Saturday, February 26, 2011

Continuing to strive for change

God has a habit of always telling me where I need to go when I'm feeling a little lost. Don't get me wrong...for the first time in a while, I've had a wonderful week. Katie and I spent a total of THREE days dyeing my hair until we were both completely satisfied, and TWO doing hers as well. We're a comical mess. But, alas, I'm finally happy with the change.

It's a pretty auburn/brown color. Even the shade of red that the sun brings out seems to put a smile on my face. I needed something new. I'm done with the black for now. But I suppose I wasn't ready for blonde just yet. Particularly not that I dyed on my own. I needed something different, something that defined the transformations I've undergone, and continue to undergo.

My Justin Brown is in Apalachicola this weekend experiencing the wonders of isolation. With my camera, my iPod, a notebook, and the promise not to connect to civilization, he should be on the right path to hear Him this weekend. I keep praying that he finds what God has set out for him. Justin has yet to hear what He is really trying to say because Justin is so weighted down by his needs and wants and desires. This weekend should be life changing. I know my trip there was! I suppose this is the right segue into the most bizarre part of my week...

Katie and I have been walking Lake Ella at night. But when she has to work late, I try to find someone to walk with me, or I simply stay home and get some work done. This week, I had two walking partners though: Justin...and Paul. JB wanted to meet him, Paul wanted to get some seemed perfect. I just wanted to walk the lake. Ironically enough, they got along swimmingly. It was almost kind of strange. Over my music, I could hear them laughing together and talking about their lives; all the while never bringing up the one thing they had both shared: me. I was floored by Justin's selflessness (and obviously trusting nature) and Paul's willingness to be part of my future--the one without him. I didn't really know how to react, or who to believed feigned kindness, but neither admitted to it. When I got home, Paul messaged me to thank me for inviting him to the lake. And then further surprised me by telling me that he knew JB and I had a future together. He was glad I had met someone who was meant for me. I felt the burn of guilt; sure that it had hurt to be around Justin, but assured that it was for the best. He needs to know that I am in love with Justin, and that my love for him is real. I care for Paul, and he'll always be in that "lonely memory" bar in my heart where all the ex's hang out when they get off of work, but that really is the extent of it.

On a much scarier note, my grad school application for FSU College of Social Work for Clinical Behavior is due this coming Tuesday!! I'm nervous, excited, and frustrated all at once. I know I should be working on my personal statements right now, but I can't bring myself to do anything more productive on my day off (I've already cleaned the house today!). Lots to do this week: God (always!), application, DIS stuffs, tests, rehearsals, work (as usual), friends and JB (always!), and doctor appointments. Luckily, I get to end the week with a trip down to South Florida with JB.

Something I forgot to mention though: I've been having more dreams about Jenna. Last night, I had one in which we made up. That one really upset me. I don't even know where she is, or if she's even alive. Let alone if that is what God wants me to do. I've asked Him to keep flooding my dreams with thoughts of her if that is His desire. We shall see.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Life's truest happiness is found in friendships we make along the way

My adventure started Friday. Katie, Ricky and I left Tallahassee at 7am bound for Jacksonville for my GRE and some fun in the sun. The baby was excited for a trip, and even more excited to get his tiny little hands on some "booger kin" (Burger King) and a banana.

It was nice to have Katie with me. It seems like time and time again, I'm thanking God for bringing her into my life. When to door to one terrible, one-sided friendship closed, this friendship blossomed almost immediately. Her warm and bubbly personality matches mine perfectly, and her (few) years ahead of me allows her to keep my (bad) decisions in check. I don't have many friends that I can be as real with. I can tell her all my secrets and not be afraid of judgment. We gossip and boy talk and cry together (well, it's mostly her crying!) while watching sad TV shows. We exercise together, share clothes, and spend way too much money shopping for things we really don't need.

The friendship that I had with Jenna never made it past terrible decisions, being accountable for each other while making said decisions, and an underlying mask of trust. With Katie, I never have to worry that I'm just another stepping stone.

Last night, we were driving with the top down and eating chocolate dipped banana cones from DQ; the wind blowing our hair everywhere. The radio was playing classic oldies and we were singing at the top of our lungs when she looked at me and said, "These are the moments we'll remember for the rest of our lives". I smiled at her knowing she had read my mind. I really do love her.

Back to Friday! When I got to the testing site, I was a wreck. I was nervous and distracted and unsure about the preparation I had done, but I was grateful for the prayers that I knew were being spoken for me, and confident that He would be watching over me-as always.

I sat in the waiting room for about an hour and a half. The woman at the desk kept asking me if I was ready to begin, but I kept politely telling her that the test was not scheduled to begin until 12:30, and that I would like my time to study (rather, I would like my time to worry). When time did roll around, I gathered my stuff and walked into the testing room with the four other students who were waiting. Why does everyone look so nervous?

Two essays. Ok, I got this. No problem.
Verbal. When was the last time I heard any of these words?  Damn it.
Quantitative. *Raises hand* Do we get a calculator? No? Wonderful. 

You know, the instructions in my email said you can't bring your own calculator. It never said anything about not being able to use a calculator at all. Why didn't anyone tell me? Thankfully, I didn't ask in the beginning, so I didn't spend the entire test worrying about it.

I can't believe the fire alarm went off during the test. When I saw the blinking light, I turned around in my chair. What the hell? I took off my headphones and looked around at the other test takers. Everyone was shaking their head and shrugging their shoulders. The proctor looked through the window and put her hands up as if she didn't know what to tell us. But time was still running. The only thing to do was to push forward.

After ten minutes of blaring sirens and the campus police coming over the intercom to relay that the alarm was "just a test", I was finally able to get back to worrying that I didn't have a calculator. Not to mention, I had just lost 10 minutes of test time.

I got my crappy score of 870.
I didn't get the scholarship score I needed to help pay for grad school.
I was already dialing my mother so I could get the tears out of the way. 

As a side note, I want to thank everyone who has prayed for my mom during her healing process. She's doing better everyday, and despite her constant pain, she continues to strengthen me as my semester gets tougher. She reassured me that I did my best, and that no matter what, God has a plan. Isn't that what I always say? I love when people start reassuring me with my own words. It subtly reminds me that my words are effective. 

At that moment, Katie pulled up to save the day. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping, laughing, eating junk food, and walking in incredible uncomfortable shoes. Oh the things you do to get your mind off of a bad test score. Sigh. 

In the spur of the moment, we decided that we would stay the night in Jacksonville. Katie had spent the day with a long lost friend, and I knew she wouldn't mind spending a little more time with him. She had made the trip to Jacksonville to support me. I could spend the night in town to do the same. What did we have to lose? After was a full moon. It could only be a good time. 0:-)

Sure, we had work in the morning; her at 10 and me at 9, but we could make it. We would just stay up all night to avoid being tired, leave Jacksonville around 4am, and make it back in time to get a shower and something to eat before having to jet to work. I vowed to keep the Gemini-Pisces mischief at bay. It was foolproof.

We met up with her friend, Wyatt. He is so taken with her. Really, it's something I haven't seen in a long time; the adoration in his eyes as he looks at her, the way he touches her back as he walks by her, the way she smiles at him like she's got nothing to hide. I miss the feeling.

It's that feeling that puts tears in your eyes 
because it feels so good (which at various points in the night, it did). 
It's that feeling that eliminates any doubt you have of them or 
even if you doubt the existence of love itself.
It's that feeling that  makes every girl around wish they were you, 
and every man around wish they were him.
It's that feeling that you recognize the second it hits you.
It's that feeling that makes you real.
It's that feeling that completes you.

We ended up going to a country bar. Too bad no one else in town had that idea. We had the whole bar (and dance floor!) to ourselves. It was bittersweet to listen to the love songs, and to see him whisk her away to the floor. The smile on her face never looked so real. And the look in his eyes was one I rarely get to see. Fifteen years had definitely done something to the way he looked at her, that's for sure. He didn't see her as a 12 year old bad girl who didn't care to listen to her parents, who didn't give him a second look on the bus to school, and who (apparently) made a lot of bad choices. He saw a beautiful woman (and told everyone so) who made his heart swell, and that one day, he would marry her. It could have been the alcohol talking, but it was pretty convincing.

I fell asleep for about 20 minutes. 
But we were late leaving the house. 
Late hitting the road. 
Late getting back into town. 
Late getting to work. 
In fact, Katie didn't even make it to work.

Against my stomach's desire, we made a quick stop at 'Booger Kin' and ordered a whopping five orders of hashbrowns (that was all I could bring myself to order), some kind of egg and mystery meat sandwich, breakfast burritos, blueberry muffins, and orange juice.

After spending three hours in the sun soccer refereeing, I spent the rest of the day in bed, sleeping off my wonderful exhaustion. I haven't felt so deliriously happy in a friendship in so long. I'm so very grateful that He has led me to her.

I can't wait for our next adventure.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just another Valentine's Day?

A little more than three years ago, I was sitting in my high school courtyard, basking in the glory of popularity and praise; laughing at and acknowledging the misfortune of others for our own selfish enjoyment. Quickly bored, we looked for something else to entertain us until lunch was over. Almost like "She's All That", we were conspiring about how fast I could get someone to fall in love with me. I was notorious for it. I went through boyfriends like I did books. I couldn't get away from the new smell of the fresh pages, I related to the quirky characters, and I fell into the plot with every turn of the page. But each book had its ending; and it would be added to my stack of books. If it was interesting enough, maybe I would read it again. If not, it would sit on the shelf collecting dust with the rest. But I would never truly be able to give it away. It was just about time for a new book. And coincidentally it was two weeks before Valentine's Day.

The task:
1.) Find the guy.
2.) Get him to ask me out before Valentine's Day.
3.) Get him to fall in love with me.
4.) Break up with him February 15th.

We all know how this story ends.....
Girl meets boy under terrible pretenses.
Girl manipulates boy into falling in love with her.
Girl accidentally falls in love with boy and all bets are off.

Three years later, I stand here a new woman; impeccably disgusted by the person I was and [most of] the people I surrounded myself with while I was growing up. I had always considered myself a good friend, a good girlfriend (to the few guys I actually had love for), and a good person all around, but when I look back on times like this, I really overestimated the person I was. I was comedic relief when my friends were down, for sure, but I was rarely that friend who others knew they could count on. I was never that person who would let a friend cry on my shoulder without thinking about how long it was going to take. I always liked to lend a helping hand, but only if I knew it would make me look good, or help me get the guy I was interested in.

This Valentine's Day is much more than a Hallmark holiday for me. Over the past two years or so, I have been blessed with a new perspective on life that has opened my eyes to the woman God had always intended for me to be. I have been led to receive a wonderful man into my life. Mr. Justin W.A. Brown has his flaws, but wants nothing more than to grow with me as we walk our journey, hand in hand, to the Kingdom we were promised. I have been encouraged to eliminate the evil friends, and appreciate the new and old ones that support my love of Christ, and who deserve the same support from me. Most importantly, I have been shown a new spiritual family that needs my help as much as I need theirs; and I love them for it.

I have never felt so complete. On this special day, I praise God for the ability to LOVE my life, the choices I am making day to day, and the very wonderful people that surround me everyday. If you are reading this, I love you. He is the reason I got up on my feet. And you are the strength that holds me there.

On this day, let Romans 12:9-18 remind us of a few things:

    * Love must be sincere.
    * Cling to what is good.
    * Be devoted to one another.
    * Honor one another above yourself.
    * Never be lacking in zeal.
    * Be joyful in hope.
    * Be patient in affliction.
    * Be faithful in prayer.
    * Share with God's people who are in need.
    * Practice hospitality.
    * Bless those who persecute you.
    * Rejoice with those who rejoice.
    * Mourn with those who mourn.
    * Live in harmony with one another.
    * Do not be proud.
    * Do not be conceited.
    * Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
    * Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
    * If it is possible, a far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Take a few minutes to reflect on the things on this list that you're achieving in your personal life (whether or not you're in a relationship!), and the things you'd like to be better at. If you ask for guidance, especially when you are specific, He can help guide your heart!

As a side note, I ask for your continued prayers for my mother, Christine, as she recovers from elbow replacement surgery. The devil has corrupted some of those that surround her, and she is constantly inundated by pain, aggression, hatred, and endless burdens that may make her feel like He has forsaken her. I pray that God will protect her heart from doubt. God is with you, mommy! I love you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deliverance: Ask and You Shall Receive

My heart was pounding. The fog was so thick that I could no longer distinguish the dirt path from the flora and overgrowth. My hands were nearly invisible in front of me. Do I sit here and wait?

For an instant, I hesitated to continue on, but I sat where I stood; the ground seeming to warm at my touch. I smiled to the heavens with gratitude for the warmth. Can He see me?

When my eyes started to close, He told me to get up and start walking:

Why are you sitting? In fact, why are you walking?
You should be running through these trees with your eyes closed;
trusting Me to guide you Home.

Run? In this fog? I don’t even know where the path is,
let alone the trees, rocks, and everything else waiting to trip me up.

But I stood up, took a deep breath, and started running. I didn’t know which direction I was going, or if I was even on the path anymore, but any instant of doubt was replaced with overflow of something I attributed to love-His love-urging my legs to keep moving, urging my heart to keep faith. The trees were flying by me, the dirt and grass under my feet seeming to give way as I pounded through the fog.

When I stopped passing the trees, I stopped running.
The fog began to dissipate…and in front of me lay a lush meadow.
When the sun dropped below the clouds, I fell to my knees in a sea of sunflowers. 

I took my escape. I got away from the pressures, the noise, the stress, the responsibilities (well, aside from studying for my psychopathology exam), and the fragility of reality. There used to be a time when my breaking point would come and go; where I'd blow slightly, like a beautiful sunflower in the breeze, but my stalk was always rigid and unbreakable. But recently, I’ve dried out, and the slightest gust could completely knock me over. It was obvious that I needed to get out of Tallahassee, if even for just a night.

Living without the distractions
When I was leaving town, I made the decision to turn off my cell phone. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of what this weekend was supposed to mean for me. Seclusion, isolation, silence, separation, retreat. I didn't want Facebook, or the constant nag of status updating. I just wanted to get in the car and drive to the middle of nowhere. 

God will give you what you need
I didn't take my GPS, either. I didn't take a map, or get good directions. I just looked at a map before I left the house, and figured that I'd let God (and my good sense of direction) do the rest. At one point, I felt like I had been driving forever, and I didn't know where I was. Should I stop and ask directions? Should I call Justin or check mapquest? Time and time again, I picked up my phone with the intention of turning the power on, but something inside me kept avoiding the temptation. I wanted to do this alone. I drove for a little while longer, but when I stopped seeing signs for Apalachicola, I pulled over with the decision to give in and turn on my phone. When I did, however, there was absolutely no signal. I laughed out loud, and said, "Ok God, I understand." And got back on the road. I didn't know where I was, or if I was going the right way anymore, but it felt right.  And not long after, I saw water: the Apalachicola Bay.

Loving the simple life
When I drove over the bridge into Apalachicola, I smiled at the purity of this picturesque town. The rust stain on the buildings nearest the bay showed wear and tear over the many years of history that preceded my visit. The pastel painted houses smiled against the dreariness of the stormy coastal sky. I took off my headphones and rolled down my window to hear....nothing. There were a few cars on the road driving about 15 miles an hour past the old local shops and restaurants. There was one stoplight in the entire town. And it was a blinking light. No one needed to be directed. It was so laid back that people just waived you on ahead; they were in no hurry to get anywhere in particular.

The beauty of living in history
When I pulled up to Bryant House (the quaintest bed and breakfast ever!), I was truly in awe. It was a beautiful Victorian house pulled straight out of history. The house was filled with thousands of priceless heirlooms and antiques that you only dream of seeing, but never actually imagine exist. The walls were decorated with old pictures and paintings; the cabinets filled with family china galore. Brigitte, a beautiful German woman in her early 50s, met me with a hug when I walked in the house. After small talk, she brought me to my room....and it the blissful wonderment continued....

Need for quiet and serenity getting us closer to God
It was called "the red room" because it was decorated in hues of pinks and reds and other warm colors that just made you melt. I felt warmer just crossing the threshold. Brigitte smiled at me when she asked if I liked it. I think I may have stuttered. I'd never seen a room quite as beautiful. (The picture does it no justice!) She left me to unpack my things, and gave me keys to the room and to the house before heading back downstairs. I was curious to explore the rest of the house, and speak more with Brigitte, so I hurried down behind her. 

Love thy neighbor
For the next hour or so, Brigitte and I got to know each other, and she told me about her travels from Germany, around America, and eventually to her home in Apalachicola. Apparently, she was never as satisfied living anywhere else. This town felt like family. Like home. She never had a need because her friends were always there, despite her never having to ask them to be. God was present in this little town. And she couldn't be happier. She didn't need Walmart or Publix or a fancy-schmancy mall. She was content with the local businesses, her simple life, her loving husband, her dear friends, and God. I was never more envious.

The necessity of fasting
It was my last night of fasting. (Can you believe it? I feel like I just started. And I feel like I'm still fasting. Some habits seem to have stuck.) Brigitte suggested I go into town and visit the shops and get something to eat. And that is exactly what I did. Despite the rain, I went in and out of all the little antique shops to see all the little treasures once forgotten. In anticipation for the end of my fast, I stopped by the homemade chocolate shop to buy three pieces of chocolate for my ride home. A lot of the business owners knew I looked unfamiliar and stopped to chat with me. It was comforting to know I was noticed. I was safe here. They learned where I was from, and why I was visiting; and I heard about how they started in their business, and some of their adventurous past. I even promised some I would come back and visit.

At every restaurant, I stopped to look at the menu. When I stopped at the Magnolia Cafe, I was approached by the chef who asked if I was having trouble finding something I wanted to eat. When I explained my fasting diet, he suggested I come back in an hour ("When they were actually opened for business", he added with a chuckle.) with the promise that he would make me something special. Well, I made good on my word, and returned. And Chef Eddie made good on his word to make me something special. I came back to a vegetable soup filled with a plethora of vegetables; a salad with mangoes and oranges, topped with chopped walnuts and a citrus dressing; and a main course of black beans and rice with fried eggplant. 

This man didn't know me. Never met me in his life. And none of these meals were on this menu at this seafood restaurant.....but he went out of his way to make sure I was happy. And even came up to me afterward to make sure he had done a decent job. I was beyond impressed.

Pray for everyone you meet
The last place I went before heading back to the Bryant House was Jim Lee's antique shop. Jim Lee was a reporter in Apalachicola for 30 years. He also had a few roles in some movies that were filmed in the town! His shop was filled with movie props; the movie was playing behind the prop to authenticate the location of the prop in the scene. I was just about the leave when he called from across the store, "There must be something here that caught your eye!" I stopped walking and smiled before turning around. Jim and I talked for a while about our lives, and about his incredibly one-of-a-kind past. At one point, I asked him about the honey sticks on his counter, and he told me to taste them. My first thought was, man the people in this town are strange. But my next thought was the realization that I simply live in a world where I've gotten used to people who don't trust one another, who judge each other, who give and expect to receive, and who generally only care about their own well being. I could learn a lot from this town. Everyone I'd met cared so much about me. I've recently added the saying, "I pray to inspire every person I meet today, God." to my daily prayer. I hope that I can make others feel just as warm as I felt this weekend.

After saying my goodbyes, I headed back to the house for some good ole' studying.

Comfort in familiarity
When I woke up in the morning, I laid in bed for a few minutes thanking God for the trials I had faced during my fast, and the wonderful opportunity I had in getting to experience my weekend in Apalachicola. I made my bed, packed my bags, and trekked downstairs to find an elegant breakfast setting laid out on the dining room table for me. (GOLD SILVERWARE!!) Brigitte's husband, Ken had been up cooking for me. An array of meats, cheeses, breads, muffins, jams, juices, and teas were just waiting to be devoured. Ken sat to talk with me while I ate, and I'm sure he got sick of hearing me repeat how great everything tasted. After fasting, everything in my mouth tasted so sweet. 

It was a bittersweet parting with my new friends at the Bryant House. I assured them that I would be returning soon, and that the "red room" would definitely be my pick. But I knew I couldn't leave just yet. In fact, I drove around town for another hour. 

Prayer: America’s Only Hope- 2 chronicles 7:14
I saw this sign everywhere around town. I didn't stop to read the verse just then, but I looked it up when I got back to Tallahassee:
"if my people, who are called by my name, 
will humble themselves and pray and seek my face 
and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from 
heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

 I knew God was working in this town, but I didn't realize how much until I saw another sign. This sign said "Prayer Corner. STOP HERE." Instinctively, I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of my car, and looked around. I saw this house: 

but I didn't know if that was what the "prayer corner" sign was referring to. I prayed anyway. The rest of my drive around town was spent just looking at the old houses and stores, and waving to people sitting in their rocking chairs on their front porches. I didn't know people still did that! They waved as you were driving by, like you were an old friend. I smiled at the familiarity. I felt at peace. This was exactly what I needed to feel this weekend. God had led me to exactly the right place. 

Breathe fresh air once in a while
I left town with one last look back at my escape. I was hard pressed to drive back over the bridge; as if the dark cloud of reality was waiting for me at the other end. But, faithfully, I put on my headphones, scrolled to my playlist, and drove over the bridge. And waiting for me was nothing but an endless road of sunshine.

I drove with my windows down for the rest of my drive, eating my homemade chocolate and singing along to my perfectly apropos selection of music. I decided that my trip shouldn't end with my goodbye to Apalachicola. 

I stopped at the Carabelle Lighthouse. 

And climbed it.

I stopped at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea.

And played with starfish.

The remainder of my trip was spent talking to everyone I met and interacted with; asking them where they would go next if they were me, asking what they would see, and where they wouldn't miss for the world. My phone was off, my music was sweet, and the wind in my face was as refreshing as a kiss from Christ.

When I finally crossed back into Leon county, I came home to a relaxing one hour massage, and a superbowl party with Justin and my AFC friends.

I am here to testify that God is good, people. I went away knowing that I was falling to pieces. I was lost on my path, and suffocated by the fog, but once again, I see clearly. All I needed was 24 hours without the distractions of my everyday life; a chance for me to hear God amidst all the clamor that surrounds me. I prayed to be saved. And now I am restored. Thank you, Lord, for healing me.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I need a great escape.

I feel wishy washy. I'm all over the place trying to figure out why this tepidness is taking me over. I continue to ask Him about the path I’m on, and keep asking for reassurance that I’m serving Him the way I should be, but I’m not hearing anything. Maybe I’m not listening?

I think it’s safe to say that I’m in over my head. My brain is wiping theoretical sweat off its proverbial brow, and waving a tiny white flag with its little arms. Between breaths, it’s wheezing out, “Please! I need just a moment!” and maybe coughing up some blood.

I need your prayers, people. I’m falling way behind, and getting lost on this path. I thought I could see some rays of light through the canopy, but sunset is upon me, and the light is fading fast. But my contentment remains, and I glance over to a patch of comfortable overgrowth I can lay down on. I know I can’t very well walk around in the dark; I would just get even further from the path. So I’ll just sleep until daybreak.

I pray that I can retain strength through You, Lord.
Fill me with Your Spirit so that my heart may come to know You better.
I’ve asked You to test my faith during this last week of my fast,
and there is no doubt that I’ve been heard.
Continue to use me as a vessel, Lord.
Lead me to those You wish me to encourage through Your Word.
I know that, through You, I can keep devotedly to the path.
With faith, not fear, I know You will not let me fall.
I ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ.