The Good News

I once heard someone say that unbelievers will recognize Christ followers and be drawn to Him by our joy, kindness, goodness, and selflessness. In seasons of anxiety or depression or difficult situations, I’ve found myself confused and thinking there has to be more to it than that.

There have been times when embodying these trademarks of being a Christ follower felt like pulling myself up by my own bootstraps and scraping up the very last ounce of joy or kindness or goodness or selflessness I could possibly find within myself, or manufacturing it in a way that felt so wrong and inauthentic when I couldn’t find it. Many people who do not call themselves Christ followers seem to have all those traits and, oftentimes, represent them much better than me and my fellow believers.

In light of all that, what distinguishes us as Christ followers? How will people know we know Him?

The answer finally hit me.

It is not our joy or our kindness or goodness or selflessness that makes us who we are as Christ followers. Just the opposite — it is our brokenness. Our doubts, mistakes, insecurities, and shame.

How can we, who are so broken and imperfect and messy, possibly call ourselves Christ followers? THAT is the gospel. The good news. We are so broken and yet so wanted and accepted by Him.

It takes full admittance of how selfish and unkind and messed up we really are to see how much we really need God.

Knowing we can be fully broken and fully loved by Him is what distinguishes us.

When we truly believe, in our cores, how loved we are by Him in spite of every messy moment of our lives, then we let Him closer to us. The closer we let Him get to us, the more we are empowered to be joyful and kind and all the good things (because it’s Him, not us). His love changes us from the inside out.

But the good traits? They’re not the point. They’re the side effects of being close to Him.

The point is the brokenness.

There is no true love unless the one who loves has seen your brokenness in its fullness. He is love itself and can only offer true love, so the brokenness is an essential part of it all. A love like that is why we call ourselves His. A love like that is why we follow Him.

How will people know we follow Him and be drawn to Him?

In our brokenness, we heard of a love like this, offered free of conditions, and we couldn’t help but come running to the One who offered it.

Let us boast of our weakness, for it is our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Let us be known by our brokenness.

Maypop: A Whimsical Coffee Shop in a Greenhouse

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Located in St. Louis, Missouri, Maypop Coffee & Garden Shop is a little hideaway on the outskirts of the city straight from the pages of a fairytale book.

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The old brick house, where the baristas work their magic, is charming in its own way. It’s filled with nooks to test out until you find your favorite spot to cozy up with a book. A menu full of coffee drinks and teas ensures you’ll get your beverage fix while you’re there.

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After stopping by the house to order your usual, you can pass through the backyard and shortly emerge from a frigid Midwest day to a tropical forest trapped in a room.

Stepping into the greenhouse feels like entering a secret world.

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Tables and chairs in the greenhouse are all set for those who want to enjoy their drink among the botanical wonders. Hanging planters and enchanting string lights lace the ceiling above.

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The greenhouse is brimming with life in every shade of green. You’ll find trees with fairy lights, palm leaves overhead, and potted plants of all kinds — each with a personality of its own, like the cheerful lemon tree in the corner.

Soft chatter echoes through the room, along with the stream of a watering can.

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Choose your favorite plant as a souvenir.

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You’ll find delicate, painted pottery strewn about to keep it in.

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The do-it-yourself terrarium bar is another option to take a little piece of the wonder home.

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To make it a day trip, if you live in the Midwest like me, head to The Book House nearby.

Messy stacks of every genre litter the floors and the shelves are so tall you’ll need a ladder. This Beauty and the Beast experience is the perfect way to cap off a day at the greenhouse coffee shop.

You’ll be telling stories all the way home.

What Writing is Teaching Me About Vulnerability

Can I tell you a secret?

I call myself a writer, but every time I hit “publish,” I get anxiety — not a very good trait for a writer, I know. It doesn’t matter if it’s this blog that I’m completely in control of or an article I’m submitting to my college’s newspaper or an assignment for a class. I have to have a little fight with fear every time.

The fight goes like this:

My brain says, what are you doing, sending your thoughts out in the world? What if they sound stupid? What if you made mistakes? What if everyone can never look at you the same again because of that dumb paragraph? Who are you to write about something like you know about it? You’re only an amateur. Everyone wants to be a writer, anyways. They could probably say it better. You’re wasting your time. Someone else will write this exact same thing at some point, only better.

I run through the thoughts, carefully weighing each one… and then it’s my turn to make a move.

I hit “publish” in one brave swoop of my index finger.

So far, I have never regretted pushing the button, and you know what? It’s gotten easier each time.

Who I am really meant to be is wrapped up in overcoming my fears.

Confronting the hard things that scare me is the gateway to truly being free and truly being myself.

Good grief, that’s frustrating.

Writing has been one of my strengths for as long as I can remember. Ironically, using this strength requires overcoming one of my greatest weaknesses: the fear of vulnerability. My identity is so tied to my strength of writing that the way I see it is if you judge my writing, you judge me. So, publishing anything I write makes me feel very vulnerable.

Each blog post, article, story, and caption is a chance to present an imperfect idea or write something imperfectly, and send the image of perfection I try so hard to put on toppling down. In reality, I am so far from perfect that I laugh. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying to find my worth in the pursuit of perfecting my performance.

At the end of the day, that’s what it is. A performance.

The real me is very weak and flawed. Very vulnerable. The real me is sometimes afraid and self-absorbed and thinks far too much. The real me cares too much about what people think and takes criticism too seriously. The real me is overwhelmed by how true it seems in my mind that I must perform to earn love. The real me just wants to lay on the floor and do nothing sometimes, because the real me has an overactive mind that never stops spinning with intricate thoughts — both colorful imagination and dark anxiety.

Revealing the real me is the only way to slip from these chains of perfection and performance. Vulnerability , which I am so afraid of, is ironically the key to my freedom.

Writing has taught me that vulnerability takes one step at a time, and it gets easier each time.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post about being vulnerable or an article about a coffee shop — each push of the publish button takes courage. Each time, I feel as if I am stepping further into who I was made to be. Each time, I am reminded that it wasn’t so bad after all.

My words were fine. Maybe, my words were even praised.

And every time, my worth remained the same.

So I will keep putting my words out there. I will let people see the real me, one step at a time, and catch my breath every time as I realize they were not scared away. Just the opposite. They were drawn closer to me because of the vulnerability. They were drawn to the reality of who I am — my humanness.

At the end of the day,

to be vulnerable is to be alive.

Life on Island Time: Learning How to Rest in a Busy World

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Wearing my favorite red rain coat and taking in the scenery you would definitely see in a Nicholas Sparks movie.

“You slept in ’til two,” he said, “and you’re at the BEACH?”

This was the reprimand I received from my friend when I finally arose from my slumber and made my way to the shore. He had a point, but I was not about to spend my trip totally wiped out after the long drive there.

About 100 of us from a college ministry I was involved in had loaded up on charter buses, pulling all-nighters in our seats which grew more uncomfortable by the hour. We didn’t care. We were on our way to a carefree week of equal parts sleeping and shenanigans. A 14 hour drive was worth every agonizing minute for that first view of the ocean, wild and free.

But first, I had to get some rest.

In our go-go-go lifestyles, slowing down seems counterproductive. Sleeping in way too late while at the beach? Sounds ridiculous.

This is the attitude that carries from spring break into our everyday lives. We want to accomplish so much with our lives that we fill our Google calendars with endless tasks to accomplish each day. We keep going and going until we burn out. We have good intentions, but we miss out on the strength a simple day of rest here and there can bring to all our pursuits.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, was one place I learned to rest.

img_3703Days pass by more slowly on the island. Softened sunlight on the white sand shores melts into a sunset each evening. Mild air whips around you as you race to your next destination on the bike paths that run all over the island. There are no calendars or alarms to govern the days which pass by at a rate even the gators lazing by the pond could keep up with, and everyone likes it like that.

Little shops and restaurants around the island have a tropical Southern charm. My favorite restaurant was Giuseppi’s, a local pizza place with lots of soup and salad options, too. For nights out, Poseidon is a great restaurant. There’s even a rooftop bar with live music. Kilwin’s is a chain, but it’s one of the best chocolate stores around and a great place to get your ice cream fix.

img_4495Visiting the beach is the main attraction on the island, of course. The water is a deep blue. The shore is perfect for building sandcastles and playing catch. The sand closest to the water is packed down enough to ride your bike across the shore.

img_4536It only takes a few steps away from the beach to immerse yourself in the flora and fauna similar to a tropical forest. Am I in South Carolina or somewhere near the Amazon River? Tough to say. The greenery makes a great backdrop for photos.

For the full experience of a local, renting a beach house is ideal. The quaint beach house neighborhood we stayed in probably wasn’t too thrilled to see buses full of college students in every shade of Comfort Colors shirts roll up. Hopefully, we restored their hope in the upcoming generation (other than a few pranks we pulled on each other that may or may not have happened, but you didn’t hear it from me).

I got to stay in one of the fanciest houses and I couldn’t complain. All the houses were nice, but this one was a cut above.

img_3730I spotted this house on a bike ride and fell in love with the charming shaker shingles and teal accents. It was my favorite one in the whole neighborhood. I had to take some pictures in front of it.

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Here I am, trying to be trendy in my overalls and Chacos.

Biking is the preferred method of transportation on the island. Whatever you do, do not rent a car.

A bike is cheaper and way more fun, whether gliding through the neighborhood streets or trekking into town. Bonus points if you put a speaker in the basket to play The Beach Boys. We rented our bikes from Hilton Head Bicycle Co.

Traveling by bike sets a slow pace. This is just what you want for a week of rest.

Whenever our whole group gathered at one house for a game night or worship night, the driveway would overflow with around 100 bikes. I loved the feeling of community this brought. 100 different people with 100 different backgrounds and perspectives, but some bikes and a beach house were all it took to unite us.

We’d get competitive together over card games, sing together to worship, and laugh together over a houseful of chatter. The nights when we filled every last space in one glowing house were my favorites.

img_4384Community is something that helps me find rest. Knowing I have a home team to go to when everything is falling apart or when everything is coming together sets me at ease. God calls us to live in community and it’s so easy to see why.

I’ve gone through long stretches without a tangible community. Getting involved in one can sometimes take a lot of work and even feel impossible.

When you’re crammed in a house with 100 bikes outside and dying laughing with your best friends, you know the work is worth it.

img_4410The whole trip may sound a little boring to the more adventurous of us, but boring is something I can’t get enough of.

Boring days can be the best days. Boring days allow me to move at my own pace. There is time to think and dream, time to really sit down and listen to family and friends, and time to talk to God.

We often trade these things for fast-paced activities that don’t require patience. Patience is something there doesn’t seem to be a lot of in our society. We want to communicate with two sentence text messages and get our news in 30 second video clips. We like our food fast. We want what we want and we want it now.

We also want constant stimulation. If there should, heaven forbid, ever be an unscheduled moment to sit and wait, we pull out our phones for instant entertainment. We fill our schedules from morning to night. We rush from one activity to the next.

It’s no wonder we put rest on the back-burner.

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Looking back, this pose was a little much.

Sarah Young said, “Hurry keeps the heart earthbound.”

It’s only when we slow down and breathe that we have a chance to lift our eyes to God and think about how He sees it all. He is outside of time, in control of it. Time is not a worry for Him. He knows the perfect time for everything and He is not in a hurry.

Staying focused on eternity with Him helps us stop worrying about the time and, as a result, we are able to make the time we do have count. It keeps us thinking about the big picture and all the things that truly matter at the end of the day.

So, go ahead and let yourself slow down on your days off. Try to experience the world by bike. Schedule some time to do nothing.

Visit an island like Hilton Head if you need to, and don’t be afraid to sleep until two.

How to Host a Bachelorette Party on a Budget

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Sometimes I wonder how Gatsby did it.

I do love hosting parties. I get to gather up new and old friends, fix food for them, and set the tone for a night of laughter and making memories. Whether it’s a party to celebrate something big like a graduation or simply a game night to gather all my people under one roof, I love inviting people into my home.

I have to be real, though.

Sometimes it stresses me out. Coordinating a night that works for everyone and gathering up all the food and decor on a budget while juggling work and school is a balancing act, to say the least.

By the end of the night, though, people are trickling home with new stories to tell and new connections to hang out with.

That’s when I remember the work is always worth it.

Last October, I had the opportunity to host one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties before her wedding. It was a final hurrah with the girls before she tied the knot.

I had never hosted one before, so Pinterest was my go-to as I searched the internet high and low for ideas. I was on a budget, so that was a big factor in my planning.

In case you’re hosting a bachelorette party on a budget soon, here are some ideas to get you started.

Decor

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We began the night at my place, so I wanted to make sure it was decorated to impress. I chose a simple pink, gold, and rose gold color scheme.

I found all the decor at affordable stores. Here’s a break down of where I stocked up.

Dollar Tree:

  • Artificial flowers (a steal)
  • Mini candles (they had many other color options, too)
  • Square plates
  • Plasticware
  • Table cloth
  • Vase for straws (they have a great collection of cheap glassware)

Walmart:

  • Gold-coated vases (in the wedding section, they had these and other cute decorations)
  • Metallic tassels (in the party section, and I simply taped them to the table cloth)

Hobby Lobby:

  • Napkins (they had every color imaginable)
  • Cups (ditto)
  • Striped paper straws

Amazon:

  • Metallic letter balloons
  • Pink and confetti-filled balloons (scattered these on the floor)

For the photo backdrop, I put the “Bride” balloons on a string and taped each side to the vertical blinds. I already had the garland (originally from Hobby Lobby) and taped it to the blinds as well. This was all a little tricky and took some trial and error (read: it was actually very hard and I almost gave up, but I persevered).

You can see the tape in the picture of the backdrop above if you’re looking for it (sigh), but it didn’t end up showing up in the pictures we took, like the one below.

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Drinks + Appetizers

In all the commotion, I forgot to take pictures of the appetizers. The original plan was to snack on chips and salsa, as well as my friend’s famous cheesecake-filled strawberries, while everyone took pictures and got ready to head out.

I also set out champagne glasses and, since most of us don’t drink, we opted for sparkling grape juice. We ended up leaving for dinner before we got around to this.

Activities

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Keeping the activities a secret from the bride-to-be was all part of the fun.

She received an invitation in the mail a week ahead of the big night, complete with a wax seal. Super fancy, I know. Sending a wax seal in the mail sounded complicated when I looked it up, so I decided to sneak over to her mailbox in the dark like a ninja.

The invitation included the first clue, which was a riddle that let her know she’d be stopping at my place first. I told her to dress fancy and had a friend that lived close to her pick her up to bring her to the first stop of the night. Hiring a chauffeur would have been cool, but this was the next best thing that fit the budget.

The rest of the clues were numbered and she got them with her “Bride to Be” sash, which was from Hobby Lobby. The clues about each of the stops were a fun way to tie all the activities together.

The next clue was for the restaurant we would be eating at — her favorite.

After that, we played mini golf and made an impromptu ice cream stop at Andy’s. We drove a mini van to all of this so we could ride together, and placing seven different Andy’s orders at the drive-thru was quite the escapade.

I had been asking her questions about her favorite things to do in the months leading up to the party in hopes she wouldn’t remember I had asked. Pretty sure she remembered all of those conversations, but I tried. Nevertheless, the night was a success.

I wanted the bride-to-be to have some keepsakes from the night.

I set out a mini canister jar, some slips of paper, and a few pens. We wrote memories from the night and funny memories from over the years to put in the jar.

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The “Kiss the Miss Goodbye” picture idea was taken from Pinterest, and it was a hit. I wrote the words with a gel pen on scrapbook paper from Hobby Lobby. Then, we took Polaroid pictures with props in front of the photo backdrop, taped them down with double-sided tape, and used lipstick from Walmart to make the kiss prints. I popped it into a frame.

This bachelorette party was relatively simple and inexpensive, but still a night we will never forget.

To me, party hosting is simply creating an environment for people to gather and make memories. Connecting people, conversations, decor, and activities is an art I’m still learning.

I’m no Gatsby yet, but maybe someday (minus all the drama). Wax-sealed invitations and sparkling grape juice will have to do for now.