Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Inner Circle Friends


At church with the high schoolers, we’re focusing this week on the importance of friends. Specifically, the conversation is shaped around building friendships that encourage us, hold us accountable and inspire positive growth within us. It’s an important topic for high schoolers especially, and one that comes up a lot in many of our weekly small group discussions anyway. “You’re the average of your five closest friends,” we’ll tell our girls. “Surround yourselves with people who bring up your average,” we say, and we're sure to regularly remind them of how lucky they are to have this community of like-minded young women to pour into each week. The small group model is something many of us grew up lacking (i.e. yours truly, despite getting a gold star for regular church attendance, ahem) and now seek out in adulthood.

Friends are important. They are the ones who get you, who support you, who love you. They are also a choice - a privilege, even. Every friend is different, but I do think we have inner circle friends and outer circle friends who fulfill various purposes in our lives. I’ve learned that the choice of who my inner circle friends are - with whom I spend the most time and where I look for advice on life decisions - matters.

The majority of my life, my friends were all inner circle friends, chosen based on two main characteristics: a) does this person make me laugh and b) do we mostly get along. As I grow up (I’m not there yet, right?), I’ve found it helps to be a bit more selective with my inner circle. Here are two characteristics I think I overlooked:

First, do we share the same morals, values and goals? This isn’t to say our hopes and dreams and lives need to be identical, but are we headed in a similar direction? Where this has mattered most for me is when I mess up. Though I can be really sensitive, I definitely need tough love from a friend who can recognize an action that isn’t in line with the woman I want to be and in turn isn’t afraid to call me out and talk about ways for me to improve and not make the same mistake again (and again and again, probably). 

Secondly, does this person inspire me to be my best self? Am I kinder when this person is around? Do I gossip or talk about other less? What does our time spent together look like? It helps to evaluate the content of our conversations (complaining? gossip?), the language we use and the main emotions we focus on together (anger, resentment, frustration or peace, joy, gratitude?). Just like we tell our girls, you are the average of the five people closest to you. If those five people are constantly negative or have bad habits or vices, then guess what? You’ll get sucked into it, too.

Recently, a friend stopped me mid-sentence (i.e. mid-text) when I was talking major smack about someone I barely know. The things I was saying were unwarranted considering the lack of basis for which I had to say them (and also because they were mean, and that's never warranted), but I recklessly spoke them anyway. Being called out - convicted, even - really stopped me in my tracks and I was embarrassed, remorseful and eager to dig into what made me say those hurtful things about someone I didn't even know. Ultimately, I appreciate my friend so much for this. I'm sure it wasn't the easy thing to say to me, but it made all the difference. That’s an inner circle friend move. Those are the friends you want to keep around if you can. 

Inner circle friends are for more than a good time. They are for a good life. These are the friends who make a profound impact on us when they're around. And as an added bonus, what I’ve found is that if I seek out those who point me in the right direction, the laughs, the joy, the fun - it will all follow anyway.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Almost


Lately I've been feeling like certain things in my life aren't "enough." Life seems to be at some sort of a standstill and just when I think things are changing, evolving or improving (according to my definition of improving, at least), something falls through or doesn't work out exactly in my favor and I sink back into my disappointed but-why-not-right-now-God mindset (similar to a pouty, stamping-of-the-feet toddler, arms crossed and all).

My thoughts about what is "enough" rarely go much further past a general frustration of my life not being exactly what I want right this moment. That sounds dramatic and is not to say I by any means think I have a hard or sad or disappointing life, but rather - just like all of us, I imagine - there are certainly things I'd change if I were in control (I'm not). The analyzing of "enough" does, however, lead me to questioning God, His timing and His plan for me.

Cut to last Tuesday afternoon, an Instagram of soul food popped up in my feed from none other than Miss Whitney Conner. This may seem irrelevant, but Whitney has been on an 11 month mission trip - her final stop in South Africa this last month - and in seeing this photo, I realized I must have mixed up the dates of her return (shocking, I know). It's hard to say what happened first: gasping and chirping in excitement or clicking the location on her photo just to make sure her plate of southern goodness wasn't from another more southern part of the world (confirmed: Tucker, Georgia, USA is not in South Africa, Africa). Either way, within minutes we were on the phone making plans for catching up over coffee later that evening before heading to Singles Series at Buckhead Church.

On our ride to Starbucks together - a ritual surely missed by this missionary fresh off the fields - I asked Whitney how she felt God had changed her the most over the last 11 months. Her answers were nothing short of fascinating and inspiring, something I have come to expect from my dear and spiritually-minded friend. The first thing she noted was being able to tell the difference between lies from the enemy and truths from God. This includes, she said, seeing when the enemy offers you something that is "almost" what you want,  tempting you to take it and be less satisfied than you would be were you to wait for what God has for you.

This got me thinking back to what I mentioned earlier about the idea of "enough," because enough and almost are two different things.

Almost is "very nearly but not exactly or entirely."

Enough is "equal to what is needed."

The enemy will offer you less than what God has in store for you, often under the guise of immediate gratification that will ultimately result in dissatisfaction, heartbreak, pain, guilt or any number of negative emotions that will tear your down and discourage you.

But God offers exactly what you want, need, desire, deserve, etc. and trusting in His plan and His timing will give you life, hope, contentment, fulfillment and satisfaction.

Whether it's a guy who is "almost" everything you want in your future husband ("he's so nice and fun and charming and cool,  BUT..."), a friendship that doesn't point you in the right direction, a job that's a few iterations away from your dream job that doesn't leave you content at the end of the day, a decision you could make that will almost glorify God (but offers immediate gratification, of course), or anything else that's almost but not quite what you hope for and dream of, or what God hopes and dreams for you, I want you to know that our God is not an "almost" God.

Scripture tells us He is the God of immeasurably (or infinitely) more. (Eph. 3:20)

He is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does. (Ps. 145:13b)

He works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)

He never leaves us without evidence of Himself or His goodness. (Acts 14:17)

He knows His plans for us, to prosper and not to harm us. (Jer 29:11)

Someone who is for you, in your corner, fighting for you; who promises He has you in his ever-capable and loving hands; who loves you despite your flaws and died for you so that you might have life to the fullest: someone like that is not in the business of settling for almost anything.

If God isn't providing exactly what you want right now, it's because He has a different, perfect timing for it (read: wait), or knows you need something entirely different (read: wait). This isn't a test and it's not a trick. It's not a sign of God not showing up in your life, lacking to provide or not loving you enough to give you what you want.

All that to say, I think God wants us to hold out for the immeasurably, infinitely more. Because His live is unfailing, not almost unfailing. And he is enough.


***
Please allow me to end this post expressing my sincere gratitude to God for sending Whitney back into my life at exactly the moment I needed her. Whitney, I am grateful for your influence, encouragement, excitement and the community you build around yourself wherever in the world you are (literally). Welcome back, my kindred spirit! Three cheers for Whitney!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kenya Reflections

A little over a year ago, a plane touched down in Kenya and 13 bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Americans stepped off. All but two of them new to the country, they had prepared for months and were ready for what laid before them. Ready to serve, they were expectant God was going to use them - this group of faithful missionaries - in ways they couldn't quite imagine.

And use them He did, but that's not what I'm talking about today.

I'm not talking about how God used them because there's a lot more to it. Something else happened that week that's bigger and greater. God had more plans for this group; He and He alone had plans to send them home with changed hearts and cleared minds and not because of what they did, but what He did in them. In a plot twist that only our perfect father could conjure, God used the mission field to change the missionaries. 

He used the land, he used the people.
The climate, the food, the water, the bathrooms.
The stories.
The relationships.
The unspoken need.
The never-mentioned want.

All of it.

He took every drop of Kenya and diluted the infinite pools of what they thought they knew.

God used Kenya to get to us.

To get to me.

And so, here we are. A year has come and gone. And what did I learn? I've paused for a moment to reflect on where I've seen God use my Kenya experiences to stir my heart and change my way of thinking.

1. Fear and Worry || This is a big one for me and of course something I'll be working on for years to come. Something that I noticed in Kenya was that I didn't worry about anything. It's easy to think, "well of course you didn't worry, you were only there for ten days rounding up," but it was more than that. I came home with a better sense of understanding that God is in control. He is bigger than my fears, his plans go deeper than my dreams and whatever the circumstance, I'm learning to trust in His timing and His faithfulness - whether it's in my relationships (hard), the health of my friends and family (hard) or my career (also hard). Again, this will be a process - a long, tedious process towards letting go of control, but Kenya got the ball rolling more than any other single event in my life.

Applicable verse:
Matthew 6:34 (NLT): So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


2. Giving || The people in Kenya wanted for nothing, but my eyes saw such a need: consistent sources of food, clean water, shoes, clothes. At the beginning on 2014, I finally made tithing to my local church a priority. Coming back from Kenya, I decided that wasn't enough (for me). After seeing how the Kenyans can live on so little, I knew that I could live with less and give much more. I enrolled myself in one (now in 2015, two) child sponsorship programs. It's truly unbelievable how $30-50/month can so greatly impact a child's life. Thirty to fifty dollars a month is FAR less than I would consider paying for a pair of shoes or a dress for a single event. It's less than a coffee drinker's monthly Starbucks bill. Thirty to fifty dollars is minimal to so many of us, yet indispensable to those less fortunate than us. When I filed my taxes this year, there was a substantial difference from 2013 to 2014 and I hope to say the same in 2015 and every year after as I learn to give more to God's kingdom.

Applicable verse:
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT): You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully."


3. Materialism and Money Management || Let's consider this one my biggest work in progress (vulnerability, ack!). God definitely opened my eyes to how materialistic I am while I was in Kenya. Now, this is more of something I have noticed, not something I've mastered (case in point, last weekend I lost to Anthropologie and bought a lot of home decor that I of course don't need), BUT...in Kenya I saw how rich you can be with fewer material items and less money. Again (can I repeat this 100 times?), I'm far from perfect in this area of my life (like, miles away at least), but I am trying to make it a point to be more intentional with how I spend my money (i.e. giving, see above). My biggest accomplishment was to finish paying off my student loans in the year following my return home and, though the learning curve seems to be incredibly steep for me, I do see measurable change in the ways I value and manage my money. I'll be working on this one for a while because my name is Lucy and I am an Anthropologie junkie. I love clothes and shoes and manicures more than I should, but there's hope for me yet.

Applicable verse: 
Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT): Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

If you're interested, you can read more about our trip to Kenya.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

greeting cards


I'm for handwritten cards. It's partly because snail mail coming to my mailbox still excites me, but more so that I love written words. I think words of affirmation is my love language (after flowers, donuts and balloons, of course). Fitting for someone who paints words all the time, right? There's just something about seeing what someone wants to say to you, written indelibly on paper and permanent in time.

Have you ever gotten a card in the mail that brought you to tears, made you laugh or gave you a moment of pride in something you accomplished? Call me old-fashioned, but cards are what's up and I save my cards from over the years in a box at home.

I created a few card designs for Christmas and loved them so much, I made some everyday greeting cards for various occasions, complete with confetti-filled envelopes to add a little extra joy (and a lot of extra mess). If these don't sell, I've decided I will still be excited to have a lot of cards on hand when I have some words to say to a friend, family member or colleague.

I'm a card sender, a card saver and - now - a card maker. Check out my new greetings cards in my shop and send someone a bit of love soon!





Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Christmas

I spent a lot of time with my head down in Jeremiah 29:11 recently working on a custom order for Christmas. With this tried and true verse (an anthem of the Christian faith, even) on repeat in my head for two nights, I carefully lettered its words with my brush while listening to Christmas music.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

It's a verse I've known by heart for years and yet I noticed something new about it this time around: you. It doesn't say them and it doesn't say man. Not that person and not him or her.

You, specifically. Four times, to be exact. You. Me. Us.

We talk a lot about Jesus wanting a personal relationship with us and I found that in this verse. I may not always agree with the plans He has for me, but the promise at the end of the verse reminds me why it's not about what I want or think I need. Like Bob Goff wrote, "Jesus is more interested in our hearts than our plans. Plans work out or they don't; our hearts define our lives." Jesus is crafting His plans for me around the hope He offers through knowing Him, and my future is found in His glory.

And there's what I am reflecting on this Christmas. Jesus' birth is far greater than anything else this season offers and I am happy to know Him.

Finally, if you keep reading to verse 13, it says:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

So here's to more seeking and finding in 2015. Jesus is everywhere and I'm glad for that.

Cheers!