Summer Break – The Grown-Up Version!

“School’s… out 🎸 for 🎸 summer!”

Are you singing along? I remember chanting this line in my head (with absolutely no idea who Alice Cooper was) during the end of my school days, dreaming of 90 degree afternoons at the pool and late nights in the backyard, playing flashlight tag and being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Every year as May rolls around, I feel an unexpected anticipation, a feeling that something’s coming around the corner. When I finally put my finger on it, I realize that somehow, somewhere, I am still internally waiting for summer break.

But alas, I’m a grown-up! Perhaps I’m still experiencing this summer longing because I am only a “sophomore in real life”––that is, two years out of college––and the seasonal nature of school is still built into my biological clock. And while I absolutely love my full-time job, there is a sobering realization that summer breaks are no more. (Enjoy it while it lasts, kids!)

All that being said, there are still SO many fun ways to celebrate summer, even if you work 9-5 during the weekdays. Here are a few tips that can help you get back into the swing of those fun summer nights:

1. Get Outside

Summer weather is my favorite! I know it’s hot and humid, but the early mornings and evening/nighttime hours are often the perfect  temperature to me. And guess what you’re not doing during these times? Working!

Wake up 30 minutes earlier and take a walk before work, or plan a game of frisbee with your friends after dinner. Do not go straight home and watch Netflix until you go to sleep––enjoy that extended daylight!

Take a walk with a friend!

2. Do Summer Reading

Your mom is probably not going to pay you a dollar for every chapter book you finish, but that shouldn’t stop you from going to the library or your favorite bookstore! If you’ve fallen out of the habit of reading, let the new season be a reason to kick you back into gear.

If you don’t know where to start, check out the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog, or listen to this episode of one of my new favorite podcasts, “10 Things to Tell You” with Laura Tremaine. Last but not least, you could check out one, two or three of the blog articles from another cool website, rachelsinclair.net :).

3. Listen to Country Music

I love strawberry cake all year round, but for some reason it tastes even better around Easter. In the same way, country music just feels like it’s made for the summer! Make a playlist, listen to it at work if you can, and by all means, go enjoy the country concerts that come to your city.

Last year Lady Antebellum headlined the free 4th of July concert in downtown Nashville. Was it crazy? Yes. Hot? Yes. Was I there? YES! We were exhausted at the end of the night, but it was so worth it!

4. Eat Fun Fruit

If you know me or have listened to the podcast episode with my mother, the professional food style/recipe developer, you know that I am more of an… uhh… “experimental” cook in the kitchen 😉. In the summer, I love to purchase and toss together different combinations of fresh fruit!

I call this one the “Barney Salad,” featuring kiwi and grapes! Now isn’t this more fun than a plastic Dole cup of pineapple?

5. Start a Puzzle

Time to pull out those nerd glasses! 🤓 I looooove me a fun puzzle, and summer is a good time to start one.

Puzzles are a fun activity where friends, family, roommates and really anyone can contribute, so long as they understand the right method for putting a puzzle together. (Sift through the puzzle pieces in 2-3 containers, build the outside first, and DO NOT lay all the pieces flat on the table at once. Obviously!)

6. Hang with Friends

Don’t get me wrong, I hope you are hanging out with friends during the fall through spring as well! But in summer, there is so much to do. You have farmer’s markets, movie nights, pool days, cook outs, weekend trips and more. Don’t lose that sense of freedom just because you work during the day!

A quick weekend trip to Columbia, Tenn. to see my dear friend Annie!

I realize this list does not contain mind-blowing revelations about fun activities, but that’s because I want to share things from my life that are doable, practical and truly joyful. So find what you love about summer, grab some friends and go have fun!


 

Q&A: “The Voice” artist Kymberli Joye talks faith, anxiety and music 

Artist Kymberli Joye captured America’s attention when she openly declared her desire to be a Gospel singer on NBC’s “The Voice.” Before her moving performance of Hillsong UNITED’s “Oceans,” Joye spoke with coach Kelly Clarkson about her struggle with depression and anxiety, and how faith in God brought her through. Last week Joye was eliminated from the competition, making her a season 15 semi-finalist. In the following interview, Joye shares about her journey on “The Voice” and proclaiming her faith on reality television.

 

RS: Before “The Voice,” did you know you wanted to be a Gospel artist?

KJ: Gospel music is part of my life. My parents are pastors, I grew up in the church and I’m a worship leader. Coming on the show, I knew I wanted to tell the world that I was a Gospel singer and Christian artist. That’s what I wanted to be from day one.

RS: What was it like working with Kelly Clarkson?

KJ: It was amazing. I’ve been a fan of her since “American Idol,” and to work with someone who I’ve looked up to for so long was incredible. She’s the kindest, sweetest person I know. She’s just like she is on TV––she’s funny but can be serious, she gives amazing advice and she really cares about everyone on her team. Kelly’s been a great support system.

RS: How did it feel to talk about your faith with big-time celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Carson Daly and Jennifer Hudson?

KJ: Surprisingly enough, it felt natural. It can be daunting to be vulnerable. On top of that, you’re talking to celebrities and you know it’s being taped for TV. But I wanted to first and foremost make sure that I told my story and represented my faith in the right way. I wanted to show people that I’m flawed, I have issues and I’ve doubted. We’re real people who go through real issues, but we still have a real God who can help us with those issues.

RS: Tell us about the moment where Jennifer Hudson said that you helped “renew [her] faith a little bit more”? What did this mean to you?

KJ: It meant so much to me, not because she was Jennifer Hudson, but because she was a person. It meant so much that my story, my performance and the song “Oceans” helped touch her heart and her walk in faith. I was very grateful to be used in that moment. I always say that we are a vessel for music and healing to come through. I felt like I had done my job that night.

RS: It seems like you’ve been able to encourage people who are at different steps in their faith. Is this something you aspire to do through your music?

KJ: Absolutely. I found that a lot of people who responded to me during the show are people who’ve had issues with faith, haven’t gone to church in a long time or maybe they’ve never been at all. They say to me, “There’s something about the way you presented or the things you said that made me want to look into that.”

I realize that I want to lead people in worship in the church, but I also want to lead people outside of the church so they can know who God is and what it means to have a real relationship with Him.

RS: Before you sang “Oceans,” you talked about your journey with anxiety and depression, and how faith helped you overcome those struggles. What made you decide to share this part of your story?

KJ: When I first got on the show, I basically heard the Spirit of the Lord tell me, “You’re on the show to be a light, so you need to be transparent.” A lot of people who struggle with these things feel like they’re alone, and when that happens, you can’t see a way out. Hearing someone else say that they’ve dealt with it can help you flip the switch to go seek help.

I wanted to make sure I could be a light in a dark place because I remember where I was. I still deal with anxiety issues to this day, but it’s nowhere near where it was before. The depression is gone. But life can become overwhelming, and it gets really dark when you think you’re alone. That’s when the enemy comes into your ear and says, “You’re never going to get out of this. It’s never going to get better.” But the Word of God says that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. I wanted to make sure I used my platform to share a piece of my testimony and encourage somebody else.

RS: Tell us about the other Christian song you sang, “Break Every Chain.” This song began with the bold lyrics, “There is power in the name of Jesus.”

KJ: It is a strong statement, and I was kind of surprised that “The Voice” let me make it. The show has always allowed people to sing Gospel songs and hymns, but this song is so powerful, especially the statement “there is power in the name of Jesus.” It says that three times before it says “break every chain.” I was happy that the show gave me room to be myself and express my faith without apprehension.

RS: What was your relationship like with the other contestants? Were you able to have faith conversations with them off-camera?

Absolutely. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about the show––the camaraderie among the contestants since the beginning. In the blind auditions, “The Voice” allowed us to have a church service in a room in our hotel. We worshipped, and it was beautiful. We weren’t all at the same place in our faith, but we all sang and lifted up the name of Jesus. We also always prayed before the shows.

I got the nickname “preacher,” because I’m always encouraging someone with a word when they are feeling negative or have something going on. That’s just who I am!

RS: What is your encouragement to believers living in a secular environment who want to bring the Gospel into their world?

KJ: I’ve worked in the secular arena for a long time, and I’ve learned that being a light doesn’t necessarily mean quoting Scripture all the time or singing only Gospel songs. It means showing people love, being a listening ear or praying when they ask you to.

When people say, “I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I can talk to you,” or, “I find peace when I’m with you,” that’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the light of Jesus shining through you. So be open and show love. Love is the key.

RS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey, or what God is doing?

KJ: I believe God is doing something new in this season where unlikely people are rising up to proclaim His Name. I want to say to people––be open and be ready. There is a harvest coming, and there is a new generation of people who will be seeking after God with everything they have. Don’t be discouraged by statistics or the breaking of tradition, because it’s not tradition that saves. It’s Jesus that saves. When He came, he broke down barriers and traditions.

I also want to say, “Don’t give up.” Whatever that means to whoever reads it, don’t give up. If it’s a dream, a promise God gave you or something you’ve been working at for a long time, don’t give up.

 

“The Voice” season 15 finale will air Tuesday, December 18 at 8 p.m. EST. Follow Kymberli Joye on social media @kymberlijoye.

 

 

A Millennial’s Thanksgiving List

Every year around Thanksgiving, I try to make a list of the things for which I’m most thankful. (Isn’t that what good citizens are supposed to do?) OF COURSE we’re thankful for all the F’s––family, friends, food, football, yata yata. This year I decided to dig deeper into my gratitude, specifically from the perspective of a Millennial.

So here’s my attempt to cut through the clutter and say what my generation is really thankful for!

1. Netflix

And not just Netflix, but the Netflix account you share with your cousin’s college roommate’s stepfamily (and somehow it’s always available!). Unlimited episodes of Friends and Gilmore Girls, embarrassingly endearing high school rom coms and addicting documentaries. Amazing.

2. The Chick-fil-A One App

*Sigh.* I can hear the angels singing right now. I bet in a decade or two, our kids will be asking, “What’s a drive thru?” and we’ll answer “It was like curbside pickup, but you couldn’t order ahead, and you had to wait in a long line because your food wasn’t ready. Oh! And we had no way to save points and earn free chicken sandwiches.”

(If you’re still living in darkness, CLICK HERE NOW.)

3. Facebook’s Unfollow Button

Don’t pretend like this isn’t an incredible gift to humanity. Now you can still be “friends” with Great-Aunt Pearl, but hourly updates on her pet parakeet and the occasional photo of her inflamed toenail won’t flood your timeline. (And they really will never know. Thanks, Mark!)

4. Facebook Birthdays

Speaking of Facebook, the birthday reminders have become one of the most compelling reasons not to delete your account completely and commit to Instagram full-time. Can you imagine having to actually remember your friends’ birthdays? Or if we’re really honest, your family members’?!

5. Amazon Prime

An excellent counter-argument to any Santa Claus skeptics. If Amazon can provide free two-day shipping on most products ALL year round, Santa can easily deliver Christmas presents in one night. (Maybe Amazon partners with Santa? Could HQ2 be the North Pole? 😮)

6. Avocados

Toast, guac, a t-shirt. You name it, we can avocado-ify it, and it’s wonderful.

7. Portrait Mode

It’s like the “pretty face” Snapchat filter, but it’s REAL. Now if only Apple can figure out how to enhance photos in a way that applies makeup and styles your hair…

8. Credit Cards and Venmo

On multiple occasions, my parents have strongly expressed how they believe I should carry cash at all times. And I do! I have a Johnny Cash C.D. in the glove compartment of my car 😊. (And yes, Mom and Dad, Venmo is “real” money!)

I thought about including yoga pants and emojis, but they felt very 2014 🤷🏻‍. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this fun list, but I also hope you’ll take some time to reflect on the real (substantial!) things that you’re thankful for this season.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! May everyone enjoy plenty of sweet potato casserole with your favorite preferred topping 😉.

Back to School Reads

Well, usually this post would’ve been about “Summer Reads,” but SOMEHOW summer is already gone! The good news is that you don’t have to be laying out by the poolside or relaxing in the mountains to enjoy a good book. Reading is fun, guys! 🤓 Anyway, here are some of my favorite recent reads:

 1. The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide (Jenna Fischer)

If you are any kind of artist or creative soul, if you’ve ever had a big dream and wonder if you could make it a reality, or if you’re a film and TV nerd like me, you will find this book fascinating. Penned by the adorably charming Jenna Fischer, this book is written to actors who want to make it in Hollywood. I technically wouldn’t fit into this narrow audience, but I can’t tell you how much insight and perspective I gained from her stories in regards to being an aspiring author. (Plus, you will get a behind-the-scenes look at The Office!)

 

 2. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile)

Yep, I have officially drunk the Kool-Aid. Thanks to Annie F. Downs and Anne Holman Smith, I finally plunged into the Enneagram world beyond a 3-minute online quiz, and I get it. Personality quizzes have always been fun (American Girl Magazine, middle school email chains with 102 questions about yourself, etc.), but the Enneagram is different. It doesn’t just tell you who you are at your “home base,” but it also tells you who you can be. I’m a 1 wing 2 (whoop whoop!), but that can look differently when I’m stressed, secure, in growth, under pressure, etc.

Of course, this is not the end-all-be-all for solving all of your problems in life. (That’s Jesus!) But, the Enneagram is a great tool to help you learn about yourself, increase self-awareness and learn how to interact with others in your life.

TAKE THE QUIZ

 3. The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton)

So I read this one on our family beach trip and managed to thoroughly annoy my brother by shouting, “No!” “Oh my word!” “WAIT A SECOND!” about every five minutes, give or take. I couldn’t help it!

Let me backup: The Secret Keeper is a historical fiction piece about a woman who had an idyllic childhood in the English countryside. Oh, except for the fact that at age 16, she witnessed her meek, saintly mother stab a man with no explanation. (The mother knows she saw it and never talked about it.) Now an older actress in her 60s, Laurel returns to her hometown to be with her dying mother and realizes she must solve this mystery before it’s too late. With flashbacks to WWII and storytelling from multiple points of view, this thriller will keep you on your toes (and possibly banned from the family beach setup, if you’re too reactive 😉).

 4. Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Francis Chan)

Ooooh this one is good. I actually read this book a few years ago, but it’s the kind you keep on the shelf to pull out again and again in various seasons. The concept of the Holy Spirit can sometimes be difficult to grasp, but rather than run away in fear, Chan embraces this member of the Trinity and shows readers what Scripture really says about this powerful, wonderous Person. (Yes, the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing!)

 5. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies (J.B. West)

Calling all American history buffs! If you want a fascinating peek inside the White House walls from the Roosevelt to Nixon administrations, this book is for you. Written by J.B. West, chief usher of the White House, this New York Times bestseller is somewhat of an American, political version of Downton Abbey that is historical. Here are a few fun facts:

• The White House had food rations like everyone else during WWII.

• Also during WWII, the Army wanted to paint the White House black so that it would be less of a bomb target.

• Jackie Kennedy almost never wore a dress unless she had company or was in public.

• Nixon’s daughter married Eisenhower’s grandson.

I hope you will try one of the books, and if none of them interests you, go find something that does! Because #ReadingRules 🤓

Happy Nashvilleversary to Me!

It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here almost a full year. I took the picture below when visiting Nashville in April of 2017 on a spontaneous day trip. I remember loving this sign, loving the city and hoping with all my heart that I’d live here one day. And now I do!

Recently a friend recently asked me how long it took for me to feel like I had “arrived,” or finally found my place in this new season in life. My response was, “Oh, I’m not there yet. I’m a lot closer than I was when I started, but I definitely have more to go!”

I’ve written out 10 pieces of advice that have helped me navigate moving to a new city and starting a new season in life. Whether you’re starting a new chapter, beginning a job in a different city or looking to build deeper friendships, I hope you’ll relate to my journey and maybe learn a thing or two!

1. Show up alone.

This may sound terrifying to you, and it kind of is. Remember in high school when it was very uncool to go to the bathroom by yourself? You’ve got to do a complete 180 on this mindset! At first, showing up alone is hard. It’s awkward, it’s weird and it’s SO much easier to convince yourself to stay home and watch Netflix. But if you want to find your people and experience great things, you have to push yourself.

2. Do something brave.

Bouncing off of point #1, find something that you enjoy and DO IT. Well, I should really say try it because you don’t have to stick with it if it’s not a fit. I did theatre throughout high school, and I looooved it. I love to tell stories through acting, and as a kid, I always had a knack for performing. (Please don’t ask my mother for home videos.)

In April, I auditioned for Seussical the musical at a local community theatre. It wasn’t the audition that scared me, but the whole trying something new in a place where I had never been and knew no one 😳. I had no idea what this experience would be like, but I tried it. And I LOVED it.

Can you spot me? I’m a Who!

3. When in doubt, Google it out.

Profound advice, am I right? I’ve found Google to be incredibly useful for questions like, “Can you die from the hiccups? (Thank you, Grey’s Anatomy.) Can you blend without a blender?” and so forth.

Google is also a great source for finding community. Look up different churches around you, read about what they believe, if they have a young adult group, and try them out! Search for ways to get involved with a hobby you enjoy (how I found out about Seussical auditions) or places you can volunteer. Theses activities and communities are not going to show up at your doorstep, so do some digging and take the initiative yourself.

4. Accept that real relationships take time.

I really don’t have to explain this, because we all know it to be true. First, you have to find your friends (which takes time), then you have to get to know your friends (which takes time). When we’re eager for community, it’s easy to get impatient over the fact that knowing people on a deep level doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient! Friendships are coming, they just take time.

5. Have fun and explore!

Did I say I love Nashville? It’s a great city to explore! Last month I got last-minute, cheap tickets to see Third Day’s Farewell tour at the Ryman Auditorium on a Monday night, and I did it. Because why not? I went with my roommate/friend (a great combo) and two new friends from church. We had a blast.

(P.S. – Check out their new album, “Revival.” So good!)

Even if you aren’t in a “big city,” there are plenty of ways to explore where you live. Try out a new restaurant, visit an outdoor park or look for a place to enjoy live music. Open your eyes to what’s around you and be adventurous!

6. Know that your people will be your people.

College was an incredibly sweet time for me. So many of my close friends were just a quick walk across campus or late night Sonic run away, and now we’re spread throughout the country. The beautiful thing about post-college life is watching how true friendships transcend place and time. I may not see someone in-person for months, but when we talk on the phone for an hour or two to catch up, it’s like no time has passed.

People understand that life is busy, and it’s important to be present where you physically are, but that doesn’t take anything away from a good friendship. Plus, it makes real, in-person time spent together all the more sweet!

7. Realize you’re not the only one looking for community.

One time at church, I met a girl who said she had just graduated college and started a new job in Nashville. Instead of immediately blurting out “DO YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND?” I chatted with her, you know, like a normal person. After some small talk, the conversation turned to finding community. And what do you know, she was looking for friends too!

It’s a relief to know that you’re not the only person looking to make friends. It makes the entire process less intimidating!

8. Make time for a hobby you know you enjoy.

Adulting, plus living in a new city and trying to make friends, can be tiring and time consuming. Make sure you carve out time for a simple pleasure that you know you will enjoy––baking, reading, exercising, playing an instrument, you name it. A small activity can be infinitely refreshing!

Baking funfetti cupcakes is always a fun pastime!

9. Lean in.

Lean in to connections that you already have in place. If your mother’s cousin’s best friend lives in town and wants to invite you over for dinner, take her up on the offer! Or reconnect with a friend from high school who you haven’t seen in the last few years. Chances are, you have more built-in connections than you may realize. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

I love getting to spend time with my aunt, uncle and cousins who live nearby. Isn’t Caroline a sweetheart?!

10. Remember that no one will love you like God.

We all crave community. We want to find people who understand us, care about us and love us for who we are. While it’s important to pursue relationships with people, we’ll always come back around to an important reality: no person can fill the God-shaped hole inside each one of us.

There are times of loneliness and insecurity, and I won’t sugarcoat it as glamorous. But I’ve found that those tough moments are often what bring me back to the Lord, reminding me that true hope and peace only come from Him.

Ellie Holcomb speaks of this in her song “You Love Me Best.” We can search high and low to find unconditional love, when God, the perfect Father, is waiting for us to run back into His arms. Above all, abide in Him!

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY you have an impromptu duet with Kelly Clarkson, singing one of her original songs in perfect harmony, completely on the spot. Soon Kelly is yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” Two chairs down, Adam Levine is smashing his buzzer in protest and yelling, “Nooooo Kelly!”

That’s exactly what happened when 18-year-old Alexa Cappelli made her blind audition debut during NBC’s The Voice. Out of the two judges, Alexa chose Kelly.

Alexa Cappelli sings “I’ve Got the Music in Me”

“Every preteen loves Kelly Clarkson growing up,” Cappelli said. “I love that she doesn’t stick with one genre. She’s done basically everything, and she could teach me a lot through the experience of being a contestant. Adam is very persuasive, but I had to go with my gut.”

Alexa went on to conquer the Battle Rounds and Knockout Rounds, earning a place in the top 24 overall, and top six on the historic, first-ever Team Kelly. Alexa said the process was an incredible experience, and she was struck by how personal her relationship was with the judges.

“I loved the insight of being able to see that these people we look up to in the media and in music — they’re normal people,” Cappelli said. “And they want to hear about us! Kelly was a great example of being such a great, genuine person. She really poured into us and wanted to hear from us and what we loved about music.”

FRIENDSHIPS & FAITH

In addition to vocal sessions and rehearsals, Alexa got to know Kelly and her team through fun activities like bowling and going to Universal Studios theme park. She also built strong friendships that extend outside the show, particularly with her teammate Brynn Cartelli, and Jackie Foster and Britton Buchanan of Team Alicia. (Brynn and Britton are in The Voice finale, airing May 22.)

“Being able to work alongside Brynn and see her motivation at such a young age… she’s got such a drive that is really inspiring.” Alexa added that she, Brynn and Jackie hope to meet up this summer for a girls trip in Boston.

Jackie was Alexa’s roommate, and the two bonded over their love of music and their shared faith in Christ. One of Alexa’s favorite verses throughout her time on the show was Jeremiah 29:11.

“I had a little rock in the bathroom of our hotel with Jeremiah 29:11 on it,” Alexa said. “I left it there when I went home, so now it’s Jackie’s! She wanted me to take it, but I told her it was hers.”

A few days later, Jackie called Alexa and told her she had been reading over the verse, and she knew she’d be at peace with whatever would happen.

“I love that verse, because it’s all right there,” Alexa said. “If I can see anything into what God has planned for me, [I know] it’s a hope and a future.”

Alexa said that staying grounded throughout the ups and downs of the competition was harder than she realized. “The toughest part was the internal struggle, remembering that this was not about me in any way. This was about me sharing my voice, the gift I’ve been given to share. It’s easy to get caught up in the cameras and music, but you have to keep going. I had to remember I wasn’t there for me.”

She found strength through prayer and reading the Bible. “I had to remember that this is just a step in the big journey that God has planned out, uniquely for me, and for music.”

“That moment that I got sent home, I thought, ‘Okay. I really wanted that [win].’ But I also just had to stop and trust that He has something so much bigger… I don’t know what that is, and it will be a crazy journey finding that through Him.”

WHAT’S NEXT

In a few short weeks, Alexa will graduate from Orange County School of the Arts, where she attended despite the 1.5 hour one-way commute. This fall she will study music business at Cal Poly Ponoma, a short thirty minutes from her home.

Alexa is excited to spend more time with her family and friends during this new season. She will also continue to be involved in Steven’s Hope for Children, a non-profit organization run by her parents that helps families of seriously injured children. Additionally, she plans to spend the summer writing and producing new music.

“I think the time to look out for new music would be the fall of this year,” Alexa said. “I’d love to get an EP out, and that’s my vision. So look out for that soon!”

To keep up with Alexa on Instagram and Twitter at @alexacappelli and through her website at alexcappelli.com.

Less Is Best: Counterintuitive Lessons on Control

Last week I had lunch with a new friend at an adorable restaurant in Downtown Franklin called the Mercantile. (It’s the cutest soup, sandwich and salad shop you could imagine, and they always have fresh flowers in blue mason jars sitting on top of each table. Very Joanna Gaines!)

My friend and her family are adopting a baby boy from China, and I couldn’t wait to hear the latest details about their upcoming trip to bring their son home. Their adoption story is filled with such joy, love, prayer and patience. This brave calling also requires accepting a lot of unknowns about the future.

At one point, I asked her, “How do you do it? How do you manage all of these unknowns, especially when they involve people you care about so much?”

She paused, understanding the weight of my question.

“Not knowing just makes me rely on God all the more,” she replied, then added, “and that’s not a bad thing.”

Bam.

What a message! My friend hit the nail on the head in describing a theme that God has been teaching me lately:

Not knowing can be good. Not understanding is okay. Not having control helps us yield our desires to Him, which is actually where they should be in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but the whole “less is more” concept when it comes to control is strongly counterintuitive to me. In my own little ideal world, I would make plans, lay out a strategy and ask God, “Does this sound good to You? Yes? Great!”

But guess what, guys? I am not God. This realization is a human-wide struggle goes back all the way to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve thought they had the right to know as much God.

God knew what was best for them. He loved them. They didn’t need to understand everything to trust that His plan was right and good.

Furthermore, they didn’t deserve to understand everything.

Yielding our rights, expectations and understandings to God is a difficult but beautiful process. It brings us back to where we’re meant to be. The more we let go of ourselves, the more we are able to embrace the Gospel of Christ and live the good life — the best life — that God has prepared for us.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, CSB).

Coming to Meet Jesus

Yesterday my mom and I started to send each other Christmas song titles only using Emojis, and it was much too fun! (#🤓 ). Can you guess the ones below? For bonus points, think about what all these songs have in common!

 

The answers are at the bottom of the article, and the common thread of the songs is that they are all about coming to see Jesus.

As I reflected on the Christmas story this year, I was struck by the interesting––and truthfully, peculiar––audience who had the privilege of first meeting Christ the Messiah. Why did God invite these specific individuals, and what can they teach us about coming to Jesus? Let’s look at some of the nativity narrative characters:

The Wise Men

These men were “from the East” (not of Jewish descent) and studied magic, astrology and interpretations from a variety of religions. They were not your A+ Sunday school students by any means! But they were seeking.

I think it’s interesting that we don’t know the end of the story. I would like to think the wise men learned more about Jesus and chose to believe that He was God’s Messiah, sent to redeem the world. However, they also could’ve just labeled their journey as an “interesting experience” and tossed Jesus in a pile with other religious figures. The important takeaway is that these foreigners who were not Hebrews were invited to meet Jesus and see for themselves who He is.

The Shepherds

Another group of people who were invited to meet Jesus were the shepherds, who were taking care of their flocks in an area near Bethlehem. When an angel of the Lord appeared to them, what was their first reaction? Fear! And understandably so. A messenger of God––in all God’s shining glory––had just burst in and interrupted their everyday, familiar routine. Did the shepherds fully grasp that this baby in a manger was God himself? Sent to save the world? Probably not. BUT, God invited them to meet Jesus, and they came.

After they visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Bible says “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Lk. 2:20, emphasis mine). They didn’t know for sure that when they followed this bright light in the sky, it would lead them to Christ. Instead of thinking over all of the reasons to doubt what the angel of God had said, they went in faith and found everything just as God said. His word was truth.

There are countless other people in the Bible who followed Jesus without understanding everything up front. Did Mary and Joseph grasp the full identity of their Son and His mission on earth? Probably not. What about Peter, the disciple whom Jesus said would be the rock upon which He could build the church? Peter certainly didn’t understand all that was involved in following Jesus, and he definitely made some major mistakes (Mt. 16:23, Lk. 22:54-62). But he followed Jesus anyway.

What about us?

Sometimes I think we feel pressured to have it all together before we say “yes” to following Jesus. Maybe you would like to study the Bible, but you have no idea where to start, and you can already think of certain passages that will be confusing. It’s easier to sit back in the shadows than to try and possibly fail.

Maybe there’s someone who you’ve been wanted to reach out to and ask about their relationship with God. But when you think about starting that conversation, there are so many things that could go wrong. You don’t want to offend them, and you’re afraid you might not have the right answer to their questions, so it’s safer to say nothing and hope that someone else will do the job.

I’m not presenting these as hypothetical situations; I’ve been here myself, and I think that many of you can relate. The point is that Jesus has invited us to come see who He is.

 

He calls us to follow Him in obedience and in faith, but NOT in perfection.

You don’t have to know it all before you accept His invitation. Just come as you are, and tell Him that you want to know Him more, because Jesus comes in grace and truth (Jn. 1:17). And like the shepherds, I hope you will return “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Merry Christmas!

 

Answers: 1. We Three Kings 2. Little Drummer Boy 3. O Come, All Ye Faithful 4. Do You Hear What I Hear?

The world has gone crazy.

Twitter feuds have escalated to a new level. Kylie AND Khloe are pregnant (whaaaat?). And yesterday Chip and Joanna Gaines broke the news that “Fixer Upper” is entering its final season.

Why must all good things come to an end?

Fans are heartbroken, and understandably so. Over the past four years Chip and JoJo have brought us beautiful home improvement inspiration, uplifting binge-worthy TV, an unprecedented obsession with shiplap and the ultimate #couplegoals.

And while the end of “Fixer Upper” is disappointing on our end, I think they are incredibly brave to choose what is right for their family over what’s popular.

How many TV stars have we watched as their lives slowly spun wildly out of control and far from their original identity? I remember in middle school when “Jon and Kate Plus 8” came out, I couldn’t get enough of watching their family’s chaotic life with those precious children. Then there’s Hannah Montana. Remember her? I remember telling my mom what about this cool, Christian girl named Miley Cyrus. “Rachel, she’s probably going to go ‘wild,’” Mom said. “That happens sometimes.”

Silly Mom. Not this girl! She obviously had no idea what she was talking about…

Anyway, you see my point.

I don’t know the specifics of why Chip and Joanna felt that ending the show was the right decision, but I know it couldn’t have been an easy decision. Keeping the show would’ve been normal, comfortable and, in the short term, conflict-free. However, they acted based upon what was right for their lives, not what was comfortable.

How often do we say “yes” to other people without stopping to think about what’s healthy for our personal lives? When we’re presented with an opportunity that is not inherently bad on its own, we feel guilty for politely declining and saying, “It’s just not for me.”

I think we can learn a lot from Chip and Joanna’s announcement. First of all, let’s take time to stop and actually think about big decisions. Maybe take a week and pray it over. Do some soul searching to discern what is right.

Secondly, let’s not be intimidated by what other people will think. There is no doubt that Chip and Joanna care deeply about their fans, but that doesn’t mean the fans dictate their lives.

And lastly, let’s remember that it’s okay to SAY NO to something that’s popular, even comfortable, but not right for us.

Soft snaps for Chip and JoJo. Thank you for showing us what it looks like to make the brave decision. It’s going to be okay.