A SAVIOR + A STORY

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately.

Of fairy tales, and how they are somewhat morphing into “Wait — I will save her!” to “No thanks, I can save myself.”

Of the stories that leave you in thought, and then the ones that you want to throw against a brick wall.

You know which ones I’m talking about …

The ones that you invest hours into, cry your own tears over.
The characters you know have to be real, and you refer to in normal conversations.

Only to have the book end with an ending that’s exactly opposite of what you were expecting. 

Nicholas Sparks is really good at those. 

Then there are those stories that are filled with events, some good and some terrible; some magical and some bad. Events that you didn’t see coming. Every page is seemingly a surprise, leaving you with your eyes glued to the page at 2 am. 

Those are the kind I like. The stories you don’t expect. 

Each of us have a story, and the older I get, the more I appreciate mine. 

Because it’s not a fairy tale. It’s the kind I described last.
The surprise factor. The anticipation.
It’s redemption. 

Sometimes I actually get angry with fairytales. Weird, I know. But it’s the truth.
I get angry at the expectations that they leave in the mind of the hope-filled. 

How on God’s green earth does Ariel’s hair look like that after she swims in the ocean?

Saying “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” out loud doesn’t end with anything. Not even a sudden appearance of caffeine.

Snow White literally ends up with 7 instant BFF’s who follow her every move, and the animals communicate with her. Probably even scrub her dishes.

And why do they all sound like perfect little angels when they sing?

Magically Sleeping Beauty finds a gorgeous male, who is not a stalker might I add, in a FORREST?! 

Every single piece of that is unrealistic. Yet, I’ve at least genuinely hoped for 3 of those things to happen to me. 

Perfect beach hair, communication with animals, and a handsome prince? Hello, do you blame me?

But why? Because it’s a good story.
And it took me a long time to realize that my story wasn’t supposed to resemble anyone else’s. 

My story was supposed to be just my own.

Turns out I did need saving.
But who came to my rescue wasn’t Prince Charming’s cousin.
It was a Man who died on a cross.
And rose again.

Not for my good days.
But for my worst ones.

I think most of the time we forget that our stories aren’t supposed to look like one of those cliche novels where you can predict the ending in the first chapter.

Because if we don’t like those kind of books, why would we want ours to resemble it?

Our stories are evidence of our journey, and evidence that we not only made it …
but that we lived.

To look back at the beginning and smile.
To look at where you’re standing and be grateful.
To look at the unknown future and rejoice.

Because no matter what your story holds tomorrow, you can rest in the fact that the page is already written.

And I can promise you one thing, Nicholas Sparks doesn’t hold a candle to the Author.

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THE DEUTERONOMY OF LEFT FIELD

I will go before you.

Like when my friend Claire said she would go before me during the spelling bee, so that I didn’t have to spell, “Paraphernalia.” I am still personally grateful for that one, especially since my word ended up being, “Parrot.” Nailed it.

Or that time your brother is braver than you, and takes the flu shot first in the tiny zoo-wallpapered doctor’s office.

Or, perhaps, it’s the time when a truck pulls out in front of you and totals your car. And you’re left without a single scrape.

I will go before you.

 But what happens when our problems are much bigger than a spelling word or a blood dot covered by an Elmo Band-Aid? What happens when it takes every single ounce of faith to trust God’s words?

 Dont be afraid.

 Life throws us lots of curveballs. Sometimes we make it all the way to third base, and other times we strike out before we get the chance to knock the ball clear into left field.

Okay, seeing as I’m a visual person — let’s just map this out.

The opposing team’s pitcher is a rather unfair player and a tad rough around the edges. There’s no light or glimmer in his eyes — he’s all about the win. His team is made up of a variety of players; the catcher, who squats behind you at bat, has the loudest voice right after the coach — who has the reputation of being Satan himself. Often, when they mess up, you hear screams of fowl language coming from their side of the bleachers.

The game starts, while scents of popcorn and peanuts fill the warm air, and you’re up to bat. As you’re walking up to the plate, you look out for a quick second at your team. It’s your brothers and sisters of Christ in ball caps and white striped-uniforms.

Encouraging cheers come from the stands, and you hold back a smirk as you hear your mom’s voice above most.

You grab your bat, which is your foundation in Jesus. You grip tight, like you hold on to your faith, and set your eyes on the ball. The ball is an obstacle — a hard one, and your swing is your trust in Jesus.

The ball comes at a flashing speed as loosen your grip on your bat. SWOOSH. The ball goes into the glove as the catcher laughs, and a grumpy umpire yells, “STRIKE!”

Don’t be discouraged.

You take a deep breath and refocus, take ahold of your bat and grip tight. This time the ball comes, and your swing carries through until you hear the thunder of the ball hitting your bat.

I will never forsake you.

It results in a home run, breaking the tie between the opposing team, winning the game. Right before a cheering huddle, your team lines up to shake the hands of the players who doubted and cursed you and your teammates.

Your Coach, who is Jesus himself, is last in the lineup and offers the players of the opposing team an offer: “Great game. We would love to have you on our team. Would you care to join us?”

I will be with you.

We may be Christians, but we are also human. Some days our faith in His Word is as easy as breathing, but other times, it’s like finding a diamond in a sea of rocks.

But rest assured, He will always go before us — whether we lose our grip or forget which team we’re on.

Before I end this, picture that you’re in line behind me after I’ve just spelled, “Parrot” — leaving you with the next spelling word.

Which just so happens to be: “PROMISE.”

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China Dolls & Cluttered Closets

Going through your closet is a good way to lose your mind.

What starts out as an “OMW I FORGOT I HAD THIS” fashion show, ends up a “WOW, LOOK AT ALL THIS CRAP” tsunami wreck.

You give yourself a pep talk, followed by a major discipline discussion, because it’s ridiculous to have so much when others have so little. So, you make a donation pile, and before you know it, you have trash bag after trash bag full of things. And no longer can you blame your Grandma for her obscene (and horrific) china doll collection.

You realize all the baggage you were holding onto, without even being aware of it.

Pieces of clothing bring back flashbacks of memories past, and before you know it, you’re remembering the songs that played at your 8th grade dance, what you did on the 4th of July in 2008, and what outfit you wore when you got your first kiss in your backyard.

A closet is sort of like our relationship with Jesus. All the “stuff” we choose before Him, or the articles we try to hide by keeping the door closed, and the burden that often comes with the heavy load of thinking we have to carry it ourselves.

The reminders of the past: some good, some great, some okay, and some terrible. The ones that are there every time we open our closet — you know which ones I’m talking about, the “You’re not good enough,” or the “You can’t do it.”

For me, I see that every time I see my freshman volleyball sweatshirt. I tried for years to fit into the sports mold, but seeing as I trip daily and break things that are, in fact, unbreakable, I didn’t fit. No matter how hard I tried.

I was named the “Team Encourager,” and although my sets and spikes were the equivalent to a seal clapping its flippers, I realized that it’s okay to not fit the mold. What’s not okay is to pretend to be someone that you aren’t — mostly because it’s not the just the world who loses, it’s you and who God has called you to be.

Satan, though, is quite the talker. He makes us believe that we have to fit the mold — and worse, that if we don’t, we are unworthy, inadequate and invaluable individuals. He’s the “I look 5lbs smaller just by zipping it” black dress in your closet that promises to hide the cheeseburger, fries, and large Dr. Pepper you inhaled on your lunch break.

Satan is the disapproving voice you hear strongly when you try to get rid of something he doesn’t want you to get rid of — the things that would make you better. He’s the one who pushes you to welcome baggage, trash bag after trash bag, because it weighs you down, and convinces you that your closet is too dirty to ever be clean again.

As you push heavily against that strong voice, you hear a much clearer one. It’s the Dominant Voice that guides your hands as you clear out every article that you don’t need, or want anymore. It’s the Voice that reminds you that the past is behind you, and then gives you the opportunity to look at something from it and see just how far He’s brought you.

Now that your closet is clean, you look at your give away pile with relief and a sense of awe, before thinking, “What in the world did I ever do with all that stuff?”

And when it’s gone, not only are you proud, but you’re free.

Free to visit your Grandma and awkwardly hide from her dolls.

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THE SUGAR OF MERCY

It’s officially February, and I’m wondering if I’ve been trapped in some sort of time lapse. Where did 2015 go? Or 2014, for that matter. Goodness, I graduated college in 2013 … and started working for the company I’d always dreamt about.

Disney.

I’ve had Jeremiah 29:11 memorized since I could say, “Da Da!” It’s been a verse that I’ve cried over and clung to. It’s also how I started my 2-minute sermon in one of my Bible classes in college.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says The Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not harm you — plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

But, see, we have our plans, too. Plans that we justify as God’s plans for us. It’s like, “Hey God. I really want what You have for me, but see, I want my dreams — and if it’s Your will, open the door.”

So we basically shove open the door, and once we’re in, we are like, “Thanks, Jesus! Now if you could show me favor and bless me, too, that’d be awesome!”

I’m guilty of that. Really, really guilty.

And much like your Mom bringing you a chocolate sundae after a stupid boy takes someone else to the spring dance, here comes Jesus with a smile on His face, Band-Aids in one hand for your scraped knees, a Kleenex box in another for your falling tears, and His arms wide open for a hug to mend your broken heart.

His living water is infused with the richest of mercies — a dose that is infinitely better than a spoonful of sugar, and keeps on curing. A dose that says, “It’s okay, my child. I forgive you. Try this way instead.”

Before I get too ahead of myself, I’ll back up a bit, and explain the reasoning behind my Biblical synopsis.

It was always my dream to be Cinderella at Walt Disney World, and after countless auditions, thousands of dollars spent on airfare, gas, and lodging, almost two years of my life, three very hopeful chances that ended in devastating dead-ends, and fifteen buckets of tears, I gave up my dream.

Well, let me rephrase that. In better words, I finally surrendered it. Sure, I’d “given” it to God many times, but I realized that I only gave it up if it had the ending that I wanted. Which was me in a beautiful blue dress, heeled slippers and a blonde up-do, greeting children from a lit-up golden carriage riding down Main Street.

And it took me an apartment lease, the continual struggle of paying every bill, the loneliness that surrounded me in a sea of people, and the excessive exhaustion that followed me to work seven days a week, to realize that my dream had become a burden. And I’d carried it long enough.

Cinderella didn’t have to wait on the approval of her Stepmother before she was transformed into a princess, and I realized I didn’t have to wait on a single casting director’s approval for my transformation either.

And with that light bulb of a thought, I realized something much greater …

I’d rather be Ella every day in rags, with her unwavering kindness and constant courage, than Cinderella four times a week in Princess Fairytale Hall.

“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (MSG)

Through it all, Jesus showed up every time. In the car on the nights when I took a tear-filled drive to Chick-Fil-A to get an IceDream cone. On my knees in front of the TV soaking in every word that Joel Olsteen was speaking to me. In the Castle breakroom talking to a co-worker about Jesus, and in the solitude of Sunday morning church.

He knew what He was doing, and will forever know. I didn’t. He brought me home, to the exact place that He wanted me — which was in the dead center of His will and His plan for my life.

With that said, today is my last day with the Walt Disney Company.

I sat in front of Cinderella Castle that had, in more ways than one, become apart of me. The biggest of smiles — and some tears, too — came to my face when I thought of the hundreds of little girls who trusted me, a Fairy Godmother-in-Training, to turn them into a princess. In their honor, I’ve started my first children’s book. “Meanwhile in the Boutique … ” is based on true, and very inspirational, events. To the friendships that I made while I was there, whether they were for a season or for a lifetime, I am a better person because of each of you. And last, but never least, the magic of Disney will forever be within me.

I gave Cinderella one last hug and told her thank you. For the dream I have always had, and will always carry with me.

Do I have any clue what’s next? Not a single one, but I do know that once I took my limitations off — a whole world of opportunity stared back at me through the promise-filled mirror.

The future that I hope and pray for is filled with happiness, surrender, and faithfulness.

And as Ella would remind me, “kindness, courage and a little bit of magic.”

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Honest Confessions

Here lately, I’ve realized many things about life …

A long bubble bath is totally underrated; they are genuinely good for your soul.

Hardships have two phases: dark and darker — when you think it can’t get any worse, you discover that it actually can. Hardships can either break you or make you much stronger. It’s been said that the same boiling water that softens potatoes hardens eggs. So, be an egg.

Every person comes into your life for a reason, and sadly, most of them are just there for a season. Don’t chase them after their season is over.

You will change and will embrace growing — just never forget where you came from.

Invest in your friends and let them invest in you. They can be family, too.

Remember that apologies don’t mean anything if they keep doing what they’re sorry for.

When God is all you have, you grasp that He is more than enough — and that His peace exceeds all understanding.

No matter what any fitness guru tells you, it’s dessert that understands — not yoga.

Don’t be dissatisfied with your life because of what you see in someone else’s.

Learn to live each moment and make the very most of every day.

Forgive those who hurt you — but if they keep doing so, don’t be naïve enough to excuse it. Or accept it.

Don’t undervalue what you are, and overvalue what you’re not.

Find happiness in small things, and never forget the value of a dollar.

Spending time in God’s word makes Him seem a lot closer. It also makes the day a whole lot easier to handle.

Take walks and enjoy the scenery on the way; the houses that you pass, the smell of the grass after it’s been cut, the noises of the birds singing or the voices of the neighbors chatting about the increase in HOA fees; the way the breeze hits your face and the consistent pitter patter of your shoes on the pavement.

In every situation, pick simplicity over status.

The lone fact that you really have no utter clue what you’re doing or how you’re going to make it — but that God does, and that right there is all you need.

Just like you can’t chase a butterfly, you can’t chase a person either; if they’re supposed to be yours, they will come to you.

God wants all of you. Every single part. He wants all of your heart, your plans, your desires and your dreams — because He wants to make them His.

Find the good in every person you meet. It’s there, but sometimes it’s buried deep.

Expectation is the root of heartbreak — it’s better to expect nothing and hope for everything.

Memorize Jeremiah 29:11 and live believing it. The Lord of the Universe has plans for you — really, really, really amazing ones.

The people who are actually worth your precious tears wouldn’t make you cry.

You could be the ripest and juiciest peach in the whole world, and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.

Don’t spend so much time treading water that you forget how much you love to swim.

Let out what’s bothering you, and cry when you need to.

If you don’t mean it, don’t say it — and if you can’t or don’t want to be somewhere, don’t say that you will.

Follow your dreams and don’t give up.

Laugh as much and as often as you can, for it’s laughter that spreads our joy.

When the light of Jesus shines through you, it’s Him that’s seen when others see you.

Treasure purity, embrace innocence and cling to goodness.

Strive for the beauty that can only come from within.

Tell the truth, always — and when in doubt, don’t do it.

In every sense, be yourself — the best version. Don’t follow the stream of the world; for Pete’s sake, belly flop the other way if you have to.

Your life is your mission, this is your battlefield and Jesus is your Captain; listen to Him, follow His commands and every day, fight. Fight for your life and for those who’ve given up.

Enjoy the bumpy ride.

Bad days. Good days. Best days. Worst days.

They’re all a gift. And they’re yours to open.

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Glitter, Hope & The Art Of Giving

I’m sitting here looking at a blank Word document, tapping my pink glitter fingernails on the granite counter, lost in thought. Thanksgiving is next week, and the realization hits me like a caffeine headache – slowly and then all at once; I literally can’t believe it’s the end of November. Wasn’t it just May?

Some radio stations are playing 24/7 Christmas music, which makes me extremely happy, because I’m one of those Christmas freaks who puts up her tree November 1 (or not too long after). I want to say this in writing, I’m not discrediting Thanksgiving by putting up my tree early. I’m not killing turkeys, or being un-thankful for all that God has done – in fact, you could say that I’m so eager to celebrate His birthday, that all of the decorations go up as soon as possible. Because why on earth would you not enjoy it for as long as you can?

Christmas is joy. Jesus is joy. Twinkling lights, evergreen-scented candles, crackling fires and hot tea … joy. It’s never about what you receive, but what you give. My mom, in all of her Proverbs 31 wisdom, taught my brother and I that, no matter where you are, or what little you have, give. It may be your favorite toy, a lump sum of your paycheck, or a text that reminds someone that they’re someone to somebody. It may be paying for the car behind you in the drive-thru, baking dinner for the widowed man at the end of the street, or making it a priority to pray for a stranger every single day for a month. Giving is a gift, and when you pour your heart into it, it’s a treasure so rare that its value far outweighs the cost.

My brother was a newborn, and I almost three, when my Dad lost his job. The rent drained savings and the bills were stacking up. The amount of stress was great enough to cause my Mom to get shingles. My dad was disappointed in himself, because as the provider of the family, he felt like he had failed. It was almost Christmas and there were no presents under the tree. Santa was even feeling the pressure to provide. To find a dollar was much like finding a diamond in a pile of rocks.

Until one day, my parents pulled in the driveway to bags and bags of groceries on the front porch. Food. Diapers. Food. Essentials.

Still to this day, we don’t know who bought those groceries – or who it was that restored some of our lost hope that God was really everything that He said He was.

Savior. Healer. Lover. Provider. Giver.

The one who brought groceries – we’ll call them an Angel – gave when we couldn’t do anything in return for them. They gave with no one watching.

“Listen carefully to what I am saying – and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.” – Mark 5:3

So, as I read the story of a struggling single mom and her six beautiful kids who are wishing for gifts this season, I’ll give joyfully. I’ll give willingly.

I’ll give gifts that keep on giving.
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Geese Among Deep Waters

Going 32 in a 30, I was feeling hurried to get to where I was going. A long day at work, and let’s face it, I just wanted to be home already. Slam. I hit my breaks to see a family of Geese crossing in front of my car.

I watched the sway of their little bodies as their feet developed a “pitter-patter” sync across the two-lane road. I watched their heads bobble back and forth to see if the others were going to join their leader on the median. As soon as the path cleared and my car started to roll forward, the Geese fluttered their wings and landed in front of my car. The minutes trickled by, and there they stood – with their feet firmly planted.

In that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “Be still.”

So I put my car in park, and watched the Geese slowly, but surely, walk in a single file line in front of my Honda CR-V back to the others. Then, they all went back home to the comfort of their own pond.

And I sat there, with tears pooling in my eyes, changed.

This morning I woke up dragging my feet. I went to bed late last night, and this morning when my alarm began chirping, I was unaware of where I was or where that annoying sound was coming from. Finally grabbing the device, I hit snooze. Again. And again. And again. After all the “agains” it left me with twenty minutes to transform myself and cram breakfast down my throat before I left for work.

I said few words once I was at work — smiling to put on a happy façade to all who welcomed me with a “Good morning, Lauren.” Inside, though, I felt weak. I needed guidance, encouragement, and most of all, assurance that God was still hearing all of my prayers and all of my cries.

I began my office work and turned on a podcast. Pricilla Shirer instantly came through my speakers. The message centered on Exodus 14:13-14. “Moses said to the people, ‘Don’t be afraid! Stand your ground and witness how the Eternal will rescue you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians, for after today you will never see them again. The Eternal will fight on your behalf while you watch in silence” (The Voice).

She started with a story about her middle son and his baseball tournament. She explained that when he saw the other team, and remembered that they had crushed/defeated his team in the past, he lost his “swag.” His chin dropped and his shoulders slumped. That is, until he heard his name from the other team talking about what a good and intimidating player that he was. Then, he felt victory once again.

Her words echoed, “It changes the way you look at a battle when you realize that the victory is already yours. Be fearless. Be still. Be watchful. Be quiet.”

“First, be fearless. Over 300 times in the Bible, God says in some way to not be afraid. When you’re surrounded by problems, it doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the fear rising in you — it means that you won’t wallow in the feeling of it. God is a gift-giver, but He isn’t the giver of fear. Cross the Red Sea in your life, because on the other side is the promise land.”

“Second, be still. When Moses told the people to stand still, all while the Israelites were approaching on all sides, do you think it was easy to just stand still and trust that God was going to take care of them? Sometimes we just want to sit down to take the load off, because standing requires a decision of your will. It takes total trust and strength not to sway; it’s a total resolve to plant your feet and just believe Him. How much would it save us if we believed that every word God said was what He meant?”

At that moment, the sun hit the outside window of my office and it pierced into my eyes. Tears welled and this time, they splattered down my cheeks. Be still.

“Thirdly, be watchful. Don’t miss out on what’s happening today because you’re waiting for what’s happening tomorrow. While you’re waiting for God to part your Red Sea, don’t you dare close your eyes – keep them open so you can see what little things God is doing all around you. Don’t miss it. Last, be quiet. Silence your complaining. Satan forms a weapon against you and each negative word that you speak hands him a tool.”

After she had wrapped the message up, the silence told me that the 50-minute podcast was over, as I no longer heard Pricilla’s strong voice. I sat there, with my feet firmly planted and prayed that no matter how hard the storms raged around me, that I would have the faith to be still and believe Him.

That I’d believe that when He said He would rescue me out of deep waters that He meant it.

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