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That Time I Got Engaged

July 20, 2014

Been putting it off for a while, so here it is.

John doesn’t usually ‘ask me to go to dinner,’ we usually just decide to have dinner together or we go out with friends.  So when he asked me if he could ‘take me out’ on a Thursday (June 26th), I knew something was up.  I remember talking to my friend Andrea prior to the date that I thought tonight might be the night.  (Yes, John and I talked about it ahead of time … if you know me, you know this isn’t out of character)

So I got ready, put a dress on and waited for a bit for John to come pick me up.  I was starving.  I had worked at the summer camp I’m running that day, and my last meal had been several hours prior.  John picked me up and we started walking towards his car but it became clear we weren’t getting into it.

“Wait, ok, are we walking to dinner?  What’s going on?  I’m starving.”  I was being a brat.

“Dinner isn’t … ready yet.  Do you trust me?  Let’s just go for a short walk.”  John tried to distract me.

“OK.  Do I need to go back to the apartment to get a granola bar or something?  I’m really hungry.  What do you mean ‘Dinner isn’t ready yet?'”  I was still being a brat.

“Um it just … isn’t ready.  Let’s just walk … ” He is terrible at playing ‘dumb’.  But I still love him.

So we walked up to Kenmore Plantation and walked around back.  John had set up a picnic!  He explained that he had gone to get us food … but that he had forgotten his wallet.  So we sipped on some wine until our friend Thomas and his wife Anita brought us our favorite sushi.  I was a few bites in, and it was clear John was really nervous.  He was even still texting someone, until he finally put his phone down and said, “I need to get up and stretch my legs.”

“Uh, ok.”

John got down on one knee and said, “Cynthia, you know I want to spend the rest of my life with you, so will you marry me?”

I think my response was, “Wait, really, right now?”  Yes, probably not the best thing to have said, but I had kind of been expecting it, and still hadn’t thought of something more eloquent.  I think I was more relieved that the nervousness could be over … and we could start working on the harder things.

I said yes.

Almost immediately, our friend Thomas and his wife came around the fence they were behind (I didn’t realize they had been there the whole time) and congratulated us.   Thomas had even taken a video!  No, I haven’t put that up on the internet yet … Don’t know if I will.

John and I talked for a bit and made a few important phone calls to family and friends.

Since then, we’ve started working on some plans and have gotten started with pre-marriage counseling.  I think this has been my favorite part of being engaged.  And I’m learning more and more every day what it looks like to be a better friend and partner to my future husband.  I’m excited, scared, nervous, and thrilled to be marrying my best friend in a few months.

Pictures from our Engagement

Pictures from our Engagement

 

How Things Are. Not How They Look.

July 20, 2014

Waking up on this first morning of vacation, knowing that it is Sunday and we would not be attending church, I thought of listening to a sermon online.  I don’t do this as often as I’d like. But I’m rarely able to do just one thing at a time, and slow down enough to actually take something out of it.  So I listened to a sermon given by Tullian Tchividjian this morning, specifically his first sermon in the series he did from Romans.   It felt like he had given it back in January just for me to be able to listen to today.  I go through cycles in my life where I think that I have learned enough, grown enough, and am capable enough to be in control of everything and stop trusting God’s control and wisdom in my life.  This week and probably the past month are a clear sign of that.  I’ve stopped asking Jesus to be the desire of my heart, and I’ve stopped relying on His strength to push me.  As a result, everything came to a head this past Wednesday.  I literally woke up so overwhelmed and exhausted: physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that I was crying for an hour before I could pull myself together.  I made the mistake of calling John (yes, my new fiancé; blog on our engagement to follow) in hopes that he could ‘fix’ it.  Going outside of the grace, love, and mercy of Christ that I could find in the Word broke my heart.  So instead of using John to ‘fix’ me, I went to the Word and to my favorite devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  It seemed as if Chambers knew what my heart needed to know that morning, just as Tullian knew that I needed to keep hearing today.  Using scripture from Matthew 7, Chambers delineated how God doesn’t want us to rely on ourselves or our own wisdom, but wants us to ask Him for guidance, and He will give it to us.

I’m thankful that there are men and women who can break down the Gospel and the Word in ways that help me understand the person of Christ more, but I’m most thankful for what Jesus did.  Tchividjian’s message in his sermon reminded me that God isn’t looking for us to rely on ourselves or anything within us, but to recognize that our salvation had to come from Christ.

After listening to the sermon, I thought about my upbringing, and tweeted that, “As thankful as I am, for having grown up in a home where I was told to, ‘question everything,’ and ‘decide for myself what’s true,’ … I’m equally (if not more) thankful that the real Truth has been revealed to me, and is still being revealed to me every day.”  The overwhelming intellectual attitude that pervades the culture I grew up in, teaches that you should investigate the world around you and determine for yourself what truth is.  My parents, bless their hearts, encouraged this philosophy, and let me make my own decisions.  So for the most part, I incorporated their convictions and doctrines, almost without realizing it.  But when I went to college and started making my own convictions and doctrines (from the wisdom of the Gospel), my mom was less than pleased.  My beliefs were starting to stray from hers and that was more than she could handle.

In a discussion with a Southern Baptist’s Preacher’s kid (who is now a worship leader at the same church himself) and another friend whose family is SB, it was clear they had been raised in an environment where there was only one accepted truth: the Gospel.  Their parents taught and indoctrinated them from a young age.  While I agree with the truth they were taught, I still value the method with which I was able to come to the truth.  In our conversation the worship leader indicated he looked down on how my parents had raised me.  At first I got upset about it too, but then realized that it was the path God had lined up for me.  It also helped me recognize that you shouldn’t condemn someone for their upbringing.  Don’t ever criticize someone for something they don’t have control over.  It will hurt their heart and affect them more than you know.

Instead, offer an ear to listen to how someone was raised and ask them how it  has shaped them and what they have learned from it.  I have learned a ton; both for myself and for how I plan to raise my future children.  Asking someone where they are going is a far better idea than critiquing them on how they got there.  Care about how things are, not how things look.  That’s been my biggest critique of organized religion.  Catholics care about what you do, and Baptists care about how things look.  But Jesus?  Jesus cares about how your heart is. So … Who are you letting fix your heart?

How to Measure Your Life

June 11, 2014

As much as I often loathe how technology has changed and how my life revolves around it, I also love how it allows me to track my own life and keep up with those around me.  A few weeks ago my friend Dana told me to download an app called Timehop.  “Cynthia, it’s super cool, you can see what you did in the past year or two or three or more!”  I downloaded the app, and a few pictures and twitter statuses came up.  It was interesting.  So over the past couple weeks since I’ve had the app, I check it once or twice a day (it updates daily) to see what I did on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram a year, 2, 3, or more ago.  Timehop has served as both a joyful and painful reminder of some of the choices I’ve made in the past, and it’s let me relive a few events.  I can’t say that I’d die without it, but it’s given me a chance to reflect a bit.

In my Timehop on June 8th was my blogpost from a year ago, How to Measure a Year.  I remember writing the post.  I remember what I was thinking.  I remember what I wanted.  I remember where I had been.  And I don’t want to go back in time to that version of myself.  Why?  The past year has made me a stronger person and I’ve learned and grown more than ever.  But I love the rhythm of the post and I love what it stands for.  So I’m going to do a mirror post; in italics is the post from a year ago, with my current post in bold (in case you want to skip the old post).

~

The year isn’t even half over and I’ve already been on tons of trips.  I’ve taken lots of pictures.  I’ve been to more rock concerts than in my whole life.  I’ve seen a few action movies.  I’ve worked four jobs. I’ve flown to Florida, St. Louis, and Boston.  I’ve driven to Pennsylvania three times, Maine once, Atalanta once, and countless places in Virginia.  I’ve run a 5K.  I’ve started teaching private violin and viola lessons.  I’ve read a couple books.  I’ve hung out with my roommate. I’ve fed a baby goat.  I’ve been to three weddings.

The year isn’t even half over and I can’t count how many trips I’ve gone on: planes, trains, cars, boats, and by foot. I’ve taken too many pictures. I’ve stayed local for a lot of decent shows. I’ve seen a handful of movies.  I love Maleficent and I love Frozen and I love how they convey what love is.  We are broken beings and search every day for love and if we go to bed without it, we wake up thirstier for it than we were the night before.  We go to great lengths and make many sacrifices for love, often at the expense of others.  I’ve flown a bit this year: to Boston and to Miami.  I don’t have any flights planned currently, and that always makes me feel claustrophobic, but I’m starting to get comfortable in Fredericksburg, and I’m ok with that.  I’ve driven to a few places in VA, most notably to Sandbridge for the first time.  I love the beach.  I’ve run a half marathon.  I’m teaching at least twice as many students as I was this time last year.  I’ve read a little bit.  I’ve hung out with my roommate(s) even more.  I’ve held a puppy.  I’ve been to two weddings.

And the year isn’t even half over.  I still have more pictures to take.  I still have more rock concerts to go to.  I still have more action movies I want to see.  I still have a new job I’m starting in July.  I still have more places I’m going to fly to.  I still have lots of places I’m going to drive to.  I still want to run another 5K, or maybe even a 10K.  I still want to teach more students the violin and viola.  I still have tons of books I want to read.  I still want to hang out with my roommate.  I still want to feed other animals.  I still have at least two weddings to attend.

And the year isn’t even half over.  I will take even more pictures, go to more local concerts, see more movies, keep my job, fly to Boston again and maybe Miami, drive to more cities or towns, run more races, teach more students, read more, hang out with my roommates, hang out with more animals, and attend more weddings.  

The year isn’t even half over and I don’t know how to keep track of everything I’ve been learning.  I used to think that the more I did and the more people I talked to, the more meaning my life would have.  I used to think that if I could show people that they mattered, my life would matter.  I used to think that if I never said no, people would see how much I cared.

The year isn’t even half over and I don’t know how to keep track of everything I’ve been learning.  The emotional distraction that I was letting take hold of my life no longer has a grip, and I feel set free from such a burden.  I’ve taken what I’ve learned in the last year and moved forward with even better boundaries. 

And the year isn’t even half over. I’ve been learning that talking to less people for longer means more to people.  I’ve been learning that all the desires of my heart have been met.  I’ve been learning that it’s OK to say no.

And the year isn’t even half over. I’ve been learning how to do life better with people.  

The year isn’t even half over.

The year isn’t even half over.

This post feels like a take on the song ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent.  How do you measure a year?  In cups of coffee?  In miles?  In strife?  No.  You measure a year in love.  You measure your life in love.

Earlier this year at the Jubilee conference (that I wrote about earlier), I got to meet and hear Bob Goff speak. Bob’s book, “Love Does,” is an explication of how love isn’t an emotion – it’s a decision.  This past weekend with my friend Lanae, I listened to a pastor give a sermon at a wedding about the same idea.  Love is not a feeling.  Feelings and emotions come and go, but deciding to do something, that’s different.  Deciding to love someone is hard. Deciding to follow through with something you don’t want to, but that you know is right, is hard. But ultimately choosing love is what’s right.  So I want to measure my year in love from now on.  Not just how I love people or how people love me, but how I see God loving me.

I’ve spent countless hours and days feeling unfulfilled in so many ways, when all the needs of my heart have been met.  Before a rehearsal the other night I was reminded of it, and felt like I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.  I have a need for absolutely nothing.  I have everything I could need or want.  So why isn’t that enough?  Why am I choosing less than I deserve?  Why am I choosing something less than the love I deserve?  Possibly because I don’t think the love I deserve is there.  Maybe because sometimes it’s easier to settle.

I don’t want to settle.  I don’t want to settle for anything less than love.  I don’t want to settle for anything less than the joy that I know I can have in my life.  Even when things are hard, there is always joy.  How do you live your joy in love?

Trying to live a #nunlife in love. 

This year I’m measuring things by joy.  And by relationships.  And love.  I’m trying not to settle for anything less than the joyful #nunlyf.  I’ve had to tell people hard things and make decisions and choose to love people.  I know I’m a stronger person and I know that I’m learning from it.  The second half of this year is going to be even greater.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

13.1 Miles Later

May 21, 2014
Running

Running Through Downtown Fredericksburg

I have a dream list from high school in a journal at home.  I remember writing in it that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon one day.  26.2 miles doesn’t seem very long when you haven’t ever run at all.  After running 13.1 miles, the thought of doing it all over again is terrifying.

I was able to run 13.1 miles on Sunday, May 18th, because of the following:

God, Water, Shannon Hauser, Craig and Tracey Clarke, John Dement, Dana Jacobs, Ruth Will, Tom Mcdonald, John-Rine Zabanal, Steven Fisher, Bridget Dougherty, Gold’s Gym, The Fredericksburg Canal Path, Jelly Belly Sport Beans, Nike Running Pants, Hanes Tshirts, New Balance Sneakers, all the Marines cheering us on along the way, and everyone and everything else that encouraged me; especially everyone saying how proud they were of me.

shan

Shan and I running the last 3 miles/Steve and I after the race

 

I always considered myself a ‘3 Mile Runner’ (I’ve run a lot of 5Ks … etc) … until Craig Clarke convinced me to sign up for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon.  Training was hard but it went well in the three months leading up to the race … that is, until two weeks before the race, when I decided I was no longer motivated to run.  Craig became too sick to do long runs with, and I got busy with work.  So, after only about 7 or 8 long runs (6+ miles) under my belt, I ran the half.  My time was under what I had initially guessed (3 hours), finishing in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Do I feel like I accomplished something big?  Yes.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes.  Was it hard?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  Would I do it again?  Yes.

Things in life that are hard, are often the most worth it.  The people we surround ourselves with can either carry us through those hard things, or they can drag us down the side roads that will bring us to a dead end.  It’s been an amazing several months, as I’ve surrounded myself more and more with the people I know are going to walk (or run) with me down (or up) the hard routes of life, not the easy ones.

Sign

Sign Shannon Made for Race Day

 

Emotional Distraction

May 21, 2014

“Stay With Me”

By Sam Smith

Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand

But I still need love cause I’m just a man

These nights never seem to go to plan

I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

Oh, won’t you stay with me?

Cause you’re all I need

This ain’t love it’s clear to see

But darling, stay with me

Why am I so emotional?

No it’s not a good look, gain some self control

And deep down I know this never works

But you can lay with me so it doesn’t hurt

Oh, won’t you stay with me?

Cause you’re all I need

This ain’t love it’s clear to see

But darling, stay with me

~

I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness, depression, and emotions this week.  After a roller-coaster of a weekend   (I’m fine, don’t worry), I’ve been debating why God allows us to feel such pain and separation.  While I don’t think it’s what He wants for us, it is something that we often feel.  I can’t say that I have a full and completely scriptural response, but I have some thoughts.

Leading Young Life trained me to see the Gospel in secular aspects of our culture, such as pop music, movies, and other trends. So when I saw this song posted on my Facebook wall, I gave it a listen.  It depicts what I’ve been trying to put my finger on this week.  When I was at my darkest moments I would have (and sometimes did) allow the people who hurt me to stay with me.  I thought it would be too painful to separate from them and be ‘alone’.

At the end of the day, everyone will admit that they are broken, hurting, and can’t fix themselves.  If they can’t admit that … they are still trying to do life on their own and fix their heart with something or someone besides God.

So I think this song describes so accurately how every single one of us has felt at one time or another (I will definitely include myself in this).  Experiencing loneliness comes in waves for me, and varying degrees for that matter.  As a woman, I think most of the time it is an emotional place, and not at all anything to do with the reality that I am always surrounded (metaphorically of course) by people that I know love me and would do anything for me.  It’s when I let those emotions take me out of reality that I lose the ability to recognize the truth.

 

Don’t let your emotions distract you from the reality of the truth.

Who Are You Letting Fix Your Heart?

May 9, 2014

People don’t fix people.  Jesus fixes people. 

I posted this as a Facebook status earlier this morning. I don’t usually post out of frustration or out of hurt, but upon hearing some news this morning, I couldn’t hold back.  So here’s a blog to explain …

In light of everything I’ve been learning the past couple weeks (and actually years at this point)

I’m going to go on a … short rant, here are some conclusions I had drawn:

1.  Relationships (of any kind) are hard but necessary.

2. Relationships take a lot of work.

3. Relationships are one way Jesus works in people.

4. (However) Relationships don’t make people whole.

5.  Jesus makes people whole (and He can use people to do this).

(4. & 5. Are kind of the inverse of each other and I’m OK with that.)

There are few things more frustrating than seeing the ones around you suffering if they ‘don’t have to’ (I do think that God uses suffering in our lives to shape us, in the context of the Gospel of course).  And I have definitely been on the other side of this coin; making choices that hurt my heart more than anything I’ve ever experienced.  Last summer I was an emotional wreck, and any number of people could tell you that I was in no place to love anyone.  It had happened several months earlier as well, and I somehow didn’t learn from that experience how to approach toxic relationships … I have learned my lesson twice now.

That said, I am often beyond torn over how to love those around me (and yes there is a specific relationship between two people that I am thinking of, but I know there are others I have thought of in the past and am also thinking of now) who are making bad (yes, this is relative to what you have your life centered around) decisions for their lives when you want to just make their decisions for them.  I can tell you how my mom reacts: belligerently giving you unnecessary advice and telling you you’re making a horrible life decision and how horrible of a person you and the other are.  Yeah that’s not a good way to go about it; that’s the quickest recipe for how to turn someone away and make them never look back.  Maybe just being with someone through what they are going through … I know when I was hurting most I just wanted someone to sit with me while I was crying or hurting.  They didn’t even need to say anything … just be there.

At the end of the day though, it comes down to what your life is centered around.  If you have yourself set up to be made complete by another human being, then that is what you are looking for, ‘your soulmate’.  Let me tell you something though, people hurt each other. Yes, they can love each other too, but even those who love you most (and who you love most) can hurt you.  Why?  We are all broken and looking for those around us to fill our hearts.

Let me give you some good news today.  You don’t need a person or several people to make you whole.  You have already been made new in Christ and He has everything you have ever desired.  All your heart’s desires were fulfilled on the Cross.  God made good on his promise to give us life. Whether or not you choose His life every day or you choose your own, it is always there.  That is why we don’t need altar calls, we don’t need circumcision (see Acts 15, our church did a Bible study on the subject this week, so this isn’t random, I promise), we don’t need to be perfect … We need Jesus to transform our lives so we can love, transform, and uplift those around us every day.

Living the nun life is about figuring out how to do this better every day.  Let me tell you.  It is not easy.  Sometimes I have a hard time loving the kids I work with; kids make little to no sense to me, but it is the most humbling thing and has taught me more about the Spirit of God than anything else.

So what or who are you letting fix your heart?  Who are you letting into your own brokenness and pain?  After letting people into my brokenness and pain, I’ve realized two things: they can comfort me, but they can’t heal me. Jesus has already done that.  Their comfort and love reminds me and affirms what Jesus has already accomplished on the Cross.

Live the nun life. Life with Christ is hard, but the best thing you will ever do.

Starting at the Finish Line: Relationships and Quitting

May 4, 2014

I wrote this on Friday night, May 2nd and was not able to post it until tonight, Saturday May 3rd.

I find myself at the beach again: 

House with a View

House with a View

This time a bit further north, in Sandbridge, Virginia.  Coming back from vacation last week, mentally I was still in vacation mode.  It took both Monday and Tuesday to get back into the swing of things, and before I knew it, the week was over.  The Elementary Supervisor and I took our first through fifth graders on a field trip to Agecroft today, in Richmond, Virginia, and that was fun.

Agecroft

Agecroft

I left straight from there to drive down to Sandbridge, for the women’s retreat that my church, Common Ground, is holding.  I have been so excited about this weekend since I first heard about it from the ladies in my small group several months back.  What first piqued my interest about the weekend was how powerful our group leaders said it was for their faith, and then they said it was held at the beach … no more needed to be said. I find myself out of Fredericksburg yet again, and very tired.

I’m tired of the stress that comes with my job, I’m tired of trying to be everyone to everybody, I’m tired of working (yes, I know I just had a vacation, but come on, I work 50-60 hours a week), I’m tired of running (training is getting tiresome … two weeks until the big race), I’m tired of hearing bad news, I’m tired of being tired (earlier this week leaving work my boss just looked at me and goes, “You just look terribly exhausted” … that is not something you want to hear immediately after a restful vacation …) and I’m tired of not seeing an end to things …

… But what is an end to things?  For me, it’s having a finish line.  I like having a finish line and a goal.  I like being told explicitly what to do, how to do it, and then going to do it.  I am a task-oriented person who thrives on projects and tasks that can be completed.  Unfortunately, life isn’t just a task to be completed.  It is a vibrant melange of human interaction that winds it’s way through different places and elements.  Life isn’t a list.  And often what seems like a finish line is usually a starting line.

The theme for our retreat this weekend is, “When Quitting Seems Like an Option.”  I have never thought that quitting is option.  I never quit.  I say I’ll do something and I follow through.  I thought quitting was leaving something that you should be doing, or a task that needed to be completed.  But several times in the last three years, after graduating college, nothing seemed straight forward anymore.  Everything I knew was gone, not because I had quit it, but because life moves on … I didn’t have an assigned job, I didn’t have a boyfriend, I didn’t have obligations.  So I over-committed and tried a lot of things: at one point I think I had four or five jobs, I was volunteering, playing gigs, hanging out with college friends, going on trips, attending a 5,000 member church, and trying to figure out who I was.  I thought that I had figured out what I was about in college, but I really hadn’t.  It’s taken about three years for me to realize this: life is about relationships, not commitment (commitment meaning job, task, etc … not ‘being committed’).  Commitments (tasks, jobs, roles we play …) can be quit (somewhat) easily, relationships (usually) can’t.  I think it is when we are faced with whether or not to quit a relationship (in any context) that we face the biggest challenges.

I have had to ‘quit’ a few unhealthy relationships in the past couple years (friendships, romantic relationships, and otherwise), and it has been some of the most challenging times I have gone through.  I don’t think anything can prepare a person for quitting a relationship (friendship, dating, etc).

Quitting jobs or volunteer positions that I have had have been nothing compared to the quitting of those toxic relationships.  A few people have asked me ‘how I’m doing now that I’m not leading Young Life,’ which I genuinely appreciate, but honestly, I feel fine: the important relationships that I formed in Young Life are still in tact.  The girls whose lives I entered and the leaders I led with are still in my life.  The relationships are still there.  I never quit the relationship, I quit the role I was in.  I didn’t quit being who I am: a relational person who only wants to point those around her to her true source of Hope.

That said … This weekend, I want to recognize what role ‘quitting’ has played in my life, and realize that God has never quit on me … I have always had hope, and that hope has always come from God, whether or not I have acknowledged it.

Here’s to a weekend of sun, fun, and nunning it up, this time at the beach:

Sandbridge

Sandbridge