Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015

God's protection

It's time for me to share a story. Some people dismissed the events I'm about to tell you about as "nothing," and it may have very well been "nothing." But next time, it may not be... and it could have changed from "nothing" to tragedy in just a fraction of a second.

A few months ago, as I was pulling up to church on Wednesday night for supper before prayer meeting, a car pulled over on the wrong side of the road across from the church caught my eye. When I got out of the car to go inside, I heard a rustling in the woods and saw a man wearing a masquerade mask standing in the woods, watching our church. Terrified, I called 911 immediately, and as soon as they pulled up, he ran to his car and sped off, clearly up to no good. They did catch the man a little ways up the road, but all they could fault him for was not wearing a seat belt.

I was shaking all over and something in my gut told me that something just wasn't right, but what could we do? Prayer meeting began and I was sitting about midway up on the right side closest to the inner isle. About halfway through the service, I heard the double doors at the back of the church creak open, and as I turned my head, our eyes locked. It was the man in the masquerade mask, standing in the center of the isle at the back of the church. He was wearing a huge coat, his hair was disheveled, and his eyes were wild, darting from one side of the room to the other. He hesitated for a second, then took a seat a few rows from the back. My heart was beating out of my chest, and I decided that it was my responsibility to protect my family. I got up as calmly and discreetly as possible, walked out the back door, and called 911 again. He was back, they hadn't stopped him, he had on a mask, he could have a gun. Help.

It only took a few minutes before the police surrounded our humble little church building. Our fearless leaders, Tony (youth pastor and associate pastor) and Josh (head of the deacons), who had been at Youth Meeting, had been alerted of what was going on, and came quickly, speaking to police, keeping the few people who were aware of what was happening calm, and letting the ladies working in the nursery know what was happening so they could get the children to a center room, and lock the doors.

During the service, Pastor Max was fearless. He stood bravely, behind the pulpit, and preached through what could have easily been his last sermon. The man in the mask moved from the back of the church up to the front during the middle of the service, making jittery movements, looking around, and fidgeting with the mask. It was the most terrifying moment of my entire life, and I watched through a window, as some of my precious church family in the pews began to pick up on what was happening. I watched as their eyes widened, then closed in prayer, asking God to protect us, and change this man's heart if he had ill intentions.

After the service, I saw some people bravely greet him, thank him for coming, and walk away. He could have been an angel, for all we know, and of course we want everyone to feel welcomed at our church, but I don't think he was. I think, sometimes you have to trust your instincts, and my instincts told me he came there to kill.

The police couldn't just barge into the sanctuary and tell the man to leave, because technically he hadn't done anything wrong, just suspicious. He could have just been crazy or mentally sick... or he could have been a gunman that changed his mind because he felt the presence of God. We will probably never know, but what I do know without a shadow of a doubt, is that God protected us that night, and He allowed us to see a glimpse of what people all over the world in countries that don't have the freedoms we do in America face everyday. It was my worst nightmare coming true, and nothing mattered except Jesus. Yes, I knew that if I was to die that night, I would instantly be in the presence of the Lord, but it was so terrifying.

This morning, when I heard about the shooting that took place yesterday at the church in Charleston, it all came flooding back. I still remember every detail of that night as vividly as if it had just happened yesterday, and there will never be words to explain how grateful I am to God that He spared our lives. What happened in Charleston could have happened to us, and my heart goes out to the families dealing with the loss from this tragedy. It breaks my heart that we live in a world where evil is not only accepted, but embraced whole-heartedly, and everything seems to be tolerated except for Christianity.

It's time for us, as Christians, to start speaking up, standing up for the religious freedoms that our country was founded upon, and sharing our stories.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Is this thought as powerful to you as it is to me? Maybe not, but I stumbled across it today and knew that God had allowed me to read these very words for a purpose. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Travel Bug: Gatlinburg

Two weekends ago, Gray and I got to spend the weekend in Greenville, SC with my sweet family that always shows us the best time and sweetest hospitality. Last weekend, I went to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN with three girlfriends of mine, and we had the best, most jam-packed weekend of adventure. In two weeks, Gray and I are going to Charleston, SC (my most favorite place ever) for my 23rd birthday, and then we have another trip planned to Washington, DC for the weekend of July 4th. I think it's safe to say the travel bug has bit us, and I love it. I am so thankful to finally start seeing some benefits of my job as a travel agent, and I know some of these opportunities would be impossible without the connections and relationships I've formed.

Today, I'm going to share about my trip to Tennessee. It was the most carefully planned, jam-packed trip I think I've ever been on. We left at about 7pm on Friday night after work, and arrived at our cabin around 11pm. Other than food, our cabin was the only part of this entire trip that we had to pay for out of pocket. We rented the cabin through Patriot Getaways, and what we found waiting on us far exceeded our expectations. The name of our cabin was Black Bear Hide Out, and whoever owns it has put such thought and time into making it a cozy, charming, mountain home. It is not at all generic or decorated with cheezy, basic decor. Instead, there were interesting, unique decorations that make the place welcoming and inviting. 

This weekend... these girls... SO MUCH FUN! They are all so different, and I love them all dearly for different reasons. I'm so thankful to have friends who love adventures as much as I do.
On Saturday morning, we had the best breakfast at a place in downtown Gatlinburg called the Pancake Pantry. It is a darling little place with big windows and an impressive menu.
After this delightful start to our day, we embarked on our next adventure: white water rafting down the Big Pigeon River. The company we used is called Rafting in the Smokies, and we had a wonderful time. The river is a nice mix of beginner and intermediate level rapids.
After this, we went on a six rope lip line course at the same location, which was a lot of fun (if you don't mind heights, that is).

Next, we went to Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. Although the tacky outfits made for great pictures, I have to say that this was a huge disappointment. I was so looking forward to this, but found the grungy, almost creepy interior of this place to be a huge turn off. The floor looked like pulled up carpet (with streaks of grated, dried glue) and the rubber base trim had been pulled off to reveal a dirty-looking yellow glue substance there, too. We were placed in a room which was also dirty and dilapidated looking, to watch a five minute instructional video, which was also highly outdated. After the video, we were given goggles, helmets, and loose-fitting body suits to put on - and there was no evidence that they had been sanitized at all after the previous user. I kept thinking to myself... am I really doing this? Not exactly the thoughts you should be having before you allow your body to be suspended in mid-air at the mercy of a teenage boy instructor.

I was also surprised that it took us about an hour from the time we entered the building to the time we exited, and only about three minutes of that time did I spend "skydiving." It doesn't even really feel like "skydiving," not that I've done the real thing or would ever in a million years want to (I don't think planes are meant to be jumped out of), but it was just really more like getting blown upwards by a dirty fan blowing hot air at a speed that made me question whether my skin was going to blow off.
This is the wind tunnel. The sides are lined with pads and the bottom is a net over a huge fan.

Whew... talk about an adventure! I'm glad I can say I've done that, but I wouldn't do it again. Ever.

So, onto the next part of the day...my favorite part of the trip! On Saturday night, we went to a Soul of Motown Dinner Show at the Grand Majestic Dinner Theater in Pigeon Forge. It was INCREDIBLE. These performers were so talented! They sang songs by the Drifters, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Temptations, and Earth, Wind, and Fire (and a lot more, too). I expected that we would have an hour for dinner and then the show would last about an hour but it far exceeded my expectations. We arrived at 7 for dinner (which was a yummy chicken dish with mashed potatoes and vegtables) and the show started at 8. It wasn't over until after 10 and then there was an opportunity to meet and greet with the performers in the lobby. Although I did not have to pay for the ticket, it would be well worth the $50 it costs to me. What a blessing! If you ever get the chance to go, you should go for sure!

On Sunday morning, we were sad to pack up and leave our beautiful cabin. Ideally, we would have had much more time there, and would have been able to enjoy leisurely cups of coffee on the porch in the rocking chairs. Unfortunately, there was no time for that on this quick trip, but I look forward to returning one day (hopefully for at least a full week).

Before heading back to Charlotte, we had a few more adventures to squeeze in. We toured the Titantic Museum, which was incredible. I would recommend it to anyone going near the area. It's really a must-see. With over 400 genuine artifacts from the Titantic, interactive exhibits, and an excellent audio tour, it was well worth the visit. When you enter, you are given a boarding pass. On it is an actual person who traveled on the Titantic. I was a 53 year old lady named Edith and at the end of the museum, in the Memorial Room, I discovered that I did survive the tragedy. Others find that they did not. The theme of the museum is this: "It is said the best way to respect and honor those who gave their lives is to simply tell their stories."

There is one part of the museum where visitors are able to feel the frigid 28 degree water and it really brings to life what the people went through as they were plunged into the dark, cold ocean. In another part of the museum, visitors are able to walk up sections of the ship at different inclines, which allows you to feel what it must have felt like as it tipped upwards and slipped into the depths of the sea. I loved being able to walk through the replicas of each type of cabin, seeing facts, stories, and photographs along the way. It was altogether just a fabulous experience.

Although you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, I did capture these two photographs of the outside. It's massive, and truly resembles the iconic ship.

Afterwards, we went to Dollywood, which although I visited once as a very small child, I had no real memory of. It felt like it was my first time going, and I was so excited. The park itself is decorated with such care. It is like walking back in time... kind of a Tweetsie Railroad meets Carowinds meets an old county fair experience.

Overall, the conclusion I reached about Dollywood is that I just need to go back in 10 years when we have kids and maybe I'll love it. It really is a darling place, I just don't think it is a good fit for entertaining my age group. I would have liked to have sat down and watched a show, which we did not get the chance to do, but as far as the rides and shops, I was slightly unimpressed. After about an hour and a half, it started raining and we had to go.

Our last stop before the drive home was at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, which was a recommendation by our zip line guide. I love getting recommendations from the locals when I travel. They always know the best places. This proved to be true, as we had a delicious lunch before heading back to the Queen City. Thankfully, my friend, Sarah drove home, so I could sleep for a few hours. I had the best weekend, and can't wait to go back to Tennessee!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I know who He is

I don't know what He's doing, but I know who He is.

God, that is. I know who He is. I know He's a faithful Father, a loving, merciful Master, a Healer, and the gracious giver of all good things. He sees the depths of my heart, and He loves me anyway. He has a perfect plan for my life and cares about the intricate details of my life (and yours too!).

So... why do I question him? What is it about my stubborn, white-knuckled "need" for control that won't let me release full surrender to the One who I know has only His best in store for me? I know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this, any my heart for this blog is to be as transparent as possible. After all, we're all in this together, right?

Jesus loves us more in a fraction of a second than anyone else ever could in a lifetime. Can you even wrap your brain around that truth? It's mind blowing. What love, what grace, what wholesome devotion He has for us. So, with that said, what can we do to return that affection?

What is helping me - and it's a daily process, something I have to put at the forefront of my thinking each and every day - is reminding myself that I have to be all I can be where I am, when I'm there, for Him.

Each part of that decision is important, because being all I can be.... for Him implies that I have to always try my best at everything I do, as if I'm doing it for the Lord (Colossians 3:23) even if I'm not necessarily happy about it. Everyone knows that it's easy to be happy when you're doing something you love, but how is your spirit when it's not so fun? That's where true joy comes in. If you have that true joy that can only come from Him, it's present even during the struggles.

Having this attitude where I am, when I'm there implies that I can't be focused on the past or consumed with the future. I have to force my mind to understand that today, God has me where He has me, doing what He would have me to do, and I have to not only learn to be okay with it, but to thank Him for it (even if I don't understand it right now). It all goes back to what we know... He's the giver of all good things, He has a perfect plan, He's faithful....

So, if you're struggling with this same idea of giving it all to God, I hope these words have been of some encouragement to you and give you the encouragement you need to put full faith in His plan, His purpose, and His timing. Lets work towards the peace that can only come from this kind of surrender together.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bridal Shower Goodness

A few weekends ago, I had the honor of hosting my cousin and best friend's first bridal shower. I was so excited I could hardly stand it, and I had been planning for months. I sent out the invitations about one month before, and everything was going smoothly. Well, to my dismay, I found out six days before the shower that there was going to be a funeral at the church where I had reserved the room and the family needed that space for receiving friends. Obviously, this long-time church member should get priority, no question about it, so there was nothing to do except find a new space... and fast. Thanks to my wonderful aunts, they helped me find a place and let all the expected guests know of the location change, so it all ended up working out perfectly.

What was so ironic is that the place where we ended up having the shower is the same place where Kiley hosted my bridal shower last Fall. Growing up together has been such a joy - we have been through the good, the bad, and the ugly together. We have learned how to love, forgive, grow, and change while having each other's shoulders to lean on all the while. It's been such a gift. We were awkward preteens together, we've cried for each other through every heartache and celebrated each other's victories, we graduated from high school and then college around the same time and now we have the opportunity to share in the joy of hosting bridal showers for each other, and help plan weddings just months apart.

The Crossnore Meeting House is a small meeting place that's used for several different groups located in the cute little town of Crossnore, NC. The walls are adorned with memorabilia and historical photographs documenting the decades of precious people that have lived in the community. It is the perfect size room for a shower like this because it's big enough that it doesn't feel crowded, yet there is an intimate feel to it, as well.

We had all kinds of delicious food, including taco dip, spinach and artichoke dip, BBQ meatballs, mini shrimp cocktails, fresh fruit, veggies and ranch, heart-shaped cucumber sandwiches, grape salad, chocolate dipped strawberries, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, chocolate dipped oreos, my great aunt's famous butter mints, a peanut butter ball with graham crackers for dipping, and wedding dress shaped sugar cookies. It was a wonderful spread, and there was something for everyone!
With the help of my amazingly patient husband, I made this darling tissue paper garland. I had seen it on Pinterest for a while, and was eager to try my hand at it. With just a few simple cuts and a hot glue gun, it's amazing what you can accomplish. I used this tutorial.
The white lanterns I used for decor were purchased from various places as centerpieces for my wedding in December. I seriously have lanterns all over my house, and love using them for decorating! I also used frames with quotes and pictures of the happy couple.
There were so many precious ladies there- both friends and family. It is so sweet to be surrounded by women who love, support, and share in your excitement!

I found this wedding hashtag printable on Pinterest. I love using a hashtag for weddings, because it's such a convenient, fun way to share photos and see them all in one place from different perspectives.
These decanters come in so handy for parties, and they are such a fun way to display your beverages.

This pretty wreath was made by Kiley's soon-to-be grandma-in-law with the initial of her new last name!
I could have NEVER done this shower without the help of my Momma, who is the most creative, joyful person you could ever plan a celebration with. She just delights in making things special for people, and has an eye for beauty that is truly unmatched.

Also, a huge thanks to my sweet husband, who was up at ungodly hours helping me with crafts, helped cook, moved tables and chairs, unloaded the car in the rain with almost no sleep, and kept me laughing the entire time.