Wednesday, January 26, 2011

4: A group of amazing, encouraging, godly friends...

I feel like some Christians live more by rules than relationship. You know those people that can pinpoint what you shouldn't be doing, saying, listening to but don't seem to have a real passion for their Savior?

I have been incredibly blessed, growing up, to have a group of amazing, encouraging, godly friends. They truly are beautiful women, and I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for them.

We all come from different churches. We have different styles of worship. Some of us wear skirts to church, some wear pants, some wear jeans. Some have been in the same church their whole lives, some have struggled to find the Christian environment that is right for them. Some of us go to churches that would labeled as ultra-conservative, some go to more contemporary places of worship. Some of our churches have praise bands with drums and praise songs, while other churches have a traditional choir with hymns. Some of us may lift our hands in worship, while others bow their heads. But the message is the same. The love and joy and forgiveness and encouragement that we find in Christ is all the same!

I am so encouraged by the passion these girls show for Jesus. It has become evident, especially more recently, that they all have a heart for the Lord. We all share a realization of Jesus as our Savior and Friend. We all acknowledge and desire the Biblical plan for marriage; we aim to be Proverbs 31 wives - and we talk about this, encourage one another in this, and celebrate this desire. At lingerie parties, we openly discuss God's plan for sex and His desire for husbands and wives. We discuss our favorite Karen Kingsbury stories or share advice and encouragement through our favorite non-Fiction books (Beth Moore, Dave Ramsey, Intended for Pleasure, Love & Respect). We have coffee house discussions about which disciples we relate to the most and we bask in the realization of God's plan in our lives.

I pray for these girls. And I thank God for them. I hope they do the same for me!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

3: the One who never will...

I'm reading Beth Moore's devotion Jesus: 90 Days with the One and Only. Yesterday we studied Luke 4: 1-13, where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. While listing ways in which I am tempted, I wrote something that I had never really conceptualized before.

"I am afraid of being hurt by people so I ignore the One who would never hurt me in order to satisfy imperfect people."

I think that, for me, temptation comes in the form of trying to please others. I want to make everyone happy and be the best that I can be. It's a great goal, but sometimes it causes my priorities to be out of order. Sometimes it causes me to put pleasing others before pleasing God. And this is not something that is behind me. It's something that I deal with today and will deal with tomorrow. And I will probably give in to pleasing others more than I should.

Why does that happen? Why do we put pleasing those who have the ability to hurt us above pleasing the One who never will? I think it's because we take for granted that God will always love us. Always forgive us. Always accept us.

Monday, January 24, 2011

2: Weekend Update and Stories from my Heart

For those of you who anticipated a blog every day: I am sorry. Fail. It's hard to blog about life when you're out there living it. So maybe I won't promise to blog every day. Maybe every few days.

This weekend was very nice. Friday night Derrick and I had dinner with my family and played Apples to Apples. That was fun; the most enjoyable part is seeing everyone's different personalities come out in the cards they choose. There are certain cards that you know will be a hit with certain people. For me it was Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Canadians, and Dumbo.

Saturday I went on a day-date with my Mama and cousin Sara. I always enjoy spending time with my grandparents; sharing my life with them and hearing about their lives. And Saturday night Derrick and I went to dinner with new friends. We need a couple to go out with that lives closer than an hour away. Maybe we've found them.

Sunday we did video at church. I find it easier and harder to pay attention while doing video, and if I get too lost in the words then Derrick gets frustrated that I'm not switching fast enough. It went well though. The sermon was on being good stewards of our lives. After church, we headed to Cary in search of a television for Derrick. i love his patience with me, and the fact that he truly cares about my opinion. To me, though, most of the televisions looked the exact same. Refresh rates and blah blah ratios...I enjoyed looking with him though.

I'm ready to write again. Publish again. I am inspired on the tail of helping Ms. Ester get a book published, and now I'm ready to hold my own words, characters, and stories in my hands. There is something so amazing about creating a character, getting to know them, falling in love with them, and sharing their story. But the characters and stories aren't from my head. They are from my heart, and I do not randomly choose their personality or their story. It comes to me at the most random times and in the most random ways. My primary inspiration would be through music.

I have a gray locker/chest in my room full of things that I have written since 6th grade. And last night I popped in some CDs that held about a dozen short stories (30-80 pages) that I wrote in high school. In addition to that, I have a handful of conceptualized but never finished pages on my current lap top. The dozens of people in those stories have taught me something about myself. And all of these stories have taught me something about God. Oh, how He must enjoy knitting us together! Creating us. Choosing our personality. Celebrating in our triumphs. Knowing our story.

So maybe it's time to work on getting a collection of short stories printed. And getting a few new books published. Not really for money, but for me. So that I can remember these characters and what they taught me. So that I can remember who I was when I met them. So that I can share my heart with others.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

1: Thursdays

I have been watching Rhett and Link's "Good morning Chia Lincoln" series - in which they vlog every day . I journal every day and do a devotion every day - why not try to blog a little every day. I can't promise it will always be interesting though...but I'll try to capture the feeling of the blog in the title. Then you can choose whether or not you want to read.

I love Thursdays. This morning when I woke up I didn't love Thursdays so much. I wanted to stay in bed, ignore the day. I started Gilmore Girls (I watch them before I go to sleep at night and while I get ready every morning), turned on the straightener, and did my makeup in bed. Still not ready to start the day, but those Gilmore girls always help. This morning it was GG's baby shower and devil egging Jess' car. I was always a Jess fan. I found Dean boring. I think that Logan solved the Jess vs. Dean conflict. Logan was wonderful, Ace.

I finally left the house at 7:50, later than usual. My mother was wondering what was wrong with me. I decided to stop at McDonalds, although I tried to convince myself not to. It was a good thing I did. My dad was in the drive-thru! I called him, we talked, and he let me in front of him in line. I love my Daddy. I decided to buy his breakfast (I'm still sitting here hoping that that worked out). That made my morning much brighter. And, as silly as it may sound to some of you, I am very thankful that God put that little encounter into my morning. He knew I needed a pick-me-up. If you keep your eyes open, you'll see God's little blessings throughout the day. How can you not be joyful if you take time to notice all the God-things? 

After that, I called Derrick. I always call him on my way to work, to make sure he's awake. He's always half-awake, and we talk in very short phrases and childish tones. "Good morning, handsome." "Mmm...Morning." "I just wanted to call and make sure you were up." "Mmmm...hmmm...I'm sleepy." "You sound comfortable. I wish I was still in bed." "I am comfortable." That's pretty much it before 9 a.m. for Derrick.

At work, I make my to do list and turn on the radio. Answer emails (our ITS program is becoming very popular with transfer students). Prepare information for my visiting student. Coordinate a few other visits. Work on an invitation for our Biology Service Learning pathway. Email my Biology faculty about the pathway.

Then I am blessed with a message from one of my dearest friends who I don't get to talk to very much. She and I are very similar, and I love how well we can relate to each other. What a blessing it is to have people who understand you and who know that you understand them as well!

I love Thursdays. I always have. Every since middle school, when Survivor night began at the Johnson household. Thursdays are beautiful. You still have a day to finish your work projects. The week is more than halfway over, but the anticipation of the weekend is still there. Big Bang Theory is on Thursdays. Family night is on Thursdays. Survivor night is still on Thursdays. Friends used to come on Thursday. Thursday whispers the weekend. And I think that God knows I love Thursdays - so He blesses me even more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nothing Like This

It's one of those pensive, dreamy, blissful, bittersweet mornings. A lot of thoughts going on in my mind. The primary thought: I have the most amazing boyfriend in the entire world and he constantly breaks my heart with wonderfulness. I miss him when he's sitting right next to me sometimes - and it's not because we're distant. It's because I miss the future with him (that will make sense to some of you). And the soundtrack for this morning? Rascal Flatts new cd (Nothing Like This).

So, on my way into work I was listening to the cd - which may be my favorite Rascal cd ever, and definitely beats their last two attempts. I love the way music sets the tone and effects your mood. I was listening to #5 (Nothing Like This) which is a better version of God Bless the Broken Road. It talks about how he thought he'd been in love before. He'd been kissed before. He thought he had it figured out before...but now he's found the real thing - and everything before was nothing like this. So, that had put me in a romantic, wistful mood. Then the very next song is a upbeat tune that starts out with a lot of happy and the words "baby, let's pretend, we're just kids. 17 again..."

Sometimes I find myself wishing that Derrick and I had known each other forever... I wish that he had known how dreamy and crazy Whitney and I were in 8th grade. I wish he truly understood the circumstances surrounding Table Survivor. I wish he had been to our homecomings, had known my teachers, had grown up with my friends. I wish he had known that innocent, naive, dreamy, crazy, silly, often immature, boring, fun girl ...who, I noticed the other day, could have used a little more makeup and fashion sense ;)(Fortunately, I think that i'm still that girl in a lot of ways). I want to share everything with him. I want to go back and be 17 with him.

I wish he had known my Papa and had gone to all of the fish fries and BBQs. I wish he had sat there listening to the community gossip while my mom and I washed the dishes. He and I would share a smile and knowing look - sharing a million thoughts with no words. He and my Papa are a lot alike - and I wish they had known each other. I wish he had met all of my relatives at all of the gatherings that I grew up going to. I wish he had been there.

And I wish I had been there for him too. I wish I had held his hand through all of his struggles and laughed with him in all of those crazy-growing-up moments. I wish I had known all of his happy-people growing up and I wish that I had sat in class, dreaming about wearing Derrick Green's letterman jacket.

But the truth is...I don't really wish those things. God used all of those experiences, exactly how they were, to make us who we are today. To make us the right people for each other. To bring us to the point where we would finally be ready to become Derrick and Renee. God knew what He was doing - and His plan plays out more beautifully than I could have ever imagined. I love our love story! I love the way everything unfolded. The way God brought us together.

Plus, Derrick and I may not have liked each other in high school. I mean, Hilltop was incredibly small and apparently everyone dated everyone - so I may have had a chance, but not likely (and I wouldn't have taken it, even if I did). Derrick was the flirty, cute, popular, class clown, always-got-in-trouble-but-they-all-loved-him guy. Homecoming king or something like that...

I was the sweet friend to everyone. Somewhere in between popular and not. I had the best group of friends and NEVER dated in high school. I am proud of the fact that I never had a date to Jr/Sr. I was yearbook editor. And I never got in trouble in class. Ever. So, really, Derrick would have thought I was a loser in high school. Cute, but weird. And I would have had a huge crush on him, probably watching bitterly from the sidelines as he dated all the other girls.

Did I tell you that God knows what He's doing? And we're blessed that He cares that much about us!

If you're out there wondering why you haven't met the right one yet...maybe he's not the right one yet. And maybe you're not the right one yet either. Maybe God is still making you who you need to be, growing you and teaching you - so that you have a beautiful love story one day. And if, you too, find yourself wishing you had known each other all along - bask in the fact that you get to share all of those memories with each other now and that the rest of your memories will be together.

Aren't you glad that God takes the time to write your love story. He pens every word, if you let Him - and He has to set the scene and make the heroine who she needs to be before the climatic moment when she gets the hero.

...and, in fairy tales and romantic fiction, the moment she gets the guy normally marks the end of the book. Aren't we blessed that God gives us a sequel? Full of more experiences and memories.
And you'll get to continue to grow and live...together!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Searching for familiar faces in a sea of unfamiliarity...

Ohio: Day 3

6:15 a.m. came early on the first day of the new year. Although I'm sure that I was blessed to have a lot more sleep than almost anyone else in the bridal party. I made sure all of my stuff was packed up, put on bummy clothes and a little bit of make-up, and then headed down to Derrick's room. He was remarkably sweet for that early in the morning and we headed towards the hotel.

2 pairs of shoes, a pink bridesmaids dress, and a bag of makeup in hand - I kissed him goodbye and headed up to room 421. A cloud of hair spray, chorus of bridesmaids, and an anxious bride met me when I opened the door. The day was upon us.

I sat next to Lauren and began doing my make-up. Most days I feel like my make-up is a near failure. Sure, it helps - but it could help more. Somehow, though, on wedding days God allows me to pull it off - or at least gives me the confidence to believe I did. After makeup, I sat on the toilet as Katherine did my hair. We talked about school and plans, family and God's will - what a beautiful time with an amazing woman! Not only am I thankful for Katherine's heart but for her talent; Lord knows I can NOT do my hair.

In a rush, we were off to the church. Once there, I disappeared to a stall to put my dress on and shared some time with the bride in the stall next to me. What a blessing it is to share these precious moments with your best friends on a day that was once only dreamed about and whispered about long into the night at sleepovers. Later, Jessi, in her white dress and ready to become Mrs. Chiu, serenaded me with "Renee's, Got a Banjo" - a little tune she created to annoy me in P.E. in 9th grade. That singular moment meant a lot to me. And became one of those moments you see in a movie - the moment where scenes from the past decade would flash across the screen.

For only a fleeting moment it was just Jessi and 9th grade P.E...gym shorts down to our knees and baggy gray t-shirts. A volleyball...or going on around us. Jessi jumping around singing. Jessi and I discussing girly things and finding friendship in a "You too? I thought it was only me..." moment. And then I blinked. And we were in the church on her wedding day. She was in a wedding dress, and I a bridemaid's. And it's amazing to know that when I was laying on Jessi's floor trying to get some sleep, wishing I was anywhere but there as Jessi screamed about a murderer in her house at 5 a.m. - God saw her wedding day. He was there, and He knew everything that would unfold to get us to that moment. And here we were.

The next moments passed with deep breaths, buckling shoes, excited giggles, and pretzels. Then we were in a stairwell hallway - as Jessi willed the moment to seem real. Before we knew it, it was time to walk out. My silver stilettos took one step at a time, and I remembered to stand straight and smile. Make it to the stage and then focus on not fainting.

The ceremony was beautiful - filled with fun moments. Jessi and Evan couldn't stop smiling, giggling, playing with each other's hands, hopping up and down. She almost put the ring on the wrong finger - but a chorus of voices from the front row whispered advice, as only parents can.

As I was standing on stage, I looked out at the crowd. This is something I've done in all of the weddings I've been in, finding familiar faces and giving them knowing smiles. Here I was searching for familiar faces in a sea of unfamiliarity. I could see Derrick's hair in the back of the sanctuary, but no one's eyes met my own. For a moment I was sad. There wasn't a row of my beautiful friends, all huddled together in celebration. My mom wasn't there with tears in her eyes... but it was okay. I had to stand a little straighter and get lost in the vows being promised in front of me. I was there for Jessi.

"Ever Ever After" became the soundtrack as Jessi and Evan were announced to the congregation of friends and family as husband and wife. I waited with the bridesmaids and other guests, as Jessi and Evan hugged everyone. I was so happy when I saw Derrick coming down the ramp into the waiting room! He was so amazing, and I felt joy when I found a smile on his face.

We sent them off with bubbles, and they circled the block to come back for pictures. An hour or so later, I waited in a sketchy warehouse looking room in the back of the reception hall. We were going to be announced out onto the balcony and when the doors opened the room looked like something from a fairy tale. Everyone was below us, looking up and clapping their excitement.

Food and speeches (Amanda's and Mr. Buker's were amazing, btw). Then we all got up to do the Cha Cha Slide. I'm not much a wedding dancer, so I appreciated the fact that the bridal party was pretty much required to participate. It was a fun moment and something I'll always remember.

Then, far earlier than I would have wished, Derrick and I had to head out. It was already 3 p.m. - and we had a 10 hour drive ahead of us. So we said good-bye to the beautiful couple, and I tried not to feel horrible for leaving early. I wanted to stay and celebrate. I wanted to dance and laugh and make more memories. But the open road was calling, and it was a good thing we left when we did.

The road trip home was dark, rainy, sleepy, and long. And wonderful. I enjoyed it  maybe more than the trip up - because our tired state of mind forced us to blare some random rap music, snapping our fingers and dancing to the beat. We stopped for a late supper in Marian, Virginia - and I was very excited to be in the home of my friend, Sarah McNeil! The road trip home took us off the GPS map, deep into the Kentucky mountains, past several Wendys before actually stopping, and filled the car with  crazy tunes, laughter, and two people who are blessed enough to be best friends in love.

I was so glad to get home too. My bed and sweet tea are amazing.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The moments before the air erupted in celebration...

Ohio: Day 2

It's always exciting to wake up in a new city - the air of possibilities and curiousity of the unknown embracing you. I woke up around 8:15, happy for a little extra sleep. Pink tights. Blue jean skirt. Pink tee. Brown Sweater. Ready for seizing the day :) Then I headed to Derrick's room to make sure he was up and ready. Good morning, Honey!

The church was our first stop - and we found that with ease...thanks to Thelma (GPS). I wanted to go help decorate, spend more time with the wedding party, and introduce Derrick to everyone so he would feel more at ease during the various events. I also finally got to see Mrs. Juli - who was like a second mom to me during the summers around freshmen year. The decorating didn't take long - rearranging flowers and deciding whether or not to use reeds. Opening bubbles and arranging them. The decision process took the longest.

Then it was time for Derrick and I to be on our own in the big city. Time for new adventures. Endless Opportunities.

First we pulled over in a mall parking lot, finding many restaurants and possibilities of things to do. But none of them satisfied us. I had promised Derrick Long John Silvers, something that he had fond memories of as a child - so we punch it in the GPS and on we go. We were the only customers in the Long John Silver, which always makes me a little nervous. Plus, fast food fish for lunch - the concept seems a little odd. But it was better than I had expected. And not as good as Derrick remembered. Cross that off the list.

Time for the zoo. We had planned to spend the afternoon exploring the Cincinnati Zoo, and I was excited. We had never been to a zoo together. After driving around the block several times, Thelma getting mad at me, we finally pull in. (I will preface this next part by saying that Derrick and I are very tight with our budget. Very. We don't go to movies. We eat fast food, hardly ever going out to eat. I don't buy things for myself...). The lady says it's going to be $7 for parking. $7! I ask how much admission is...$14 a person. Quick calculation lets me know that it's going to be a $35 trip. Nope. Sorry. No zoo.

Back to the hotel - where I fell asleep and Derrick watched Top Gear and played on the computer. Relaxation and sleep = boring success!

The rehearsal dinner that night went very well. Tortellini and prime rib! Cheesecake and good company! Swords and wands! Tears and sweet was a good time of fellowship, as was the rehearsal. Everything went well, and I enjoyed spending more time with the girls.

New Years Eve! Derrick and I pulled into White Castle on our way back to the hotel and ordered a random assortment of new things. Then we had high hopes of sparkling grape juice, a movie, sliders, a midnight kiss.

Sparkling grape juice in plastic cups accompanied our White Castle burgers...and no movie was chosen. Around 10:30 I realized that the chances of us making it to midnight weren't looking too good - so I suggested we pray for 2011. Derrick opened it up, praying for the wedding, the future, the year ahead, and thanking God for His blessings. I talked to God, asking for blessings on our relationship, our jobs, our friends, and our families in 2011. Asking to be used in a big way in the coming year, to make a difference in the world. I love standing on the edge of a New Year - and knowing that God is already there! 11:30 I gave Derrick a premature goodnight kiss and strolled down the hall to my room, falling asleep in the moments before the air erupted in celebration, fireworks, and kisses. 2011 had a silent beginning to me. Relaxation and sleep = boring success!

Happy New Year! Isn't it beautiful? The air of possibilities and curiousity of the unknown...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

...And if I had the choice, I'd do it again!

Ohio: Day 1

Going to a new place is always an adventure. You get to see places you've never seen and meet people that you wouldn't have otherwise met - and my time in Ohio was no different.

The 10 hour ride up went by more quickly than we had expected - passing through snowy hills and mountains, over bridges and through small towns, finally to arrive at our destination. The drive up was filled with a random selection of tunes and random topics, tired eyes and bursts of noise to keep Derrick awake.

As soon as we got there, I had about an hour to eat and get ready before it was time for the "bachelorette party". I didn't know what to expect and my stomach was in knots as I tried to navigate around Cincinnati, but I was at ease about the party and excited to see Jessi!

Jessi met me at the door with one of our squealy hugs, and I was happy to have this opportunity to celebrate this time in her life. Jessi's friends were unbelievably amazing and sweet! It is such a blessing that God's daughters can be connected by the heart and by a shared joy and come together in celebration, and this definitely was a celebration. I met everyone, trying not to become Jessi's shadow...and a conversation about how undeniably amazing sweet tea is ensued. They didn't understand.

After we had all eaten a little, we joined together in a time to talk to God about Jessi and Evan. We prayed for a wonderful, memorable, stress-free next few days. A romantic honeymoon. And a blessed life together. A life that would help Evan and Jessi continue to grow in love with each other and grow in the Lord - serving Him side-by-side. What a blessing!

Next came our murder-mystery game. Immediately I was out of my comfort zone. Amanda explained that we would all be a character, receiving a packet of notes to tell us our biography, how to act, and what part we play in this story. I'm not at actress. I direct. I encourage from the background. I don't act. And a part of me wanted to run away...but I was the murderer (unbeknowns to anyone), so I had to push forward.

The story unfolded and everyone played their character brilliantly. When the time came for guessing the murderer - no one guessed me. Then I revealed the truth and read my confession: "...I killed her! And if I had the choice, I'd do it again!"

Although the game forced me out of my little bubble, it was a great way to get to know everyone - and left me with so many blessing and great memories!

Stay tuned for Ohio: Day 2