putting in the effort the way I needed to be, my financial plan didn't really work for me in the way that it could have. Basically - you can't half-ass the plan.

My second taste of this has been with food. I've essentially been living a pseudo-Paleo lifestyle for the past couple of years. Eating some healthy stuff, with a lot of crappy stuff thrown in. My weight has ALWAYS fluctuated and I have always had a sensitive stomach. It wasn't until I tried Whole30 that I began to see results - both in how I looked, and more importantly, in how I felt. But you can't half-ass a Whole30 either. It's a very strategic and specific plan that works wonders if you will just let it. But you have to actually work the plan.

Oh, but there is another plan that will work if you'll actually let it. Do you know where I'm going with this yet? Can you feel it? Yep, that's right.

G O D ' S   P L A N

When I was home for Christmas, I experienced several moments of contentment. A feeling of knowing that I was, indeed, exactly where I needed to be, and a reminder that God had a plan for my life. This totally had nothing to do with a mini verbal-tizzy that I had with a friend where I was explaining to her why I-was-online-dating-even-though-I-didn't-really-want-to-be-online-dating-but-was-doing-it-because-I-felt-like-I-had-to-because-EVERYONE-was-online-dating. (But that's another story for another day). She patiently listened, nodded, and then said, "And in the meantime, God's up there like 'Girl, I got you - stop freaking out!'" (Yes, this is how we think God talks to us. I think we're right).

This is when I decided that this year I am going to focus on just working the plan. This looks like taking things one step at a time. Praying through the uncomfortable parts of the plan and celebrating the victorious parts. It looks a lot like trusting that the plan that I'm on is exactly the plan I need to be on. That God has me in my lane for a reason, and I need to stay in it and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing in their lanes. This is how accidents happen, people! 

So in 2017, you can find me over here just working plans, trusting boundaries, occasionally seeing how far I can push those boundaries (a girl needs an exciting life, right?), and staying in the lane God has placed me in. 

What's your theme or word? Have you set one? It's not too late. ;) 

 

Leaning In To Listen

December 1, 2016

Embracing it. 

That's what I set out to do in the year of 2016. I adopted this as a theme for my year in an effort to live 2016 in the here and now. To focus on what is good for me, and not compare myself to others. I took it on as a mindset to embrace the new city and season my life had tumbled into (read: that God had carefully laid out for me...but sometimes even that can feel like a tumble), and to welcome Houston and Texas into my big, dopey loving arms. 

And it's been perfect.

When I set the theme, I had a friend tell me to get ready to embrace growth, as well, because that is what happens when you open up your big, loving dopey arms for whatever life is going to throw at you. You're going to be stretched and pulled and tugged at. Growth will be inevitable.

Growth has happened and it's been mostly good, though uncomfortable at times. But an underlying theme that has risen to the surface through my year of being stretched has been leaning in. Leaning in to intuition. God gifted me with extreme intuition - with strong gut feelings that I can't ignore even when I try. (And I've tried)

He also granted me with the fine gift of stubbornness. 

The combination of the two means I am constantly fighting with the phrase "trust your gut," because oftentimes, I don't like what my gut is saying. I argue with it and combat it and try to find excuses (and justify them) that will prove it wrong. It's exhausting.

Over the year I kept hearing this from others more and more - "what does your gut say?" "I think you need to trust your gut more." And I was like -- I AM. But sometimes I wasn't.

There have been times that I've said "oh my gut is telling me this," and IT WASN'T. I was just trying to align my head and my heart with that gnawing feeling going on inside of me. I wasn't listening. I was trying to manipulate the situation into my own perfect scenario. It's never worked. And gut feelings can change, just like a person's mind can change, and it's important to understand that so if it happens you're not like WHAT IS HAPPENING. 

But - I have never, not once in my life, regretted going with my gut, just as I often, almost always, regret when I don't listen. 

My entire life I've known that intuition is a strong piece of me, but for much of my life I haven't used it as a testament to how God is working. It hasn't been until this year that I've learned and understood that THIS is one of the primary ways that God communicates with me. To deny it and ignore it is to deny and ignore communication from the One that created me. (I actually got to chat with my new friend Emily Cummins over at becomingme.tv about it - that interview will hit social media soon!)

And all of us may not be intuitive types (I had a friend tell me that her gut lies to her, lolol), but I guarantee you God is communicating with you in some way -- you just have to be willing to actually listen when it happens. 

So in the true nature of embracing things - I am embracing that intuition that God gifted me with that sometimes I hate so much because it doesn't tell me what I want to hear. Thought it always tells me what I need. 

I am setting out to listen to it, hear it, and follow it. In turn, listening to Him, hearing Him, and following Him. I hope you will, too.

 

Whole30: A Few Reasons Why I Don't Want It To Be Over

November 3rd, 2016

Trumpets, red carpets, and drum rolls please...

I'M DONE WITH WHOLE30! Huzzah! High fives and cheers all around!....Tacos and chocolate and wine, oh my!...

...is what I should be thinking.

But instead, I'm over here like - umm, I am not so sure I actually want this to end. 

Who am I?

I'm a believer, that's who! But really - I had a great experience with Whole30 and believe in its witchery. Here are some of the things that have happened throughout the process:

  1. My body has started craving healthy foods.
  2. My mindset has shifted into looking at healthy alternatives FIRST, instead of just as a way to talk myself out of unhealthy options.
  3. I've broadened my cooking skills (just a little - let's not get crazy).
  4. Internally, I feel awesome - not feeling weighed down by what I ate. 
  5. My clothes are fitting better.
  6. I am sleeping SO WELL and that, in and of itself, is an answered prayer.
  7. Overall feeling clear-headed, no foggy thoughts here!
  8. No need for afternoon coffee (but I still have some because COFFEE).
  9. I'm viewing food differently - viewing it as fuel that is going to help me get through my day and workouts.

I chalk all of these things up as wins in my health book. And, here's an honest moment for you. I actually did have a little cheat moment on Sunday, and I ate 2 fun-sized pieces of Halloween candy (um, Snickers Peanut Butter Squares to be exact), and my body was like UHHH NOPE. I am not exaggerating when I say my stomach seized up and whispered death threats in my ear. It was like WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?! I had a terrible stomach ache and it left me feeling pretty cruddy. It's fascinating what your body can get used to (and not used to) when you eat clean for 30 days (or 26). I bounced back and ate clean the rest of the week and feel back to normal.

So what happens next? Whole30 is a-w-e-s-o-m-e but difficult to maintain long term. The folks over at Whole30 give great tips and tools for life after the program, and how to reintroduce things back into your diet. 

I'm kind of at a point where I'm not quite sure how I'm going to tackle life after Whole30, though. An important thing that I learned about myself through this process is that I am an abstainer, not a moderator. A quick rundown of this is that abstainers have a hard time stopping once they've started, and are not tempted by things that they have deemed off-limits; a moderator gets panicky at the thought of being restricted and appreciates the occasional indulgence. Gretchen Rubin outlines it all beautifully here. 

Understanding this about myself has been revolutionary for me and greatly explains why more rule-based programs like Whole30 and Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace work so well for my life. 

Right now my plan is to eat as Whole30/clean/Paleo as much as possible and face potential indulgences as they come. I plan to truly consider whether or not I really want one of those delicious cookies that my colleague's wife sends with him to work, or if I just like the idea of eating a cookie at that time. I also plan to honestly determine whether or not I would be capable of just eating one at that moment (instead of 7). We'll see how it goes.

If nothing else, I can vouch that Whole30 is a fantastic "reset" button if you're looking for one. Its benefits are real and it really is true when everyone says you'll feel fabulous at the end. If you're considering giving it a go, my two pieces of advice would be to figure out if you're an abstainer or a moderator, and then go in with 100% commitment (and maybe don't start like the week before Thanksgiving. Be realistic).

Happy to have further conversations with any of you that might be interested. Cheers! 

The Whole30 Program: What Is This Witchcraft?

October 20, 2016

17 days ago I took the plunge into a program called Whole30. In case you have not heard of this witchery before, The Whole30 program is a nutritional program that is designed to help change the way you look at food in 30 days. A "short-term reset" they call it. It is designed to put an end to unhealthy cravings (read: all the sugar), and restore many components of that fabulous bod of yours. See ALL the benefits here.

The decision to take on such a project came after a summer spent eating a lot of ice cream and drinking a lot of wine. I was feeling hung over emotionally and physically from the amount of sugar and, honestly just crap, that I was putting into my body. A reset sounded like the perfect way to start my 30s.

The basics of the program: you only eat whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, meats, healthy fats. No dairy, no legumes, no grains, no alcohol, no sugar (these things can be hard on your digestive system which can then be hard on your entire body). The no sugar rule can be hard because sugar is added to virtually everything, so you have to check your nutritional labels for the sneaky sneakersons. 

WHAT?! I know. If you would have told me a year and a half ago that I would be doing a Whole30 I would have hardy-har-har'd in your face. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd try something like this.

There are tons of different types of "reset" programs out there, and they all work differently for different people. The reason I chose Whole30 versus other programs out there because, for me, it is really the simplest thing I can do (and I like simple). Eat real, whole foods. This is what works best for ME (I have friends that love Advocare and Beach Body and that is what works best for THEM, and hey they look and feel awesome, too!). But for me - no pills, no powders, no shake mixes, no counting calories or juicing your way through the day. You just eat food! This is a successful setup for ME. I know exactly what I'm putting in my body. Just food. It's actually so simple when you boil it down. It just takes a little more work and preparation than popping those magical frozen pizzas into the oven.

While a part of me definitely had the vision of slimming up a little bit by doing this program, I knew that there were so many other benefits to be had as well. I wanted to feel better overall, have more energy, and sleep better. I wanted to feel less bloated and more comfortable in my clothes. I wanted to be fueling my body properly for my workouts.

I have a pretty all-or-nothing personality type so this type of program has been good and easier for me than it may be for some. I operate well within structure and boundaries. I like rules and I often follow them without questioning. (This explains why Dave Ramsey's guidelines work so well for me also). So, once I commit to 30 days of clean eating, I can sit at the same table with queso, cookie cake, and pizza and not even attempt to touch them. (This is real life, people. This happened!) The rules are simple -- you can eat this...you can't eat that. So I see something like chocolate chip cookies (my favorite thing on the planet) and know that I can't have them and I walk away and let it go. I had no idea I was capable of this. When I have the choice of eating a chocolate chip cookie I won't eat just one...I'll eat eight. (Hi, that's why we're doing a Whole30 right now).

Instead of focusing on the foods I can't have, I focus on all of the delicious food I can. Chicken, sweet potatoes, strawberries, carrots, bell peppers, burgers, apples, almonds, cashews, eggs, pot roast, red potatoes, bacon (gotta check that label though and find bacon that has no added sugar), sausage, arugula, vegetable stew, grapes, turkey, blueberries, black coffee (I know...but luckily I was already drinking it this way so nothing lost here; however, if you need something more in your coffee, coconut milk is a real fun alternative) etc etc etc etc. Look at all this goodness. 

The changes I have noticed the most since starting Whole30 is that I am sleeping like an absolute champion. I do not get that 2:00-3:00 post-lunch tiredness that I've known for, I don't know, MY ENTIRE LIFE. I stay steadily energized all day long and when 9-10 pm rolls around I fall asleep without a problem. And I pretty much STAY asleep all night long. That is rarity in my world. It has been this way since probably the 3rd night in. It's magic. I'm also finally seeing small changes in my body and how my clothes fit. You would think after even three days of eating clean foods you'd see an immediate change, but aha! On the contrary things can look quite different. Many of your first days are full of bloating and weirdness that you can read all about here (in case you're considering doing this). Your body goes into shock, like - hey, where's all my ice cream, fool? - and reacts like a toddler for the first several days.

With 13 days ahead I am excited to see what other changes take place. And don't get me wrong -- this program isn't a walk in the food truck park. It gets hard and cravings are real and sugar addiction is an actual thing. I do believe that the fact that I was eating a pretty paleo diet before (paleo diet + a bunch of other junk, but I was already used to this type of clean food) has been helpful in the transition to this stricter food plan; BUT I know plenty of people that weren't eating that way when they took the plunge, and they have also enjoyed it. If this is something you've ever thought about doing and just haven't been sure, I would encourage you to continue to research it and give it a try. 

But a word of knowledge - this is not a weight loss program. Weight loss can be a benefit that comes from it, but you should not embark on this journey for only that reason. Embark on it because you are ready to take control of the things you are putting in your body and because you are ready to feel seriously awesome.

And one final insight and piece of encouragement from one of the co-founders of Whole30, as she addresses weight loss goals in her newest book:

Dear Melissa, 

I know the Whole30 and food freedom is about more than just weight loss... but I DO have long-term weight loss goals, and it feels like you don't address those at all in Food Freedom Forever. How can you leave out such an important factor in MY health and happiness? I need the Food Freedom plan to get me to my goal weight. -Love, Everyone
Dear So Many of You Who Have Asked This Question Already,

The short answer: I didn't leave weight loss out of your Food Freedom plan. It just looks different than what you're used to.

The longer answer: You've all dieted before, in an effort to lose weight. You all know exactly what that cycle looks like: restriction, deprivation, hunger, tuning out the signals your body is sending you, expending willpower like crazy, feeling a slave to the scale, and ultimately, losing weight.

Yay!

Oh, but then immediately rewarding yourself with less healthy food (feeling like you've "earned it" or "have some wiggle room"), watching your willpower abandon you right before your eyes, seeing your sluggish metabolism coping poorly with the extra calories you're consuming now, and regaining all the weight back (and then some). And the worst part: feeling like a failure, wondering what's wrong with you, beating yourself up, and punishing/comforting yourself by eating more less-healthy food.

So I get your question about Food Freedom and weight loss, I really do, but I'll answer your question with a question: If that's what you get with a diet that focuses on weight loss, DO YOU REALLY WANT MORE OF THAT?

Here's what I write in Food Freedom Forever: 

You don’t want quick-fixes that won’t last. You don’t want to lose the same ten pounds over and over again. You don’t want to be a slave to the scale, allowing it to dictate your self-esteem or self-worth. And you’re tired of feeling like a failure when yet another diet doesn’t stick (leading you to eat even more junk food to make yourself feel better).

You want more.

You want to use a new diet as a springboard; a jump-start to healthy habits that will last a lifetime. You want more energy, more restful sleep, fewer cravings, better digestion, resolution of aches and pains, and happier check-ups with your doctor. Would you be psyched if you also dropped a pant size or three? Absolutely. But that’s not all you want.

Ultimately, you want to end the program feeling in control of your food, able to use the tools you’ve learned to maintain that control long after the “diet” part is technically over. If you could only achieve that one thing—lasting food freedom—wouldn’t your other goals (improved health, better self-confidence, and yes, a trimmer waistline) be that much easier to achieve?

Focus on that last line: if you attain true food freedom (healthy habits that stick, a new relationship with food, and feeling in control while still actively pursuing and making progress with all of your health and fitness goals), wouldn't sustainable weight loss naturally follow?

See, I could give you yet another short-term quick-fix diet. I could cut your calories, replace real food with pills or powders, and restrict your food choices until, in a relatively short period of time, you temporarily lost weight. But that's not going to make you healthier, it won't change your habits, and it can't lead to the true food freedom I describe in my book. (And you already know that weight won't stay off.)

So despite what it sounds like you're asking me to do in your Dear Melissa letters, you don't really want that. What you actually want me to do is take you down a slower, more time consuming, more conscientious path requiring effort and dedication. A path that forces you to identify unhealthy habits and dysfunctional relationships with food, because that's the only way those habits and relationships will change. A path that teaches you how to make yourself healthier from the inside-out, supporting your new tastes, reducing cravings, and improving your metabolism, digestion, and immune system. A path that leaves you feeling self-confident, in control, and with more energy to tackle new health and fitness goals.

All of which will help you achieve lasting weight loss; the kind that your body and metabolism can actually maintain, because it's built on a foundation of health, not deprivation and restriction.

That's what you really want, and that's what I want to give you with Food Freedom Forever. And if I may interject a little tough love here: what you've been doing hasn't been working... so maybe it's time to try something new. Trust me. Trust the Whole30. Trust the Food Freedom plan. It will work if you work it.

Best in health,
Melissa
 

 

Facing The Burdens That Hold You Hostage

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October 13, 2016

I don't have all the words I need yet to share what I am learning, but I wanted to write a quick post to encourage you to keep fighting. To keep pressing on. Even if nothing (NOTHING) makes sense to you right now, keep following the call and walk straight ahead. 

It is amazing the way God weaves our stories. The way He prepares us for things that we had no idea we would need preparation for. How He prompts us to do things, that at the time just seem like things or ideas, but then days/weeks/months/years later we are able to look back and connect the dots. 

Back in July I began writing about grief again. It was my first post (other than posts about The Financial Peace Project) since January. I wasn't even grieving at the time, but just feeling very broken for many around me that were. Slowly it became a theme throughout my writing over the next several weeks and I did not fully understand why.

I wrote about staying on nodding terms with the people we used to be simply because I loved the quote that I had stumbled upon. I was able to relate to that quote in thinking back over my past and how I used to handle situations before and how I had changed, but really they were just brief thoughts. 

And over the last 6 weeks, staring up at some of things that I have not dealt with, I realized that all of these things I had been writing about were not only for my friends and family that were going through hard times, but they were also for me. I just didn't know it at the time.

Now more than ever have I gotten on nodding terms with the girl I was in my 20's (see, I can say that now because I'm THIRTY - cool!). I'm grieving the parts of my past that I'm not at all proud of that I had not forgiven myself for. I'm grieving those parts so that I can accept them and move forward. It's a good grief. It's a necessary grief. It's a hey-thanks-so-much-for-coming-don't-come-back-ya-hear-k-bye kind of grieving. The kind you learn from. The kind that sets you free once you stare it in the face and denounce it.

I don't know what burdens are holding you hostage right now, but I am rooting for you as you begin to face them. Or as you continue facing them. It takes a lot of hard work, and often a really long time, but I'm praying that you will catch a glimpse of that hope and freedom that you so deserve. 

 

When The Gritty Parts Of Your Past Begin To Show

September 29, 2016

A friend of mine recently told a story about an illustration one of her colleagues used for the Bible class he teaches. He took the hymn, "I Surrender All," by CeCe Winans and changed up the lyrics a bit. Maybe you've heard this song before. Maybe you haven't. The gist of it goes like this:

I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

He struck out the word "all," and instead wrote the word, "some." So that it read:

I surrender some, I surrender some, all to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender some.

I don't know about you, but I embody that second set of lyrics. 

For a girl with such a big faith, I do a terrible job of surrendering ALL. There are just a few areas of my life (really, mostly just one area), where I just make sure my little hands are still in the mix in some way. I imagine myself, shouting up to God, "That's cool, God! I know you've got a lot going on. If you'll just handle everything else, I'll keep control of this one thing. I appreciate you, though!" 

I trust Him with so much. I trust Him with my finances. I trust Him with my health. I trust Him with my family. I trust Him with my career decisions. And while He's handling all of that, I'm just over here with my hand on my heart protecting it from Him. Acting like I know better than He does. And He is kind with me and patient. He lets me do what I think I need to do in order to be happy. But, then when enough is enough, He grabs my hand, pries my fingers open and takes away what I have been holding on to so tightly. 

Exactly like a Father would do to His child.

So here's the thing - my inability to let go of some of the things I have needed to let go of has landed me in counseling. And to some of you that may sound scary, or weird, or taboo - but to me it is life-giving. I love counseling so much. I am a mega-shout-it-from-the-rooftops-believe-that-everyone-should-be-going-no-matter-what-they've-been-through supporter of counseling. It helps us learn more about ourselves and helps us understand why we react to things the way we react to them. It helps us put pieces together that we have not been able to make sense of before.

I basically went to my new counselor and said, "I need to know why this situation is affecting me the way that it is. It is confusing and hard and I do not understand why." And for the past three weeks, we've started to unpack the "why." And my friends, it has been hard. But it has been so, so good. 

While healing has happened for the situations that landed me there in the first place, some other things have come up. I have learned that there are quite a few things from my early-mid 20's that happened that I have not quite dealt with. Things that happened that were overshadowed by the meeting, the dating, the losing, and then the grieving of sweet Richard. And now that I have fully grieved that period of life (and I take none of it for granted), all of these gritty parts of my not-so-distant past are floating up to the surface. I am working up the courage to share some of what I've been learning with you, but I need to pray about it a little more because it will put me in one of the most vulnerable places I've found myself in in quite some time. But being real and raw and honest is what I strive to be, because the times I have been the most inspired and encouraged are when I have encountered others that were real and raw and honest. I just need more time to work through it.

However, I can say, at this very moment in life, I am currently surrendering all (after being forced to, let's be real). It is freeing and it is lovely, but it was unfortunately it was birthed out of gripping things a little too tightly. 

I am noticing the Light streaming into all of my dark corners. Having your dark corners exposed can be absolutely terrifying. But even so, here's the good news: once you can actually see into those dark corners - the ones that are covered in dust and dirt and cobwebs - you can finally begin to clean them out.

Searching For Beauty Amongst The Ugly

September 15, 2016

If I'm being totally honest with you (and I usually am), summer has been a bit of a rough season for me. It's been full of ups and downs and some big disappointments. It's had a little bit of an underlying theme of heartache, both for myself, and for many of my friends and family. It's been a season of thinking something was going to work out, only to discover you were wrong. Throw in a little bit of life saying, "hey! let's kick her while she's down!" and you have pretty much glimpse of my summer. I hate seasons like this. Seasons like this kind of suck.

And while these seasons can be truly ugly for many of us, they also bring with them their own set of really beautiful things. 

(Now, don't go rolling your eyes at me because you think that's a load of BS. Believe me, I get it. I get YOU. But like I've asked before: hear me out. 

When we go through these trying times we learn more about ourselves and our character. We have the opportunity for a little self-discovery (which really never hurt nobody.) Our relationships with God strengthen if we continue to bring our sorrow to Him.. (for me, it's because I spend a lot of time asking Him, "Dude. What the what is going on here?!") Friendships and relationships with loved ones also strengthen as we seek advice and fellowship. 

It is so (SO) easy to take a hard season and turn it into a pity party of bitterness for 1...and that is exactly what the enemy wants us to do. It is so (SO) hard to take a rough season and look for the beauty in it...but I believe that is what we are called to do. But sometimes even if we know that there will be fruit from this, we don't feel it yet and aligning our heads and our hearts can be the biggest battle of all.

Some of you are facing seasons of minor sadness. Some of you are facing seasons of torrential grief. I've seen them both and believe they can be equally as significant. Wherever you're at in your process of moving forward, take some time to search for the beauty that you might be hiding amongst the ugly. Even if it seems ridiculous because you don't feel like there could ever be anything redemptive that could come from this sadness you're feeling, do it anyway. Write it out. Look for the beauty you might be seeing now, or if you're not at that point yet, the beauty you'd like to see someday. It will be therapeutic and it will provide hope. And while you might not be ready to begin climbing out of your pit quite yet, having even the smallest glimpse of light will help pull you forward. He makes beautiful things from ashes, friends. Do your best to believe that.

I don't know about you but I'm ready for a new season. Lucky for us, fall (MY BELOVED FALL) is right around the corner. This year, fall is also bringing along a brand new decade for me (I see you dirty 30), so we're looking at brand new seasons in more ways than one. 

Heeeeey, bring it on.

 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashesthe oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

-Isaiah 61:1-3

Nodding Terms With The People We Used To Be

August 31, 2016

Yesterday I stumbled upon a Joan Didion quote that I connected with instantly.

“...I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” 

First of all - Joan Didion...what a literary babe, am I right? Talk about a writer that is real and raw and punches you in the face with truth. I love it. I read this quote and, honestly, cringed a little, because it naturally made me think about all of the versions of myself that I've GLADLY left behind. Some of those versions ain't so pretty. I've handled some less-than-ideal situations in some less-than-ideal ways. A great example would be when I was a senior in high school and did not make All Star status at cheer camp, and instead of simply hugging my friends that did, I hugged them and SOBBED because I was so heartbroken that I didn't make it. I still look back at that and think, "suck it up, you're the worst" to that version of my self (I also think..."my poor mother for having to deal with me"). 

Other less-than-ideal situations: not getting the job, not getting the grade, not getting the guy, letting the wrong guy walk all over me for years, etc. I look back at many of these times in my life and shake my head at the girl I used to be in how I would cope. Sometimes, things just got really ugly. I would spend much of my time hungover. Not necessarily from alcohol (although sometimes there would be a lot of wine and/or whiskey shots because you can take the girl out of Alabama...), but sometimes just emotionally hungover from beating myself up about something I had done or said. Not the healthiest of behaviors.

Since my move to Houston, I've discovered Brene' Brown, social worker, author, professor, speaker, and person-I-just-want-to-be. I'd heard of her before but had never read any of her books or listened to her speak. (If you haven't heard of her before, do yourself a favor and check her out.) She has an incredible way with words. And not just pretty, poetic words, but words that none of us want to talk about. She calls herself a shame researcher, and she addresses vulnerability, guilt, grief, and so much more. One of the many things that she has said that has stuck to me like the humidity in Houston sticks to your upper lip, had to do with shame and guilt. She said guilt is when you do something less-than-ideal and you say to yourself, "that was really stupid, I should not have done that." Shame is when you do something less-than-ideal and you say to yourself, "I am so stupid, I should not have done that."

I now realize, in my early 20's, I was living in a world of shame. 

So, naturally when I look at back at those times where I was so lost and grasping on to lies and shame, I cringe. However, this Joan Didion quote resonated with me because as unattractive as we found ourselves back then when we were grappling with that less-than-ideal thing, and as much as we'd like to leave all of that behind, it is important to be able to look our old selves in the eye just so we can see how far we have come. To see how we have changed. To understand how we are different than we were back then. And that even if something similar is happening to you now, and you may not be able to control the outcome, you can control how you handle it. In that way, you get to control how it ends. But you have to remember how the story ended the first time in order to handle it differently.

You are NOT your past. You are NOT your insecurities. You are NOT the unattractive versions of yourself. You, my friend, are a child of God and THAT is where your identity lies. Don't be afraid to look at those versions of yourself, give them a nod, thank them for what you've learned, and continue walking in a new direction. 

"When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending." - Brene' Brown

 

In War We Rally The Troops

August 24, 2016

I know I've been talking a lot about sadness lately. About war and wilderness; about weeping and grieving. I hope this time of writing about this so much will ease up soon, but it seems that this summer has been a season of heartache and strain for so many people. And maybe you're not going through one of these seasons now, but, sadly, you will. Here is my advice to us all as these seasons hit:

Rally your troops.

When you have found yourself in the trenches of sadness, call out to your friends, your people, your tribe, your community and just say "Listen, I need some prayer." Remember that we are called to weep with those that weep and carry each other's burdens. But no one can carry your burden or even support you if they do not know what is going on. Sometimes it's really hard to let people know you are hurting. Or you feel selfish for asking for prayer. (And sometimes you just aren't ready to share yet...and that's okay.) But we are meant to live in community and to lift one another up. And pulling your community in tight around you works. If you ever believe even one thing that comes out of my mouth (or that is typed from my fingers), please believe that. 

One of my favorite verses is 1 Thessalonians 5:17. 

pray without ceasing

It's in the middle of a sentence of decent length but it is numbered on it's own:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It actually makes me giddy that it is separated out in this way. To me, it shows just how important prayer is in our lives. Plus, we literally have a direct line to the creator of our universe. Why in the world would we not use it?

But another thing to remember: pray without ceasing does not just mean to pray when things are really bad, but to be constant in prayer, no matter what season of life you're in. I have to remind myself of this often. So many times I am just casually communicating with God when things are going swimmingly and as soon as everything falls apart I'm like "HEY GOD, HOW'S IT GOING CAN YOU HELP ME OUT K THANKS YOU'RE THE BEST BYE."

Nope.

He wants so much more of us than that, friends. He pursues us daily. Let's pursue Him back.

Be bold and specific in prayer. Take your heartache to God and let Him heal it. Take your anxiety to God and let Him squash it. Be courageous.

And when you feel like you just can't anymore, and that maybe you're about to hit rock bottom, rally your troops and let them stand in the gap for you. 

You are so loved. Don't you forget it.

What I've Learned From Being Terrible At Sitting Still

August 17, 2016

I've never been great at sitting still. My mom says that when I was a kid I'd leave a trail in any room I passed through -- kind of a tornado of sorts. I still feel that way about myself. Kind of a tornado that whirls through life, leaving evidence behind. Typically more of a doer than a sitter. 

When Richard died, I catapulted myself into doing. I dove head first into clubs, organizations, and events, leaving very little space for quiet and reflection (though I still managed to do some of that as well). I did this so much that I remember sometimes feeling guilty when my grief would overcome me and actually just sitting still was all I wanted to do.

I've always been the girl who keeps a full plate, having my hands in many different activities. I like busy. I like chaos. I like hustle and bustle.

Last summer when God uprooted my life and moved me to Houston, it was necessary, though I did not even realize that until I got here. At the stage of life I was in when I left Alabama (it was a great stage that I do miss dearly), I was basically like a hamster running in a wheel. I was just going and going and going. I was teaching Zumba and BodyPump 4-5 times a week, I went to small group on Monday nights, I was a youth leader on Wednesday nights, I was a steady volunteer with a local leadership organization, I was a volunteer in the children's ministry at church, I had a full time job, I served on the board of directors for a nonprofit organization and I had juuuuust started taking graduate school classes part time (slash I was also trying to maintain a healthy social life).

I was running myself ragged, living a very full and good life, but running ragged nonetheless. And there was no sign of me slowing down. 

So God intervened and sweetly and gently (and quickly) prompted me to move into this new stage of life in Houston. (You remember that story, right? Where I made the decision to move here in 2.5 weeks) To a place where I knew very few people and where I'd have to be super intentional if I wanted to get plugged into organizations and activities. I did not know a lot about the reasoning for my move to Houston at the time, but as I spent more time settling into this new life, I knew it meant that I had needed to rest.

It meant that I needed space and quiet and calmness. Something that I had not seen in years (maybe ever?). I needed to sit still. I needed to walk down quiet, tree-lined streets, and just be. 

(Let's not even talk about what God physically and literally having to move me, to get me to sit still, says about my personality.)

I have now been in Houston for almost 13 months, and I can honestly say it has been one of the best choices I've ever made (or plans I've ever followed, because hi...God). And the thing is -- I am still sitting still. I've made some really wonderful friends, have a seriously perfect job, a great church family and small group, and I'm teaching fitness 3 times a week...but that's it. I'm also reading a lot, writing, exploring Houston and watching a lot of Netflix (admittedly, this includes the same Gilmore Girls episodes over and over and over). Life isn't as schedule-packed as it was in Alabama, but it is still very full.

I've been praying a lot about what that next thing will be that I will add to my plate, but I have not received any concrete clarity quite yet. I want to be intentional with each "yes" I give, so I continue to pray and be still. And maybe "still" sounds boring to you, but I assure you, there are benefits.

I sit in my stillness and I constantly communicate with my God, praying for guidance, praying for clarity. My relationship with Him has become more intimate than it has in a long time. I feel his presence and assurance around me. I can hear Him better, I can see His path clearer, and I can genuinely rest in His plan. This seriously makes life way easier than me trying to start a bunch of trouble on my own. So much of my life is up in the air right now, and for the first time ever I'm not so focused on what is next, but truly basking in this season of right now. It is refreshing and rejuvenating and a space of rarity.

So if you are finding yourself in a space of stillness (either forced upon you, or at your choosing), or you've been wrestling with and ignoring the notion, rest in the knowledge that clarity and peace will come. It will not always be easy, and sometimes it may be confusing, and oftentimes you could get restless...but trust that it will be worth it. 

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence for my hope is in him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. -Psalms 62:5-6