Visits from a Prince

Almost three years ago, I read Song of Solomon. It’s a book of the Bible that people joke about, or uncomfortably avoid, or surreptitiously skim through when nobody’s watching (lookin’ at you, curious tween-agers). I’ve most often heard it referred to as the Biblical portrayal of what marriage is supposed to look like between a man and a woman. But that’s not why I read it on a January night in 2016.

I had planned to go to a worship event on campus that evening; however, as the time drew near, I felt like I was supposed to stay in and read Song of Solomon. I had a pretty negative opinion of SoS at the time. I thought it was solely about human marriage, and as a single girl who already dreamed of romance, I didn’t care to read it and stir up even more desires to be married. “Really, God?” I asked incredulously. “Surely You want me to go worship with other believers, and not skip out and read a sappy book instead?”

I somewhat prided myself in viewing my relationship with God as Lord and servant, Father and child. I had avoided throwing “gooey” emotions into the mix. So I was surprised when, of all the grand and glorious things God could have proclaimed to me in response to my question, I heard instead, “Stay in with Me for date night.”

Wondering what they’d put in the cafeteria meatloaf, I sat down at my dorm desk. I flipped open my Bible to Song of Solomon and quieted myself to pray. “God, You know what You’re doing. Open my eyes to what You’ve got to show me in this book. I love You.” I added that last part hesitantly because I was still unfamiliar with how to tell this vast, mighty Being that I loved Him. How does a human appropriately love a Divinity?

As I worked my way through the Song of Solomon, my perspective radically changed – and with it, so did my heart. Let me walk you through what the Holy Spirit showed me:

Imagine living in a beautiful garden. It’s not yours to own, but it’s been given to you for you to tend (SoS 1:6, 8). This garden lies a few miles down the road from a mountain. The garden owner has a son named Jesus, the prince; He rules the whole world, but He still comes “leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills” (SoS 2:8) to spend time with you. He provides you refreshment from your toil and walks you through the garden, delighting in the wonders of His creation with you (SoS 2:11-15). At the end of the day, He leaves you to work with lightened heart and worshiping lips (SoS 8:12) and He goes back to the mountain from whence He came: “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices” (SoS 8:14).

Upon finishing the book, I felt like I had just taken an invigorating hike through the most breathtaking countryside, in the company of the adoring Majesty. My spirit was washed clean. There was nothing I wanted more than to honor Jesus with my life, to hasten the day when He would next visit me during quiet time.

That night, I learned a truth that’s absolutely crucial to the Christian life: God is our Lord and we are His servants. He is the Father and we are His children. But at the heart of His relationship with us is love and mercy. I believe He gave us the Song of Solomon to show us this. When we sit down with a Bible and a prayer, we’re not just fulfilling a daily duty. We are inviting Him to visit us so we can spend some private time delighting in each other.

It seems almost blasphemous to say that the almighty Lord, who is so busy ruling the universe and executing justice with perfect wisdom, would relish a little alone time with a mere mortal. But as C. S. Lewis says, God created us so He could love us. He gave us stewardship of His creation, to care for it as His gift to us; if we love Him, we work diligently to please Him. And there’s nothing more loving and merciful than His Son doing whatever it takes to share this delight with us – even going so far as to save our lives.

Someday soon, it will get even better. We won’t just tend the garden and get visits from Jesus during our daily devotional. We’ll go live in His own garden beyond the mountain. We’ll be eternally with the One who has set us as a seal upon His heart and engraved His hands with the marks of His love for us (SoS 8:6).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

How to Beauty

The people in that photograph are engaged. I might as well let the cat out of the bag and say they’re my fiance and me. We have 26 days before we tie the knot in front of roughly 130 people, 2 hired photographers and 1 videographer.

READ: I have 26 days to get beautiful before the wedding. I initially had four months, but as a class-A procrastinator, I have waited until now and am curious to see what the beauty world can do for me in less than four weeks.

So I’m looking at these 26 days as a challenge to see how much I can improve myself before my mom and dad walk me down the aisle, watched by 260 eyes that I’d like to impress and 2 more eyes that I’d really love to wow (his eyes, if ya didn’t catch that). I should probably explain here that I don’t generally suffer from a poor body image. I’m not viewing these three weeks and five days as a desperate attempt to salvage my self-esteem; more like a challenge to myself and the beauty industry to see if, together, we can make me a better version of myself so I look great and feel great on the biggest day of my life so far.

Therefore, I have begun the Google journey. I searched “How to get great skin and hair in 26 days” and came up with this Daily Mail article telling me how to get younger skin in 28 days. 28 is not 26, but eh, close enough. The gist of the article is that one must always eat ones fruits and leafy greens. Not a surprise. Then I found another article from Seventeen, encouraging me to buy a $99 face brush that magically scrapes my pores out of existence. I’d rather spend the dough on a fun honeymoon destination, but some of the other items in that list were legitimately good to know.

Mostly to be ironic, I googled “How to get beautiful in 26 days” and found this Quora post that was not ironic, but actually helpful. The tip I like the best is to take a selfie every few days and pay attention to how you are changing. I’m not a selfie person, but I think it will be fun to do it and see if my body, face and hair actually show any benefits after 26 days of intentional exercise, good eating and consistent care.

My conclusions are as follows:

  1. You gotta eat healthy to be healthy.
  2. You gotta get sweatin’ to stay smokin’.
  3. Most importantly, You Must Keep the Big Picture in Mind.

I realized that I was beginning to feel hopeless as I read all these tips, tricks and sure-fire ways to become gorgeous. My self-talk was sounding like, “Ugh, I have too many pimples/too thin hair/too compulsive nail-biting habits to get that look.” Instead of excitement to challenge and improve myself, I felt the lowest self-esteem I’ve experienced in ages.

The point is this. Don’t let yourself start thinking you HAVE to do certain things to be beautiful. Beauty is not my end goal. The end goal is to have fun at the wedding, have fun with our guests, have fun with my husband, and have fun because I feel good. I don’t plan to stress myself out with thrice-weekly mini fasts or use our entire honeymoon fund on devices that obliterate all my pores and hair follicles. But I will use these 26 days to see how great I can make myself feel inside and out by the time I swap vows with the fella who cares the most about my well-being.

And yes – despite our wildest dreams that this would not be the case, leafy greens ARE beneficial to our overall health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Time when Someone Saved My Life – 6th Anniversary

My mom and I were recently discussing my childhood and how “odd” I was.
Me: “Is every kid as disturbed as I was, or do they just hide it better than I did?”
My mom, candidly: “I think you were a special kind of disturbed.”
Me: “…Oh. Cool, I guess.”

While we grew up homeschooled in the woods, my parents were extremely careful in their protection of us: We knew what we were and weren’t allowed to watch, read, listen to, etc., and we understood that it was for our own good. But my overly-creative mind was able to make up its own disturbing material. I walked in my sleep some nights and experienced terrifying dreams that kept me awake on other nights. I remember going through a spurt at about six years old, when I would go to my parents and tearfully confess all the images that ran through my head. They were more alarmed than they let on, but they talked gently with me and helped me through that stage.

My sister left for college when I was 14. My closest friend moving out threw a big wrench into the cogs and wheels of my developing mind. Nightfall began to hold a special terror for me. When the sun got low and the shadows got longer, I was plunged into a mania of fear: an unnamed horror, a knotting of the stomach, and a hot desire to flee – but the frozen feeling that I wouldn’t be able to escape it. I knew something must exist to cause such terror, but I didn’t know what that something was. From 5:30 P.M. when I knew the evening was coming, until 8:00 when the transition of day to night was complete, I was held captive by paranoia.

The night terrors hit again with doubled force. Anything even slightly violent or visually graphic dug its way into my brain and sat there leering at me when I tried to sleep. I occupied my days by procrastinating on homeschool projects, reading story books, and writing my own dark fantasy tales. I rapidly descended into depression and spiritually destructive behaviors. Suicide was a thought that rolled around in my head occasionally. I didn’t tell anybody because the shame of my thoughts and actions overwhelmed any knowledge that I needed help. I didn’t ask God for help either, because despite my parents’ teachings that He was a good, loving and merciful God, I thought He was angry at me.

 

Fast-forward two sad years to 2012. Halloween was coming up and I was getting worried. I had developed a strong fascination with magic, though thank God I was too scared to try it, and I sensed that dark spiritual things got darker at Halloween. A combination of unhealthy anticipation and terrified avoidance hung over me.

Girl - Shadow and Light, B+W

On the night of October 28, I don’t remember why I decided to skim through my Bible. Typically, I avoided looking at it because it made me feel guilty for abandoning my family’s faith; I dusted off its cover with some sheepishness. Idly flipping through pages, I jerked to a halt at Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Now, having just learned the extent of my depression, can you imagine what those words “God of hope,” “joy,” and “peace” did to my blackened, broken and fearful heart?

The contrast of those words with my reality hit me with how low I had really fallen. I realized that there was nothing I could do to fix myself, and that if I continued down the path I was on, I would probably end up dead by my own hand or by terrible choices. It dawned on me that my soul was already practically dead anyway. I knelt in my bed, head buried in my hands as I felt the tug-of-war on my heart: one pull felt dark and frantic, desperately trying to keep me in its clutches. The other was a sweet call, a gentle but firm inclination to surrender my pride and run to safety.

The pull: “I’m not worth it. I’ve gone too far. God doesn’t want me. If I say yes to God, I’ll be stuck in a boring life of do’s and don’ts.”
The call: “I’ve always been here. I never lost sight of you, and you have never gone too far. Hope, joy and peace are just adjectives to describe Me. Come meet Me. I’ve prepared a place for you.”
Me: “Okay God. I really do need You.” Things got quiet.

In my years of fear, I had always whole-heartedly believed that demons were real and that they could hurt me if they wanted. Now I learned that God and His angels were far more real. As I knelt silently on my bed, I felt a hand laid on my head. It was gentle and infinitely comforting. Thinking my mom had heard me crying and came into my room to check on me, I jerked my head up. Nobody was there. But the hand remained for a few more precious seconds before I felt it withdraw and I sensed these words in my spirit:

“You’re safe now.”

Our pastor has said that Jesus fills every deficiency in life; we just have to understand that and live in that truth. It’s been six years of me learning to understand that God, His Son and His Holy Spirit are just as forgiving, loving and close every second as they were on the night of October 28, 2012. Christians make mistakes, Christians have messes we need to clean up, Christians are ordinary people with an extraordinary Father and Friend.

I get to tell the story about the night my life was saved, and it wasn’t just a one-time thing. My Savior gave us the Bible, His favorite book, for us to read His autobiography and get to know Him one-on-one. He’s real, y’all. Even if nothing else attests to that, the fact that I’m still alive should be enough proof. And not just alive, but thriving in God’s hope, joy and peace by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is not a figment of imagination. God is not angry and condemning. He loves us so much that He offers us salvation, safety and the chance to come alive in His mercy. What will we do with this chance?

Mountain Daisy Watching the Sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oklahoma Meadows, in Pictures

This weekend, my fiance and I thought we would get many tasks done, lots of wedding planning, maybe a new cell phone for me – because y’all, I still have a slider phone of the QWERTY keyboard variety. But alas, it was not to be. We didn’t get anything done, so we recovered by watching a movie and eating off-brand boxed macaroni and cheese.

However! Some good friends of ours got married on Saturday. The wedding was at the groom’s parents’ ranch, where guests perched on hay bales and the reception was located in an impeccably rustic-themed barn. I had first met the bride three years ago; a group of college students gathered several times a week on campus to pray, sing and worship together. It was a special group of God-loving people, and many of those friends came to the wedding this weekend. It was a mini reunion in an autumnal Oklahoma farmyard.

The route to the wedding took us through such pretty countryside that my fiance and I went for a leisurely drive the following afternoon to snap some photos. Allow me to take you on a tour of central Oklahoma in the fall.

Oklahoma Autumn

The perks of a country drive are that you can drive 10 miles an hour to catch a good picture and not be tailgated, because nobody is behind you to tailgate.

barn in black and white

This adorable little barn is probably full of rats, mold and fire hazards. But it presented a photographic rural paradise.

Sweets for the Sweet

Did I mention my sweet fiance got me flowers for the first time? I had told him he didn’t need to buy me flowers; but he did anyway, and it gave my heart the little thrill that I never expected. 🙂

I have a really exciting blog post in the making! But in the meantime, this has been a short jaunt through some of my favorite moments this past week or so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Is a Lot of My Favorite Things

Ladies and gents. I stepped outside this morning and felt the sweet, crisp 55-degree breeze of a true autumn day. I enjoyed it for the two seconds between my front door and the car, but will be spending the rest of the day mostly indoors, which hurts my heart. HOWEVER: I am going home to my parents this weekend, where our little log house nestles into the pines, hickories and cedars of the Ouachita Mountains. I expect to spend as much time as possible outside and get my fill of autumnal air – even if it’s raining.

This post is not about fall. It’s about food.

What are your favorite tasty, feel-good recipes?

I am absolutely not an expert when it comes to food and healthy things. I have had zero training, unless you count a semester of Health and Wellness where the instructor perched on a stool and railed against political figures every class session. But from personal experience, I know that I feel loads better when I eat healthy and get my daily dose of movin’ and groovin’ in an athletic fashion. I’m way more motivated when I read articles: Tips for running, weight-lifting, and healthy, fast and tasty food options. For example: This is the recipe for a pumpkin-apple smoothie that looks delish, though I haven’t gotten to try it yet. I got the recipe from a fellow blogger’s list of “5 Runner Recipes for Fall.”

So here are some ideas that I’ve been trying out.

  1. Fruit smoothies are my go-to breakfast. (Here are 50 different fruit smoothie ideas and ingredients, a list that dazzles the eyes and tingles the taste buds.) I use strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, a banana and grapes. Throw in some spinach, a large handful of oats and some cinnamon for flavor. Add the almond milk (or normal milk if you prefer), blend it up and you have a breakfast that you can noisily slurp with long-lasting enjoyment.
  2. On days when I don’t get to eat any chicken or fish, I make sure to eat cottage cheese for some protein. That’s not hard, because I love cottage cheese.
  3. I’m trying really hard to eat healthy lunches this week, which means oven-roasted veggies. I had leftover seasoned chicken breast for Monday and Tuesday. Combined with roasted veggies and a bit of couscous, these were filling meals! Today I threw a lot of sweet potato in with my normal pan of oven-baked veggies and also whipped up some brown rice. Brown rice = boring rice, so I spiced it up with Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning.  Also, here’s a recipe for a sweet potato and brown rice buddha bowl.

4. Long. Live. Snacks. But not the Oreos and chips we see cascading down upon this blessed chihuahua. No, my snacks are more like yogurt, sunflower seeds, almonds, etc. My dad taught me this trick: Nibble an apple, pop an almond in there with it and wash it down with a bite of cheese. Just go try it. I’ll wait for  your raving reviews.
5. When I cook dinner, I tend to make stuff that looks a lot like my lunch: meat and veggies. This is also when I try new things, like pasta or soup dishes. My fiance usually comes over for homemade dinners, so I cook a lot of food because he’s a buff fellow who eats large quantities. We like to eat crescent rolls or toast with our dinner. I also discovered this quick cooked apple recipe that isn’t healthy, but tastes lovely and serves as a nice dessert. I guess it’s better for you than, say, chocolate cake box-mixes.

It’s not an extensive list, but I’m working on it. A kitchen is a magical place – it creates more food options and healthier alternatives, and saves you money all at the same time! My main hang-up is that I’m often too lazy to go hunting in the store for the items needed to create new, more elaborate recipes. But I’m excited to expand my cooking horizons!

Share your favorite recipes with the class! I plan to soak up your knowledge like a sponge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Daily Grind in HD (Heavenly Definition)

Give us this day our daily bread.

God gives us each day. He also gives us what we need to end the day a little bit more sanctified than when we started it. Below are the four main lessons that He’s been constantly bringing up for me to learn, from waking up to working hard, from interacting with folks to falling into my bed at night.

To kick us off, I include a pleasant picture of sunrise in a small-town neighborhood, snapped during a recent long run. It reflects the fresh, sunny state of mind I hope to find you all in.

Running

Wake up: It’s becoming ever clearer to me that time spent at the foot of God’s throne is absolutely essential for a fruitful, joy-filled and authentic day. Even if I’m a little tired at 5:45 A.M. because I went to bed too late the previous night – I know it’s worth it to get up and spend time in His Word. God’s Word is Truth. Other things, written or spoken or acted out by mankind, can only be true if they are held up to His Word and found to be reflective of it. I’m only ever going to be a genuinely sincere person if I soak in, live, and breathe my God’s Truth.

Hit the ground running: I’m engaged to get married, and it is not the constant high that I thought it would be. Which is good, because I wouldn’t be able to stand four months of intense emotion – I’d probably get indigestion, tbh. Engagement is planning the wedding, one item at a time on the registry. It’s talking about house prices and car problems. It’s a normal day. But in the evening, in the quiet of my room as I get ready for bed, the excitement bubbles up and whisper-screams, “One less day to wait!” And then the Lord whispers louder, “This engagement period is a crucial process. Enjoy it, learn from it and grow closer to Me through it.” The normal passing of a day, when given to God, is life-changing in His eternal perspective. I’m leaning on that.

Enjoy daily human interactions as we are called to do: 1 Peter 2:13-17 was written about politics and it still applies today. It’s so cool that nothing has changed about politics, the way people generally react to them, and the way Christians specifically should respond to them. In short: Honor those who are in positions of authority. Please God by doing good, not evil, and thus show ourselves as undeserving of the ridicule that comes from people who don’t share our faith. Be respectful to everyone. In today’s political context, this passage stuck out to me.

sunset

Reflect on the day with humility: Nobody is ever as great as they think themselves – myself included. Even on good days when I think, “Yeah, I did A-okay today!” the Holy Spirit nudges me and says, “Hello, this is Alpha and Omega, calling for the depraved individual who is only saved by My grace; can you hear Me now?” It’s mortally dangerous to think good days happen because I was “on top of things,” and only bad days are when I need Jesus. It takes the pressure off my shoulders to know that God is who He says He is: completely capable, the I AM who is sovereign over all. If I believe that, I give Him full credit. If I start to think I’m also completely capable… Well, check back in a few days and see if I still think that. I’ll probably be on the floor, stress-eating a chocolate cake hastily baked from a box mix.

How has God been changing your life one day at a time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

I’m not usually a song-writer, but I was inspired to write a prayer song a few days ago. I scribbled it down then, and have now added a couple verses to it. I didn’t write it with any particular suffering in mind – just prayers that I realized I should pray far more often than I do. As I tried to develop the song, I wasn’t able to come up with any new verses until I dug into my own soul and found the Holy Spirit’s groanings lodged there. Now I hope it is a comfort for anybody who may be going through times of doubt or sorrow. Here’s the passage of Scripture that inspired it:

2 Timothy 2:11-13: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.”

Dedication
I’ve got no words that surpass Your own.
I’ve got no plans to earn my way before Your throne.
The only thing that I can do
Is fall on my knees before You.

I’ll take the cup that You’ve given me.
Lord, teach me how to share in Your suffering.
Take this heart made of stone
And make it a heart like Your own.

For if we die with You, we will also live with You.
And if we endure like You, we will reign by Your side.
Make me humble, give me faith,
Let me see what life is like
Fully alive.

Do I believe these words that I say?
Would I give up all I know to pursue Your Holy Way?
Give me strength, if it’s Your plan,
And I’ll do what You say that I can.

In days to come, I know I will see
How well You’ve preserved me, how close You have held me.
In this storm, I will hold true
To the Truth I believe about You.

For if we die with You, we will also live with You.
And if we endure like You, we will reign by Your side.
Make me humble, give me faith,
Let me see what life is like
Fully alive –
Abundant Life.