Archive | April 2012

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

Some of my very earliest memories at church include having 5th Sunday Music Nights.  I was a big fan of those nights and wished they came around more often.  We would hear songs shared from some of the most talented people I know.  While I’m not one of the most talented people I know, I too learned how to sing in front of a crowd on Music Nights.  It was tradition that when these nights rolled around during the summer, our services would be followed by ice cream.  Not just any ice cream (though there are few kinds that I don’t enjoy), homemade ice cream.  In my not so humble opinion, it’s the best version of ice cream there is!

At the close of the service, all the kids and teenagers would race to the swings hoping to get there in time to actually be one with a swing.  Otherwise, you were left watching because no one ever gave up their swing.  At least, not until the ice cream was ready.

It was nothing to have infinite churns of homemade ice cream lining the sidewalk.  The options felt endless— Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Mr. John High’s Peach or Strawberry, Oreo, Vanilla, Aunt Vicki and Uncle Dennis’ Mint Chocolate Chip, and Sara and Kirby’s Cherry.  There were several flavors that you just knew would be on that sidewalk every single time.  How do you choose?  You don’t.  If you like it, you add a little to your hodgepodge filled bowl, and just go home wishing you had not done that (again).  No one had to convince us to go get in line or say “try it, you might like it”.  No sir—we had to bargain our turn on the swings for the last serving of our favorite kind.

Even if you haven’t grown up around homemade ice cream, I’m guessing you’re probably still a fan of ice cream itself.  Sprinkles, hot fudge, candy, nuts, cookies, fruit.  Maybe you’re a sucker for sundaes, banana splits, ice cream sandwiches, Nutty Bars, milkshakes, or even just a scoop on top of cobbler or pie.  (I’ll take vanilla on top of a fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie any day of the week.)  You can eat it in a cake cone, waffle cone, waffle bowl, dipped cone, a cup, or a bowl.  Dairy Queen, Sonic, Cook-Out, McDonald’s, Baskin Robbins, Kilwin’s, Haagen Dazs, and the list goes on…

Think about it: when was the last time you saw an ice cream commercial and thought “wonder if that’s any good”?  I’d have to think long and hard before I can picture even just one.  I know I’ve seen commercials that have tried to convince me to buy some other product, because it’s somehow as fabulous as ice cream.  Or even, “come eat at our restaurant, we have ice cream”.  Rarely a commercial for just ice cream.

The thing that’s most fascinating about ice cream is that—it sells itself!  No one has to convince us to buy it.  We’ll dine with you, you have ice cream.  We’ll come to your resort, you have ice cream parties.  Admit it– it’s not a birthday party, unless there’s cake and ice cream.  Ice cream sells itself.

Is it like that with Christianity?  Not usually.  I’m convinced, unfortunately, most Christians don’t really enjoy their relationship with Jesus.  We tend to have to tell people that we are a Christian.  It doesn’t just sell itself.  Something’s gravely wrong with that picture.  ‎As D. L. Moody wrote, “It is a great deal better to live a holy life than to talk about it.  Lighthouses do not ring bells and fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.”

My prayer is that the Lord will find me faithful shining, living out His love to the people’s lives He’s put me in.  I hope that the reason I do not have a passion for missions is that my form of Christianity is not worth propagating.  I want to be in such close relationship to Jesus that I can’t help but live as a mirrored image of Him.  Sadly, I think I tend to miss the opportunity more than I take Him up on it…

“A soft drink company in Atlanta has done a better job getting brown sugar water to these people than the church of Jesus Christ has done in getting the gospel to them.”  (Radical)

Friendship at Its Finest

(*Disclaimer: The opening of this blog is not a slam, in any way, on those of you who were absolutely there.  You know who you are and I don’t “group” you with the ones I’m about to mention.  Please know that!)

When I was a senior in college, I was attacked in the parking lot of my apartment.  I couldn’t “prove” it and the guy disappeared.  I fled to my apartment and just went into, essentially, a completely frozen mode.  I didn’t react like everyone thought I should and therefore did not find many people in my corner.  In one of the darkest seasons of my life, most of the people that I counted as friends went the other direction.  Not only were some of them nowhere to be found, many of them were part of the furthering of the flying rumors.  I quickly found myself in not a broken place, but one of feeling completely shattered.  I developed serious trust issues with people.

For a really long time after that, I tried to get an understanding of God’s grace and love all by myself.  But God created us for relationships—not only with Himself but also with others.  If God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit need each other, then where in the world did I get the impression that He would be impressed with my Lone Ranger approach?  I didn’t withdraw from people, but instead just refused to go beyond surface level conversation.

In the last year or two, I’ve allowed God to break down the walls that I had built so high.  It’s hasn’t always been a fun place to be, but because of that—I have learned so much about honest friendships.  I’ve learned what really being there for someone else is about and what allowing an “outsider” to enter my heart looks like.

There are still seasons of my life where I am haunted by the memory of that infamous morning.  Something will trigger it and I can still hear myself scream, see his face, and feel out of breath from running when in reality I’m just going through the routine tasks of my day.  Unfortunately, it causes me to question the friendships in my life all over again.

There is just something about the genuine sharing between friends that is kind of my favorite.  The ones that I don’t feel like I have to filter for; I can just be me because they “get” me.  Isn’t that what we all want?  To be seen, the good, the bad, and the ugly and still be embraced?  I am flabbergasted that I have people in my life who know most everything about me, but love me anyway.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been reminded of just how blessed I am to have the friends in my life that I do.  I have sat across the table from my college apartment-mate while she listened to the ramblings of my world and totally understood everything I was saying, she knows me.  I have shared e-mails with one of the most Godly women that I know and not had to “explain” anything.  I have shared cryptic text messages with a friend of mine that has put up with me since high school.  Today I sat across the table from one of the coolest guys I know and somehow he understood everything that I didn’t even know how to say.  I don’t have to check my words with him.  Which is particularly great since I don’t tend to check what I say with myself, ha!  I get to have lunch (almost) daily with a co-worker who has also become my friend.  She allows me to not make any sense and change my mind in mid-sentence.  She lets me repeat how I feel about something just about every single day and walks with me through the mess that I tend to find myself in.

Why these people are friends with me—I will never understand.  I am often high maintenance and quite confusing.  I over-analyze everything and ask a million questions.  I don’t get it but boy am I sure thankful that the Lord saw fit to share them with me.  Knowing that they are praying for me, standing in the gaps on my behalf, has helped to sustain me more than they could ever know.  I pray that I have that same grace with them.

Be intentional about investing in friendships.  Pick up the phone and call.  Have lunch.  Send the seemingly random text.  Drop a card in the mail.  Shoot the e-mail their way.  Allow people to do that for you too.  This whole thing called life wasn’t meant to be done alone.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Once A Dreamer, Always A Dreamer

For about as long as I can remember, I’ve been a writer.  I’ve kept prayer journals for years now.  I’ve had a journal to my future husband since college.  I’ve always preferred hand-written notes and cards to sending e-mails or Facebook messages.  A good pen (particularly if it writes pink) and a cute notebook will always make me smile. 

 

I write out plans, packing lists, grocery lists, and dreams.  I love to dream!  Sometimes, I’ll go to sleep just to dream.  I know most people don’t typically remember the dreams that they have, but I do.  I dream vividly.

 

Tonight, I was on a mad hunt for a book that I know I own, but for whatever reason it is not on my bookcase.  In the midst of my searching, I quickly became distracted when I came across some of my old journals.  Needless to say, I completely forgot about the book I was looking for and instead sat on the floor and read my old stuff.  I had to just laugh at some of the things I thought I really wanted to ask of God; things I was dreaming about.

               

I have been told that I probably dream too much, I need to have a more realistic view and plan.  Here’s the thing though: there’s nothing “realistic” about the way God moves.  I think His track record pretty much proves that.  One of the other things I came across tonight was a note card that just simply read, “The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead.  He puts a little piece of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” (2 Cor. 5:5)  A taste of what’s ahead, a dream even?  I’m convinced so.

 

What I realized while looking back on some of the stuff I’d written is that, as much as I thought He was, God wasn’t saying “no” to my dreams then.  He was just saying “yes” to a dream that I couldn’t see yet.  Thank You Lord for not being a God who just gives us whatever we think we want, but for being gracious enough to spare us from the pain that most of that “stuff” would bring our way.  He couldn’t have given those things to me.  He is obligated to keep us dissatisfied until we come to Him and His plan for complete satisfaction.  When we’ll do that, when we’ll reach past our personal plans, He’ll surpass our wildest dreams with what He had in store the whole time.

 

I will always be a dreamer.  I’m just learning to dream the dreams that match the heart of God.  I don’t always know what those look like.  What I do know is that sometimes, I’ll find myself caught in the kind of dream that causes my heart to skip a beat.  I’m convinced that God is definitely up to something when He overwhelms my heart like that.  Usually, those dreams don’t match, at all, what I’ve always thought I would live out.  However, when God changes our hearts—we’ve gotta be willing to change our plans.  I’m learning that I have to make sure God is truly holding the pen and allow Him to script my story as He sees fit, even if He takes the plot line in a completely new direction.

The Breaking Point

Have you ever had “one of those days”?  Usually, when I’m having “one of those days”, I can pinpoint why.  Someone or something has set me off and I’m just taking it out on the world for a while.  In my taking it out on the world, every little thing feels like it’s gone all wrong.  Think: Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.

 

Today, was “one of those days”.  The only problem is– I can’t even tell you why.  It’s like I woke up in a bad mood.  Which, doesn’t make sense; early mornings are my actually my favorite.  Not today.  The water wouldn’t warm up fast enough.  My sister was in the bathroom when I wanted to be.  My car was cold when I got in it.  I was borderline snippy with a friend of mine, who didn’t do much of anything besides say “good morning”.  That’s when I realized I needed to get a grip on myself.  So, I walked into my office, closed the door and just cried.  I’d officially reached the breaking point.  Maybe that’s all I needed?  A good cry.  Then I felt bad about falling apart, like I somehow needed to have my life in perfect shape before facing the world.

 

Where does that mentality come from?  This idea that you have to have everything together all the time.  Part of me says that it comes from being an organizer/perfectionist.  If everything’s not planned out, in perfect order, it’s not ready.  I think I’ve somehow translated that to my life.  Part of me says that it comes from the expectations that I’ve convinced myself other people have of me.  Truth be told, I don’t think anyone thinks about someone else that much.  If they do, that’s probably not healthy.  Ha!  Most of me knows that it goes much deeper than that though.  I think I somehow came to believe that I need to have everything “together” from church. 

 

Anyone else have a mom who could put you and your sisters in your places just before opening the van door and greeting someone else in the parking lot with all smiles– all in the same breath?  I love my mom, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not blaming it all on her!  I’ve grown up watching (not just) women in churches greet each other with “Good Morning, how are you?”  “Great, how are you?”  “I’m fantastic”.  Somehow, I began to believe that “I’m fantastic” was supposed to be the answer and that I better get fantastic before I started making contact with other people.  I also grew up hearing that the Christian life is the good life.  Let’s be honest though, while it totally and completely is the good life in Jesus– it doesn’t necessarily feel like it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

 

Recently, I’ve begun to feel incredibly restless.  I’m restless at church, like I don’t fit in.  I’m restless at work, like I was meant for something different.  I’m restless in my friendships, questioning who my garden friends really are.  (You know, the ones that truly just “get” you and you know that you know, you’re really friends.)  I’m restless in my own room, like God is really far away.  My room has always been a refuge for me.  It’s as if I’m barely hanging on these days.

 

Do you know what I’m learning though?  I’m learning that’s okay.  I’m not perfect.  Praise God that I’m not supposed to be!!!  That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure.  Jesus, you know the only one I’m supposed to be listening to anyway, taught that I don’t have to have it all together all the time.  Ever really.  He basically said, in the Sermon on the Mount “admit that you need Me, that you don’t have it all together”.  

 

I’m learning that God does not have a one-size-fits-all plan.   It’s okay not to fit someone else’s mold, someone else’s expectations.  The curtain tore; we don’t have to go through anyone else for the plan.  I long terribly for the day that I no longer care what people think.  The day that I just walk in the knowledge that I don’t have to have it all together all the time.  I’m not there yet!  Praise God for the grace that allows me to find my way to that place…

Road Maps, Hot Pink Luggage, and the Journey

A few years ago, my friend Rebekah and I went on a mad hunt for new luggage.  The suitcase that I had gotten when I graduated high school had taken a real beaten throughout my college years.  I was about to embark on a summer full of mission trips, camp, retreats, and vacations.  It was time for new luggage!  If you know me at all, then you can imagine my excitement when a hot pink and black set was on sale.  No brainer—I’d found my new luggage.  I was so excited about all that could be packed in this 3-piece set.  Especially since, “pack light”, are words that I don’t tend to take to heart.

I’m a sucker for a good road trip.  I love everything about it!  Okay… almost everything about it.  The excitement that comes with figuring out what I’m going to wear while I’m gone, creating a new playlist on my i-pod that’s fit for the trip, deciding what we’re going to do while we’re gone, and even determining what I can get by with wearing the whole week before so that I don’t have to do laundry until I get back from my excursion.  I love prepping for the trip and I love being at the destination.  That part that I’m not really a fan of is if getting there takes forever.  I’m not a let’s-stop-ten-times-on-the-way kind of girl and I certainly don’t typically opt for the scenic route.  I just want to be there.  I don’t really care for the travel required to get there, the journey if you will.  As far I’m concerned, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  I break out the road map to make sure the GPS directions are sending me the quickest route possible.  This has been a problem since I was a kid.  My sisters always wanted to know what county we were in, if this was highway whatever, and couldn’t we go that way and head towards *insert a city*.  I was always the first to ask “how much longer” “are we there yet” and “what’s next”.

Recently, I’ve had the same “complaint” in my spiritual walk.  I’m a big fan of all the preparation required to be ready to go where God wants me to go… studying God’s word; knowing His heart; seeking out Godly wisdom from mentors; plugging into a good small group; belting out praise and worship songs in my room, car, shower, kitchen,  hallway.  I get all of that, I love all of that.  What I don’t always get is the molding He has to do to have me ready.  (I require a lot of work!)  I want to just be there.  It goes back to the traveling… I don’t like the journey.  I think it’s because it’s not always a comfortable place to be.  In fact, it can be pretty painful.  Particularly for a girl who likes to map out her trips and plan every necessary detail.

These days, God’s been reminding me that He only promised a lamp unto my feet, not a crystal ball into my future.  He isn’t necessarily going to even tell me where the destination is, He wants me along for the journey.  Quite the opposite of what I prefer.  I’m also learning that it’s okay to keep being the kid who wants to know “how much longer” “are we there yet” and “what’s next”.  I used to think that questioning Him wasn’t okay, that it somehow meant I didn’t have enough faith.  However, I’m learning that questioning God does not necessarily mean not having faith.  It’s in those questions, that don’t get immediate answers, where God whispers what He wants me to hear.  My faith deepens because I’m willing to be part of the journey.

I am so thankful that God’s cool with me playing 20 questions with Him; that He handles my heart and questions all along the journey.  I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know that He’s got it all figured out.  Praise God, who has and is lovingly authoring my story!

God in the Stalling

The day started out seemingly perfect.  I finally got the chance to be lazy for half a day and then got to take two of my favorite kids to see the new Winnie-the-Pooh movie with Natalie, Brittany and Rebekah.  It’s always good to take a kid with you when you’re going to see a kid movie.  Otherwise, people look at you like you’re a nut or you’re plotting to kidnap their kid.  (Thanks, Lori for loaning us your kids.)  So we enjoyed a day in the 100 Acre Wood and headed to Chic-fil-A, where apparently every mission team passing through North Carolina had decided to have lunch.  We decided not to stay, which is usually when the cute kid stops being cute because you’re taking their Playplace away.  Well, this is another reason why I like these two kids—they showed how flexible they were and agreed we could just go over to Zaxby’s.  Good morning, good first half the afternoon.

 

After lunch, we turned our kids back over to their mom (best part of taking someone else’s kid) and all go our separate ways.  The sisters and I headed home to pack and go to Raleigh for the night.  We agreed to take Brittany’s car so we loaded up and she began to drive us West.  Again, everything’s going great.  The radio’s playing good songs, we’re having the best conversations and I even got the chance to roll down the window and feel some rain.

 

All of a sudden, I hear Brittany wondering out loud why her windshield wipers aren’t moving as fast as she’d set them for.  I lean forward to notice that her battery light is on and she’s asking Natalie what the rapid moving needle on her RPM indicator was about.  I then hear Natalie telling Daddy on the phone that we’re getting off in Zebulon to find somewhere to look at the battery with us.  This is where the already good day on a slow-decline… plummeted. 

 

We pulled up the red light at the top of the ramp and discovered that the car has officially died.  Natalie and I open our doors knowing that the only option is to get out and push this Ford Taurus, loaded with luggage, etc across the intersection in 100 degree weather.  I’m not gonna lie, we did a rather impressive job!  And then…. we reached the hill!

 

We had pushed and pushed and then, all of a sudden, it was as if we weren’t able to push anymore.  One car pulled from behind us and turned left.  Another vehicle pulled straight through.  It wasn’t really even their turn but I guess they figured since we had traffic stopped for them…

 

Natalie looked at me and said, “Stephanie, push.”  “I am!”  I had been praying the whole time that God would give us the strength to just get through to the other side of the intersection, since it seemed no one used that road anyway.  My prayer changed in that moment.  Lord, can You just move this car please?  Before I could finish the sentence, Natalie and I heard “okay ladies, push on three”.  All of a sudden, there were two other men coming up to help push that car up and over the hill.  Next thing I knew, my spot was being taken by a man saying, “we just saw you.  I didn’t know what was going on.  I just saw you,“ as if he was apologizing for being late.  All we were able to do for these men in return was say, “thank you so much” and “bless you” over and over. 

 

We sat down in the car, leaving the doors open, to let the adrenaline settle and I just kept praying, “Lord, when You show up—You really show up.  Thank You for coming as men willing to help.”  We sat there longing for some water and realizing just how hot it was again as the sun moved just above us.  Just as I said, “it’s just hot”, a gentle breeze began to blow through the car and a raindrop fell on my face from the tree above.  I thought of the lyrics from Laura Story’s song, “what is your blessings come through raindrops”. 

 

As the car began to get quiet again, my phone started beeping and I opened a text message from Lori that read “I like the lesson this week.  I’ve studied it for several days instead of waiting to the last minute and it’s been a real blessing.”  I picked up the phone and called her.  I just had to know what our Sunday School lesson for tomorrow was going to be about; I hadn’t read it yet.  I told her where we were and what just happened and she said, “Tomorrow’s lesson is on being thankful and God’s blessings”.  I figured that made sense, since it was the theme of the day.    

 

For about…. well I’m really not sure how long, to be honest (I’ve lost count of the weeks)… God has been showing me repeatedly how He is absolutely preparing me for something in the future that I could never dream would be coming.  He has confirmed in so many ways that He was not kidding when He said, “I know the plans I have for you” (Jeremiah 29:11).  Well, today, He reminded me that He is also still in charge of every detail of my day-to-day life and He truly is Jehovah Jireh “The Lord will provide”….

Don’t Wanna Miss Mr. Incredibly Right

Most people know that, from the time I was in the 7th grade, I’ve kept a list of what I was praying for in my future husband.  In fact, if we’ve ever spent more than about an hour together then the news that I have a list isn’t breaking to you.  My list has grown and changed as I have.  Over the course of the 12-14 years that this list and I have been together—I have been both applauded for taking my future marriage so seriously so “early” and laughed at for being “too picky”.  Clearly, neither has fazed me because this list has continued to stay incredibly close to my heart.

Now, you would think that having such a list would mean that my heart has never been broken.  (About that!)  Some days, I’m tempted to believe that the breaks have cut deeper because the expectations were so high.

I remember, in Elementary School, each of us were assigned the daunting task of safely and creatively packaging an egg so that when we dropped it from the top of our playground’s 10 foot slide—it wouldn’t break.  We were responsible for the safety of that egg, regardless of what it was put through.  Some classmates went to great lengths to protect their eggs and at the end of the experiment—their eggs were still very much intact.  I probably don’t have to tell you that most of the eggs that day didn’t make it!  Most of us were just arrogant enough to believe that we somehow had an unbreakable egg. Riiigghhtt, because those are made.  Even hard-boiling the egg would have only decreased the likelihood of it breaking.  It still would not have been a guarantee. 

I have found that, on many occasions, my heart has not been too unlike that egg.  I have gone to great lengths to ensure that my heart would not get broken.  Hence, “the list”.  If every guy that asked me out could somehow fail before we ever went there—my heart would definitely stay in one piece.  No brainer.

What about the times that the guy seems to be most everything on the list and worth giving a shot?  That’s when I’m more like those of us who had the audacity to believe we were holding unbreakable eggs.  Well, he loves Jesus so my heart’s safe.  Right?  Loving Jesus is number one on the list.  I’m good. And suddenly, I’m moving forward with another good guy, not the one who’s best for me.  And you should know what happens here.  Just in case you don’t know—my heart breaks again.

So—where’s the happy medium? The one between the relationship not being given a chance and making it what *I* think it should be.  

Recently, I played a Josh Harris and kissed dating good-bye.  I found myself questioning why God had me start a list all those years ago in the first place.  As if everything that my heart had been through, was all God’s fault.

Not long after that, I found myself across the table from an old friend at a Starbucks.  She’s the kind of friend who tends to pour out Truth whenever she opens her mouth.  God has used her so many times to confirm what He’s doing in my life.  As you can imagine, this time was about my list.  I had just finished expressing my latest frustrations with guys, dating relationships and how I was apparently ruined from growing up on old-school Disney movies when she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and floored me.

“I have this feeling that your future husband isn’t going to be anything like you’ve always pictured.  He’s going to be better, mind you.  I just think you’re going to be taken by surprise.  Your list, I’m sure, has saved you from a lot of heartache.  I just wonder if your list is realistic or if it’s full of unfair expectations.”

“I think it’s realistic now.  It hasn’t always been though, you’re right.”

“Just be open to what God wants to give you.  Life is too fleeting to waste our time on what doesn’t matter, ya know?  And I would hate to see you miss Mr. Incredibly Right because you’re too busy trying to tell God what’s what.”

How am I going to know he’s Mr. Incredibly Right if I can’t define what that looks like? 

That coffee date was the first of many moments that God used to teach me: “Happily ever after” may not look like we think it will.  He may have a past (gasp!).  He may leave his stuff all over the bathroom (grr).  He may have stories from past relationships that are hard to hear (tear).

 

You may be reading this (bless you if you still are) thinking, “That’s your lesson?  Big deal.”  For me, this was HUGE!  Like—winning the lottery—HUGE!

 

But I’m guessing I’m not alone in needing this revelation.  I’m guessing that many of us need to just take a deep breath, focus on what God’s doing in our own lives TODAY and let the future off the hook until God brings Mr. (or Mrs.) Incredibly Right through the proverbial door…