halfway flasback : june

I loved this picture and this lesson and this post. A prefect way to wrap up June’s Making Things Happen series!

Here is the crux of Making Things Happen, at least for me:

You have to be willing to let go of what you want to make happen.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my apartment, working furiously on blogging and emailing and job searching and to-do listing. I had a pile of projects to get done before the night was over and I was bound and determined to finish them. Friday Night Lights was on in the background and I was perfectly content to productively wile the evening away.

I looked up from my laptop and noticed that the sunset was casting gorgeous colors on the bathroom shower tile. I had an internal debate about whether or not to Instagram the scene (“It’s so pretty!” “Really, no one wants to see your shower.” “But the colors!” “But seriously…it’s a shower.”) and decided in the end to snap a quick picture and post it:

Done! Pretty! Back to the to-do list!

But I couldn’t help but look outside at the sunset…wondering what it really looked like…not just what it looked like reflecting off of bathroom tile. I’d look out the window and then get back to work. And then repeat. And then repeat. There was this nagging feeling that I should do what’s most important: value the real beauty, not the productivity.

I knew I wanted to go see the sunset. But I did not want to go see the sunset, for a laundry list of reasons. Namely:

  • I did not want to leave my apartment (hello, have you seen Tim Riggins?!)
  • I did not want to leave my parking space and have to find a new one
  • I did not want to stop progress
  • I did not want to take pictures and have to edit them after
  • I did not want to make the effort

In the end…the sunset won. At the last possible moment I ran out of my apartment, out to the car, and drove up to Cobb’s Hill to see this:

A gorgeous sunset over a city I love and a memory I’ll have forever.

I was so glad I made the effort.

So to review, what I wanted for myself was this:

What God wanted for me was this:

Clearly, we have a winner.

When I get stuck inside of my own plans, I get left with only what I can do for myself. What’s easy, what’s comfortable, what’s right in front of me. That night, all I wanted was to check things off of my to-do list. I was content with a shower stall sunset.

But when I respond to what’s tugging at my heart, to the things that God gently guides me to, I get so much more. SO much more! Things I never could have dreamed on my own. I’ve always loved the verse from Ephesians that reminds us that God is capable of doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” It’s so true.

It’s important to do the hard work to make things happen – to have a plan, to take action steps, to look fear in the face, to have big dreams. But I think it’s most important to allow plenty of room for God to make things happen for us – immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

 

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halfway flashback : may

Oh, May! So good, so challenging, so essential for growth. This post was the epitome of May.

Sometimes, you roll with the punches.

Sometimes, you just get punched.

Over the past few weeks the ratio has not favored rolling. And because humans are built to avoid taking punches, I’ve tried to make things better on my own by showing myself some grace.

I tend to be really good at doing that. Gold medal grace-giver, right here. And in a variety of ways, too! They include:

  • having frozen yogurt for dinner
  • skipping workouts in favor of sitting in the sunshine reading magazines
  • having pie with a side of cookies for dinner
  • watching an indeterminable amount of NFL Network
  • watching an indeterminable amount of Friday Night Lights
  • not washing dishes
  • not doing laundry
  • have we talked about pie?

[ last night’s dinner-and-distraction grace session ]

I really believe that sometimes it’s advantageous to skip a workout and rest. Sometimes it’s healthy to not even consider the presence of vegetables on a dinner plate. Sometimes it’s nice to zone out for a few hours and imagine your life as Tami Taylor.

As per all of the above, I’m a big advocate for giving yourself some grace from time to time (especially when it comes in a pay-per-ounce self-serve cup). But…

Oh, is there ever a but!

Sometimes Most times when I give myself grace what I’m really doing is giving myself an excuse to be less than my best.

It’s so true.

There is a time and a place for grace. But consistently responding to life’s problems by taking the easy way out is kind of like trying to heal a burn with band-aids. They might cushion the wound for awhile. But it won’t improve without proper care. A burn requires real medication.

Self-discipline, though not as enjoyable as grace, is real medication.

Because when you’re getting punched, standing up and fighting back is ALWAYS better than backing down.

Fighting back with self-discipline on the hard days – working out when it’s the last thing I want to do, swapping quinoa for cookies, muscling through a to-do list on my computer instead of sitting motionless in front of my computer – it makes the hard days feel so much more victorious. It put a W in a column that would have been all L’s otherwise. It’s worth every ounce of stingy effort. Fighting back with a response that doesn’t just feel good to me but actually is good for me is an action that is so much more in my favor in the long run.

It’s an action that will make me better. In all ways.

Yesterday was a hard day. I did not fight back. I flew my white flag high and proud (clearly: see above). And some days are like that, as much as I wish they weren’t. But even though I was pay-per-ounce soft-serve girl yesterday, today I am praying for the resolve to be this girl:

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
She carefully watches everything in her household
and suffers nothing from laziness.

[ Proverbs 31:25-27 ]

And to live this way:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

[ Hebrews 12:1-3 ]

If you need a beneficial break, take it and don’t look back! Soak up all the grace you can so that you are ready to fight the good fight again tomorrow!

But if you can marshal some reserves of strength and keep pressing on today, if you can show yourself some personal tough love knowing that you are really giving yourself a gift in the process, if you can fix your eyes on Jesus and trust that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him,

all the better.

halfway flashback : april

The birthday blog! A fitting favorite for April.

First things first…when it comes to nights that are not ideal to leave your cell phone at work, the night before your birthday is probably pretty close to the top. Sorry, world. But I’ll be back soon!

This concludes this morning’s Public Service Announcements. In other news…

On Sunday night I went to bed late. (You’re probably thinking that this post is really riveting so far, but trust me, it gets better!) The kind of late when you hope you go straight to sleep in .05 seconds so you’ll get as much sleep as possible to make up for your decision to stay up into the early hours of tomorrow.

But I couldn’t get comfortable. Oddly, because it’s only mid-April in Antarctica Rochester, I was too warm. I wanted to crack a window for some fresh air but there were a variety of reasons not to. Street noise was a big one. The proximity of my face to the fire escape was a big one too, seeing as how it’s the place where all the good drunken ramblings and domestic disputes take place (thank you, city living) and I didn’t want an inebriated stranger crawling through my window to snuggle with me in the middle of the night.

The lull of fresh air, though – air that was reportedly not freezing – it was just too much to take after 6 months of frozen air! So I pulled the blinds, pushed back the curtains, and opened the window to backfiring buses, HBO-style feuding, and…

the most welcome gust of cool night air I’ve ever felt.

I was in awe. The gentle breeze, the warm lights from distant windows, the beauty of angles and architecture. All of which I had the chance to experience solely because I decided to open a window. I opened it despite of the perceived inconveniences. And I received SO MUCH MORE in return.

I went to sleep that night feeling so grateful for life. For the scene right before my eyes. For falling asleep in a bed, under a roof, with clothes on my body and food in my stomach, employed by a variety of gracious employers, loved by two parents whom I love, surrounded by wonderful friends whom I don’t deserve, overwhelmed by the Lord’s constant presence, mercies, and unfailing love.

I slept better than I’ve slept in weeks. And I woke up to this:

It made me so aware of the abundance of blessings I too often take for granted – or worse – choose to complain about. It made me so aware of the Lord’s great love and of my great ingratitude.

Today I get to start a new year. (If anyone knows how I’ve already arrived at 26…please feel free to fill me in.) Today I get to set the pace for the 365 days that are to follow. With that in mind, this year I’d like to:

  • be fiercely, relentlessly grateful for every second of my beautiful life and the nouns that make it so meaningful
  • stay humbled by God’s moment-by-moment love, grace, and provision and to share that same love, grace, and provision with everyone I encounter
  • open windows of all kinds, without hesitation, every chance I get

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

Romans 8:31-32

[Thank you, Lord, for LIFE!]

halfway flashback : january

I wrote this post in January and I think it might be one of my favorites from my whole time as a blogger so far. The phrase has stuck with me, too. It’s still written on one of my living room chalkboards!

(Someone call Hallmark. That title sounds like it was born to be a Made For TV movie. That should stop me from continuing this post…but it won’t. Here we go!)

For the life of me, I can’t remember where I found/heard this quote, and every search I’ve tried in an effort to find it again has come up empty. But recently, in an article or interview or something related to having good posture, the interviewee said this,

“You should try to walk like an exclamation point, not a question mark.”

She was referring to not hunching over, as per the curved top of a question mark, but what she said is bound to stick with me for a long time. For me, she was speaking to an issue much deeper than standing up straight. She drove an arrow straight through my Achilles heel.

I do walk like a question mark. Because I think like a question mark.

Sometimes it’s inconsequential. As in,

“Did I just trip? Over air? Again?”

Yes. Yes you did.

But most of the time they’re more pointed questions. As in,

“Am I doing this right?”

“Do they like me?”

“Are my dreams unrealistic?”

“Am I good enough?”

Confidence is definitely not my strong point. There is nothing I’m more confident about than my lack of confidence. I don’t just question certain aspects of my existence, I generally feel as though I am altogether questionable. As a person of steadfast faith in God, with a laundry-list of scriptures that refute having a questionable worth, and a pile of tangible evidence to the contrary…one would assume this should be a non-issue.

And yet (and it’s a big AND YET…) it is. I’ve been plagued by crippling self-doubt for as long as I can remember. I’d give you examples ranging from elementary school to the present day but they all end in me being…wait for it…crippled by self-doubt, so they’re fairly anticlimactic. Suffice it to say: I’ve gone more than a few rounds with insecurity.

And I’ve prayed, OH LORD, I’ve prayed, that it would just be taken away and given a makeover. That in a half-hour TLC special my lack of confidence would be shampooed, blown dry, and transformed into radiant self esteem. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. At the the of the day I’m still completely unsure of myself, no matter how much I try to will or wish it away.

This year, instead of pleading to win the battle, I’ve just given God the daily wars. I’ve started praying that somehow, God would use all of these unfounded doubts for his glory. I still hope that at the end of the journey I’ll emerge with a Christ-centered confidence that cannot be shaken. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to simply be faithful in this era of life. The one in which I trip over my words and flat surfaces on a daily basis.

But I’m also going to make a concerted effort to be an exclamation point, not a question mark. Not just to stand a little taller (which is a bonus regardless for someone who hovers just over 5 feet), but to really LIVE like an exclamation point (!). To turn, “Will this work?” into, “This will work!” To stop thinking, “Can I do this?” and start thinking, “I can do this!”

(Please note that this line of thinking also lends itself to other endeavors. To wit: “Should I have that brownie?” becomes, “I should have that brownie!” I’m already loving this new psyche.)

But seriously, I’m really going to focus on changing my punctuation. Because even if it’s hard to wholeheartedly believe it at first, I’d rather live with enthusiasm than with doubt. Doubt only sees the fear of what might be impossible. Enthusiasm sees the joy of what can be possible. Isn’t that the preferable option?

I don’t think there is a better current example of this theory than Tim Tebow. By the media’s standards, he has no reason to be confident. Even by football standards, his confidence had to waver a bit after homeboy put up a completion percentage and total QBR in the twenties during the Broncos regular season finale. He had to have had some doubts about his abilities.

Didn’t he?

No one gave him even the slightest chance against the Steelers in last night’s wildcard game. It wouldn’t just have been easy, it would have been normal for him to think, “We backed into the playoffs. We’re playing the defending AFC Champions. We’ve been clobbered by three weeks of crucial injuries and crushing defeats. Maybe I can’t do this. What if it’s really impossible?”

He definitely could have gone that route. Been the question mark. And no one would have blamed him for it. But did he?

Well, HECK no! If this isn’t the personification of an exclamation point, then I’m not sure what is:

title

[ photo : denver post ]

What did he have to say after the win?

We just kept believing.

Apparently so. And look at what has happened so far as a result! And who’s to say how much further they can go!

And how different would everything be if there was even the smallest margin left for question marks instead of exclamation points?

We’ve each been given a unique purpose. World famous professional athlete or unknown local blogger  – the status makes no difference. Our job isn’t to doubt or question our purpose, but to get excited about it! I feel like I’ve been given something visual and something verbal. But I’ll never make a difference with those abilities if I continue to ask, “God, can you really use me?” instead of proclaiming, boldly, “God, you can really use me!”

If I ever decide to tattoo a verse to my forehead (and it’d be great if you all wouldn’t let me do that), this would be a good candidate:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

[II Timothy 1:7]

Amen.

Go forth, and be ye excited? excited!

(Update: being an exclamation point pays off. Thanks to the wonderful people at Tebow’s Eye Black, an insightful blog about all things Tim Tebow, you can now read this post on their blog as well. Thanks, Tebow’s Eye Black!)

inspired : 7.1.12

This week didn’t offer lots of free time for inspiration. So instead of giving you a long list of links to peruse, today I just want you to check out these two sermons from Chip Ingram of Living on the Edge. Don’t worry about the title – you don’t have to be bored or have the blues to listen. I’m definitely not bored and am feeling very unblue these days, but these two messages wrecked me in the best way. They ask tough questions about where our priorities lie and what true worship really means. It’s an essential reality check, and chock full of inspiration!

Overcoming Boredom and the Blues : Part I

Overcoming Boredom and the Blues : Part II

staying compassionate : the birthday project

Have you guys heard of The Birthday Project? It’s an inspiring initiative started by Robyn Bomar, who set out to do 38 random acts of kindness on her 38th birthday. She explains a bit further in her blog post:

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago my birthday wish was to complete one Random Act of Kindness for every year of my life thus far, as well as asking friends, readers, Facebook fans and fellow Twitter-ers to each perform one Random Act of Kindness and to let me know about it throughout the day.

I planned out 38 things ahead of time just in case, but really was praying for opportunities to present themselves throughout the day. It was absolutely freezing and windy but we were not to be deterred!  My husband, three daughters and my husband’s parents joined me in the most favorite birthday of my life!

The things that she did weren’t elaborate or time consuming – and most of them were 100% free! I loved these:

11.  Gave a dozen hot doughnuts to a very cold crew working on the power lines.

16.  Tucked happy notes in car doors in parking lot wishing people a good day full of God’s blessings.

21.  Handed out water bottles to very appreciative nurses (who knew they were so thirsty?).

22.  Taped change to vending machines (I actually saw passersby stop and take pictures of the machines without taking the money).

26.  Phone card to young woman in need. (I asked the owner of a store I frequent if he knew of any customers who might need it and he got a big smile on his face.  He looked at the girl working there and told me she had just confided in him yesterday that she couldn’t afford her minutes on her cell phone to call her family back home.  It was a suuuper cool moment.)

29.  Gave coffee to a toll booth worker on our way home.  (He seemed the least affected or appreciative of the day.  I feel like he might have needed it the most of everyone.)

Aren’t those great ideas? And so easy!

The post definitely seems to have taken on a life of it’s own – so much so that a whole movement has developed! It’s called The Birthday Project, and their mission is to, “create a shift in the way people from all walks of life think about and celebrate their birthday (and other milestones).”

I seriously love this idea – and not just for birthdays! For every day! Aren’t they all worth celebrating? I love the idea of starting every day praying for opportunities to present themselves. It’s the kind of mindset that can set the course for an entire day of selfless, loving service.

Fellow New Yorkers, might I suggest that we start slow and simple? How about we just look at each other and smile when we pass on the street? Instead of intentionally avoiding any and all eye contact? We don’t have to go all Southern and do it with enthusiasm…but really, just a glance of acknowledgement would be a good start. We can do it!!!

Thank you, Robyn, for setting such a great example! I’m so excited to follow your lead!

staying real : not sitting on the cactus

Yesterday and I didn’t get along. For a variety of reasons, both legitimate and laughably illegitimate. When 6pm struck I was ready to call the day a wash and hope for better luck tomorrow.

But I still had a whole night ahead of me…a whole night! A night with a roof over my head and food in my stomach and clothes on my back. In the grand scheme of things: a really good night. And I couldn’t come to terms with going through it grumpy.

So I made an effort.

I started by laying on the living room floor and crying praying. These verses were brought to mind and were especially comforting.

And then I did these things:

1. I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Really, is there anything more effective than sunshine and sidewalks to snap you out of a bad mood? I really don’t think there is.

2. I made my new favorite salad for dinner: Quinoa with Watermelon, Feta, and Parsley. (Recipe coming Friday!)

3. I listened to the daily podcast from Chip Ingram. It’s become something that I look forward to every day. If you are looking for encouragement, insight, and wise biblical teaching, I can’t recommend Living on the Edge strongly enough!

4. I watched Friends. Because laughter really is the best medicine.

(And then I watched the Bachelorette. Because watching Sean run through the streets of Prague shouting “Emily! Emily!” is pretty good medicine, too.)

I went to bed a happy woman. And this morning, I woke up to this:

A fitting reminder that there are real frustrations in life, but we don’t have to focus on them.

Amen? Amen!

Hope you all are having days free of cacti cushions and full of real joy!

making things happen monday : the final lesson

Here is the crux of Making Things Happen, at least for me:

You have to be willing to let go of what you want to make happen.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my apartment, working furiously on blogging and emailing and job searching and to-do listing. I had a pile of projects to get done before the night was over and I was bound and determined to finish them. Friday Night Lights was on in the background and I was perfectly content to productively wile the evening away.

I looked up from my laptop and noticed that the sunset was casting gorgeous colors on the bathroom shower tile. I had an internal debate about whether or not to Instagram the scene (“It’s so pretty!” “Really, no one wants to see your shower.” “But the colors!” “But seriously…it’s a shower.”) and decided in the end to snap a quick picture and post it:

Done! Pretty! Back to the to-do list!

But I couldn’t help but look outside at the sunset…wondering what it really looked like…not just what it looked like reflecting off of bathroom tile. I’d look out the window and then get back to work. And then repeat. And then repeat. There was this nagging feeling that I should do what’s most important: value the real beauty, not the productivity.

I knew I wanted to go see the sunset. But I did not want to go see the sunset, for a laundry list of reasons. Namely:

  • I did not want to leave my apartment (hello, have you seen Tim Riggins?!)
  • I did not want to leave my parking space and have to find a new one
  • I did not want to stop progress
  • I did not want to take pictures and have to edit them after
  • I did not want to make the effort

In the end…the sunset won. At the last possible moment I ran out of my apartment, out to the car, and drove up to Cobb’s Hill to see this:

A gorgeous sunset over a city I love and a memory I’ll have forever.

I was so glad I made the effort.

So to review, what I wanted for myself was this:

What God wanted for me was this:

Clearly, we have a winner.

When I get stuck inside of my own plans, I get left with only what I can do for myself. What’s easy, what’s comfortable, what’s right in front of me. That night, all I wanted was to check things off of my to-do list. I was content with a shower stall sunset.

But when I respond to what’s tugging at my heart, to the things that God gently guides me to, I get so much more. SO much more! Things I never could have dreamed on my own. I’ve always loved the verse from Ephesians that reminds us that God is capable of doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” It’s so true.

It’s important to do the hard work to make things happen – to have a plan, to take action steps, to look fear in the face, to have big dreams. But I think it’s most important to allow plenty of room for God to make things happen for us – immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

making things happen (not) monday : big action steps, big lessons

I’ve been making things happen over the past few days! Just not a blog post.

BUT…I decided to tackle the boulder that has been wedged between me and most of the other things on my to-do list: getting the pictures on my laptop under control. This is my action item that I’ve been dreading for MONTHS (literally…in fact, almost a full year), and no matter how many steps I broke it into, I just couldn’t get started.

It’s a beast for two reasons: 1. I have about 15,000 pictures that were never sorted properly – including 4 weddings where I accidentally didn’t remove the cast-offs from the keepers – so sitting down to go through all of them feels about as appealing as sitting in on a calculus class. 2. I need to move my pictures off of my laptop/external hard drive because I have no space left on either. Because I had no idea what I was doing when I started working with RAW files and no idea how to fix it once I figured out what I was doing my originals are all over the place. And now…I have no idea how to organize everything. 2a. I also have no idea how to transfer my photos to another system without turning my pathways into knots and my face into contortions.

Amen.

Taking on this item is the epitome of The Challenge: JUST DO IT. Mostly because it’s ridiculous that I’ve been avoiding it for nearly a year and also because it really is standing between me and a thousand other things – all of which require hard drive space and pictures that I can find and use.

So I dove in.

And look what I found!!!

All of my favorite long lost photos! These are some of the first pictures I ever took (and those people above and below? some of my favorites, too!):

I found myself saying over and over again, “OH, I love that one!!!” and remembering exactly how I felt when I took the picture and saw it come alive on my computer screen for the first time. Buying a real camera and taking pictures was a transformational experience for me. I saw God’s love through the beauty of His creation at a time in life when love and beauty felt few and far between. Every picture was magic. I cried when I got my first set of prints back! I saw everything in a new light, and I loved it.

You know what I realized when I saw these old pictures…reluctantly? They’re better than the ones I’m taking now. It’s soooo true. It doesn’t matter that I have 3 additional years of experience, better equipment, and more time on my hands to shoot, because somehow, I forgot. I forgot what it feels like to take a picture and not be afraid of making a mistake because all I did in the beginning was guess and make mistakes. I forgot what it feels like to not see something I “have” to shoot for the blog or for a job, but to see God’s love in the beauty He chooses surround us with. I just plum forgot that I really, truly, LOVE taking pictures.

I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. It’s part of the ebb and flow of creative endeavors. And having high and lows means that I have a maturing relationship with photography, not a stagnant one. But remembering why I loved taking pictures back then helped me see why I haven’t loved it in awhile: photography was, and is, the way I see God’s love in action. When it becomes anything other than that, it becomes less than what it was intended to be. It loses it’s redeeming power.

What a tidy revelation tucked into an action step!

It’s these little lessons that make doing the hard work worthwhile, sometimes even more than the work in and of itself.

(P.s. If any of you know how to mitigate this photo transfer situation, I’d pay you in a lifetime supply of baked goods if you could help me figure it out. For real.)

ALSO!

Have you signed up for The Challenge?! If not, here’s your chance!

1. Comment here or on ANY Making Things Happen Monday Post to let me know that you are doing The Challenge.

2. DO The Challenge! It’s a 10 Step process that will set you up for success in every area of life.

3.  During The Challenge, you will receive email encouragement from me and a nice surprise in the mail when you successfully complete all 10 Steps (and you will successfully complete all 10 Steps!).

4. One lucky duck will win a prize package, announced at the completion of The Challenge.

Time is starting to run out, so let’s get moving!!!