Over-the-Top

“I heard something on the radio this morning,”  my Grammy said. “If you have one good friend, you are blessed.”

I nodded silently. This, I knew. But I had forgotten. After a while, the world has a way of jading. Being others-centered tends to be a blessing, and a curse, simultaneously. Serving as a way of life can be awkward for some who are not accommodated to it. It appears forced, or fake. Or, in the case of its genuineness, it creates a sense of guilt from those who do not feel they can compensate or repay the grace-giver. And so, they usually accept the first gestures with sincere appreciation. But after a while, as is the case with human nature, they become complacent. Where gratefulness used to be expressed, entitlement at its ugliest (and passivity at its best) takes over. If there is anything that mocks me at the deepest level, it is being overlooked. Not having worth. Not being valued. I have spent too much of my life believing that lie.

I wasn’t going back. And I wasn’t going to let anyone take me back there.

“But, if you have two good friends, you are,” she paused as she tried to remember, “over the top.”

I smiled. The sadness in my spirit melted. I often thought a lot about the friends who had maligned me, or equally hurtful, forgotten about me. Not the friends who call once a year and we pick up where we left off. The ones who ignore. Who don’t respond to attempts at communication. Who pretend to be too busy.Who keep saying, “Yeah– I’ll check the calendar!” and then never get back to me. Who don’t show gratefulness or write thank you notes. The fact is, I do serve for my own good. But I also do it for them. I have come to appreciate the most insignificant of joys, and it bothers me to see blessings overlooked or unidentified.

But what I didn’t spend enough time thinking about were the ones who were there for me, through thick and thin. I began naming people in my head as she continued to talk about the seasoned friendships she had maintained for over 50 years. It was incredible to think of having friends for that long. And I thought continuing to talk to college friends 6 years later was a huge win.

One thing about my Grammy? She is the friend that she would want to have. She has weekly phone dates with her closest buds and she prays for them EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I know this because she remembers even the least of my requests and asks about them. She sends cards and packages. She hosts people for dinner even when she’s had a long day of babysitting. She loves people well.

My other Gramma is another example of a person who loves others. She is always helping, always busy, always doing. She visits the “least of these” and calls them on their birthdays. I remember going visiting with her when I was young and loving it. She doesn’t have a bad thing to say about anyone. I have a legacy of people who go beyond exhaustion to go above and beyond for others.

This is what I want to be when I grow up.

The friends that I have had the longest are the ones I never expected to go far. In fact, the friends I am closest to now are people I have thought in the past, “We will probably never be friends.” God has a sense of humor. One such friend is now my accountability partner, and I can’t imagine life without her. She has broken off numerous chains of bondage off my life because of her prayers. She asks me the hard questions no one else wants to ask, and she constantly sharpens me to be a better person. The Lord knew way-back-when that I would need her, and she resurfaced in my life at exactly the right time.

In the past, I’ve always tried so hard to force friendships, spending way too much time obsessing over why they didn’t like me as much as I liked them or why they always ignored my attempts at forging relationship. But the friendships that have meant the most to me seem to happen so effortlessly. I met a lady at a Bible study last spring and we were instantly friends. I call her my mentor– she calls me her daughter. She has walked me through seasons of despair and celebrated with me through victories. Her advice and walk with the Lord so inspires me. And I can truly say she does far more for me than I could ever do for her.

I make new friends every month. I’m never so comfortable that I am not looking for someone else to bless or be blessed by. I know the people God has placed in my life have made me the person I am today, and I don’t take that for granted. So now, I don’t wait for the invitation. I introduce myself and initiate conversation and extend the invitation

I saw a quote today: “A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit.” {Greek Proverb}

That’s what my new 80-year-old friend portrays to me. She is a valuable member of the Kingdom, having chili dates with 28-year-olds and inviting people to rock on her porch and share her mountain view and talk about Jesus. She listens to their discouragements and encourages their gifts, watering those young plants and watching them grow strong and tall. I can only pray that if the Lord leaves me here until I’m 80, I will be about the business of planting, nurturing, and watering small trees under which I will never find shade or pluck fruit.

The thing is? We may never get anything back from the friends we choose to bless. We may feel that the relationship is entirely one-sided. But isn’t that how Jesus was? Constantly pouring into people, healing them and speaking words of kindness to them, knowing full-well that they would reject Him? He was about His Father’s business, reflecting the Father to each person He encountered.

Jesus pursued me and I want to love people the way He loved me.  I want to pursue.

I am fortunate to get frustrated that there are not enough days in the week for coffee dates with each of my friends.

And you know what? I think that puts me BEYOND over-the-top.

Resurrection Family

This article is such a beautiful description of the season of Easter that not just any article will do. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I had to feature it here. Lori Manry is an Instagram friend of mine (search environmentsofgrace) and hosts the blog http://environmentsofgrace.com. Please do yourself a favor and follow her!




WHAT NEEDS RESURRECTING IN YOUR LIFE?

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How good of Easter to come right after winter. For those cold barren months burrow in us an awareness of death, a humility to that which we cannot control. Instead of the obvious of vibrant colors and the fullness of foliage and the singing of the animal world, when we surrender to a season of dying we must look harder to see life in forms less visible. Like the whispers of wind that foretell change. And the provision of a thick coat that miraculously appear on the deer that winter in our woods. Like the glistening of snow that makes the bare branches sparkle. And the winter fellowship that happens when a family hibernates in their den of togetherness.

There are glimpses of life in every season of death. You just have to let grace be your vision.

But the hardest for me is right now. These days stuck in the in-between. None of the beauty of Winter, with few signs yet of Spring. It’s a holding place that makes me restless.  I yearn for the resurrection of colorful days, of the songs of the birds, of the warmth of the sun. I ache for the way it all breathes life into our bones and we begin to dance instead of huddle.

And this rebirth, this resurrection, is only possible because we endured the season before it. The one that taught us how to be still. The one that tested our patience. The one that made us tuck under covers. The one that brought the dark. The one that stirred in us a fervent longing for what’s to come.

And it has me wondering what needs dying in my life and what needs resurrecting. For when death is happening all around, you can’t help but also notice the winter in your heart. The starvation of control. The dullness of cultural conformity. The infertile nature of judgment. The suffocation of perfectionism. And how God is taking these territories of my heart and making them barren in order to resurrect the abundant life he intends for me. One of surrender. One of intentionality and mission. One of grace.

After death, God always resurrects. This we can be certain of. For it’s His story, and ours. But resurrection happens only after surrender, only after “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” This artist God of ours is always re-creating in and around us, springing forth new life, raising from our graves of flesh a life and spirit that embraces more fully our purpose on this earth.

What needs resurrecting in you? And what must die in order for God to raise up new life?

The Year of Not Yet

In true form, I am still reflecting on what-would-be resolutions this far into January. And I love it. I love coming back to my worksheets and planner and journal, cutting out things that aren’t priorities and adding things that have been needed, such as consistent Bible reading, studying, praying, and focusing on others. This afternoon, I pulled out my two favorite “new year” blog printouts: Beth Moore’s “Glancing Back Before We Move Forward,” and Tara-Leigh Cobble’s “The Ten.”

I wanted to share them with you, in part. First, Beth’s blog post on December 31, 2011:

“Spend a little time while today with Jesus begin very intentional about your last year. The changes. The ups. The downs. The hopes. The disappointments. The inconceivable grace of God. Something He brought you through that you were sure you couldn’t survive. Or something that has yet to come to resolution and what He has done even in the midst of the wait. Philippians 1:6 says that God will complete the work He started in us when He first saved us. That means for our whole lives long, change will be part of the agenda. Are we still changing? Are we still growing? Is there any evidence of growth over our last year?  These are important questions to ask ourselves before we get up tomorrow morning, put {2014} behind us (which is appropriate!) and embrace God’s goodness and grace toward {2015).  If you’re game, after spending those moments with God in reflection, write a comment to this post today using 3 words that have characterized {2014} for you. Tell us something that happened in your heart this year. I know that some of you have had a grueling 12 months and I don’t want you to have to fake it for our sakes, but please consider and express ways God has also shown His faithfulness to you. He’s good even when a season has been anything but.

I have had a hard time picking my 3 words to describe last year.

Last year, in some ways, was preventive. When you dare to dream, those dreams often get crushed. In many ways, I stopped hoping. Someone texted me last week and told me that he felt like he was supposed to tell me not to give up on my dreams. And you know? I realized that I didn’t have any. I had goals. I had passions. But dreaming? I was done with it. Our house was never built. My career promises never came to fruition. I lost people close to me. I believed for restoration for my family that didn’t come. I hoped for things in my marriage that didn’t happen. I was begging to see what God was doing. Even a glimpse would’ve been nice. But, in hindsight, God was preventing me from doing things I would later regret. He is so gracious.

In some ways, last year was paradoxical. When I held onto things, they seeped through my hands. When I tried to let things go, they stuck around. When I dreamed, my dreams got dumped. And, likewise, when I surrendered, I saw miracles happen. We stayed in our rental, and we love it better than the house we would have built. We sold the property we were going to build on and made a little bit of money, all the while thrilling the buyers, who had wanted to buy it when we did, but weren’t able to bid. When I prayed, my situation didn’t change, but I sure did. When I set out to make money, sitting jobs were canceled and people did me wrong and took advantage of me. But yet, when I stopped trying to make it happen and focused more on how what we had could benefit the Kingdom, jobs and money started coming out of nowhere. When I stopped forcing my husband into situations where I hoped he would feel comfortable, the Lord gave us an opportunity I thought he was sure to hate, and yet he has thrived in it. When I gave up on reconciled relationships, the Lord graciously mended them.

Over all, 2014 was parenthetical. And I knew it. The entire year, I felt like I was on the verge of something. It was a year of not yet. Waiting for the Lord to show up and work. Waiting for prayers to get answered. Waiting for a breakthrough. Learning to trust when I couldn’t see. Learning what walking by faith meant. The Lord renewed my hopes and dreams during this time. Not by fulfilling them or even giving me dreams, but by giving me permission to let HIM dream for me. His plans for us are better than we could ever plan for ourselves. In 2014, He allowed me to rest, to learn confidence in my identity as His child, to get filled up. For what, I didn’t know. And I still don’t have a complete picture. But that’s okay. Because we already know that He will complete the good work He started.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to reflect on last year. I often get strength from reflecting on the past and recognizing what God has done.

And as we move forward, this, from Tara-Leigh, on January 1, 2010:

“So when I woke in darkness on the first new mercies of this year, I asked Him, “What now?”

He took my hand, put my fingers to His lips, and quietly spoke Psalm 62:1-2 to me.
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from Him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Then He repeated Himself, the way He does when He means business:
Two hours after He led me to those words, I found a tiny scrap of paper someone had written them on.

And so my New Year’s Resolution, if you can call it that, is to learn to wait for Him alone. I don’t know yet how to learn this, but I know that I have a patient, loving teacher.

I step into The Ten, lighter for lack of fear, heavier for weight of hope.

“All the waiting that I’ve done, all the waiting yet to do.” “

Sometimes, resolutions aren’t specific actions with hugely measurable results. Sometimes, they are quiet, unseen, unnoticed, powerful things that could silently change your life. So, amid your “try a new diet” and “clean the house weekly” and “be more social” resolutions, maybe add something quiet on there. Something like, “memorize a passage every month” or “pray for 10 minutes each day” or “write out three blessings every day” or “read at least two verses each morning” or “send one Scripture each day to a friend.”

Consider asking the Lord for a word and a verse this year. My word for 2015 is steadfast. Psalm 42:8 says, “By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”  Every day, I want to remember His love for me. I want my life to sing to Him and to glorify Him. And I want to continue steadfastly doing the things I know I should be doing, even if I don’t see immediate results.

His promise remains and He will be faithful. 

I resolve to believe that.

Holiday Recap

Confession: I really wanted to boycott Christmas this year.

If it weren’t for the fact that it was Jesus’ birthday and all, I wouldn’t even feel sacrilegious at all about it. 2014 flew by faster than any year before (in my lifetime), and it’s just not okay with me. Also, my friend Elisabeth and I made the trek to Pennsylvania at Thanksgiving (which I haven’t done in 16 years), and so that felt like Christmas. (Elisabeth says what we experienced can be referred to as “ThanksMas”. On the way back we were staring at Gingerbread Coffee signs like, “What’s up with that? Don’t they know Christmas is over?”) Needless to say, we spent December being tormented, as it were, by dementia of the worst kind because we were so sure it was January already and yet everyone kept insisting on buying presents like they were going out of style.

Did I mention that I work retail? Yes. And it was “January”.  And yet I was being trampled by the holiday crowd. These do not mix.

By December 15, I was in dyre need of some Christmas spirit. As in, I was getting MAD because everyone else was enjoying Christmas and I was left out. Like I was trapped in a time warp and the world was moving on without me.

NOT a good feeling, in case you were wondering.

God, as usual, came to the rescue. I can’t say that I was ever in traditional holiday spirits, but I did accelerate in joy due to a few key things that got me in the spirit. I thought I would share them with the helpless soul, who, like me, may need to remember them for a time when they could use an ounce of Christmas spirit.

1. Christmas tree shopping

One tradition I have never been part of is the cutting down of the perfect Christmas tree for the Daryl Hilsher household. They make a morning of it and go to the Oregon Dairy and eat breakfast. I almost did a jig when I saw that chocolate milk had unlimited refills at the breakfast bar, and I came close to asking the waitress to set a pitcher of it on our table next to the coffeepot.

Then, out into the freezing cold we went. We went to a FOR REAL Christmas tree farm and got to pick out the “perfect” tree and cut it down. The boys all shared the saw and took turns trying to fell the tree. It was quite fun, complete with a hayride to and from the tree field and a trip to the sidehouse to get some hot cider, which we consumed immediately, to the chagrin of our tongues.

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When we returned to Tennessee, my man and I went out in search of our perfect tree. (We did not go to a FOR REAL Christmas tree farm.) When you go to a friend’s farm, you are at the mercies of the tree. So, this is my Charlie Brown tree. I nearly cried when we brought it home, but after a touch of burlap and some presents underneath, I was quite pleased. Also, it managed to keep my Christmas stress down due to the fact that the branches could only hold 3 ounces each. So my tree was complete with 10 lightweight balls and a string of lights. Bingo.

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We went for a “Christmas-y” lunch with some friends at the local General Morgan Inn, and had our picture taken in front of a REAL tree. Bingo, again. (Of course I’m kidding… this is really our house.)

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As if Christmas wasn’t busy enough, I decided to invite a friend over for breakfast. She came bearing these beautiful packages. That wreath might never get packed away, just in case you’re coming to my house in the next six months. It may still be up. You’ve been warned.

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I met with my mentor at Catalyst Coffee Company and we shared these gifts over a lovely cup of spiced apple cider. She sympathetically listened to my Christmas woes. She made me laugh. And she pointed me to the Prince of Peace. She is almost like having my grandmother in town. I am assured that when they meet, they will be fast friends. (They might not even like me anymore.)

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I went to my nephew Michael’s Christmas program, and I loved watching the wee ones wave their arms and yell at the top of their lungs. If only I could be a kid again! Then maybe my Christmas spirit would come back.

(One song they failed to sing was my mantra for 2014:

Where are you, Christmas?? Why can’t I find you??)

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I also hosted a Christmas sock exchange at my house and that made me feel quite festive. We had a grand time together, eating and well, exchanging socks. Christmas-y ones. My niece Kayla and her grandma even ended up with the same pair of reindeer fuzzies! Neither of them seemed to mind. The evening digressed as my aunt and I concluded with our duet rendition of Elvis’s “Blue Christmas.” IMG_4794

You should be glad you weren’t there.

IMG_5106We welcomed Kate into the world (my cousin/niece) at the end of December, and there’s nothing like a baby to get you in some spirit! As Faith Hill says, a baby changes everything. We THINK she is the last of the Mohicans on the Hilsher side of the family (translation: the last grand young’n.)

Christmas Day presented a fun day for us all! We laughed a lot. And we loved the little beards that my aunt Brandy gave to all the guys!

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(I can hear it now, “Ya’ll need to start workin’ on those great grandchildren!” Gimme time, boys. Too busy enjoying all the other babies!)

New Year’s Day, I had some family over for a last minute brunch. This is our first year doing this, but we might make it a tradition! My Poppy forgot about it and ate breakfast before he came. When he asked for a raincheck, I said, “Sure! But you’ll have to wait until next year.”

That evening, my brother and his family and Brandon and I traipsed to Bass Pro Shop and we still aren’t sure why we did that. All I know is, shopping wears a girl out.

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This past weekend, I went with my mentor and sweet friend Debbie on our first post-Christmas shopping trip and we had a BLAST! We initiated the trip because we are both enamored with flocked Christmas trees and hoped to get one on clearance. Alas, we did not, but we DID find enough other good stuff to make up for it.

We had our last and final Christmas with my mom and brothers and sister this past Sunday. (We like to stretch celebrations out.) I was prepared for the event. Everyone was threatened within an inch of their life if they didn’t take a plate. I HAD to get those sweets out of my house.

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If they wanted gifts, they all had to eat a piece. They all obliged and not a piece was left untouched. This was Lacey’s first Christmas, and she was enamored with the wrapping paper.

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It felt fitting to take a group picture of all the ladies together, especially with my sister Caitlyn beginning her college adventure this coming week!

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It happened to be my half-birthday, but nobody remembered it. I’m still kind of sore about it.

Welp, that’s the end of my holiday recap! It’s hard to believe we stood in line for a roller coaster for 364 days only to have it only last a few hours. But I hope those few hours were meaningful to you and yours.

Thank you for your support, friendships, prayers, and feedback this past year. Here’s to a wonderful 2015!

(Though the Servants Knew)

I love parentheses. They claim to house unimportant material, but we often find out life-changing things in these (humble) abodes.

The servants.

The innocent bystanders.

All they were being paid to do was pull off the wedding. Make it look good. Make the host look good. And then–the wine was gone. Albeit not their fault, the servants usually take the brunt of a rich man’s temper. I’m sure they feared for their jobs, their lives… their joy! This was a big day. If this day went bad, they were all in trouble.

The ceremonial pots, used for cleansing: Those were what Jesus, one of the wedding guests, asked the servants to fill with water.

Now THIS was stupid and borderline risky. What if the Jews saw, heard? They could be out of a job. Or worse, out of the religious sect. Not to mention caught wasting a LOT of water. (SAVE THE WHALES!) Who was this Mary and her son, anyway? They weren’t the boss of them…

They didn’t raise their eyebrows.

They didn’t question.

They didn’t mutter under their breath.

They did what Jesus said.

The most rewarding obedience is what comes when we don’t understand the significance or the reason.

That was the easy part. Then they were told to take it to the master of the feast.

This took great faith on the part of the servants. They just met this dude. And he was asking them to determine if He was a trustworthy person or not. They only knew him for a few minutes!

Can you imagine the fear? The trepidation? This could get them in more trouble than if they stayed out of it altogether. I’m sure the hosts were already irritable and scared themselves. And skeptical of these servants.

But when you’ve tried everything else and it’s not working, you’ll be more willing to try Jesus.

Isn’t that often how it works?

And they took the wine to the master of the feast.

Maybe shaking. Shaking their heads or shaking in their boots.

I wonder if they truly believed it was wine. Or if they thought it was a cruel joke. If they were rehearsing the way they would blame Jesus to keep from losing their heads. I half wonder if they wanted to tell Jesus to take it to the master himself.

I wonder if the water changed colors before it reached the master of the wedding feast. I rather think that it didn’t… because Jesus likes to keep secrets.

He likes to see just how much we trust Him.

Something about this man must have been compelling— because they took it. Without a word of explanation, they gave it to the master of the feast. They didn’t even preface the wine tasting by covering their backs in case it was just water. “Some guy brought this to us….”

Verse 9: “The master…did not know where it came from (though the servants who drew the water knew)…”

Of course they knew. I think it took courage at first not to protect themselves in case it went sour. And later it took courage NOT to reveal the miracle worker. They kept it all to themselves.

It never mentions those servants again. But it does say that the disciples believed in Him.

I would say the servants did, for sure.

I don’t even know if they were introduced to Jesus.

But when you brush shoulders with Him, you can’t help but be changed.

Maybe He is trying to do a miracle for you. But you’re holding back. You don’t believe. You’re too rational, perhaps. Let Him change the muddied waters of your life into wine.

He can do anything. But He often won’t until we obey. Open your eyes to the miracle. The miracle of the season, and the miracle of your season.

Catching Up on Fall- A Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve been mourning the loss of the summer I think I missed. I honestly think this is the first year that summer mostly passed me by and I was unaware of it. Not having a school schedule (last day of school, first day back to school) has put me behind since I graduated from college. In 2009, YA’LL. I feel so old. 7 1/2 years ago seems like another lifetime.

Welcome to adulthood.

We did celebrate summer. Sort of. Brandon and I went to a brand-new beach in the tip of North Carolina and had the time of our lives. The problem was that we went in September. (That’s actually fall, you guys, in case you weren’t aware.) But I refused to believe it wasn’t still summer. So, I’ve been about 2 months behind everyone else. I am just now beginning to embrace fall, and it’s almost over. Like I almost feel guilty that my Christmas decorations aren’t up yet. I JUST CAN’T. It’s too soon. It can’t be that time. If it weren’t Jesus’ birthday, and I wouldn’t seem sacreligious, I would strike on Christmas.

Fall is beautiful, and so many of my Instagram friends have been talking for months about how they’re “bathing in the beauty of their favorite season.” To me, fall has usually been the yellow light before the red. It lasted with perfect weather for no more than two weeks. I dreaded the cold and bundling up and the pre-car-starting before I drive. I freeze in the summer, so you can only imagine my state of chagrin in the snow. It’s pretty and all, but shoot, it should be pretty if the weather puts us through that kind of torture.

But in this holiday-less mood I’ve been in, it hit me sometime this week: I love fall.  More than I ever have before. This year, fall has symbolized putting behind the old and forging the way for the new and fresh. As much as I hated to see the summer go, with the sand dunes and the warm weather, the falling leaves and the chilly coat weather has some sort of magic in it.

So before it totally passes me by, I wanted to share a post about some of the things that I love about fall. Besides pictures of the perfect weather temperatures (for about two weeks) and the beautiful leaves, I’ll share with you what makes my home a celebration of autumn.

IMG_4459  My mom always had a fun wreath on the front door. I picked up this wire frame and fall burlap at Walmart and simply wrapped and tucked it. I bought the inner corduroy wreath from a friend at a discount because it’s foam interior doesn’t keep its shape. It’s perfect snuggled inside the frame. Most people don’t know it’s  two pieces!

IMG_4460These two goodies came from Hobby Lobby when the store was 50% off. I am in love with clocks these days (old, vintage, or big statement clocks). I also adore this Be Thankful cutting board. I think I’ll keep it up year-round in my kitchen!

IMG_4461We have a new vendor-space store in Greeneville called the Burlap Bunny, and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I picked up this lantern for something like $12 and paired it on a leaf placemat with these Longaberger pumpkins. I also love my crackle candle. Pumpkin nutmeg is the best scent and the the crackle sound makes me think I have a real fireplace!

IMG_4462I have a fridge frame that I decorate for the seasons. I have Ann Voskamp’s manifesto for the day on here at all times, and for fall, all I did was put some autumn paper behind it and a fall picture that I took at our local coffee shop a few weeks ago.

IMG_4463 I don’t have an abundance of fall decorations, but I try to find a couple statement pieces so that at least each room has something festive in it. I snatched up this Welcome pumpkin string at the Dollar General Market at the end of the season last year for about $3. I love that I can keep it up for at least 3 months. (So since I just got in the fall spirit, expected to see it here until January.)

IMG_4464 The furniture our tv sits on has a couple patches of orange. I love the clementine box… it’s perefect for putting my Groove book picture books in. I also added a pumpkin (which I will admit to having bought because I broke it at the store. There’s a huge hole in the back. Placement is everything, folks.)  IMG_4465

Eveetually, I hope to get this door up on the wall as wall art. But until I can convince my husband, it’s leaned up against a wall in the corner of our living room with strands of pictures around it. Only a few more weeks until lights and Christmas cards get added to it! For fall, I added a simple foam wreath my mom gave me last year to the doorknob.  IMG_4467 I also snagged this cast–iron mirror at the Burlap Bunny for $12. I have a green theme going over in this corner of my bathroom, so the pumpkin that my friend Kimberly made out of scrapbook paper and brads goes well in here to add a touch of fall.

IMG_4469I can NOT even think about the holiday season without my Bath and Body Works soaps. I debated for probably half an hour the other day why it’s so doggone important to me to have these soaps. I finally concluded that it is A) the scent plus B) the cute designs on the front. Like a picture frame with function. I could buy holiday scented soaps anywhere, but I think B&BW probably pay their package designers as much or more than they pay the scent-concocters. (I am confident that these are their real titles. “Hello, I’m Dan. I am a scent concocter for B&BW.”

IMG_4470 My friend Debbie has won her way into my heart. Almost single-handedly due to the fact that every time we meet, she gives me a copy of Better Homes & Gardens. I want to frame this magazine cover. You might recognize it as being part of my fridge frame. Yes. I took a picture of it. That’s how much I like it. If I had unlimited amounts of time, I have no doubt that this magazine would be read a half dozen times. But since I don’t, I just look at it and it gives me the calm that sitting on my favorite bench with cocoa in hand would bring.

Those are just a few things in my house that remind me to cherish the season and bring me joy. I know you have a few things you love, and I would like it ever so much if you would share your fall accent ideas or shoot me a picture of your favorite fall accent to me on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanskgiving and, most of all, a savoring of the best thing our Lord commands us to do: give thanks in everything. He is so good, no matter the season of life or the way things appear to be going for us. Resting in His unseen will and choosing to TRUST His plan above all else is what brings true faith combined with gratitude.

May family, loved ones, and calories be yours this Thanksgiving!

A Season of Change

Snow comes when you least expect it. Like on the dawn of November, just when you’re thigh-high into autumn decorations and pumpkins and gourds. When you’ve finally acclimated to the summer being gone and the cool weather beginning.

And then, snow shows its face.

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And while we may mourn the loss of autumn and the early entrance of winter, if we take the time to slow down, we can see the beauty of the seasons colliding. The brightness of the leaves against the backdrop of the snowy ground is breathtaking.

If you take the time to notice its beauty.

2014 hasn’t gone at all like I expected, either.

It started off with a bang. We were told in January that we would have a house by April. We had high hopes of our very own brand-new house on our beautiful property we had purchased a year before. And then the plan bottomed out. It was a little devastating for us. Okay, a lot devastating. In May, God gave us a new idea, very different from the one we pictured in our minds. We were so appreciative of what God had done. We just couldn’t figure out why we had gone through the process we did.

But in hindsight, I would have turned into an ugly person building a house. Making thousands of decisions and knowing they are practically permanent stressed me to no end. I was a nutcase just discussing all the options. I have come to the conclusion that building a house is only fun if you have fun-ds. (Unlimited, preferably.) Building a house made my two strengths– saving money and making the most of opportunities– butt heads. I knew that practically speaking, saving money was smartest. But also practically speaking, I only got one shot at building a house. And this was it. No pressure, right?

Autumn and winter didn’t mix. And neither do two antithesis strengths.

Or so I thought.

I’m glad God spared me from becoming a miserable person. (My friends and family should thank Him.) (Big time.)

Also in the past year, I’ve been offered two major career changes. I desperately wanted to do both. I wanted to do something BIG. These careers were both something I was passionate about, although neither were my degree. Both were fairly lucrative, in comparison to what I make now, and both offered new horizons and the potential to spend more time at home.

I have never really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. But the older I get, the more I love being home. It could be because I’m almost never here, but this Saturday morning, I am “trapped” inside, with snow all around, typing while my husband sits next to me watching tv. And I’m so glad I can be here with him. It’s a guilty treat for me, taking time off from work to. do. absolutely. nothing. This is what I want my family to look like when we add mini Tranthams to it.

I have spent a lot of time over the last year wondering if these job offers were the voice of God, telling me I was created for something more. Something different than what I was doing. Was He trying to move me out of my comfort zone? Or maybe He was trying to see just how content I was where I was. 

Contentment has always been an issue for me. This seems to be a fairly frequent human problem. I am grateful that I am not alone, and grateful for the real-ness of my friends who admit that this is a struggle for them, too (#thestruggleisreal). So, it was very possible that this was the lesson He was trying to teach me.

Between house dreams crumbling and careers coming and going, most of this year has felt like I’ve been in “time-out.” Like I had made some bad moves, and I lost my decision-making privileges. I felt like everything I wanted to do was being dangled in front of me, but I was told not to touch it. And with that negative attitude clouding my view, I felt like my ministry was at best useless, or at worst non-existent. I told someone that I felt like I had to wait until I was 33 (like Jesus), before I was able to actually have a ministry.

But in hindsight, these job offers made me think beyond right now…about what I would do when I had children. He has been dealing with me about being a stay-at-home mom, and I have fought Him on it (just like I have almost my whole life about everything.) (I do not say this with pride.)

When we bought our rental house in August, I wore a few more hats to help pay for our increased house payment. I got into cleaning houses, also. I nannied a few more days than usual in addition to working full-time at the bookstore. I had been selling Thirty-one very part-time, but had gotten burnt out with the stack of bags I had accumulated. 

I wanted to sell something that was a consumable product. I wanted to sell something that would help people boost their self-confidence, not just boost their closet capacity. I wanted to offer people a solution to a problem they hadn’t previously been able to fix. I didn’t want to jump on a fad- bandwagon and hope I could ride on the waves of new-ness. I wanted to be with an established company with a great reputation and something to offer people of all ages.

But most of all, I wanted to give hope to women who had no hope, and that meant getting out of my circle of Christian friends (whom I dearly love) and get in front of people I didn’t know. I had become comfortable in my Christian existence doing everything with my “few five” and keeping things cozy.

This series of events this year have put me on a new mission. Not only a mission of meeting new people and increasing my circle of influence, but also a mission of either significantly decreasing the mortgage we just secured or of giving me the sanity to give up my full-time benefits that I enjoy right now so that I am able to stay at home in the future. This time, my practical side and my fun side have met.

Autumn and winter can mix.

Who knew?

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And when the Lord collides them, it provides a beautiful backdrop to show off His strength in my weakness.

Every day, I wake up and I promise you….I’m scared to death. I have many doubts, “Am I doing the right thing? Will I still be doing this in a year? Do I have what it takes to make this business work? Will I fail?” And I hear Jesus say, “Perfect love casts out fear.” And I ask forgiveness, because I know I haven’t loved Him perfectly. If I did, it would make everything seem less scary and I would trust more.

My greatest fears doing a direct-selling business? That people will think I’m using them instead of getting to know them for who they are. (People usually come to me for favors, not the other way around.) And then, I think about the opportunities I’m offering people. A changed life with a product that finally works. A way to “work the system” to get free products instead of dishing out hard-earned money. A dream of working preferred hours and being ones own boss.

This is what I want you to hear: Don’t be alarmed. I won’t blow up your feeds with products specials or group messages or the ever-annoying Facebook event invites. My blog entries aren’t going to turn into a sales pitch. I’m not going to spend our limited time together over coffee convincing you that you need nail wraps or cookware or wrinkle cream, but I will tell you how much you need Jesus. Because we need Him more than the air we bI will hopefully make deeper and more meaningful relationships with people because of this pursuit, but I won’t transform our existing friendship into a business. This has reminded me anew how much I need the Lord and need to pray my way through this. I pray for my events and my guests and my hosts. I pray for a fun atmosphere. And I do pray for success.

But not as much as I pray for new opportunities to minister. I hope that years down the road, no matter where I’m at in a career, that I will not be identified by a particular company or job or title. I pray that I will be identified because I’m a Jesus-lover. And that I will still be fast friends with the women I have met through this business. I am praying for some Timothys (that I can minister to) and some Pauls (that can teach me a few things).

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Do you need to hear it again, too?

The death of a dream always brings life to one you didn’t know you had.

What have you experienced this year that has wrecked you? What has left you jaded and disappointed and afraid?

Maybe you’ve lost someone vital to your life. And you don’t know how you’ll go on.

Maybe you’ve been so hurt by a boss or a close friend or a spouse, and you don’t know if you’ll ever heal. Maybe you’re up to your eyeballs in debt or facing discontentment on every side.

Maybe you feel like you, too, are in time-out.

Maybe you don’t have a clue what’s next, but the possibility of an unknown future scares you more than the mess you’re in the middle of right now.

Maybe you brace yourself every time the phone rings because you know it will be bad news. Are you counting the days until the end of this year because you’re convinced it’s cursed?

Have you had your identity pulled out from under you? Have you been so linked to a person or a career or a title that you feel empty with it gone?

Let me answer your questions with a question: Do you trust that our God redeems?

If we say that we believe in Him, we must also believe that His promises are true. That He works ALL THINGS together for good… for those who love God.

Do you really love Him? Do you really believe Him?

Do you trust Him with your life and with the lives of those you love?

Do you trust His plan?

Do you trust Him to use your ashes to make something beautiful?

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Isaiah 6

“In the year King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.”

In our times of grief and desperation, that is often when we most need a vision of the Lord. But sometimes our vision is cloudy. It can be caught up by bitterness and hurt and anger. It can be clouded by distraction, earthly preparations, and hurried busyness.

But if we are going to truly see the Lord, in all his glory, high and lifted up? We let the hard times throw us at His feet. We let the exhaustion carry us to His rest. We let the pain and frustration take us to His shoulders where we cast our burdens. We allow our limited understanding to lean us into His heart.

When I’m grieving, the last thing it feels like is that “the whole earth is full of His glory.”

The thing is that God doesn’t change His position or status when bad things happen. He is still sitting high and lifted up.

Our finite minds see that glory better when we personally feel glory. But to really have His essence revealed? We come when no glory is left in us. When our sin has bound us and our hopes have fled and our cancer is back and our grief is unbearable.

THAT? That is when we are supernaturally able to see Christ bigger than us and our mess.

“And I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'”

To see ourselves lower means to see Him higher.

“Then one of the Seraphim flew to me with a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar in his hand. And he laid it on my mouth, and said, ‘This has touched your lips, and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is purged.'”

To forsake our sin means to be forgiven.
To discard our unclean lips is to kiss the righteousness of God.
To close our eyes to our issues is to see the KING – the Lord of hosts.

“Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me.'”

And only then will we see ourselves as God sees us. The chosen ones – the ones whom He will send. The ambassadors of the Trinity. The SPECIAL. (Even if your name isn’t Emmet.) (Lego Movie joke. Sorry.)

Only when we are undone can He make us whole.

When I view it that way? It almost makes me hope that everything doesn’t go perfectly today.

Because I don’t want to forget about Him. I want my brokenness to lead me straight to Him.

Ashes

The death of a dream always means the birth of a new promise. It is hardest to believe when walking through the ashes of what you thought would be your future. Wading through shallow shattered hopes can almost drown you in waves of sadness. Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

When those hopes are our hopes.

Before the way of faith was made available to us, we were placed under guard by the Law…. It was our guardian until Christ came. The law. The dreaded law. Yet, it was our protector for some time. It was what kept our depravity at bay. It was our foster parent until our Father adopted us. It was our lawyer until the Judge came. It was our thermometer until the Healer arrived. It was the bank we measured our eternal rewards by until we gained our inheritance. It was the way we got our identity until Christ BECAME our identity. We were like the rich young ruler, craving perfection in law-keeping but lacking so much knowledge in life-gaining.

They were told that Jesus would come, to believe that one day He would be sent. But I know there were times that Abraham wondered when. When Moses wondered how. When even the man who was born to prepare the way for Christ wondered from a jail cell if He was truly the One the prophecies referred to. When the disciples wondered as they fled during Christ’s death if they had somehow missed the boat and this guy wasn’t really the One Who would crush Rome and save them from oppression.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

When those hopes are our hopes.

I have a new appreciation for it, this law. In an odd sense, it was my chaperone until I married the chaperone. Now, with the Judge Himself granting me grace, I no longer have to live in fear of the consequences of the law. He has freed me from its wages. This does not mean I am no longer bound to any rules, simply that the rules changed. I now do time, not because it is my sentence, but because it shows the immensity of my gratitude.

The death of the law made way for the promise of life. Without the law, what promise would we have? The dark backdrop of the law was illuminated by the brightness of the Child of Promise who ushered in grace. Without the darkness, we would perhaps never realize the magnitude of our salvation. We would take for granted that we were roaming free without chains. But when Jesus breaks the padlock and we leave our shackles behind?

We never forget the beauty of that moment. It is a defining moment.

Just like the moment of “I do”. The moment of the baby’s first cry. The moment of the body-dunking in baptism. These moments stand etched on our memories and are reminders of who we are and where we come from.

And where we are going.

Those moments of despair? The moment of “no” or “not yet”s? The moment the doctor gives the diagnosis? The moment the casket closes? The moment the baby’s heart stops beating? The day they walked out? Or you did?

The day our hopes die?

He scoops up the ashes and wipes the tears. He takes us by the hand, leads us away from that pile of hopes crushed and broken dreams, points to the cross and says, “This is better than what you wanted. Just wait and see.”

And I beg you, through the tears, to believe the promise. To trade your hopes for the faith to believe that His hopes are better. You’ve heard it said that God works all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose? I’ve heard it said that if your situation isn’t good yet, then He isn’t done with it. This is not a prosperity gospel. It is the promised Gospel.

The death of the law brought the promise of grace. And although it is challenging to sever the attachment, no greater freedom has been found.

With every death comes life. We bring our broken dreams to the cross and He trades them for more… Than we could ask or think. Life abundant. Life abundantly more than you thought it could be.

When our hopes are no longer ours but every bit His…. Then we can be sure they will come to fruition.

And that’s a promise you can bank on.•

The House That God Built

We moved around quite a bit growing up, and so I guess I never really got connected sentimentally to a house. Maybe moving around so much is what made my first home a big deal for me.

Two months before we got married, we had NO idea where we were going to live. About a month before the date, we started randomly driving around and I remember having one appointment to see an apartment. ONE. 

{I have always wanted to have an apartment. I like small and cozy. One: because you need less stuff to make it look full. Two: because it’s less to clean. Three: because dorm life didn’t count since I didn’t get to pick my roommates. Four: because I wanted to come home and read fun magazines instead of studying constantly. Such will probably never be a reality. Oh well.}

{We never got a phone call back about that apartment. Turns out the person who rented it was arrested later. I’m REALLY glad that wasn’t us.}

I offhandedly mentioned it to my grandfather and he furrowed his brow (which is what he does when he is about to drive home a point or get perturbed). He tilted his head, furrowed his brow, and said, “Why in the world would you consider that when your own family has a house that’s gonna be for rent?!”

This was news to me. And so off we were whisked to look at a house that (coincidentally) (or not so coincidentally) was going to be open, say, August 8. We got married the 13th. Not only did we move in with just enough time to spare, but the people who lived in it before us were clean to the nth degree and left the house SPOTLESS. I didn’t even have to clean before we moved stuff in.

I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO CLEAN BEFORE WE MOVED STUFF IN.

As a result, we’re still friends with this couple. We ended up in a home church with them and we still chat and love them to pieces. God is so generous.

Did I mention this house was my great-grandfather’s? There’s just something about having a pantry where the board games and toys used to be. And my aunt Tara lived in it for a time and left us some beautiful yellow chairs that I was dreading leaving behind when we moved. There is character and a ton of memories in this house. We loved it. And the Lord just Dropped. It. In. Our. Laps.

I have often wondered why I didn’t panic that we didn’t have a house so close to the wedding. I guess I trusted the Lord. Who knew?

I learned this as a teenager: When you let go of your dreams, you give God permission to dream for you. And His dreams are always way bigger. And better.

Somewhere along the way, we got in our young brains that we were going to build one day. Build for God’s glory, nonetheless!! He was going to give us a beautiful new house with all the trimmings so we could host unbelievers and encourage believers and eat to our edification!

I jest. But isn’t it so easy to shoot God’s Word into our dreams and make it sound spiritual?

We WOULD have done those things. Don’t get me wrong. But here’s the thing? We were doing those things anyway, in a rented house. With 70’s cabinets and speckled countertops and a pink commode. And ya’ll…. we could STILL HONOR GOD. And you know what? If people weren’t coming to our house because it was claustrophobic or because they don’t take showers in pink bathtubs or because our refrigerator doesn’t have an automatic water dispenser, then a) I may need to reconsider the audience I’m ministering to, or (most likely) b) God would fix it.

(He obviously thought our sink made a bad impression because He gave us a brand new one last week.)

(I kid. But He is kind. That is my point.)

Brandon went to an auction last May and casually asked me if I wanted to go along and look at the property that was being sold. I told him I loved the land and SURE why not buy it if it’s a good price? I’m still not sure what medication I was on, except that my grandparents were in from Pennsylvania and all was right with the world.

That day we became land owners. And about six months later we were ready to tackle building.

We had several meetings with a fantastic (also placed in our laps) architect and contractor. We settled on a design we wanted and a guy we thought would do a stellar job. We were thrilled with the possibilities and I was IN LOVE with the way the outside was going to look. Gray siding with a stone face around the door and beautiful white pillars leading to the sidewalk. And a GARAGE. My three loves? A porch swing. A master bath. And a GARAGE. That I could actually park in. The inside? That was debatable.

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But back to the rental: One thing I loved about this little house? All the walls and corners that added mystery and character. But when we thought about hosting more than 15 people at a time, we realized that it was a little claustrophobic. In the words of one little guy, “Your house isn’t that small, Miss Cara. It just FEELS small.” I couldn’t say it any better. But then we went into an “open floor plan” house that was about the size we wanted. You could stand in the living room and see the kitchen (and all the dirty dishes), the dining room, the master bedroom on the left, and a toilet on the right in the guest bathroom. Our contractor said, “Yeah, but you can just close that door.”

Hi. Have you met Brandon?

I can’t get my husband to put the toilet seat down and you think he’s going to remember to close the door?

(This was the point that I seriously doubted the capacity to which I could trust this contractor.)

And he thought carpet was better because of how good it felt on his feet. But we knew how soon we’d need to replace it in the main walkways. And then he told us we couldn’t afford a garage. And that the driveway would be the length of the panhandle state but we wouldn’t have money to pave it. And the house would be sitting behind the barn on our property. Because glamorous. And the basement would be unfinished. AND it was already going over our budget. TWICE.

The breaking point for me came the day I remember clearly telling Brandon, “I can tell you right now that I’m not going to be content in this house. We will be swimming in debt and I won’t even have my dream house.” I struggled with my discontentment. How selfish was I to anticipate being discontent? Am I not responsible for my level of contentment?

I don’t think Paul remembered his granite counter tops at home when he wrote (from jail) that he was content in every circumstance.

I battled with desiring so much and feeling guilty. Katie Davis lives in Uganda with dirt floors and I’m sad about not having a walk-in-closet? Twice the size of her hut? I felt incredibly selfish. It truly made me want to curl up in a ball and tell Brandon to pick everything and decide how many square feet we should have. Then, if I hated it or felt guilty, I could blame him for it all. But then I knew I wouldn’t get my claw foot bathtub and then I’d just be mad.

{Note: If you’re thinking of building a house, prepare to meet your ugliest, most depraved self. I have met myself and we haven’t been friends since.}

Finally, once we had everything almost ready to go and a promise to have a house by spring, we hit a wall. It’s too confusing to articulate (and frankly, I’m still not positive that this wasn’t something God made up because even our contractor hadn’t heard of this law) but let’s just say that we weren’t allowed to build until June. This was in February.

And ya’ll, I was mostly sad because I had big plans to write Scripture on the 4x4s of each room, Scripture especially for us and for our family. Prayers that we want to see fleshed out in our home. To me, this was going to be a spiritual undertaking. We knew God would bless this house and use to to make us a blessing.

And He would have. We just would’ve been stressed about money and in debt up to our eyeballs and we would have had no money to entertain with. You all would have been invited to bring the steaks with you when you came to visit.

I have said that it wasn’t God’s will for us to build. And I do believe that, technically speaking. But I really think it was just that He had a better way. We wouldn’t have been disobeying if we built. Hear me on this: He gives us all a free choice. But He knew CARA and knew that this decision was not best for her. Or her marriage. Or her wallet.

The death of a dream usually gives life to a dream you didn’t even know you had.

We looked at other houses but nothing clicked and we were still looking at a LOT of money. For us. Who are trying to live simple lives and find a budget that would potentially allow me to stay home with kids later on. Brandon kept talking about “if we have kids before we get this paid off” and I kept saying, “Yeah. You should probly plan on it”… because if we didn’t have kids in the next 30 years? Well…

One day Brandon asked me if I had ever asked my great aunt if she would ever consider selling this house. It was such a long shot that I almost didn’t. You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would) that she said her daughter had just mentioned to her the week before that she should sell this place. I think I heard angels singing around me.

And the rest is history. We hit some bumps along the way, but never was it more clear that this was the plan God had for us. We were able to buy about 11 acres with it, so our family can grow and expand and potentially more houses can be built on it one day. We are five minutes from both jobs and from town, but we’re in the county and don’t pay city taxes. We have family surrounding us and the ones who aren’t go to our church or have just been fantastic neighbors. I have about a two mile radius that I can exercise and I don’t have to pay for a gym membership. Or even go around a neighborhood more than once. (Hellooooo again, folks on the porch….)

And WE DON’T HAVE TO MOVE.

It doesn’t have the ridged wood floors I wanted. It doesn’t have a porch swing. It doesn’t have a master bedroom or a connecting bath or even more than one bathroom. But we already know the things that need to be repaired/replaced because we’ve lived here for 3 years. We know the dreams we have for it and we have people in our lives that specialize in keeping character while making things functional. For now, it’s just us two and we can live with most of it.

I like to say that Jesus tricked us into living here before we bought it. So we can’t say, “I can’t handle this pink toilet!” because we have for three years. Isn’t He sneaky? Sneaky good?

The thing I’ve learned through this journey is that God not only supplies our needs. He supplies our wants. And sometimes, He provides the wants we never knew we wanted. He’s good like that.

So when I pull up to our house, I picture my dream house. Because it is a wonderful place to live a dream.

 

 

This was one of our engagement pictures 3 years ago. We knew it was the site of our first rental, but no idea that it would be our first home. God has secrets, ya’ll.