“Thank You, God, For Blessing This Farm.”

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So the past two weeks, I’ve cried.

A lottttt.

And I am definitely an ugly crier. Especially when surrounded by the heartbreak of others.

Depressing camera footage televising miles of embers, ashes, and smoke where some of the most beautiful rangelands and pastures once painted the Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado skylines. Gut wrenching photos of dead cattle and horses mangled up in the remnants of barbed wire fences as they tried to flee the flames. Tear jerking interviews and biographies of farmers who have lost it all…some including their lives. The small remainder of a world that literally went black in a matter of seconds and forever changed the lives of everyone who once called it “home.” Inspiring testimonies of the ones watching on the other side of the television screen who immediately jumped up to lend a hand in some way, whether it be through semi-loads of food and clothing, trailers loaded down with hay, gift cards for T-posts and barbed wire, or simply heartfelt thoughts and prayers. And – in the midst of all the disaster – false “animal abuse” bull crap from terrorizing groups like PETA and HSUS who have been sharpening their pitchforks only to stab farmers in the back and kick them some more while they are already down when they have to put down another animal.

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An animal that can’t physically breathe due to excessive smoke inhalation.

An animal that is unrecognizable because its manes, tails, and hides are literally singed to what’s left of their skin.

An animal that can’t see, smell, or hear because its eyes and nose and ears are now part of the ashes scattered on the ground.

An animal that can’t walk because their hooves have completely burned off to nothing but bone.

An animal that lost its mom to the flames just moments after its birth.

An animal that is lying there, suffering in writhing pain and torment, as Hell burns with raging fury all around it.

An animal over which a farmer sinks his head into his palms in tears, despair, and guilt because he could not rescue it in time.

An animal that hasn’t died…yet.

If you are still clueless while reading this, I advise you take some time to research the catastrophic wildfires that have been running rampant out west these past few weeks. I assure you that if you have any sympathy at all, you will not walk away from all of the devastation unchanged – regardless if you farm or even know the difference between a heifer and a steer or not.

Absolutely. Heartbreaking.

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As I sit here watching the news and scrolling through all the Facebook articles about this disaster, I can’t help but think…what if it were us?

The mere thought of this leaves me plastered with goosebumps and tears stinging in my eyes.

My husband and I are both 23. We are just starting out, trying to build a farm from the ground up together as newlyweds in Cross Timbers, Missouri. We have considered this home since we married three years ago. Our operation may not look like much to some (as any farm couple knows how hard it is to get going in the first place let alone keep making a living on it) but we take pride in our rusty tractors, weedy fields, patched up fences, and small herd of non-registered angus crossbreeds. Farming is something that flows through my husband’s veins and stems as the result of a childhood dream to carry on the family tradition of farmers’ tans, sweaty ball caps, stained T-shirts, calloused hands, and manure-caked boots. It’s also something that I have learned to love and value alongside him – oftentimes from the comfort of the back rack of a four-wheeler during a spring rain to tag new calves that have just hit the ground, the fender of a no-cab tractor weaving through the windrows during hay season, or the bouncy buddy seat of a combine during another fescue seed harvest in the June heat.

We love it – all of it.

And if the day were to ever come where all of a sudden all of the dreams we have built together on this land were to suddenly unravel and completely disintegrate before  our eyes…we would both go down in flames with it.

To us, there is no more beautiful place on earth that we could possibly imagine spending the rest of our days together raising kids and chickens, watching sunsets, catching crappie in the pond, hunting trophy bucks off our back porch, and watching new calves frolic in the fields.

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So today I am simply being thankful. For life. For our farm. For happy, healthy cows we get to watch graze out our front window. For green grass in the summer and full hay lots and grain bins in the winter. For old barns that are still intact and that abandoned grain silo covered in vines. For broke-down machinery that can be fixed with a quick jump start, tack weld, or a shot of WD-40. For mended, crooked fences that outline and embrace these fields that we get to call ours. For the old farmhouse we will one day fill with love, laughter,  memories, and all-things Fixer Upper inspired. For blue skies, sunshine, and bright stars that blanket overhead of it all. For another day to watch my husband’s eyes light up as he heads out the door to check on his cows or fix the baler – and one more chance to fall into his arms at the end of the day when he returns, alive and safe.

For this place we call home.

So thank you, God, for blessing this farm. Remind us to never, ever take it for granted. Wrap your arms around all these families who have lost it all – and comfort those dealing with the unimaginable loss of their loved ones who gave it all to fight the flames for their animals.

And guide all of us on the sidelines as we band together and try in every way we can to help them reclaim and rebuild their dreams up out of the ashes, one by one.

 

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“P.S – Don’t Forget to Have Fun.”

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So tonight I held the bi-yearly ritual of going through my closet.

 

Cleaning house, as they call it. Getting rid of all those tops that I’ve only worn a handful of times. Old T-shirts with stains and tattered threads that even a Pinterest T-shirt quilt couldn’t breathe new life into. Skirts that no longer fit….and dresses that I no longer wear because it would require tanning, leg lifts and calf raises, and also frequent leg-shaving. Shoes that are wore plum through the soles. (Yeah, I’ve been told I’m an avid pacer….) That cute romper my friends talked me into buying from Forever 21 – that still has the tags on it and has been stashed in the deep abyss of my wardrobe and forgotten since the day I brought it home because I literally have no idea when or where I could possibly ever rock something like that. (Let’s be real…I don’t really “go out” anymore.)

And of course, let’s not forget all those things that almost didn’t make the cut the last time I went through my closet, because I felt like they were staring into my soul and begging for a second chance as I was bagging them up for the next yard sale so I quickly snatched them back, shoved them in my closet, and slammed the doors shut before I could change my mind about it. (Whew, that was a close one…)

Yeah, you guessed it. I STILL haven’t worn them… #Here’sToRoundTwo…OrMaybeFive

As all these things were being stripped off the hanger one by one and chucked left and right all across the bedroom floor, my clumsiness and utter lack of coordination caused me to pull the ENTIRE rod down, letting ALL my clothes tumble to the floor and make an even bigger mess – and also, naturally, whack me on top of the noggin.

Nice one, slick.

Now, please understand something. This is a crisis for the girl whose entire wardrobe is all-things color coordinated and arranged according to sleeve-length.

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Wasn’t kidding…

Which brings me to another valid tangent…why in the world do they call it OCD if the letters aren’t even in alphabetical order? STU-to-the-PID.

But I digress…

So in the midst of all this I stand up to take care of this newfound dilemma and lo and behold there it is, on the overhead shelf, concealed behind stacks of hoodies and blanket scarves – that I should probably also go through.

My high school keepsake box. (Dunnn dunn dunnnnnn….)

Thinking the mess could wait for a little detour trip through memory lane, I reach – no, more like excessively strain on my tippy toes because my 6’2” husband wasn’t home yet – to pull it down from the shelf.

Dust bunnies? Seriously? I mean, I haven’t been out THAT long……have I? How rude.

So I wipe the gray fuzz away with my sleeve and open up this box to find some long-forgotten artifacts of the life I lived before college tuition statements, electric bills, car loans, resumes, cover letters, and W-2 forms.

Amidst all all the hilarious letters my friends and I used to pass in class, yearbooks that conceal some pretty embarrassing junior high headshots, certificates for my nerdy-ness and dedication to FFA and dance team, leftover senior pictures, my valedictorian speech (**Face palm** sweet Jesus, did I really say all of that corny “Don’t forget about me and I won’t forget about you” crap in front of everyone???) and my fifteen-sizes-too-big cap and gown, there was one thing that made me freeze right in my tracks.

A graduation card – written by one of my favorite teachers ever – which was given along with a College Survival Guide that really did offer some comfort during all those late night study sessions, tears, and finals.

While I am undeniably grateful for everyone who watched me walk across that stage with pride to receive my diploma (without tripping, I might add!) and took the time to fill out hundreds of cards full of “Congratulations!” And “You’re going to do amazing things!” this was the one graduation card that I decided to keep out of all the others. It wasn’t the fact that it was Hallmark’s fanciest piece of work. In fact, it was fairly simple cardstock engraved with a plain Jane script.

It was what was hand-written on the inside that convinced me to tuck it away, with the premonition that I would one day need to read it again. And believe me when I say this – I needed to read it then just as much as I needed to read it tonight.

“P.S – Don’t forget to have fun.”

I know. Pretty deep, right?

So here I am, sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, clothes still strewn out everywhere, with a complimentary goose egg on my head reading these words.

Is it possible to have a mid-life crisis at 23? A mid-mid-life crisis, perhaps?

Kidding…

But there was a slight epiphany or “lightbulb flicker”. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a concussion.

So…yeah. Confession  #4,576. Sometimes I forget to have fun. I get too absorbed in conquering my extensive to-do lists, bottomless schedules, endless bills, and even those stupid dust bunnies on top of my closet shelf that I forget to take in the moments that really do matter and make the most of all the blessings I’ve been given.

I am alive and healthy today. Check.

I have a job. Check.

I have faith. Check.

I have friends, family, and a great husband. Check.

I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. Check.

I have coffee, sweatpants, and Netflix. Check, check, check.

Annnnnddddd I have Best Choice frozen peas to ice this bump on my head. We’ll put a special check mark next to that one.

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When I look back on the past five years of my life since I received that graduation card, there’s nothing that alarms me too much. I mean, I’ve never robbed a bank or anything and I’m pretty sure last time I checked there’s not a warrant out for my arrest, so I must have done at least that much right. There’s been a lot of good times in my life followed by some not-so-good times. I’m definitely no mathematician, but if I were to calculate it all up I would say my laughs to tears ratio is relatively normal for a young becoming-of-age woman.

However…

There have also been numerous times when my stress, fears, and overloaded schedule compromised what could have been some pretty awesome opportunities and memories. Some of which could have probably been added to that keepsake box…or even started a new one by now.

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Seriously. Don’t be Grumpy Cat. Don’t be that guy.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here and dwell too much on the “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ves” of my past, but I will say that I would have said “yes” a little more. (Relax, I’m not talking about drugs or rides in sketchy vans here…)

I would’ve taken that chance when I was asked if I wanted to join Sigma Alpha in college. Ate out with those girls after late night Friday class instead of going home to an empty apartment because my roommates were already homebound for the weekend. Studied abroad one more time – but this time in Costa Rica. Ripped the tags off that romper for a fun night out with my best friends that I never hardly see anymore – but said I had housework and lesson plans to get caught up on instead. Visited my favorite sunday school teacher in the nursing home I drove past every day on my way to and from work just one more time before she passed away and was gone forever. Sang karaoke at the state fair when invited to the stage by a complete stranger, just because I secretly like to sing. (If you ask my shampoo bottle, I’m not half bad…)

Yeah, buddy. All this from a five year old graduation card in a forgotten, dusty box…

So take it from the girl who is 99.9% pretty sure the Energizer Bunny is her spirit animal. When life gets a little crazy? Slowwwww. Dowwwnnnnn. Learn to let it go and let it be. Make time, even when there’s not much left at the end of a long, hard day or week. Go out with your friends. Wear that romper. Try out for that part in that play. Get that edgy haircut. Jump out of that plane (with a fully-functioning parachute, of course…) Turn off the T.V and break out that Monopoly board with your family. Date your husband or wife. Let your hair down. Take a drive. Take a vacation. Do anything you gotta do to smell the roses, or whatever.

Oh, yeah. One more thing…have a little fun, will ya?

 

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Miles, Maps, Memories.

My husband and I have this one main goal in our married life that seems to stand out a little more than all the others.

 

T-R-A-V-E-L. A lotttttttt.

Although I will say that being debt free or hiring a full-time maid would be a close tie for second place.

But that’s a blog for another time…

Anyhoo…so, last fall I bought this pretty awesome wooden map sign off Etsy from a very talented friend, with the intentions of painting in every state we have visited in our married life. It hangs on the wall above the desk in our office as an encouraging reminder that every time we sit down there to budget out our paychecks or lick and stamp another bill-filled envelope to be mailed off that we are working hard towards our next adventure. And it keeps us going. Surviving. Saving our pocket change. Looking forward to more memories and priceless Kodak moments with each other. Imagining what this will all be like years from now when we have our kiddos tagging along in the back seat—because we promised each other that we will never let parenthood compromise how wanderlust and adventurous we are. (Although we should probably get skydiving, Vegas, and scuba diving out of the way first, just to be safe…)

So every day that wooden map hangs there for us to see, reminding us of all the crazy adventures we have taken so far and anticipating all the ones that await. And I will say that for only being married for about three years, I am pretty impressed with how much it has already filled. Every time I paint another state, I am so anxious to see what the next one to be colored in will be. Maine? Hawaii? California? Perhaps all three at once? (Seriously, you never know with us…)

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Map, map, on the wall…
While we no doubt have so much more to see before the map is filled (if my calculations are correct, I think we can knock the rest of the states out in about 8 more trips…) we have seen and done more in the past three years than a lot of people get a chance to do in their lifetime.

Don’t be mistaken. It’s not because we make bookoos of money…(**ehemmm, hence I am a teacher, he is a lineman/farmer…) Believe me, we live paycheck to paycheck just like everyone else. It’s just that travel is a huge part of our lifestyle…something we value and budget for just as much as groceries and gas – and especially my morning coffee. We would much rather wear thrift store clothes, buy off-brand paper towels, eat PB and J’s and hamburger helper, and live in a small house with popcorn ceilings and laminate counter tops if it means we can ski down a mountain, stroll the streets of New York City at night, or walk a beach boardwalk at sunset (and camp in tents, stay in 2 star hotels, and eat from fast food dollar menus along the way).

But that’s just us.

We work very hard and pinch and save every penny we can and cash it in every year to take a break from life for a few days and see what else this world has to offer—besides bills, gray hairs, and dirty laundry.

So in honor of commemorating all those state lines we’ve crossed, miles we’ve tacked on the speedometer, and unforgettable pictures on our camera rolls, I have compiled a list of our top 21 favorite adventures so far–that we believe everyone should take if they ever get the opportunity! I never really considered myself a travel blogger, but hey. There’s a first time for everything!

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#1 – Getting lost in downtown Washington D.C (So much history in one little place!)

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So this was actually an FFA trip we took in high school long before we were married, but we still count it anyways because we were there together and dating at the time! P.S – Yes, we are high school sweethearts!

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One of our favorite sites in D.C was Iwo Jima!
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Washington Monument with the sparkling memorial pool in the foreground to compliment the 98 degree weather…which makes FFA official dress corduroy jackets even that much hotter!
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Arlington Cemetery…something everyone needs to see. Absolutely humbling.

#2 – Watching the cotton harvest in the Missouri Bootheel

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We’re so southern. And yes, I totally snatched a boll for a souvenir…

#3 – White water rafting in the Smoky Mountains

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“Riding the bull” on the Ocoee River in Tennessee.

#4 – Parasailing at Panama City Beach, Florida

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Hanging by a moment in the Gulf, above the waves and dolphins! Parasailing was such a great way to kick off our adventurous life together on our honeymoon.

#5 – Lounging on a secluded beach in Navarre, Florida

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Navarre Beach: Operation Honeymoon
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When NO ONE and  NOTHING is around but seagulls, sunshine, gentle waves, and warm breezes? It is amazing.

#6 – Tent camping at Niagara FallsIMG_4186[1]

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Easily the coldest and greatest tent camping experience I have ever had.

#7 – Scaling a waterfall by a hot air balloon in Letchworth State Park, NY

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Letchworth Falls, NY several hundred feet above!
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Everywhere this hot air balloon went, ours went too! I was able to get some awesome shots of the other balloon while we were floating over a waterfall! CRAZIEST thing ever!

#8 – Venturing around NYC and hiking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset

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Manhattan Skyline from Brooklyn
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Brooklyn Bridge, NYC
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She sure is a lovely Lady!
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Empire state of mind
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Having some fun in Times Square
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Took some time to pay our respects at the World One Trade Center….absolutely breathtaking and heart stopping. Forever remember 9-11.

#9 – Driving the covered bridge tour in the Ohio countryside

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Ohio was full of miles and miles of back roads with the neatest bridges!

#10 – Blazing through the Sand Dunes by four-wheeler in Oklahoma

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What a hot, wild, sandy ride!
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Wayanoka, Oklahoma Sand Dunes – Little Sahara Park

#11 – Boating across Beaver Lake near Eureka Springs at sunset

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We enjoyed quite the peaceful view from a lakeside cabin for a weekend with my brother and sister in-law.

#12 – Cruising back roads on farmland in upstate Pennsylvania

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Some of the most beautiful farms were on our interstate commute through Dutch Country!

#13 – Strolling the beaches of the Great Lakes

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Lake Erie when it was warm…
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Annndddd Lake Michigan when it was not-so-warm…

#14 – Counting windmills on the Kansas and Texas prairies

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Pretty sure  I counted at least over 500 before I gave up and took a nap…

#15 – Standing (because I suck at skiing) on a mountain top in Boulder, Colorado

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Eldora Ski Resort, Nederland CO was BEAUTIFUL! Even if I couldn’t get past the bunny slopes…
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Pictures really don’t do it justice.

#16 – Stalking elk in Estes Park, Colorado

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Nothing like getting stopped in traffic for a classic Elk Jam in Estes Park…

#17 – Driving I-70 through the Rocky Mountains

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EVERYONE needs to make this drive on I-70 through the Rockies at least once in their life…Mountains for miles!!!

#18 – Rock climbing in the Utah red rocks

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Arches National Park in Moab, Be-Utah-Ful.

#19 – Hiking in the Grand Canyon

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It sure is grand!
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I just couldn’t help myself…

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Living life on the edge!
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Seriously. This place is the ultimate definition of God’s amazing creation. It’s indescribable.

#20 – Wandering around the Petrified Forest…and of course, taking cactus selfies

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We got bunny ear cacti…

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And yellow buckhorn cholla cacti!
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Petrification — a 2 million year process of trees premineralizing and turning to beautiful and colorful stones after a flood wiped out a once-existing forest in Arizona.

#21 – Last but not least…roaming around our farm together

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Because no matter where we go or what we do, home is where the cows are.
So until next time…we will continue to reminisce on these photos, stare at that wooden map on the wall, and dream of the day when we once again pack our bags, grab the Rand McNally, gas up the Mazda, put our shades on, crank that iPod playlist, and take off for another great adventure together…

<— Wherever that might be —>

 

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13 Things Playing the Piano Has Taught Me About Life

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Tonight I sat down at the piano and just…played.

Not for fame. Not for Facebook likes or YouTube views. Not for a Sunday School worship service or ladies quartet special at my church, which I’ve been playing for for about eight years now.

Not for anyone…but me.

Mind you, I do not get this luxury very often. Between juggling lesson plans, grades, FFA activities, parent teacher conferences, professional development days, an hour commute, dirty laundry, bills, and the dishes from last night’s dinner this doesn’t really leave me with much “play time” to my crazy days anymore.

But something amazing happened tonight. As I sat down at the bench, slid open the fallboard, and my fingertips started dancing on ivory and ebony, I was taken back. Back to the days of do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. To the days of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” To the days of learning the power of hold and release of the sostenuto pedal and how to correctly place my hands. To the days of memorizing the treble clef scale by the acronyms “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” and “F-A-C-E.” To the days where I first learned to play piano at twelve years old.

And it got me thinking about all the things I’ve learned from one childhood hobby that became one of the greatest blessings and saving graces in my entire life so far.

I’m sure if I thought about it even harder I could come up with way more than just thirteen, but this is what I scribbled down on a notebook so far…

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1 – Success takes time and effort.

Every now and then we get a guest speaker at church who leads a sermon if our regular pastor has to be gone. Usually, this person is one of our missionaries that only visits once a year with their beautiful wife and twelve children. (Kidding…but only about the twelve kids part, not the beautiful wife, just to clarify.) As if all the fancy brochures, PowerPoint presentations, and polaroids of their family camping on the beaches of Puerto Rico, feeding the malnourished children in Africa, or holding a baby kangaroo on an Australian safari isn’t enough icing on the cake, lo and behold, one of them just so happens to be a piano playing and singing prodigy. So, essentially what happens is I get a day off to sit back for a change and listen to someone else play – and it’s so show stopping and jaw dropping that I sink down in the pew utterly mortified in my own ability and solemnly swear I’ll never touch the keyboard again for as long as I live.

Because there’s no way on earth I’ll ever be that good.

Seriously. It’s like Keeping Up With the Modern-Day Beethovens and Mozarts. But then I have to stop and think of where they began and how they got to where they are today and remind myself that I have just as much potential, if I want it bad enough. I know it’s cliche, but whoever first said that practice makes perfect really knew what he or she was talking about. Because afterall, the only way to ever master anything in life is through trial and error, failure and triumph, and a dedication to keep on keepin’ on through it all.

Oh yeah, and also by not comparing yourself to others all the time.

2 – Never underestimate the power of “The Rest”.

This may sound redundant, as I have blogged on this before…but…there’s something to be said about pausing in life, if even for half a beat. We often fear the pause because it challenges us to give up all control and just be still in the moment we are in, but if we follow through it refreshes us just long enough to land that next note perfectly.

3 – Sometimes you’re the melody, sometimes you’re the harmony.

You will have Your Days. You know, where it’s your turn to be in the spotlight and carry the main tune that everyone recognizes. Like on your high school or college graduation. Your birthday. When you land that big promotion or win that award. Walking down the aisle on your wedding day. Announcing your pregnancy or gender reveal to family and friends with all things silly string, glitter, and colored balloons.

But sometimes, it’s your turn to be in the background while someone else takes the main lead. You will find yourself doing a lot of behind the scenes work or playing the accenting chords that are less noticed, but yet are still very necessary to the overall song.

Just remember your solo is coming some day.

4 – Be bold.

Until just about a year ago I utterly AVOIDED playing any songs in the hymnal that had two sharps, five flats, or several arpeggios. (For those of you are musically challenged and secretly trying to Google search this right now…this is code for songs and notes that are VERY. VERY. HARD.) I was afraid of failing and messing up in front of the people who loved me the most – which is ridiculous for the sole fact that they are the people who love me the most. So, I skipped them. Found easier songs. Stuck to the familiar.

But here’s the problem…for all those years I sure missed out on a lot of beautiful songs because I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

Never again.

5 – Just keep going.

Ugh, nothing cooks my grits or embarrasses me more than missing a chord or hitting the wrong key and it suspending loud through the sound system for all to hear.

Happens. All. The. Time. Take for example, last Sunday, when I completely skipped an ENTIRE line of “Victory in Jesus.”

Now, a younger twelve year old version of myself would have stopped immediately, apologized to the entire congregation, and made everyone restart the entire verse over again until I got it right. No, perfect.

But here’s what happened instead because I have since lived and learned.

I just laughed it off and kept playing.

And you know what? Nobody noticed, because everyone was focused on worshipping Him – as it should be – and not criticizing me. I think I could use a bit of this wisdom in other areas of my life as well.

6. Just listen…

Sometimes I play in the dark with the lights completely off. Or I close my eyes. This is partially because I get bored when I’m home alone and find funny piano challenges on the Internet, but it’s mainly because I can’t look at my hands to be sure I’m playing everything right. I can’t see the notes or read the words to sing. I can only listen…and feel…and then something amazing happens. The music just flows from my heart and guides me through the rest of the song.

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7. You’re never too old/too young to learn.

I read an article the other day about an 83 year old man who started taking piano lessons for the first time ever in his life after his wife passed away, with no former musical interests or experiences. I also read that Mozart began composing music when he was just three years old.

So…to answer your question about whether or not you should take a chance and do all the things you’ve always wanted to do because of your age – um, yeah. You should totally do them, regardless of what statistics show or society thinks. Life’s too short to sell yourself short.

8. Raise your voice.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good accompaniment without vocals every now and then, with nothing but instrumentals. But I am going to counteract my former statement from above in  Number 6 for a second just to say that when nothing makes sense, when you’re not sure where to go or what to do, when you stand for something you believe in with your entire being, when you are in the deepest dumps or are on the highest mountains – raise your voice. Not in chaos. Not in disrespect. Not in burning flags, vandalizing private property, or name calling.

But in song. In harmony. I think you’ll find that more people will hear you that way.

9. Use your talents for the greater good.

I’ll never forget the day my piano teacher came to me and said that she was moving away and getting married. I was not only scared of losing a great friend, but I was also terrified…because that meant that I was now the new pianist for our church. I was in junior high and was anything and everything short of an expert, especially compared to her. I had really only been playing for about four years and pretty much only knew how to play “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace.”

But the opportunity to use a God-given talent for the purpose of honoring and glorifying Him in song by showing leadership in my church turned out to yield one of the greatest blessings in my life, and before I knew it I was learning new hymns left and right.

10. Rhythm counts.

I don’t think there’s anything more annoying than a metronome…and yes, I have watched Peppa Pig before…

Life ticks away, one beat at a time. You never slow it down, and you can’t exactly speed it up either. But what you can do is learn to pace yourself in order to get some flow…some rhythm. When things get crazy and every day blurs into the next, learn to slow yourself down so you don’t skip over any notes. If every day is a drag and you’re constantly bored, learn to pick up the pace so you don’t miss a beat and get left behind. (Also, we should probably do a Freaky Friday thing and swap lives so maybe I can get some of my sanity I had before I became a teacher…just kidding and I am ordering my metronome off Amazon right now as we speak…)

11. You can always find your way back to “The Middle C”.

Ah, the Middle C. I call it Home Key. The center key of the piano, where every beginner player learns to read notes and translate chords from. It’s the starting point for almost every song, and quite arguably the most recognizable key of them all. But sometimes we have to leave the Middle C….branch out a little and hit those really high or really low octaves if we want to really make some music and find our full potential.

This sort of translates into becoming of age. Leaving home. Finding your own place in this big old world. Sure, it’s always scary at first…but you know why they call it the Middle C??

Because no matter what, you can always find your way back to where you started – because it’s the center of everything.

12. Collaborate.

I love me a good piano solo. I’m talking Adele or some classic Stevie Wonder. Absolutely beautiful. But…

Have you ever heard a violin duet with a piano? An organ? A guitar? An entire choir  or orchestra?

That, my friends, is what you call music. Everyone – of different walks of life, of different experiences, of different styles – harmonizing together in one song.

13. Remember you’re not the only key on the keyboard.

88 keys.

52 white, 36 black, all different sounds.

1 instrument.

Infinite potential.

If I could rephrase this to say anything else worth saying at all, I would tell you this.

There are 7.4 billion people

With all different nationalities, races, beliefs, etc…

In this 1 world

And I believe that there is still hope for us, if we can figure out how to make it happen together.

**Insert mic drop.**

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The Silence.

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I love noise.

Music cranked. People talking and laughing. Fixer Upper turned all the way up on my T.V. Piano hymns on a Sunday morning. Rain falling on a tin roof. Wind blowing through trees. Crickets singing on a river bank at dusk. Cows mooing when it’s time to move the electric fence. And of course, my all-time favorite sound ever…the grumble of my coffee pot in the morning.

Oh yes, Folgers in my cup all the way.

But to be completely honest…these past few weeks have been odd. Unusual.

Quiet.

Even when I’m surrounded by 26 obnoxious high school students, blasting 90’s pop Pandora on my hour commute home, or listening to my husband snore so loud to the point I’m convinced there’s a bulldozer in my bed, I still feel this strange quietness creeping in all around me like a slow and steady fog.

It’s the perfect concoction of fear topped with a pinch of anxiety wrapped up in desperation and served with a side of loneliness. There’s probably a much fancier name for this out there, but I refer to it as The Silence.

And the crazier thing is when all the noise in my life stops for even just a split second and I pause long enough to dust off the Bible and lift my hands to God in prayer about all the impossible decisions I’m facing, the bills that keep multiplying, the unimaginable hardships I keep watching my loved ones go through, the growing to-do list I can never seem to get ahead of, and how overwhelmed I feel about it all…The Silence grows even louder and I don’t know what to think, do, feel, or even say.

Kind of makes it hard to write a successful blog, ya know? #WritersBlockLevel1000

I hate silence. Partially because I don’t have kids yet so I take it for granted, partially because it creeps me out and makes me feel like a serial killer is gonna pop out from behind my shower curtain any second, but mostly because it forces me to do something I’m not very good at doing in life. Being mindful. Being present.

Being still.

And I most certainly don’t like it when during the most desperate times of my life – when I need God’s guidance the most – it’s all that I seem to get in return.

Ah, He sure loves to test our patience, doesn’t He?

But here’s the thing I’m finally learning to realize. The Silence never lasts forever. Eventually the story unfolds and life goes on, even when it seems impossible. At some point, all the things we stress and obsess about seem to work themselves out in time.

But we have to respect that it’s only in His time and not our own.

And if we just listen to The Silence He often sends us when we demand a right-now answer…with all of our heart…with all of our mind…and giving Him all of our unceasing faith…we begin to see the bigger picture. And suddenly, all the impossible times don’t seem so impossible anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know how it is. It’s so much easier to cram our lives with so much noise to distract us and drown out the stillness we sometimes so desperately need more than anything else in that given moment. It’s hard to feel the pain if you just keep moving, right?

But friends, we need to pause. We need to be still. We need to reflect. We need to ask for help – no, pray for help. And be consistent in patiently waiting for it.

We need The Silence.

And who knows…it just might become the most beautiful sound we’ve ever heard.

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More Than Words

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I often get asked why I write and what inspired me to start a blog.

 

The truth is…there’s no fancy explanation. No traumatic stories or tragedies. No drumroll, confetti, or glitter bombs.

All I can say is I really love words.

Seriously. Poems, books, crossword puzzles, word games, or anything in between – you name it, I love it.

I credit some of my nerd-ness to being an only child and having to be creative and imaginative on my own, often times with nothing more than a Lisa Frank notebook and a glittery pink gel pen. I credit some to watching all those School House of Rock movies in sixth grade, my personal favorites being the classic “Conjunction Junction What’s Your Function” and “Unpack Your Adjectives”. I credit some to spending so many of my summers in the Dallas County Library reading Nancy Drew books instead of lounging around in front of a TV. But I credit most to the great game of Scrabble. (Betcha’ weren’t expecting that one, were you?)

I was seven years old when I learned to play. I invested hours of my childhood at my grandma’s kitchen table – nose-deep in Webster’s Dictionary – expanding my vocabulary and learning all the tricks in the book, from all the “Q’s without U’s” to when and where to play the “S” to how to score over 100 points from one word alone by playing all seven tiles on a double or triple word score.

Let’s just say competitive sports were never my thing, but I grow fangs and draw blood when I play this board game.

I’m not kidding. They call me the Wicked Witch of the Words. You don’t want to mess with this. Just ask my husband, who solemnly refuses to play with me now and makes me go to my grandma’s house to combat her instead.

Anyhoo…

Like I said, I love words. Ask me why and I’ll tell you because to me they are way more than just words. I am utterly intrigued by their power and the way they give thought and meaning to anything and everything in this world. Especially when nothing seems to make sense at all anymore. And over the years, I have taken this interest and transformed into one of my greatest talents and hobbies – writing.

I have to admit, this has coached me through some of the darkest hours in my life and has continuously challenged me to see the Bigger Picture. The Deeper Meaning. The Life Lesson in Disguise. It’s like my own personal journey, my own version of self-therapy, group hugs, and warm fuzzies – without Dr. Phil or an intervention.

And if I can shed even the slightest ounce of light in someone else’s life while I do it? Even better.

So, why do I write?

Well…let’s just say it’s all about the adventure and the people I encounter and inspire along the way.

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> Less Than. <

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Let’s backtrack to about third grade, here.

It was math time. My teacher was explaining inequalities on the whiteboard. You know – the greater than, less than, equal too stuff. The “alligator eats the bigger number and points to the little number” analogy. (To this day sometimes I swear I still have to think real hard about which way to face that arrow, but that’s neither here nor there…)

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t understand what she was teaching me. It wasn’t even that I failed the quiz. I actually did really well with this, especially with a little bit of practice. I even got one of those scented smiley face stickers on my guided practice homework for doing a good job! The problem was that I took that simple third grade math lesson and applied it to my entire life, exactly in all the ways that you’re not supposed to.

I started comparing myself to others around me, to the point where I felt like the smaller number the alligator was picking on.

The Less Than.

And you know what? Between you and me, I still sometimes catch myself doing it to this day.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that I’m not the only one who looks at my reflection through the Mirror of Comparative Oppression. We all do it sometimes, even if we don’t realize it. But some of us can take it a little too far to the point where it consumes our minds and completely diminishes or even destroys our self-image and confidence.

And I hear you, it’s rough. Especially when we see That Girl. You know, the one who has that really cute Michael Kors designer handbag we eyeball every time we walk by that store in the mall, tan and toned legs, better hair, less acne, no love handles, and a zillion and one friends. Or how about That Guy, who has a convertible in his three-car garage, an 8 pack, runs five miles a day, and can bench press 220 at the gym. The “Old Me” in that pre-motherhood photo that reminds us we will never again have that much energy or be able to wear our favorite pair of jeans anymore. That co-worker who always gets the promotions and awards while we’re left on the sidelines unnoticed. That friend who is married, has four beautiful kids, and travels the world while we’re sitting alone and single and barren in the dark, talking to our five cats on a Friday night. Or that person who always seems to spew all things rainbows, butterflies, and confetti when sometimes all we feel is depression, loneliness, and guilt creeping in.

Some people call it jealousy. Some people call it insecurity. But I call it forgetfulness.

Because friend, when did we forget who we are and who we belong to?

I also call it blindness.

Because friend, we have no idea how those people we constantly compare and contrast ourselves with got to where they are, nor the struggles they had to face to get there.

And I also call it nonsense.

Because friend, we HAVE to STOP DOING IT.

One of my favorite passages of scripture to reference when I am feeling this way is Ephesians 2:19-22.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

What a perfect proclamation that we don’t have to second guess ourselves, be better than someone else, or put pressure on ourselves to be something more than what we are because in His eyes we are exactly what He designed us to be – His! He assures us that if we trust Him enough to build our self-image through His eyes instead of our own, we will feel Him dwelling in our hearts and know that we are so, so loved and way more than enough.

So the next time you feel unloved, unimportant, or insecure and want to start comparing yourself to That Girl and That Guy and pointing that alligator sign away from you, remember to whom you belong.

Because you are so much more to Him than a Less Than.

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Yes, God.

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My favorite thing to do is to go where I’ve never been. There is nothing more liberating to me than packing a bag, hanging a map, throwing a dart, jumping on a plane or driving cross-country, and seeing how the adventure of it all unfolds. (Peace out, reality.)

Okay, so maybe I don’t really throw a dart and am perhaps a little too reliant on Mapquest rather than totally “winging it”, but the point is – I LOVE LOVE LOVE traveling to new places. It’s absolutely exhilarating – experiencing once-in a lifetime opportunities that I can’t otherwise experience in Smalltown, USA  Missouri. Like parasailing the Gulf of Mexico. White water rafting in the Smoky Mountains. Scaling a waterfall by hot air balloon. Standing on a lighthouse balcony at sunset. Getting lost in the New York City metro. Hiking the Great Wall of China. Camping and horseback riding in the Rockies. Every single journey is always so different and unforgettable! Not to mention all the great local dive-ins I get to eat at and all the picturesque scenery I capture with my Nikon. And I love experiencing it all with the accompaniment of friends, family, or especially my husband – who’s bucket list just so happens to also include traveling all 50 states together in our married life! (#ourkindofrelationshipgoals)

But here’s the  crazy thing. The contradiction. The paradox, or whatever you call it. For someone who is supposedly so wanderlust and adventurous, I often find myself at the awkward crossroads between self-doubt and insecurity when the Man Upstairs is convicting me to do something out of my comfort zone that follows His will for my life.

Anyone else relate?

It’s a terrifying thing when God asks us to trust fully in Him and follow wherever He wants to lead us. We fear the unknown because we’re not the ones navigating the GPS, driving the car, booking the flights and hotels, or deciding where to take the next pit stop and eat dinner. We don’t know how or where our journey will unfold and we stress about it every mile we tread and every state line we cross along the way because we are too caught up in pursuing what WE want…rather than listening to what HE COMMANDS.

So, here’s what we have to do.

We have to stop doubting. Stop fearing. Stop trying to plan every little detail out. Stop trying to find an alternate route when God challenges us to get off the beaten path and off-road it a little. And instead start trusting Him to be our personal tour guide. I believe they call this having faith.

You see, He’s already mapped it all out. He knows all the places to go and sights to see. He knows exactly when and where we will reach our final destination. He even knows all the roadblocks, detours, and traffic jams we will have to face before we get there. But, He is always in control. Of it all. And all we have to learn to do is say “Yes, God.”

And then kick back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful ride.

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The ABC’s of Successful Teaching: How to Survive Year One

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Dear Almost First Year Teacher,

Are you ready? Are you prepared? Fasten your seatbelt because you are about to begin one of the wildest rides of your life: Year One of Teaching. (Dun, dun dunnnnnn…) *Insert doomsday music.

But don’t worry. To get you started I have compiled a list of tips and tricks that have personally helped me be successful in my educational experience so far – totally free of charge! These “Do’s” and “Don’ts” are little tidbits of wisdom that have been offered to me by many of my mentors who are coaching me as I am nearing the finish line of my first year as a high school teacher in rural Missouri.

(The end is in sight! I can see almost it!)

Your free informational “The ABC’s of Successful Teaching: How to Survive Year One” seminar begins in 3…2….1….

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A – Admit your mistakes. Sometimes you will hurt a student’s feelings unintentionally, say the wrong thing, totally teach a concept incorrectly, or drop the ball and forget to do a very important task. Show ownership for your wrongdoings, apologize when needed, fix it, and move on!

B – Be flexible. Thing won’t always go as planned. You’re going to have plenty of annoying situations that continuously challenge you to think outside the box. There will be fire drills. Interruptions. Announcements. Assemblies. Your PowerPoint presentation or internet is going to malfunction. You won’t get through a lesson in one day like you thought you would. You’re going to be asked to work a concession stand, be a class sponsor, or cover someone else’s classroom at the worst possible times. Get over it, get creative, and get through it.

C – Cry it out. Sometimes you have a terrible day. Vent to someone. Scream into a pillow. See a therapist. Eat an entire tub of ice cream. Do whatever you have to do to let it all out today so you can focus on making tomorrow better.

D – Don’t give up. Just when you think you are at the end of your rope and want to start applying for any other job than this, remind yourself of why you started this career in the first place and how hard you worked to get where you are.

E – Educate yourself, too. Despite the fact that you have a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree from a university, you DON’T know EVERYTHING. Seize every opportunity to better yourself and never stop learning new things. (And quit griping about professional development days! There is ALWAYS something to learn – even if it’s how to fall asleep without getting caught).

F – Find something positive about every day. You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have to send a kid to the office, break up a fight in the lunchroom, deal with angry parents, get a bad evaluation from your principal, sleep through your alarm and wake up thirty minutes late, and totally botch that lesson plan. But you will also have those moments when you get everything accomplished for the day and get to go home at 3:30. A parent calls to praise you for your hard work. You get an award or recognition for a major accomplishment. A hard to reach student finally gets it. A former student comes back to thank you for the impact you made in their life. Dwell on these moments instead and let the bad times go.

G – GET HELP. This is SO important! You are going to have a million questions and face many situations too overwhelming to handle on your own. Reach out to a co-worker. A colleague. A board member. Your principal. An expert in your community. Other teachers in other schools. Never be afraid to ask for advice. Many people are out there to help you succeed, if you let them!

H – Hold your ground. This is YOUR classroom, and it will only operate how you choose to operate it. Set high expectations and follow through with clear consequences when those expectations are not met. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Be firm and consistent – if you want your classroom management issues to be minimal and your students’ respect to be earned.

I – Include your parents, community, and administration on what’s going on in your classroom. Invite them to visit or observe when you are teaching something really fun and engaging. Send home newsletters. Create a classroom Facebook page. Use the Remind 101 App. Submit an article to the local newspaper. This is just good PR and will really showcase what you are doing with your students!

J – Just breathe. Stress is sure to come your way, but you WILL get through it! Just take it one day at a time.

K – Keep your head above the water. In Year One, it’s ALL about surviving! Most days you will just be a page or two ahead of your students – and that’s okay! Don’t let yourself drown in the Sea of Overwhelming. Be like Dory and just keep swimming!

L – Learn your students. Build those relationships from day one! Find out their favorite movie, their birthday, what sports and clubs they are involved in, where they work, and the name of their dog. Learn their strengths and areas they need to improve on so they can succeed in your classroom. Ask them what their goals are and what they want out of life – and coach them through this process. This not only helps you know how to help them, but it also helps you earn their respect because they know you care.

M – Make time. Don’t let your job come before your spouse, your kids, your family, your friends, or yourself. Go home when the last bell rings for the day. Go out on a date. Play with your kids. Take a personal day. Take a bubble bath. You have to have a healthy balance between work and your personal life, or this job will consume you.

N – Never put yourself in risky situations. You don’t ever want to be in a condition that could cost you your job or career. Keep your guard up, cover your back, report any issues to your superior, and make sure you always maintain a PROFESSIONAL – not PERSONAL –  relationship with your students. You never know what you might be falsely accused for, so make every effort to ensure this never happens!

O – Organize EVERYTHING. Your first year sometimes feels like you’re mostly re-inventing the wheel every day, but keep track of every single worksheet, test, rubric, and PowerPoint you make now so that next year you don’t have to!

P – Prioritize. Things are going to pop up unexpectedly and there are going to be many balls you are going to have to juggle. Learn how to separate urgencies and emergencies from things that can wait until later and create a plan of action of how you are going to deal with it all.

Q – Quit trying to be their best friends. Seriously, stop. You want them to respect you first then like you later.

R –Reflect, reflect, reflect. Take mental notes of things that work and things that don’t. This is the only way to improve your practice and make you a top-notch teacher!

S – Sleep. You cannot physically, mentally, and emotionally function at your best and keep up with everything if you are running low on the zzz’s. Learn to put the grading pen and papers down and go to bed!

T – Try new things. If you notice that something isn’t working quite the way you want it to, try a different approach! Never be afraid to open your mind to the unfamiliar and step out of your comfort zone.

U – Understand that it WILL get better. Seriously, we’ve all heard this a million times, so there has to be some truth to it. Every veteran teacher has preached and promised this at some point or another to all the newbies and the rookies entering the profession. This job never gets easier or less crazy, YOU just get BETTER with experience!

V – Vacation. Seriously, do it. Book a cruise. Lay on the beach. Ski down a mountain. Go camping and fishing. See Mount Rushmore. Do whatever you gotta’ do to escape and ENJOY LIFE so that you are energized and refreshed enough to tackle another school year.

W – Wine-up or whiskey-up. Enough said!

X – Expect to make mistakes. You aren’t always going to win the Teacher of the Year Award, so don’t get all worked up when you mess up. Learn and grow from what doesn’t work and keep mental track of what does! As Thomas Edison once said “I haven’t failed. I’ve successfully discovered 1,000 ways NOT to make a lightbulb.”

Y – Yell less, communicate more. Spend most of your time clearly outlining your expectations and holding students accountable upfront so that you don’t have to raise your voice later.

Z – Zone out the negativity. Trust me, there is no scarier place on earth than the lunch table in the teacher’s work room. As a young, new teacher you are going to hear a lot of gossip, bad-mouthing, complaining, and unwanted “advice” coming from some pretty stressed-out and burned-out teachers who are fed up with school policies, other teachers, the principal, parents, and that kid who is always getting ISS or kicked out of school, et cetera, et cetera. Tune it out (respectively) as much as possible so that you can develop your OWN mentality and voice!

Hope you enjoyed this free informational segment and have gained some helpful hints to put in your teacher toolbox and take straight into your own classroom your first year! Lastly, welcome to the profession and congratulations on embarking on one of the craziest yet most rewarding journeys you will every experience! Take it all in and learn as much as you can, because Year One goes by fast and you WILL survive it! After all, I’m still here to tell you about it!!

Sincerely,

Someone Who’s Been Where You Are and Has Made It (so far.)

XOXO

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Loving the Storm.

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Raise your hand if you remember the big ice storm in ‘07. Now raise your hand if you actually kind of enjoyed it.

Am I the only one with my hand still in the air?

Here’s the thing. Those two and a half weeks were rough, I’ll give you that. I mean, I was in seventh grade at the time and didn’t know there was a whole other world out there that existed without Hannah Montana, a CD player, microwaved popcorn, MySpace, and my hair straightener.

If I close my eyes real hard I can still picture, hear, and feel everything. The icicles. The yard that looked as if it was plastered and painted with white-out. The bitter cold. The way my breath clouded up and floated away to the sky forever. The slow droning of the occasional car that was brave enough to trek the icy side roads and 65 Highway. The darkness, except for a mere flame from that apple-cinnamon candle from Dollar General that helped us navigate our way around the house and lit the way for the longest Monopoly game ever played in history, to my knowledge. The ticking of the propane heater. The awful smell of baby wipes that we had to use for “sponge baths” because there was no running water. The snap, crackle, and pop of the maple tree in the front yard as its once-beautiful branches came crashing down to the frozen earth.

It was an experience like none other, for sure. The Ultimate Primitive Challenge, 2007 Edition. 

But as strange as it sounds, those were some of the most memorable days I’ve had so far in this life. For two and a half weeks straight I lived a life that was spent conversing face to face with my family, my friend, and her family that stayed with us instead of talking on the phone. Of playing board games and card games instead of updating my Facebook status. Of building a virtual campground with blanket tents in our living room instead of watching the Disney Channel. Of cooking every meal on a tiny open flame propane grill instead of a microwave. Of using the front porch as a refrigerator. Of shaving my legs and brushing my teeth with the leftovers of a half empty water bottle and surprisingly being totally okay with it. (And missing school all those days was a nice side bonus, as well).

The point is, that was hands-down the worst storm I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime – yet it turned out to yield one of the greatest blessings, memories, and life-lessons.

And I wonder – as I’m sitting here writing this blog ten years later at the kitchen table looking out the window as another ice storm is brewing – if God is trying to teach me something even deeper about “loving the storm”.

Friend, I don’t know what struggles and storms you are battling in your own life, and I can assure you that I have had plenty of my own. (That’s a blog for another time). But I do know this – if you truly, truly listen and adjust your perspective a little, you will find grace and wisdom to get you through it. You will find blessings. You will find strength and peace. You will find creativity. You will find beauty.

You will find appreciation for the things that really matter most and learn what it means to simplify.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t stress. Don’t ask God why this is happening to you or throw your hands up in despair. Just have faith. Listen. Trust Him. Be brave.

And learn to love the storm.

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