April 30, 2014

Rainy Days and Popcorn Lunches

It's quite dark inside my office right now, and as I look out the window behind me at the rain falling on the drop-off lane pavement, I'm thankful for the rain boots on my feet and a tiny heater below my desk that keeps it cozy in here (shhhh...don't tell the fire marshal on me, please). I'm in a perpetual state of being cold, so I'm always appreciative of anything that helps keep me warm. I'm also eating popcorn for lunch, which is a sure sign that somebody needs to go grocery shopping.

For some, rainy days are the gloomiest of days. I happen to love them. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my mom loves them, too. When I was in elementary school, I remember she would get so much joy out of picking my brother and I up in the afternoons on rainy days and announce that we were going to get a snack at a drive-through (a rare treat for my otherwise health-conscious mother) and then drive around in the rain before heading to the library. I still love driving in the rain to this day! Weird? Perhaps, but I'm a fan of weird little quirks that make people a little more interesting. By all means, share yours with me and I might love you even more!

It's been a slow week here in my counseling office at the high school where I work. There are two counselors off-campus this week at a training, so the hallway is a bit more quiet and there's a smaller flow of student traffic. Then again, that is also pretty normal for this time during the school year. The semester is slowly starting to dwindle, and summer is close enough that you can feel it when you walk outside and the sun hits you on the shoulders. The academically driven students are getting ready for AP exams and the slackers are still slacking.  The parents are calling parent-teacher conferences to see if there is any small chance of their failing-all-classes-including-weight-training student succeeding this year. The teachers tend to give out wider smiles than normal, knowing that their freedom is just around the corner.   

I've always been observant and reflective in nature, so it's no surprise to me that writing is therapeutic and that I tend to do it when I actually have the time to observe and reflect. Sitting here in my comfortable office, alone (at the moment), I can't help but be thankful for this job. There are days when I don't feel quite as thankful and my first tendency is to complain, but I want to write this down so that I can pause and thank the Lord for an opportunity to be here, at this school with my assigned students, and that I have a small window of time to eat popcorn for lunch and type out my thoughts with a heater at my feet. It is here that I'm reminding myself of the verse in the Bible that says to, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances..." 

I'm also thankful that I had the presence of mind this rainy morning to put on my rain boots and forego the hair straightener, since it's entirely futile when one has wavy hair. 

April 8, 2014

There's Grace in the Grittiness

Along with several people asking why I haven't blogged in (almost a year) months and with this post having been started during Spring Break (hallelujah), I figured now was as good a time as any to put my fingers to my MacBook keys and type out a hodgepodge of a post. Bear with me. I'm a bit rusty!

I started blogging a few years ago simply because I thought it would be fun. I had funny stories to share here and there, and there were pictures I liked enough to post for my memory's sake. I never gave much thought to it being a popular blog or a source of income (to be honest, at that point, I had no idea people could even make that much money from blogging!). I just liked to read other people's blogs - their design ideas, what new purchases they'd found that they couldn't live without, and stories about little families I knew.  Fast forward a few years later and my favorite blogs are still the ones that are written by women I know and love. A wise woman who has deep thoughts to share that convict. A friend who lives in another city who still just writes about her day-to-day life.  A blogging acquaintance (whom I've never met, but feels like a faraway friend) who shares her twenty-something highs and lows. I love real stories from real people about their real lives. So, I figured, if I were to ever attempt to breathe life back into this little blog, I need to write about just that - life.

Real, and not always pretty, life.

Sure, I am entranced with beautiful pictures of flawless outfits, perfect hair, or a fancily furnished house, just like the next Pinterest loving lady out there. But I am learning...slowly...ungracefully at times...that life was not meant to be this image of neatness and perfection and to-do lists complete with checked off boxes. And sometimes, unfortunately and not always purposefully, blogs can err on the side of perfection and hide the simple struggles that daily life has to offer. I'll admit I've been guilty of that myself.  Not admitting that I'm struggling, and instead focusing on all of the things that went right instead of wrong. Not mentioning the long road of self-doubt and discouragement that led to a destination. Not putting my dreams and plans out there so I don't have to face the disappointment of those unmet longings and give disappointed answers to well-meant questions.

At 25, life looks somewhat like I imagined, but it feels like a lot less. One of the biggest lies I believed growing up is that "when I'm finally a grown-up, I'll have it all figured out." First of all, when do you actually "grow up" and what does "having it all figured out" really mean? Does it mean being married? Having kids? Owning a car? Owning a house? Owning your own business? Having a steady job and paycheck? Putting money into your 401k? I have some of these grown-up things, but not all, which leads me to wonder if checking off everything on the list equals a real, true, honest-to-goodness adult, or if the secret to being an adult is learning that I don't have to check everything off of my list - that, in fact, it's better to let go of my list and let go of the control to which I so desperately cling.

I'm prone to wanting to lead a beautiful life. I'm a visual, creative person, so naturally I like my surroundings and clothing and the general everyday to be attractive. But I have felt more than ever during this season that the Lord is gently nudging my heart to remind me that everything is beautiful in His time, just the way He purposed it to be. I still enjoy and will always enjoy pretty things, but while those things are to be admired, they are not to be worshiped. By God's mercy, He is showing me that what I once deemed important or beautiful actually matters very little compared to the important and beautiful grace He has so graciously offered to me.

Life-long plans can be written out on the cutest and most organized to-do list, complete with goals and time frames in which to complete said goals, only to have every line scratched out in ink, permanently removing any chance of completion.

Life-long dreams can be displayed on a chalkboard wall in the most beautifully chalk-written script, only to be wiped clean in a fraction of the time it took to decorate.

Life is celebrating engagements and marriages and new babies, and taping yet another wedding invitation on the fridge with the double-stick tape I keep in a near drawer for such frequent occasions, all the while wondering if someday, someday, that will be a part of my story, too.

Life is sometimes sandwich thins and packaged sliced turkey, instead of that meal I pinned the other day and swore would make sometime this week that was completely paleo and completely healthy (we won't mention the large - delicious - McDonald's Coca Cola that was consumed on the way home, either).

Life is sometimes alarms set for 5:30 in the morning and rushing out the door in the dark to make it on time to a high school in a suburb thirty minutes away, only to realize that the morning rush also resulted in spilling coffee on cream corduroy pants and a leather tote bag.

Life is sometimes wondering why I picked a profession that seems so thankless and so difficult and so hard, especially when I don't have the answers that someone's looking for, or when I make a mistake because I have 500 students on my caseload and lost track of one.

Life is sometimes not getting home until 11:00 at night after I've decorated one too many cookies because I didn't limit how many orders I took on for that week, only to set my alarm once again for a time that doesn't see the sun.

Life is reminding myself that everyone has a story that involves pain, and that while some stories look easy on the outside, very rarely are they truly as simple and uncomplicated as they seem.

This life of mine? Sometimes it's messy. (And truly, I do not like messy. By nature, I am not a messy person. I told someone a little while ago that my parents like to remind me that even as a toddler, I never had any use for a napkin during meals because I literally never made a mess.)  This life is not always how I pictured it would be, but that doesn't make it any less significant.  My plans, instead of being clenched in my hard, controlling grasp, are so much safer in His loving hands. And I have found that even when my plans go exactly how I hoped they would, there are still feelings of emptiness and questions of "This is it? This is what I wanted for so long?" - I'm learning that it is because real joy cannot and will not ever be found in plans, nor will it be found in control. Control is an illusion, a dream. And this is what brings me to my knees and back to a gracious God who is capable of bringing more fulfillment to my life than my greatest dream ever could.

With all of that being said...here's to honesty. Here's to vulnerability. Here's to the grace of God.

And here's to blogging, once again.  

June 7, 2013

My Best Friend's Engagement!

Memorial Day Weekend 2013 was certainly one to remember!

I made plans to travel to Oriental, North Carolina for the weekend with my best friend Noelle's family.  They go every Memorial and Labor Day weekend, and I've tagged along several times over the years.  Oriental is a charming, tiny town near New Bern, NC, and Noelle's grandparents have a house right on the Neuse River. There's always been a special place in my heart reserved for MDW, simply because the summer is my favorite season, and this weekend is the perfect way to kick it off.  It makes it even better when I am able to spend that time with people who are near and dear to my heart, in a place that allows a girl to relax and enjoy being on the water.  Here's a recap from our weekend in Oriental two years ago.

Well, imagine my surprise when Noelle's mom, Carol, called me two nights before we were supposed to leave to tell me that Noelle would most likely get engaged that weekend! Her boyfriend, Bynum, had a ring and asked Noelle's parents for their blessing (which he whole-heartedly received).  Bynum had the idea to take her to the beach the weekend after Memorial Day to propose - but Carol suggested that he think about proposing in Oriental on their pier, since that is a place that Noelle has loved since she was a little girl.

Bynum roped me into the planning part of the proposal since everything had to be in place FAST.  It was my job to somehow finagle Noelle into coming with me to get a manicure that Friday, and fortunately, it worked out perfectly.  While getting Mexican food together that night, we chatted for a long time about relationships.  At one point, I even asked Noelle, "If Bynum were to ask you to marry him tomorrow, what would you say?" (sneaky sneaky…I knew she'd never guess in a million years), and she replied with a confident, "Yes."

On Saturday evening once Noelle got off work, the three of us left Raleigh, with two of us in the car acting stranger than usual.  I could not believe that my best friend of twenty years was about to get engaged - that night! - and I kept thinking back on this last year and how much has changed.

The last time we were in Oriental was last September for Labor Day.  Noelle was living in Greenville, South Carolina, and I was in Raleigh working as a nanny.  Noelle and I both knew that Greenville wasn't where she was supposed to be, nor was the guy that she was dating at the time the right one for her.  While swatting at mosquitoes in the moonlight one night, we talked for hours about where we wanted to go in life and what sorts of decisions we had to make.  It was on that pier that she decided she needed to make a change and move back to Raleigh - and it was on that very same pier less than a year later that she would become engaged.

Bynum, Noelle, and I arrived at the house around 8:00pm, and it was seriously beautiful. The sun was setting in pinks and purples, and the water was like glass.  I went in the house to catch up with her family, and Noelle took Bynum out to see the pier.  Little did she know that her brother-in-law and mom had strung up twinkle lights to make the night even more magical!

While they walked out on the pier, Bynum's mother and sister came out of their hiding spots (Noelle obviously had no clue they were there), and I assumed my position on the porch, praying that Noelle wouldn't turn around to look at the house and see me with my camera taking pictures of them.

That would be awkward…ha!

Before we knew it, Bynum was on one knee asking Noelle to be his wife.  I think it was right after he got up that we were ALL on the porch yelling and screaming :) And of course, hundreds of pictures ensued!

I couldn't have been happier for her.  It was that deep, rooted kind of happiness that just settles down into your heart. The kind of happiness that only happens when you know something is meant to be. 

Noelle and I have been best friends since kindergarten, which means we're going on twenty years of friendship.  I wouldn't be the same without her!  I never felt like I was missing out on not having a sister, because I couldn't imagine a better sister than Noelle.

I am so thankful that the Lord brought Noelle someone who loves her for exactly who she is, and who treats her with kindness, friendship, and respect.  Bynum and Noelle care for each other in a way that is genuine, silly, honest, and FUN.  I love that about them!

As for the rest of the weekend?

It was spent admiring a certain diamond ring...

…exploring downtown Beaufort, NC...

(I don't know these people)

…and reflecting on God's promises.

God is faithful. He always will be.  Even when faced with tough decisions, the Lord has a plan and a purpose for the good of those who love Him.  If that wasn't made any clearer by the events of this weekend, I'm not sure what could!

"For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies."
Psalm 108:4