Sunday, October 1, 2017

2017 So Far....

Friends, it's October! (Aka my absolute favorite month of the year!) Think pumpkin everything, fall candles burning, crisp air and dropping temperatures, fall foliage, camping, hiking, s'mores around a bonfire, boots, comfy sweaters, coffee, and heading into the holidays. I love, love, love this time of year, and can't wait for it to actually get cooler around here as the weather is still supposed to be in the upper 70's for a couple of weeks.

I have so missed writing on this blog, but I also know it's just not been the right season in my life to maintain it, and that's ok. I will do what I can, but I work a LOT and have constant demands and deadlines from my job (such is life as a young associate attorney at the bottom of the totem pole!) It's just not practical for me to assume I can do "10 posts a month" or whatever.

But without further ado....2017 so far has involved a trip to Greece (Athens, Corinth, & Santorini--it was wonderful!), an amazing trip to Alaska with a friend from college that involved exploring glaciers, some very intense hikes, the Alaska State Fair, and great food, a half-marathon and a bunch of smaller races, lots of hiking in north Georgia including hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail, Braves games, a fiduciary law conference at the beach, attending my best friend's wedding reception in Asheville (actual wedding was in South Korea and I could not attend), time with wonderful friends and family, a trip to Florida to visit my grandparents, lots of court appearances including finally doing my first hearings by myself, hosting and catching up with a wonderful friend from W&L journeying through Atlanta, and more.

Here's a list of things I've been really, really enjoying in 2017 that you might too:

  • Iron Bell Music (they only have one album so far, called God That Saves, but I love it and have been listening to it a ton for the last three months)
  • The Passion 2017 album
  • Babes Who Hustle website (if you're ready to get inspired for killing it in your career, grab a cup of coffee and read just one of the nearly-daily features of smart, creative, passionate, down-to-earth women dominating in their chosen fields) 
  • 2017 book recommendations: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline (wow is all I can even say about this book!), Hidden Figures, and I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I wish I had more to offer, but reading for pleasure is another thing that tends to fall by the wayside with a very busy schedule.
I would add more to this list, but tomorrow is Monday, which means I have a ton to do to get myself together for the week. In the meantime, let me leave you with this: 

Deuteronomy 31:8: "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Job Non-Negotiables

I may not be far along in my career, but over time through short-term jobs and a few long-term jobs, I have developed a list of non-negotiables for any job that I intend to stay in for more than, say, two weeks. This list is not about nice perks, like an employer who pays for gym memberships or free meals at the office or the ability to work from home any time you want. Those are great, but they are not non-negotiables. The items on my list are so important that if a (long-term career) job doesn't have any one of these things, it's time to look for a new job (I say this as someone who has worked in jobs with some of these, none of these, and now, fortunately, all of these). 

Here's the list:

1. You actually like the people you work with. I know, I know, this is so elementary. You'd be amazed how easy it is to convince yourself that it isn't that important, and that feeling like you have nothing in common with your coworkers and quite honestly don't even want to be around them isn't that big of a deal. Well, it is a big deal. You're obviously not going to have fun every minute that you're at work, and you're not going to be interested in everything your coworkers are interested in (football, anyone?) You're not going to work with people who never get frustrated with you or snap at you because we are all human, we all get stressed out, and we all have bad days. But in general, you should like your coworkers and your boss(es). You should feel like you can carry on real conversations with them. You should feel like you can be yourself around them. You should be in a workplace where (genuine) laughing and smiling is a regular occurrence because you simply enjoy each other's company. And the idea of a 4-hour road trip with a colleague or boss for work should not make you freak out. 

2. You are being treated with respect. This encompasses more than I can write in a short paragraph, but of course, if you are being respected, you will know it, and if not, you'll know that too. Your bosses should not act like you're stupid because you don't know how to do something. You shouldn't be getting yelled at (and if someone ever does yell at you--because like I said, we're all human and make mistakes--they should apologize and work with you to fix the problem). You shouldn't be getting ignored. If there are meetings that pertain to your work or involve members in your group or team, you should be getting included in them. If you make a mistake, you should have a calm discussion with your boss about how to fix the issue, and then you should both get to move on--mistakes shouldn't be blown out of proportion and you shouldn't be treated like you are stupid when you mess up. 

3. Your managers are invested in your professional development and you are being challenged and pushed to be better. Your bosses shouldn't ignore you when you talk about your professional goals and long-term development. They should care about helping you get to the next level in your career. You shouldn't be bored--of course you'll have some boring projects or assignments here and there, but overall the kind of work you are doing and the quantity of work you have should not bore you. You should have managers who challenge you to keep improving yourself and your work and to keep growing as a professional.

4. You receive appropriate mentoring, training, directions, and feedback, and you always know where you stand. You should not be expected to know how to do things you have never done without being taught or trained. While mentoring and training is especially important for very inexperienced professionals, it's crucial for anyone. You shouldn't be thrown into the deep end of a job or a profession with no guidance. Your managers should care enough about you to show you how to do the things you need to do and to teach and train where necessary. Along those lines, you should receive regular feedback on your work and on how you are doing. You should know where you stand in terms of your performance, and your boss shouldn't save up six months' worth of feedback to be delivered all at once where it's invariably going to come as a huge shock. And this is another article entirely, but let me just say this. Feedback should not be delivered as if it's punishment. Receiving feedback should not be an event that only happens in incredibly stressful closed-door meetings with the boss. It should be delivered organically, naturally, and often, in relaxed settings as much as possible, with the intent to help rather than to make the employee feel like they are in trouble. For instance, some of the best feedback I've gotten at my current job has come on the drive back from court appearances with my boss. It starts out with, "So, how do you think you did today?" and then we talk about what went well and what I need to work on, and I walk away with a lot of helpful information without feeling stressed and anxious. This is how it should be. 

5. You are given fair opportunities to show what you are capable of. You should be receiving opportunities to try new things and new tasks. Your manager shouldn't give all the opportunities to one or two "favorite" employees. You should never be told that you are not capable of doing something that you've never been permitted to try. You should be given a fair chance to succeed. 

6. Your performance is evaluated fairly and accurately. You should know what you are going to be evaluated on before it happens. You should receive feedback on an ongoing basis so that the dreaded annual review doesn't have to be dreaded, as nothing in it should come as a surprise. It should be accurate. If you've done high-quality work and met your goals, you should receive good evaluations. You shouldn't be receiving feedback from left field that you've never heard from your boss before (or worse, feedback about you that you've never heard from anyone before). You should be given a fair summary of what you need to improve and what you do well on. You should not only hear about your mistakes and weaknesses in an evaluation, because that's totally demoralizing, especially when you've worked your butt off and generally done really solid work. If you have a boss who thinks that the purpose of a performance review is to demoralize an employee as much as possible in 45 minutes, you probably need to find another job. Likewise, just in general terms, if you have a boss that thinks the way to motivate employees is to ignore the 50 things they've done right and harp on the one thing they've done wrong, you definitely need to find another job. 

7. The job pays what you need. I don't really know what else to say about this one, because this is such a personal topic. I personally do not believe that you should leave a job you really like just because you think the pay is slightly below the market. I find too many of my peers getting themselves in really bad job situations because they're chasing salary without much consideration of anything else. Does the job pay enough to meet your needs and some of your wants? If so, it's probably not worth it to leave just for a higher salary (assuming you are not grossly underpaid). 

8. You are appreciated and valued, and your boss makes you feel good about your contributions, not bad about them. This is another one that's hard to put into words, but you will definitely know if you have it or not. Does your boss say "thank you" for your work? Is credit given where credit is due? Are your strengths emphasized? If you go above and beyond, is it rewarded? Do you hear from your managers about your successes and what you are good at, and not only about your mistakes? Do you feel supported? Generally, do you feel good about going to work? (Seriously, one of the biggest but simplest questions I've answered in my career so far was this: Do I feel good or bad the majority of the time that I'm at work? When I answered that question with "bad," that's when I knew something had to change.) You are not always going to have good days, good weeks, or good months on the job. But overall, you should feel that your hard work is appreciated and that your work--and you--are really valued. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Essential Questions for 2017

Happy New Year! And what a year 2016 has been. My three biggest takeaways from 2016? Jesus is unfailing. His ways are higher than my own. And sometimes God's greatest blessings are not in what He gives--but rather in what He takes away.

I don't know about you, but I am looking toward the future with hope and expectation. These are some of the questions I'm asking myself at the onset of a new year. I think they're pretty important questions--for a lot of different reasons--and I hope you'll consider asking them of yourself, too.

In 2017:

1. Who or what are you going to wear out your knees in prayer for?
2. How are you no longer willing to feel?
3. What are you no longer willing to settle for?
4. Knowing that your tongue can either give life or it can kill and destroy, what are you going to do with yours this year? How? Why?
5. If you could read one book in 2017 besides the Bible, what would it be?
6. Imagine that it's December 31st and you only managed to accomplish one thing this year. If you had to choose--what would it be?
7. Is anyone or anything poisoning your life? What can you do today to detox?
8. What bondage in your life needs to be broken this year?
9. What do you want Jesus to do for you? (See this post.)
10. Are you willing to be a person of excellence? (See this article.)
11. What's worth some--or a great deal of--pain and discomfort this year?
12. What in your life are you utterly disgusted with? What are you sick of? (I know this is strong terminology, but I'm thinking about that quote, "No one will ever change until they become utterly disgusted with the old way.")
13. What is the best compliment you can imagine getting this year? (I'm a big believer that what you label "the best compliment you've ever gotten" speaks VOLUMES about what is important to you and the kind of person you want to be).
14. Who do you appreciate? If you are not telling them that you appreciate them, why not? What are you waiting for?
15. Are you being faithful in your life? If not, why not? (See this post.)
16. What's worth sleepless nights, early mornings, sore muscles, and other sacrifices to you?
17. What promise(s) of God are you going to stand on when you are strong and fall on when you are weak?
18. How are you going to take care of yourself this year?
19. Imagine that the life you want in 2017 is being turned into a movie. What's on the soundtrack?
20. What's stopping you?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Just Be Faithful.

I have come up with a "theme word" for 2017. I know some people who get really into picking out theme words and theme songs and you name it for the new year, and I am not really one of those people. But sometimes, a word or a concept or a verse or a goal continues to tug at your heart, and you just need to turn it into a word you carry with you throughout the year. As my title suggests, for 2017, my word is "faithful."

Being faithful means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I think we most often hear this word in terms of being faithful to a spouse or in terms of being faithful in our friendships and family relationships. But there is so, so much more to it than that.

Mark Batterson writes in his new book Chase the Lion: "Just keep doing the right thing day in and day out. It's called faithfulness." Mark hits the nail on the head--that indeed is what it means to be faithful. Doing the right thing day in and day out, over and over and over again, whether anyone is watching and especially if they are not. One of the reasons I keep coming back to this concept of faithfulness is because the life stage that I and most of my friends are in (late 20's and early 30's) is generally a stage of laying the groundwork for the rest of your life through a lot of hard work and commitment, and that takes faithfulness--choosing to do the right thing over and over again, even when we don't feel like it and are exhausted and don't think anyone notices or cares.

It's a stage of planting seeds, but not so much a stage of bearing fruit, as that often comes much later. It's a stage of putting in the work to be successful, knowing that the success may not come for quite some time. It takes a long time to build that groundwork--the groundwork for a healthy life, a strong career, a family, and whatever it is you may be seeking. It's a time for a lot of sweat and tears. Late nights and early mornings. Being at the bottom of the totem pole at work and often getting tasked with the grunt work that no one else wants to do. Long hours of training and sore muscles. Alarms set for 5am. Budgeting and saving money when you'd really rather not. Investing in personal friendships and a professional network. As the quote says, being willing to do what others are not willing to do so that someday you are able to do what others are not able to do.

And make no mistake--it requires a lot of faithfulness. Being faithful to take care of your body and your health. Being faithful to manage your finances, to take care of your home, and to go above and beyond at your job. Being faithful in your marriage and family life, if that applies to you. Being faithful in your relationship with the Lord, in church attendance, in studying Scripture and spiritual disciplines. Being faithful about the really little things--like responding to text messages and always being on time (can't even tell you how much I need to work on both of those).

In 2017, I just want to be more faithful. I want to go above and beyond. I want to do more than what is asked or expected of me. I want to show up early and stay late. I want to do things with all of my heart. I want to treat the work I have to do as if it is a privilege--because it most definitely is. As Mark Batterson also points out in his book, doing the right thing is one day at a time. He writes, "You get in shape one workout at a time. You get out of debt one payment at a time. You get the job promotion one project at a time . . . Games aren't won on game day. Games are won in the weight room. Whatever dream you are chasing, you prove yourself one day at a time." I love that because it is so, so true.

Y'all, I can't expect to be "a partner at a law firm by the time I'm 30," Elle Woods-style, if I'm not willing to knock it out of the park now on the research and writing assignments the partners at my firm give me to do for them. I can't expect to be able to be running, active, and healthy at age 80 if I'm not carving time out of my day now to exercise. And I can't expect to have the friendships I want to have if I'm not willing to be there for people when they need me.

Be faithful. Pour your heart into the life God has given you and the tasks He has placed in front of you. Work really hard and do your best.

And without further ado--I need to go be faithful in my life by cleaning the bathroom, doing my laundry, and finishing a project for work.

Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Fall, Y'all!

This is my favorite season of all--comfy sweaters, scarves, boots, hot apple cider, hiking, beautiful fall foliage, cool weather, crisp mornings with coffee, pumpkin everything, and I could go on. And this year, suddenly, it's autumn again, and I realize how much the year has simply flown by.

I have not written in months, mostly because I spent all of August and September preparing for a jury trial which I had about 3 weeks ago. And I tried that case by myself and got a verdict of well over a million dollars, so I am thrilled! Thrilled to have gotten such a good result, happy to have gotten the experience, and really happy to be in a firm that's letting me near a courtroom. Between the trial, a bunch of other cases, getting sworn into several federal courts, trying out CrossFit, a weekend at the beach, and more, the last two and a half months have been an absolute whirlwind.

Friends, these last five months, I have learned so, so much. I have learned that God can redeem anything, and that as this song says, there is nothing in my life that He cannot revive. All of 2015 and the first few months of this year was an incredibly difficult season of my life, and there were times I didn't think I was going to get through it or that things were ever going to get better or were ever going to just change. But I'm here to tell you that they did, because no matter how bad things seem, God is STILL a God of restoration. He is STILL working for His glory and for our good. No matter--no matter--how bad things are. No matter if we are in a season of deep depression caused by dark and painful circumstances in our lives. No matter how desperately and how much we have prayed, yet seen our prayers not be answered. God has brought such tremendous revival and restoration from that terribly dark season of my life, and honestly, it brings me to tears. Those wonderful, healing, I-have-no-words-for-how-good-God-is tears.

I've learned that God can fulfill our deep needs in ways we might never expect. Miracles don't always seem that way when we first see them. No matter how long we have been in the valley, God can and will still lead us out. Really, that's about all I have for you tonight. This is my testimony. This is what God has done. And He is to be praised.

Let me leave you with this song. If you're like me, you'll be listening to it every single day. I listened to this song at 4 a.m. in my hotel room during the week I was in trial! Let it remind you that Jesus is unfailing.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Top 25 Best Eats in Atlanta

Today is one of my favorite kinds of Saturdays--I got up early (who knew that one day I would get up at 7am even on the weekends?), had coffee with a friend this morning, went to the gym, came home and cleaned, and caught up on my emails. Now I'm sitting on the couch with a load of clothes in the wash and the dishwasher humming in the background. And I have a few minutes to blog.

I've been wanting to share with you all my list of some of the absolute best foods in Atlanta. Now that I've lived here for two years, I feel like I can speak with at least some authority on the subject! I'd also like to write about the absolute must-do activities in Atlanta, but that's for another time. Every item on this list I have had the chance to try personally. Fair warning that most of these foods are not necessarily the healthiest, but if you're really wanting to try the restaurant scene in Atlanta, you can't be too worried about that. It's all about balance. So without further ado, here's the list:

1. Salted caramel cupcakes from Sprinkles. This cupcake place absolutely nails the "cake" part of the cupcake--they are dense and moist and flavorful. And that salted caramel icing is the best.
2. Butterscotch bacon doughnuts with Mexican hot chocolate from Bon Glaze. Yes, they're as good as they sound, with real, delicious pieces of bacon on top of the doughnut. This is my every-once-in-awhile Saturday morning treat.
3. Chicken biscuit with Frim Fram sauce from Hop's Chicken at Ponce City Market. For only $4, you can get a perfectly spiced chicken biscuit with an irresistible sauce that tastes like some sort of tomato mayonnaise. And dare I say it? It's better than Chick-Fil-A.
4. Anything at Daddy D'z BBQ. Somewhat sketchy surroundings in a not-so-great part of town, but this hole in the wall serves some great barbecue.
5. The chicken coconut soup at Little Bangkok. This is another hole in the wall (with very limited parking, so you might want to use Uber if that stresses you out as much as it does me), but this is some excellent Thai food.
6. Anything from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. This is the best ice cream I have ever had, with a menu that changes seasonally and is always adding new and innovative items. You can't go wrong with anything you order here, and any ice cream flavors that you mix up will be good (i.e., don't shy away from mixing salted caramel ice cream with lemon sorbet and topping it all off with strawberry sauce--I promise it will taste great). My recommended order is a scoop of brambleberry crisp ice cream with a scoop of Savannah buttermint ice cream, topped with bitter hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. You have to try the fudge sauce--it is slightly bitter while still tasting great, if that makes any sense.
7. This place called Juice Bar in Suwanee. All these smoothies and juices are incredibly healthy and taste great.
8. The lime fries from Tex's Tacos food truck--these are sweet, tangy, and salty all at once.
9. The award-winning cheeseburger from Kaleidoscope. Think pimento cheese, slaw, and sweet pickles on a burger cooked to perfection. The cocktails are really good here too.
10. This list is not complete without some brunch! Especially since Atlanta does brunch really well. My favorite brunch here is from West Egg Cafe. What to order? The pulled pork benedict and coconut iced coffee. Also, the garlic grits are NOT messing around.
11. If you're in the mood for pizza, DaVinci's is the place to go. It's pretty simple, and the surroundings are nothing special, but the pizza is delicious. I've also had several amazing multi-hour conversations with friends here, which makes the food taste even better. This is a great place to go if you want to eat and talk until 1am.
12. The butternut squash and walnut pizza from True Food Kitchen. This is only offered seasonally, but it's a pretty masterful combination of flavors.
13. Tamarind Seed. Order the Kai-Pad-Prik-Kingh. A deliciously different take on Thai food.
14. The best cocktail in the city from Minero at Ponce City Market. It's called the Estrellita: vodka, hibiscus, cinnamon, lime, mint. So refreshing. And the chilaquiles are great too.
15. The pimento cheese omelet from Buttermilk Kitchen. I'm a big fan of pimento cheese, and this is the best pimento cheese omelet I have ever had. It's savory with noticeably sweet undertones. And it has bacon. The biscuits and jam and coffee are great too.
16. This may be the best cheeseburger in the city--the cheeseburger from Fred's Meat and Bread at Krog Street Market. Very basic, nothing fancy, but this is a cheeseburger done right.
17. The pear and pepper sangria from Tavernpointe. Spicy and refreshing at the same time.
18. The pulled chicken sandwich from Memphis BBQ. Try the incredibly spicy Squeeler Sauce (or just dump it all over your sandwich, if you're like me and like spicy food as much as I do). This sauce will make you sweat/ cry, but that's the mark of a good spicy dish.
19. Indian-style sloppy joes (and other Indian street food) from Chai Pani.
20. One more great brunch place: Sun In My Belly. Try the PBLT, which is basically a BLT with--you guessed it--pimento cheese. Also, there are lots of wonderful coffee options here, and this is a great place to come for a satisfying brunch and a hot drink on a freezing winter morning.
21. I would be remiss not to include Mary Mac's on this list. This is the best Southern comfort food in the city. Try the meatloaf and sweet potato casserole, and do not miss the Key Lime pie. It's so creamy and tangy and flavored perfectly.
22. The potato soup at Shillings on the Square. Great for a cold day.
23. Just about anything from Red Pepper Taqueria. Get the queso. Get watermelon margaritas. And definitely get the poblano corn soup with habanero oil and the fried chicken tacos.
24. The Memphis taco, the veggie taco, and the fried chicken taco (yes, another one) from Taqueria del Sol.
25. The Rise and Shine smoothie from Dtox Juice. Coffee, banana, almond butter, and some other great stuff. This is a good and healthy pick-me-up.

Are you hungry yet?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things I Am Thankful For Today

1. Summer
2. Blackened salmon tacos with caramelized onion and pineapple
3. No major deadlines this week at work
4. Being reunited with my cat after being out of town for a conference (someday this might say "being reunited with my husband," but until then . . . )
5. A bouquet of fresh yellow roses to decorate my apartment
6. Late-night workouts
7. The fact that in less than 6 weeks, my best friend will be here all the way from South Korea!
8. Re-instituting my Wednesday night "weekly mini-vacation" tradition--to the extent possible, I take Wednesday nights for myself, and even if it only involves a couple of hours of writing at a coffee shop, it is a much-needed break in the week.
9. Actually getting 8 full hours of sleep
10. Having a job where I am treated with respect, needed, included, and supported
11. Sweet text messages from friends
12. Surprise packages in the mail
13. Scary movies on Netflix
14. Paying down student loans!!
15. Peaches and pecans from roadside stands--the perks of living in Georgia
16. Diane Chamberlain books
17. Actually accomplishing to-do list items
18. New pillows for my couch
19. Espresso-scented candles
20. Just starting fresh, especially because I thought I couldn't for so long. Just hitting the reset button on my life and turning over a whole new leaf. Not being stuck anymore and finally moving forward.

What about you?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why I Read the Bible from Cover to Cover in 41 Days

As I've already mentioned, Meagan and I recently embarked on a challenge to read the Bible from cover to cover in 40 days. I ended up needing an extra day, but in 41 days--starting on March 28th and ending on May 7th--I read the Bible from cover to cover. It was one of the most challenging and life-changing things I've ever done, and I'd love to share with you all a little more about the experience. And ideally, maybe I'll convince you to do it too.

First of all, if you're anything like me, you're probably thinking, "I don't have time for that. I have a job/ school/ social life/ kids/ all of the above. Are you kidding me?" But you know what? I always think I don't have time to read the Bible. And if you keep thinking that, before you know it, months have gone by and you really haven't been in the Word much at all. You haven't picked up the sword of the Spirit except maybe a time or two in church. I don't know about you, but time or no time, I don't want to live my Christian life that unequipped. If I have time, so do you. If you have time to watch Netflix or use Facebook or post a picture on Instagram, then you have time to read the Bible.

Second, reading the Bible in 40 days gave me a beautiful image of the big picture of Scripture and God's plan for the human race, from start to finish. I wouldn't recommend a Bible challenge like this to be the way you always approach the Word--it would be too much to take in and would prevent you from doing a deep-dive into areas that require a lot of further study. But in terms of getting a general understanding and deep insight into the whole of Scripture in a short time, this challenge can't be beat. I understand so many things that I have never grasped before, including the full saga and historical timeline of what happened to the Israelite people; who went into exile and when and where (Ezra and Nehemiah were written AFTER the exile and chronologically go AFTER the major prophets, which I never understood before); and how so many Old Testament prophecies are fully and completely fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Seeing how the prophecies of the Old Testament came alive in the New Testament was one of my favorite parts of this whole experience. You see, we almost always read the Bible in fits and starts. In bits and pieces. We may generally understand (and believe!) that Jesus came to be the light of the world and to save His people from their sin, but think about this . . . reading the Bible from cover to cover, and getting through the entire Old Testament before Jesus Christ jumps on the scene, will show you in a whole new way how much the world needed a Savior. How much the world still needs a Savior.

The Old Testament can be a bit depressing because it describes a world with only the promise of a Savior--but before that Savior came down to ransom the world He created. Once you've read through Leviticus, you realize how desperate and hopeless the state of the world is without Jesus. I read the Bible with completely fresh eyes this time--I know the ending. I know what happens next. But while reading the Old Testament, I could feel the desperation for the promised Savior as if I were living it myself. You realize fully that this system of sacrifices was never going to be the final solution. Over hundreds of years, literally rivers of blood of sacrificed animals flowed down from those altars to atone for the people's sins. And of course, the people continued to sin. The people continued to live in bondage. Broken under the oppression of evil, the oppression of a sacrificial system that was a precursor of what was to come, but nevertheless a system that could never truly atone for sin.

You've got to slog through it, folks. The first number of books of the Old Testament are hard. Hard in some places to understand, and most of all hard because you realize how truly burdensome life can be when you're a sinner without a Savior. How burdensome it can be to try to follow every aspect of the law, knowing that you never measure up, knowing that God requires righteousness and no amount of animal sacrifices can make anybody righteous. How dark it can be. Yes, just how dark it can be.

But then--but then! "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this . . . the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . . to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

(from Isaiah 9 & 61)

Yes. Yes. YES. The people HAVE seen a great light. Oh, they have. When I got to this passage in Isaiah 9--one of the first direct prophecies of Jesus Christ--it felt like I was letting out the breath I'd been holding since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, bringing sin and shame and despair into the world. And I realized in a way I never have before just how great that light was. Because I had seen, more clearly than I ever had, just how great the darkness was.

But we have a Savior! We. Have. A. Savior. Hallelujah! God has seen the oppression of His people, and He has sent us a Savior to rescue us. A Savior who gives us His robe of righteousness and is the perfect, complete, and final sacrifice for sin. A Savior who exchanges our ashes for His crown of beauty, our mourning for His joy. And you know what? That Savior did not come from a long line of perfect people. God did not choose to make His Son the (earthly) descendant of a bunch of perfect folks. No, He chose for His Son to be the direct descendant of people whose lives were desperately scarred by sin--liars and prostitutes and murderers and people who had made a terrible mess of their lives. But He redeems everything. Nothing is wasted. And those people--people like you and me--were part of the direct line of Christ. The Messiah. Quick side story--my favorite person in the line of Jesus Christ is Leah. This story is in Genesis 29. She was married to Jacob, who never really loved her, but only loved her sister instead. Leah's father tricked Jacob into marrying her. Leah gave birth to a son, and said, "Maybe my husband will love me now that I have borne him a son." She gave birth again, and said, "The Lord gave me this son because my husband doesn't love me." Her life seemed beyond redemption--alone and forgotten by the man who was supposed to love and care for her. But then, Leah had a third son, her last son. When she had this son, she didn't talk about how Jacob didn't love her. She didn't even talk about how she wanted her husband to love her since she had given him three sons. No, she said, "This time, I will praise the Lord." This time, I will praise the Lord! Spoiler alert--the third son was named Judah, which means "praise." Jesus was born into the line of Judah, and became the Lion of Judah. Because a lonely and rejected and forgotten woman praised the Lord, she was written directly into the story of Christ. Isn't our God amazing? Isn't his redemption profound? Can He not make broken lives so beautiful?

And finally, reading the Bible all the way through in a short time gave me so many beautiful pictures of the heart of God. Don't you want to know His heart? Don't you want to see firsthand how kind and loving and holy and pure He is? I know I do. I want to be a woman after God's own heart, and to do that, I need to be able to know His heart. And His heart is put on display most clearly in His Word.

The Word became flesh, and made His dwelling among us. And out of His fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Read God's story from start to finish. Please, please read it. Dwell in the darkness awhile, feel the oppression and the sorrow and the longing and yearning for hope. And then sit back and watch the light break through, because it does! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Watch how the hope unfolds, because it does. It unfolds in a way I've never fully appreciated when I've tried to read the Bible in fits and starts, like I talked about before. Read it from cover to cover. And it will deeply increase your hunger for the Word and your desire to read it more in the future and to incorporate it into your daily life. He has given us grace upon grace--and a true light that can conquer any darkness. Read about it.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Last Two Months in Pictures

I've not posted nearly as many pictures on this blog as I would like, so without further ado, here are quite a few from the last while:

This is the "travel wall" I put together in my living room and I LOVE it. It really emphasizes a lot of the places that are meaningful to me and/or my favorite places in the world: Lexington, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Venice; Paris; Iceland; Rome. 

Atlanta skyline:

Best Mexican food (and cocktails!) at Minero at Ponce City Market:

My first time trying avocado toast (and the book was really great, by the way):

Splash of colors on the Atlanta Beltline trail! It's totally fair to run on this trail just for the beautiful murals:

Beach beach beach:

Also: first time trying an acai bowl. It did not disappoint.

My friend and I made it to the top of Stone Mountain (not us in the picture though)!

My sweet friend sent me these beautiful flowers to celebrate my new job:

More wall murals:

Just about the best cheeseburger I've ever had, from Fred's Meat & Bread at Krog Street Market. 

This is a random mural on the side of a Kroger:

Love those sunsets!

New favorite coffee shop, new favorite book:

I finally hiked Mt. Yonah and it was BEAUTIFUL:

More to come, eventually!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Things I've Learned About Life in 2016

This year has been an absolute whirlwind so far. It's been full of unexpected, but ultimately necessary, changes; full of new challenges; and now, at this point almost halfway through the year, full of hope for the future and full of a realization of how faithful God has been in my life.

So without further ado, here are some life lessons I've learned so far this year:

1. If something in your life is broken, FIX IT. Please, please, please just fix it. Don't do what I did, and try to convince yourself for many months that something is working when it obviously isn't. I'm definitely not advocating that you just run away from anything that's not working (key example--marriage isn't something you just walk out on when the going gets tough). But I think you'll know what I mean by this. I tried for such a long time to convince myself that certain areas of my life were "just fine" when they were causing me so much pain, frustration, and unhappiness. YOU are the only one who knows whether your life is really working for you or not. YOU are the only one who knows whether you are really and truly happy or not. (Quick side note on this: if friends or family tell you when you talk on the phone, "You sound so happy!" and your immediate thought is, "But I'm so NOT . . . don't you get it at all?" then that's a sign something's got to change!) I know this isn't always possible, but when it is possible--If where you live isn't working for you, move! If your job isn't working for you, get a different one! If a friend has proven over and over that they're not really going to be there for you, it's ok to gently and kindly let the friendship go. And please don't try to talk yourself out of making a much-needed change because you tell yourself, "But I really wanted this! But I really worked hard for this!" Or even . . . "But I really prayed for this!" Sometimes, God gives you things for a season, and only for a short season, and then He wants you to move on. Sometimes, the things you thought you wanted just fall flat. And that's okay, and that's life, and God is not going to be "mad" at you for moving on from something that you once prayed for because it's not healthy for you and is sucking the life out of you. The desires of your heart can change. And that's normal, and healthy, and completely okay.

2. Along the lines of #1--When you "fix" whatever it is that you need to fix, you will feel like the weight of the WORLD has finally fallen off your shoulders. And you will wonder, "Why didn't I do this so long ago?"

3. There's really no better therapy than hiking, writing, or being on the beach. Really.

4. You are the only one who gets to decide what kind of career you want to have. If people try to push you away from your passions without giving you a clear reason why, you are under no obligation to listen to them or heed their advice.

5. Don't assume that someone won't step up into the role of a true friend just because you've only known them for a little while. Even relatively new friends can prove themselves to be the kind of people that you can call in the middle of the night; the kind of people who will come over to your place to help you assemble furniture; the kind of people you can cry with over brunch when life gets overwhelming; and the kind of people you want to call first when something amazing happens.

6. You should make a list of fun things to do in your city and actually do them. Y'all, I have a list of 85 things I want to do in this city this summer, and I've already done a LOT of them. Along the way, I've discovered fantastic restaurants, great hiking trails and outdoor spots, fun new shops, local farmer's markets, and my favorite new coffee shop. Get out and explore the place where you live.

7. Go after the things you want. Keep sending the follow-up emails. Ask and keep on asking. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no or gets annoyed with you. The best thing that can happen is that you stumble right into an amazing new opportunity.

8. This is one of my favorite lessons of all from the last few months--so many more people in this world WANT to help you than don't want to help you. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to contact people that you don't know out of the blue and ask them to meet with you (one piece of advice though--use any connection you do have, like a school or organization in common, to help). I have met with so many people in the last 6 months that I simply contacted and asked for advice. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that 95% of the people I asked to meet with me actually DID. And almost all of those people helped me in one way or another--by giving me advice, by introducing me to someone else, by asking around to their networks about opportunities I should look into, etc.

I was shooting for ten life lessons, but that's about all I have for now!