Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Day 7: Get Involved

My sisters and I have been involved with a lot of things in our lives. From music to sports, there hasn't really been a time when we weren't late for a practice somewhere. Looking back on those memories, one of the things that stands out to me the most is the presence of my parents. My dad was the president of everything--the band boosters and the Pleasant View Jr. Pro Athletic Association stick out in my mind the most. No matter what my sisters and I were doing, dad was there. Even now, he goes and cheers on my sisters in their music performances when he can. Since we've all moved out, he's gotten involved with Vanderbilt's baseball team, and he travels to watch them too. He's a great supporter and encourager, and I'm sure if you know him, you know his voice. It carries.

My parents have taught me to be involved with my kids' lives in the future. Even when they tell me not to, I'll still go and bring snacks or just sit quietly in the stands so when they look up searching for a familiar face, they'll see mine and feel a little less nervous.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Day 6: "No way me too!"

My parents waited 7 years to have my twin. That sounds weird. Okay, fine. We aren't actually twins, but we kind of are. Autumn is the baby. The "surprise". She is a legit miracle child in every sense of the word. My sisters are my best friends. We've been through life together. Even if we don't live in the same house or same state, we still talk all the time and we share life with each other. There are things we say to each other that we would never say to anyone else. Autumn and I like to say that we share a personality. Or really 5 personalities. Susan, Thomas, Jeff (as in Jeff the Wiggle), Alicia, and Autumn. We were separated at birth (+7.5 years).

If you watch Grey's Anatomy, you'll understand that Autumn is my person. I don't love her more than Amanda or Alayna, but she is the person who says "That happens to me too." She reminds me that I'm not alone. I'm not crazy for feeling the way I feel about things. The stupid things I get excited or angry about, she is there to say "NO WAY ME TOO!" or NWMT. We shortened it because we said it so much. Autumn and I are so much alike, but I can only hope that I have the same qualities she has.

Autumn is brave. She's hilarious. She takes chances and risks. She is quirky, but she's not afraid of it. She has a unique style, and she does not care that she gets weird looks when she wears a turban. Autumn loves people. She sees the good in people that others write off. She appreciates. She notices. She is smart and passionate. She gets cranky when she's tired. She gets silly when she's tired-er. She loves Yoo-hoo's and Cheez-its and Twix bars. She's allergic to peanut butter and fake people.

She is my sister, a miss, not mister. Smallest of four, farthest from the floor. How did she get tall? Her name, it means "fall". For some, a favorite season, and we all know the reason. It's cause of her, you see. Cause she is Pre-et-ty.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Day 5: It's okay to show some emotion

When I was younger, I was pretty animated, but I was also a little shy. It depended on the setting, really. I think. There was a time when I wanted to be the center of attention, but somewhere along the way I decided that other people's opinion of me mattered more than my own. So I would stop telling stories if they weren't totally relevant to everyone present. I would stop expressing my opinion if I thought it might offend someone. I sank back into the shadows. I took the backseat to let others drive. As a result of that, I still struggle with expressing myself. Sometimes I hold it in for so long that I end up crying. Not always because I'm sad, but mostly because I'm overwhelmed. My soul gets overwhelmed. I have a hard time making decisions too. That's a big struggle.

One person who has no problem showing emotion is my sister Alayna. Alayna operates in extremes. Things are rarely mediocre in her life. Everything is either awesome or horrible. While that can be exhausting, I'm sure, it also means that she is not afraid to express herself. She lets people know how she feels. She doesn't keep dating a boy that bugs her because she doesn't want to hurt his feelings. She doesn't let people discourage her love of Alabama football (I'll probably write a whole post on the Tide at some point. Thank you, Mom, for that love.) She clings tightly to the people and things she loves: her family, Alabama football, Haiti, Africa, orphans, JESUS, etc. She doesn't worry what other people think of what she says or tweets or posts on Facebook. She looks for the good in situations that seem dark to others. She befriends people that are ignored by others. She does not care if she hasn't seen someone in 15 years. If they were friends in kindergarten, they are still friends. She laughs loudly. She cries. She laughs so hard that she cries. She fake cries so hard that she for real cries. And she absolutely does not love it when you put your sock in her mouth.

Alayna teaches me that it's okay to show emotion. It's okay to express how you feel. It's okay if someone doesn't agree with you. There is no reason to hide.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Day 4: Don't Give Up

My sister, Amanda, has always set goals for herself. When we were miniature, her goal was to win the District, State, and National Free Will Baptist Singing Competitions each year. When she did, she had an iconic (shrill) scream that she became known for. People would plug their ears when they heard her name being called. In high school, her goal was to be voted Best Dressed of her senior class, and she succeeded. She went to an expensive college and graduated with some student loan debt, so her next goal was to pay that off. She worked hard to get there, but she didn't put the rest of her life on hold. She and her husband still travelled (a lot) and still pursued other goals and dreams at the same time. She's had one big goal for a long time. She's always wanted to own a café. A place where she could have coffee with people and talk with them and build relationships. Last fall, she paid off the last of her student loans, and on January 1 of this year, she and Chris bought their café.

There have been times that Amanda thought her dream would be realized only to be faced with another disappointment. She may have had to wait, but she never lost sight of that desire to have a place where she can make friends every day. Now she has that place. And she loves it. And the people love her. One man said "she's like the mayor of this town. she knows everybody." And that is accurate. Amanda will talk to you like she's been your best friend for all 32 years of her life even if it's the first time she's ever seen you. She does not care if you're a stranger. She will treat you like family.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Day 3: Music

Oh my word. I could probably write about the lessons I've learned about music from my family for all 31 days. It may will definitely come up again. God is first. Family second. Music is third. A strong third.

I mentioned on the first day that when my family gets together, we sing. We also shoot guns (at targets), but that's a story for another day. At some point, the guitars and egg shakers come out and we sing our way through hymns, old songs my grandparents and great-grandparents taught all of us, new songs, and every song my cousin Matt or Uncle Tony has ever written. We all know them. And we know all the harmony and echo parts too. You'd think it would get old, but it just doesn't. It's always wonderful. Whether we're around a fire outside, or around a futon in the basement of my aunt and uncle's house, it doesn't matter. The songs are the same. The people are the same. That's what home feels like to me. I lived in the same house from the summer of 1987 until May of 2011, but that's not what I think of when I think of home. I think of music. But not just any music. Our music.

My mom's family is mostly all musical in some capacity. On my dad's side, dad sings and his brother plays every instrument. Just about. That's how it felt when I was growing up, at least. He mostly plays the fiddle, and he gave me a violin for Christmas one year. I took lessons for a couple of years, and I wish I had stuck with it. Just like those pesky piano lessons. I want to play everything now and I wish I had learned when I was younger.

My love of music came from both sides of my family, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. If you find yourself with nothing, and everything seems lost, you still have a voice and a song in your heart. Regardless of the circumstances, music just always IS.

Day 2: God's Word is Valuable

Up until my senior year of high school, my mom ran a day care. For a while when I was very little, that day care was a separate building from our home. When I was 9, Alayna was 4 and Marm realized she hadn't been at home with Alayna at all since she was born. So Marm quit the "external" day care and brought it to our house. She started out by just keeping a few kids during the day, and then she got licensed by the State to keep more and opened her own business. There were kids there when she woke us up for school and kids there when we got home. Some of them came and went, and some became part of the family.

One day, one of the children tore my Mom's Bible to pieces. She wrote in it, ripped out pages, and just destroyed it. My Mom was devastated. She loved her Bible so much and had written so many notes in the margins and underlined so many ways God spoke to her within those pages. It broke her heart to see it messed up, and she cried for a long time.

She got a new Bible--maybe a few more since that day--but that memory sticks out to me. My Mom loves her Bible. Not because of how much she paid for it or who gave it to her, but because of what's inside. She has always taught us songs about the Bible or written from Bible verses. She taught us to memorize scripture when we were little, and those verses are still with me. Her dad was a preacher, and her mom loved God's Word too, and that was passed down to my mother and then to me.

God's Word is valuable because of who God is. With technology today, you can carry multiple versions of the Bible in your pocket, but I still love turning the pages of the Book. God's Word is living and active and relevant to every day. I learned that from many people, but mostly from my Mom. Thanks Marm. :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 1: Family Facts

Hi. I'm Alicia. I'm the second oldest of 4 girls. We're spread out from age 20 to 32. I have one brother-in-law, one boyfriend, and my two younger sisters both have boyfriends named John. My mom and dad are still married. My mom is one of 5 kids--2 boys and 3 girls--all are married and have children and some have grandchildren. My dad has a brother who has a daughter and 2 sons--all with kids of their own. My family is big. My family is loud. My family drives me crazy most of the time. But. I love every one of them because they are mine.

I've learned lots of valuable things from my family over the years, and i'm going to take these October days to write some of them down.

Lesson 1 for today is: Family is Important. I learned this from everyone. My mom's family is quite large. Both of her parents have died in the last 10 years, so currently there are:
10 adults/parents
17 kids (+6 spouses and 3 boyfriends)
11 grandkids

Every "Christmas" we get together--as many of us that can make it--and we hang out. We sing. We stay up too late. We open presents. We celebrate. Most years it's actually New Year's when we get together (that's why I used quotation marks). We spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our individual families, and then everyone who doesn't already live in Middle Tennessee travels there to join everyone else around NYE/New Year's Day. It's amazing. Sometimes not everyone can make it, but we make the most of it with who is there and miss the ones who aren't. We eat a lot. We dance a lot. We love each other. We Christmas. I know that's not a verb, but that's the best one I have. It's awesome.

The reason I know family is important is that my cousins and aunts and uncles will put their lives on hold to come be with everyone for 2 days. Some drive 8 hours just to be with the family. Family takes sacrifice. It takes time and compromise. But it's worth it when we're all together. Even when we fight, we wouldn't trade our fights with each other for peace with anyone else.

31 Days of Lessons From My Family

Day 1: Family Facts

Day 2: God's Word is Valuable

Day 3: Music

Day 4: Don't Give Up

Day 5: It's okay to show some emotion

Day 6: "No way me too!"

Day 7: Get Involved

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What in the World (Vision) are we doing??

This isn't going to be like those other World Vision posts you're reading this week. I'm not applauding or condemning World Vision.

What this IS going to be is an encouraging reminder (I hope).

This week, I've read posts about how great World Vision is and how awful World Vision is. The one thing that has been glaring back at me as I read posts from both sides is how hateful and cruel Christians are being to each other. I've read as Christian bloggers and writers have condemned another Christian blogger or writer for having a ridiculous argument, but then encouraged their readers to have conversations with others at the end of their post. Calling someone out online, by name, and then saying their argument is ridiculous is not a good example of a conversation you should have with a person who has a different view point.

Ann Voskamp wrote on her blog recently about a conversation one of her sons had with a Buddhist girl on the airplane as they were flying home after attending the Passion Conference in Atlanta. She wrote of a conversation that was not offensive or rude, but instead it involved grace and love and questions to better understand the other person. You can read what she said here. I think we should be having more conversations like this and less of the yelling--whether it is physically or virtually in faces.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another.
In the same way I loved you, you love one another.
This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples
—when they see the love you have for each other.”
John 13:35 (The Message)

Those are the words of Jesus. This is what He told His disciples on the night He washed their feet. He knew how soon He'd be arrested, beaten, and crucified. Then, because He's God, He knew how little time He'd have with them in such an intimate setting after His resurrection. He was telling them important things. The men in that room were the beginning of His legacy. He wanted them to know how important it is that they love one another. That's what should set them apart.

It's the same today! Christians need to love one another and not attack each other because of an opinion. That's all we have when it comes to this World Vision issue. Opinions. There is not a verse in the Bible that says "When this happens with World Vision in 2014, here's what you should do...". So all we can do is pray and seek God's will and try to determine what He would have us do in situations that spark giant word fires. (If you don't know what I'm talking about in regards to World Vision, just Google it. You'll find a billion opinions.)

Here's the thing. Don't you know that Satan just LOVES this? He's probably not even having to work that hard to bring Christians down right now, because we're doing that ourselves. We are supposed to stand together, but issues divide us every single day. We should be encouraging one another and instead we are calling other Christians names and bashing their words while someone else bashes ours. THAT is what's ridiculous. US. Where is our focus? What are we trying to accomplish? Our mission on this earth is to go and make disciples. Our mission is NOT get everyone else on the planet to agree with you by writing a strongly worded blog post when you're mad about something. And that's what we do more than anything else. We fight. We try to shame people into agreeing with what we say when it honestly just does not matter that much. Yes, I have an opinion. But I am not broadcasting it from my very small corner of the Internet in hopes that someone who disagrees with me will read it and change their mind. The only thing I want to broadcast from anywhere I write or sing or speak or go is JESUS.

I don't sponsor a child anywhere. Someday, I would love to do that. When that happens, I'm going to do research. I'm going to examine, as best I can, the options of what organization I can use to sponsor a child somewhere. I'm going to look at how they use the money I'll be giving, how they treat people, and what the benefit is for the child on the other end. I'm going to choose the organization that I think does the best job of taking care of my sponsor child. That organization may be a Christian organization, but it also might not be a Christian organization. If it's not Christian, I'm going to be sharing Jesus with my sponsor child with every letter I write, every gift I send, every picture because that is what I, as a Christian, am called to do. To share Jesus. I will write to that little girl or boy about how Jesus has changed my life and I will pray that they will choose Jesus too. If the organization I choose is Christian...I'm going to do the same exact thing with what I send. It's my responsibility and privilege to share Jesus, and I don't need to expect anyone else to do it for me.

When I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I became a missionary. Everywhere I go is my mission field. Everyone I encounter is an opportunity to share Jesus. I know I don't do it enough. I pray that my focus will be constantly on Jesus and how I can better display Him to the world around me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Growing Pains

One of the hardest lessons I've ever learned is that it's okay for people to not like me.
Actually, I'm still learning it.

Something I heard a lot growing up is that there will always be someone in your life who is hard to love. It could be a family member, a classmate, a coworker, an acquaintance, etc. There could be more than one person at a time, but there will always be someone. Usually that person is actually a lot like you, but you'd hardly ever want to admit that. You clash because you're alike or because you traditionally fill the same roles within a group--except this time, there are two of you and only one place to fill. That's when we have a choice to make. We can focus on the good and see the benefit of having that person around...their strengths, what they bring to the table that no one else can bring, what makes them unique, their spiritual gifts. Or we can let our pride take over and act like they are insignificant.

We can share our group. Our space. Our friends. Or we can be selfish and stubborn and set in our ways and our "spot".

The problem with having a "spot" is that sometimes we get so focused on where we always are, who we're always with, what we always do, that we miss out on good things. Not every change is good, but a lot of them are, and there's only one way to really find out if the upcoming change is going to be good or bad. We have to try it and see.

There are some things that are non-negotiable, but for everything else--the details--we can afford to have a little wiggle room. We can try out a different role in the group--one that may suit us better in the long run. We can share responsibilities and free up more time to spend with the people we love. We can move on from one activity and make room for others to enter while allowing ourselves to try something new. There's a lot of promise in new things--in changes, but there's also a lot of uncertainty, and that is sometimes scary. Some people find uncertainty exciting. I am not one of those people. But looking back on my life, I see that most of my growth and character building has come from times of uncertainty. It's not always easy to see it when you're in the middle of it. God has allowed me to be aware of some pruning that's happening in my life this Lenten season , and it's been a different experience for sure. One that I wouldn't change. Life is hard. We live in a fallen world that keeps racing further and further away from God, and (if you're a Christian) we feel constantly out of place in this world because our citizenship is in heaven.

We can try to please people or we can try to please God. If we try to please people, we will always fail. Everything we do will upset someone. Our world is so divided on so many issues that it would be impossible to try to make everyone like you. But we can please God. Not on our own because we are born sinners and God cannot be around sin. But through Jesus. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, we can be made new. Made whole. Made clean. Made into something that God can be pleased by and take great delight in. His creations who have chosen to pursue Him and a relationship with Him. God is pleased by that. The Christian life is not a checklist of good things we do. It's a two sided relationship that we need to invest in. The closer we get to God, the more we are able to see this world through His eyes and to see what His plan is for us.

I want that. I want to please God more than I want to please people. I forget that sometimes.

The counterpart to what everyone told me about always having someone in your life who is hard to love is something that NO ONE has ever said to me. Sometimes I am going to be that hard to love person for someone else.

My job is not to try to change myself or my behavior to appease people who do not like me. My job--my JOY--is to try to live a life that is pleasing to God. I cannot control the actions or opinions of others any more than I can control the weather (I can't control the weather, by the way). But I can control how I act, how I respond, how I react to others--with the help of God. I can't be perfect on my own. It's impossible. And I will still mess up even if I'm trying to let God dictate my life. I will still step on toes, hurt feelings, and offend. That much is inevitable. However, I can also hopefully encourage, build up, and offer healing to the people around me.

I've talked about my "Lent Theme Song" or "Lent Anthem" here before. The hardest verse for me to listen to is the one that says:
From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, Oh God

I am trying with everything inside me to sing that with conviction. To mean it. To crave the goodness of God over the things of this world. But it is a process. Lent always is. And I'm always amazed at the things God teaches me through this process. Every year is different and every lesson is perfect.

There is pain in growth.
But there is even more joy in being made whole.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Lent Anthem

Today, The Nester wrote about choosing anthems in your life. I've already been thinking that I felt like I had a theme song for Lent this year, and her post confirmed my need for an anthem to accompany this time in my life. I tweeted last week about my song being "I Shall Not Want" by Audrey Assad. Here are the lyrics:

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want

When you fill your body or your mind with bad stuff or even mediocre stuff, you start to crave bad or mediocre stuff. (Examples: sugar, salt, video games, tabloid magazines) In the same way, when you fill your body or mind with good things, you start to crave good things. (Examples: fresh, healthy food, God's Word, space to rest)

If your body is used to junk food, when you try to transition to healthy food, it's sometimes unpleasant. But after you've eaten healthy food for a period of time and you eat something crappy, your body will let you know that it does not appreciate crappy food. You'll start to notice that you feel better and have more energy and feel better equipped to go through the day when you have properly fueled your body with healthy food. You'll notice that the fast food or junk food you eat makes you feel lethargic or heavy or just bad.

Our minds and hearts work a little differently. When you've filled your mind and your heart with unworthy things, making the switch to good and holy things can be difficult. It takes discipline and self-control just like changing your diet. After you've been filling your mind and heart with good things, that one gossipy conversation can make you feel physically ill sometimes. But most of the time, our attitudes serve as the indicator that we haven't been watching what we "eat" as closely as we should. When we fill our minds and hearts with God and His Word, our outlook on life is filled with hope and joy despite our circumstances. We can have a terrible day or a rough week or month or year, and we can still trust that God is working all things together for our good regardless of how we feel. But if we have been neglecting God's Word and His voice, we will get negative. And snarky. And jealous. And prideful. And consumed with our selves and how we compare to everyone around us. Our outlook on life becomes one filled with distrust, sadness, and a sense that something is missing. That's because something IS missing. We push God out of our everydays and then wonder why we feel like we're missing something in our lives. Only when we focus on Him first will we see the world and ourselves as He sees. Just like the song says, when we taste His goodness, we won't want anything else.

Making God a part of your everyday life is not going to mean nothing bad or unpleasant ever happens to you. Bad things will still happen because we live in a corrupt and fallen world that NEEDS its Savior more than anything else. Life is still hard sometimes, but that doesn't mean it's bad.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What I've decided to gain for Lent this year

This year, I'm not really giving up anything. I'm gaining something instead. Hopefully, I'll be gaining lots of somethings (unless it's pounds, then, no thank you). I am going to strive to quit something between now and Easter.

Typically, every night before I go to sleep, I'll get ready for bed, text my boyfriend "Goodnight", and then get in the bed and actually get ready to go to sleep. At this point, most people would turn out lamps or turn off phones, get comfortable and shut their eyes. I, however, take this opportunity to make sure I haven't missed anything in the world by scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, using up all 5 lives on Candy Crush, and checking the weather for the next day. Then, I'll do that again. And then see if I can waste the 18 minutes and 35 seconds until another Candy Crush life becomes available.

None of those things are necessarily bad in and of themselves. However, just like coffee last year, it's what those things symbolize together that I need to stop. What I'm doing when I go through all of those things every night is avoiding quiet, rest, and sleep. Why? I don't know. But maybe consciously making an effort to encounter those things will help me figure it out.

I'm going to be intentional about it and after I say goodnight to my people, I'm putting my phone out of reach. This will also hopefully help me in the mornings because I'll have to get up to turn my alarm off. I have a tendency to repeat my nightly phone rituals in the morning which makes me rush around to get ready and get to work even if I've prepared the night before.

I have some dumb habits. I want to take better care of myself and I want to receive what God has for me. If I never have any moments of quiet or rest, how will I hear from Him? So this year, to prepare my mind and my heart for Easter, I'm going to choose quiet. I'm going to choose rest. I'm going to choose sleep over chaos and distraction.