Live Epic: Choosing Joy

Do you ever have days that feel like the Friends theme song?

It can actually be a quite relatable and relatively accurate picture of #adulting.

Haha, no seriously. Regardless of how you feel about #RossAndRachel, we’ve all heard at it at some point or another and thought, “Yeahhh okay I’m there right now. My ____(job is a joke / I’m broke / my love life is D.O.A)_____.”

That’s never happened to you?! Come on. Well, I’ve lived the NYC adventure—and I’m happy to let you live vicariously through my experiences. I can tell you, those days happen.

So, what do you do when your day feels like Friends’ opening credits?

I see three options:

  1. Watch Friends. (Clearly you already are, if you’re thinking of the theme song. And we all know that HIMYM is a knockoff and Seinfeld just isn’t as good 😉
  2. Buy a pint of HaloTop (I recommend the Lemon Cake) and eat the whole thing.
  3. Listen to what James says in his book:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

I’d like to point out that the three of those options are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I’ve been known to do all of them in the same evening. (You’re not judging—you’re jealous and you know it.)

But, let’s focus in on the third (and most effective) option here. Particularly, the first four words of that verse:

“Consider it pure joy.”

That sentence holds true, regardless of which word you emphasize.

Consider it pure joy.” — Joy is a choice. Happiness is a feeling. It is possible—and Biblical—to choose joy, even when the world may say it’s okay to throw a pity party. Which leads us to…

“Consider it pure joy.” — Choosing joy does NOT mean that you’re turning a blind eye to the situation, or saying that everything is 100% A-OK. It very well might not be. It’s saying that you choose to trust the situation to the Lord, and you take joy in knowing He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

“Consider it pure joy.” — Nuh-uh, there’s no room for “sorta” or “mostly” here. James is presenting an all-or-nothing statement. You either trust the situation to God, or you don’t. You choose to focus on Kingdom purposes and His promises, or you choose to dwell in and become overcome by the struggle.

“Consider it pure joy.” — As Nehemiah so eloquently put it, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” If you allow your situation to sap you of joy, you no longer have one of the most powerful weapons God provided. Allowing your joy to get lost in life’s struggles eliminates your ability to be a contender for the Kingdom. If “The joy of the Lord is (my) strength”, and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), then logic tells us that with God-given Joy we can do all things. Amen to that.

Let me encourage you friends – Choose joy. Choose to be a contender for the Kingdom. You see, friends, life’s situations and worldly forces have no power in your life except for the power that you give them. Yet, we hear Christians complaining all of the time about being kept down by their woes and foe—yet, this foe has already been defeated. Both in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 20:4) and New Testament (John 16:33), we’re told that Christ has already won the victory! So, if you feel like you’re being overcome by the #struggle, first take a look at your perspective.

Are you choosing joy? Are you remembering your “why”—why you live, why you make money, why you do whatever it is that you do? Are you acting from a place of submission to your situation, or victory over the struggle?

And remember, when it seems like choosing joy is a challenge, people are watching to see how you’ll react to your situation. You’re an ambassador of the King (2 Cor. 5:20). More on that to come… 😉

Grace & peace.

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Live Epic: Finding Victory in the Valley

“When life gets tough, the tough get going.”

Or, so says the cliche. For me, though, there’s a crucial part that the phrase omits:

“When life gets tough, the tough get going to a movie theater & sneak in their own Starbucks.”

& at this point, you may be very confused. Or chuckling to yourself. Or see “Starbucks” as a synonym for “basic”.

Oh goodness, “basic” is about the last word that comes to mind when I think of my life right now. Nope, no-no. Not the case here.

Why do I slide into the cinemas myself? Well, because sometimes when your story gets tough, you want to step out of it momentarily and get lost in someone else’s.

I am wildly in love with stories. First and foremost, I feel like I was put on this Earth to be a storyteller.

In fact, I’ve actually crafted my life around it—in branding, I help companies tell their stories and become a positive part of the stories of their customers. In Pilates, I’m able to listen to people’s stories, and help them—even in some small way—to take steps closer to the story they’ve always dreamed about. In discipleship, I get the privilege of coming alongside others in realizing the story God has for them. In friendships, I’m blessed to be a part of other’s stories and do life together.

Everyone has a lens through which they view life. Some see it as more of an equation—“X+Y=Happiness”, as a pre-determined linear path, a sequence of small steps, or random shots in the dark.

I see life as a narrative—and I mean the big “LIFE” as in since the first breath was drawn, since before the beginning of human existence. It changed my entire perspective, actually, when I started reading the Bible that way—as a narrative, a story—instead of a list of “who, what, when” facts. It’s the difference between reading a thrilling novel vs. the encyclopedia. In fact, 40% of the Bible is written in narrative form—its the most common single type of writing.

All of that to say—for me, life is a story. My life is a story. Given my beliefs, my Biblical knowledge shows me that I was dropped into the midst of an epic story—and, my mantra since I was 16 was, “I fully intend to live an epic life.”

There was never an epic story about something safe and predictable. That would be the most boring story ever. There would be empathy in the struggle, no moments of joy. Nobody would pay money to go to the movies & see that.

In fact, within all great stories, the hero / heroine was always thrust into challenge or adventure instead of falling in-step with a life that was safe and predictable. They’re different and unique. The journey is often lonely, but they’re headed towards something greater. There’s a hope in their chest, and a knowledge in their heart that they were meant for more. They meet compatriots that share their purpose and laugh and walk with them on the way. At the end of the valley, there’s something that will bring fulfillment. That will validate their challenges. That will give meaning to their story.

But, so often we lose ourselves in the valley. We become so focused on the challenges that we completely lose sight of our calling. 

If you’re waiting for a mountaintop victory, you’re missing the point. God calls us to rejoice in all things. You see, so often for us, when our visions of victory don’t match our current situation, we lose heart. The victories aren’t always on the mountaintop—they come by choosing joy, and by choosing Him, every day. They’re not big leaps of faith, but small steps of obedience.

Embrace the epic story. Choose joy. And keep following Him to the victory.

Grace & peace.

Living loved.

Listen up, lovelies. It’s almost Valentine’s Day.

The day in the year, second only to Christmas and Thanksgiving, that’s all about being with the one(s) you love. Or like a lot. Or like a little.

Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day—or both! —I think there’s something even more important to this day that we often miss. February 14th is all about enjoying someone and celebrating them—their strength, their character, their passions, and their beauty—and so often the focus is shifted onto a significant other (or lack thereof) that we forget to celebrate another important person: ourselves.

She who so often gets overlooked.

Not overlooked by others, mind you, but by herself.

It’s not just about the “#treatyoself” mentality—but it’s about taking a moment to step back, breathe, and reflect on the lovely and kind, yet strong and fierce, woman that you are. And that confidence in who you are, that loving acceptance of yourself, will empower you to more powerfully love those that you’re in relationship with—whether sig o’s, friends, or family.

You see, when we don’t understand or believe in our own value, we make it impossible for others to fully see it, too! We unknowingly cheapen and sabotage our own relationships because we see them as something needed to complete us, rather than an addition to us. And, that need to “complete” drives a sentiment of desperation and a need for approval that others will never be able to fulfill. They weren’t meant to fulfill it.

“You can’t rely on me to make you happy.”

That’s what my dad told my mom back when they started dating. At first glance, it sounds extreme.

Isn’t that the point of relationships? you ask. Don’t they make you happy? Being with someone else and loved by someone else makes you happy?

Yes, it absolutely can. But, what my dad was wise enough to have caught onto here was the fact that if you rely on other people to make you happy—even the very best people—there will always be some day, some point that you’ll still feel…something missing.

Think of a gorgeous, handcrafted clay jar. And, the jar needs to be filled—it’s meant to be filled—but, if you always look to others to fill it for you, then your jar often be missing what’s needed to top it off. They don’t have enough to entirely fill your jar and theirs—and they weren’t meant to.

100% + 100% = 200%.

When we see our own value, and look for other people to add to us instead of complete us, we will always get more—happiness, fulfillment from our relationships, confidence in our jobs, and so on.

So, here’s what you need to hear loud and clear: you are worth loving.

And, this Valentine’s Day, it’s you who needs to realize that. Live loved, and you will be able to more fully love the life you live.

Cheers, dears! xoxo

P.S. If you’re in Fort Wayne…

I went to a really fabulous event last week at Jane Ford Art Studio that was all about celebrating women, sharing their stories, and empowering them to live in a way that makes the most of their strength and beauty each day. The event was sponsored by Hill Image Consulting, Kristine Logan Photography, and Solutions Skin Care—all experts in their field, excited about what they do, and all about empowering their clients and crafting styles, looks, and shoots that inspire confidence. If you’re looking to discover and share who you are—your personal brand—I’d highly recommend you stop in & see these ladies!

I know less, as I come to know You more.

Real talk, y’all: To say that it’s been a whirlwind of a week has been an understatement.

Last Wednesday, I was sitting at the new “Fort Wayne Famous” restaurant, the Golden (BEST chocolate / toffee pudding EVER), laughing about future dreams and aspirations.

A week ago today (Fri-YAY), I was leaving my cozy Indiana apartment at 1:30a to drive to Detroit and jump on a 5:50a flight to NYC—only to be in a restaurant that evening that was also hosting ladies from the Bachelor.

A week ago tomorrow, I was laughing with some of my favorite people in the world and dancing to 90’s hits on their living room couch.

A week ago tomorrow night, I was standing in one of my favorite places in the world—right in front of the fountain at Lincoln Center, taking in the wonder of the moment.

A week ago Sunday, I had slept 13 hours in 4 days and spent six hours on a plane, trying to get back from NYC to Detroit. And then driving from Detroit to Fort Wayne.

Last Tuesday, I spent the day driving down to Atlanta (Indiana) for a client presentation.

Wednesday—I was roasting s’mores & eating pineapple tacos at one of Fort Wayne’s (other) best new restaurants.

Yesterday was—well, let’s just say a DAY.

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I tell you all of that to show you that, when I say it’s been a week, you know it’s been a WEEK. I’ve simultaneously basked in some of my life’s greatest joys, and been confronted with the weight of a few of my hardest decisions. Relished the highs, and ridden out the lows.

As I’m typing this, I’ve finally surrendered & am sitting on my couch in leggings with a glass of Oliver’s, Skinny Pop, & an unbelievably cozy blanket. Fully embracing the week’s end.

Yet, the thing I’d like to let you know is the part of it that sticks with me—along with the joys & struggles & moments—is there has been one constant in everything. In the moments right before drifting off to sleep on the plane, to the times that have found me on my couch with Bible in hand—and every minute in between, there’s been a presence.

His presence. It’s been undeniable. Even in the moments I wasn’t actively seeking it, when I wasn’t going out in search of direction. I’ve found that, even when I wasn’t consciously seeking to be at His side, He’s been at mine. Taking me in His arms, kissing me on the head, and saying, “Let it go, I’ve got this.”

There have been times this week when I’ve been too tired to put two words together—let alone form a whole prayer—and still, there’s Jesus. Beside me on my flight, with me as I slowly wake in the mornings, or with me on the couch even now. And that—that feeling of being pursued—it’s humbling.

By His side.

Judah Smith puts it this way: “God has placed you in a position of favor by His side. He’s faithful. You will feel His hand in the small of your back, prompting you, ‘Come on, we’re going to go this way now.’ It might just be the subtle, simple hints from the spirit of Jesus that are leading you every day. Don’t spend another day busying yourself with somebody else’s lane and plan and purpose. You have your own, by His side. Just enjoy.”

I know & love people who have read the books and go to the classes, who volunteer at church and never fail to do their morning devotions. I’d like to say that’s me. I try hard to be that way. But mornings aren’t my thing. I’m the kind of person who has to set 15 alarms to get up. When there was talk of an early-morning meeting at work last week, one of my coworkers laughed out loud when I said I could be there.

…I digress. What I mean to say is—those are all great things. They are all relationship-builders with God. But this week, my mornings have usually started with my eyes fluttering open and, through the mass of pillows & covers piled on my head, saying, “God, are you there?” And I sense His presence—as close as if He’s sitting on the edge of my bed, laughing, saying, “Yes, of course I’m here.”

These little moments have actually changed my relationship with Him. I think, too often, it’s easy to slip into a version of relationship that we think is appropriate for us to have with our Creator. We set the limits, we initiate the interaction, we do the talking and feel like the seeking is something that happens on our end, too.

But, I don’t think that’s what He wants. I don’t think that’s all that He wants. I think that we see Jesus’ divinity and completely miss the point of His humanity.

If our relationships on earth are meant to be reflections our relationship with Him…oh, friends, we are missing out.

Your life and your love are something you give to a person, not to a set of rules or do’s and don’ts.

And realizing the depth of this Relationship with Jesus this week…I never want to go back to anything before. I’m falling in love with the Savior, my Jesus.

I couldn’t put it any better than this (I know it’s long, but please read the whole thing):

“I used to shake You like an 8-ball

I used to shoot You like a gun

I used to hold You like a hammer

Try to nail down everyone

I used to keep You in a steeple

Used to bind You in a Book

I used to take You like prescription

Without knowing what I took

But now I just don’t buy it anymore

No, I’ve tried and I’ve tried to know everything for sure

But I find I know less as I come to know You more

You’re not who I thought You were

Praise the Lord

Your love’s an ocean, not a river

A symphony, not just a song

I don’t think everybody’s right

I just think most of us were wrong

I think that when we get to Heaven

We’re gonna laugh when we can see

How hard we try to make it

And how easy it should be

Providence is endless

Mercy is a mystery

And fear is no good reason

To believe in anything

So I just don’t buy it anymore

No, I’ve tried and I’ve tried to know everything for sure

But I find I know less as I come to know You more

You’re not who I thought You were

Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord.

Review: La La Land

“It’s pretty strange that we keep running into each other.”

“Maybe it means something.”

 

So begins one of cinema’s most brilliant romances. A love story sparked through happenstance encounters that kindles a passionate relationship and an enduring flame—and takes audiences on a journey of reflection through loves desired, loves lost, and love shared.

 

But most of all, the movie dares to ask the question: what if?

 

What if you run into each other again? What if you wander through that door? What if you say yes? What if you dare to dream? What happens if it doesn’t work—or, what happens if it does?

 

It’s no exaggeration to say that La La Land ran away with my heart—from the stunning cinematography to a soundtrack that soars beyond all others this decade, its epic storyline to its wistful ending. Through it all, though, the film accomplishes the feat of feeling incredibly genuine and authentic—and perhaps that’s why we let it take the liberty of asking such bold questions. Because we reflect on those questions ourselves in our most personal, intimate moments. Because life and love are all about risk.

 

What happens in life is, at a basic level, the result of our decisions and the way we experience the decisions others make. It’s comprised of crossroads and choices. If we choose to give our heart away, do we ever really get all of it back? What if we choose to go? What if we choose to stay?

 

“That’s the dream! It’s conflict and compromise, and it’s very very exciting.”

 

As much as I protest, I did leave part of my heart in New York. And La La Land’s swanky jazz clubs, crowded concert halls, classic movie theaters, and brilliant views—all of it pulls me back into that romance until, before I can even stop myself, I’m transported to a different place and time.

 

Honestly, it is exhilarating. They don’t make films like this anymore—with the artistry, scale, and skill. It takes me back to those West Village weekend nights, with the sounds of jazz softly coming from the clubs as one walks by. Or, to those Lincoln Center midnights, with the lone saxophonist serenading the City under my window.

 

La La Land captures all of those scenes and sentiments—in West Coast form, of course. It leaves you wanting more.

 

It encourages you to follow your heart and pursue your passions. “Are you doing all that you’re meant to do?” it asks. “What if you went after it with all of your heart?”

 

The characters are both aspirational and inspirational—and ultimately, it’s their relationship with each other that inspires both to brilliance. The film beautifully conveys the centrality of that romantic relationship—of having that person, your person—in the crowd cheering you on, delighting your heart when you least expect it, carrying the dream for you when you falter, and going to incredible lengths to show you that someone believes.

 

It’s a story of true, enduring love that captures the heart and captivates the mind.

 

And, turns to the future with the question, “What if?”

4 epic dates for days when going outside is just too much

With the holidays officially wrapped and New Year’s here & gone, we’ve officially entered that time in Winter that seems like a struggle. Rain tumbles down like a monsoon, the melting snow takes on a grayish hue, and the cold weather permeates your coat, gloves – and even your soul.

It may seem a bit overdramatic, until you’re walking 25 minutes home from work in NYC, jostled by all the people, annoyed by the traffic and, when you finally reach your apartment, it feels like a fortress away from all of the cold & craziness below.

Midwesterners, we feel the pain too – that trudge to the car, blowing on your hands as you wait for your car heater to warm up, & shivering as you make a run for it into work.

Long story short – wherever you are, there are days — and dates — that you just want to stay inside.

So, here’s 4 must-try ideas for epic stay-at-home dates.

These are pure gold, & a few of my all-time favorites. Try them – or put your own spin on them – and let me know how it goes!

Pillow fort movie night

Movie night is awesome. Movie night in a pillow fort is better.

Step 1: Choose your location – the living room is always a classic.

Step 2: Lay your foundation. Decide if you’ll want something to lean up against – like a wall or a couch. Spread out a down comforter or cushy blanket, & pull out all the pillows to make chilling with bae as comfy as possible!

Step 3: Top it off! This isn’t just child’s play – there’s real engineering involved! Get creative for how you create the roof of your tent – pull in chairs, couches & other pieces of furniture to create your ideal tent. Secure sheets & blankets with things that will be easy to remove – like laundry clips, rubber bands, and string.

Step 4: Get cozy. Pull your favorite blankets & pillows in the fort – even experiment with different colors / textures. String up some LED lights for maximum ambiance / instal-potential.

Step 5: Line up your refreshments. Who ever heard of movie night without popcorn? For something out of the ordinary, try Skinny Pop (LOVE the Naturally Sweet kind) or Poptique Gourmet Popcorn (a Ft. Wayne favorite!). & pro-tip: use a dining tray to keep everything neat & tidier.

Step 6: Lean back & enjoy the movie on your TV or a computer – whichever best fits your fort.

v dope. v chic. #ki date night in.

Cozy living room campfire

Spread out a faux sheepskin rug (like this one for $24), get your coziest blankets that make you feel like you’re at a lodge in colorado, and cuddle up in the living room. A fireplace is always a great option here, but if you don’t have one, here’s a fabulous little-known (and perhaps even better!) secret – a hibachi grill ($12). (Fuel is usually available at a local home improvement store.) Kabob skewers work well for roasting sticks – so get chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows & make your own s’mores.

Transport yourselves to an exotic location

Choose a country you’ve both been dying to visit. Set out a few trinkets reminiscent of that destination, or transform your apartment for the night – it’s up to you! Find a favorite recipe from the region, and make dinner / dessert together. Pop open a beverage or bottle of wine from that country, cue up a film about the country, and settle in next to each other for a brilliant evening staycation.

Example – Italy. I love to make a delicious focaccia, open a bottle of red, light my stone pillar candlesticks from Italy, and curl up in front of Cinema Paradiso.

Bond over nostalgia

Pick a decade – whether the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s. Go to the local music store and grab a few vinyl albums / cd’s of your favorite bands from that era. On the way home, stop by a local vintage store & choose outfits for each other so that you’re style matches the night’s theme. If it’s your thing, you can even look up the most popular drinks of the decade & take your hand at making / mixing them together! Have a dance party to the decade’s greatest hits. Then settle in the living room with a board game from “back in the day”, or a TV show about the “good times”. A few ideas – check out Netflix’s new series about the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s, That 70’s Show for – obviously – the 70’s, Stranger Things for the 80’s and, Friends for the 90’s!

Kissing God

I was drinking coffee this morning.

…just like everybody else, you’re thinking to yourself. You’re right. Drinking coffee is a morning ritual religiously observed by millions of people around the globe. Drinking coffee isn’t at all unusual.

The fact that I’m drinking coffee—now that’s strange. Oh sure, I love using the phrase “get coffee” as a synonym for “spend time”. As in, “let’s go get coffee”. But then, when the moment of truth comes, I’ll walk up to the counter and the barista will say, “What can I get for you today?” And I, without fail, will say:

“I’d like a grande non-fat vanilla chai.”

It’s a running joke for those who know me well. They get a kick out of it, and I just stand there saying, “Ha, yes, that’s hilarious. Sure. Yep. So funny.”

…I digress. But I say all of this to illustrate how unusual it is for me to be drinking coffee this morning.

Friends, I’m tired. So tired that I felt the need for this unheard-of extra morning jolt. So tired that I dream of the day when I can get to sleep while the single digits are still on the clock. Just physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted.

Something I’ve noticed about myself: when I reach this point of exhaustion, it’s easy for my spiritual life to slip into the mode of “religion” as opposed to “relationship”.

And I’ve found that, for me, it’s impossible to love a religion. Sure, I can follow a religion, but it’s more out of duty than desire. God never intended for our connection with Him to be one of knowledge-based obligation – He created it to be a relationship of deep romance and love.

Just like a lover might whisper, “I love you, I desire to be with you, I long to spend time with you” – so I felt God saying this to my heart for the last week. So on Sunday, I sat down with my bearskin blanket and warm mug of tea. I opened my book* to these words: “What do you think of when you hear the word worship?”

Friends, what do you think of when you hear that word? Church, hymns, words of praise, prayers, psalms, guitars?

These are the outward forms of worship. How worship manifests itself.

I was intrigued by what I was reading, and continued on. The author asked, “What’s at the heart of worship?”

The answer? A secret. A wonderful, intimate, romantic secret.

There’s a word found in the New Testament scriptures, and appears only in the Greek translation. The word: proskuneo.

By definition, this word means “to kiss”. Therefore, true worship is to kiss.

What’s a kiss? It’s the most intimate of acts – one that we long for, that makes us tingle inside, that makes our heart soar. Something that makes the wrong, right and transforms any moment.

To worship God is to kiss God – the most intimate thing we can experience.

And, a true kiss is never done because of duty or obligation – it’s done because of an outpouring of the heart. It’s driven by joy, it brings joy. It’s an expression of love.

Kissing God.

I took it in, letting it all wash over me. I was humbled by the idea that I had the privilege to have this connection with God – to worship Him, to “kiss” Him. Not only the privilege, but that He desired it from me – that time, that intimacy, that aligning of spirits. That He is the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of the World – and at the same time, the Lover of my soul. The one who crafted its in’s and out’s, deepest fears and longings, and that His word & work in my life is His love letter to me.

Even in my most tired, exhausted moments, I am living loved, passionately and unconditionally.

“Let Him lead me to the banquet hall, and let His banner over me be love.” ~Song of Songs 2:4

*From Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn