Are You in Someone’s Corner?


“I’m standing on your balcony.”

That’s what Ms. Beverly used to say to me. To be honest, I never figured out when she coined that phrase or why, but I knew exactly what she meant. She had my back. She was praying for me. She’d be cheering for me. She was in my corner.

I’m not sure what granted me such a special place in Ms. Beverly’s heart, but she most certainly had a soft spot for me. She knew me as a small child, helping my parents plant our little church, but then she moved away. Almost a decade later, however, she returned amid my shaky teenage years and again became involved in our church. I like to think Jesus knew how much I would need her.

To tell you my relationship with the church suffered when I was a teenager would be an understatement. Undoubtedly, my greatest strength and, in turn, my greatest weakness is my passion. I am stubborn and hardheaded. When I get an idea, there’s no point in telling me I can’t follow through with it; that only fuels my fire.

When I’m running hard after Jesus and I’m in the lane of his will, this attribute of my personality is my greatest strength. In contrast, however, being all in has caused me to fall flat on my face more than a few times. I tend to either succeed big or mess up big. My teenage years were filled with primarily the latter. Ms. Beverly didn’t care. She was for me. Even when I risked it big, even when I messed up, I knew she would have a glimmer in her eye, still proud of my zeal.

Click here to read the rest at The Glorious Table–>

Not Enough


It’s a typical Thursday night and I’m at school far too late, grading papers at my computer when I get the call.  We’ve got a teenage girl who needs placement tonight. We don’t know much. Can you and Will take her?  I call Will and we agree. With our yes, our lives change once again, in an instant. I pack my bags and rush home. The schoolwork that felt so important five minutes ago now seems so insignificant as I toss it in the backseat. At home, I scramble around cleaning and safeguarding. Do we lock up the knife block? Do we have an empty dresser for her to unpack into? Why didn’t I vacuum this morning? I can’t sit still. The social workers aren’t coming for a cleanliness inspection, but somehow clean equates to competent in my mind and I think if I can clean off one more counter, I can convince them I know what I’m doing. I hurry to make dinner. Do you think she likes vegetables? What if she hates chicken? I worry about the intricacies of dinner because it feels like the one part of the evening I can control. We anxiously wait for her arrival. She’s nervous and tired when she walks in. So are we. We chat with social workers, sign papers, run through school details and just like that, they’re gone. Here we are, two twenty-somethings who moments ago became parents to a teenager we are too young to have birthed. Inadequate, incapable, scared to death, but determined as hell.  

She opts out of dinner, instead watching us through the open door from inside her room. One  of the first times she speaks to me, she asks if I know how to sew. She shows me a stuffed lion and says he’s made it longer than any of her other stuffies. He’s six years old, she tells me. He’s lived a hard six years, ragged and worn, limbs falling off from the very embraces of love and anxiety. That night as I sit and sew the legs back on that ragged lion, I wonder if maybe she’s a bit like him- limbs torn from trauma, worn and frayed at the edges. My greatest fear is that maybe I don’t have the skills or the tools to sew her back together. 

I am an achiever. This will surprise exactly 0 people who really know me. I’m a three on the Enneagram, but the desire to achieve has run in my blood long before there were the results of a personality test to explain it. In the last year or so, I’ve come face to face with a lot of the unhealthy facets of being an achiever (marriage is often a really painful, but sanctifying mirror). I’ve spent my fair share of time in a therapist’s office trying to work out why approval matters so much to me. I’ve also spent a fair share of time on my knees repenting of the idol I have made of approval in my life. And you know what? I’m nowhere near healed or done. I’m a work in progress, just like each of us. In this particular season, however, I’m keenly positioned to realize how much I am “not enough” for my life. I’m not enough as a new pastor’s wife, I’m not enough as a foster mom, I’m not enough as a teacher. Before you dive in to rescue me with platitudes of kindness, sit with me in the discomfort for a moment. I spent a few years diving into the word enough. It’s something I’ve always struggled with, this overwhelming fear of being insufficient. I thought I had worked it out. I really believed I could live in the reality that I was enough and put a period at the end of my searching. Here’s what I’ve come to realize on this journey. The only way to truly commune, the only way to live this one life in full awareness is to wake up every morning in the reality that I am far from enough. It is to wake up every morning and trade in my desire for success, achievements and approval for a deeper desire for Jesus.  I’m not enough, and I can quit my striving and searching because only Jesus is.  

When I look at that teenager asleep in our guest room, I can be terrified or I can be humbly submitted. Yesterday, I stood in church and I sobbed because I’m truthfully not sure that I know how to love her best. I’m not sure that I know how to love her at all. The part of my heart that strives and searches wants to retract and build walls. After all, if I can’t do it well, it’s not worth doing, right? Wrong. I may not be the most equipped to love her, but I am the most available. I am right here and I’m going to keep figuring it out as I go. Jesus so gently reminded me during worship that while I might not know how to love her yet, He is already holding and loving both of us. He is parenting the lost little girl in both of us. So I’ll keep showing up with all of my insufficiency and I’ll keep trusting Jesus to bridge the gaps. I’ll stitch up the little stuffed lions and I’ll advocate for her in a system where it feels she’s so often forgotten and I’ll trust Jesus to do the stitching up of hearts and lives.  

Our Wedding Day

We Decided on Forever 7.7.18

Now that I am officially a married lady, I am so excited to share with you some of the details of our wedding day.  So many people helped make our day perfect and we are beyond grateful for the support of our sweet tribe and our amazing families!

Will and I got married July 7th. Will told me from the moment that we got engaged that he was praying for 75 and cloudy weather for our wedding day. Every time he said this, I’d laugh and roll my eyes saying “July 7th babe…keep praying”. You guys… the high on our wedding day was 79 degrees and it was cloudy with a gentle breeze the entire day… the prayers of a righteous man avail much. We truly were blessed with the most beautiful day.

The Morning of the Big Day

Will and I chose to see each other on our wedding day which was such an important part of the day for me. We felt that the focus of our day should be on the covenant we were joining in together and therefore we enjoyed spending a large part of the day together.

Our timeline for the day looked like this-

Getting Ready

We started the morning with coffee (of course) and a devotion together at the exact spot we’d say our vows later that day. I showed up make-up free and embraced being present not picture perfect. That time in scripture together was one of my favorite parts of our entire day though I cried the whole way through.

Will read from Ephesians 3 and told me his desires for the future of our marriage and our family. He reminded me of the reason we were making these commitments and vows. Then, he prayed over us and I wept at the goodness of God to exceed my dreams for a husband who would lead our family spiritually.

After Will and I had spent some time alone together talking, reading, and praying, we invited our families to come and join us to pray over our wedding day. We both come from strong Christian roots and we were so grateful to be able to honor our faith and the joining our families together by uniting in prayer.

Starting our day focused on the things of true importance set the tone so well for the entire day. Brides- I would highly recommend blocking off some extra hours in the wedding morning to center yourself and start the day on the right note.

After our slow start, the day kicked into gear with hair and makeup. Will and I were super intentional about the people we had involved in our wedding. Every choice we made about hiring someone was rooted in relationships. That was something we valued, but also it made our day super personal and fun because no one was a stranger. A friend from our life group did my makeup and my sweet hair stylist has been following our dating relationship since day one. This made the getting ready process so much more fun!

I grabbed a bunch of snacks a few days before the wedding to make sure we’d all eat something before the ceremony and we left this cute snack bar up in the room the girls got ready in most of the day.

During our getting ready time, my tribe had a few surprises for me. My sweet bridesmaids had each written me a letter. They know that words are my love language so reminiscing on our relationships in this way was incredibly meaningful to me. They certainly had me in tears, again lol.

My bridesmaids weren’t the only ones who had a few tricks up their sleeve! Will had each of the groomsmen deliver me a gift with a note from him throughout the day, from flowers, to a “wifey” tank top, and chocolates. He did a great job of including thoughtful gifts and notes throughout the day.

First Look

Will and I chose to do a first look for several reasons. We wanted to eliminate the stress of trying to not see each other throughout the day, but we wanted to maintain the surprise and excitement by sharing in several special moments just the two of us. We were a little tighter on time than I expected since we needed to be ready so much earlier, but it was well worth it to us. In addition, we wanted to spend our time after the ceremony with our guests at the reception. We knew a first look would cut back on the amount of time we needed after the ceremony for photos.

The moments leading up to the first look were the only moments of the day where I was a bit stressed. We were in a pinch for time and I started to feel the pressure a bit. As soon as I started the walk towards Will, however, my heart slowed and I remembered the real reasons for the day.

Foot Washing Ceremony

In addition to a first look, Will and I did a foot washing ceremony. We both wanted this to be a part of our day, but with an already long ceremony in the heat of July, we thought it might be best to do this beforehand. In the end, it was very special to have this intimate moment together to remember the importance of serving one another. I think it worked better to do it in advance, just the two of us. There was something so special about humbling myself to my knees in what is likely the most expensive dress I’ll ever own and washing my husband’s feet and then watching him do the same. It was a beautiful metaphor of humility and service in a marriage.  

I also chose to do a first look with the other two important guys in my life, my dad and my brother.  

After first looks, I went back to the house to touch up my makeup from all the tears and snag a few more pictures before the day was in full swing!  

At the very last minute before the ceremony, we realized that the wedding party needed to walk from the church instead of the house. This caused a hilarious moment of moving the fully dressed bride across the parking lot without any guests seeing. My fabulous bridesmaids and friends saved the day with a comical sprint, stopping traffic and holding up a blanket.

The Ceremony

The ceremony was by far the most important part of the day to me. In general, weddings are trending towards much shorter ceremonies, but I really wanted our ceremony to be the focus of our day. I planned many unique elements in our wedding ceremony to keep us focused on the important part of the day!

Our prelude playlist was comprised of some of our favorites playing as guests arrived:

Take the World by Johnnyswim

Love Never Fails by Brandon Heath

From this Moment On/You’re Still the One by Caleb and Kelsey

Powerful Stuff by Sean Hayes

Marry Me by Train

Our very talented friends, The Arise Band, played for most of our ceremony music.

Our violinist and pianist played an instrumental version of Say You Won’t Let Go by James Arthur for the seating of the family.

We asked our officiant to emphasize to the guests the importance of our ceremony being unplugged. We had a sign at the ceremony entrance, but we also asked him to read this quick statement. It was important to us that our guests be fully present and our day not be overwhelmed by technology.

Will and Hannah invite you to be fully present today for their ceremony. In the interest of an unplugged ceremony, in which we get to see your faces and not your phones, we ask that you put away and silence all devices. 

For the wedding party processional, the violinist and pianist played an instrumental of Perfect by Ed Sheeran.

You guys… How cute are our sweet flower girls?

Will’s sweet pup Sky had to be a part of the ceremony. You can’t see it here, but she wore a sign that said “I Loved Him First.”

By far my favorite piece of décor of the day was the sliding barn doors Will built for our entrance. It was so special to walk through something he had put hours of work into. He did an amazing job and they were beautiful.

One of the other really special parts of the day was the song I walked down the aisle to. I went a bit nontraditional and had my brother sing a song rather than play an instrumental piece. I wanted the lyrics of this song to be what we both heard as I walked down the aisle. Having my brother be the one to sing it was even more impactful and tear-inducing. Ryan sang When I Say I Do by Matthew West as I walked down the aisle.

I was fine for all of two seconds after I walked through those doors before I lost it.

Based off this shot of my bridesmaids, I don’t think I was the only one crying! At the last minute right here, my veil caught on the benches and I couldn’t move. It was a welcomed break for laughter in a very emotional moment.

Inevitably, something goes wrong in every ceremony, but seeing it as an opportunity to laugh and have a funny memory makes it stress-free!

Our officiant was one of Will’s college professors, Doc Reece. We asked him to preach on Ephesians 4 and 5 in light of what scripture has to say about marriage.

Instead of unity sand or a unity candle, we decided to do something a bit different to symbolize our becoming one. Over the last couple of years, I had been collecting stones and writing significant markers of God’s faithfulness on them. I was inspired by the story in Joshua 4 and wrote the following for our ceremony.

In Joshua 4, scripture tells the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan river. When the entire nation had safely crossed, Joshua called together the leaders of the tribes to take stones and build a symbol of remembrance. Joshua 4:6 says “In the future when your children ask you “what do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

The Israelites were being called to mark God’s faithfulness in their lives. Today, Will and Hannah have both brought a container of stones. In each container, are stones with stories written on them of the ways God has been faithful in their individual lives. Today, they combine their stones as a reminder for them and for their future children of God’s faithfulness. In addition, they will add a stone with today’s date as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in bringing them together. 

One of the other elements we chose to include in our ceremony was worship. Our faith has been such an important part of our journey and relationship and we wanted to take a moment to honor God’s faithfulness together by praising Him. We provided the lyrics on the back of our wedding program and invited our guests to join us in celebrating through worship.

We chose to sing Reckless Love right before the unity symbol and Ever Be right after the kiss, before we were presented to the guests as Mr. & Mrs. Will Pannell. This turned out to be such an amazing way to slow down the day. Choosing to worship brought our focus to the commitment we were making and took away our nerves.

We chose to write our own vows and include congregational vows. We took a day and went to the beach to really focus on writing our vows. We did not read each other’s in advance, but we did ask a friend to proofread them and make sure that they blended together well. It was super special to have these personalized promises to read to each other.

Before we got married, Will and I went through Francis and Lisa Chan’s You and Me Forever. The study was a great reminder to us of the eternal impact of marriage. The study reminded us that marriage is about so much more than the two of us and is a beautiful picture of Christ and the church.

After our vows, Will and I chose to include the prayer that is at the back of the book.


God, help us love you deeply and fear you greatly. Teach us how to love each other for your sake. May the humility of Christ be seen in the way we treat each other. show us how to enjoy each other without neglecting your mission. Remind us of the brevity of life so we share your good news urgently. Remind us of heaven so we will face rejection and trials joyfully.


When we settle down for too long, prod us to run. When we are prone to fight, teach us to fight together, and to fight for you. When we are tempted to run away, bring repentance and renewal. May we spend our married days reminding each other of your glory, your gospel, your love, your power, your mission, and your promise of what is to come. 

After our vows, we exchanged rings. I found our ring exchange here after doing a whole lot of searching for wording that we liked.

I give this ring to you as a sign that I choose you, and as a reminder that I will always love you. Though I will fail and fall, may this ring stand as a reminder that I will stay faithful as Jesus has been faithful to us. 

The next part of our ceremony accidentally got left out, but it’s something I really wish we had done so I would highly recommend it. I had written in the order of service for our officiant to invite us to look out at the audience and take it all in. I wanted to attribute where I got my inspiration, but I can’t seem to find the blog post. I know I found it on Pinterest though and I just tweaked the wording a bit! By the end of the night, I realized that many of our out of town guests left before the reception and since I never really looked out during the ceremony, I honestly had no clue who was there.

Before I pronounce you husband and wife, I have just one more thing I want you to do.  Your wedding day will fly by. It’s a day filled with emotion, friends, family, pictures, and dancing.  Many people remember fast their own wedding day flew by. So I want you to take a few seconds to look into each other’s eyes.  Think about the happiness that you’re feeling in this place, in this moment. Really let that feeling register in your heart and your mind. Now take a moment to look out at your friends and family who have gathered here to celebrate you. Each of them has played a special role in your journey as individuals and will continue to in your journey as husband and wife. Take a moment to take it all in. 

After this chance to look out at our guests, our officiant pronounced us husband and wife and invited Will to kiss the bride. Will and the officiant had planned a little extra surprise here. All of the groomsmen along with Will pulled out  a white flag in surrender. Ironically, I asked every one of them to tuck in whatever was hanging out of their pockets before they walked out and it never occurred to me to wonder what was in their pockets!

Finally, Will and I were announced as Mr. & Mrs. William Pannell and we walked out to our recessional song You are the Best Thing by Ray LaMontagne.


We took a bit of time after the ceremony to do photos while everyone enjoyed chips and salsa at cocktail hour. Here’s a few of our favorite shots!

The Reception

Will and I chose to do a taco bar at our reception, both because we love tacos and because it was cheap!

One of the best things we did all day was to have someone make us a plate while we were doing portraits. We had everyone start eating about 15 minutes before we finished portraits. A friend fixed us a plate and set it in the back room. Then, before entering the reception, we ate really quickly and signed the marriage certificate. We heard from so many people that they did not eat at their reception and were starving so we took care of it before all of the greeting and dancing. I was so glad to do it this way because then no one was watching me eat either!

We had the DJ announce the wedding party as we entered and then we gave everyone a few more minutes to eat so that our wedding party wasn’t rushed.

When it came time for the first dances, Will and I danced to Perfect by Ed Sheeran and Beyonce.  I danced with my dad to My Little Girl by Tim McGraw and Will danced with his mom to A Song for Mama by Boyz II Men.

Will and I are both very close to our siblings so we decided to do a first dance with them as well. We danced to Have it All by Jason Mraz.

The rest of the night was full of dancing, ice cream, and celebrating!

Ice Cream Bar

We chose to do something a bit different instead of a wedding cake. Will and I both love ice cream so we decided to do an ice cream cake for us from our favorite local place, Gelati Celesti, and an ice cream bar for the guests. We also took this opportunity to honor the strong women in our lives in a special way. Each of our moms made a big batch of cookies from a family recipe. Will’s mom made White Chocolate Macadamia Nut and my mom made Peanut Butter. Unbeknownst to them, we had collected photos of them and our grandmothers/great grandmothers on their wedding days to display on the dessert table.

Guest Book

Instead of a traditional guest book, Will and I used a globe for our guests to sign.

We also had them fill mason jars with date night ideas, bucket list items, and suggested future kid names!

These were so fun to sit around and read after the wedding!

Centerpieces and Décor

Will and I printed pictures of us for each table centerpiece.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love coffee so our favors were so fun for me! We packaged Fair Trade Coffee as our wedding favors with a cute little tag that said “Love is Brewing.”

We invited a lot of families to our wedding and so we knew there would be a whole lot of kids. We wanted to make sure we included some fun elements for them so we made tic-tac-toe boards and coloring books to entertain the kids. They were a huge hit!

Toasts, One More Surprise, and the Exit!

We wrapped up our night with toasts from the wedding party and one last surprise from Will. He had been practicing the song Ends of the Earth by Brandon Ray After the toasts, he surprised me by singing it to me. It was the sweetest thing!

We closed out the night with a sparkler exit!

After we left the reception, Will realized we might still have time for one last surprise and he took me to our very favorite sunset spot downtown, Libby Hill. We had so much fun walking around in our wedding attire and watching the sun set over the city, we almost forgot to snag a picture. At the last minute we handed my phone to a couple of strangers and they snagged one of our favorite shots of the day. A beautiful ending to an amazing day.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, wedding, sky and outdoorImage may contain: one or more people, people standing, wedding, sky and outdoor

Who’s In Control of Your Life?


Recently I was at a women’s event where a discussion question prompted us to evaluate our spiritual “walk”. The focus of the message was Hebrews 12:1 (NIV):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
We were asked what was holding us back from following Christ with abandon. What weight or sin did we need to shed to run our race freely? As I prayed over the question, I struggled. While I’m not under the impression that I have no sin to confront in my life, I couldn’t seem to put my finger on just one thing in this season, one specific sin I was battling.
Then one word began to dance through my thoughts—control. At first, I was quick to disregard it. After all, no one wants to be the friend, the coworker, or heaven forbid, the fiancée everyone knows is controlling.
In general, I rarely have to come face-to-face with my need for control. I live alone, so most of my life truly exists within my own neatly designed plan and schedule. From the way I make my coffee and the way I clean my house to how I schedule my days, I don’t have to consult anyone else for input. Ironically, people often compliment me on how “under control” my work or home life appears. While I’ve thrived in this environment for several years now, it wasn’t until recently that I considered the spiritual impact of my need for control.
If I’m honest, I must admit that most of my need for control is rooted in selfishness. It reveals my belief that I know best. When I test my motivation against Scripture, however, I’m quickly reminded that I cannot retain control and master surrender. It’s easy to believe that Jesus just wants my heart, but I often neglect or ignore that he also wants my plans, my selfish ambition, my schedule, and my availability.

Read the rest of the post over at The Glorious Table–>

Finding My Voice

A year ago this week, I was feeling wildly alone.

I was fresh out of a break up and preparing to share my story via spoken word in front of friends who, despite knowing me for years, had likely never heard or imagined some of the darkest stories I kept hidden in my heart.

A year before, I’d written my story for the world to read, and yet, sharing my heart with my closest friends left me feeling exposed and vulnerable.

In the days leading up to the event where I would be sharing, Satan had a grip on my heart that still feels tangible. I’ll never forget the way God whispered over my heart that freedom was on the other side of the fear I was facing. As I prayed God’s promises in scripture back to Him, I literally wrote verses across my hands as tangible reminders of His plans.

The way God moved through that night was beyond my wildest imagination. A year later, I’m still in awe at what God does through just an ounce of faithfulness. As I’m reflecting 365 days later, I’m reminded of these simple, yet profound truths…

Fear is a thief and a liar.

The brokenness of our lives is fertile soil for God’s very best work.

The power of “me too” is the best gift we can offer to the world by telling the truth even when our voices shake.

Come. See. Go. Tell.

Our belief about the resurrection determines a pivotal point of our faith: Do we believe that God is living and active, or is He a thing of the past, defeated by this world?
Matthew 28 gives us a unique glimpse at this monumental day. In this passage, two women were traveling to visit the tomb of their friend Jesus following his public crucifixion. It seems important that we acknowledge the intimacy of their relationship. After all, it was Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. These women were more than just followers, they were friends. And on this day, they were likely confused and weary friends, mourning the death of a man dear to them. It was in this desire for a final moment of nearness to their Savior that these women would walk into likely the most significant moment of their lives.
Let’s walk with them for a moment.
Upon their arrival at the tomb, the angel immediately dispels their fear. Surely, standing at the empty tomb would have quickened their hearts and ushered in a sense of panic. I have a hunch, however, that the angel’s next phrase brought them the greatest peace: He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. This phrase is nothing short of miraculous; the very utterance of Jesus’s resurrection has extreme implications for our faith. Yet, my favorite part of the phrase is the last several words: just as He said.  Jesus had promised His return; He assured His followers that death would be defeated. The angel’s words remind us of this one monumental truth: Jesus keeps His promises.
Immediately after his proclamation of the resurrected King, the angel invites the women to come and see. Is that not what we are seeking still today? We want someone to usher us in, to validate our fears and doubts, and invite us to come and see. Jesus is never afraid of the invitation; our doubts never prove too much, because His life and His Word hold up. The invitation of the angel sounds to me much like the one Jesus gave to Thomas when he extended his nail-scarred hands to wash away Thomas’s doubts. Come and see. It has always been our invitation.
The call does not end here. We must enter in, we must come and see, but there is more. The women did not stop at the sight of the empty tomb. The angel first offered them an invitation: come and see, but he next offered them an opportunity: go and tell.
Our call is much the same today.  Jesus invites us in and then offers us the opportunity to go and tell. Ours is a gospel made for multiplying. It is in our obedience that God is most pleased. He wants us to come and see. He wants us to know more of Him, to taste and see that He is good. Then He desires that we would go and tell of the wonders of His love. Once we have tasted His goodness, to go and tell is a natural outpouring.
Surely, these two women could have walked away from the tomb in fear that day the way many of us choose to walk away from God opportunities. The news of the resurrection would have made its appearance without them, but they would have missed a golden opportunity. God does not need us, but He chooses us. In His rising, He resurrects the dead parts of our lives and invites us to a grander unfolding story. Let’s not miss this. May we never live as if the stone was not rolled away.

1. What is God inviting you into today? How can you come and see more of Him?

2. What opportunity is He offering you to go and tell? How can your life reflect the truth and glory of the resurrection?

Top 17 of 2017

1. I built a life in a new town, a new house and with a new job.

This year has been full! I’ve officially lived in my house for one entire year and it has been everything I could have ever dreamt of. I’m wildly grateful, and even though I’ll begin packing boxes just a couple months after I’ve finally hung all my pictures, it has been such a sweet season of independence, strength, and resilience. I still love my precious little town and I can’t imagine working anywhere else. Teaching is every bit as exhausting and rewarding as expected, but I survived the hardest year of teaching I could have imagined. I’m learning to find my groove. I don’t leave at dark anymore and more often than not, I’m able to step back and truly enjoy watching the magic that takes place each day! I was made for this.

2. I did spoken word to share my story.

About two years ago, I shared my story online for the first time. It ended up being a contributor post for Huffington Post and got a good bit of traction. It was terrifying. And yet somehow, while I knew everyone close to me could read it, it was easier knowing that I didn’t have to look them in the eyes while they read it. And then, in April, the nonprofit ministry I help run hosted a talk on sexual abuse. I knew from the moment I saw it on the list of topics that God was calling me to share my story publicly for the first time, but it took me a few more weeks to admit it. Most people don’t know this, but I have a minor lisp. I can assure you that nothing about it felt minor as I prepared to do spoken word about my story in front of the people I see every day. The month leading up to sharing my story was wildly hard. I noticed my lisp everyday. A few weeks prior, a relationship came to an end. I considered backing out. The week of, I wrote scriptures all over my hands to remind myself of the truth. And the night of, I showed up and did it. While I felt completely drained afterwards, the conversations that followed brought freedom and I’m so glad I did it. As Oprah said last night at the Golden Globes “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

3. I launched a book and explored Texas with my favorite friends a second time.
Two years ago, in a late night email, I found out I was chosen to be on the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love. Then, a few months later, I found out my endorsement was published in the front of her now New York Times bestseller. The season of excitement culminated in a huge party where Jen invited her 500 internet friends to her backyard. We all credited it to an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. And then she did it again- she wrote another book and threw another party in her backyard. But this time #the500 had walked through nearly 2 years of life together and we were ready.  We filled three plus days with backyard barbecues, food, and fun. These women love Jesus and love each other well. So many of them have become real-life friends and I’m so grateful for this tribe. The Texas trip was a highlight of my summer, especially since one of my very best friends Jenn came along and we made it an adventure through Waco, San Antonio and Austin. The trip was so good for my soul.

4. We closed our church doors.

This is a tough one. I wrote about it a bit this year, you can read my words here or the lovely guest post from a dear friend here. I’ll tell you this. I’m still grieving. I’m not always sure when or how, grief is tricky like that. Like this morning for instance, when a pastor’s wife asked me “So what brought you here? Do you have a background in church?” and I burst into tears as I tried to answer. Oh yes, I have a background in church….
For now, I’ll leave you with the words I spoke on our last Sunday.
Anchor Baptist church has raised me. I’ve spent more hours collectively within church walls than nearly anywhere else in my life. I’ve been here for birthdays and Christmas and nearly every season of my life has been marked by this church. I can’t look back on memories or pictures without finding your faces. You’ve taught me to love Jesus well. I’ve learned to love people well by watching you love each other, by watching you love your spouses and your kids. You made space for me in the years where I wasn’t chasing Jesus and you cheered me on when I was. There are no words for the roots this church has given me. I found Jesus here. Not within these four physical walls, but within the loving arms of fellow believers. For that, I will be forever changed and forever grateful.

5. I visited churches for the first time ever.
Oddly enough, though I’ve been in church my entire life, most of my experience has been in two churches. So, when we felt God calling us to walk away from the life we knew, I did the only thing I knew how- I kept going to church. In fact, over the last 6 months, I’ve been to a lot of churches. Getting to see how God is at work all over our city has been an incredible gift. I needed time to sit and show up where no one knew my name. I’ve been able to do that. I needed to fill my journals with sermon notes and scripture and truth that would remind me that God is good and His promises are true. And I did.
I recently wrote this about what I’ve realized these last several months.
“You’re never gonna let,
Never gonna let me down.
You are good, good, oh”

These are the words I stood and sang in church this morning with tears in my eyes. You see, over the course of the last year, I’ve battled with words like these. I so often wondered if I even theologically agree with them. Can I honestly proclaim that God will never let me down? Do I truly believe that
I sat down a few weeks ago and looked over this journal. It’s tear-stained and falling apart. I’ve written desperate, breathless prayers on my bathroom floor on its tattered pages. And I’ve prayed for good and holy things through these pages. I’ve begged God to do gospel work in relationships that ended up dying. I’ve longed for and dreamt of revival and interceded for a church that closed its doors. And if I’m honest, I’ve harbored some anger, some bitterness over what felt like silence from God. Then I turned to this page. Nearly a year ago, I began praying this prayer. All of you Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. It may be the only answered prayer in this journal. But it’s enough. If the only answer I ever get from my prayers is more of Jesus, it will be worth wearing out my knees and warring for that truth day and night. Because today, today I could sing with joy that the God who felt silent never truly lets me down.

6. I went to some amazing concerts.

James Arthur, OneRepublic, Johnnyswim, and getting to see my best friend in her element was icing on the cake!

7. I started writing a book.

I feel crazy even saying this out loud. I have no idea where this will go, but I’m writing. I’m prioritizing and writing and praying.

8. I got certified as a foster parent.

One of the more difficult parts of my job involves handling cases of students who are, for one reason or another, not safe or cared for at home. The issue is complex and there are no easy answers, but one solution on a larger scale is quality foster homes. The statistics on foster care are staggering. I can’t help believe that Jesus actually meant it when he told us to care for the orphan. That’s why I spent 3 hours every Sunday for ten weeks learning about the system, kids in trauma, and parenting. I had an amazing instructor and I just found out last week that I’m officially certified. I’ve got a crib, an open home, and an open heart.

Interested in foster care? Check out HopeTree Family Services.

9. I found forgiveness.

Last year, I wrote the word forgiveness on this stone. It was a tangible reminder of a spiritual goal for the year. Forgiveness is still a daily choice, but it’s one I’m committed to making over and over again.

10. I made it on the video board in Times Square.

I’m not sure that this was on my bucket list, but it totally should have been!

11. I started CrossFit.

Y’all. CrossFit is hard. I’ll never forget my first night. I ate leftover pizza 10 minutes beforehand (because obviously I was very dedicated) and I thought I might vomit on the mat all night. Earlier this week we were doing one of the workouts that I could barely even complete the first night and I realized how much stronger I am after 2 months. That’s my goal- stronger. I’ll never be a size 2 but I want to be healthy and strong and CrossFit pushes me to do that!

12. I chopped off all my hair

New cut, new color, same me. I LOVED the short hair life. I’m growing it out for the wedding but I’ll probably do another big chop right after!

13. I set healthy boundaries.

In theory, I’m amazing with boundaries. I’ve read all the books. I could coach people on healthy boundaries. In practice? My palms get sweaty when I think of hurting someone’s feelings. But this year I started. I chose healthy, even when it didn’t make everyone happy. I stood my ground and I didn’t run when things got uncomfortable. Just a few weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone close to me and they said I just feel like I let you down. A year ago, the news they’d just shared would have put me in a full-on panic attack, but this year I simply said this You can’t let me down when you’re not the thing holding me up. I want more for you than this, but you have to want it too. The best part? I meant it.

14. I chased a whole lot of sunsets.

I’m not 100% sure on this but I think Jesus put something in me that enjoys sunsets, sunrises, and starry nights a little bit more than the average human. And y’all… we chased them all this year. So good for my soul.

15. I dated (for good and for bad).

I went on more first dates this year than I have in any other year of my life. In fact, I went on some second dates. Not every relationship had a perfect ending, but I learned so much about myself in the process. Also, if you check out #16 and 17 on my list here, you’ll see that I’m finally taking the advice every youth group kid got in the 90’s and I’m “kissing dating goodbye” because……..

16. I met the one.

Last week, my future sister-in-law asked when I knew her brother was “the one”.  I think it’s a tricky concept really. I don’t believe there is one person for each of us. I don’t believe that one wrong misstep could have my “one” married off to the wrong person and me left single forever. But I do believe God puts certain things in us that mesh well with certain other people. I do believe marriage is easier when we prioritize certain attributes and character traits in our dating. And just like I believe we choose to love rather than fall in love, I believe we choose to make someone our “one” rather than finding “the one”.

For me, I got to see so many of those attributes I’d prioritized and prayed for come to life in Will as we dated. On our second date in particular, we accidentally ended up in an eerily similar situation to a previous date with a previous guy that had ended in mounting frustration and yelling. When Will handled the same situation with patience and grace, I teared up in his pickup truck. God gave me eyes to see so many of those moments that were literal answers to prayer over these last seven months and I am so grateful.

17. I got engaged.

You could say my year ended on a pretty high note. Will’s proposal was magical, thoughtful, and special. I’ll share the full story in the next couple of weeks, but for now, here’s to changing my name in 2018!

Let it Matter

The best way over’s through…
Johnnyswim//Let it Matter
This line from a favorite song seemed to be on repeat in my mind last Sunday. While it primarily references the heartbreak and grief that come in loss of a relationship, it seems applicable. Because honestly, grief is grief. And, unfortunately, the only way over is through.
I laughed when I looked  up the rest of the rest of the lyrics–
Escape is a waste ain’t no use in hiding you know the best way over’s through If it matters let it matter If your heart’s breaking let it ache Catch those pieces as they scatter Know your hurt is not in vain Don’t hide yourself from the horror Hurt today here tomorrow If it’s fragile and it shatters Let it matter, let it matter

The irony of these lyrics paired with my day was not lost on me. You see, I spent the morning hiding in a church bathroom.
Because my heart is breaking.
Today was the first Sunday after our church’s final service. If you know me, you know that I’m a church girl through and through. So, I promised myself and Jesus that I’d be in a back pew somewhere this Sunday. I promised to show up through the pain. And I did.
But y’all. It was not easy.
A little vulnerability here– I was one traffic light away from the church about 15 minutes before service was going to start. I had high hopes of sneaking in and out of service unseen, unknown. I should have know what a lofty goal this was. First off, I’m a pastor’s kid. I don’t know how to be late for church. Unless, of course I am late, in which case I skip and go to the next service altogether because ain’t nobody got patience for the pastor’s daughter who can’t get to church on time. So, while 15 minutes early seemed late to me (surely chairs need to be set up and tech will need troubleshooting…it’s a hard habit to break y’all), this is in fact early, not late. Upon this realization, I naturally pulled in to the nearest parking lot and sat aimlessly for 12 minutes because every good church girl knows there is no such thing as sitting unseen in a church parking lot in the South. Nice try, honey… I naively assumed that leaving myself only 2 minutes before service would allow me to walk in through an empty hallway because clearly everyone would be seated. Bless. I made it to the church steps before the first person greeted me by name. By the time I had escaped to hide in a corner of the bathroom stall, I had been greeted exactly three times by name. Let me insert something here– this is exactly what church should be like. People should be all kinds of precious and hug and greet one another, remembering names and faces. In any other scenario, it would have been perfect. However, I was dead set on hiding, on remaining unseen. I didn’t think I could answer one more question about church and family and life. The small town encounters over lunch and in grocery store aisles that unintentionally forced me to explain our situation had drained my very last ounce of desire for conversation. So there I stood, hiding in the bathroom. Unfortunately, there is a limited time frame for which you can hide in a bathroom without incurring judgment. Especially if you happen to love shiny, easily identifiable, sparkly flip flops. Bathroom stall judgments are easily made when your shoes rat you out and I couldn’t have the woman next to me in service connecting those shoes with my face. While I didn’t want to face people, I also knew I’d reached my maximum safe time. So I stepped out, killed a few extra minutes by carefully applying chapstick in the mirror, and snuck into service.
I’m pretty aware that I haven’t grieved the loss of our church yet. The funny thing about grief is that we get absolutely zero control over the timetable. That’s why the tears streaming down my face during worship this morning caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting them, but I couldn’t escape them as we sang words like “when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.” Sometimes the offering, the showing up, it hurts like hell. But we show up anyways, even if it means we hide in the bathroom first.
I’ve grieved a lot of things in my short 23 years. Loss has sought to write its legacy all over my life, but Jesus has won. At times I’ve grieved well and at times my grief has looked like empty tequila bottles and razor blades to my wrist. So you could say, maybe, that I have a bit of street cred when it comes to grief. Here’s what I know to be true though. Johnnyswim was onto something… The only way over is through. So when the tears come, we push through. When we feel worn, we show up. When we’re not enough, the only one who ever could be comes through on our behalf.

When God Seems Silent

Every now and then I like to hand over the pen and feature a guest writer. Today’s post is written by a sweet, sweet college friend. She knows how deeply important words are to me and understood that in the trenches of grief, they might not be easy for me to write. The way she speaks both to and seemingly from my heart is a gift. These are the words that have been tumbling around in my heart and brain. Em puts them so beautifully on paper in a way that cherishes my story and warms my heart. Friends who can listen to Jesus and then write like this on your behalf are a wild, precious treasure. 
What happens when it all falls apart? What then?
Most of us wouldn’t admit that we believe faithfulness produces prosperity.
But I think we do.
Somewhere deep in our hidden theology, the presuppositions we can’t articulate, we believe that if we do our part, God will do His. God will be faithful to bless and grow and flourish whatever it is that we are working for this side of heaven. That could be a job. A ministry. A marriage. A friendship.
If we do our best, God will do His best. Right?
My sweet friend Hannah is the epitome of a church girl. Church is her jam. God has given her an incredible ability to handle large amounts of responsibility while being able to be passionate and intentional in each area of ministry she invests in. One of my favorite times in our friendship is when I get to watch her love people because of her love for Jesus. I love to watch her host brunches and serve families by loving their children. I love to see her organize events and work endless hours to ensure that the environment is cultivated in such a way that it will invite women in to worship. I love watching her talk with people, pursue people, mentor people. I love watching her worship. I love watching her pray her heart out for the people God has placed in her life.
My friend and I met on my first day at college. She helped me move in and she has been helping me lift the hard stuff in life ever since. My friend is just that kind of woman.
This past year I’ve seen my friend go through the unimaginable. The heart wrenching. The hurt.
But I’ve also seen her rise again. I’ve seen her run to Jesus and not away. I’ve seen her heal. And I’ve seen her use it as fuel to press through the hard parts of the race.
There are few things my friend loves more than her church.
She has spent thousands of hours within its walls. Almost her entire life, she has been a part of her God’s work within her family building that church.
And today, she announced that her church has made the painful decision to close its doors.
My friend did her part.
Did God do His?
I’m no stranger to loss. And when I’ve been on that side of things I am tempted to ask this question.
If you’re not familiar with Job’s story, it is one of my favorites. Job was a faithful man of God. He was loved by the Lord and everything Job touched seemed to prosper..
And then one day, he lost everything.
Job lost his family. His home. His career. His health. And His security in the goodness of God.
In Job 10 (MSG), Job has so many questions for God. He did his part. He was faithful! At this point in the story he had reached his end.
“I can’t stand my life- I hate it! I’m putting it all out on the table, all the bitterness of my life- I’m holding back nothing.” Job prayed, “Here’s what I want to say: Don’t, God, bring in a verdict of guilty without letting me know the changes you are bringing. How does this fit into what you call good?”
Later on in chapter 10 Job says, 

“You gave me life itself and incredible love. You watched and guarded every breath I took. But you never told me about this part. I should have known that there was more to it.”

Now depending on your view of God, you may have never had a conversation with Him quite like this one. But I’m willing to bet you’ve had these feelings at some point. I bet you’ve wondered how your broken dream, failed marriage, and biggest heartbreak fits into His goodness.
So, if you don’t know the end of the story, I would love to share it with you. God speaks to Job finally after much time passes and he asks Job a series of questions. Questions like,
Where were you when I created the earth?
Where were you when I decided on it’s size?
Who created the ocean and told the waves where they must stop?
Who brings water to unvisited fields, deserts no one ever lays eyes on?
Was it through your know how that the hawk learned to fly, soaring effortlessly on thermal updrafts?
The list goes on and on. Job and God have this back and forth conversation about the glory of God and the omniscience of His presence. Through this conversation, God in His fullness and His goodness and His sovereignty, is revealed to Job fully, unlike He has ever experienced before.
And this was Job’s response,
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talks about wonders way over my head…..I admit I once lived by rumors of you; but now I have it all firsthand- from my own eyes and ears!I’m sorry- forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.

During Job’s loss, God seemed quiet. And Job didn’t understand. 
But the prize, the blessing, was that through his loss, Job knew God fully. And that is always the prize. God isn’t after our happiness. He is after what is best for us. What is best for us is always to know God and be known by Him, fully.

This story ends with God redeeming what had been lost. The way He always does. In fact, scripture says that God blessed Job’s later life even more than His earlier life. It says that Job died an old man, with a full life.
Faithfulness doesn’t always equal prosperity in the way we would like it to, but faithfulness always breeds intimacy with Jesus. It is the lens through which we are able to see God’s goodness, sovereignty, and faithfulness, unlike we’ve ever known it before.
One of my favorite worship songs is “Pieces”, in it she says, “You don’t give yourself in pieces. And you don’t hide yourself to tease us.”
And friend, that is true.
That is who our God is. If he is quiet, it’s for our good.He’s not a God of deception. He is not a good of trickery. He is not a God of lies.
If you are feeling tricked. If you are feeling like you did your part of the deal and God didn’t do His. If you want to know where this fits in God’s goodness. I encourage you to take heart. If you let God work, redemption is coming. You live now on rumors of who God is, but soon friend, you will see His face.
God is too good of a God to let us live on crumbs.

Don’t give up now. 

She Matters: Kaylyn’s Story

**This post is a part of She Matters: The Mended Heart Project, a project to bring awareness to stories of overcoming sexual abuse through grace and redemption and an attempt to give survivors a voice. To check out more on this project, see the original post here.

Let me introduce you to Kaylyn. Many of the stories I’ve been blessed to share on this platform come from women I barely know or have met a handful of times. This story is different. Kaylyn is one of my closest friends. Watching God transform her heart and her story has been a real-life journey, one I feel privileged to share in. Kaylyn is wise, beautiful, compassionate, and bold. Check out how she uses her voice on her YouTube channel here

To my abusers,

I don’t know how to begin this.
I spent years telling myself that I forgave you, but the person that really needed forgiveness was me.  I beat myself silent with the “I could haves” and “I should haves,” because I knew that would be everyone’s response if I told them what happened.  So I lived with the shame.
 Someone looked me in the eyes and told me that the fault was all yours. Still, I continued to cling to the fact that I had already made peace with the idea that it was my fault.  If I’m being honest, I think I used that as an excuse to hide behind and avoid dealing with what you did to me.  It was easier to just forgive you than to come to terms with what it meant to be sexually abused. In that “forgiveness,” however, I never mourned what I lost because of you.
I lost my trust and belief that a man can be good, respectful, have integrity, or think of me as their equal.  I became bitter.
I lost my belief in most people and their desire to stand up for those who are abused.  I have encountered only a select few who have felt righteous anger on my behalf. I’ve had to mourn the reactions of disbelief from those I love.
I lost the innocence of being able to fall in love with someone because I automatically believe the worst in them. I believe that men see me as an object of pleasure rather than a human being worthy of respect. Because of this, there is a constant uneasiness when I am around any man, especially if there is no one else around.
I’ve lost any peace of mind when it comes to being physical with my future husband. I get anxiety when I think about having sex. I’m mad that I have to tell him why I’m scared and why I can’t just enjoy something that was designed to be good. I’m frustrated for him, that he’s going to have to continuously fight to help take down my walls.  
I struggle with the idea that there is someone of character out there for me, and if there is, that I will push him away because my walls are too high and too difficult to break down.
 I come with baggage and I’m not apologetic for that, but you should be.
Despite all of that, however, God has brought beauty from my ashes. He has made a beautiful whole, picture out of my broken pieces.
He has shown me my worth.
 I know that I am valued beyond measure and deserve respect. Because of this, I have learned to fight intensely for myself because I refuse to be considered someone’s inferior, an object they can use. I have become strong, stronger than I’ve ever felt. God is good and it’s his goodness, overwhelming grace, and relentless pursuit of me that fuels me to stand taller and to not back down when fighting for what I believe in. 
He makes me brave.
Brave enough to forgive you.
What you did was traumatic and in no way okay, but my peace and healing doesn’t depend on you recognizing that.  I forgive you, because He has begun a new healing me and showing me more of His goodness that only came from mourning what I have lost. He is restoring and will continue to restore what I have lost.   

Scroll to top