July 30, 2010

It's Starting to Come into Focus...

I'm starting to get overwhelmed.  It's easy to understand-- in a matter of a couple weeks, school will be starting again.  That means new students, new procedures, new curriculum, new problems... the pretzel M & Ms in my bowl are dwindling even now as I think about it.

What if the students are terrible?  *munch munch munch*
Will I have enough time to get everything ready?  *munch munch munch*
Am I prepared to teach this material, and teach it well? *munch munch munch munch munch*

I'm excited for a fresh new year, new classes, new students, new procedures, new curriculum-- it's a chance to start over.  But the anxiety creeps in unwanted anyway.  And then, so aptly, as I read the Word this morning, this is what God gave me:

"We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." -- Colossians 1:28-29

How simple.

1.  First of all, it reminds me of my true purpose as a teacher.  Yes, I need to teach my students English.  But more importantly, I am there to 'proclaim him,' and 'admonish and teach' my students with wisdom.  That narrows it down a bit and helps me focus on what truly matters, more than a worksheet or a quiz.

2.  Secondly, it reminds me WHY I do that: to 'present everyone perfect in Christ.'  Not because of the good things they do, but because they are believers, and belong to Christ.  That's why I do it-- to make disciples of Christ.  Again, the focus is narrow and clear.

3.  Third, it encourages me to work hard and not give up or get lazy-- to 'struggle' and 'labor.'  It's also a reminder that it is not going to be easy, but that's OK because...

4.  Finally, it reminds me where my strength comes from: the Lord.  I will be struggling with 'his energy,' and not just energy from the Lord, but energy that is 'powerfully' working in me.  That's beyond encouraging.  As I start this year and follow through with this year, I will labor hard with the energy of Christ working powerfully within me.  Thank God, because he knows I simply don't have what it takes on my own.

If I can only remember these truths and keep this focus, I anticipate my best year yet.  :)  I hope this encourages all of you other "fellow laborers" out there.  Just keep the main thing the main thing.

July 29, 2010

A New Favorite...

I have a new favorite.  Actor, that is.  It all started when I saw this:
That man looks good in a cardigan.  Also, he has found a way to rise above childhood fame without appearing on the cover of "Us Weekly" and "The Star."  And now, he finds himself in fantastic movies, such as this:
Which is now one of my favorite movies.  Also, he dresses like this:
And obviously has a sense of humor, as illustrated by this:
And I'm not sure I've ever seen someone look quite so good in a three piece suit.  Also, there is this factor:
Which originally freaked me out, especially since they were in Ten Things I Hate About You together when he was just a whippersnapper.  But now it's like looking at his face is twice as nice.

So there you have it.  My new favorite, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Class act.  As clearly evidenced by this:

Hey single ladies, here's to being able to have movie star favorites and crushes without making a boyfriend/fiance/husband jealous!

July 28, 2010

All a Girl Could Ask of a Boy...

I am a true lover of literature.  It often affects me to the core, and such is the case today.  In my seemingly unending studies as I write my own curriculum for my high school English classes, I uncovered this gem of a poem by W.B. Yeats:

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

I actually teared up as I read this.  It's amazing how just the right combination of words can evoke such feeling.  I would love to truly teach my students this-- to help them see that it's not so much the iambic pentameter or rhyme that makes a poem a poem, but the beautiful, thoughtful combination of words.

It's a terribly bittersweet poem, because the writer has always loved this woman, from her youth to her old age, but she has rejected him and now regrets it in her old age; she is alone.  He has watched others profess their love for her, though they didn't really love her.  I think the most beautiful sentence is:

"But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,/And loved the sorrows of your changing face." 

I mean, that's all a girl can ever really ask of a boy, isn't it?

July 26, 2010

"Have You Had Any Procedures..."

Outings to "the Applebees" are always a good time with the Silly Six, as I have decided to call us.  Sometimes the music's too loud, and the song choice is sketchy; like tonight when they pulled out a random Spice Girls B-side track that left me admittedly giddy and nostalgic.  Let me tell you, it scared me how easily those words came out of my mouth after being locked up since my junior high days.  The recesses of one's brain is a very mysterious thing.  Back to "the Applebees."  The food always leaves me wishing I'd never even seen the menu, and the service always leaves me wanting to tip 15-20% of my fist in the server's face.  But the company and the conversation... that's always a good time.

Except maybe today, when I wanted to pretend that I didn't know my friends.  We have a knack for laughing louder than anyone who is actually drinking alcohol, when all we have in our systems is maybe some caffeine and greasy food.  But that's not the problem.  The problem was our conversation.  All six of us kind of spoke at once.

"That's the first question I ask a girl-- 'Have you ever  been a man?'"
"Really?  That's the first thing you ask.  Really?"
"That's insulting!  That's implying she looks like a man!"
"Wouldn't you be able to tell by her man-hands?"
"Not always; some guys have small hands."
"Did you ever ask me that question?"
"Yeah, when I was saying a bunch of stuff, then said, 'Are you now, or have you ever been, a man'..."
"Oh right, when we were going through that checklist."
"Or you could ask if they've had any operations."
"YOU'VE had an operation."
"Well, I guess procedures."

And it only degenerated from there.  So I ask you, from one single person to... other people, married or single-- Have any of you legitimately asked about... procedures?  Because I feel like that's kind of an unusual question to ask anyone, ever, let alone right off the bat.  But I don't know; maybe it's just me.

Good thing I have these people around for relationship advice.

July 23, 2010

Guys in Cardigans...

Two blogs in one day?!  Yes my friends.  In the summer, all things are possible.  I realized I'd forgotten to relay a funny conversation I had with my dad.  It went a little something like this.  Enjoy.

"So, let me ask you a question."  Dad clears his throat a little and prepares what is formed as a question but is really more of a speech.
"Is that look, you know, like Jim from 'The Office,' is that the look now?"
"What look?"
"The dress pants and shirt and tie..."
"What, like dressed up?  Nice?"  I didn't understand my dad's somewhat disapproving tone if we were talking shirts and ties here.
"Well, with their pants low and their shirts tucked in but kind of bloused out..."  I could picture Jim Halpert quite easily, but I did not understand how his normal work attire was an issue.
"And Chuck, too, dresses like that."
"It seems just dressed up, to me.  I think it looks nice."
"But it's--" Dad could see I wasn't getting it.  So he modeled for us.  He pulled his shorts farther down and bloused out his shirt.  It did not look like Jim Halpert's work clothes.  I laughed.
"It's kind of messy, in like a lazy 'I'm trying but not trying too hard' kind of way."
"Well, Jim's character is supposed to be a little lazy and messy... but not really Chuck..."
"So is that just like, the style?"
"Yeah Dad, I guess that's just the dressed up style these days for guys... But Dad, I think it might be that they're just tall guys with long torsos..."

I suppose to my dad, pants that come under the bellybutton mean sloppiness/laziness in dress.  OK.  I'm looking at Zachary Levi here, and sloppy/lazy does not come to mind.  But whatever.

It makes me laugh when my dad analyzes fashion.  It reminds me of the days when I lived at home and would watch "Project Runway."  My dad rolled his eyes every time, but he stayed on the couch.  Maybe it was just so he could make fun of the contestants.  He liked to pick the most ridiculous line they'd say that week and repeat it in the most stupid sounding voice possible.  His personal favorite?  "It's art in motion," he'd repeat in a nasal, whiny voice.

I wonder what he'd say about a look I kind of like on the Jim Halpert/Chuck Bartowski types: cardigans.  I'm not talking Mr. Rogers here, or George Costanza.  Cardigans only work on the tall, toned, yuppie intellectual type.  Sorry, if you are not the tall, toned, yuppie intellectual type and you are trying to work the cardigan.  It probably isn't working for you.  Not like it's working for this guy, anyway.

Sorry, I know there's not much substance to this blog.  But it made me laugh, and hey, I'm single, so I'm allowed to appreciate guys in cardigans, right?  Right?!

The Ugly Duckling...

I have discovered something about myself.  Well, in truth, I have known this about myself for many years, but I've only just analyzed it.  I am very uncomfortable with compliments about my appearance.  If you were to compliment me on my appearance, you would find that I would respond in one of the following ways:

1.  "Thanks."  *blush and laugh nervously*
2.  "Pssshhhhh."  *make a face and wave hands as if to wave away the compliment*
3.  "Thanks; I know, I'm awesome."  *make cheesy face and ham it up as if actually conceited, then laugh*

Why do I have such trouble accepting compliments?  Let me be perfectly honest and open-- I'm not fishing for compliments here, so don't post any-- this is just my analysis of yet another neuroses I've discovered.  Ha.  See, some girls are born pretty.  They grow up pretty, and they stay pretty.  Some girls are blessed that way, but I wasn't.  However, my cousin was.  She was always an adorable blond, and I'll never forget my aunt telling her she'd grow up to be "a heartbreaker."  I didn't realize what a heartbreaker was, but I remember wishing someone would tell me that I'd grow up to be a heartbreaker.  Some girls grow up hearing they're beautiful and knowing they're beautiful, and that's what they develop: their beauty.  It's what they're praised for, so they develop it, just as an athlete who is praised for her ability develops that ability-- you naturally develop what you're good at.

I was a perpetually chubby child with curly red hair and a face that reddened all too easily.  I didn't have beautiful, dark eyelashes framing my ambiguously colored eyes.  I had pale lashes that made me look like an albino.  I didn't have smooth, tanned skin.  I had freckles.  I wore glasses at an early age.  I had a gap between my teeth.  I had a nose too big for my face.  I had a too-pointy chin.  Don't get me wrong-- I never thought I was hideous.  I figured I was normal-looking, but not pretty.  Girls who are not pretty realize they must develop other things if they want to be accepted.  So I developed my intelligence and my humor. 

I became the smart, funny chubby girl with curly red hair and a red, freckled face with glasses.  I didn't have to be a genius though to know I wasn't one of the pretty girls, to know I wasn't one of the heartbreakers.  The pretty girls always had boys around them.  The pretty girls had nice clothes and wore makeup and did their hair.  The pretty girls were the most popular girls in school.  I had friends not because I was pretty, but because I was friendly.  There were very few boys around me, and I never really developed my looks because I knew there wasn't much to work with.  It was like trying to water a weed in hopes that it would flower into a rose.  I can't say I really minded though.  I was content.  I wouldn't have minded being pretty of course, but I knew this was the way God made me.  Besides, if we were all beautiful, life would be boring.  I was just mixing it up a bit.  In fact, the pretty girls should have thanked me!  I made them look more beautiful.

I don't remember when things changed, but at some point in my recent history, maybe when my face grew into my nose and chin, I lost most of my chubbiness, and I figured out how to tame my curly red hair and love my freckles, I started getting compliments.  And I didn't have any clue how to handle them.  My first reaction was to disagree with them.  But I found that made people uncomfortable and made it seem like I was fishing for more compliments, which was exactly what I didn't want.  Then my reaction was to choose one of the three options I listed above, but inwardly not believe them.  How could I believe them?  I'd never been pretty.  I'm still the chubby redhead with curly hair and a big nose and freckles.  Maybe they're just trying to make me feel better about the way I look.  Maybe they're just saying that.

And that's where you find me today.  The other day, a friend complimented me.  And suddenly I analyzed my instinct to not believe her.  She wouldn't lie to me, so why did I find it so hard to believe her?  I wondered if anyone else like me had similar issues.  Did other "ugly ducklings" in youth always feel like an ugly duckling?  I am a confident woman when it comes to my intellect and my wit because I was forced to develop those things in my youth.  But I may always feel insecure about my looks.  I have determined to try to graciously accept compliments without awkwardness or self depreciation, but I may never really believe them.  In my mirror, I may always see myself at twelve.  Did the real Ugly Duckling ever stop seeing himself as such and really see himself as a swan?

I'll tell you why I think my neurosis might not be such a bad thing, even if it is weird.  It's because "charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."  If I can fear the Lord, that's what will last, and that's what matters.  Who cares if I've grown into my big nose and pointed chin?  Who cares if I've shed a few pounds.  Who cares if the gap in my teeth has closed?  Someday the compliments will stop again, because wrinkles will overtake my face.  My chin will disappear into my neck.  Age spots will replace freckles.  I'll gain the shapeless form of the aged.  My hair will turn white and wiry, if it doesn't fall out.  The compliments will stop, and I'll be the ugly duckling I've always thought of myself.  But by God's grace, I'll be a woman who fears the Lord, and that is truly beautiful.

July 21, 2010

Dancing in the Moonlight...

In the middle of the City, the downtown, bustling, summertime City, I stepped into a world of gaiety and joy, with a distinct vintage flavor.

I went swing dancing in the middle of the City.

And when I say, "I went swing dancing," of course I mean, "I was in the company of individuals who knew how to swing dance, while I awkwardly stepped about with a smile on my face."

I had convinced my mom and my aunt to take the train into the City with me one Friday evening.  The dancing was to be in Grant Park, the classiest and grandest of all the parks, if you ask me.  There would be an hour-long dance lesson, and then live music... and dancing!

You must understand something about me: I am a fierce dancing enthusiast.  I love all things dancing, and every kind of dancing.  I want so badly to be good at dancing... but it just doesn't come very easily to me.  And when I say, "It just doesn't come very easily to me," of course I mean, "My arms and legs flail about in an awkward fashion while others look on with pity."  So I will be very quick to jump into a dancing situation, but very slow to learn the steps.  Fortunately, I was in the company of a mom who is a good encourager and an aunt who is a good dancer.  And very friendly to strangers.

The adventure began when we walked to Grant Park from the train station.  It was not a far walk, but the sun was forming beads of sweat on our foreheads and causing our fair Irish skin to flush with the heat.  We arrived at Grant Park; rather, the section of Grant Park in which I assumed the dance would take place.  Who knew Grant Park was so big?  We walked another good stretch and found it, but by this time we had wilted in the heat and our patience had taken a beating.  Still, I beamed when I saw the huge crowd on the colorful dance floor surrounded by skyscrapers.  Some were even dressed in their fifties best!  I had wanted to, as I love playing dress up (yes, even at my age), but I didn't want anyone to get the wrong impression that I was actually good at dancing.

There's something else you need to know about me: I don't talk to strangers.  Especially male strangers.  I just don't.  It makes me very uncomfortable and I become very shy.  But my aunt!  My aunt will talk with anyone, at anytime.  And then there's my mom, who is normally very friendly but has become increasingly wary of the general public and eyed everyone with discreet suspicion.  We made quite the trio.

 "Come on!"  My aunt motioned for me to join her at the back of the dance floor.  I took a breath, willing myself to be both friendly and not a total klutz.  The men were in a line facing the lake, the women were in a line facing downtown, in front of the men.  The idea was to follow the lead of the instructors and dance with the man in front of you until they said to switch, when you would dance with the new man in front of you.  My worst nightmare.  Yet, determined to overcome my fears, I smiled at the man in front of my and took his sweaty hands in my sweaty hands and we did the simple rock step we were taught.  I will say, I got the hang of it, even if he didn't.  When he moved on and the steps got a bit harder, we ran out of dance partners at our end of the line, so I danced with my mom, which was a sight to be seen.  Soon enough we had the routine down, but only if I concentrated really hard and looked only at my feet.

Then the music began.  I'm not sure you can fully appreciate this unless you've experienced this, but listening to a live band in the middle of the city as night comes over the sky is like a dream.  The lights pop on one by one around you and the sky turns the most beautiful shade of blue.  The breeze picks up and cools your sweating skin, now that the sun is hidden behind the tall buildings.  And the music floats above all the heads straight to your ears, your heart.  It's like nothing else.

My aunt may or may not have told a young man "Come dance with my niece, she doesn't have anyone to dance with."  I still haven't decided.  Either way, I found myself putting on a brave face and friendly attitude even though I was mortified to the core.  We chatted a bit and did the most simple of the steps we'd learned.  I was mostly self-deprecating, but he was very patient and didn't mind dancing with a beginner, as he'd been a beginner once himself.  That's something I noticed with this crowd-- there were some fantastically talented dancers, but most were recent learners, eager to pass on their knowledge to new dancers.

I spent most of the rest of the time just watching, taking in, and taking pictures, except when my mom or aunt would tell me to put my camera down and go dance.  I was comfortable behind the camera; I was uncomfortable on the dance floor.  I danced a few more times and had a few more conversations, and was thoroughly pushed outside my comfort zone.  In a good way, I guess.

Before we left, I walked to another section of the dance floor for another perspective in my pictures.  And suddenly, a tall head bobbed into my view.  Out of all the people in the entire City, out of all the people at that dance, I saw someone I hadn't seen for about five years.  I wanted to stare, but that would make me a creeper.  So of course I did an even creepier thing, but it was much less noticeable.  I snapped a picture and stared at that.  It was him!  It was the one man who had ever told me he wanted to date me, then when I wanted to be friends, promptly dropped me as a friend.  He was here, dancing in the City, of all places.

I told my mom.  She asked if I had said hi.  I told her it would be pretty awkward to say hi to someone who had unfriended you on facebook.  She cringed a little and I smiled sardonically.  It was weird and I hope he didn't see me.

Despite that very strange incident, I found myself totally in love with the event, and we walked back to the train, energized and exhausted at the same time.  

Dancing in the City is magical; I think I smiled the whole way home.

July 14, 2010

My Alternate Reality...

Well, I've been slacking.  I've been enjoying running from here to there while in Chicago, and frankly haven't given too much thought to my blog.  It's funny how when I am on vacation, it's like I escape to an alternate reality.  In this alternate reality, everyone wants to spend time with me.  I have no bills.  I can eat delicious food without consequences.  I have no real responsibilities.  And it doesn't matter that I'm single.  In my reality it doesn't matter that I'm single either, but it really doesn't matter in my alternate reality.  Why?  I've got family to care for me, I'm so busy I don't even think about it, and I'm not surrounded by happy couples.  So... all that to say, I haven't thought too much about my blog in the last few days.  But I've taken a lot of pictures.  I haven't had a chance to doctor these up, as I am wont to do, but they make me smile:

That's all for now.  I have some deeper thoughts brewing, but they'll have to wait, as I have an alternate reality to enjoy. :)

July 8, 2010

No Place Like It...

**First, I would like to point out that I began this blog one year ago TODAY.  I find this to be an appropriate topic for my one-year anniversary. :)**

What makes home home?  These are the things I can think of that make home home, give or take a few:

a sense of the familiar
people you love
favorite places
a sense of belonging

If this list is indeed accurate, then I have two homes. 

In Chicago, the region in which I resided from birth until twenty-three, I obviously have memories.  I remember summers in the back yard, making teepees and playing in the fort.  I remember building snow forts in the church parking lot across the street.  I remember foot wrestling with my little brother on the couch in the living room.  I remember packing up my fresh college supplies and driving downtown to be dropped off at Moody for the very first time.  Oh, there are memories.  In Chicago, there is a sense of the familiar.  I can navigate my way through my neighborhood just as well with my eyes closed as when they are open.  I could tell you how to get to all the best restaurants in the city.  I can tell you what traffic will be like on a given day and time, because I am that familiar with the region.  In Chicago, there are obviously people I love.  Most of my extended family lives very near, and we are all thick as thieves.  In Chicago, I have my favorite places: Belly Button Hill, my old bedroom, Grant Park, Moody's plaza, The Chicago River at State Street.  In Chicago, I am comforted as I eat dinner with my family.  I am comfortable sitting on the train alone, headed downtown.  I am comforted as I walk between the enormous buildings, smelling hot dogs and toasted nuts.  In Chicago, I know I belong because there are people who speak as I do.  There are Sox fans everywhere.  There are others who look as Irish/German as I do.  In Chicago, my purpose is to love my family and spend time with them.  Chicago is my home.

And yet, in Florida, where I have spent the last three years of my life, I have found it is my home too.  In Florida, I have memories.  I remember the first night I spent in Florida without my parents and how I cried myself to sleep.  I remember the first Christmas party we had with discipleship girls at our apartment, wild and noisy.  I remember watching my two dear friends and sisters get married in the land of sand, sun, and palm trees.  I remember laughing until my face hurt with friends, sometimes kicking over a glass of pop, other times snorting.  Oh, there are memories.  In Florida, there is a sense of the famliar.  I no longer need a map to get anywhere in a thirty-minute circumference of my apartment.  I can direct you to the best place to park at the beach, and I know some great little neighborhoods in which to ride a bike down cobblestone streets.  I know what the weather will be like at any given time of year... finally.  I love people in Florida.  In fact, that is what has kept me in Florida when nothing else would-- people.  Friends, new and old.  Friends I serve in minstry with.  Friends I live near.  Friends I teach with.  Students I serve.  Girls I disciple.  People I love.  In Florida, I have my favorite places: my bed near the windows, charming downtown Dunedin, hip Hyde Park, the lake outside my apartment.  In Florida, I am comforted when I eat dinner with my Thursday night dinner group.  I am comfortable when I am sitting in the youth room.  I am comforted when I sit with friends in my apartment and laugh.  In Florida, I know I belong because I know what kinds of clothes to wear to survive in the sunshine and the air conditioning.  I know I am wrapped in a hug from a girl I disciple.  In Florida, I have purpose: I teach students and disciple girls, and I love it.  Florida is home.

This two-homes issue used to be a problem for me.  I felt my heart splitting in two, as if  there was a string pulling it from Chicago and another pulling from Florida, and I was stuck somewhere in between.  What I have found recently, however, is that my heart is allowed to be in both places, but I must be content wherever I am.  Right at this moment, as I sit on the loveseat in the dimly-lighted living room in the house in which I grew up, I am content to be here, on vacation, enjoying my family.  I hear my dad working in the basement listening to Harry Nilsson.  I hear the train in the distance.  I feel the air conditioning try to cool a house that has baked in the sun, and I smell the hamburgers we just ate from the grill.  And when I am in Florida in a couple weeks, I will be content to be there, typing away at my desktop in my dimly-lighted living room of my very own apartment, seeing the beautiful fountain in the lake outside my windows, smelling the tropical plug-in I have on the wall, and feeling the delightfully frigid air conditioning for which I pay such a high price.

I haven't learned to be content in every circumstance, because let's face it, I have a lot of circumstances yet to experience.  But I have learned to be content in Chicago and Florida, and that's a step in the right direction.  Took me long enough. :)  Where is home for you?

July 5, 2010

Images of Independence...

Sitting in the back of a red pickup truck, I let the breeze mess up my hair as I watched the fireworks all around me.  "Walking in Memphis" came from the speakers, and I smiled.  Independence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Deeply patriotic, I tear up when I hear the National Anthem.  Pair that or other equally as patriotic songs with firecrackers, and suddenly there are waterworks to go with the fireworks.  I smiled and teared up as I looked around me: friends sitting on the tailgate, parents holding their children, children staring in wonder, pyrotechnics everywhere from right above me to across the water... these were images of independence.

Every morning we wake up blessed by God to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of our country's leadership and shortcomings.  Enjoy some glimpses of my Independence Day and count your blessings as well. :)

free to make cupcakes
free to try not to laugh when Bestie takes my picture
free to enjoy a sunset
free to ooh and ahh
free to be artistic
free to appreciate tender moments

July 1, 2010

Oh, How Things Have Changed...

Bestie and her husband are leaving the youth ministry to lead the college ministry.  Last night at youth group, we spent time honoring their service.  They were asked about some of their most memorable moments, and Bestie mentioned that morning three years ago when the two of us boarded a bus full of strangers, headed to camp.

And all I could think was, Oh, how things have changed.

We dived in head first into summer camp, not knowing anyone besides each other.  I was dreadfully uncomfortable and therefore painfully shy.  What am I thinking?  Why am I here?  I knew I was supposed to be there but if I were to be perfectly honest, I didn't entirely want to be there.  It was stretching and oh so scary.  We had been hired to teach in the fall, but we hadn't even moved yet.  I thought I was being tested to my limits, but unbeknownst to me, the testing hadn't even begun.


My attic room was dark, the hall light casting shadows on the barren walls that had been so perfectly decorated.  I sat up in the bed I'd slept in for most of my life and looked around at the emptiness.  I cried.  I sobbed.  In the morning, I was leaving the home of my youth.  I sobbed for the life I would leave behind.  I sobbed for the people I would leave behind.  I sobbed for the uncertainty of the future and my new life.  It was the night of Independence Day, and it was my independence day as well.  In the morning, I left my hometown in Illinois and made my way to my new life in Florida.  The homesickness lasted a long time.  My body was in Clearwater, but my heart was in Midlothian.  Again, I knew I was in the right place, but that didn't mean I wanted to be there.

I think a year passed before I even really smiled.  I remember thinking about Bestie and how easily she seemed to fit in, make friends, and be herself, and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't seem to fit in, make friends, and be myself.  I had been lonely, unhappy, and discontent.  Yet things started to change over time.  I had become comfortable in my ministry and had made friends, but the testing wasn't over.

Bestie began dating.  Then the real challenges began and late nights alone, crying, much like that night before I left for Florida.  But miraculously, what had become the greatest test and strain became the greatest opportunity for growth.  My attitude, my spirit, and my life changed, only because of the Holy Spirit's work in my heart.

Then Bestie got married, and I got my own place.  You find me now, not the girl I was in the empty room in Midlothian, but a woman who is content with her life and can smile at the unknowns of the future.  A woman who loves her job, her ministry, and the people in her life.  A woman whose heart has changed more over the last three years than maybe ever in her life.

Three years ago on July 5, I made the greatest leap of faith I've ever had to make thus far.  And though it was a most painful and stretching experience, I would not and could not change a moment, because God used each and every moment to make me into a godly woman, and that's what I have asked Him to do.  When I think about what has happened in the last three years, I smile with the anticipation of what God will do in the next three years.  And it's a real smile.  A real, contented, happy smile.