(Don’t) Save it for the Honeymoon

How’s Bora Bora sound?

Very sexy sexy. –Serendipity

Here’s a confession — I may be a hoarder. I try saving up:

  • creativity, because I am convinced the stream will run dry, and I will have nothing left to offer.
  • big asks, like collecting gold coins at Chuck E. Cheese to buy the bright neon stuffed bear rather than a whole lot of silly bandz.
  • words from the Lord, for myself or for others, as if he only speaks every once in awhile and I want to make sure I have it just right before I share it with anyone else.

Today is about the big ask.

My dear friend is moving to South Africa soon. She’s been there and other places in Africa before, but never on a safari. This is an adventure she’s been dreaming up for her honeymoon for years. Such an epic event should happen on such a momentous occasion, no?

Turns out, her future casa in Mafeking, South Africa (go ahead and giggle) backs right up to the wildlife reserve. That’s right. Safaris everyday, right outside her backdoor.

While we’re in America with our domesticated cats and dogs, she will have zebras, lions, and rhinos in her backyard.

Grinning ear-to-ear with excitement, Sara told me how she’d been asking God to one day let her go on a safari for her honeymoon, and instead, he is giving her a safari everyday.

She’s thrilled, and it got me thinking.

I save up my requests for when I will really want them, as if God only gives us our desires once in a blue moon so I shouldn’t risk asking for just any day, but a truly special one. I save up hopes and dreams for a special occasion like a honeymoon or retirement or just someday.

Why can’t I go and do these things now? Why should I wait for my honeymoon when I can have backyard safaris everyday?

God’s goodness is not some pie with only so many slices.

A piece of inheritance today does not leave me hungry tomorrow.

I think I am going to start asking God for some big (and little) things today, for today. Not for years from now, or when I am married, or when I live here or have this job. No, it’s safe to say I am ready for his goodness today.

And I’ll trust his goodness will be there tomorrow too.

What are you asking for today?

(Coffee Bay, South Africa. Photo credit: Brittani Dunlap)

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A Choice Drink for Victory

Then all the people went away to eat choice food and drink, and celebrated with great joy because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:12

“Wait, Jesus is coming back?”

I remember that light bulb moment as surprise swept across her face. Her eyes, wide and bright, looked straight into mine, searching for an answer. “He’s alive? He’s coming back?”

“Yes, he is,” I assured her.

For the teenage girl in my cabin that summer, it all became real sitting on the picnic tables by Sky Lake, and she could not hold back her excitement. Turning to her cabin mates she exclaimed, “Did you know? Can you believe it?!” For the rest of the week, she told everyone she could: Jesus is coming back! For real!

In the dining hall, on the blob, going down the waterslide: Hey, did you know? He’s alive!

Brittany, like the people of Israel, deemed this newly discovered information worth celebrating. When the Israelites heard and understood the Law of Moses they celebrated with a week-long feast! (Where do I sign up?)

Remember discovering something, be it knowledge or experience, and the feeling it stirred within you? Like riding a horse for the first time, that first sip of a good wine, your first kiss.

A wise woman once said, “Information mixed with an encounter becomes a revelation, and that’s when transformation happens.”

If this season has been about anything it’s learning. Learning a new craft, learning to be broken, learning to be loved, and always learning more and more about God: who he is and how he sees me.

I am finally understanding and experiencing some things for the first time. Because of the brokenness and vulnerability I’ve reached lately, I figured

it is due time I start celebrating the victories. 

Information, encounters, revelations, transformations. The stuff made known to me.

Nope, still not perfect, I have yet to arrive, and I will probably cry at least once or twice by the end of the week. But what is this life I’m living if I cannot see the victories in everyday? Will I allow the fear of failing at the slightest glimpse of weakness keep me from celebrating my victory? No, sir.

Cheers to victory, I raise my glass of choice drink.

To the beauty of the sunshine dancing across tree branches colored in fall-flavored hues. To brownies covered in Blue Bell peppermint ice cream. To driving with the windows down. To crying with friends over Skype though thousands of miles lie between us. To late-night conversations on the balcony. To writing in moleskine journals. To coffee dates and lunch gatherings and dinner parties. To being held by the people who love me most. To the reprimands and hard questions that always challenge. To the little hallelujahs whispered in the darkest of nights.

To gleaning from the harvest and in the shadow of death.

To walking in my identity as a daughter, a worshiper, a prophet, a lover, a believer.

To freedom.

To knowing that I am enough.

To God be the glory.

Cheers.

Kick Drum Heart {11n11 Throwback}

It was 7:15, still another twenty minutes until our tuk tuk would arrive.

My belly was stuffed  beyond contentment with chips and salsa. Yes, Mexican food in Cambodia. Some of my teammates were anxious to get home for toilet’s sake. Others wanted to take advantage of the shopping opportunity the street vendors boasted. We crossed the busy street and strolled by the river.

My senses at full attention, I took in the city life, flashing lights, smells of food, trash, and everyday living. As Westerners, we were targeted by the children selling trinkets and souvenirs.

“Lady, lady, you buy book from me? Give you special price for scarf!”

I was annoyed and angry. Annoyed to deal with them when I was fully set on enjoying my tourist moment in peace without having to fend off hagglers. Angry that someone forced these children to spend their nights on the crowded streets of Phnom Penh.

“Just let them be children!” I screamed on the inside.

I knew buying something from them would be fueling the industry, but if I didn’t the children would suffer for it later, most likely through physical abuse. Lord, what do I do for the least of these?

Within seconds, I found myself in camp-counselor mode, asking names and ages, performing silly handshakes and high fives. We heard some music from a nearby bar. I couldn’t help but dance and the kiddos joined me. I taught them everything from the cabbage patch to the fist pump and even threw in some swing dancing just for kicks.

Their laughter made my heart flutter.

The dancing continued as sounds of Justin Bieber filled the air. Baby, baby, baby, ohhh! I realized I was having more fun in this moment than I have in awhile.

It is all too easy to brush these people off as pests getting in the way. These kids are God’s workmanship. We are called to serve the ‘least of these’, but we don’t have a time card to punch when we are on or off the clock. And it service doesn’t always require money, love will do.

While on his way to restore the life of a synagogue ruler’s daughter, Christ stopped to ask his disciples who touched his cloak. The disciples thought this a silly question considering the size of the crowd closing in around him. It is like walking through Times Square on New Year’s Eve and saying, “Hey, somebody touched my jacket!” Really, Jesus?

Christ took note of everything around him. While the death of the righteous ruler’s daughter seemed to be the top priority to everyone else, he stopped to heal a woman who had been told her sickness was incurable. Everyone had given up on her, everyone but Christ.

Until that night, I honestly didn’t care for Cambodia. I was there because it was the next country on the list, my heart still beating for Thailand, fast and strong. But each time I leave a country a piece of my heart stays there. The Lord continually fills me up with his love, restoring me, allowing me to give my heart again. As I pour out, he fills up. So my heart turns within me and I am ready to love Cambodia.

There’s nothin like finding gold between the rocks, hard and cold. So surprised to find more, always surprised to find more. –Kick Drum Heart, Avett Brothers

Want more stories from my World Race experience? Check ’em out here.

How to Fake Your Own Death

I couldn’t breathe.

I felt my body being pulled out of the water and onto a backboard. I heard the Velcro of the neck brace pull apart just before someone lifted my head and stabilized my neck.

My eyes squeezed shut.

Sounds of whistles blowing and worried voices filled the air. I tried not to move.

“Has anyone called for an ambulance?” I heard one lifeguard shout to another. “Yeah, they’re on their way,” the response.

Stay still, just a little longer. You can do this.

“Okay, everyone calm down this is just a drill. Carrie, you may open your eyes now,” the Programs Manager announced to the crowd that formed around me. “Everything is fine. She’s not hurt.”

I faked it. The whole thing.

In a swimming pool full of high schoolers at summer camp, I jumped off the trapeze and didn’t come up when I hit the water. I did the dead man’s float until someone came in after me. The Programs Manager and I schemed the whole thing as a drill to test the lifeguards.

A lie, a trick, a sham. A “drill.”

Recently, my roommate said something I think rings true with many of us: “I am fine to talk about the stuff in my past that I’ve overcome, it’s the stuff of today I don’t always want to open up about.”

The stuff that we’re “over” is easier to talk to people about, it’s not a part of us anymore and we’ve improved and we’re great now. Talking about the stuff of today means admitting we are not perfect.

The truth is most of us are just faking our own deaths.

Death to envy, bitterness, insecurities, fears, addictions. We trick people into believing the old mess is dead. Done. Gone forever.

I am really good at faking my own death. I pretend to not care when I am hurting, to be independent when I am lonely, to say, “It’s fine,” when it absolutely is not fine. The old me used to care or feel this way, but not anymore, not Carrie 2.0, she has moved on from all of that.

Wrong.

I still hurt. I still feel lonely sometimes. I still get jealous when she gets everything handed to her on a silver platter, while I have nothing to show for my work. I am still prideful, performance-driven, and selfish most days, but I will talk about these issues like they are a thing of the past. Pat me on the back, I’ve defeated resentment! (Not!)

Now that I’ve found a safe place and my blocks are scattered across the floor, I think I am done faking it, the death of my own mess. Gone are the days of pretending I have it all together and my only faults are from the past. I am not admitting defeat — I am admitting I need help, I am not perfect and never will be.

And I am thankful to say I am surrounded by people who love me enough to to keep me from covering up my flaws and instead work toward stepping into actual greatness each day; people who challenge me — not to be perfect — just more like Jesus.

No faking.

To die will be an awfully big adventure. -James M. Barrie

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Friends Beneath the Sheets

In the same week my Jenga tower collapsed, my roommate built a fort in our living room.

I have long searched for a safe place. A refuge. A place to be me. And unknowingly, a place to be messy.

This week, I found that safety in the form of twinkling lights and linens clothespinned together and draped from the the ceiling. A return to childhood, a time of blissful innocence where anything is possible and I can be whatever I choose.

For a moment, I found myself living in a fairytale.

If you know my love for dinner parties, you know I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a dinner party in a fort. We indulged in fried things and fresh things and belly-laughed when somebody stole the caramel straight from Danny’s apple.

By the end of the night, the dishes were stacked a mile high and flour dusted the counter tops like winter’s first snow.

Under the sheets of the fort that night, people were nourished body and soul. And I felt safe.

This fort made of sheets, clothes pins, pillows, and blankets is a safe place. Within its walls I find refuge, comfort, peace. I’ve sat with friends and I’ve sat here alone. Beneath these sheets, I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve prayed on my knees and on my face under the linens and lights. Under the sheets that make up this fort, I have been the most real I have ever been with my friends, with God, and with myself.

Lately, I’ve been frustrated with how messy I have become and am always telling myself to lock it up and pull it together. I am sick of being a burden to others when I am supposed to be the strong one.

When I looked back on that night and the many nights leading up to it, God whispered something to my heart:

You’ve been this messy all along, but you have never felt safe enough to open up and let others in to see it, not even yourself.

And that is when I suddenly felt okay with not being okay.

Love takes risks. Vulnerability opens you to feel both the good and bad. As much as it hurts, I have to be glad that it does. It means I am finally in a safe enough place to be open, to share, to feel, to cry and be hurt, to not be okay.

I am thankful for my fort, my safety, my friends. The people who have held my hand as we’ve entered into this safe place together.

I love these people. So much.

And I don’t know what my life would be without them, without the safety of my fort. Without the twinkling lights always reminding me of the beauty of life no matter how painful, as long as I am surrounded by people I love who love me back — no matter how messy it gets.

It is painful, yes, all growth is. But the silver lining I am defending is turning gold, soon to illuminate my skies brighter than the darkness of my sorrows.

When the Last Piece is Pulled From Your Jenga Tower

Remember the game Jenga?

The game’s objective is to remove as many wooden blocks from a tower without letting it fall. You take turns with your opponent and if the tower falls at your play, you lose.

You remove each block with steady hands and give a big exhale when you realize the tower is still standing. You didn’t even know you were holding your breath until all the air comes rushing through your mouth and nostrils with a sigh of relief. As sweat falls from your brow  you think to yourself, “Really, pull yourself together, fool! It’s a game.” (Or is that just me?)

The past few weeks, months maybe, my life has been a Jenga tower.

One by one, blocks have been pulled from different parts of me. A struggle here, a heart string there. Family members are sick, friends are hurting, and the goodbyes never seem to stop.

Some of the blocks needed to go. Blocks marked with indifference, defense mechanisms, and lies. Nonetheless, these blocks were once a part of me, leaving me a little wobbly without them.

Leaving me vulnerable. Raw. Exposed.

Last week, someone removed the final block, the linchpin piece from my tower and it all came crashing down.

And I want to tell you I am writing this from the other side, from a place of recovery and reflection. But I am not. I write this from the thick of the apocalypse and pain. And tears.

But I realize in the thick of it is exactly where I need to be. I’ve spent my life getting over it and moving on without ever dealing with anything. Being the strong one, the stable one, the one who has it all together so everyone else can be a mess.

Today, the blocks are scattered across the floor. Jumbled, messy, disheveled. I’ll rescue the ones worth holding onto and throw out the ones that are not part of who I want to be.

I will build my tower again. But not today and not tomorrow either.

Don’t Come Crying to Me

There was a lot of blood.

I fought back the tears as my brother helped me hobble inside. I knew I shouldn’t be playing on the folding chair that way, but I am not one to so quickly turn away from fun. And a little childlike rebellion.

“Kids, stop playing on those and when you get hurt, don’t come crying to me,” my dad hollered to us.

Busted.

It’s funny how I didn’t care enough about obedience to stop playing, but decided to mind my father at the words, “Don’t come crying to me.”

Waiting for my mom to come home, I hid in the bathroom for what seemed like hours, balled up on the cool tile floor— pink tile like any good home built in the 50s. Chris helped me clean up the wound as best as two young kids could and we waited.

I couldn’t let him find me. I didn’t want my dad to know I hurt myself doing the very thing he warned me not to do.

When Mom finally came home, I lost all composure and collapsed into her arms. Between sniffles, I explained to her why I had an absurd amount of toilet paper and band-aids stuck to my right knee.

“Why didn’t you tell your dad you were bleeding?”

“He said not to.”

“He said what?!”

“He told us not to come crying to him when we got hurt. So I didn’t.”

I still have a giant scar on my knee from that backyard incident and this story is still at the top of the list of my family’s favorites about me.

But this scar reminds me of something all-too-familiar in my life today: I am caught in a battle between performance and grace.

I want to do the right thing. I do for a while. I inevitably fail. I am my toughest critic, lending little to no grace for myself.

A life motivated by performance is a life lived in fear. Fear of messing up, failing, disappointing. This is how I’ve lived most of my life whether I’d like to admit it or not.

A life motivated by performance is an effort to earn salvation, which is impossible, yet sometimes the thought of accepting all the grace that God has seems just as unlikely for me.

It’s a simple analogy, but a message I’ve long overlooked. I cut my knee. Because of my disobedience I hid from my father, the only one who could help me.

That day my dad didn’t scold me for my defiance, he held me close and made me promise never to hide my wounds from him again.

And I’m certain my heavenly father is doing the exact same.

We Will Never Have Tonight Again

It was one of those nights.

Nothing entirely epic or noteworthy took place, rather a string of beautiful, intimate moments like white lights twinkling on a dark strand. Moments that remind me to breathe in, live life fully and thank God for giving me such a precious gift.

Honestly, I wanted the night to be over before it ever started.

Like Cameron Diaz in the movie The Holiday I tried bawling my eyes out in the car on the drive home from work.

No tears. Not one.

I felt such a heaviness and restless spirit in me, but couldn’t conjure up a single tear. This was not looking good.

When I arrived at my apartment, I was greeted by some friends who stopped by to say goodbye before heading out to Cincinnati for the weekend.

I knew why they’d come.

They came to say goodbye to us for a weekend, but to my roommate it was goodbye for a while.


After all the events of that night, I found myself curled up on my roommate’s bed talking life.

I’ve spent many a moment in her bed or on our couch, at the kitchen table, swinging in the hammock, or sitting at the apartment upstairs talking life.

Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, and on the best nights we do both.

We talk about what God is doing, how he’s actively moving in our midst. We remember the past fondly and look expectantly toward the future. When bitterness or discouragement arises, we combat it with words of life. Sometimes we have to do some yelling and standing on things first, but life still comes.

These nights have taken me to deep, intimate, and raw places. It’s not always pretty in the moment, but in the end I’m convinced it’s beautiful. These nights have helped shape who I am and how I view life. These nights have changed me.

And then it hit me.

We will never have tonight again.

This night was bittersweet. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, but it helps when you believe in the reason why. Saying goodbye is difficult because two things, woven together by God, are now being separated.

Saying goodbye is something I’ve done a lot lately.

But I stand behind the goodbyes. Because greater things are ahead.

So we will never have tonight again because things are changing, people are moving, lives are growing. Sons and daughters are stepping out into their calling.

But I can only believe that even better days are ahead.

All we had was all we needed then, we will never have tonight again.

-Sandra McCracken, We Will Never Have Tonight Again

How Nail Polish Taught Me to Process

I am at a coffee shop. You know, the artsy, it’s hip-to-be-grunge type hang out.

I go to the ladies room.

Burglar bars. Burglar bars over the window.

What kind of neighborhood is this?

Deteriorated and rusted, I couldn’t tell if these bars were there for safety purposes or some kind of antique flair—or both. Either way, the sighting of these bars didn’t make me feel any safer. But then again, I’ve been in worse conditions in my life, involving much lower safety and restroom ratings.

This would not keep me from later enjoying my dirty almond chai.

I look up at the bars again.

The most recent layer of paint, which has to be about a decade old, was peeling enough to reveal the coat underneath.

This sight took me back to my adolescent years when I was too lazy to deal with the upkeep of my nail polish. Truthfully, I have very little patience when it comes to painting my nails, but love the way it looks too much not to do it. What a conundrum.

When I was younger, instead of removing the old, cracked polish before painting on a fresh new color, I simply painted right over any remaining polish. Eventually, this polish chipped revealing two or three different colors on my preteen fingers. Real cute.

Why did I ever think this was a good idea?

Clearly I was too busy waiting for the dial-up to connect so I could chat with my friends on AIM to ever take care of my nails.

Or maybe I was caring for my Tamagotchi pet.

It’s funny how we grow older and trick ourselves into believing that we handle our adult problems with adult solutions. Truth is, I take care of most of my issues now the same way I took care of my nail polish at 11 years old, only less glitter is involved.

Rather than deal with it, get out the nail polish remover and cotton balls, I just paint right over it with a new color.

Since returning home from the World Race, I have learned the importance of dealing with my stuff and how long I’ve just painted over it rather than process through it.

Processing takes time, discipline, intention.

I don’t wake up in the morning with a flashing light bulb over my head saying, “Eureka! That’s why I feel this way, what a deep-rooted wound!” or “Aha! That prophetic word makes perfect sense to me, I know exactly what to do now.”

Not so much.

The things worth knowing, understanding, and believing— those are the things worth digging around for, worth the time it takes to process. Worth the time it takes to get out the acetone and cotton balls and do some cleaning up before painting on that fresh, new color.

Sleep When You’re Dead {live to tell the stories}

I am too wired to sleep. Maybe it’s the chai tea or the six cups of coffee, or the fact that I’m a little hyperbolic at times.

But I’m rather convinced the real reason I can’t sleep is that I’m a writer. I’m a storyteller. I’m an artist. I’m officially a part of this sacred group of elitists, these people who will always be needed no matter which direction society turns.

And I’m a part of this group because I say so.

Have you ever read Anne Lamotte’s Bird by Bird? Well I have and you should, writer or not.  When I finished reading it, I found myself too inspired to do anything but create great lines and plots and scenes in my head, words batting back in forth in my mind like a bright yellow ball in a heated tennis match.

I love to write, not for the hope of one day becoming famous or rich or even published because truthfully that scares the—er— it’s terrifying.

I love to write because of the feeling it produces within me. I’ve taken note and put something on paper. There’s a part of me that will go on existing and a story that has been told.

It’s not enough to tell your story; amplify it, tell it beautifully and proudly.

But it can’t stop there, either. Don’t just allow your story to be loud and amplified, you have to let it reverberate, resound. Let God’s voice echo in the sound waves of your story because he’s the original author. I’m the facilitator of the story he’s writing with my life.

It’s my job to observe, to take it all in, deep breathes and long sighs, and to let it echo throughout history, even if only on the pages of my journal or blog.

Ernest Hemingway and I have a similar work routine:

“I write one page of masterpiece to 91 pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Writing isn’t  about getting your story perfect, it’s about getting your story outside of you and into the world.

I’m learning a lot about writing (thanks to this guy) and the most important lesson is this: writing is a gift.

And  not the kind of gift like the way Michael Jordan is a gifted athlete. But writing, this practice of sitting down everyday and getting the true, honest and innocent and bold thoughts out into the world with the hope of leaving it a little brighter, a little better— that’s the gift.

So I’ll give. I write.