identity

April: Hidden Gems

April 2013 started just like any other month–I did not have anything major planned, aside from preparing for my friends’ wedding the next month. Yes, I had work and other routine things, but I didn’t enter the month with excited anticipation for what was about to happen.

Yet, 2013 was the year of immeasurably more. I should have been expecting the immeasurably more from the get go. Jesus was waiting with joy and excitement to show my heart immeasurably more.

For many years, Ocean City has held a special place in my heart. It is by far my favorite shore town to visit. I have fond memories from my whole life, spent in different parts of the city. When there was a day in early April of temperatures soaring to the upper 80’s and lower 90’s, I took full advantage of the fact that I had not been scheduled to work. I made it the first beach day of the year. I started my day at one of the more secluded parts of the shoreline. When I visit Ocean City on my own, I almost always have the same goals for the day:

  1. Have time alone with Jesus
  2. Go for a short run on the beach
  3. Stick at least my toes in the water
  4. Eat Manco’s & Manco’s pizza
  5. Enjoy Kohr Brother’s ice cream or Rita’s water ice
  6. Avoid getting a horrible sunburn
  7. Take photos

I successfully accomplished all of those goals on that visit to Ocean City. I had wonderful conversations with Jesus as I embraced His presence relaxing my soul.  My run was very short, but it was the first time that I had run in a couple of years. Slow progress is better than no progress. The water was still painfully cold, regardless of the warm air temperatures, but I did get my feet wet. I had delicious pizza for lunch, followed by chocolate ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. If you look closely in the photo of the ice cream, you might even notice that I drew a smiley face on one of my nails. Joy was all around me and flowing through me that day. I avoided sunburn by looking in a handful of stores during the hottest part of the day. The winds shifted in the afternoon to a sea breeze and were chilly enough to force me to buy a sweatshirt. It’s rather hard to get sunburn when you are covered up. 😉

OC_April

This visit to Ocean City was important for me, not just because I was able to enjoy an unseasonably warm day in one of my favorite places on Earth. It was a chance for me to express my deep gratitude to God for the freedom that He was bringing to my heart in a life-changing way.  Since 2011, I have been praying for God to let me see myself the way that He sees me. Praying such a simple phrase has led me on the most amazing of adventures with God. 2013, the year of “immeasurably more” has allowed me to experience many moments where I thought that my heart simply would burst if it were filled with any more joy. This one day in April was a celebration of what I thought was the fullness of God revealing one of the major ways that He sees me–as beautiful. My time at the beach ended with me dancing in joy and worship before God after I wrote the words “Freedom in JESUS =)” in the sand with my fingers. When God brings freedom to your heart, you can’t just keep it to yourself. Sometimes, the best way to share it with the world is to write it on the beach of Ocean City.

Freedom_On_Beach

Other highlights from the month of April:

*Going out to dinner with my family to Cracker Barrel. We don’t get the chance to eat out a lot, so any time we can all go, it’s a good night. Mom had won a gift card from Cracker Barrel on Facebook, so we used it for our dinner.  Her gift card was for $50, and without trying, our total was $49.87. We could not have gotten any closer if we had tried!

*I helped Mom and Dad re-paint their bedroom.

*A coffee/hot chocolate date at Starbucks with a friend from church that ended up being a four-hour long event. We shared our hearts with each other, and quickly realized that sometimes sharing your heart is not a speedy process. We ended our time by walking around the mall, my proving to her that I could fit in a kid’s chair outside of one of the stores, and dancing in Bath & Body Works with the cashier (who is also one of my friends) to “Good Time” by Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen. I found a fragrance that I loved, and knew would be using for my friends’ wedding in just a few short days.

*A semi-spontaneous meet up with some of my college friends. I’ll post more about this in my entry about May, as I consider that night part of “Birthday Week” (which is in the beginning of May) more than I consider it to be one of the events of April, even though it happened the last day of the month.

It’s always a good time.

April_Collage_2

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February: Laughter Is Good For The Soul

February 2013 was a month of celebrating the little things in life.

My aunt and uncle, who live in Tennessee, came up to New Jersey for a visit. My grandmother had a family dinner to celebrate the occasion. Those of us who were able to make the dinner crowded around the dining room table, the table reserved for large gatherings. My grandmother’s house is cozy and full of love, but it is not extremely large. I’m not sure if my grandparents ever dreamed of having a family that is too large to sit at one table for a meal when they moved into their house many years ago.  Even though no one has much wiggle room at the table, it is a table of love. Besides, we’re family, so a little elbow nudging here and there won’t upset anyone.

Fam dinner Feb

The love of family is not only shown during a large dinner. The love of family is also shown through small moments filled with deep joy. One day when my sister and I were at Walmart, I saw a package of pink pancake mix with chocolate chips. Leeann loves anything and everything pink.. As soon as I saw the packaging, I picked up the mix and put it in the cart. I told her, “I just found something for you to buy because you are going to enjoy it.” At first, she was not happy about me spending her money for her. Once she saw what I had picked out, all of her frustrations dissipated. The two of us made the pancakes on a night we were both home.  I enjoyed the pancakes, not because they were pink, but because they gave my sister and I an opportunity to hang out and do something together.  Another special memory I have with my sister during this month is the night we decided to go to Yogo Factory for frozen yogurt. The temperature outside was frigid, yet we still ventured out and enjoyed the opportunity to indulge in a tasty dessert.

Leelee yogo

I had the opportunity in the middle of the month to meet up with one of my roommates from college and her husband for dinner. They had recently bought a house, and this was my first chance to see it. By the end of the night, my roommate and I had shared our hearts with each other for about 6 hours, and it still felt as if we had just barely scratched the surface. We celebrated God’s faithfulness in our lives and were open about the struggles in our hearts. Once her husband came home from work, he also joined in our time of sharing with each other. In a sense, it was a very small church service. No hymns were sung, but we broke bread together. We shared our hearts together. We lifted up Jesus together. We prayed together. It was a beautiful night, and a beautiful time of church.  A few days later, it was during a “regular”  church service that God brought my heart into a freedom it had never known before, yet had wished and hoped for and dreamed of.

HL_happy_bloom

Towards the end of the month, I met up with three of my friends from college for dinner. We had been talking and dreaming about a small reunion since we had seen each other last. Our plan originally was to meet up for church and then have lunch, but our schedules only allowed us to meet up for dinner on a Saturday night. Three of us carpooled to our pre-determined meet-up place. Once our fourth friend showed up and got into the car, we all squealed with delight.  As we drove to Applebees, conversation flowed easily as we began to catch up on each other’s lives and the lives of our other friends who were not with us that night. During our dinner, none of us saw the need to be quiet in our joy. We were that loud, obnoxious table of people who laugh at everything.  We saw a family, seated near us, who had also been at Megan and Derek’s wedding. The four of us walked over to surprise them, our joy, smiles, and giddiness giving us away before we got over there.  We lingered as long as we could at the restaurant. After dinner, we drove to Yogo Factory for dessert. We continued with our joy-filled laughter and conversations. We were some of the only people there, which made our conversations seem even louder. We stayed until the workers started to close up the building. It is this type of friendship–the type of conversations you can barely finish because you are too busy exploding with joy and laughter, the crazy dreams you dream together, and the moments of life that you share together with one heart–that I will never take for granted.

 Feb_Applebees_Yogo
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January: Let Our Hearts Embrace This Moment

2013 started with eager anticipation. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with family friends, a lifelong tradition with only a few exceptions. We ate far too much of our share of pizza, snacks, and desserts. As we shared a simple meal, we also shared our hearts with each other, catching up on what has happened in our lives since our last gathering. We played Bananagrams until a couple of us were too tired to make words. My parents and I left before midnight and rang in the new year on our couches, snuggled up under blankets. I wanted 2013 to get here, and get here quickly. I knew that once 2013 arrived, it was only a matter of weeks before two of my best friends got married. Working the days in between didn’t seem as stressful as usual, because I had such a major milestone to count down to.

NYE tree 2013

   In between New Year’s and my friends’ wedding, a little event called Passion 2013 happened in Atlanta, GA. Passion is an organization that seeks to “glorify God by uniting students in worship, prayer, and justice for spiritual awakening in this generation.” I had attended Passion conferences in the past, but was unable to be in Atlanta for 2013’s conference. I was still able to attend the conference, thanks to the donations of some very generous people that allowed the conferences to be streamed online. I wasn’t able to watch every session, but the ones that I did watch were amazing. It was during Passion 2013 that God showed me what would end up being my theme Bible verse for 2013.
   The conference also unveiled new worship songs. As I watched the conference on my computer, two of these new worship songs invaded my heart. “God’s Great Dance Floor” and “Shout” became my new favorite worship songs because through those songs, I was able to embrace freedom like never before. I danced around my room, knowing how silly I looked. Regardless of how silly I looked while dancing,   I was dancing in freedom. over every one of the chains that used to hold me captive. My dancing was proclaiming TRUTH where there used to be only lies and confusion. I was taking full claim of the promise that God IS DOING something NEW in my life. A line in “Gods’ Great Dance Floor” says “Let the future begin.” I held that line close to my heart–I could sense that a whole new adventure (one of immeasurably more than I could dream of) was about to begin.
   Before I knew it, the time for my friends’ wedding had come. I had been looking forward to this wedding since the fall of 2008. I had already become friends with Derek the year before through a Christian group on campus. Megan and I became best friends right after we met at an outreach event on campus. It wasn’t long before Megan and Derek met and I found myself  answering Megan’s questions about Derek and giving her relationship advice (including the simple statement, “Meg, when he asks you out, say yes.”). He did in fact ask her out, and the rest is history. Megan and Derek have the kind of love that would make a Hollywood chick-flick jealous.  In their four years of dating, I have had the privilege to see their love for God and their love for each other deepen and intensify to a level not seen by many in today’s world.
   In the months leading up to Megan and Derek’s wedding, God was preparing my heart for what was yet to come. He was answering prayers that I had been holding in my heart and asking Him for years and years. Jesus showed me that He sees me as beautiful. What better way to fully celebrate for the first time the understanding that I am beautiful than being a bridesmaid in the wedding of two of your closest friends?

Everything about the wedding weekend was beautiful, wonderful, and perfect. I went to a nail salon for the first time in my life and got my first manicure. As an added bonus, the lady who worked on my nails gave me a shoulder massage as my nails dried. I am very ticklish, so for someone to be able to give me a massage without me laughing and telling them to stop a few seconds into it is a huge deal. I also wore makeup for the first time in my life (not counting the couple of times that I wore just one or two types of makeup, usually under much protest). I rode in a limo for the first time.

The ceremony brought almost everyone in the room to tears. I could not look at my friends during the ceremony, because I knew that certain ones were bawling their eyes out—if I looked at them, I would have started to bawl my eyes out. There is nothing wrong with crying, except when formal photos still have to be taken afterward. The ceremony was a mixture of Chinese and English. Derek’s family is Chinese, and some speak very little English. Derek’s mom read some Scripture in Mandarin Chinese for her family.

The day ended with a joyous reception. I looked forward to dancing as a way to celebrate the day itself, to celebrate the joy of realizing that God sees me as beautiful, and to the freedom God had given my heart earlier in the month. I’m not a good dancer, and I don’t know many moves, but the few songs I danced to became treasures in my heart.

Not long after Megan and Derek’s wedding, I went bridesmaid dress shopping for wedding number two of 2013. This experience did not go as smooth as dress shopping for Megan’s wedding had gone. The day we went shopping was the first day I met one of the bridesmaids. She is very nice, but that day, we had to deal with the slight awkwardness of not knowing each other, yet having to work together to find dresses for the wedding. Our experience was beyond stressful (our consultant forgetting about us was the least of our problems), but in looking back, many precious memories were created that day. Our dresses were successfully ordered and I started a new friendship.

What a way to kick off a year!

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Today Is My Happily Ever After

fairytale

I have never been a “girly girl*.”  The few pink things that I enjoy are strawberry lemonades/smoothies, the inside of a medium-rare steak, bubble gum, and the second dot in Flickr’s logo.  The only makeup I own and know how to apply is a handful of containers of nail polish.  I tried to read Pride and Prejudice, but could barely make it through the first chapter.   I work at Home Depot, and am proud of the fact that I can lift bags of mulch, pieces of lumber and 60 lb bags of concrete without any help.  My childhood consisted of playing outside, taking on boys in sports, catching frogs, and being called a princess.

I have yet to watch a Disney movie where the princess does not have a “happily ever after.”  Or any chick-flick.  The “happily ever after” comes after she is swept off her feet by her prince and challenges are overcome.  It is easy in everyday life to view your “happily ever after” as a day far off in the future,  a day that will only happen when x, y, and z are completed.  Perhaps it is when you will get your dream job, or perhaps it is your wedding day that still seems as if it is an eternity away (especially if you are still single while your friends start to get married). Perhaps your “happily ever after” will come after you’ve overcome an addiction or faced a fear that has gripped your soul for far too long.

I say that today is your “happily ever after.”  I know that your heart is probably full of confusion, hurt, disappointment, unanswered questions,  and dreams that have yet to be fulfilled; yet your heart also holds peace, joy, happiness, and excitement.  I can say that with confidence because my heart is the same way.  There is no prince in sight to sweep me off of my feet, but he’s not here yet because he probably still has some dragons to slay.  People say and do things that are hurtful, but you can release them into the beauty of forgiveness.  I eagerly anticipate the days when more of my dreams can be fulfilled, but how I choose to live today will determine what the future looks like.

I am still a princess, not simply because my mom has called me that since I was a baby.  I am still a princess because my Daddy is the King of Kings.  Because of the goodness of God, I am here today, alive, & free from sin and full of love, faith, joy, and hope.  I have wonderful memories and a future ahead of me that is held by the hands of my Creator.  It has not been an easy journey up until now—my heart still bears the now-healed scars from previous hurts—and the future will not always be easy, but who said that adventures would be easy?  Explode my soul, explode with praise because a few years ago, you couldn’t imagine being here today after first seeing the trials you would have to overcome.  A few years ago, you didn’t know what it meant to become freer in how you worship God.  You didn’t realize how beautiful you are, or that the deepest hurts from others can be forgiven and healed.

Drop whatever is preventing you from living today as your “happily ever after.”   Leave it at the foot of the Cross.  Once you do that, you are free, and “whom the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). You only get to experience today one time in your entire life, so why would you want to live it as anything but full of joy?

Today is my “happily ever after” simply because I am a child of God.  My identity is found in Him alone.

Mi nombre es Susan, y yo soy una princesa.

*Over the past year or so, I was in circumstances that required me to dress up–weddings, a funeral, job interviews, certain photography events, etc.  I even bought a purse with a ruffle on it.  EVEN SO, I am still a complete tomboy at heart.

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