Mountain Tops & Summertime

We climbed to the top of a mountain this weekend with some awesome friends. I haven’t hiked a lot in my short lifetime, but the few hikes I have done were absolutely nothing like this one. We were climbing over massive boulders, steep inclines, and grabbing trees along the way to help pull ourselves up. It was challenging and rainy, but we had the most perfect temperature and the most perfect company.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what I need to do every day – most of which includes being inside. Working my desk job, blogging, keeping up with my shop, making dinner, grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, sleeping, etc. – those are all huge parts of my days and weeks! This weekend was a beautiful reminder of how much I just love being outdoors.

New Hampshire has a ton of great hiking locations. In fact, there’s a well-known list of “48 over 4000” hikes – that’s 48 peaks in New Hampshire that are over 4000 ft. elevation. We’ve decided we want to climb them all!

Lately I’ve been learning to celebrate the little moments more. Less worrying about what’s to come and more enjoying and making much of where we are now and what we have now. I’m really looking forward to crossing a lot of peaks off that list this summer.


You Are More Than Your Sin

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin. Every once in a while, I’ll think about things I’ve done and cringe… then cringe more when I remember other people witnessed me doing those things, heard about me doing them, or participated in them with me. These things are exactly what I try to block out and am tip-toeingly quiet about sharing with anyone.

While this past weekend away was refreshing, the car ride home with some new friends (and ladies my own age!) was tenfold. We shared what we are learning in our relationships with Christ now and, to say the least, they aren’t light things. God is getting involved with us, right to the nitty gritty things that make you feel downright mortified at the thought that God knows these things about you. The things you rarely share, because you feel so much shame and guilt inside just at the thought of it. The things Satan tells you make you worthless and undeserving of being rescued. The things that you wish you could do over, but can’t.

The more I’ve been thinking about those things, the more I’ve realized it’s Satan who is telling me I should be mortified. It’s him who’s telling me I’m unworthy of leading younger girls and being a wife and whatever else you can fill in the blank with. He’s telling me lies, and I’ve been believing him.

It struck me this weekend that those things I want to hide so much, they don’t define me. But you know what they do define? They allow others to see God in all his glory, his patience, his unstoppable love and his overflowing mercy. When I was in the middle of all of that sin, God loved me. He knew me, he knocked at my door waiting for me to turn to him. He spared his Son knowing that I would do those awful things – I would think those awful thoughts, I would choose popularity, pleasure, acceptance, and so much more before him, but he kept on knocking.

But the ugliness of that sin – yes, it is ugly – doesn’t stop there. Because God chose me in my weakness, that ugly sin shows the great, great glory of our King and our Savior. The ugliness of my sin shows how wide of a gap God chose to bridge with the sacrifice of Christ. The ugliness of our sin shows the great height, width, depth, and breadth of God’s love for all of us. So today I’m choosing to stop believing the lies that I am what I’ve done. Because God took what I’ve done, wiped it away, and loves me anyway. I am made new in the likeness of Christ, because he paid the price for those sins. And those very sins are what makes God’s story so beautiful.

So, friends, if you’re struggling with the things you have done and feeling the weight of those sins, remember the truth: your sin doesn’t define you, because Christ does. And your past sin that makes you ashamed – don’t let it. Don’t believe the lies that Satan is telling you. The ugliness of those sins does nothing more than show God in all of his glory, and Satan wants anything but that. Don’t believe him today.

Therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him as thus no longer. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:16-21]

I hope you can embrace those sweet words today, I’m working on it, too.

To him be the glory,

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New England: through the lenses of the “newbies”

Well, I can hardly believe I’m saying this but it’s already been four months since we moved here!! Part of me feels like we’ve been here at least six, but the other part still thinks of us as the “newbies” around here! When we first got here, I remember noticing all of these small things that seemed so different from Tennessee! And I vowed to myself I would keep a list of them, which I have (sort of) done sporadically on random sheets of paper I find when something comes to me and notes on my phone.

But this is the real deal: New England, through the lenses of the “newbies.”

Snow. When we moved here, there was a good foot of solid snow (turned ice) already on the ground. In the first few months, it seemed like it snowed every other day… and it never melted! It just kept adding to the the current pile on the ground and would then freeze into an ice block. It was at least two months before we saw a single blade of grass in our new state!! I’m thankful we moved halfway through the winter… that way we can experience what people say are the “best summers ever!” before we endure our first winter here in its entirety.

+ Crosswalks. There are crosswalks everywhere! And not just at traffic lights, like you would think. There are crosswalks in the middle of the street and people just take off across them without a shred of concern cars may not see them and keep driving. I may or may not have almost hit a few pedestrians who were crossing the crosswalk at night. But I’ve learned my lessons, so now I watch for people like a hawk when I get near those things!

Traffic. This is definitely more due to this city being bigger than Johnson City, but the traffic is horrible!! It always takes me longer than I think to get places because I haven’t learned to factor in the traffic that is destined to be in my way. Eventually, I will stop being late to things… I promise.

Walmart. No one shops at Walmart around here. That was so funny to us when we arrived because we bought everything at Walmart in Tennessee! Groceries, toiletries, office supplies, etc. We had to adjust to a whole new line of grocery stores we had never heard of before – and, unfortunately, we also had to say goodbye to some brands we love – like Mayfield ice cream! And Daisy sour cream! (That was the worst one for me, I’ve been eating it my whole life… I can’t live without my “dollop of daisy!”)

Candlepin Bowling. There is only one bowling alley in our area that has what I would call “regular” bowling! Candlepin is the norm up here – the pins are super skinny and the ball is smaller. You also get three tries each time you bowl! It’s definitely fun, but it was so strange when I saw it the first time. I have decided I like it better than “regular” bowling, but shh don’t tell anyone – people are already telling me I’ve conformed to being a New Englander! ūüėČ

Jughandles. You can’t turn left at a lot of lights here! You have to turn off to the right into what they call a “jughandle” that spits you back out at a traffic light, through which you can go straight (which would have been like turning left originally) or take a left to go the opposite direction you were going. I’ve struggled a lot with remembering to take those when I need to turn left.

Day trips!! Because everything up here is so close together, there are so many fabulous places to go! Now that the weather is finally becoming beautiful, we are going to take day trips to nearby cities every Saturday that we are free! I’m so excited to do some great exploring.

Wicked. Up here, wicked means “really” and people use it all the time in conversation. Ie “Those cupcakes were wicked good!” Note: this is not just a trendy saying for young people, like it was when I was in junior high. People of all ages say it and I’ve even seen a business called “Wicked Good Cupcakes!”

Dinner. We are used to eating dinner around 5:30-6:00 most nights, but every time we go to a restaurant around then, they are absolutely dead! People up here tend to eat dinner later – which makes sense, since so many people have long commutes to and from work.

+ Ice cream. Apparently, New Englanders consume more ice cream per capita than any other region of the United States… so, clearly, we moved to the right place. We have also discovered Hayward’s ice cream stand (for you Ohio people, it’s like the K, but on steroids with actual homemade ice cream in 50 flavors!) and it’s hard to stay away for very long. It’s a good thing I’ve already found some running buddies because I need them now more than ever.

+ Alcohol. In the South, it’s not surprising to find Christians who abstain from alcohol because they think it is evil and sinful. New England does not have a lot of those southern Christian cultural “rules,” so that’s not the case here. Getting drunk is absolutely seen as a sin, but even some of the most conservative Christians drink socially often. So it’s very typical for Christians to get together and have some wine or go out for drinks.

+ Babies. When we first moved here and got plugged into the community with people our age (twenties to early thirties), there are a lot of couples who are married who aren’t sure if they want kids. And that’s okay. The first time I heard a few couples talking so openly about being unsure if they wanted kids, I wanted to jump up and shout praises to God! I didn’t realize it until that moment, but in the South, I felt like it’s the expectation to have kids, so the questions are never, “Do you want kids?” But instead always, “When are you going to have kids?!” To be honest, hearing our new friends talking about these things was so freeing to me! Jacob and I are very young, so we have plenty of time to figure this out, but it was such a relief to not be the odd guys out when trying to figure out if and when we want to have kids.

All in all, I absolutely adore New England so far. I can see us living here and enjoying it for a long time. Most days, I come home from whatever evening activities we have just so overwhelmingly thankful for where God has led us. More than anything, we have learned how much New England is an area so desperate for the gospel. It was once an area of rich faith, but that faith has been squashed by independence and self-reliance. It is absolutely a challenge to be here and feel the weight of that need – but we have a community determined to live intentionally and they’re partnering with us in that! I wrote a little earlier this week about the series our church is going called “The Art of Neighboring” – and that’s what it’s all about: intentional living. Doing life with the people around you and letting the gospel shine through your actions, your love, and (yes!) your words.

So here’s to a season where we aren’t anxiously awaiting for “what’s next.” Here’s to settling and growing and learning and doing hard things with these people I’ve already come to love so dearly.

Neighbors & Faith

Sometimes I don’t have anything particularly stunning to say, but I want to write anyway. I want to record the little moments when I’m so filled with joy and thankfulness for this place.

I love our new home. Last night I gathered with a team I serve on at church and we just laughed and laughed and worshiped together and encouraged one another. I’m absolutely head over heels for this church and I love witnessing how God is moving in this city.

My pastor is doing a series called “The Art of Neighboring.” It’s funny because he’s even said this himself – this is not the most theologically challenging sermon series he has presented. If you’re looking to hear something you’ve never heard before, this isn’t the series for you. But oh my goodness, this is by far the most challenging series I’ve ever heard. Isn’t it funny that sometimes the simplest, most blatant commands are the hardest to follow? Maybe funny isn’t the right word for that.

He’s been teaching on the command to love our neighbors. Our actual neighbors. Not the people who we go to church with… the people who literally live next door. Or in the same house, considering our apartment is one of three in one house. He’s telling us to get to know our neighbors. Yes, even the ones who I see out the window and then make judgments based on their clothing and the forty different people I’ve seen at their apartment over the last month we’ve lived here. The neighbors who intimidate me because they look different than me, they talk different than me, and their lives look different than mine. The neighbors who I pass by on the sidewalk when I take walks or runs. The neighbors who cook their food on the same patio we do.

I’ve never been so challenged. I love meeting new people, but I’m not one to go out of my way to knock on someone’s door with cookies and a smile, if you know what I mean. That’s so hard for me – but I want to do it! I want to meet our neighbors and know them. I want to show them that following Jesus is weird. Yes, it’s weird, but it’s weird because he is so full of love for all us, even before we knew him, and that is not how life tends to work in the world! He loved us so much, even before we showed him a single ounce of consideration, that he took our place. He bore the wrath of God for our sin so we can know God and love him and walk with him.

So the weirdness is so good because it’s freeing. It’s knowing that I’m free from the chains of seeking approval from others, the chains of “not being good enough,” and, yes, even the chains of “I’ve done too much.” It’s acceptance. It’s knowing that this life is a shadow of what’s to come. The joy I feel in this moment of reflection – the way my heart feels ready to burst – is a shadow of what’s to come. Man, I am excited to share that with my neighbors. The ones who live next door.


Outside my Front Door

One of my favorite things about our new city is living so close to the heart of downtown. Often I take walks for lunch, or stroll down to the local coffee shop to meet with friends. It’s my favorite. Last night Jacob and I took a walk after dinner – it was the first time we were out enjoying the gorgeous spring weather together. (And on of the first few days we’ve had such gorgeous weather!)

I’m so excited for this new season of warm weather and late nights with friends. Summer isn’t quite the same when you’re no longer a student without a care all summer long, but it’s wonderful regardless. Here’s to our first summer in New England, may it be filled with friends and so much growth.


A Reminder to Invest

Friends singing

I’ve shared before that I left my hometown to attend an out of state college. My mom likes to say that once I left, I never came back. And considering I didn’t spend a single summer at home once I took off for school, I’d say she is pretty right. Then, of course, we moved from Tennessee to New Hampshire not too long ago. So from Ohio to Tennessee to New Hampshire… that covers a lot of ground.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately. I wrote a few weeks ago about how weird (and hard!) it is to realize that we probably won’t live next door to our best friends all the time… but that’s a beautiful thing. It’s beautiful because God uses us where we are for a season, and then takes us somewhere else. But everywhere we go – we’re planting seeds. We’re watering seeds, and he’s growing them. It’s beautiful, even though it’s hard sometimes.

Aside from the beauty, though, I’ve been thinking about how horrible¬†I am with long-distance friendships. It’s like I walk around with blinders on and only see who is right in front of me. I’m horrible at calling my friends, texting them, emailing them, FaceTiming them, etc. But I have a lot¬†of friends who are really awesome at those things, and I’m so thankful.

Last week I got the chance to catch up with a lot of those friends, and even though some of us hadn’t talked for a while… even just a few minutes of catching up made my heart so happy. Through short phone calls, texts and fun mail, I felt full all week because I was reminded just how much God has blessed me through each of those women.

So this is my reminder to you, but mostly to me, to invest. All it takes is a quick “hey, I’m thinking about you, how can I pray for you?” text, a phone call while you’re running errands, some snail mail written during slow minutes at work, or even an email when it’s too late to call or text to make a big¬†difference in keeping those relationships alive. I can’t tell you how much I’m touched when I receive any of those from a friend. But, you know, I feel even better about it when I’m the one who initiated it, because I’m hoping that little thoughtful moment is stirring up those same feelings of love and good memories in my friend.

So with a free moment you have today – do something to love on a friend you don’t get to talk with much anymore. Although I’m sure none of those suggestions were new to you, they certainly aren’t new to me, but practicing them with intention is. I’m asking God to grow me in being more efficient and effective with my time – and that includes valuing relationships! Let’s start practicing today.