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“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
–Anne Lamott

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Hope for the Worst Week

the winds of change and circumstance blow in, and all around us… so we find a foothold that’s familiar, and bless the moments that we feel You nearer.
-Nicole Nordeman

I remember a distinct moment at the beginning of the worst week.  I was lying in my bed at my grandparents house, face in a pillow to keep my eyes from seeing that the walls and windows were naked, their contents having been boxed up and carried out to various cars and dumpsters that littered their yard, tears and snot flowing, heart in my throat, stomach in knots, wondering if life could possibly get any worse.

A day before I had rested my forehead on the cool metal frame of the funeral home door while they closed the lid of my Grandma’s casket, an attempt to keep both feet on the ground as the room spun around me.

A few days later I assumed the same position.  Face down on a bed in the Holiday Inn of Roswell, GA.  The floor around me looked like a crime scene in a Hobby Lobby…. scrapbooking supplies that moments before had been meticulously placed on perfectly designed pages thrown to the floor to make room for all the pain that needed a place to rest.  Time and place escaping me for a brief moment as I sobbed and screamed into my cell phone begging my best friend to make sense of the latest blow to my incredibly fragile heart.

I spent 24 hours in that hotel room, tossing and turning and waiting, before I drove down a highway in total silence for eight hours.  I arrived home highly caffeinated, devastatingly brokenhearted, and completely wrecked by the truth that in the span of one week the two things I held most dear had been ripped away from me in the most unexpected, brutally tragic ways.

I knew it that night as I drifted into a restless sleep in my own bed:  my heart would never be the same.

Last night I opened box after box full of memories.  I spent hours reading every note, every letter, every card.  My middle school yearbook signatures.  High school notes passed in Biology class.  Senior memory books full of well wishes and reminiscing.  Christmas cards, birthday cards, encouraging notes from camps and retreats as a student and as a leader.

And every so often my fingers would run across words from them.  Sweet encouragement from my precious Grandparents who breathed Life over me from my first day on this earth.  Tracing their handwriting with my finger wishing me happy birthdays and merry Christmases, writing of their pride in their granddaughter, and the great love Jesus has for me.

I unsealed sandwich bags to uncover paper that once smelled like you. Tear stained from all the nights I held them close, words scrawled across the page, the perfect blend of encouragement, laughter, and true love…. just like you were.  Words that whispered in my ear, then and now, “no fear, B… no fear”.  And I can’t help but smile and weep remembering all the years we spent “learning how to love”… each other, other people, the Lord….

These days I’m a few years removed from the worst week.  As I held the weight of those memories in my hands, I did two important things.

I cried. I needed to grieve the loss because I still feel it.  There are unanswered questions that may never resolve.  There is regret that may forever accompany those memories.  And there is great sadness because great love is hard to lose.

I laughed.  I laughed at my Grandpa’s illegible handwriting.  I laughed at the inside jokes that fit so effortlessly in the midst of sweet love notes.  I laughed at remembering the silly placement of the switch for the living room ceiling fan in their house, at the plays we put on in your basement as kids, at the picture engrained in my mind of you bundled up frying fish outside in the dead of winter.  I laughed at late night phone call silliness, morning texts, curly hair, cheesy pop songs and 90s references.

And when I was finished?

I folded them up.  Placed them gently back in their boxes.  And closed the lid.

Because life goes on.  God is doing new things.  I cherish what has been, but my hands are open to what will be.  It’s a beautiful, delicate balance, and I refuse to hold so tightly to the beautiful things God once graced my life with and thereby forfeit all the beauty that is still to be.

This season that’s coming?  It’s gonna be a good one.  And how sweet and good is He that He allowed the last season to shape me into exactly who I need to be in this moment so that i can fully embrace the next one?

Praying that each of us look forward to what’s next with the faith that comes from looking back and seeing His hand sustaining us, whether it be through the gut wrenching loss of our worst week, or the wide open spaces of our future.  He is good, y’all.  He is so, so good.

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Begin again.

I started blogging in 2004.

A lot of life has happened since then, and much of it is documented on the internet.

It’s taken me awhile, but I think I’m finally beginning to realize the beauty in words that are left unsaid, and that led me here, to this place of starting over.  I’ve gone back through the past 9 years of blogs and made most of them private, cutting out a lot of noise and leaving only a few that might be of value in helping you get to know me a little better.

I hope to write here more often, and I hope you’ll visit more often, too.

If I have learned anything over the past couple years as I took a bit of an unintentional hiatus from writing it’s this:

Life is so much harder than I ever expected it to be,
and
I need people so much more than I ever thought I would. 

It’s my hope that we won’t run from what is hard here.  I’ll write honestly, because I need to give myself the freedom to do so.  In the meantime, if these words are an encouragement to any of you, that will be the icing on the cake.

Come back soon and let’s talk student ministry, singleness, heartbreak, death, and probably a little bit of pop culture because I just got cable and am unapologetically Keeping Up with the Kardashians now.

Thanks for sticking with me.

xoxo,

B

glitter & grief

This time last year I had no idea that in just a few short days my life was about to unravel.  The very best way I know how to sum up the past 358 days?

“what. the. hell.”

I didn’t know then how to deal with grief.  The kind of grief that leaves you sleepless and makes your bones ache and your jaw involuntarily clench.  I had no desire to learn how to grieve, but the Lord knows what we need and so I did.  I learned.  I failed.  I resisted.  I screamed and cried and have functioned with less sleep than I thought humanly possible for months.  I have begged and pleaded and worried and felt the ache of regret more deeply than I have ever known.

Although time moves on, grief remains.
It feels a lot like cleaning up glitter.

I love glitter.  Really, really love glitter.
But cleaning it up?  No thank you.

The funny thing about glitter is that you work so hard to confine it, yet somehow it ends up everywhere.  You find traces of it for days.  Maybe even weeks.  The slightest breeze has blown it all over your house and even when you’re doing something silly like dancing in your kitchen  you see it reflecting in the light on your stove and it hits you.  The glitter is still there.  In places you didn’t put it.  In places you didn’t want it.  In places you didn’t expect it.

So it is with grief.
In the unexpected moments of picking up your phone to text something funny then realizing you can’t.  In the drive through Georgia that all but rips your heart out while the tears sting your eyes at the sight of the Atlanta skyline.  In the quiet mornings with the Lord when the silence is deafening because everything is so, so different.  It’s there when you rearrange your bookshelves and come across that book that’s not supposed to be yours yet remains on your shelf.  In the phone numbers you pass by in your contact list that you can’t bring yourself to delete.  So many places and moments you don’t expect tears to show up.  Yet somehow the breeze has blown those people, those memories, those thoughts into these places and there it is.  Undeniable, breathtaking, heart racing grief.

Just like glitter, grief remains.
Also like glitter?
Grief shines.

It shines a light on “the idolatry of self reliance.” {Jesus Calling, May 10}
Each of these glittery reminders that sparkle grief in the most unlikely places remind me that I need Jesus. They remind me that there is a plan at work that is far greater than what I thought I deserved.  They remind me of His faithfulness.  They remind me of the fact that I feel deep grief because for a season of my life I had really great things that were hard to lose.  He is both the giver and the One who takes away.  And both are good.

1603 Wanda Street

To the new owners of 1603 Wanda St.,

It is hard to wrap my mind around the idea that the structure you will now call home is the same one that has been home to me for all 26 years of my life.  I’m sure you can relate to some point in your life when an unforseen circumstance dramatically changed your reality.  It isn’t easy, but life goes on.  Life will go on tomorrow as you excitedly sign papers to signify your ownership of my childhood home.  Life will go on as you move in, settle down and enjoy life within those walls.

For me and my family life will indeed go on, but it will change.  Our last memory in that house will be the process of emptying it of all my Grandparents earthly possessions.  Our last memory will be looking back at an empty living room with memories of family Christmas, games of Old Maid and Grandma & Grandpa sitting in their chairs looking out the picture window flashing through our minds.

You’ll enjoy your home because of those two people, who also happen to be two of the greatest people I’ve ever known.  Because they fell in love and decided to build a home where their family would grow & gather day after day, year after year, holiday after holiday.  You’ll enjoy your home because they valued the Lord above all else & took great care of His blessings of money & family.

This is what your new home looked like when my Grandparents built it in 1966.


That little guy there on your left?  That’s my Daddy.


Tonight I started to think about what your life might be like in that house.  I hope that you will laugh as much as we did.  I hope that you will feel the peace that has permeated every room from the very first day it was built.  You should know that your new home has always been a home of peace.  The walls of your new home have never seen a screaming match or a drunken party, rather it’s rooms have hosted family gatherings, sleepovers and joyful holidays.  You should also know that your home was committed to the Lord for many, many years.  It has been a refuge for our family and the friends that came to find comfort & wisdom.  It has heard thousands of prayers from the lips of the most amazing man I’ve ever known.  I hope you find comfort in that.

There are a few things that might be helpful for you to know about your new home.

First, I can’t guarantee that the central heat/air will function if the thermostat is set under 80.  I’m fairly certain it’s never been tested.  Also, in case you’re cold natured like my Grandma and your family is dying from the heat like we often were, it will be helpful to know that for whatever reason the switch that turns on the ceiling fan in the living room is located in the garage.  Why?  I have absolutely no idea.  But it does make me smile to think about how long it will take you to figure that out.

Your new oven has learned well how to make the perfect pecan pie.  I might have to send you Grandma’s recipe so you can carry on the tradition.  Also, the garage makes a great shield from the bitter cold wind when you absolutely must have a fish fry in December.

Your new yard has held cheerleading practice, lawn mower & golf cart rides, firework lighting, pecan picking, sprinkler running, jungle gym climbing, lawn chair sitting & more childhood games than I can count.  I hope you fill that yard with family & children often.  And if you haven’t already, invest in a riding lawn mower.  You’re going to need it.

Put a night light in the hallway.  Play Old Maid with your grandkids in the living room floor.  Listen to Elvis or Southern Gospel on Saturday mornings.  Eat ice cream.  Make pop corn the old fashioned way.  Pray before meals and before bed and between breaths.

Make your own memories and know that you are incredibly blessed to call 1603 Wanda Street home.

PS.  Don’t touch the basement walls.  Trust me.

An open letter to my youth leader, mentor, second momma, friend,  & precious sister in Christ:

Dear Denise
(aka – Momma ‘Nise),

Our conversation a few days ago reminded me how absolutely important it is to say thank you specifically and often to those who have invested in my life.  Although I have been blessed with many who have influenced me to know, love and obey Jesus more, there truly are none who have done so more profoundly than you.  I look back on the thirteen years that we have been blessed to do life together and cannot stop the tears when I see the magnitude of ways God has used you to shape who I am becoming.  As I think back my mind is flooded with memories of moments, words, situations, life experiences that are all part of what God has used to mold me into this person who is growing to look more and more like Jesus.

So I say THANK YOU!!

Thank you for the day that I walked in to your Sunday School class.  A nervous, nerdy, insecure 13 year old who you without hesitation embraced into your group, your family, and your heart.  Thank you for the Disciple Nows, summer camps and retreats where you sacrificed free time, vacation time, money, etc. so that you could pour into students.  I will never forget those memories of being able to get away and spend time with you.  Thank you for the conversations, the laughter, the wisdom that were abundant in those times.  Thank you for reminding me a million times to “put my armor on”.  You would not believe the times those words still ring in my mind as I walk out the door of my house!  Thank you for the way you responded the day I had to look at you and tell you about a mistake I had made.  I remember the fear, shame and guilt that I felt as I shared with you something that now seems so trivial – but I will never forget the way you responded.  “Brandi, go home & memorize Jeremiah 29:11-13.”  And I did.  Looking back it’s crazy how much since then God has used that verse to change, challenge and encourage us!!  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for the way you allowed God to use your home.  I wish I had words to convey how loved it made me feel to know that I could always stop by, always hang out, always bring a text book by for homework help, etc. etc. etc.  Many of my most cherished memories & safest places are within the walls of your home.  I will never forget the wedgie fights, impromptu dinners, pre-dnow cleaning parties, trips to the grocery store, watching your precious children play sports, pay-per-view wrestling parties… you & Andy knew the value of providing a place for real ministry to happen and I am living proof that all the stains, holes, broken stuff, late nights, large cable & grocery bills, seemingly endless conversations and a whole lotta patience were just a small price to pay for the way God used you in not only my life but many others along the way.  Last, but certainly not least, thank you for living your life as an open book to me.  There were times when you could have hidden from me the rough parts, the ugly parts, the hurt, the sin… Yet you chose to be transparent through it all.  You exemplified for me a God who offers abundant grace, restoration, beauty for ashes, who is making all things new.

And now, 13 years after that 13 year old girl walked into your life I find myself here realizing that all of that was preparing for such a time as this.  Learning what it means to do ministry with teenage girls because of the way God used you to change my life!  I truly cannot imagine myself doing anything different than what you did for me, and I pray that God would use me even half as greatly in the lives of these precious girls that He has entrusted me with.  Thank you for giving me the gift of the only thing worth pursuing, the only thing that will last, the only thing worth investing my life – the gift of knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and obeying Jesus.

Brandi

in Christ.

2 more days til i board a plane for home.  so much to cram into the next 48 hours (errands, outreach event, haircut, potentially buying a new car, laundry, packing, etc.)  so excited that ill be going home for the first time since december that i don’t even care how busy & stressful the next few days are going to be.  the end is in sight and by thursday evening i will be hanging out with my best friend and all will be well.

life is so strange when you live 20+ hours away from all that is comfortable.  friends & family are living their lives without you.  my nephews didn’t stop growing just because i stopped getting to watch them do it.  my former students in both dayton & st. louis have completed another year of school since ive last seen them.  my brother has probably grown a foot since Christmas.  (and his voice has definitely lowered a good bit too ;))  ive missed bridal showers, weddings, engagements & births of babies.  and don’t even get me started about the many, many, many social events ive missed out on.

it’s definitely not easy sacrificing all of that for this.  even though this means having a beautiful beach minutes from my doorstep.  my dream “job” that i am blessed to go to everyday.  the most incredible staff & volunteers to partner with in ministry.  students that allow me to be part of their lives & laugh with me through the insanity of figuring out what it means to lead them in a ministry that not many have done in this capacity before.

all that im missing makes my heart ache & yet all that im experiencing makes it hard for me to even begin to imagine ever do anything else besides what im doing right now.

honestly, if it were left up to me, i would pack my car and drive it right back to st. louis.  i would rent a cute house with my best friend and volunteer in a great student ministry and be involved in a young adult ministry where id have plenty of friends my own age to be challened and encouraged by and my family & sweet nephews would be a short 3 hours away so that i could spend at least one weekend a month watching them grow.  i wouldnt be missing the last years of my grandma’s life and i would have the security of my daddy being nearby should anything go wrong. if it were up to me, id be missing out on all this that God has called me to & clinging tightly to all that in which He has clearly called me away from for now.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.  Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life, is with Christ in God. He is your life.
colossians 3:1-3 (the message)

the good news?  it’s not up to me.  my life is Christ.  it is only because of His grace that i am where i am.  that does not mean that it is easy, but it does mean that it is worth it.  it is so humbling to be part of what He is doing in southwest florida.  it is hard to swallow that my old life is “dead”.  those people & places are important, but truth be told if Jesus asked me to give them up completely and never look back there would be no choice to be made.  i am His and apart from Him my life is  meaningless.  im not sure i ever understood what it meant for my life to be hidden in Christ.  im still not sure i understand completely, but i do believe that He is enlightening my heart to comprehend more and more the truth that my life is not my own.  my comfort, my desires, my plans are of no value if not aligned perfectly with His.

so what do we do?  when we are living in the midst of the tension between what has been & what will be.  when we realize that God has ripped from our hands things that we had clung to so tightly.  for me it was the comfort & familiarity of home. the physical presence of my best friends. my Grandpa.  how do i live in the tension of desiring those things yet knowing im simply not going to have them right now?

we believe.  that He is good.  that He is enough.  that His plan is perfect.
we recognize most importantly that apart from Him nothing matters anyway.
so we continue drawing near to Him.  believing that even if we could have it all back.  the comfort of home. my best friends. my precious Grandpa.  even if i could have all that back, it would “not compare to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (phil 3:8).