I compiled this post from a hybrid of Amazon bestsellers, a Goodreads list of most popular books of 2019, New York Times bestsellers, and my own Instagram browsing. It’s not at all an exact science, but more a loose guide to what’s making the rounds, topping the charts, and getting buzz around the bookish world so far this year— hope you find some gems on this list to read and enjoy!
My dear friend Ella Connolly came up with a brilliant idea this Advent season — gather writers from around the world together and have them share thoughts on Instagram about Scripture, Christmas, and Christ. We each took one day leading up to Christmas Eve, sharing briefly about what the Lord was teaching us, hoping to encourage others and shine a light on Him.
It was such an honor and a joy to take part in this fun project, especially as the first one to post and get things going! I wanted to gather up all of the posts to share in one place — they are beautiful and deeply meaningful. I know I’ll want to return to them in years to come as reminders of His peace, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.
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“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5 ⭐️ This time of year can easily feel dark to me. (Anyone else?) There are fewer hours of daylight outside, and even within me, depression feels like darkness. But the beautiful truth I’m reminded of in this season is that Jesus, our Savior, came to bring his radiant, glorious light to all of us. A star lit up the sky thousands of years ago to lead the way into his presence, and the light of his glory still shines and invites us to draw near to him today. He is Immanuel, God with us now and forevermore, and no darkness can overcome his mighty light. Today, I invite you to pray that Christ would spark a new light in you, that he would use you as a bright beacon of hope and joy in our dark and weary world. ✨// I’m so excited to kick off this #reasonfortheseason18 devotional series today— from now until Christmas Eve, some incredible women will be sharing daily encouragement here on Instagram! Be sure to follow them all so you don’t miss out: @ellascribbles @livingbyyfaith.blog @mandacarpenter @alwaysaugust @aspoonfuloffaith @oaholland @emmakateacton @samanthaecollin @ohthesweetthings @abounding.grace 🖤 #radadvent #myradchristmas
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E and I mail out Christmas cards every year. I genuinely enjoy everything that goes into the process... getting pictures taken, designing the card, and addressing them to all of our friends and family. We keep one wall in our apartment dedicated to displaying all of the Christmas cards we receive and it’s absolutely stunning when they all come in. But something happened in us this year. We both felt this strong nudge not to send out Christmas cards. To be honest, at first I was annoyed. I love snail mail and keeping this little tradition. But the call was clear: we were supposed to take the $241.87 from our Shutterfly total and instead give it to someone. We still aren’t sure who, but believe God is going to make that part just as clear to us at any given moment. I’m not writing this to throw shade on anyone sending out Christmas cards. I’m not asking you to join me, though you are welcome to if you’d like! I simply want to encourage you to find quiet space, in the midst of what can be a chaotic season, so that you don’t miss your nudge. We celebrate this holiday because Jesus, our Savior, was born. He came into the world to save us, bringing hope, light, and joy to conquer the darkness. I think the very best way to celebrate his birth is by giving hope, light, and joy to somebody else this season, every little chance we get. #reasonfortheseason18
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I’ve been thinking a lot about Matthew 5:14-16 recently and what it has to do with Christmas, but let’s be honest, pretty much everything has to do with Christmas because hello, Jesus! Anyway, the scripture goes, “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” I really love this because it’s an invitation to follow in Jesus footsteps, to follow His example and be a light—The moon, a reflection of the Son. When we sit and think about all we want to do this next year, I think adding that to the list is a good idea. Sure, not hiding our light takes bravery, it takes guts, but the best part is, it’s so practical and honestly simple. When you’re at the store, love on the cashier. When you go home and you’ve gotta spend two weeks with your crazy family, listen to their stories and be sweet to em. Pay for the coffee of the person in line behind you. Text that person you’ve been thinking about an encouraging word. It’s simple. Be a light. What are some ways you can be a light this season—Be a reflection of Jesus? | This is Day 3 in the Reason for The Season devo series, I’ve tagged all the other ladies involved in the photo! Follow along in my stories to catch the rest of the days.
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HOPE. Jumping into day 4 of #reasonfortheseason18 ✨ Today my heart is stirring around this truth: Jesus is our hope in every circumstance. I don’t know what you are facing today. This might be a hard season of grief or hard things. But I’d love to encourage you with this verse: ✨⠀ .⠀ “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress my God, in whom I trust.” - Psalms 91:1-2 ✨ ⠀ .⠀ Sometimes I don’t dwell there. I look to my work, or my clean home, or checked off list to give me comfort. But it never lasts. How many can relate? 🙋🏾♀️ I’m reminded - We can ALWAYS find shelter in Him. He is our refuge and fortress. Don’t settle, let’s find our peace, joy, and hope in The only One who satisfies- Jesus.❤️✨ . Check out all posts from this series at #reasonfortheseason18 and follow along with @ellascribbles @alwaysaugust @mandacarpenter @racheladawson @oaholland @ohthesweetthings @emmakateacton @abounding.grace @livingbyyfaith.blog @samanthaecollin ❤️
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I’m mindful this season of Mary’s unwavering faith in the goodness of God. I can’t confidently say that had I received the news she did about giving birth to Jesus I would have responded with the grace and confidence she did. "I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.” I can’t help but wonder if she had already resolved deep down that she was neither accidental nor incidental to the story. I believe she knew she had a roll to play and that God would equip her to play it, regardless of factor or feeling. I’m challenged by her gumption to stand strong in our own fields. To stand strong in order that those lost or seeking within the very fields that we are planted in can witness something on our lives that will set them free. I believe now more than ever, the world needs to see a Church that is upright. It needs to see a church that is peaceful — where Peace has been set a-sail. A people who are resolute and unshakeable. I pray in this new year, we’d be a people who learn how to take authority of our own space, mind, soul, and spirit. I pray we live overshadowed by the same Spirit that was at the critical juncture where we see Mary's life come into play. I pray we remain under the shadow of the almighty all the days of our lives and that it would set in motion the mandate that has been placed upon us for such a time as this. I pray all of these things for you, and for me. x
by Ella Connolly (the genius behind this whole idea!)
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My one prayer this Christmas : let it not be one day. Please Lord let it not be one day that my mind is full of YOU. Let it not be one day that I’m overwhelmed by the reality that God put on human skin to bridge heaven and earth. Let it not be one day that I’m filled with joy and sing songs about my Father’s goodness. I want a Christmas mindset all year round. Friends, let’s never reduce the Christmas story to a lovely heartfelt nativity scene. This was a dramatic rescue mission that tore open history and still affects every human today. I LOVE festivities. Cards, decorations, the food.. especially the food! But I never want to get so swept up in the preparations and prettiness that I’m not shaken to my core this Christmas by the truth. Because Jesus didn’t stay a baby. The story doesn’t end in a manger. And our redemption story doesn’t end on Christmas Day either. It’s a reality EVERY SINGLE MOMENT. So please Lord, let Christmas not just be one day. #reasonfortheseason18
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To be quite honest, this time of the year is usually a tough one for my me and my family. For the past three years, more than one of my close family members is placed in the hospital. I won’t get into the specifics, but it’s been challenging to forget those memories that are so closely associated with this season. However, we have held on to the peace that God has given to us each year since then. Without His unending peace and love, we would never have survived such difficult times. With that in mind, it is essential that each of us remember that someone could be going through a rough time this season without others knowing. I encourage you to take the time to reach out to someone with genuine intentions this Christmas and share with them the peace and love that God so willingly offers to us all. And if YOU are personally going through a challenge this season, I want you to know that there is a God who cares and Wants to give You Peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 (KJV). Nothing that the world can offer will give you a peace that satisfies your soul. There is only One who can give you a peace that is wholesome—Jesus Christ. Only He alone can supply every need this season and for the rest of your life✨
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As the days become shorter, and nights grow longer, I find myself seeking for more light. Sure, this time of year, we light candles, decorate the tree with twinkling lights and are mesmerized by the flame of a fire. However, I feel that my heart aches for more than just the superficial light; it seeks for something more profound. Thankfully, there is hope. During this season of darkness, we can be reminded that Jesus was born and lived to be our guiding light. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) If your heart also feels lost, or your entire being yearns for a sense of direction, then let me pray alongside you today. I pray that God’s light will shine down on us to cast the darkness away. Let us believe that He has already set aside all our fears and made way for our hopes and dreams. That He is walking alongside us as we forge into our adventure, willingly shining His light forward. This I pray to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine, Amen. ✨ . If you need more encouragement during this time of year, I invite you to visit the pages of these lion hearted women I’ve partnered with for this project. I certainly have been inspired by working alongside them 💕 . @racheladawson @mandacarpenter @ellascribbles @livingbyyfaith.blog @alwaysaugust @aspoonfuloffaith @oaholland @emmakateacton @samanthaecollin @abounding.grace . #reasonfortheseason18
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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14) :: Here in Finland in my hometown, the Christmas Peace is declared every Christmas Eve. At noon, the whole city gathers to hear the Christmas Peace Declaration like we have since 1320s. This marks the beginning of the Christmas celebrations and reminds people to behave in a peaceful manner over the holidays. :: Though this is a man made tradition, it reminds me of Luke 2:14 and the Christmas story. We live in a broken world with broken people — and we feel it at times. But at Christmas, we come and remember the miracle: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14). This, as we know, changes everything. :: And today? We have peace. No matter the circumstances or where our hearts are. No matter what has been said or done. We can have peace today — because we have Jesus, the Prince of Peace. He is the God with us. So let’s lift up our eyes today and ask Jesus to fill our hearts with peace. Let’s reach out to others in grace and love. Let’s tell others of the Christmas miracle and the glory of God. That is the heart of Christmas, after all. #reasonfortheseason18
I recently just started tiptoeing back onto the apps again, and I wanted to share a bit more of my experience these last few weeks in case you, like me, find social media to just be a LOT to handle
Grab your favorite hot drink, wrap the biggest and best blanket you own around your legs, and take a little break in your busy day to check out all the things I'm loving from all around the internet this week!
5 Down to Earth Instagram Accounts to Follow. // because don't we all need a little more down-to-earthiness in our Insta feeds?
These chocolate chip chickpea blondies // made these this week and was so pleasantly surprised by how delicious they are considering they are made with two cans of chickpeas. I don't think a healthier blondie could exist honestly. But YUM.
My current on-repeat playlist. // this is the kind of worship music that makes me turn the volume up and dance around my room wildly and freely and wonderfully.
The Letter Link-Up from Mr. Thomas & Me. // you know I love writing letters, and you know I love any idea Amber has, so you know her new link-up is my new favorite thing.
RVA people: go here. Order a dirty chai (pictured above). You're welcome.
At 90, She's Designing Tech For Aging Boomers // don't you want to be that awesome when you're 90?
Parenthood. // There are just two episodes left of this show EVER and I just don't think my heart can handle it. All the feelings.
This video. This brand. This mission. // all the yes. this gave me chills.
I don't know exactly how or when it was, but somehow earlier this year, I stumbled upon a blog of a calligrapher named Taylor. I didn't know her in real life, but I think it was a thread of mutual friends (and probably some hardcore Instagram stalking) that led me to her site. I started reading through her posts, and was hooked within seconds.
This girl has an incredible story. From just reading the posts she shared online, I felt like I not only knew about her, but knew her heart was so beautifully sweet and also fiercely strong.
I know what it's like to share your story on a screen, to send out your words online with no idea who will read them. And I know that Taylor's story grabbed my heart and made me so grateful for her vulnerability and courage in sharing it. I can say with total confidence that I'm not the only one her story has touched.
I knew from the moment I read her words, even before I had even dreamed up Story Seeker, that I wanted to hear more of this girl's story someday. I knew I wanted to connect with her and be friends with her somehow. I was amazed at her resilience, her optimism, and her unwavering, bold faith in Jesus. What could have wrecked her whole world, her marriage, her life and her faith has instead become a story she tells bravely for His glory, and I don't think there's anything more beautiful than that.
Taylor is incredibly talented in her work and makes words look more beautiful than I've ever seen-- even "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" and lyrics from Iggy Azalea's "Fancy"--that's a true talent. If you don't follow her incredibly lovely Instagram, you can find her at @taylorsschumann, and you won't be sorry you did. Her pictures in your feed will make your day!
It was actually through Instagram that I finally mustered up my own bit of bravery and asked Taylor if she would be willing to share her story through Story Seeker.
Here's what she posted:
Her caption said: "You don't have to have anything but a story to encourage others in their stories." Our pastor said this at church last week and I love it. People ask me all the time: isn't it hard to share your story with people? Sure is. Well isn't it scary? Shaking in my boots each time. Well why do you do it? Because Jesus gave it to me. And it probably took a lot more work for Him to share his with us. "Well I'm scared to share my story." Get over it. God gave you a story for a reason. He calls you to encourage others with it. He calls you to share what He's done in your life to bring glory to His name. A lot of things are scary. But it should be scarier to us to not fulfill our callings than to step out and share. All you need is a story. And you all have one. Just start. As Jon Acuff would say, "punch fear in the face."
I commented and told her how much I loved what she shared since it's essentially the whole heart behind Story Seeker, and I asked her if she would be interested in sharing hers. She commented back that she would love to, and I was elated. It probably isn't cool to admit how excited I was that we had finally connected...but I was really, really excited. It's crazy how the internet (and Jesus!) can bring strangers together in the most random (but best) ways.
Even though I've only chatted with Taylor through words on screens, her personality shines through and draws you in like she's giving you a big, warm hug and sharing a sweet glass of lemonade with you. She is so sweet, encouraging and joyful all the time, with a splash of spunk and sass thrown in to keep you laughing. She has the cutest little pup who makes lots of adorable Instagram appearances. She's half of the powerhouse duo behind the upcoming Creative at Heart conference that I am just dying to go to! This girl is unstoppable in every way and I am so grateful to have connected with her. I can't wait for the day we meet in real life and I can give her the biggest hug!
Here's Taylor's story.
My name is Taylor Schumann and I’m 24 years old! I’m Virginia born and raised but right now I live in Tennessee with my husband Eric and our sweet puppy Molly. I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2012 and now I’m a calligrapher and hand letterer and currently run my business Letters of Grace Calligraphy from home. I love making pretty things out of old crappy things, quoting Friends like it’s my job, and a good candle. I’m thankful for each day I get.
Let’s get off on an honest foot. I never know where to start my story. Because I don’t really know where it started. So I write it differently each time I share it. And I never really know how it’s going to turn out, but it’s a little different each time. So here we go, friends.
At the beginning of 2013 I was engaged to my fiance and planning our wedding, living with my parents, and working a full-time job at Social Services. I really loved my job. But it was incredibly stressful. I wanted to do something different, which was funny because my goal was always to work at Social Services. I wanted more time to plan our wedding, and I wanted to leave work every day not feeling like the world was doomed. So in February 2013 I took a new job at New River Community College as an Office Administrator. I worked at the front desk and managed the site. I did everything from help students register for classes, help with testing, assist Professors… a little bit of everything. It was closer to Eric so we got to see each other often, the hours were much better, and I really really loved it there. It was a good job.
On April 12, 2013 I woke up so excited. It was a Friday and the next day was my big bridal shower. All of my friends were coming into town for it. It was going to be held at a local Tea Tavern, one of my favorite places on Earth. I was so happy.
I got ready for work, watched the news, hung out with my family, had my morning coffee. It was beautiful outside. It had all the makings of a great day, except it didn’t.
I remember the news. There were reports of a shooter on a college campus in North Carolina (these turned out to be false). I remember praying, and thinking I couldn’t imagine how scary that must be. I had no idea that later I would be meeting the same fate.
I kissed my Dad on the cheek, gave my Momma a hug and headed out the door! I stopped at Starbucks because it was Friday and on Friday I treated myself to Starbucks. Then I headed into work.
It was a really slow day. The campus was pretty quiet on Fridays. And that was okay because I was excited for the weekend. My co-worker and I each got a 15 minute break to eat lunch. I was going to go but we decided she would go first then I would go. So she got up and headed out the door. I sat with my back to the door, chatting with my co-workers. I had switched seats and taken the seat closest to the door because my computer was broken and the IT guy was there fixing it.
A few minutes later, I looked up to see my boss’ face go white. She started backing away and screaming “No!” “No!” I turned around and saw it. Something I will never, ever, ever forget. Something I wish I could forget. There stood a young guy, holding a shot gun, pointed right at my face.
He pumped it and I ducked to hide under the desk. My boss took off down the hall and he followed her. I knew it was my only chance. I got up and ran into a closet behind my desk. He fired. And missed. And fired. And missed. Until I slammed the door behind me and heard the gun go off again. Later we would find out that he took 6 shots at me. He tried to shoot me in the head from behind, but was unable to get the safety off the gun.
I looked down and saw blood all over me. And suddenly realized it had to be mine. I had no idea where I had been hit and was honestly too scared to look. I couldn’t see out of one of my eyes and my face and chest were burning. I felt my chest and there was blood all over my hand. Then I saw it. The bullet had come through the door and went through my left hand. I couldn’t even tell it was a hand. The door had exploded and sent shards of wood into my chest, face, and eye. I realized the door couldn’t lock from the inside.
I had no idea what to do. I felt so ill-prepared. Why hadn’t I prepped for this? Why didn’t I have a plan? Probably because this isn’t something people often plan for. This doesn’t happen to me. This happens to other people.
I was losing a lot of blood and I thought the bullet had severed a main artery. I sat down on the floor to keep him from coming in. I didn’t know what to pray. I couldn’t say anything. I just kept saying “Lord, please. Please, Jesus.”
We always hear that our lives flash before us before we die. And although I didn’t die, I sure thought I was going to. And I saw a lot of things flash before my eyes. The important things. I missed my family. I just wanted to be at home so badly. With my parents and my sister and my dogs. I wanted Eric. I wanted him to know I loved him. Would I never get to get married? Or have kids? Would I never get to tell him I loved him again? Would he be okay without me?
It was unbearable. The physical pain was bad. But this was a different pain. This still makes my heart hurt to remember. So I told God I couldn’t take it. I begged Him. I told him that if he was going to take me home that day, then he needed to take me quickly.
Then I got mad. I decided that I would not be dying in that closet that day. I decided I would be getting married. I would see my family again. I would live the rest of my life.
So I grabbed my hand and squeezed as hard as I could to stop the bleeding. I lifted it above my head. And as soon as I did, I heard another gun shot and felt the door shake. A bullet had come through the door right where my arm had been. I knew I had to get away from the door. So I crawled across the floor and tried to hide behind a copy machine but I didn’t want to make any noise. I was exposed. He knew I was in there. He could come in any time he wanted. And he was the one with a gun. So I just prayed. I cannot overemphasize the praying enough.
I got into some sort of stance, like I was going to attack him if he walked in. I laugh about this now. What on earth did I think I could do to this guy who was holding a gun as big as he was? I don’t know. But I like remembering this. If I was going down, I was going down fighting. And that’s a good memory.
About that time, and thank God, because I really didn’t want to physically fight a gunman with one functioning hand, I heard people shouting. “We got him!” “It’s safe!” “Is anyone hurt?”
And I broke down. Because it was over. And I survived. I was going to make it.
I had decided early on in this that I wouldn’t open the door for anyone unless they could prove they were good. Because the bullet had come through the door, there was a huge hole I could see out of. I looked through and saw a man and a student. I knew it was okay. I opened the door just enough so I could put my hand out so they would know it was me, and I was hurt. The man came over and helped carry me outside. He laid me down on the side walk. He stayed with me. He kept saying “It’s going to be okay. You’re okay. You made it. You made it.”
There were people everywhere. It was chaos.
But I will never forget them laying me down on the sidewalk, turned my head, and seeing him. The person who shot me. Lying there. 2 feet from me. Staring at me. There was just...nothing. In crime shows they often describe people who do evil things as just being empty, blank, evil. And I’ve seen it. It’s true.
When the ambulance got there they asked me if I had been shot anywhere else. I honestly didn’t know. So they began cutting off my clothes. It was a bad day to have borrowed my sisters new sweater and wear my new turquoise pants for the first time. I was so embarrassed to be lying there like that. I even remember people taking pictures of me with their cellphones. So there’s probably some really awkward pictures circulating out there somewhere.
They took me in the ambulance to the first hospital. When I arrived there were 20-some doctors, nurses, etc. waiting. I knew there had to be a ton of us who were hurt. Turns out it was just me there. The other victim was flown to another hospital. It was surreal. It was so surreal.
Then Eric walked in with a nurse helping him up. He was sobbing. I was sobbing. It was a very raw emotional moment. And we just cried. I don’t remember what all I said to him except that it was so scary. His mom arrived shortly after that and I was so thankful to have my people there. People I thought I would never see again. They did x-rays and it was pretty obvious I needed emergency surgery. So they transferred me to another hospital. They called my mom and let me talk to her. It was a feeling I could never describe to you. Telling your mother you had been shot, but you were okay.
They took me in the ambulance to a hospital in Roanoke where I finally got to see my family. I was in excruciating pain, pain I can’t describe. But I was just so happy to be alive and with people I love. They took me into surgery and I had no idea what the result would be. When I woke up, they had put a nerve block in so I couldn’t feel my arm. They hung it above my head so I couldn’t see it. I was convinced they had to cut it off. So you can imagine my joy when I realized I still had a hand. They put 6 metal pins in that were holding it together. They couldn’t close the wounds because they were too big so they were just open. I will never forget when they took me into my hospital room and told me I had people there to see me. Then they opened the doors and all my best friends walked in. They had all been there praying with my family and waiting for me. It was a precious moment. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much love in my life.
I was in the hospital for 4 days. 4 days of pain and hospital food and nightmares and no sleep. I couldn’t turn the lights off so no one ever got a lot of sleep. They couldn’t regulate my pain so there were few calm moments. I couldn’t wait to get home.
After that it was occupational therapy 3-4 times per week. We had to do exercises at home every 4 hours. It was excruciating. I just remember crying the whole time. I couldn’t do anything myself. I couldn’t walk for awhile, I couldn’t get dressed, I couldn’t brush my hair… I was full reliant on those around me. They did everything for me. People brought food and sent cards. I have boxes full of cards that were sent to me. They were displayed around my room for a really long time. They meant the world to me. And still do. Slowly things got better, the pain got a little better over time, and I wasn’t so scared to turn the lights off at night.
Six weeks later was our wedding. It was the best day of my life. I was exhausted and in pain and my hand was in a huge brace with metal pins sticking out and I had scars all over my face and chest. But I didn’t care. I got my day. I was getting married. He didn’t take that from me. That was mine. It will forever be my day of victory. It was emotional. And it was good. And forever I am thankful for that day.
I have had 4 surgeries in total including a bone graft. Hundreds upon hundreds of doctors appointments and therapy appointments and counseling appointments and I’m sure a thousand x-rays. It was tough. And painful. And it still is. There have been countless tears shed and sleepless nights. I deal with anxiety and PTSD daily. Today, my hand is about 30% functional. There’s still pain everyday, and I can’t do a lot of the things I used to be able to. But each day is a step. Just the other day I was able to bend my pinky finger all the way, and we had a little dance party to celebrate. Because you have to celebrate the good things.
We went through over a year of court meetings and hearings waiting for some sort of justice. I testified in court and had to watch the security footage of that day and share the gruesome details in front of friends and family. We had to watch videos he made days before the shooting about what he was going to do. How he planned to lock all the doors and line us up and shoot us one by one. How he planned to pull the fire alarm so we would all come out of classrooms and then kill us all. How he chose certain bullets because they would go through us and do more damage. I listened as he apologized to us and told us he prays for us. I listened as the defense attorney said he was the most evil person he ever represented. I listened as the judge called him evil personified and the forensic psychologist said he should never be allowed on the streets again. I listened as she told us about how he has fantasies about lying under my dead body with my blood on him. I listened as his family called him a good kid. Finally this past July it was over. And I listened as a judge sentenced him to 68 years, then suspended 30. He will serve less than 38 years. Then some year down the road later in my life, I will get a call that he is out. Free. Living his life.
I’ve learned so much. About myself, about other people, about God. I’ve learned that I’m strong. Sometimes people think they can’t call themselves strong, but that’s not true. I am strong. I never knew I was strong until this. I’ve had low, low moments. Moments when I wished I had died that day because it was just too hard. Moments where I felt totally alone and forsaken. Moments where I begged God to show me what to do. I have had so many days where it took all my energy to convince myself that getting up that day would be worth it. Where sleeping all day was the best option, and I chose it.
I’ve learned a lot about tragedy and how to care for others through it. I’ve learned that often the hardest days are the ones a year later, where everyone else but you has forgotten, but you are still living with pain and memories and the horror of that day. Those are the toughest days.
A lot of people have told me not to let this define me. Not to let this be who I am. And I know what they mean. But this is who I am. I am a survivor. I am this person. It’s not all I am, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without it so you have to let yourself be that person.
I’ve learned a lot about God’s mercy. I’ve learned how he loves us. Some of the darkest moments of my life were the sweetest because God met me there. In the moments when I thought I would die, God saw me, and he was with me. I have never felt him so strongly before. Some days I wish I could go back there because I want to feel him like that again.
There are no rules to deal with tragedy. There’s no schedule. No timeline. You just do it. People ask me how I do it and that’s what I say. You just do it. Because you have to. One day at a time. Then you wake up, and it’s a month later. Then a year. And you’ve made it. That’s all there is to it. No magic formula, no fairy dust. You just do it.
The truth is, I shouldn’t be alive today. There is no reason other than God saved my life that I am here to even be telling this story. So on days where I don’t think it’s worth it, or it just feels too hard, that’s what I think about. That’s what I know. And on the days I feel so alone, like the answer to my prayers is no, I know that God is saying yes to something else. He is saying yes to using this to somehow, someway help someone else. And that starts with sharing my story. It starts with you sharing yours.
It is a beautiful day in Richmond and there's a magic in the air that comes with spring around here. Sunshine, warm weather, flowers blooming...YES. This past week has been a good one. I don't have words on my heart to write today, and I'm giving myself a little extra grace and saying that's okay. Instead, I just have pictures of things that brought me joy this week.
Go on an adventure this weekend. Go somewhere new and find wonder in the world around you. Happy weekend, friends!
I'm pretty convinced that sunsets are how God tells me he loves me. Every time I see that big ball of light start to sink out of sight and the colors start to splash across the sky, I'm reminded of how my God is a glorious Creator who wants to romance me with what He can do.
I was driving to the mall after work the other night, and I just had a feeling it was going to be one of those evenings where the sky was going to look fantastic. I was honestly getting frustrated that the way I was driving didn't let me look at the setting sun, but thankfully I arrived and was able to park before it really started to set. Of course, I got out of my car, whipped out my phone, and started taking pictures of the fiery sky. Natural response, right? I mean, it was beautiful, how could I not!
Most of the sky was a rich, inky blue that was beautiful on its own, but then the clouds around the sun lit up with shocking shades of pink and purple, with streaks of yellow and orange weaving around the cottony clouds. I snapped several pictures, but had to run my errands, so I tore myself away and went inside.
I wasn't really embarrassed at all that people in the parking lot had seen me standing there taking pictures of the sky above the outline of the mall. That sky was gorgeous, and I wanted to soak it all in. The words "the Lord saw what He had made, and it was good" kept echoing in my head. Yeah, Abba, that was good, I thought as I waited in line at the customer service desk.
But then, just a few short minutes later, I came back outside. And that fiery, gorgeous sunset was even better.
All the colors had intensified, the boldness of them all more vivid and shocking then even just a few hundred seconds prior. I know it sounds weird, but I just stood there and laughed. I didn't even try to take another picture of it. I knew my phone couldn't capture all that my eyes were taking in. Not even an Instagram filter could make that sky look as remarkable as it did in that moment.
As I drove home after the colors had all faded and the sky turned dark, I kept thinking that we so often settle for good. We have things that are pretty, that make us happy, that are worth capturing and remembering, and we think that's the end. We snap the pictures and settle and continue onward, not even knowing that right around the corner is something that is more incredible than we realized was possible.
I really thought that sunset was unbelievable. I thought it was incredible. I thought it was good. But I didn't know that right around the corner in just a few short minutes, it would become immeasurably more beautiful. It would become GREAT.
I settled. I snapped a picture because I thought it was done. How often do I do that in my life? Not literally take pictures because I think things are good (even though I do that too), but how often do I just accept what's in front of me instead of praying and believing there will be more?
I've heard people say before that good is the enemy of great. To an extent, I would agree.
When we settle for less than all that our lives or our circumstances or our relationships could be, we are cheating ourselves out of the fullness and richness of what God intends for us.
My challenge to you (and myself) is this: Believe that there is greatness ahead. Believe that there is more than just good. Hold on, be patient, wait. Pray boldly and pray big, believing that God can do more than just good. Because He can, and He will. He will do immeasurably more. And it's going to be great.
How have you seen God do great things in your life when you could have settled for just good? How has God wowed you with more than you could have dreamed of? Leave a comment and share your stories!