Category Archives: Of Utmost Importance

Worth It

Hi guys, remember me? I’m that girl who used to share random blips of her life with you until she silently retreated to a small corner of the earth and shunned the virtual world for months on end. I’m just now emerging from my wedding-induced silence, and I still want to be friends. Can we just pick up where we left off, like those rare, precious friendships where you can go a year without talking yet reunite without skipping a beat? Yeah, let’s do that.

Besides the fact that wedding planning is one of the most rigorous, time-intensive activities on the face of the planet, allowing virtually no time for extracurricular activities such as sleeping and blogging, I wanted to spare my handful of followers of the daily minutiae that’s inevitable during the months leading up to a wedding. Because while I’m known for my detail orientedness, discussing the merits of burlap ribbon with wire-finished edging versus burlap ribbon with frayed edges is not a primary interest of mine. So I chose not to talk about it.

Now that I’m married, though, and have combed through all those tiny details in private, I can (and will, in an upcoming post) share some of the more meaningful elements from my wedding. Also now that I’m married, I no longer have to spend my afternoons registering for gifts and interviewing photographers and making ridiculous crafts. Honestly, and clearly, I couldn’t be more happy to be done with the wedding and into the marriage. Because marriage is freaking awesome, y’all. It’s pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been involved in some pretty cool stuff in my lifetime. Ahem, dragon boat racing, anyone?

So by now you’ve gathered that I am not a wedding-y person. I am very much a love-y person, I just didn’t have the wedding part planned out by the age of 7. So when Jax and I got engaged, we started at square one. We moved from talk of a destination wedding to plans for an intimate ceremony at home, and seriously contemplated eloping about a million times in between. Past brides (and grooms) know what I’m talking about.

Now that we’re on this side of the wedding, I can honestly look at January 19th, 2013 as the best day of my life to date. Actually, more accurately, I can look at it as the fastest day of my life, as it was basically an insane whirlwind of nerves and flowers and hugs. But it marked the day that my husband and I shared the most tender, unconditional vows under the sun that were then celebrated by our closest family and friends, and that is what makes a perfect day.

Yesterday, we received our wedding pictures from our very talented photographer, and the emotions ranged from laughter to tears to goosebumps as we relived the hours in which we devoted our lives to each other.

Turns out, it was all worth it.

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Ready. Set. Chicago.

The Chicago Marathon was a blast.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m some delusional marathon freak who gets a kick out of waking up at 5am to ride the L across the city and stand outside shivering for 45 minutes while waiting for my wave to cross the start line so I can run for 4.5 hours as blood blisters form on my toes and my legs slowly turn to lead. It has nothing to do with that, I swear.

My experience in Chicago redeemed my faith in running marathons. Unlike my last marathon, where I crossed the finish line whimpering, mere inches from blacking out, I finished Chicago strong and able-bodied. Well, able-bodied may be a bit of a stretch, as I turned into a zombie seconds after completion (as in, everything was fuzzy, my dexterity plummeted, and it took me a solid minute to get from a standing to seated position). I’m not saying it wasn’t hard and that my muscles weren’t on fire, I’m just saying that I liked it a whole lot better this time around. As in, I could (will) do it again.

The abridged recap goes something like this:

Kim, Heather, and I started the journey together, and within .2 miles, Kim and I had no choice but to break away to take care of some urgent business. We aren’t two minutes into the race, and we’ve already lost Heather. Great. Our only solace was that we had empty bladders, and that is a necessity when you’ve got 26 miles ahead of you. We ran for miles and miles at a steady pace, entertaining ourselves with random conversation, the city sites, occasional spottings of our cheerleading significant others, and clever spectator signs.

Some of our favorites:

  • Worst parade ever
  • If Britney Spears can survive 2007, you can survive 26.2
  • Forward is a pace
  • Call me, I like your stamina
  • Toenails are for sissies
  • Run like you stole something
  • The Kenyans went that way ~~~~~>
  • You are beating all the people behind you
  • And the ever classic, Don’t poop your pants

Soon after the half marathon mark, by some stroke of sheer luck, we magically caught up with Heather and eventually finished the race in trio fashion. See, look how happy we are!

We ran without taking one walking step until mile 19 (my longest consecutive mileage ever!), where we enjoyed our first small break. And I mean enjoyed with every fiber of my being. Your body gets so tired of performing the same repetitious movements over and over and over for hours on end, even the seemingly small act of switching from a run to a walk makes your muscles rejoice. And cry a little, too. It’s basically all painful from here on out. From this point forward, we walked a stint at the beginning of each mile until the finish, but overall our run/walk ratio was much more impressive than my first marathon attempt. We pressed on, and on and on and on, and eventually, after 4:30:39 had elapsed, we crossed that finish line, and it was a beautiful thing!

We owned the Chicago Marathon, and we’ve got medals to prove it. We’re a little zombied out, a lot sweaty messes, and ready to collapse, but we made it! This calls for a celebration, and celebrate we did!

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The Proposal

Most of you have already heard the story (many of you probably more than once), but I can’t not post it on my blog, that would just be poor form. So here’s your chance to enjoy it again. You’re welcome.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, Jax and I love to travel. Love, love, love it. So, naturally, we spent this past Fourth of July enjoying the great state of Colorado. One day there will be pictures and blog posts galore recounting the whole trip, but that day is not today. Today we focus on the engagement (which is pretty much my favorite item to focus on anyway, so that works out nicely).

The story goes something like this:

Upon arrival in Denver, our host informs his car full of eager travelers, fresh off of the plane, that we are going on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park the following day. I love this idea, thankful for any opportunity that involves outdoor activity. Little did I know, Jax had orchestrated the whole deal, and it ended with a surprise proposal.

But we’ll get to that. Let’s start from the top.

Early on the morning of Saturday, June 30, we drive thousands of feet in elevation, gazing at the grand peaks surrounding us. We take our time winding across the mountain range, drinking in the spectacular views and impressive wildlife. As in, there were massive elk standing within whispering distance from us. We eventually reach the trailhead and dig into the forest. The beginning of the hike is tough as we climb elevation quickly, but eventually the landscape flattens out, and we merrily proceed along. Since there is no distinct end to our trail, someone suggests we hike until we come upon the “perfect spot”, which we will consider to be the turn-around point.

We eventually find what we’re looking for – a picturesque little nook with a babbling brook trickling down the mountainside, patches of ice above, wildflowers and vast forest below. We marvel at the view. Justin and Minda silently fade into the distance, and before I know what is happening, Jax is down on bended knee asking me to share the rest of my life with him. The moment was literally breathtaking, and it had nothing to do with the high altitude and everything to do with the man kneeling in front of me. It was beautiful and emotional and romantic and perfect, and I of course responded with joyful affirmation.

Turns out, this guise of a mission in search of the most beautiful location on Milner’s Pass was all for me.

Up on that mountain, 11,000 feet in the air, we committed to forever together. Rather than immediately sharing it with the world, we decided to relish in our engagement privately for the next ten days of our vacation. Aside from our parents, who were on standby thanks to Jax’s gentlemanly notice, the world was oblivious, and we shared our engagement with each other alone (with the exception of our dear friends who were there to celebrate the occasion with us).

By far the most favorite secret I’ve ever kept.

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A Monumental Month

I miss you guys. Like really, really.

This month has been monumental, in a life-changing, breath-taking, love-affirming, God-thanking kind of way. One of the greatest months of my life, and I haven’t even had a chance to tell you about it.

Between spending ten adventurous days exploring Colorado, being surprised with a beautiful proposal, living in a state of absolute giddiness, celebrating the exciting news with family and friends, diving headfirst into the throes of preliminary wedding planning, researching every resort known to man in the Caribbean Islands, training for a marathon, trying on wedding dresses, and other life activities, I’ve barely paused to breathe, let alone visit the blog.

You want details, and I’ve got plenty for you. But details take on a whole new level when combined with photos, and uploading pictures off a camera seems like an insurmountable feat right now. Priorities, you know? But I’ll get there soon. 

For now, thanks for hanging with me during the drought. I hope to pick up the posting soon!

Number Your Days

Every once in a while, often unexpectedly, something happens that jolts you into the heavy realization that our days are not guaranteed. Each moment is a precious gift, and how we spend those minutes matters. Life is not the time to hold back; it is the time to bloom. It’s the time to try new things, to find beauty in the small details, and to live victoriously.

Which is why I instantly fell in love at first sight with Psalm 90:12.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

What an eloquent reminder of the brevity of life, of how rapidly our days pass away, and how certainly they will eventually come to an end. This Scripture tells us not merely to count our days mathematically, but to number them. To make them worthwhile. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify misspending a single quarter of an hour, nor are we sure enough of life to rationalize procrastinating for another moment.

So fill up your days, and fill them well.

Book that flight. Sign up for the 5k. Give sushi a chance. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. Paint your bathroom green. Forgive your trespassers. Go out on a limb. Love like crazy. Grow your relationship with God. Try something new. Forget the excess. Stop worrying. Notice the scent of honeysuckle in the air. Hug your parents. Make something beautiful. Spend time with the ones you love best.

Whatever it is that’s weighing on your heart, do it, because this life is precious, and it is fleeting. Customize yours, and make it count.

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This Little Light of Mine

I have something to confess. I’ve been avoiding my blog. It hasn’t been intentional, and I am only just now realizing it. And I think I know why.

My life is so wonderful.

That probably doesn’t sound like a good reason to avoid writing to an audience, but hear me out.

My life is so wonderful, in fact, that I feel guilty about it. Guilty to the point that I haven’t wanted to share the good stuff. I know that sounds odd, and I’m just now finding words to pinpoint this feeling. I watch people around me struggling with various deep and real hurts, both close friends and the world at large, and it makes me feel guilty for how blessed I am. One of my spiritual gifts is that of mercy – being sensitive toward those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, so as to feel genuine sympathy with their misery, speaking words of compassion but more so caring for them with deeds of love to help alleviate their distress. Acting in this capacity – listening, comforting, encouraging, and empathizing – is one of my greatest joys.

In this world full of pain, I can’t help but wonder why I’ve been given this bounty of blessing. But then I am reminded that I have walked through heartaches in the past, and that I’m allowed – called, even – to be thankful for the place that I am in now. We are each on our own journey, and there’s no reason to feel lacking if mine doesn’t look like yours. Life naturally ebbs and flows with both favorable and unfavorable seasons, and maybe God put me in this place of gratitude so that I can minister to the bruised and tender spots on others. I am blessed so that I might be a blessing to those around me.

God gave me this epiphany last night – he wants me to be joyful. In fact, it is a gift from Him, one of the very fruits of Christian life. I don’t have to stifle my joy. No need to minimize it for fear of disrespecting the tough circumstances around me. The same way I can use my painful experiences to relate to others, I can use my joy to point to God and His goodness. I have much to be thankful for, and I can openly thank Him for it. He doesn’t want me to dim my light, He wants me to shine it brightly for the whole world to see.

I am renewed by His words of encouragement, for this reminder to not be ashamed of the good times, but to rejoice as they occur. Amen and amen.

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This is What Winning Looks Like

It’s Monday, and sometimes Mondays require a little something extra. If you are in need of a motivating spark to get you going this morning, watch this video and be amazed.

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My pastor shared this stunning display of athleticism in church yesterday as an example of continuing to fight the good fight and not being defined by our failures. A picture of faltering, dusting oneself off, and forging ahead. A portrayal of determination, of dedication, and of a refusal to give up.

I had goosebumps during the race, and tears by the end of it.

Now go show your Monday who’s boss!

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It Gets the Worst at Night

I was parked in my mom’s emerald-green minivan when he grabbed my face and pulled me in for a kiss.

Urgent. Unexpected. Our first kiss. Our only kiss.

Maybe I would have reacted differently had I known what was to come.

I was 16, awkward as ever. He loved me fully, and he made sure I knew it. After he was gone, years later, I regretted pushing him away, making him stop. Not because I want to kiss him romantically, but because I want to remember him. To savor his presence. He was my best friend. I loved him deeply, just not like that.

Looking back, it makes perfect sense. It was his first time to kiss a girl and he wanted it to be me, so he made it happen. He was always like that. Determined, stubborn, and persistent. He leaned his head through the open window and went straight for my lips. I cut it off before it had barely even begun, nervously fumbling over my words before I drove off in a hurry.

I didn’t change anything between us, fortunately. We carried on with our comfortable friendship with ease. We had a special connection that doesn’t come around all that often. It was sincere, authentic. He protected me ferociously, unabashedly proclaiming his feelings for me while respecting my boundaries at the same time.

I thought he would always be around. I guess you naturally have that mentality until you experience loss. But life doesn’t always unfold according to our plans. Rarely does it, in fact.

I miss him so much it hurts. I continuously fight feeling his absence, but tonight I openly weep. It has been nearly six years since he left. My heart is so heavy, it literally fastens me to the bed; I can barely lift my head to wipe away the tears.

His mom held me tight after the funeral and told me that I was one of three women he had ever loved. Tonight, it aches. Allowing myself to feel the pain is a nightmare, except I’m awake and it is real. It hurts. But I think I’m supposed to be here. I have to expose this burdened heart in order to heal.

Josh, not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. I’ll see someone who resembles you, or run by your house, or just pause for a moment to honor your memory. I love you truly, and I hope you knew that.

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Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Wishing you all the merriest of Christmases! I hope your day is filled with loved ones, laughter, good cheer, and an honest acknowledgement of the One we are celebrating. May your hearts be blessed by the miracle of Christmas and the weight of its meaning, for He alone is worthy.

Amen and amen.

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Foundation of Foundations

I know I keep talking about Genesis, but y’all, it’s that good! How can I keep to myself something so astounding that it reveals the very threads of existence?! It would truly be wrong not to share. I’m paraphrasing from Henry Morris’ The Genesis Record when I say that Genesis 1:1 is the foundational verse of the Bible, undoubtedly contains the first words ever written, and is surely the most widely read sentence ever recorded.

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

These ten small words define the beginning of the beginning of the beginning, and they are packed with meaning. To quote Mr. Morris:

It has often been pointed out that if a person really believes Genesis 1:1, he will not find it difficult to believe anything else recorded in the Bible. That is, if God really created all things, then He controls all things and can do all things.

Furthermore, this one verse refutes all of man’s false philosophes concerning the origin and meaning of the world:

  1. It refutes atheism, because the universe was created by God.
  2. It refutes pantheism, for God is transcendent to that which He created.
  3. It refutes polytheism, for one God created all things.
  4. It refutes materialism, for matter had a beginning.
  5. It refutes dualism, because God was alone when He created.
  6. It refutes humanism, because God, not man, is the ultimate reality.
  7. It refutes evolutionism, because God created all things.

End quote.

And that’s only verse one!

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What I’m Loving Wednesday

On this first Wednesday of November, I am sending all my love to my dear, precious friend Minda. She is one of the most thoughtful, generous, brightest souls I know, and I am so blessed to call her friend. It was friendship at first sight from the moment we met, and I have learned so much from our relationship over the years. Most recently, I am humbled by her strength and admire the compassion, sacrifice, and love she has so selflessly poured out over the past several months. As she steps into this new season in her life, I send all my love and support, prayers for comfort and peace, and these words of encouragement:

And really, today, any other items I could say I’m loving – the Tigers’ basketball season getting underway, my new gym, the green dress I’m wearing – all of it pales in comparison, so I’ll just stop here.

Today, all my loving goes out to the one and only Minda Jo, who makes the world a better place and learned how to from the best of them.

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Amani ya Juu

That’s Swahili for “Peace from Above.”

Last night, I had the privilege of worshipping with and hearing testimonies from a group of Amani ya Juu women visiting from Kenya. Prior to this special evening, I had zero knowledge about this project, and now that I have learned about their commitment to meeting the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of marginalized women in East Africa, I feel moved to share their story.

Amani ya Juu is a sewing and reconciliation project that equips and empowers women with tools to improve their lives and communities. They are taught sewing and marketing skills so they can sell handcrafts in order to earn a just wage and provide for their families. Amani goes beyond fair trade, however, to see women flourish. As the women learn practical skills to improve their quality of life, they also experience God’s healing, moving them beyond their traumatic and difficult pasts and into a personal relationship with the God who provides hope and peace. As the women work together towards sustainability, they become friends, mentors, and sisters in Christ.

They come from places of brokenness and hopelessness, telling of the same emotional hurts and insecurities we experience in our own lives, and it was a beautiful reminder that women are the same the whole world over. It was inspiring to hear their stories of emptiness and the eventual healing and redemption they experienced in the arms of their loving Father, our great God. It is so easy to put God in a box, to think of Him as the God of my country and my continent, and it is humbling and awesome to expand that vision and proclaim that He is King of this entire earth. What a mighty, mighty God we serve!

The women brought some of their gorgeous craftwork to sell, and when I say gorgeous, I mean breathtakingly gorgeous. I left with the most beautiful handmade quilt, I am absolutely smitten with it. It’s bold and massive and hand stitched, and 100% of the proceeds go to the woman who sewed my quilt; her name is Beatrice. I don’t really have a dire need for a quilt, and I usually don’t make $200 purchases on a whim, but I was so moved by these women and what that quilt represents, I felt called to contribute to their ministry. I internally debated whether to buy or not to buy, and the Holy Spirit won out. I figure if I can drop a bill on a new pair of running shoes or getting my bike fixed or buying baby shower presents, then surely I can spend $200 to support these women and further God’s kingdom. 

Above is a snippet of the quilt I will forever cherish as a reminder of the Amani women, their impression on me, and God’s omnipotence. Amen.

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It Takes an Ocean

Sometimes, it takes an ocean to slow you down. I’m always hopping from one activity to the next, but last week the ocean invited me to sit and be still. It gave me permission to spend five consecutive hours of my life enjoying the water’s vast beauty and reflecting on life’s many blessings, big and small. This kind of tranquility is not something I pause for often enough, but oh, it is heavenly. Relaxing at the water’s edge with no agenda other than to eat a delicious seafood dinner later in the evening gave me ample time to open my Bible and soak up some Truth. It made my soul eager to delight in God’s Holy Word, and it reminded me, with crystal clarity, of where my purpose and priorities belong.

By the end of the day, I was sun-soaked, but more importantly, I was spiritually refreshed and recharged.

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Dysentery is Not My Friend

Bright and early this past Saturday morning, Jax and I surprised my big-hearted mother at the airport before she departed on a missions trip to Haiti. This would be her second year to make the trip, and she and the team were giddy with excitement and anticipation over how God would use them during their visit. My mom’s luggage was stuffed with goodies and treats to take to the children, and for several years she has been studying to master the native language of Haitian Creole. The team was ready.

Four days after their departure, my family still hadn’t heard any information from or about the group, which wasn’t totally unexpected given the lack of infrastructure in Haiti. While waiting for news of their safety, I experienced a nagging feeling of unease, more so than I did during her first visit, but I continued to combat it with prayer and trust.

Yesterday morning as I was arriving to the office, I got a phone call from my dad that put me in tears. The word from Haiti was that my mother had contracted dysentery and was in pretty bad shape. Dysentery is an infection of the intestines, usually caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. We’re not sure exactly how she got it, but we did know that she was severely dehydrated and depleted of nutrients. The team was trying to get her to a hospital, but as you can imagine, hospitals are not easy to come by in Haiti. We weren’t given much more information than this, which made the news even scarier. My mother is horribly ill in a foreign country with poor healthcare, and we had no way of communicating with her. My heart ached.

I immediately called Jax, then shakily emailed my bible study girls and other friends to ignite a prayer network. My aunts started working on potentially medevacing my mom home to the States if necessary, and we kept in touch via phone for the next several hours. I researched dysentery, and my stomach dropped at this line: If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal. Terror.

I begged God to take care of my mom, to comfort her, to protect and heal her. I reminded myself that God knows about her sickness, He allowed it, and that everything that happens to us – that is happening to my mom right now – was thought out by my infinitely wise God, and all that happens will ultimately be for our good and for His glory. No difficulty, pain, or trial happens to us by chance. There are no accidents, no mistakes, no miscalculations. All is under His sovereign control, and nothing is permitted but what He has decreed. I know this is not how my mom wanted to spend her time in Haiti, and though I may not understand why, I trust that He is working this situation together for good. 

I was bombarded with thoughtful messages all day – texts, emails, Facebook messages, phone calls. It was beautiful to feel so surrounded by love in such a dark moment of uncertainty. My mother is literally being lifted up in prayer all across the country, and that is a pretty comforting thought.

Later in the afternoon, I received a phone call from my mom! We only got to talk for a total of 15 seconds, but just hearing her voice flooded my heart with gladness. She sounded weak but said she was being treated in a hospital and feeling a bit better. The prayers were working! Now, the hope is that she recovers enough to travel back to Memphis with the rest of her team on Saturday. If not, she will not be permitted to board an international aircraft and will have to stay in the country until she is healthy. Not the worst thing that could happen, but not an ideal scenario, either.

I haven’t heard any news since then, and so I wait patiently and know that He is God.

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Let’s Do Something!

I’ve compiled a list of random ways we can aid in relief efforts for Japan:

  • LivingSocial’s (it’s like Groupon) current pledge can’t be beat – for each $5 donation we give through this offer, LivingSocial will also  contribute $5 to the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund. Click here to donate today! 
  • In the aftermath of such destruction and despair, it’s easy and natural to say that we are praying for Japan. Harder to decipher is exactly what it is we are praying for. By clicking on the picture below, you’ll open a PDF of a simple prayer guide that will give you a little guidance.

  • Another neat tip I heard today: draw a red dot on your hand, symbolizing the Japanese flag. Whenever you catch sight of it, use that as a reminder to pray. Pretty nifty.
  • And lastly, you’ve heard me mention Nashville-based charity Soles4Souls before. Well, they are at it again, donating slightly used footwear to victims of Japan’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. While donating shoes is just one tiny aspect of relief, it is still meaningful. Consider taking time this weekend to gather up your unused shoes and pass them on to a worthy cause. There’s a drop location in Memphis, but if you don’t feel like going there, I’d be happy to collect all of your shoes and take them myself. Seriously, get in touch with me if you are interested, and I’ll make it happen!
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