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Author: Elizabeth Brock

What Do These Stones Mean?

What Do These Stones Mean?

In Joshua chapter four, a new generation of Israelites stood on the far side of the Jordan watching as the raging river waters returned to their normal flow. The people stood in awe as their fingertips grazed the fabric of their clothes. Dry as the desert from which they just emerged. They walked through the river and there wasn’t a wet fiber on them. A reminder that their lives had been preserved by the hand of an Almighty God.

He had been faithful.

The leaders of the twelve tribes each took a stone from the bottom of the river and placed them in a pile beside the bank to memorialize the great deliverance.

“Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘In the future your children will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Then you can tell them, “This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over.”
Joshua 4:21-23

My parents and grandparents have done this my whole life. They have picked up the stones made smooth by the tumultuous rivers of their lives and placed them in a visible spot, so that the generations behind them will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Much of who I am as a person is comprised of their stone stories. The
memories of grace told to me, shown to me, by those whose feet have walked farther than my own—they are the stones that built my foundation. And throughout my history, I have been adding memorial stones of my own next to the rivers I’ve crossed. My pile is small and still growing, but it is clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in my legacy.

Maybe while you read this, you remember the stones you’ve collected. Feel them heavy in your pocket. And maybe someone needs to hear the story. Needs to know, “What do these stones mean?” I can’t think of a better time to tell them than around a Thanksgiving table.

Bring out the rocks you picked up as you crossed through the waters of this year, of your life, and pile them right there next to the turkey and sweet potatoes. Show your family what the Lord has done. Tell them of the moment when you put your foot in a raging river with faith you weren’t sure was yours and watched the waters peel back like old wallpaper. Tell them how you watched the faithfulness of God come through an impossible situation. A painful crossing soothed by the balm of His presence. Tell them. Stack the stones high and remember the rivers from whence they came.

“….so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”
Joshua 4:24

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Hear the Rocks Cry Out

Hear the Rocks Cry Out

Today is my birthday.

On this date twenty-five years ago, I entered this world. Opened my eyes for the first time. Joined the ranks of beating hearts.

For every birthday since, there has been one thing that has always remained constant. After every celebration, I have found my feet firmly planted on the ground. My view of life around me: horizontal and concrete.

Very different from the view I see today–vertical and ever-changing.

On this birthday there will be 39,000 feet between the ground and me.

The truth is, there have been 39,000 feet between the ground and me a lot lately. I have stepped onto twenty flights in the last ten weeks.

Every pilot has landed the plane somewhere new and unfamiliar to me, so I’ve spent plenty of time with my nose pressed to the glass drinking in new sights. I indulge in the beautiful luxury of stillness, my forehead leaning on the window beside me as I sit quietly and watch the world go by.

There is something really special about the view from up that high. The land below stretches out and falls away making it look small and enormous in the same glance. I’m suddenly gazing at a vast topographical model like the ones you see in museums. Instead of one battlefield or city, I see everything. All of it. Stretching farther than my eyes can reach.

Flat farmlands connect like patches on a quilt. Colors and patterns threaded together by dirt roads.

Rivers wind and twist, running like veins across the earth, flowing, giving life to stagnant things.

Clouds float delicately alongside, so close you could reach out and touch them. They are never concerned by the strangers passing through their midst.

Some mountains rise up in friendly competition, each one stretching higher than the last. Others have their chests puffed out proudly, reveling in their glittery crowns of snow. They all stand stoically beside one another like broad-shouldered soldiers vowing solemnly to protect the valley below.

Canyons carved in the dry places, always watching the clouds beside you waiting for rain to refill their cracked walls.

Pools of lake water–puddles of sky fallen to the earth–are nestled sweetly between the hills, waiting with kindness for the wanderer who approaches thirsty for beauty and peace.

It’s clarifying in the most soul-clearing way. It’s perspective. It’s zooming out to remember for a moment that the world is big and I am small. Those mountains have stood at their posts since long before I entered this world twenty-five years ago and will go on standing without my help or permission for years to come.

I see the topographical model of my life so far. Twenty-five years stretched out behind me. Dry deserts, mountain peaks, valley beds, running rivers. Every part singing a different note in harmony to the same song.

You can hear them all the way up there, you know—39,000 feet in the air. You can still hear the rocks.

I imagine they sing out in a sweet, tenor tone. The trees in the forests join in with a rich alto, and the mountains belt out in strength and provide the foundational bass. And the running waters of the rivers sing a clear soprano melody.

You can hear them all the way up here, crying out to their Creator. Singing a never-ending song of His faithfulness.

“The Lord has promised good to me

His Word my hope secures

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.”

-Amazing Grace, Chris Tomlin

I can’t think of a better place to be on my birthday than right here, 39,000 feet in the air, joining in the song.

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Names Matter

Names Matter

Part I

There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA. I stood among throngs of them just a few weeks ago—exchanged glances, made way for passersby, bumped shoulders, watched, smelled, listened.

It was my very first time on the West Coast. In all my 24 years, the furthest I’d ever been across the country was a family trip to the Grand Canyon when I was a child. I had planned my visit months ago when my parents suggested I go visit their friends Stuart and Lisa Bell who had moved to downtown Seattle last October as church planters.

After visiting the city and hearing God’s call to relocate about a year and a half prior, the couple sold and gave away most of their personal belongings, packed what remained in a storage unit, piled their clothes and essentials in their jeep, and made their way to Seattle, WA from Bentonville, AR.

The Bells met me at baggage claim with a hug and a smile. Apart from a brief interaction when I was very small, I had never met these folks, but I immediately felt at home.

Throughout my visit, I walked all over downtown Seattle. For 20,000 steps, I followed closely behind Stuart and Lisa, watching all the way at how they interacted with their city.

Periodically, we would stop on a corner or glance out the bus window at a landmark or site, and Lisa would educate me on the history or significance it carried. It was clear every time that the couple had already fallen head over heels for their new city and had taken great care to learn its story.

When I arrived to my room in their Queen Anne apartment, there was a document for me to keep with stats and facts about Seattle and maps on the wall with markers indicating the locations of other church plants. There were only a handful.

Stuart and Lisa filled me in on the challenges of planting a church in a city like Seattle and on the challenges they’ve had personally in relocating to a place so very far away from all that was loved and familiar to them. But more than their challenges, they told me with great excitement of all the victories the Lord has shown them in less than a year. While seemingly small to those who aren’t really looking, they are nothing short of miraculous to Stuart and Lisa, who know full well that God is a God of careful detail. Every victory is an advancement of the Gospel.

Part II

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA.

On our way from the airport to their apartment, we saw only a handful of that number. We took a quiet, scenic route, and as we walked, Stuart and Lisa began to pour out all they’d learned from their city. They rattled off names of connections they’d made, where they’d met them, when they last saw or interacted with them, and what each person thought about Jesus and Stuart and Lisa’s ministry here.

We walked past a coffee shop, and Stuart stopped and peered through the window. His face lit up when he saw his friend Ben, a barista there. He waved and made a goofy face at Ben, who smiled with recognition and waved back.

We rounded the corner and made a stop at a neighborhood bookstore. When we walked in, the two greeted the owner, Erin, by name, and she acknowledged them with a smile. I browsed briefly while the Bells conversed with Erin, talking about landmarks she suggested for my visit, their upcoming trip to China to meet their first grandchild, Erin’s husband Pete, etc. They introduced me, and she chatted with me kindly as a friend of her friends.

While Stuart met to read Scripture with a believer he met recently, Lisa and I stopped in a recommended coffee shop. As we walked in, Lisa called out to the girl behind the counter. Hearing her name, the girl looked up and smiled as Lisa introduced us.

We visited a Danish bakery a few blocks over for breakfast one morning, and the owner, a young woman named Isabelle, smiled when Lisa said hello and recognized her regular customer.

“Did you hear her call my name?” Lisa asked Stuart. “She remembered me.” Another advancement on the battleground. Another stake in the earth.

On our way to the bus stop Saturday morning, a man in a neon vest exited the CVS on the corner behind us, and Stuart called out.

“Nate! Hey, man!! How’s your morning been?”

Nate smiled broadly and shook Stuart’s outstretched hand. His vest was issued by the city as a uniform to wear when he patrolled his area on the corner of Mercer and Queen Anne. When Stuart complimented him and acknowledged the great work Nate was doing to keep the area clean, his head bowed slightly, a little bashful at the encouragement, but grateful to someone for noticing.

Turns out, noticing is something the Bells are great at.

Part III

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA.

And there are 2.5 coffee shops for every thousand of them. One of my requests when I arrived in the city was for the Bells to help me find a really great cup of coffee. We ended up finding several, but the first came from a quirky place a few blocks from their apartment: KEXP, which functions as a radio station, record store, music venue, and coffee shop.

As I sipped on my mocha in my first Seattle coffee shop experience, I had a chance to pull out my current read and spend a little time in *Middle Earth.

*I’d like to take this time to forewarn you that there may be several other references to LOTR in my future writings, because it’s wonderful and poignant and I make no apologies about my love for Tolkien’s writing.

I opened the page to where I’d last left Aragorn and his captains. In Tolkien’s The Return of the King, there is a moment right before the Last Battle that stopped me in my tracks. The armies of Rohan and Gondor have ridden right up to the Black Gate of Mordor with every ally they could muster riding alongside them. Before the monstrous barrier, the captains of each unit shouted forth their challenge and, after an eerie silence, an ambassador of the enemy came riding out to meet them.

As my eyes moved over this descriptive passage, I was struck by how Tolkien identified the foe.

“The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: ‘I am the Mouth of Sauron.’”

In his service and slavery to Sauron, he had forgotten his own name. His master, the enemy of all that was good and free and true, cared not even for a moment about his identity.

And I was suddenly aware of how true that rang across the pages of fiction into the realms of reality.

For we also have an enemy, a master liar and deceiver, adamantly opposed to all that is good and right and true. He fights to fill human hearts with lies about identity and worth.

“You’re not valuable.”

“You’re not noticed.”

“You’re not worth saving.”

“You’re not loved.”

“You’re alone.”

“No one knows your name.”

It’s all a trick. A lie disguised as truth designed to trap its victims in a pit of hopelessness and loneliness.

But here’s what’s true: Jesus knows every name.

He knows every name, and He values those to whom they belong. He loves each heart personally, deeply, intimately, fiercely. He died for every name and rose again so that every name might be freed from sin.

Individuals in the masses are not lost on Jesus. He sees everyone, and he calls people by name.

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”

-Genesis 17:4-5

“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.’”

-Matthew 16:16-18

“He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means “Teacher”).”

-John 20:15-16

“Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

-John 11:43-44

Names are important to Jesus.

Part IV

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA.

Jesus knows every one of them. Personally. Intimately. He looks on each face with great compassion and love. He formed them. They are His creation, after all.

And one by one, He is introducing them to Stuart and Lisa.

They know the importance of names.

They understand the value in valuing someone else. They know what it means to be loved deeply by the One who gives worth and identity to His creation.

They are in Seattle, far from home and familiarity, because He called them there.

By name.

And every time the Bells call out to a new friend, every time they remember a hometown or a favorite coffee haunt, every time they lock eyes with hurting hearts and call them by name, a thread in the enemy’s cord of lies is severed.

“You are valuable.”

I notice you.”

“The Savior of the world came to rescue you.”

“You are loved.”

“You are not alone.”

I know your name.”

Jesus sees you and loves you.”

“The Creator of all the world knows you and calls you by name.”

Part V

There are ­­704,352 people in Seattle, WA and this Sunday, seven of them met in a conference room downtown for Stuart and Lisa’s very first worship service.

The Lord is not just calling Stuart and Lisa to plant a church, but to be the church. From the moment they heard the call, and every moment since, they have been all in. Every time they leave the house, they bow their heads at the door and ask the Lord to guide their steps and orchestrate their encounters and conversations. They pause in front of buildings with “For Lease” signs in the window and ask the Lord to open their eyes for plant locations. Out loud, without making a show or drawing attention to themselves, they speak to the Lord like He is standing with them, shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. And streams of people bustle past, moving unknowingly under the sound of intercession.

Intercession on their behalf.

Stuart and Lisa have a heart for downtown Seattle, but they know no calling can be answered without prayer. It is the foundation of their ministry. And they asked me to ask you for it.

If you’re reading this and would like to support the Bell’s ministry, please consider committing to pray for them faithfully and intentionally. If you feel led to give financially, you can do so by following this link >> http://nwbaptistplanting.com/give. Simply create an account, click “Make A Donation,” and select “Pike Place Church” to give.

The Lord is moving in downtown Seattle. He is calling hearts that are far from Him–calling them to draw near and be filled. And He is calling Stuart and Lisa and the believers who met in that conference room this Sunday, to be His hands and feet. To look on the faces of 704,352 people with the love and compassion of Jesus. To take the lost around them to the foot of the cross so they can find hope. So they can find peace. So they can find redemption.

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My View From the Top of the Stairs

My View From the Top of the Stairs

The year was 2012. It was a Saturday in February, and I was nestled in my warm, comfy bed. Asleep. Deep, unbothered-by-dreams-or-stirring sleep.

When all of a sudden, I wasn’t.

There was a siren! I was under attack! This was the end!

I am not a fast human by nature, but in that moment I was a jungle cat. Out of the bed, down the hall, by my parents’ bedside in just a few bounds. My parents were out of town, and my dad had forgotten to turn off his no nonsense alarm set for 5 A.M.

On a Saturday.

It was one of those obstinate alarms that grows more infuriated every second that passes without silencing it. Its volume steadily ticks upward until you start to believe you’ve been transported right inside the machine and are standing directly next to the noise-making mechanism.

I hit buttons, turned knobs, and finally just ripped the stupid cord from its secure spot in the wall socket.

I walked slowly back to my bed, but not before texting my parents a long message dripping with sarcasm and irritation.IMG_3676

For as long as I can remember, John T. Brock has set his alarm to ring at 4:30A.M. If ever there was a day when I was awake before my dad, chances are I hadn’t yet been to sleep. He cuts himself some slack on Saturdays and will sleep an indulgent half hour more.

He fixes the coffee the night before and sets a timer on the pot so it will wake when he does. He pours himself the first cup of the day. Sometimes, he’ll walk to the back room, flip on the television, and stand a few minutes in the bright glow of the breaking headlines.

By 4:45, he’s settled into his chair and has already made a significant dent in his first round of caffeine.
His chair. It sits firmly by the fireplace. Beside the left arm there sits an ever-changing stack of leadership books, commentaries, and sermon notes. To its right, a small table stands at attention holding a pair of glasses and the aforementioned cup of coffee.

This is where he sits. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

The rest of the house is asleep, but my dad is awake. And he’s there at this time, in this chair, every day to meet with Jesus.

I’ve always known about his habit of waking early in the morning. I knew how he spent that time. I knew he’d be there every day. Without fail.

****************************************************************************

Our house is laid out in such a way that when I walk from my room to the bathroom down the hall, I walk past the staircase on my left. And if I make that trek at anytime between the hours of 4:30 and 6:30 A.M., I can catch a glimpse of my dad’s knees and feet. Sitting in that chair. Talking to Jesus.

On another dark morning a few years ago, I again emerged from the comfort of my bed, slow and groggy this time, annoyed that my sleep had been interrupted by my need for the bathroom.
When I rounded the corner of my doorway and walked past that familiar first step, I caught a glimpse of a different image at the bottom of the stairs.

And I won’t ever forget it.

Knees, not crossed gingerly in his normal seated position, but pressed to the floor in front of the chair, long legs stretched out behind him. His larger-than-life, 6’4” frame bent at a ninety-degree angle. His elbows in the chair’s seat, his hands resting on his shoulders, his forehead pressed to the fabric. Praying. Interceding. Having an all-encompassing conversation with his Savior.

Until today, he never knew I saw him in that moment. He didn’t hear me get up. Didn’t hear my feet pad across the floor. Never knew for a second that someone was watching him.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve told it.

****************************************************************************

Not long after moving to Nashville, I found myself in the middle of a conversation about parents. About our relationships to them. About how frustrating those relationships can be. I heard story after story about damaged paternal relationships, wounded and scarred by broken promises and sinful choices.

And suddenly everyone was looking at me. It was my turn. What was my father like?

“Well,” I said, “he’s like this,” and I pointed to that moment. That image. That dark morning when I caught the most beautiful glimpse of my dad’s heart.

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I won’t ever stop being grateful that the Lord woke me up at just the right time, at just the right moment for me to take that mental picture.

Because that is a picture of my dad. Not just in that moment, but in every moment. That is the physical posture of his heart. He kneels daily to seek his God and to serve the people who have been entrusted to him.

The long list of characteristics I love most about my dad all stem from and grow out of those moments. His kindness, his sacrifice, his love and devotion to his wife, his kids, his church are all marks of a man of God. But those qualities did not arise simply because he is a pastor. They didn’t come as a packaged deal when he became a Christian. They did not manifest within him because he is what the world calls “good.”

No. They did not appear by magic or happenstance.

They came with the morning. They rode in on the sun’s tide. Day after day, new mercy after new mercy, they were carved into the fabric of his DNA. He is kind because he has a standing appointment with Kindness Himself. He is devoted because he has never gotten over the devotion of a Jewish King who came to rescue him. He is sacrificial because, time after time, he has shown up and put his knees in the dust at the foot of a Roman cross and looked up at the most beautiful sacrifice this world has ever known.

He is a good father not because he is perfect or without flaw or failure, but because he starts every day at the feet of Jesus. And of all the things I’ve learned from him, this is, without a doubt, the most important lesson, and the one I am most grateful for.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you, and I’ll never be able to tell you exactly how proud I am to be your kid.IMG_2953

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Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

Hey, Nashville-I Just Called To Say I’m Sorry

In 2016, I spent a significant portion of my time fighting a love for my new home. I had arrived in January with a steel resolve to be brave in the face of all the new. I was happy to be at my job, but that was about it. Though Nashville did all it could to reach out and extend a welcoming hand, I flat refused to speak. I spent the whole first year of our relationship pining over my ex. No wonder we had issues.

I stepped into a new city still hopelessly and madly in love with Florence, AL. Nashville was a fine place for some folks to live, but it just wasn’t my type. It was merely a holding spot for me. A waiting room for me to park in while I waited for the Lord to tell me I could go home.

If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.

-Malala Yousafzai

Home. Florence. One hundred and thirty-three miles southwest where all my people were.

I had no people in Nashville, and to be honest, I did a poor job of looking for them. I held my heart so far behind me that no one could come close. At best, I planted weedy roots that were violently ripped up once or twice a month when I pointed my car toward the Alabama state line and hit the gas. My mouth complained about my lack of ties to the city, but truthfully, my heart fiercely fought any connections. I didn’t want them, and somewhere deep inside my brain, I felt like I didn’t have room for them.

If I loved Florence with my whole heart, I had no more room for a new city to love. There wasn’t space for both.

But an affection for Tennessee was rising, quiet and strong and steady in the space beneath my chest.

I saw it first in April of last year. Green was coming back into the world again, arriving in brilliance after its hiatus. It sprung from the trees with all the energy of new hope and new life. My Cruze would come to the top of a hill on my way to work, and I’d catch a glimpse of rolling hills rising like a deep breath coming straight from the earth. And I would catch mine. In the cool stickiness of summer evenings, I watched the maple leaves from my patio flutter bashfully in the breeze. On Saturday hikes, the light would cut through the wall of trees so sharply I knew it was looking for my attention.

I stretched out on grassy lawns or scrunched in age-old pews and heard the city’s wild and brilliant heartbeat through guitar strings and voices loosed. I put my hand on the pulse of music that makes this city feel alive, like the soil beneath our feet is breathing the music from its own unseen lungs. Those of us who have to obey the laws of gravity get, for a brief moment, the chance to know what it feels like to defy it.

I’ve spent much of this new year trying to quietly apologize to Nashville. And Nashville, in all her generosity, is forgiving. Through all my foot stamping and tantrum tears last year, she never stopped singing. She never let her voice get too small for me to hear. And I’m grateful for another year to hear it and another chance to really listen.

You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.

-Henning Mankell

There’s room for both, I’ve learned. There’s love enough for more than one piece of geography.

And I need them both, Florence & Nashville. I need every mile.

Florence is home. Safe. Still so very needed. Always will be. When I cross the city lines, it refills my tank with courage. Tells me with its slow drawl that it’s glad to see me. Tells me it’ll be here waiting when I come again.

Nashville is growth. Smothering with its enormity. Terrifying. Luminous. Gleaming. So welcoming and warm. It pushes me to be brave. Demands more of me than I thought I could give. Asks me to climb to new heights, but promises a great view. And it delivers.

There are a thousand ways to go home.

-Rumi

So, Nashville, I just called to tell you I’m sorry. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad you welcomed me and gave me a new place to call home. I’m glad you didn’t give up on me.

And Nashville—the view really is amazing.

 

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Hey, What’s The Deal With Hot Yoga?

Hey, What’s The Deal With Hot Yoga?

I do not like hot yoga.

I could’ve said this with total confidence without ever actually going to a hot yoga class. However, my aversion for this activity has a new weight to it that comes only from personal experience. I went to hot yoga recently, and judge me if you will, but PEER PRESSURE IS REAL Y’ALL.

“You might like it, Elizabeth.”

“It’s calming, Elizabeth.”

“It releases toxins, Elizabeth.”

“You’re 24, Elizabeth; try new things.”

Let me tell you something—I did not like it. I was not calm as evidenced by the fact that I texted my mother immediately following in all caps, and I believe next time I’ll keep my toxins, thank you very much.

My friends and I arrived and paid our $10 for the class plus another $6 for a mat that had been used by a number of other people who had made the terrible mistake of not bringing their own.  The instructor behind the counter greeted us with a rehearsed smile and enthusiastically asked if we were first-timers. He had all the excitement and voice inflection of a camp counselor, and I was immediately overwhelmed by the urge to blurt out all of my thoughts and opinions about yoga just to dampen his spirit. I didn’t, but discovered later that it wouldn’t have mattered, because he was an actual yoga robot who had no feelings, only an infuriating battery life.

I did open my mouth to say something quippy and sarcastic, but judged immediately that Camp Counselor Jerry here was not playing about the hot yoga business. With a smile and a serious tone of voice that gave me a feeling similar to the one I get when I see trailers for documentary style horror films, he informed us that nothing goes into the room with us except our water and our $6 piece of foam, and we were not allowed to leave the room once we entered it as the change in temperature would be a shock to our systems.

So would a heat stroke, Camp Counselor Jerry. Did that ever occur to you?

After signing away our rights to air-conditioning and {probably} contractually agreeing to not tell anyone ever about the hot yoga robot technology they were obviously using, we were given our $6 piece of trash and sent into the room.

As soon as I crossed the threshold, the heat came over and sat right on my chest, and my brain warned me for the billionth time that this was not my scene.  

Yea, well it’s too late, Brain. We can’t leave. We’re trapped in here for the next hour. Probably forever. Thanks for nothing.

However, as I scanned the already pretty crowded room, I began to calm down slightly. With the exception of a few folks sitting up and stretching, everyone was sprawled out on their mats, eyes closed, silent.

Great, I thought. I’ve been waiting for an adult version of naptime since kindergarten. I could get on board with this.

I spun out my $6 rolled up garbage mat and followed suit.

If I had been given another ten minutes, I would’ve slept through the entire class and might have enjoyed it more. Alas, that destiny was not to be.

Just as my mind began to wind down, the door opened and in walks that dumb hot yoga robot, Camp Counselor Jerry. He rudely turned off the wonderful flute-y music that sounded like it came from fairies who live under a waterfall in Sweden and began to instruct us.

We began with a breathing routine—have you ever seen the movie I Am Legend? Will Smith and his dog (RIP) stumble upon the zombie infected people all huddled in the back of a warehouse, sleeping. He heard them breathing before he rounded the corner to see them standing in their weird undead sleep circle.

That’s the scene I thought of when Camp Counselor Jerry first asked the class to exhale.

For the next hour Robot Jerry talked nonstop. If he took a breath during the class, I certainly didn’t hear it. Another reason to believe he had a fully charged battery and a skillfully hidden on/off switch.

“Pull the top of your head towards the ground as you lift your hips toward the ceiling and really engage your core while maintaining a regular and balanced breathing rhythm. Really challenge yourself to lift your leg as high as it can go and….”

SHUT UP, ROBOT JERRY.

It didn’t take long for me to be sweating actual buckets of water. My muscles shook and my mind raced trying to follow the instructions bouncing around the room at lightning speed. Lift what? Pull what? Move what? Listen, Camp Counselor Jerry. Either you want me to lift my leg or stretch my arm. I can’t do both at one time. Which will it be?

After about 45 minutes, I was sure that I had been in the room for four hours and would actually die if Camp Counselor Jerry told me to lift or pull or stretch anything else. I couldn’t tell what I hated more: this stupid class, the zombie breathers who seemed to be enjoying themselves, or the sound of Robot Jerry’s voice.

Mercifully, the class ended. The hot yoga robot handed out cool towels, told us we could stay in the room as long as we liked, and thanked us for coming. He made a small bow before his closing line: “The light inside of me recognizes the light inside of you.”

Well, guess what, Camp Counselor Jerry? My light DOES NOT acknowledge your light. In fact, my light is pretty ticked at your light right now.

I grabbed my stuff, dumped my $6 sweat trap in the basket, marched right past the rack of $45 yoga pants, and left the hot yoga world in the rearview mirror of my life. Thanks for the memories, guys, but I don’t believe that’s for me. My toxins and I will take our business elsewhere.

 

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Then He Smiled At Me

Then He Smiled At Me

My third grade year was interrupted by a move to a new state and a new school. My family unpacked in Alabama at the very beginning of December 2001, and Johnathan and I were put in a local public elementary school. I had stepped out of a one-hallway private school into a web of hallways lined with classrooms and filled with throngs of other children. I spent most of my time there trying to be invisible.

It was Christmastime. Our classroom was decorated with small trees and handmade ornaments, and there was often a soundtrack of faint holiday tunes in the background.

I don’t remember her name, but my first teacher was a tall woman. Plump, with dark gray hair and a grandmotherly demeanor. She filled the room with herself, and though I remember her as a kind and jovial woman, I also remember having a vague sense of fear associated with her presence.

One afternoon, The Little Drummer Boy came through the stereo system. She perked up and announced with enthusiasm that this was her favorite Christmas song. She turned up the volume and chimed in with a loud contribution to the rum pum pum pum lyric.

Because that was the first time I remember hearing that song, and because it was tied so closely with a negative experience, I have shuddered nearly every year since when I hear the familiar chorus rumble through any speaker. It has always been one of my mother’s favorite Christmas songs as well, but for years I have made her turn it off whenever it cycles through the car radio. I hated it too much to listen all the way through.

But this year, it has been a favorite.

I don’t remember when it happened, where I was, or whose version I was listening to, but I remember hearing the last verse as if for the very first time:

(For the sake of clarity and my sanity, I’m going to remove the “pa rum pum pum pums.”)

“Shall I play for you
On my drum?
Mary nodded,

The ox and lamb kept time,
I played my drum for Him,
I played my best for Him,
Then He smiled at me,
Me and my drum.”

I heard it and thrilled at the idea of the child Jesus smiling with delight at this little boy and his drum.

The character isn’t biblical. There is no historical reference to document this little drummer boy’s existence. No likeness of him was ever taken.

But I can see him.

His face is dirty and his feet are bare on the cool desert earth. His little hands are plump with newness and wrapped around two splintered sticks. His tangled hair falls just above the bridge of his nose. And he carries a drum. Something makeshift crafted out of found and forgotten things.

I see him in the doorway of Joseph and Mary’s home. As the magi move further into the room, his faint shadow is pushed across the threshold by the light behind him. And he follows its course until it lands on the face of the baby they walked all this way to see.

And looking at this small face, he hears the words of the prophet Isaiah rattling through his brain:

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This is Him, he thinks. This is the One we have been waiting for.

He looks to his left then to his right, noticing the shine reflecting off of the costly gifts brought by the magi. He looks down and sees the sticks in his hands. It isn’t the same, not as valuable, he thinks, but he has nothing else. He must give something. He is face to face with the promised Messiah, the One who came to rescue. The One who came to bind up broken hearts and make all things new.

He must give something.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Mary,” he whispers timidly. “Would it be okay if I played for Him?”

The young mother nods with a kind smile upon her lips, and he takes a deep breath, raises his sticks, and brings them down upon the drum.

The sound reverberates off of the walls. His rhythm is crooked, and it is more noise than song, but he doesn’t hear. He isn’t performing; he is praising.

When he is through, the boy bends forward for a better view of the child before him. Eyes lock and the baby Jesus, delighted by the sound, smiles at his new friend.

And in that moment, everything changed.

I think I see the little drummer boy so clearly because his heart looks so similar to mine. I know what it is to stand in the presence of the Savior and scramble for something to give in gratitude. I know what it is to remember God’s promises and be overwhelmed with a desire to praise.

And I know what it is to feel your heart nearly explode with joy when the Light of all the world looks at you and smiles.

This Christmas, my bare and dirty feet land on the cool hay covering the stable floor, my grimy hands grasp the edges of a rough manger and my chin hooks over the side to catch a glimpse of my Savior. His face is turned toward me; He sees me and the heart He came to save.

And then He smiles at me.

 

 

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I Never Laughed at 24

I Never Laughed at 24

A very specific memory has been running through my mind recently. It was a conversation I had in high school, somewhere near sixteen. The whole thing is a little frayed, but the edges start to crystallize around a certain point when the age of twenty-three came up in a conversation about the future.

I raised my eyebrows and laughed uproariously.

“I’m never going to be twenty-three!” I howled.

The thought was absurd. Though it was only a seven-year stretch from where I sat, it seemed like an unimaginable eternity, impossible to cross.

Somewhere in the same time frame, I made a detailed plan for my life. I was sixteen for crying out loud; it was about time I sorted that out.

I would study creative writing for four years at a great university, graduate, and move into an apartment in a town square somewhere—preferably a spot above a local bookstore—and sit at a desk by a window as sunlight peers through the maple leaves hoping for a glimpse of the novel beneath my pen.

My dreams shifted at different ages. Plans for the future looked different at nineteen and had been altered again by the time I arrived at twenty-one. Somewhere along the way, I had surrendered to the idea that I would turn twenty-three, but even in my grandest dreams, all ambitions halted there.

I’ve been thinking about these wispy memories lately. They play through my mind, and again I laugh.

I smile at my sixteen-year-old self, and look teasingly at her dreams all laid out neatly and in perfect order. I smirk a little at her unquenchable belief that her wildest ambitions were as good as it could possibly get.

Silly girl. You weren’t even close.

Every dream I had then seems so small and puny when I think of what the Lord has done. At every turn, at every change, I’ve stamped my foot and pouted, begging for my ideal to be returned. But I kept following, and around every corner, I have been blinded by the sheer enormity and extravagance of what He had planned for me instead.

Today is my first day of twenty-four, an age I never envisioned or laughed at. It’s the first day on the other side of my sixteen-year-old dreams.

It is also the first birthday in fourteen years that did not dawn beneath Alabama sunshine. It is the first birthday in twenty-four years that did not start at home with my family. Suddenly, growing up doesn’t seem so absurd.

There have been moments recently when I’ve wanted to go back and kick that silly sixteen-year-old me for not planning further out.

But there have been other moments when I’ve had some things to say to her. Things that I imagine my future self will want to tell me, too.

Your most extravagantly imagined plans aren’t even close to the adventure unfolding.

The shadows are not as dark as you think they are.

Just because you feel alone, does not mean you are alone. You aren’t.

The Lord hears every prayer, even the ones you’re too afraid to write, speak, or think. He knows. He isn’t ignoring you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He sees and He understands.

Don’t be so afraid. Don’t step so timidly.

Be brave. Be bold.

Pay attention. Observe. See. There are stories happening in lightning speed around you. Let them wash over you, sink into you, pour out of your fingertips.

Write.

Stop collapsing in the face of a really terrible first draft. If you can’t fight through, you’ll never make it to a relatively okay second draft or a moderately decent third draft.

Life is a process; stop trying to skip steps.

Don’t spend all your time and energy looking for ways to tiptoe around failure. Face it as an inevitable foe.

And when you fail, know when the battle begins. The war won’t start while you’re failing. It’ll happen on your knees, when you’re afraid to stand back up. It’ll happen when you no longer trust the legs beneath you to hold you up. It’ll happen when you drop your head in defeat. Come prepared for this moment. Bring your sword, lift your chin, and face the lies of defeat with courage and purpose. Don’t waste the fight. Try again.

Perfection is a ruthless prison guard who delights in failed inspections. Don’t believe her when she tells you how great everyone else is doing. When she says you’re the only one who doesn’t measure up–you’re the only one feeling lost. She’s baiting you. Don’t let her hold you captive.

When you’re right and you wish you weren’t, don’t allow your validated instinct to sow seeds of cynicism. Instincts were meant to protect, but if you let them, they’ll turn you to stone.

Relish the moments when you feel the smallest. You’re too prone to view yourself as the center of every lens. In the rare moments when you glimpse a vision of a world bigger than you, breathe it in. Feel very small and very relieved that you are not the center of any universe.

Take those leaps of faith, even when you think you can’t. Even when you tremble at the thought. Even when you can’t see past where your foot will land, step forward anyway.

Be brave, and step forward anyway.

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A Thumb That Isn’t Green Yet

A Thumb That Isn’t Green Yet

When I moved into my apartment a several months ago, I felt an overwhelming surge of domesticity. I wanted to cook things and hang things and grow things. On my first free Saturday after settling in, I took a drive exploring the surrounding area and stopped at a roadside floral shop.

Along the corner of a crowded street, baskets full of flowers stood neatly in rows, like a little army whose sole job was to drive out all the ugliness in the world and replace it with new, springtime beauty. Boxes of individual plants stood resolutely on and under tables. More baskets spilling over with full blooms hung on displays that were built specifically for showing off.

I hadn’t browsed very long before a middle-aged woman approached and asked if I needed any help. It was pretty obvious that I did. She wore an apron that was streaked with dirt and her frizzy blonde hair was trying its hardest to escape from the precarious pile on her head.

I admitted to my inexperience with growing things and asked what she would recommend to one whose thumb had yet to change colors. She pointed out a few options and assured me that the hanging baskets I was eyeing would basically take care of themselves.

That sold me. For my sake and the sake of the plant, I knew I would need something that required very little responsibility.

I hung my prize-winning baskets on their hooks as soon as I got home and sat on my little patio enjoying their loveliness.

But I wasn’t very good at perpetuating the experience. Watering them was an afterthought that mostly came after they were nearly dead.

My roommate took them from their perches, set them at the edge of the patio and watered them far more faithfully than I did.

I would forget consistently or put off filling up the pail because I just “didn’t have the time” or was too lazy to get up and do it. I’d shrug off another day without water and wait instead for the rain to come and restore them. I periodically pulled the dead pieces from the ones that still lived, hoping that by removing the old, I would make room for new shoots to spring up.

But here’s what I learned as a plant owner: You can’t depend on someone else to water your plants and removing dead pieces doesn’t make new life grow. As long as I continue to forget to give their thirsty roots water, nothing new will spring up. I’ll just be left with a basket full of dirt and a plant that used to live.

Pulling away the dead limbs, pruning back sick leaves, and allowing dead blossoms to fall are all necessary and helpful things, but without water to nourish, replenish, and heal, I’m just tossing out symptoms of parched roots that will continue to die. I can’t just wait for seasons of rain. I have to fill up my pail morning after morning and give the poor things a drink. They have to have the water to grow.

Just like we do.

Double Grace Photography
Double Grace Photography

We can often get caught in the dangerous position of depending on someone else to water us spiritually: our pastors, Sunday School teachers, mentors, friends, or family members. Though those folks do often provide a refreshing bout of rain through their encouragement or discipling, they were never meant to bear the burden of keeping us alive spiritually. That’s not their job.

In the same way, it’s not your job either. If you were “dead in your trespasses,” unable to stir yourself from the cold grave of sin, chances are you probably won’t be that successful at keeping yourself alive either. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit—to sustain and nourish you through the Word of God.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself far too often trying to pull off the dead pieces of my life with legalistic hands, rather than looking to the compassionate Gardener who desires to prune AND to grow.

I haven’t been doing this long–trying to make things grow. And to be honest, I’m not very good at it. But one thing I have noticed is that every day is different. Some mornings are cooler than others. Some afternoons are soggy and others are oppressively dry. But regardless of temperature or season, the plant never stops needing water. Daily. Regularly. In plentiful gulps.

And even when they look dead, I keep watering them.

Because one cool morning, when I step out on my patio expecting to see a dead plant, I might just see instead a brave little bloom with its pale yellow face turned boldly toward the sun, rising from the wilted vines, declaring to all who pass that it isn’t dead at all. Despite its appearance or surrounding circumstances, it is very much alive.

 

“The [Holy] Spirit and the bride (the church, the true Christians) say, Come! And let him who is listening say, Come! And let everyone come who is thirsty [who is painfully conscious of his need of those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, and strengthened]; and whoever [earnestly] desires to do it, let him come, take, appropriate, and drink the water of Life without cost.”

—Revelation 22:17 (Amplified)

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Spatchcock Is A Verb

Spatchcock Is A Verb

So, as it turns out, spatchcock is a verb.

Let me back up.

In last week’s post, I mentioned that a big, life-altering event had occurred. My very first issue of Southern Living had crossed the threshold of apartment K14, and I became a new woman. A true Southern lady.

But receiving the magazine was only part of the transition. In order to fully step into my destiny as a Southern woman, I’d actually have to turn the oven on and cook something—an idea that would normally terrify me. Or exhaust me at the very thought.

But holding my rite of passage in my hand, I felt brave and energized.

As I browsed through the list of recipes in the front of the magazine, I glossed over any that included words like “roulade,” “andouille,” and “court-bouillon.”

I was brave, not cocky. I didn’t want to attempt anything I couldn’t properly pronounce.

(I also skipped Fig Dutch Baby Pancake, because I didn’t think I could find any figs or Dutch children on such late notice.)

When I saw Garlicky Roasted Spatchcock Chicken, I thought, “Hey, I recognize most of those words! And I can say all of them! Here’s our winner!”

Now, as only an English major would, I would like to point out that the word “spatchcock” is used here as an adjective. This is important, because I assumed spatchcock was a spice or ingredient that would give the chicken a certain, well, spatchcockiness.

HOWEVER, I was wrong.

These were the first words I read when I turned to page 116 for the recipe:

“Removing a chicken’s backbone—a technique called spatchcocking (or butterflying)—ensures juicy meat and golden crisp skin in less time than roasting a whole bird.”

DOES IT, NOW? Well, isn’t that special?

So, you see, this brings me back to my initial point—spatchcock is a VERB.

Though I did consider the fact that it is 2016, and I could very well buy the chicken sans backbone, I decided that if I was going to this, I was going to play by SL’s rules.

Sunday evening, I unloaded all the groceries, opened the magazine to page 116, and GOT TO WORK.

(I’d tell you how many times I walked back and forth through Publix if I hadn’t lost count.)

(There was one guy working the produce section who, I’m sure, was looking at me with more than a little suspicion as I made my third trip through the vegetable aisle.)

First instruction: “Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.”

Okay, I can do that.

Click.

Look at me, cooking and being an adult. Alright, what’s next?

“For step-by-step instructions on how to spatchcock a chicken, turn to page 132.”

I do indeed need step-by-step instructions, Southern Living, thank you!

Flip, flip, flip. Page 132.

Here we go.

“Place a whole chicken breast-side down on a cutting board.”

It should be noted that, up until this moment, I hadn’t thought about the reality of touching the chicken barehanded.

Oh, gross. Gross! GROSS! I can feel its bones. No, no, no, no, NO! Aw, it looks so sad and scared, all curled up like that. I feel so bad! Am I crying? Maybe a touch. Elizabeth, get yourself together! It’s dead. You can’t kill it again. PLACE THE BIRD ON THE CUTTING BOARD.

“Starting at the thigh end, cut along one side of the backbone with kitchen shears. Repeat on the other side to remove the backbone.”

Okay, thigh end. I have the shears. Just need to cut. OH, NO! THAT BONE CRACK! GROSS.

Crack. Gross. Crack. Gross. Crack. Gross.

“Freeze and reserve for stock.”

For stock? I have to keep this thing? No, sir. I don’t think so.

Oh, no! Its heart is going to be inside. I can’t look! I’m going to cry again. I feel like such a monster right now. I DID NOT THINK THIS THROUGH.

Wait. Why is there a bag in here? Why would you pull the insides out, stick them in a bag, and PUT THEM BACK INSIDE? Who did this? That is so dumb. I’m not putting that in a stock either. No, thank you.

“Flip the chicken over so that it’s cut-side down. Then firmly press on the breastbone to flatten it.”

Flatten it. Well it looks pretty flat already. I think this is as good as it’s going to get. Back to page 116.

Flip, flip, flip. Page 116.

Alright, where were we?

“Using the heel of your hand, press firmly against breastbone until it cracks.”

No, no. Page 132 mentioned only flattening, NO CRACKING. Ugh, okay. I’ll do it. If SL says so, I’ll do it. Until it cracks. 

Crack.

Okay. Okay! OKAY. Hard part’s over. I can do this.

And I did.

I knew I was okay when I shot the headless hen a double finger gun and said, “Looking good.” When you start talking to your poultry, you know you’ve moved away from being emotionally invested in its past life on the farm.

The grand finale was indeed pretty grand. It looked similar to the picture in the magazine and tasted delicious.

I told you this magazine would be a turning point for me. See for yourself. 

BEFORE:

Doesn't she look like a sassy lady with her hands on her hips?
Doesn’t she look like a sassy lady with her hands on her hips?

AFTER:

FullSizeRender (5)
All dressed up for the ball.

BONUS: voicemails I left my mother during this whole process.

“Ugh, it just squeaks!”

“I should’ve started with mashed potatoes! Why didn’t I start with mash potatoes?! And my arm is sticky okay call me back thanks bye.”

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