Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living in Light

What do we do when things go wrong? I’m not talking about the little things like losing every picture on my laptop, having my neighbor nearly blow up my car by hooking up jumper cables incorrectly, or getting a 24 hour stomach bug at work on one of the busiest days of the quarter. No. Those things seem big in the moment but can all be fixed by the excitement of a best friend announcing a pregnancy, spending time with my nephews (typically getting into trouble by our mothers for being too loud or too wild),

He's FIVE!

You can totally see the "Cheese" face here...

The best guys I know.

meeting one of my favorite authors at a Lipscomb event and chatting with him before the lecture,

 Donald Miller, Author of Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

and celebrating a one-year Friendiversary with a new best friend.

Mandy and I painting Mason Jars (thanks to Pinterest) on our Friendiversary

In fact, I’d like to just wrap all of that up together into one little package and just call it “January”.

I’m talking about the really big stuff. The stuff that hurts to talk about. The things that make us wonder about life and purpose.  The events that make us question “Why” and “How”. The things that leave us breathless and make us wonder how we can possibly get up and move on from here.  These parts of our lives are colored with hurt and loss and pain and betrayal.

We’ve all been there.  We have all been covered with darkness and in a place where nothing seems to help. Where words seem empty and hope seems distant and loneliness makes itself at home.

Let God in.

Let Him enter into your brokenness and questioning and trials and emotions. He will always meet you right where you are. Don’t try to assign purpose to your disasters. Don’t try to figure things out on your own. And don’t assume that you are alone. You are never left alone in your time of greatest need. You are held. Surround yourself in Him. In your church, your music, your relationships, your dialogue, your prayers. Allow your lost and wandering heart to be lost in Him.

We all have broken hearts that need Healing.  Our hearts are broken, not because of God’s absence in this world, but because we see just how much we need Him in this world.  

Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light” – John 3:19

The Great Light came into the world to bring us healing and love and hope, but we were more comfortable in our blind, ignorant darkness. And this is still true.  It is easier to live in the darkness. UNTIL. Until you catch a glimpse of the Light. And when we finally turn our eyes to God's light, we realize how badly we want out. We see what we are missing. We see the mess that we are in. We see that the darkness holds only fear and insecurity and doubt.  And we see that the Light holds truth and healing and redemption.  You may be frustrated with where you are right now or longing to be in a new place. Allow healing for where your heart has been, but keep your heart pointed towards where you are going. Towards Light.

The truth is that God does not cause darkness to show His Light.  Instead He has chosen to bring His Light to a darkened world, His healing to our broken hearts, and His redemption to our wandering souls.  This is our desire. That we may honor Him with bright, whole, redeemed hearts. May He take up residence here, take over the places that we have held on to, and take hold of the parts of our soul that we still own.

And we know that Comfort and Healing seem impossible in these situations. But we have faith. And He is a God of the Impossible. He makes Beauty from Ashes. Every. Single. Time. He never fails us or leaves us or abandons our hearts. He holds us close. May our stories rest in His stillness and refuge and strength.

I also know this to be true: I can’t imagine going through the darkness on my own. If you don’t have a best friend who is rooted in faith and grounded by the Spirit, find someone. I have this pact with my best friend. I tell her everything. No matter how awkward it is, no matter how bad it makes me sound, no matter how long it takes for me to get it all out, she gets it all. And then? Then healing has room to make its way in.  When I open my heart and shed light on my struggles and pains, darkness flees. Sometimes it moves slowly, but it is always replaced by The Light. Healing and Light come to hearts that are open. We all need someone to carry us to Jesus when we can’t make it on our own. So keep talking. Keep asking. Keep questioning. But do it out loud. Let someone in. A Friend of God.  And in the thick of it, sometimes you will get tired of the emails and phone calls checking on you, sometimes you won’t want to answer questions, sometimes you will just want to be left alone and forgotten so that you can dwell in your own darkness for a while, and sometimes you will just want to disappear into your brokenness.  But those sometimes moments don’t compare to the always moments of always needing a friend, always needing someone to point you to God, and always needing help and love and courage.  No matter how hard you push or resist, I pray that you have a friend that won’t leave you there. Truthfully, as friends sometimes we will forget something important or say something to make everything worse, but by opening your heart, you are open to so much more than a friend who always wants to be there. You are open to a God who always is. You are never alone.

And when you are open to God, He will remind you over and over again that His love and redemption and Light is steady. Just like the drops of water that just started falling from a vent in my ceiling. Thank goodness tomorrow is February. We all need a new beginning. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A World of Contradictions

I live in a world of incredible contradictions.

I live in a world where I know in my mind that medicine heals. But then I go to the hospital and spend a few hours with a precious little girl and I learn that all that I knew to be true may in fact only be a partial reality.  Because when I walked into this shy, introverted, inattentive little girl’s room on Thursday night, I got no reaction. As soon as I saw her glance over her computer screen at me and, with no acknowledgeable response, look back down at her Barbie.com project, I knew instantly that this night would be a challenge. I prayed quickly and quietly “God, please show me how to relate to this little girl.”  I thought back to Kisses from Katie that I am currently reading. Katie is a young girl from Nashville currently working at an orphanage and school in Africa. She notes often that she is not a nurse or a teacher, but to help these people she does the only thing that she knows how to do. She shows them that she loves them. Overcoming language barriers, she feeds them, bandages them, and simply hugs and dances with them. As I looked at this little elementary-aged girl, alone in a room on isolation and not knowing what kinds of medical terms and experiences she knows that I could not even imagine, I did what I knew how to do. I proved to her that I could love. I silently sat down in her rocking chair, picked up one of her baby dolls, and quietly rocked her. The entire time, I didn’t speak directly to the little girl. I knew that would be intimidating. I didn’t even look at her, but I could see her slowly start to pay attention. I hummed a lullaby. I swaddled the doll in a tiny little hospital gown. I fed her a bottle. And when the baby got “fussy”, I stood to bounce and shush her. But you see, I am not the baby doll’s mother. And mother always knows best. The little girl slowly climbed out of bed, came over to me, and carefully took her baby from my arms. She bounced the baby, calmed her, and put her to sleep in her own hospital bed, raising the rails so as not to roll off.  Then the little girl looked at me, took my hand, and smiled. We slowly began to tend to the rest of her babies lining the window sill.  And by the end of the night, I was French braiding her hair while she blared Demi Lovato so loudly that the nurses had to come tell us to quiet down. So while yes, medicine is healing her body, I can see another world. A world where French braids and baby dolls and dance parties bring healing to her soul.

I live in a world of “once-in-a-lifetimes”. I am constantly dreaming of vacations and travels and experiences. I adore the adventure and thrive when I am experiencing new things in life for the first time - like sky diving in the Smoky Mountains or surfing in Hawaii or camping in Yellowstone. But I also live for the day-to-day. Because while those grand experiences add color to my days, the day-to-day is what builds and sustains a life. My home and my family and my friends and my career and my church and my God are beautiful because they are a part of who I am. They aren’t what I do on the weekends or what I look forward to, they are the gifts that are present every day and in every moment. So while extraordinary adventures take my breath away, the ordinary is what gives me Breath and Life.

I live in a world where freedom is so common that it almost feels like a guarantee. I live in a country where I can go wherever I want, say what I want to say, and be what I want to be. But as a follow up to a previous resolution, a sweet friend and I attended a Welcome Home ceremony at Fort Campbell and it became clearer than ever that our freedom comes at an incredible price. Freedom is anything but free. I saw fathers meeting their toddlers for the first time and young women running into the arms of their mothers.  I saw a little boy perched on the shoulders of his grandfather scanning the sea of camouflage anxiously trying to find his daddy. I saw a beautiful woman weep when she saw her fiancĂ© march off of the plane as she yelled his name and waved a handmade sign in his direction. 

And through the crowd of tiny little American flags waving proudly in the air, I saw nearly 200 soldiers march proudly into an airplane hangar, lay down their weapons, pick up yellow roses, and run to the people that they love. 

The soldiers paid an incredible price while they were gone to Afghanistan, many for the second, third, or even fourth time. It was beautiful to see them all come home, but also a painful reminder that not everyone does. And it is clear that the people that they left behind paid an incredible price as well. So if you ever start to feel comfortable in this life that you are in, if you ever want to realize that you are a part of a world that is so much bigger than yourself, if you ever need to see that you live in a world where freedom is not free, attend a Welcome Home ceremony. It will change your heart. But it isn’t for us. It is to say thank you to the people who deserve all of the cheers and the signs and the photos and the flowers that they can get. So for many years my world of freedom lived in no contradiction.  But thanks to the soldiers of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, my world of freedom is now also a world of sacrifice.

I live in a world of physical beauty. The sunsets. The babies. The waterfalls. The smiles. The wrinkled hands. The flying flag. The homemade dinners. The expansive beaches. But I also live in a world of the spiritual. A world where the greatest is the least. Where the weak can be strong. Where the blind can see. Where wounds bring healing. Where losing your life means gaining Life. Where letting go means holding on. Where the broken are beautiful. Where thirsty souls meet Living Water. Where the unseen are the only things that are real.  There is Hope and Comfort and Love and Beauty and Life. This world is not independent of the other worlds, but rather all other worlds are dependent on this. On a Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer and Forgiver. And this world? This is Home. 

This is a world of heads and tails, peanut butter and jelly, hearts and souls, ordinary and extraordinary, freedom and sacrifice, living and Life. And the balance between the contradictions? It's beautiful.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Emily’s Top Five: Hawaii Highlights

I recently got back from one of my favorite trips ever. Hawaii! It was my first time to go. I am ready to go back. Like right now!  8 Days. 3 Islands. 1 Awesome Mother/Daughter Adventure. A favorite friend’s wedding. Love. 

A few business matters first. I am aware that this post is very long and that I could have saved space by making my pictures into a slide show. But I didn't want to do that. So just scroll fast if you wish. And if you are reading this on your iphone, good luck. Mom, I'm sorry that there are so many pictures of you on the internet now. I know how much you hate that. Apparently all of the pictures of me are on your camera.  

So here are my top five highlights:

#1 - Honolulu
Mom and I started out our trip on the island of Oahu in Honolulu.  We stayed a couple of blocks from Waikiki Beach, so we spent a lot of our free time there. Although we didn’t have much free time! I must admit, Waikiki Beach is different than any other beach that I have ever been to. It is literally in a metropolitan city. And it is very crowded. But I am a City Girl, so I kind of loved walking through high rises and tall buildings to get to the beach. I liked hearing city sounds from the sand. But that is not something everyone would appreciate and not something that I would want on every beach vacation, but I loved it!  

 Sunset on Waikiki Beach

While on the island, mom and I stopped by the Dole Pineapple Plantation,

 I was obsessed with all of the fresh fruit!
A Macadamia Nut Farm,
The North Shore,


 Jurassic Park and Lost filming locations

 The Famous Lizard Point (the rock formation in the background)

And Pearl Harbor.

 The Monument

 The U.S.S. Arizona - Her tears (oil) are still seeping into the ocean. They say she will stop crying when the last Pearl Harbor survivor passes away.

Plus we had some really awesome food!

 An incredibly flattering picture of me eating the famous homemade Japanese noodles.

 Fresh Fish at the International Marketplace

 Another incredibly flattering picture - this one with no makeup - but you have to see my pineapple drink. The guy cut open the pineapple, blended the contents, and poured it back in. Yep, I drank a whole pineapple. And ate a hamburger with a pineapple slice on it. And I loved them both!

And I haven't even mentioned the flowers yet!

 Bird of Paradise

Or the chickens! 
After a couple of hurricanes a few decades ago, some chickens literally flew the coop.  Because Hawaii does not have any predatory land animals to eat the eggs, the chickens populated like crazy and now roam the islands freely. You see them as often as you'd see a pigeon. They are everywhere!

And we spent New Year’s Eve in the streets of Honolulu.  
Cool Tree on Waikiki Beach

That is, we did before we got really tired. We went back to the hotel room and I totally did the thing where I laid down in bed, left the light on, and promised myself that I would close my eyes to rest for a second but I would NOT fall asleep. I would stay awake to see 2012 roll in. An hour and a half later I woke up to the sound of fireworks out our window.  I rolled out of bed and looked out the window to see a firework. Singular. One. It was red. That was enough. Then I said “Happy New Year.” and laid back down.  It was our first night there and after a whole day of travelling, staying up until midnight in Hawaii proved to be impossible since they are four hours behind Nashville time (meaning that midnight in Hawaii was 4am at home!). But because this was our first night there and we stayed up pretty late, I adjusted to Hawaii time pretty well fo the rest of the trip.

#2 - Waimea Canyon
After our first half of the trip on Oahu, I hopped over to Maui for a quick business meeting and lunch. I saw the three miles of shoreline between the airport and the broker’s office, so I didn’t really see Maui, but I technically did. 
Maui Coast

But then mom and I met up in Kauai – affectionately known as “The Wedding Island” in our minds but “The Garden Idle” to the rest of the world. We are forever in love with this place. It is gorgeous. We kept saying that everything was “So beautiful.” and then would just laugh because by the end of the trip we had used the word “beautiful” so many times that it didn’t even capture what we were trying to say anymore.  One day mom and I rented a car and drove to the Waimea Canyon, also know as “The Grand Canyon of the Hawaiian Isles”.  We drove into the canyon, stopping at each overlook along the way because we just couldn’t get enough of the views. 

Ocean on one side of the road. Canyon on the other. The Canyon was absolutely beautiful.  Because we had already been to the main lookout, we debated going the last couple of miles to the end of road, knowing that we would just have to turn around and come right back out since the roads can not wrap all the way around the island due to the Na Pali Coastline.  It was just two more miles. We wouldn’t miss much, right? We thought, “It is so beautiful.  Let’s drive to the end just to say we did.”  The roads got narrower, the pavement got rougher,  and the curves got tighter, but we kept going. I felt like we were either going somewhere that no one drives for a reason or we were about to discover a grand secret. The latter. We got to the end of the road and I walked to the edge of the lookout. My eyes filled with tears as I tried to take it all in. It was one of those views. The kind that you can’t even believe that you are actually seeing in real life because surely nothing is that beautiful. 

 Above the Clouds

It was one of the top five most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life. (Perhaps I should blog about the others in a future post…)

#3 - Catamaran Tour
One morning Nancy (the Bride) organized a Catamaran Tour for the wedding guests. I had never been on a catamaran before, and I have a feeling that they aren’t all this nice, because let me just tell you that this one was very nice. The whole time I was thinking two things: “I really hope I get to see a whale.” and “I really hope I don’t get sea sick.” During the winter, humpback whales migrate south to the area surrounding Hawaii and then travel back up north to Alaska during the summer. I thought I would surely be lucky if I could see one whale. One? Seriously? What was I thinking? Try one hundred! I feel like I saw sooo many whales! They were everywhere. This youtube video was shot in the same area of Kauai that we were in, and I promise that this is the kind of thing that we were seeing. Okay, we weren’t THAT close. These people are in a zodiac (basically a white water raft with a motor). I was on an actual boat. But, I did see whales up close and personal, including the rare sighting of two whales breaching simultaneously. And I got a picture of it because I am awesome like that. Although most of the picture is the boat cables. Minor detail.

 Two whales breaching together

A whale surfacing by the boat

Once I saw a whale breach not even ten yards from a zodiac boat. My heart stopped for a second. I felt sorry for everyone on that boat. I just knew they’d all end up in the water or having a Jonah experience. And then the whale went under, the zodiac steadied, and everyone was still on board. And then I wished I had been on that boat. Talk about the experience of a lifetime!

And no, I didn’t get sea sick. Although I felt like half of the people did. I did take Bonine, though, because I wasn’t going to chance it. And before lunch when I started feeling the slightest bit weak, I ate some crackers and bounced right back. Here’s a tip, if you are going on a boat in the ocean, go on a full stomach. And every couple of hours eat crackers, even if you don’t feel hungry.  Most of the people that were sick hadn’t eaten. And crackers cured it almost every time. So eat them before you feel sick! You’re welcome in advance.

At one point our boat dropped anchor and we got out to snorkel. Seriously. Can I please do a few exciting things on this trip? I had never snorkeled before. When the guide was explaining how to snorkel, I (silently) psyched myself out. I thought “Wait! Do I even know how to swim? I don’t even know if I like water! Can I breathe properly? Ah!” Okay, duh. I can swim. And breathe. And the ocean is where my heart usually is. So I strapped on my goggles, flippers, and breathing tube (I don’t know any of the technical terms for this stuff… I am a first timer, okay?) and flopped ever so gracefully into the waves. I wasn’t so sure of what to do so I did what any person would do. I followed the Bride. No one would ever let anything happen to her. Therefore, I’m with her. Glad I was! She swam me over to the coral and the bright yellow fish and the schools of cool striped fish drifting by and then… the sea turtle. Yep. I swam with the Bride AND a sea turtle. Now that’s a special day. And I only drank half a gallon of ocean water. That’s a success for my first snorkeling trip!

We also saw a rare Hawaiian seal (of course I was not as Camera-Ready at that moment) and a ton of spinner dolphins!  I should add that we snorkeled before we saw any whales. If it had happened the other way around I would have been a bit more hesitant.

The catamaran took us up the Na Pali coastline which was spectacular!

#4 - Island Activities
Mom and I stayed at the Sheraton Kauai Resort on Poipu Beach on the south side of the island – which happened to be the wedding location.  At the resort, mom and I learned to make fresh flower leis.

I even took a quick hula class to perfect my dancing skills for the upcoming wedding. 

From the mountains, to the seas, my love pours forward like the rising sun… Something like that…

Mom and I also went to the Smith’s Family Garden Luau. We ate a freshly roasted pig, fresh fish, poi (A traditional Hawaiian food that I tried once and will likely avoid from here on out. Very creamy and bland and lavender colored. Bizarre!), and many other delicious things. I ate a whole whole lot of food. And then there was a show.  Don’t worry, I recorded some of the moves to practice later. I was born to hula.

At the ceremony to unveil the pig

The Smith Family Garden

As one last hoorah on the morning that we were leaving the island, I decided that I just had to try surfing. I knew I wouldn’t be good and probably wouldn’t get up, but I had to try it. I am not overly athletic. Okay, I’m not incredibly athletic at all anymore, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I went to the Aloha Surf School on our beach and the (really cute) instructor taught me and two other girls the basics while we were on land. After carrying our long boards on top on our heads down to the water (definitely the hardest part),

our instructor took us out into the water, stood by us, gave us a push (because the paddling would have been pretty intense without a little help) and sent us to shore. On my first try I don’t even know what happened. I just know he pushed my board and then I was in the water. But, on my second try, I stood right up and was a rockstar from then on out (with the exception of a few minor collisions with other students, a little cut on the foot from lava rock, and an occasional moment of I can’t actually stand on this board so I’ll just ride to shore on my knees, but only a few of those, I promise! I say that I am really good at surfing, not to tout my athletic ability, but to emphasize that I was SHOCKED! My mom was on shore watching and cheering me on and snapping pictures. Judging by her pure excitement for me, I’d say she was pleasantly surprised too! I mean, the instructor said “If you can do a push up, you can surf.” Ummm… bad time to mention that I can’t to push ups? Ah, well. I did it and loved it and am dying to go surfing again.

Did I mention that there were whales breaching and playing behind me? And I thought boogie boarding in the gulf was fun? I have my eyes on greater things now.

#5 - The Wedding
Nancy and I were really close friends all through college, including the time when we were actually roommates during my last semester there. Her mother was my Oklahoma Mother. Her house was my house. She even came to see me in the Hamptons one summer (which wasn’t too difficult to convince her to do).  I was actually present when she met the guy that she ended up marrying. It was our junior year and several students went to a finance conference in Ohio. Exhilarating, I know. Sounds like just the place to find love, right? When we got to Ohio we split up into two vans. The girls gravitated to one van and the guys to another. One problem. The Australian golfer that she had her eyes on was in the other van. She looked at me and said “I’ve got to get in that other van.” I’m usually not very forward or confident with things like this, but sometimes I surprise myself. I marched right up to these two guys that we didn’t even know and said “Professor Jones needs you in the other van”. Yep. Totally made that up. But before they could figure out what was going on, the guys headed to the other van and we had snuck our way into the new van. And later that night when we were supposed to go out, I had a (pretend) headache and she went out with her dream guy that she married just a couple of weeks ago.  I’m sure a little bit happened in between the meeting and the marriage, but I’d like to just take this time to say You’re Welcome! Okay, realistically I had very little to do with any of it and she would have met him anyways, but I'm glad I was there!

The wedding was the most gorgeous event I have ever seen. We were on a grass lawn that jutted out into the ocean and was surround by lava rock.  The sun was setting in the background. The weather was perfect. Nancy was stunning. 

Me at the Wedding

 The Bride!

The reception was on another lawn right beside the ocean as well. There was music and dancing and speeches and lobster and all sorts of fun. I looked at mom and one point and said “I hope you are getting prepared now for my wedding some day. I am getting some really big ideas here.”

 The Aussie Groomsmen

 Me and Mom at the Reception

 The Perfect Wedding Location

Me and Nancy

As you can see by all of the pictures and gushing and "loves" and "beautifuls" in this post, I absolutely adored my first Hawaiian adventure. And I was so glad that I could be there on Nancy's special day.

Aloha, Hawaii. I'll be back soon.