it's my birthday! i've been trying to wrap my mind around that fact that i am twenty-seven. like, whoa
life is crazy-beautiful. when i think about the journey that's led to this point, all i can do is thank God. 
His provision and protection and guidance are humbling. 
i am overwhelmed by His grace, consumed by His love. i am forgiven. i am redeemed. i am His. 
whether i'm basking in the sunshine or i'm in the middle of a hurricane, i will praise His name. 
He is my joy and my salvation. He is the song i sing and the reason i dance. 
He is my Rock and my strength. He is my life, my all in all.
i will tell of His praises until He calls me home, and then i will praise Him forevermore! 

"God will never give me more than i can handle."

this quote has been floating around the social media world for quite some time now, and i'm going to be frank: i find it to be rubbish.
it makes about as much sense as "follow your heart". yet it's tweeted & retweeted, liked & reblogged, with comments in agreement and praise.

i completely disagree with the notion that God will never give me more than i can handle. if that were the case, i wouldn't need God or the Cross or a Savior because i could handle what i was given. i could manage and wouldn't desperately drop to my knees when it got so tough that all i could do was cry out to God, praying for His strength, intervention, healing, or whatever the need may be. my cries for His help would be replaced with self-sufficiency. aka, pride. am i making sense?

He never promised that life would be free of hard trials; however, He did promise He would always be there. when i'm pushed to my limit, it's there in that moment of realization that i see my need for a Savior. i need Him - always. i can't do this on my own, though i try again and again, only to be brought to the place i find myself time and time again - weeping, asking Him to take it from me, and repenting for not trusting that His plan is better. my fragile human self cannot go one day without His divine help.

so if you ask me, i think this quote is misleading. it comes off as "i can handle it all" when the fact is - i need Jesus like i need breath in my lungs. apart from Him, i am nothing. if left to my own devices, i'm on my way to death. when i give all my worries and troubles to Him, i can rest because His yoke is easy

chocolate milk. maxi skirts. cleaning out the closet. kindness. little surprise gifts. caramel apple suckers. iphone 5. relevant magazine. pine cones. football. foggy mornings. 50% off sales. God's Word jumping off the page. family dinners. glitter. blossoming friendships. a dance party. journal doodling. encouraging texts. butterflies. mark 5:34. snuggling into bed with a book. good, meaningful quotes. tweetin'. waking up at 3 am to find a kitty cuddling with me. designing. red nail polish. sweet emails from blog readers. nature explorations. the gospel. fresh okra. summer sunshine. pumpkin spice scented candles. the office. this tear-jerker youtube video. sweatpants & no makeup. taco tuesdays. 

i'll never cease to be amazed by God's ability to show Himself to me, even in scripture i've read countless times before. 
i read the story of the bleeding woman in mark 4:26-34 recently, and God showed me that her story is also my story.

for twelve years, this woman bled. twelve years. she was considered ceremonially unclean, which resulted in rejection from the people in her community. she visited many doctors and spent all she had to find a cure, still to no avail. and she was getting worse.

but she heard about Jesus. He was her only hope. so she made her way through the crowd of people. i can imagine some of them quickly stepping aside to avoid touching her. i can also imagine her desperation. her faith convinced her that if she just touched His robe, she'd be healed. when she finally got to Jesus, she reached out and touched His robe.

scripture says she was healed immediately. IMMEDIATELY. she felt it. and so did Jesus. He looked around to find who touched Him. the disciples were like, "dude, people are packed in here like sardines." and what He does next makes me fall in love with Him even more.

He continues to look for the one who touched Him. wow. i mean, He could have easily kept walking, but He didn't. trembling out of admiration and amazement for this miracle she's just witnessed, the woman comes up to Him, falls on her knees, and tells Him what she did. he replies, "daughter, your faith has made you well. go in peace. your suffering is over." goosebumps and tears.

after reading this, i realized i, too, have been bleeding for years.

it's not a physical ailment though. i've been carrying around baggage of hurt, pain, and shame from past relationships for years and years. too many broken hearts and deep wounds have left me bitter and holding onto words and actions of boys who rejected me. i've carried those memories with me for so long that they shaped how i viewed men. when people mention dating to me, i quickly remind them of how manipulative and deceiving men are. i recount the times i've put my heart out there, only to be used and abandoned. as i read this passage, God showed me how, though not physically, i have been bleeding over the past. that void in my heart needs filled. those who hunger and thirst after what God considers righteous are filled, so i am reaching out to Him. reaching for His touch to heal me. to heal my heart. to heal and restore because He is my only hope. 

the desperate woman's faith in Jesus healed her and made her whole. He knew when she touched Him.
He also knows when i am touching Him, as well. He knows my heart, and He knows what i've been bleeding over. i am reaching out to Him in complete faith, knowing He will heal me and make me new.

my twenty-seventh birthday is the end of this month. another year of life, another candle on the cake. [it's red velvet with cream cheese frosting in case you're wondering.] as i reflect on the last three hundred sixty-five days, i see how the experiences, struggles, highs, and lows from 9,862 days on this earth have shaped me. learning doesn't just take place in a classroom. i am thankful for every hard lesson learned. i'm grateful for every blessing in disguise. i praise the God of Heaven's Armies for hand-knitting me, for the ones i love, and for this crazy-beautiful journey. i know i have so much more to learn, but here are twenty-six life lessons i have learned before turning twenty-seven.

1. a relationship with Christ does not happen if the bible collects dust. a relationship with Christ does not happen if i'm only a christian on sunday mornings. a relationship with Christ is not one-sided. a relationship with Christ is exciting and beautiful and essential.

2. family is everything. i only get one daddy, mama, and brother in this life. they've seen me at my highest of highs and lowest of lows. they still loved me during my rebellious years. at the end of the day, they always have my back, but aren't afraid to tell me when i'm wrong. family time is the best time. some of my fondest memories are with my family, and we're usually not doing anything outrageous. sometimes just sitting in the living room, joking and messing with mama. God blessed me with a close family bond, and i love them so much!

3. be present. if i knew exactly how much time i wasted on social media sites, i'd be ashamed. don't get me wrong, i love being connected with family and friends all over the world, but i don't have to know every little thing that is happening all.the.time. when i look back at my life, i won't remember tweets or status updates; i'll reminisce on cherished memories with loved ones and friends. i'll smile at the experiences and thank God for undeserved blessings. it's time to put down the iphone and soak in the moment.

4. when my parents told me "no", it was for my benefit. they weren't trying to be mean or un-cool. they were protecting me. i read a quote the other day that hit the nail on the head: growing up, the cool parents were actually bad parents. my seventeen-year old self would roll her eyes at this next statement, but i am thankful for their "no's". i am grateful that they loved me enough to protect me from situations that i had no business being apart of. daddy & mama, if you're reading this, thank you for being un-cool and caring about my well-being. i love y'all.

5. serve others. this isn't something i learned until recently. for a long time, i was a very selfish person. i didn't see why helping people was so important, especially when they didn't ask for help. i asked my mama why she was always at the church and she said that she enjoyed helping others and serving the Lord. hello, guilt. that conversation left an impression. i prayed for God to change my ungenerous heart. He did, and it has opened my eyes to another way to love people. when i serve others, i'm showing them the love of Christ. and if i'm not loving people, how do i expect them to believe Jesus does? 

6. spend more time cultivating good character than standing in front of the mirror. being a girl is fun. pretty nail colors, trying new makeup, and hello: clothes. but these things are fickle. beauty fades; character is a lifetime. i spend so much time covering up my acne scars and imperfections when in reality, those things do not matter. society wants me to believe so, but society is dead wrong. a woman of good morals and character is more beautiful than any supermodel or celebrity. a woman of integrity emits a humble beauty that even the most beautiful, airbrushed, surgically altered face cannot touch.

7. haters gonna hate. not everyone is going to like me. this one is still sinking in. i like to think i'm a happy, upbeat, down-to-earth girl, but there will be people in this world who don't like me. i've learned to not take this personally. i'll still smile and know Jesus loves them.

8. admit mistakes and apologize. i'm not always right. i mess up. i'm not perfect, no matter how hard i try. i have come to terms with this fact. when i make a mistake, i admit it. i apologize and learn from it. and if it's not too serious, i even laugh at myself because failing doesn't make me a failure; it means i'm human.

9. always, always be kind, even when the receiver is not. kindness can turn someone's bad day around. kindness can break down walls and let the Light in. kindness won't just change others, it'll change me, too.

10. i do not have to conform to society's standards. i'm not dumb because i didn't go to college. i'm not unloved because i don't have a husband and kids. i'm not a loser because i still live with my parents. i am walking with Jesus in this life. i am knowledgeable. i am patiently waiting. i am loved by the One who is Love.

11. forgive and extend grace. forgive quickly because holding onto that bitterness is like drinking poison. it will destroy me, not the other person. give the same grace that Jesus so wonderfully gives me. and forgive even when they're not sorry.

12. choose friends wisely. friendships are wonderful. doing life with people who love me as i am is valuable. but who i surround myself with matters. some friendships are not healthy and will not last. this might be one of the hardest lessons for me. but nonetheless, it happens. people come into my life as a blessing or a lesson.

13. read good books. reading takes me places, opens my eyes, and gives me new perspective. trashy magazines will not.

14. "follow your heart" is the worst advice ever. my heart is deceitful and evil and selfish. i choose to follow Jesus. His ways, though not always easy, are always for His glory and my good. His plans lead to abundant life, while my wandering heart will lead to destruction every.single.time.

15. if a guy wants to see me, he'll make plans in advance; if he texts me after 7 pm, he doesn't want to "watch a movie". true story: i walked to my car by myself at night because i wouldn't hook up with the guy. he hasn't wanted to watch a movie since. respecting myself for the win! and a little side-note: if a guy doesn't love Jesus and treat the women in his life with love and respect, i have no business dating him. don't even give him a second look. run, homegirl!

16. just because you have money doesn't mean you need to spend it. and it won't buy happiness; just temporary thrills.

17. time doesn't heal all wounds; Jesus does. He will heal and renew and restore.

18. do not get a haircut without thinking it over for at least two months. find a trustworthy stylist who understands hair. furthermore, don't ever go near the crazy, scissor-happy girl from supercuts in walmart again. this was nine years ago. i'm scarred for life.

19. modesty isn't boring. i can still look darling without showing off my body. dressing immodestly might get a boy's attention, but character and morals won't leave me with a broken heart and regrets.

20. if they gossip to you, they will gossip about you. end of story.

21. always be thankful. life is messy and hard and beautiful and crazy and fun and it can knock you on your booty. whether life's storms come like a hurricane or it's smooth sailing, find something to be grateful for. choosing joy in the midst of whatever circumstance is putting faith and trust in my Almighty God instead of fleeting emotions and situations.

22. what is popular isn't always right. i can either conform to popular belief, or i can stand for my convictions. i choose the latter, even if it means i stand alone.  

23. godly wisdom from older people is an unappreciated asset. by older people, i mean... oh, geez, this could get me into trouble. let's just say 65+. their advice and life experience might seem outdated to some, but they've gone through the same things i have, just in different ways. my grandma gracie died when i was twelve, but i still remember how much she loved Jesus and how she lived out her faith. she told me often that Jesus loved me. there are many older people who could teach us all a thing or two.

24. words matter. words reveal what's in the heart. they have the power to give life or destroy it. words can wound and scar worse than any physical blow. once they leave the tongue, they can't be taken back. words can create chaos or bring peace. but in any instance, they matter. and sometimes it's better to say nothing at all.

25. love myself. this one is still a learning process. for so long, i did not love me. i picked apart every inch of my body, relived my disappointments and shortcomings, and believed the lies that satan fed me. i didn't like the girl staring back at me in the mirror. i defined myself by pale skin, crooked teeth, and the hurtful words from kids growing up. when i started following Jesus, the lies i believed as truth began to fall apart. His word says i am wonderfully made. the same God who parted the red sea, the same God who spoke the earth into existence, the same God who created the moon, sun, stars, flowers, and all of creation - He made me. if He made me this way, then i will embrace the imperfect beauty. i will see past the flaws and love His creation. i will learn to love me. i am not my mistakes. i am not my past. i am redeemed.

26. and last but certainly not least.
the best lesson learned in my twenty-six years on this earth is i cannot live a second of this life without the redeeming love of Jesus. i've ran from Him, only to come crawling back. i've yelled at Him, only to praise Him moments later. i've questioned His plans, only to see the beautiful pieces come together. i've strayed, only to be welcomed back with His open arms. i've disobeyed, only to be consumed by His grace. i am a sinner, yet He bore my sin and shame on the cross. i will forever praise the Lamb of God.

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i love creating. i love learning new techniques, finding inspiration in the ordinary, and interpreting other people's beauty. i recently started dabbling in design. i could spend hours making prints. the process of creating is like therapy for me. the best part: i don't have to be perfect or follow rules or guidelines. i can showcase my personality and perspective. i can mess up and start over. i can create, create, fail, and create. it's another form of expression that i'm growing a fondness for. i'm reminded of those beginning months of my photography journey - i had no idea what i was doing, but i loved it anyway. when i think back to that first year, i am so thankful for how far i've come. in a few years, i will probably look back at these first few months and cringe like i did when i saw some of my earlier work, but that's the beauty of learning and knowledge and growing. it's like a budding flower, preparing to open a beautiful bloom.

nature explorations is a series about exploring nature. so philosophical, i know. nature is my love language. God's creation stirs the deep parts of my soul in ways i can't put into words, so i capture them with my camera. i feel closest to Him when i am marveling at His handmade beauty, and my prayer is that when others see my work, they will be inspired to seek Him in the humble places of their life as well.

>> strawberry lemonade and vanilla fro-yo with peanut butter chips and cookie dough. this is hands down the best perk of mama's major weight loss. her eating habits have changed dramatically, but when i introduced her to frozen yogurt, we eat it every chance we get. win-win.

>> first shot with my iphone 5. of course, it had to be a picture of a flower. if you look at the camera roll on my phone, you'll find 98% of the pictures are flowers, 1% are of trees and nature, and 1% are of food.

>> i'm not a big candy person, but caramel apple suckers are the exception. er.merr.gersh.

>> vanilla iced coffee, how i love thee.

>> whirly word is my new favorite iphone game app. i play it so much that i almost need an intervention. while everyone is checking fb and twitter, i'm over here like, yesssssssss, b-l-o-g for the win!

>> you can't tell in this picture, but my bangs - oh, my bangs - are too short. i was trimming them and realized there was a little area that was much shorter than the rest. cue freak out. thankfully, if i wear a headband, it pushes them down so you can't even tell. note to self: calm down with the flippin' scissors!

it's a year to the day since my family and i were evacuated from the place i've called home for twenty-five years due to a wildfire. i will never, ever forget that night and the lessons i learned. we thought we had lost everything (our home, garage, land, and daddy's tire business), but when we pulled into our driveway to find our livelihood untouched, it put so much into perspective. materialism, pride, and ungratefulness were brought to light as i sat on my bed, reflecting on the previous five hours. as i remember the emotions and events of that night, i also think of the lessons learned.

never, ever, ever, ever believe what you read on facebook. notice that before, i mentioned that we "thought" we had lost everything? yeah... that was because i was reading real time updates from people who post facebook statuses without thinking about what their words can do to others. i'm getting heated all over again. breathe. when you read that a building is destroyed and your home is right next door, it's devastating, especially for my parents who have worked so dang hard to provide for our family. next time you are about to hit the send button on a tweet or status, ask yourself if it is beneficial to those who will read it? will it encourage or inspire them? i understand the occasional vent sesh, but our words have the power to give or crush.

material items are just things. i'm was aware of that prior to the evacuation, but it became real to me. i was praying for our home, shop, property, belongings. i feared that everything was gone. but why? my heart was more focused on things rather than the God i love, plain and simple. after that realization, i asked for forgiveness and boldly declared that no matter what happened, i would trust the Lord with all my heart. possessions are just things. they offer temporary fills, and when the thrill wears off, it's on to the next useless item. the possessions i owned couldn't hold value to my faith, my family, and the relationships with others. the day after the fire, i cleaned out my closet and donated two trashbags full of clothes. i've done this twice in the last three hundred and sixty-five days. it's not to toot my own horn or show how good i am. i am not good; i am a dirty, rotten sinner. but the Lord showed me that nothing i can buy will ever amount to the free gift of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus.

God is always with me. after i thought everything had turned to ashes, i got on my knees and prayed. i thanked Him for my family's safety. in the end, that was all that mattered. material items can be replaced, my parents or my brother or my cat cannot. as i sat in my grandma's kitchen, surrounded by my family and the few items i grabbed, i felt His peace wash over me. i knew He was right there with me. amid the uncertainty, i felt a sense of joy because i knew that no matter what happened, my Jesus was walking right beside me all the way.

i found a journal entry written a few days after the fire that reminds me to live out proverbs 3:5:

fear will cripple me if i let it.
it will break me down and steal my joy.
being held captive by fear is not what God intended for me.

but in my moments of weakness, He is there.
through the tears, He knows my pain.
in my cries, He hears my plea.

twenty random things about me:

1 -  i love Jesus. not random, but the most important fact of all.
2 -  photography is like breathing to me. nothing makes me feel more alive than when i have a camera in hand.
3 -  when my brother was born, i asked my parents to take him back to walmart.
4 -  i always find the good in everything. to me, the glass is always half-full, no matter how bad it tastes.
5 -  penguins are my favorite animal. i want to hold one so badly i can't stand it.
6 -  i am a huge sports fan. my daddy and i spend quality time cheering for the sooners.
7 -  i curl my hair with socks.
8 -  i am a compete germaphobe. i wash my hand 7-8 times a day.
9 -  i am terrified of wasps.
10 -  i still live at home with my parents.
11 -  i love coffee. coffee drinks, coffee cake, coffee ice cream, hot or cold, if it has coffee, i like it.
12 -  wildflowers are my love language.
13 -  i know how to play the clarinet.
14 -  i like going to the movies by myself.
15 -  i spend a lot of time going on nature explorations in my family's pasture.
16 -  i sponsor a child through compassion. her name is kwagala, and she is the sweetest.
17 -  fall is my favorite season, with spring in a close second.
18 -  iced coffee & Jesus time is the best part of my day.
19 -  transformers is my favorite movie and one tree hill is my favorite tv show.
20 -  my hero is my grandma gracie. she loved Jesus with all her heart and everyone she met knew it. she went to be with Jesus many years ago, but she left a memorable life that i admire and hope to have.