The Best of 2017

I love to take some time at the end of the year to reflect on my favorite memories of the past twelve months. (And also to appreciate some of my not-so-favorite-but-also-important moments.) So, because I got a jump start on de-cluttering and taking down Christmas decorations yesterday, I have some time this afternoon to do just that.

Here's a little stroll down 2017 Memory Lane...

On January 3rd, my final novel (and the sequel to my first) debuted! It got some really fun and thoughtful reviews, and people seemed to connect with it as much as I hoped they would. I made approximately $47 in royalties on it. 


Later that month, the Falcons won the NFC Championship! We celebrated by screaming our lungs out and also losing our minds when we found out Arthur Blank was gifting every staff member (and spouse!) a trip to the Super Bowl along with the team. 



In February, we mourned. (I'm fine. Everything's fine.)


Lucy also had her first teeth cleaning in February. Our good friend, Jennifer, is a dental hygienist and she helped Lucy feel right at home. (As much as one can in a dentist's office, anyway!)


I took a break from social media in March to spend some time with family and get away from the relentless distraction that is my love/hate relationship with Instagram. I also began working on my nonfiction book proposal.

In April, we went on our very first vacation as a family! Pierce and I have traveled on our own with our church a few times (and once to my friend's cabin) and Lucy has been to the beach on several occasions with family, so it was super awesome to finally have the three of us together on a trip. We visited St. Simons and Jekyll Islands for an extended weekend where we explored Driftwood Beach, went on a dolphin tour, climbed the St. Simons Lighthouse, had dinner with friends, drank lots of coffee (me), and ate lots of good food. I'm definitely looking forward to our next trip together! (More on that in a moment.) I also got two tattoos in April and rejoined the scrolling timesuck that is social media.


In May, my niece, Mary Grace, went to her first prom and we all oohed and aahed as we are wont to do in circumstances such as those.


Later that month, I booked our 10th-anniversary trip to the United Kingdom! We will be spending two weeks touring all of England and Scotland (where both mine and Pierce's ancestors are from) and Lucy will be joining us, as well. (Obvs.) We're taking the trip a few months before our anniversary because we got married in November and trying to get an Atlanta Falcons employee to take fifteen days off during football season is like...well...impossible. I can't wait!


In June, Pierce went to Panama City with our church for the high school ministry's annual beach trip. Lucy also traveled to Panama City with her grandparents that week to visit her aunt, uncle, and cousins. I stayed home and had a terrible panic attack. (Nice segue, I know.) It was simultaneously the most painful and the most tender weekend I had all year because while I was home my best friend, Lauren, gave birth to her first child, a baby boy named Daniel Harper. I got to give him lots of kisses and snuggles while P and Lucy were gone, so that helped :).




In July, we celebrated Independence Day with family and the next week I traveled to Miami with Pierce for his work conference. A big part of why I went was because I couldn't bear to be alone, especially with Lucy, after having such a terrible bout with anxiety just a few weeks prior. Thankfully, because of a million little things working in our favor, I was able to afford a cheap last-minute ticket and my mom stayed at our house to care for Lucy and the animals. I struggled not to have a repeat episode while I was there, but Pierce and I were also able to enjoy some really sweet alone time in the city and I got to have dinner with an old friend while in town, too. Miami is such a beautiful city!


In August, I celebrated my 32nd birthday with breakfast in bed and a girls day at Six Flags! It was pretty much perfect.



The day after my birthday we drove two hours to Cornelia, Georgia to witness the solar eclipse in person! And WOW. So amazing. I was super paranoid that Lucy would go blind so I kept hissing at her to put on the glasses and missed a full thirty seconds of totality, but other than that it was one of my favorite moments of the year. No contest.

Lucy also started playing soccer in August and we deeeeeefinitely made ourselves look like ridiculous Soccer Parents.


At the end of the month, my sweet friend Rosalie released her debut EP and I sang backup with her at the release party! That was a fun night and it made me realize how much I miss performing.


In September, we celebrated Pierce's 32nd birthday, too! He is such a blessing to us. I can't imagine spending my life with anyone else.


I also faced my fears about being alone for a weekend while Pierce was out of town. I stayed home with Lucy and had almost no anxiety at all! That was a huge victory for me, particularly in light of what I went through earlier in the summer. Cognitive behavioral therapy and prayer are truly miracle workers, you guys.

I went to a Falcons game in late September with my friend, Brianna, where we ran into Pierce while he was working and he took us onto the field. I saw Devonta Freeman in person and promptly died. I am writing all of this from heaven.


In October, my mother sold the house she designed and had built for us in 2002. We moved in during the beginning of my senior year of high school, and that place holds so many wonderful memories for our family, especially me and my little sister, Kati. It was hard to say goodbye, but it was also time.


In November, Pierce and I celebrated nine years of marriage and had an incredible dinner out at Bones. We devoured delicious steaks and talked about life and Lucy and ended the night with other wonderful things I will not discuss here. (We're married; don't be weird about it.)

We also celebrated Lucy turning four (!) and getting her first haircut.


Lucy was way more okay with it than I was. The stylist even told me she didn't want to cut Lucy's hair. (See before picture below for clarification.) It's now above her shoulders and she looks fourteen. Someone make time stop, please.


Also, my friend Jillian's baby boy, Jaxton, turned one! We met up with them in their hometown and I got to see a whole bunch of my college buddies there, too. We're all mamas now and this picture of us together is one of my absolute favorites. The plaid thing was unplanned and also perfection. Hashtag basic.


In December, we enjoyed the holiday season and did ALL THE HOLIDAY THINGS. It even snowed this month! That was the perfect winter day. I'm still marveling over it.



I began re-working my book proposal a few weeks ago and we spent our Christmas weekend visiting all our extended family. It was a lot of driving, but we are so thankful to have our loved ones close by.




I hope your 2017 was full of wonder and love and goodness. Here's to more beautiful—and refining—moments in 2018!

Making Resolutions, Just For Fun


Okay, I know. It's not even Christmas and I'm already talking about resolutions. I am that person right now. I own it.

It has been said before that we don't have to wait until New Year's to make changes in life, but there is something so renewing about the turning of the calendar pages. This feeling can more than likely be attributed to some facet of my OCD, but starting fresh on the first day of a new month of a totally new year seems so tidy and organized and right. As we near January 1st, and as I reflect on the changes in our home and lives, I've drawn a few conclusions about how I personally want to proceed in 2018 and for...well...ever.

I've been pretty talkative about the way I think of food and waste and health these days. It has changed a ton and keeps changing daily as I examine how my body responds to certain things or learn new information about toxins, climate change, and the impact our economy has on so many others. I've finally got a pretty solid system going—which includes a whole bunch of stuff I've written about in these posts—and now that I'm pretty comfortable in this arena, I want to take my health and eco-consciousness a bit further as we step into a new year.

Onto the resolutions! (Just for fun, of course.)

1) Practice yoga three times weekly.

I've been doing this on and off for about two months and it is THE. BEST. It is also something of a spiritual practice for me, as it is for many, and gives me time to rest and meditate on God's Word. I am going to begin working on handstands soon, so I'll likely have some wicked bruises in the near future.

2) Go plastic-free. *Facepalms*

This is going to be tough. We recycle SO. MUCH. PLASTIC each week, but that is not really helping the problem. The number of resources it takes to produce plastic, ship it, and then break it down and recycle it (where it can only be re-used once) are exponential, harmful, and incredibly wasteful. It's better to simply refuse plastic altogether. I use creamer every day, and even the kind that comes in cartons has plastic lids that are largely non-recyclable, so I'm going to make my own. I've tried this a dozen times before and my creamers are never that palatable. Danielle Walker, I'm relying on you to save me!

3) Go paleo-vegetarian. 

Again, this is a way of eating I've been practicing on and off for some time, but I want to make it permanent. I'm already dairy, gluten, and soy free (with the random exception for holidays or birthdays here and there) so this won't be too terribly difficult. It is hard at family events or if we go out to dinner, but part of eating this way means cooking more at home, as well. (Bonus! This also reduces waste.) I have no moral objections to eating meat when done ethically (and, yes, I believe that's possible) and having clean animal protein in my diet always does wonders for my skin. But I do have objections to the way meat production affects our environment, both in raising it and also in the packaging and waste created as a result. For me, this is just a necessary step towards going plastic-free, supporting local farms, and finalizing how I eat once and for all.

I have a few other resolutions that I think both possible and beneficial for my overall health, and I'll be incorporating these into my daily and weekly routines, as well:

- Stop biting my nails (an accomplishment thirty+ years in the making)
- Speak comfortably in Spanish (with the help of my fluent bff, Lauren!)
- Learn a few more knitting techniques and finish the scarf I've been working on
- Practice the guitar and begin writing music again
- Take dance classes

What will bring me joy and contribute to the joy of others around me? How can I make changes that will also support abundant life for people I may never even meet? How can I, in taking care of myself, care for my neighbors and family? Joy is an essential part of this whole life experience, so that's where I'm putting my focus this year.

What are some of your resolutions for the new year (or just because)? Share in the comments!

Low Notes

Me (center) with some of my band buddies during my freshman year at Georgia Southern, Fall 2003. The hoop earrings...the belted jeans...the crunchy hair...so very 2000s. I CANNOT EVEN WITH THIS. 

Everything I had known up until that summer was based on years of tried-and-true living: if you made the right choices, you lived a happy life. It was that simple. And it had always been that reliable. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t anymore.

I was just a month shy of turning 22, and I had graduated from Georgia Southern University that May with big dreams about the world that lay in front of me. I was hoping to move to Nashville and maybe try to get over my ridiculous stage fright. I loved to write and sing, and had spent all my college years hoping against hope that, one day, I would stop quaking with fear every time I stepped on stage alone. Choral performances and musical theater were no problem. I loved them. But solo acts? They weren’t for me, no matter how often I told myself that THIS would be the time I’d suddenly get it all together. 

During my freshman year, I auditioned to sing the national anthem at a basketball game, and while the audition went well, the actual performance was a total bust. I struggled to stay on pitch because I was shaking like a leaf and I purposefully dropped into a lower key so my voice wouldn’t crack when I hit the high F at the end. Later that night, a guy I knew from marching band christened me “Key Change Girl.” I was scarred. And nicknamed. Two things that don’t go away easily. 

I woke up the morning after my performance with a hollow pit in my stomach and a bright crimson flush on my cheeks that stuck around for days. My roommate told me the guy sitting next to her had cringed at one point (probably the moment when I earned my nickname), and the knowledge of that made me sick. I had completely and utterly failed at the one thing I wanted to do well, and I had to perform the song again two weeks later. I practiced with a vocal coach—one of my professors at the university—and even though I still felt like I was going to throw up, my second performance was fine. Decent, even. But for the rest of my college career and throughout every music class, I never expressed interest in singing without also apologizing for it, as though my public failure meant I had zero right to be there even though music was one of my biggest joys. 

I wasn’t classically trained like so many of my peers. Music wasn’t even my major; it was my minor (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere). But I could at least hear a melody and match the pitch. I had also been reading music since I was 10-years old. I was an alto with a pretty middle voice, but my lack of range left me without many options for proving myself. Or so I thought. I would listen to the girls around me hitting notes I could only dream about and want to sink into the ground. In my mind, no one cared about the altos. It didn’t matter if we provided a melodic foundation on which the sopranos stood. There would never be an audience member who gasped at the sound of my low C sharp. Everyone came for the notes that shattered glass. My average voice was useful in an ensemble, and perhaps it would have been above average if I had stuck with training and worked with my skill level instead of against it, but for a girl who had grown up equating perfection with worth, anything less than impressive was essentially a waste. I kept forgetting how singing is as physical as any sport, and it requires practice to be good, even for those with natural talent.

I had hopes that I would miraculously get over my fears and finally use my voice. Funnily enough, I didn’t have any sort of plan mapped out for how I would get to Nashville. I was naive and still working with the mindset that a high GPA and a degree would find me a job easily enough. (Hey, college students, just so you know, that’s not how the world works. You’re welcome.) That’s what life had looked like for me up until that point. High school had been a breeze, except for those pesky math classes, and college had simply brought out a whole other level of striving in me. It was hard, but I loved it. Almost nothing thrilled me more than achievement and success, whether it was in class or in my everyday life, and so the prospect of moving to a city I had never even been to was exhilarating… despite the fact that I had made little effort to actually get there. 

The truth was that deep down I knew music wasn’t for me. I was simply trying to make myself fit, and the effort was like trying to turn cookie dough into a cookie without actually baking it: still somewhat enjoyable, sure, but not quite right. Anytime I would think about looking for a job, I would find something else to occupy my mind instead. There was always tomorrow, forever and ever tomorrow.

That summer, I lived without worry. I filled my days with babysitting my nieces, a job I felt I could have done forever, and driving to see my now-husband, Pierce. We had been dating for a little less than a year, although our story went much farther back than that, and things were pretty serious. He, along with almost all of our friends, was still at Georgia Southern for one more year, and the idea of everyone going back to school without me was not nearly as disconcerting in May as it would become in July. 

I was under the impression that life would continue to go as it had always gone, and that, no matter what, I would continue to be as good at it as I had always been.

~~~

It was a bright Tuesday morning, and I woke up early when my mom came into my room to kiss me and my little sister goodbye as she left for work. Kati is 11 years younger than me, so 10 years ago the difference in our age was stark: I was fresh out of college and she was about to start middle school. Being back at home had by then begun to feel less like a summer vacation and more like a prison sentence, and my little sister helped keep me sane even while I spent most of my afternoons driving her around and acting as her second mother. She and I were practically inseparable, both by proximity and by choice, and it wasn’t uncommon for Kati to fall asleep in my bed after a night spent watching movies or playing on my computer. I would wake up to the bright summer sun streaming through the windows, baking me in my bed before the clock even struck 9:00, and then I’d either head to my older sister’s house to watch my nieces or get dressed, make some breakfast, and read all morning while Kati did tweenager things. It was a peaceful, if not lazy, season. But on that morning, when I was still bleary-eyed from sleep, my brain was a hive of activity. I’d had a dream that bothered me, like dreams can do when they feel so real you aren’t sure what’s true and what’s not, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

Later, I took Kati to an afternoon summer camp she’d been attending and then went back to my mom’s house by myself. She lives in a beautiful home at the end of a cul-de-sac, nestled in the trees far back from the road. The whole house is full of windows and the front porch overlooks a creek that sounds like a sleep machine. It’s a beautiful place, and quite serene. On that Tuesday, though, the isolation made me feel anxious and being alone gave my mind nothing to do but chew on itself. 

I remember the moment it happened with such clarity that, a decade later, I still experience the sharp twist in my gut and the chill of my mind made manifest on my skin. If you’ve ever had an intrusive thought, the kind of thought that stuns you with its horror, then you might understand a little of what happened to me. Intrusive thoughts are common, and we all have them at some point in our lives. Maybe you’ve visited the Grand Canyon and stood at the precipice, marveling at its size and depth, and suddenly found yourself wondering what it would be like to step off the edge. Or maybe you’ve chatted with your friend in the kitchen, and without warning the knife in your hand becomes a weapon with which you imagine stabbing your loved one. These thoughts are disturbing, but normal. Our brains make connections on their own without our effort all the time because we are constantly receiving input and stimulation that gets stored away and pulled out at random moments. For most people an experience like that makes you shake your head in bewilderment and then go on about your day. 

Not me.

I know now that my thought didn’t actually mean anything, but at the age of 21 my understanding of OCD stopped at the knowledge that there were some people in the world who had to wash their hands 100 times a day. I knew nothing of triggers, or mindfulness, or the capacity for the brain to function independently of my choosing. I also didn’t even know I had OCD. All I knew was that I’d had a terrible, crippling thought—a thought I feared was based in reality because of my dream the night before—and it carried with it more meaning about my identity than any external evidence to the contrary. 

To put it plainly, I viewed my thought as evidence of something I had never noticed before. And it scared the hell out of me.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I spent the next twenty-four hours in a state of full-fledged terror. I was having what is clear to me now as my first panic attack. And because of the nature of this attack, the fact that my own thought was the catalyst, I assumed there was something deeply, inherently wrong with me and, thus, I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone about it for days. But I’m a compulsive confessor (I mean, HELLO, I’m writing a blog post about this stuff) and eventually I have to talk about what I’m feeling or I’ll get so emotionally tangled up I can hardly focus on anything for more than a few seconds at a time. I told my mom about my dream and my intrusive thought, and as she is wont to do, she asked a few questions. She has advanced degrees in psychology and has worked with people with disabilities for twenty years, so she understands a little something about the mind. Her questions, which were similar to the ones I’d hear in my therapist’s office eight years later, were meant to help me see reason and calm me down. But my emotions were so acutely attuned to what was happening in my brain that reason and evidence were rendered useless. 

For the next six months, I trained myself in a very different kind of art than what I had learned in school. The art of compulsory behavior. I quickly learned how to manipulate any situation to fit my needs, and excelled in the composition of days so I could successfully avoid any environment that would trigger an episode. I knew that if I could avoid what made me so frightened of myself, then I wouldn’t have to face it at all. And if I didn’t have to face it, I would never have to wonder about my identity or my self-worth. It was exhausting beyond description. I had never been so miserable. I hadn’t even thought such misery was possible. 

Until that Tuesday morning in July, almost every painful experience in my life had come from an external source, from someone else’s poor judgment. I was the good girl, the girl who loved Jesus and made it her life’s mission to get everything right no matter the circumstance. And mental illness was nothing more than a lack of faith, a lack of effort, from people who didn’t understand that IF YOU JUST DO THIS everything will be fine.

In response to other people’s poor choices, I’d say things like: 

“Just put the bottle down.”

“Just keep your clothes on.”

“Just stop eating that.”

Good God, I was obnoxious. 

To top it all off, I was still unemployed and Nashville had long since become a joke I didn’t tell anymore. The thought of moving away from the people I knew and loved was crippling, and I finally gave up on the idea of ever making a career in music. Not because I finally admitted it wasn’t what I really wanted, but because I just lost my hope. If I’m being honest, I gave up on virtually everything except just trying to survive another day. 

I would sit on my purple love seat every night as the moon was rising and whisper tearful, urgent prayers to God to rescue me from this despair. I would confess my every thought to Him and beg for forgiveness because what I had always believed about God’s love was rooted in how well I played my part, just as my love of music had been dependent on how well I could actually perform it. I felt like I had lost them both at the same time, and it ripped me apart in ways that have tears streaming down my face as I write this. 

In the months that passed since I had flipped the tassel on my graduation cap and left Statesboro as a student for the last time, my life had become a caricature of itself. The one obviously good thing that happened, which I clung to as my only source of hope for the future, was that Pierce asked me to marry him on a spring break trip to the Florida Keys with our college friends. The week prior to the trip, I had spent a whole afternoon running through the list of intrusive thoughts I’d had since that morning in July (yes, I had kept track) and convincing myself that everything was okay, that thoughts weren’t facts no matter how painfully they bruised. I also read Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel and caught a glimpse of a God I had never truly known before, a God whose love remained unalterable in spite of my imperfections. It wasn’t a theology exactly unfamiliar to me. I had no doubts about God’s love; I simply had doubts about my ability to keep it. But The Ragamuffin Gospel sent a tiny glimmer of hope into my heart, and I left for the Florida Keys with slightly less baggage than I had been carrying for months. 

Perfection was the standard to which I had held myself for over two decades. As with music, anything less than that was a waste. And it seemed to me that I had wasted nearly a year of my life. 

We do this, don’t we? We freeze ourselves in a season of loneliness or despair or fear, and wake up one day to find out how much time has actually passed. Sometimes the desire for something better kicks us into a higher gear, but oftentimes we end up feeling more depressed about our inability to save ourselves and just sink lower than we were before. 

I am convinced that shame is Satan’s greatest tool. It’s not always obvious what he’s doing the way we have been led to believe it is. He shows up with horns during war and violence, but even those things often begin with what looks a lot like goodness: a goal to achieve, a country to save, an injustice to right. Satan masquerades as something beautiful, something worthy, and when we believe what he says to us and act on it, he shames us endlessly for our mistake.

I fell for the lie that my worth was a conditional thing, and now I was hurting because of it. Suddenly, I had no choice but to hope the opposite was true. And that’s really all I had: Hope. I didn’t feel in my heart what I had read in Scripture or even seen lived out in life. Like so many women of faith, I scoured through the Bible searching for passages that would alleviate my suffering, and ended up feeling more at a loss than before. So much of what I was hearing at that time was coming from my own mind, from my own emotions, and I held on fast to the belief that if I didn’t feel something then it couldn’t possibly be true.

Have you done that? Are you doing it now?

I promise you every princess movie that’s ever told you to follow your heart is wrong. Our hearts are deceitful beyond measure. And while our emotions are good and useful things, they are not truth. They are not accurate guides for every decision or how valuable we really are. They are notes on a scale, moving up and down and back again. Low notes are not indications of a terrible life any more than they’re an indication of a terrible composition. 

They are simply a part of the song we’re singing. 


Sing on.

And Now For A Big Snowy Photo Dump


Once every few years, we get snow here in Georgia. Like, actual snow where you can't see the grass anymore and everything is muted by layers of white. A fine powdery dusting is pretty common in the winter, but the good stuff only comes around twice a decade or so and even then it's often accompanied by dangerous, icy roads.

Four.


Last night, you went to sleep a three-year-old, and I climbed up onto your bunk bed to pray over you just like I do every year.

And today you're four.

Sorrow, Then Joy


I got my first official rejection letter in the mail last night. Like, the actual mail. The one with stamps and everything.

I submitted a hard copy of my book proposal a few weeks ago to an agent across the country. And when I sealed that envelope and dropped it into the outgoing mail, I felt a little swoop in my belly that told me I wouldn't be receiving the response I wanted.

The Story of My Midriff

Since I was a little girl, I have been afraid of my midriff.

More precisely, I've been afraid of what my midriff might influence others to do.

At age seven, a friend's father said my wearing a two-piece bathing suit at his house was inappropriate and unacceptable.

At age twelve, I heard for the very first time that modesty was a girl's work and that showing her stomach would cause good, Christian boys to stumble in their faith.

At age seventeen, I was called to the principal's office after someone reported that when I raised my arms my shirt rose up to reveal an inch of my belly.

At age twenty, I wore short shorts and tight tank tops but judged every girl on campus who dared showcase her midriff just because she felt like it.

At age twenty-three, I married the man who made me feel more secure than anyone and instinctively covered my stomach when he took off my wedding dress.

At age twenty-eight, I spread my legs wide and delivered a ten-pound baby girl to a room full of strangers and covered my jiggly belly when I looked down to see what had been left behind.

And at the age of thirty-two, I decided I'd had enough of being afraid and selected this outfit for our ninth anniversary dinner:


This was brand-new territory for me. I sent messages to my small group and they wholeheartedly embraced the look. I drank a glass of wine while I primped and shaved and lotioned and curled. I danced to my Going Out playlist on Spotify. I reminded myself that this was less about showing off and more about giving a gift: to myself for having been scared of my sensuality for so long, and to my husband who has seen my body in every way possible except like this.

I didn't want to show myself off for the sake of trends or even the romantic occasion. Admittedly, I struggled with the Biblical basis—or lack thereof—for dressing in a way that would more than likely turn a few heads. And I thought about all the times I had been treated as an object simply because I was female and not because of what I was wearing. But I'm not twelve anymore; I know at this point in life that it's not the woman or the outfit that demeans her worth, but the person who chooses to demean.

Shortly after, I realized that even when we decide to stop being afraid, it doesn't mean others do. And, try as we might, we can't always escape their fears.

Dressing in more provocative clothing does not equate to freedom or womanhood any more than dressing in modest clothing does, at least not in the ways that truly matter. But in choosing for ourselves, we confront the things we've been told about our bodies and identities and begin to discover what is actually true and what is actually good.

Since I hit puberty, I have walked a very tight line between pride and shame. I have been over-confident to the point of arrogance or so dogmatic and fear-driven that I bury my head in the sand when confronted with my own sexuality. And, like so many women who love Jesus, I have recently discovered that neither of these options is healthy or a reflection of my Creator. He molded this body with His hands and it is good. It is not shameful or embarrassing. It is full of life and love and passion and tenderness, and when I allow myself to view this body through such a lens I am free to live life without abandon. To make love without shame. To walk through the world as though I have a right to be here, in whatever I'm wearing, and to be treated with dignity and honor.

I hear the words of people online and in conversations saying, "But when women dress to show off their bodies, they dishonor themselves." And my response to that is this: Context matters. And even if the former were true, you are the one declaring her dishonorable. You are the one separating yourself from your neighbor. You are the one who thinks there's a limit to treating someone with honor, even if that person does not choose to do so for herself.

We live life in our bodies. Living is accomplished with hands and feet and every other element of flesh and blood. What a great disservice we do to the world when we try so hard to put a stop to it. What a tragedy it is when, as little girls, shame becomes the driving force behind what we show, or don't show, to the world.

As for me, this is my midriff. It is tucked into high-waisted pants that hide the softness from bearing a child, and it is camouflaged by black. But here it is and here I am.

A mother.

A wife.

A friend.

A Jesus lover.

A sister.

A daughter.

A woman.

When Life Gets Quiet


I don't blog nearly as much as I did in the past. I remember, back in 2012 when blogging was really in its heyday and suddenly every semi-religious mama with pretty kids and cute style was bringing home six figures, I tried my hand at making this space A Thing. I tried style posts (cringe), took my camera with me to the yogurt shop (before we had iPhones), and copied pretty much every blogger I admired in an attempt to matter.

Like many of us do with Instagram these days, I exhausted myself trying to be someone else's version of lovely. And for what? Attention? Money? Importance? None of which I achieved, mind you. Even I didn't believe myself. So when I had a mental breakdown in early 2013 (not triggered by blogging, I should clarify) followed by the realization that I was pregnant with Lucy, I decided to try, instead, for honesty.

And like most things, honesty really was the best policy.

Now, I definitely don't garner enough traffic to make money off this blog, nor do I care about anything like that. But I have cultivated a special place for myself on these here internets, a place where I have memorialized the earliest years of motherhood, the process of writing two books and seeing them published, and the decidedly unglamorous struggle to live with mental illness.

And I'm quite proud of it. I'm even proud of my posts from 2012. (They make me laugh, anyway.)

I'd like to try my hand at blogging more regularly these days. So much is changing in my little world, in all the small and quiet ways that life often changes, and it will do my soul some good to step away from the rigamarole of books proposals and grant applications and social media to simply write what I know for the sheer joy of collecting my thoughts and sharing them.

If you've been reading since 2012, God bless your soul and you have my apologies. If you're somewhat newer, I'm glad you're here.

As always, thanks for reading. I'll see you again real soon.


Puzzle Pieces


She picked out the puzzle, and I bought it.

Lucy loves to use her mind, to wrestle solutions from problems. She is unencumbered, the way children should be, by fear or insecurity or lack of knowledge. She hasn't yet learned to let any of those things get in her way. Puzzles are a delight for our little girl, our extroverted bundle of energy who was, miraculously, stitched together with a healthy dose of independence that her dad and I are only far too eager to cultivate. She finds equal joy in jumping and climbing as she does sitting with a puzzle, literal or otherwise. So when we went to Barnes & Noble that afternoon in search of an activity to take home, Lucy selected the best one on the shelf.

The aforementioned puzzle is three hundred pieces total, a bright, bursting combination of colors that are so numerous the prospect of piecing them together felt slightly overwhelming when we first spread it out on the table. At least it did for me. But we did it, over the course of four hours, between eating dinner and playing outside and getting ready for bed. And then we did it again the next week. 

On Saturday, Lucy pulled the puzzle down from our hutch and began working on it herself. She didn't ask for my participation or assistance, so I didn't offer it. Instead, I sat in the living room and finished The Forgetting Time while taking periodic breaks to listen in on the conversation she was having with herself. Lucy sang and talked to her baby doll and pretended to be a teacher lecturing her students, and all the while her little fingers stretched over the table, hovering, searching for the next puzzle piece. For two hours, she sat up on her knees and surveyed the landscape of color on top of our dining room table, perfectly content with the work she had completed and what still remained.

Every once in awhile, Lucy would call out, "Mommy! Daddy! Come look at how done I am!" And we'd scurry into the room to clap our hands and declare how proud we were of her progress.

This continued, on and off, for five more days. And last night, just before bed, Lucy finished the puzzle.

There are only simple lessons here, lessons I am always learning. The first is that children are vastly superior to adults in almost every way. Aren't they always? The second is that a little encouragement goes a very, very long way. Our words have potential to be so life-giving, don't they? We can build up people, leaders, and nations with the power of our speech...and destroy them just as quickly. Finally, there is just as much delight to be found in the process of making something—whether that something is a career, a family, a book, a plan, a home, or a business—as there is in the end result. Perhaps even more. 

I daresay, yes, definitely even more.

I watched my daughter pore over a puzzle more than half the size of her body and she saw nothing more than possibility in the progress. The possibility for a little bit of fun, for the pleasure of finding that next piece, for accomplishing something difficult all on her own. Without the pieces, a puzzle is just a picture. There is no possibility. There's only what already is. 

I am in the thick of not enjoying the progress that opens up to more possibility. Oh, progress is happening, I feel sure of it. But it is drudgery. It is pain. It is heavy and frustrating and, more often than not, discouraging. 

I'm writing a book that talks about lessons I've already learned, lessons I want to share. And two weeks ago I realized they are lessons I will have to keep learning every day for the rest of my life. They are not one-time realizations the way Jesus' death on the cross was a one-time salvation for all who believe. They are daily graces that must be chosen out of all the noise surrounding me, graces I have to submit to every single morning, over and over again. They are pieces of a puzzle, bright and colorful, that will remain incomplete until I stand at the feet of Jesus. 

Still, the promise from Philippians remains:

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (ESV)

Perhaps the delight I'm seeking should not be my own. Perhaps it is His delight. Like like that of a little girl looking out over a beautiful puzzle, He fits my days together, one by one, gasping with joy as He watches me become the woman He designed at the start. 

The delight is in the progress, and the delight is His. 

The delight is me. 

The delight is you.


Book Review: English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith by Andrea Lucado


Hey, friends! Now that I have recovered from the stomach bug I got from Lucy (who spent three days this weekend being so pitiful I called my mom crying) I can tell you about the book I just finished reading! It's Andrea Lucado's debut and it's called English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith, a memoir she penned about her year-long stint in Oxford. And beyond just being a good read it also had me itching (even more, if possible) for our trip to the U.K. next spring!

Read on for my full review...

English Lessons by Andrea Lucado: A Summary

The church wasn't just a part of Andrea Lucado's childhood. It was her childhood. It provided more than happy moments. It provided an invitation to know Jesus. When Andrea arrived in Oxford the year after she graduated from college, she expected to meet God there. What she didn't expect was that God would be much bigger than she'd believed. 

In this engaging memoir, Andrea speaks to all of us who wrestle with doubt and identity. "So many nights in Oxford," Andrea writes, "I felt like the details of my faith were getting fuzzier. Nights turned restless with questions. I questioned God's existence, and the doubt was getting into my bones."

In English Lessons, Andrea takes us through the roads of England and, more importantly, the paths of the soul. Here she explores the journey of a changing faith and an unchanging God--and why growing up starts with realizing just how small we are.


English Lessons by Andrea Lucado: What I Think

I usually start with the good stuff and leave the cons for way, way down in the review (I'm a people pleaser, okay?) but I'm gonna lead with them this time because they specifically address claims made in the very first paragraph of the book's back cover blurb.

While I thoroughly enjoyed English Lessons, I didn't ever fully get the impression that Lucado "expected to meet God" in Oxford or that she left feeling He was "much bigger than she believed." In fact, it was kind of the opposite. It seemed as though her entire year abroad taught her a great many lessons about growing up, handling relationships, and experiencing connections outside of the American Christian Church, but her doubts about who God is and His role in her life didn't appear to ever get resolved. At least not in the way this book has been marketed. Lucado left for Oxford with doubts and a desire to meet people who didn't see her as just "Max Lucado's daughter"...and seemed to go home with those same feelings, albeit with more maturity and perspective.

Still, that doesn't stop English Lessons from making a great number of solid points about the difficulties of growing into one's faith, most of them in the second half of the narrative. On journaling about her struggles, Lucado wisely opines, "Sometimes faith comes very naturally, and sometimes everything we've ever believed is suddenly thrust under a microscope and we are forced to examine it. It's okay to look. In fact, please look. Because if you don't, what are you looking at instead?"

Good stuff.

(I also really appreciated her ode to coffee earlier in the book. Lucado is a woman after my own heart!)

Most of all, I appreciated Lucado's current insight into personal relationships, especially as the 22-year old Lucado who experienced them was clearly as uncertain as I was in my earlier years. I think if the marketing team in charge of English Lessons had done a little more to focus on that part of Lucado's year in England, rather than prioritizing the book as a faith memoir, my expectations about this read would have been more realistic. I get that the "Max Lucado's daughter" bit makes readers—especially readers like me who grew up reading her father's work—perk up, but it seems like Andrea has already made it pretty clear she's more than just a famous pastor's daughter.


When You're Angry About Your Anger


I am angry.

I have been angry for quite awhile now.

Maybe you have, too?

Let's talk.

Clean(er) Living // Earth Day Essentials


Happy spring!

It has only been in the last few years that I've come to love spring. Warmer weather after a cold winter is always nice because I despise the icy chill of January, but I grew up in Georgia where even winter is still fairly mild in comparison to the blistering snowstorms of the Midwest. During my childhood and college years, I lived for summer and fall, for beach days and football season, but now, with a spunky toddler in the house, when spring arrives it's almost like Christmas. We take off our shoes and make a beeline for the outdoors where, along with that pesky yellow pollen, the world has come to life again.

Groundwork


Sixty minutes. 

That’s how long my dad waited for me to gather my courage and try a standing back handspring one warm spring night when I was eleven. I had been taking gymnastics lessons on and off since the age of five, and now I was working towards the big skills. I was also terrified of breaking my neck or, worse, embarrassing myself.

Because Waiting Is Not Enough


Back in 2009, I got the news that I was going to be published for a national audience for the very first time. The publication? SUSIE Mag (which became the now defunct SISTERHOOD Magazine, a reboot of Focus On The Family's Brio). The article? A sweet—and thoroughly incomplete—essay titled "Does True Love Really Wait?"

Beginning Again


Here I am once more, at the start of something new, trying to find my way as I wrestle with all the things I think I should be doing, like eating perfectly, making less waste, spending more time in the Word, giving, giving, giving...

My life is a big collection of shoulds.

Tiny Pretty Pieces // 02

I think the world could use some funny/lovely/inspiring/uplifting things to consume today, as opposed to the partisan/divisive/angry rhetoric unfolding on social media, so I'm coming to the rescue. (Maybe. You might think Betty White being open to "fooling around" at age 95 is gross, to which I'd say YOU ARE NOT EVEN WELCOME HERE.)

Tiny Pretty Pieces

This may or may not become a series. I still haven't quite decided since I tend to have big ideas that spark and then fizzle after about five minutes. But, for now, I like the idea of sharing a few pieces of my week here and there as an exercise in gratitude over life's small wonders. Social media tends to drain all my thankfulness and pervert it into the monster of comparison, so I hope these posts will encourage you to stop every little while and take a look at the tiny pretty pieces in your life.