My own sea-change.

In her book Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist talks about a sea-change. She borrows from Shakespeare and I’m borrowing it from her now because I think it is so fitting for my time here in Hawaii – my own sea-change – happening right in the midst of living in the sea. In her book, she explains it like this,

“The word sea-change is from Shakespeare, from The Tempest: a man is thrown into the sea, and under the water he is transformed from what he was into something entirely new, something “rich and strange.” The beautiful and obvious connection, of course: baptism. We are tipped backward into the water, and raised into new life. We leave behind the old—the sin, the regret, the failings, and we rise out of the water cleansed, made new. A sea-change if there ever was one. This is the story of my sea-change—the journey from one way of living to another.”

There are times in our lives when there is a distinct change – we notice we’ve gone from one way of living to another, like Shauna says. It’s the end of one way of thinking, of being, to another, entirely new way. I can think of a couple of other sea-changes in my life. Once as I neared my 30th birthday. And now again out here in the ocean over the last two years. My sea-change has caused me to leave behind some old ways, some old thoughts, some old habits of being, and take on new. Marriage has changed me. Losing a baby has changed me. Living away from my family and old friends has changed me. Being in a new place and a new culture has changed me. And it’s all encompassed in this time here in Hawaii.

The verse God put on my heart as he drew me out here two years ago is found in Psalm 139. It reads,

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Did you know Hawaii is the most isolated population center in the world? I didn’t know this until recently, but you can certainly feel the truth of it when you’re on these islands. We’re 1,000 miles from the nearest island chain and 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. So in truth, I have been literally dwelling in the remotest part of the sea. And you know what I have found? He is near. Perhaps even more near than I had previously felt.

I think it’s because we live in the middle of the ocean that songs about God and water cause emotion to well up in me. Songs where they talk about his love being like a wild ocean or how he holds back the waters or asks us to walk on them with him. This lyric especially gets me , “You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.” Now I know they’re meaning that metaphorically, but I listen to that song each time I take off on a flight to this little island in the midst of thousands of miles of untamed ocean because I really feel that’s what God was doing in my heart two years ago - calling me out beyond the shore. And now I’ve been here in the middle of the ocean experiencing my own sea-change.

I’ve found that sometimes he has to draw us out so he can pull us in close. So he can change us. Mold us. Teach us. Show us that he loves us in new and beautiful ways. He might not draw you out to the ocean specifically. He might draw you out right in your own neighborhood. Your own school. Your own friend group. Your own workplace. He’ll call you to new places all the time if you let him. If you give God the space to move, he’ll certainly walk in and fill it up in ways entirely unseen and unexpected. Have you experienced this in your life? A sea-change of your own? Have you given Him enough space to move and breathe fresh life into your bones? To call you out to a new way of life? If you let him, he’ll change you from the inside out. That’s what he wants to do - to fill up all your empty places and refresh your soul. Sometimes he just has to draw you out so you can hear his still small voice.

Maybe that’s the biggest problem - we don’t take enough time to be still and listen. We’re too busy. We’re moving quickly and on to the next thing before we even have a chance to think about or reflect on the last. That’s one of the biggest things I left behind when I moved here - the work of being busy. I learned to slow, to be still, to listen. To savor the small and often unnoticed. Because God does not call us to busy. He calls us to rest. He calls us to abide. In her newsletter earlier this week, Ruth Chou Simons reminded me that, “to abide is to enter into His presence and to linger longer.” Linger with Him. Linger in the moment. Our scrolling thumbs and four second attention spans think we don’t have time to linger. We take in information at such a rapid pace, the pinball is bouncing off all corners of our brain all the time. But there’s a sweetness that seeps into our hearts when we linger a little longer in the presence of God. I’ve learned that out here.

Aaron and I will takeoff from this island for the last time in just a few more days. But I’m going home different. God brought me out to the remotest part of the sea to show me that even here he has not left me, forgotten me, or asked me do any of this alone. What patience and love and promises fulfilled I have seen while we lived here in the ocean. I go home now with a new sense of who I am and who God created me to be. I’m going home with a fresh desire to speak truth, to live boldly, to step out in faith, to be in tune with what God is asking and the ways he is moving in and around me. My own sea-change has caused me to begin a new way of living – one of reliance and trust on the One who can handle the weight of it all. Of being still and listening. A way of life where there is time to linger a little longer. And that’s what I hope for all of us - to experience a kind of change that leads to more of Him.


When Aaron’s mom came to visit us last fall, she helped me around the house with a lot of painting, but she also gifted us with some beautiful plants - a couple of hibiscus, croton, bougainvillea, and a bigger tree item whose name is escaping me right now. She planted them all in new pots and we set up a little corner in front of our house creating this little "Garden of Eden" as I called it, I guess because I think everything needs a name or a nickname of some kind.

I’m not really good at keeping plants alive. Several years ago my sister and I planted little terrariums of succulents because the whole internet says succulents are impossible to kill and yet, somehow, I have managed to kill many of them. The whole terrarium was dead in short order. I think it would be a lot easier if they would just speak audibly to me and let me know that they needed some water or some light, otherwise I get overzealous and water them too often, or I get lazy and never water them at all. All this to say, Joyce gifting us with the Garden of Eden was so nice, but left to my gardening talents probably wouldn’t last very long.

There was a short window last fall where these plants were gorgeous. I don’t know if it was the constant rain we had here in Hawaii, or if she just picked good plants but the blooms on our hibiscus were huge. We had a new yellow or red flower almost every day. And I get that there are seasons for plants, but Hawaii is pretty even-keeled – never too hot or too cold (all you need is a light jacket! Ha!). So we had these big amazing blooms on both the hibiscus and the bougainvillea. The tree was standing tall. And all of this with very minimal effort on my part. I just kind of walked by it every day and marveled at how nice it looked and then walked away. If it felt particularly hot or I realized it hadn’t rained in a few days, I would drag the hose over and throw some water on them, never knowing how much was too much, of course.

It was earlier this spring that I noticed the plants start to change. It was a slow change – at first I noticed that we weren’t getting any big blooms. We had a couple small flowers here and there, but not as often and not nearly with the same brilliance. I noticed some kind of white stuff on the end of one of the hibiscus branches, but everything else looked fine so I didn’t pay it much attention. Over the course of the next weeks or maybe even a month, I noticed how our plants were looking more sad. The leaves on the tree were all drooping. We had no blooms on the hibiscus or bougainvillea. The branches of both hibiscus were completely bare except the tops where there were some green leaves, one single tiny flower bud, and then a lot of this white business I mentioned earlier. Except now the white stuff was on most of the plants.

So I went outside one day with the intent to handle the plants. I was going to figure out what was wrong with them. I got closer and inspected the white stuff. I still didn’t know what it was – it looked fuzzy, like a mold. So I went to the internet and asked it what kind of white fuzzy mold grows on plants in Hawaii and it turns out it wasn’t mold, it was FLIES. White flies! Gross! Apparently they attach themselves to your plants, attracted by bright colors, and then suck the sap out of the branches – essentially sucking the life from your plants. And they’ll spread to all your surrounding plants because they are not content to simply destroy one.

I went to the garden center at a local hardware store to figure out how to get rid of these white flies. Tell me what I have to spray on them, immerse them in, cover them with to make these flies go away and the hibiscus can get back to blooming! I was directed to a weed killer product which contained a massive warning that basically read, “DO NOT LOOK IN THE GENERAL DIRECTION OF THIS BOTTLE BECAUSE YOU WILL BE POISONED.” So I left empty-handed, because I have a will to live, and went back to the internet to see what I could learn about pruning.

Pruning is cutting back what is bad so that the good can flourish - so your plants can get back to health. I've never pruned anything before but after a five minute, elementary-level reading about pruning, I headed out to our garden with a rusty pair of shears – the only ones we have. The internet told me I could do a hard prune, which is basically just cutting off all the branches down to nubs, as long as you leave a few buds left on the branches. I also read something about scratching the branch to see if it was green underneath. So I scratched my branches to see that they were bright green – ALIVE! – and then went to hacking away at the tops that looked dead. I didn’t discriminate – I just cut off what looked bad. White fuzzy flies, be gone! By the time I was done, I had some bare sticks growing out of our pots. Aaron got home and I told him I probably did a bad thing and showed him how our garden was now just potted sticks. Whoops! But I watered them anyway and I waited.

If you’re wondering what this story is about it’s not about hibiscus or white flies, it’s about your life and it’s about God. It’s about sin and cutting it back. It’s about the necessity of community.

The pastor at our home church in Nebraska always says, “No one wakes up one day and decides to ruin their life.” They don’t look in the mirror and think that today is the day it all comes crashing down. Rather it is a series of choices – habits that creep in, start small, and take root. It is an action that is rationalized, a feeling that goes unchecked, a bent of your heart that remains unquestioned. You don't just wake up one day to dead plants. It takes lack of care and attention to the small things. 

I recently read, You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith and in it he discusses how humans are liturgical beings – we participate in love-shaping rituals that then become habits that inform our lives. It’s far too much to explain here, but the gist is,

“To be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life – a picture of what we think counts as ‘flourishing’… We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions of flourishing, not usually because we ‘think through’ our options but rather because some picture captures our imagination…”

So our imagination is captured by a story of what it means to live well - what it means to flourish - and sometimes those stories are lies masquerading as truth. So if we’re not careful our loves, and therefore our lives, will be shaped and molded and influenced by sin, lies, and the devil, all the while we're thinking we're leading ourselves into flourishing. So we have to be cautious about what we allow into our lives – who we allow to shape our hearts. 

White flies start small – just one little fuzzy dot that you hardly notice on your plants. Your choice starts small – I’ll just look at this one thing, read this one thing, watch this one thing, participate in this one thing, look at this one profile, scroll this one hashtag this one time. But before long it can become habit. And our brains love habits. They love to push actions to our subconscious so we can do them without even thinking. So we make automaticities out of actions and then we do it without thinking and we are influenced without thinking and we suddenly love without thinking and before long the sap is being sucked from our lives by an influx of white flies.

Who do you surround yourself with? What influences do you allow in your life? How are you speaking to others and influencing their lives? Who speaks to your heart and what are they telling you? What vision of flourishing are you believing and living toward? We’re teleological beings – our relationships are teleological meaning they’re always moving toward a certain end. To what end are you moving? Which way is your social media, your friend group, the news directing you? Are you letting white flies move into any area of your life without even acknowledging it?

Proverbs bids us to guard our hearts for from it flows the wellspring of life. Sometimes in order to guard our hearts, to take it back from what has hijacked our loves, requires a hard prune of our habits. Our very lives depend on it. I hacked away at our plants until they were sticks. They looked stupid and bare for a week or so. I thought I would probably have to throw away the whole garden. Well, it took some time but you know what is happening? Every single one of those sticks is growing new leaves. Both hibiscus plants are growing new leaves and new blooms. The bougainvillea, which never had white flies but was only suffocated by their nearness, is blooming again. Even the leaves on the tree that looked dead are standing up again and new leaves are forming. I had to cut it down to nothing in order that health might return.

Since the prune, I watch the plants every day. I check the leaves and branches for white flies. Just this morning I pulled a single white fly off one of the leaves. I water the plants every other day. I check their progress. Maybe we need someone like that in our lives to check in on us, to move in close and make sure we’re okay. To see if there are any areas of our heart where bitterness, anger, jealousy, wrath, or lust has moved in and is attempting to suck the life out of us.

Sometimes our lives require a hard prune. This probably means you'll have to stop hanging out with people who negatively influence you, stop visiting those websites or watching those movies or going to those same places you've always gone. It might mean cutting off people or ideas or thoughts or feelings. I guess I just don’t want you to get overrun by white flies. I don’t want something to come into your life looking harmless enough and then one day you realize that it’s sucking the life from your soul and you don’t know how to stop it. Sometimes our friends can help us prune back what’s bad in our lives. Sometimes God will do it for us. But pruning is for our good – for our health – and I think we all want that for our lives. I just completed Gracelaced, a beautiful Bible study by Ruth Chou Simons. One of the sections was about pruning and she said, “It is merciful and good of our loving Father to prune what chokes us.” It might suck for a little while - it might hurt and make us look like stupid sticks for a minute - but it's ultimately for our good so that we might bloom all the more. 

Don’t get choked out by little habits you think are harmless. Look at your life, at your heart, and see what needs to be cut out. See if you have any white flies hiding in your heart. Ask friends to get around you and pray for you – to check in on you. To move close and make sure you’re on track. Do the same for them. We need community that pushes us on toward goodness and holiness. In fact, I think that’s the only way we really have a shot at living well.

Engagement photos.

They're heeeeere! And, gosh, we love them so much! I've been dying to share them (seriously been sitting on them for over a month!), but we wanted to send out our Save the Date before I posted them all to the world wide web. If you follow me on Instagram, you should have seen a few sneaks by now, but here they are in all their glory.

As I was exchanging emails with our photographer during the planning process for this session, she asked about our story - how we met, how he proposed, and what we like to do. I told her that Aaron is always taking me on new adventures and that my very first time camping was when I was in Hawaii last May. So, sweet Sunny had the great idea of telling that part of our story with a bonfire and s'mores! It was so perfect! We had a blast. You guys, these photos are truly us and we are so excited to share them with you. Also, if you're ever on Oahu and looking for a photographer, please look up Sunny Golden (isn't her name the cutest?) and tell her we sent you. She is such a gem! 


Holy things.

I saw this photo last week and instantly felt like it was a personal attack. I'm not one to take offense at every little thing, but who do you think you are, Ann Voskamp? You don’t know my life. What if I can do hair and hard and holy things? Have you ever thought about that?

Clearly, I'm not over it.

I can’t remember when I started doing hair. Maybe you don’t even know that I do hair, but I do, sometimes. I shy away from admitting that, honestly. There are many people who are better than me, have more time to devote to it and really work at improving their skill, and a lot of them even went to school for it, so I feel like a bit of an impostor. I back away from saying I really do hair in the same way I'm reluctant to call myself a writer. Am I a writer? When do you earn that title? How many words do you have to tap out on a keyboard and how many people have to read them? I’m not sure, but I have this blog now, and I’ve done hair for homecoming and prom. I’ve been asked to write for people and I’ve styled brides and bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-bride/groom. So, I guess that counts. I guess I write and I do hair. 

I actually really love to do hair. There’s something about helping someone feel beautiful, helping them create a look they love, that is kind of like participating in a little bit of magic. I love to see the way the hair and makeup and dress come together on a wedding day or other special occasion. Maybe that’s what Ann Voskamp doesn’t understand, you know? I’m creating a little bit of magic over here, Ann. Sprinkling pixie dust. Can’t you see that? 

I often find that when something grates against my nerves, it’s because it’s true in one way or another. I heard one time that when someone does or says something we don’t like, we don't like it because we’re seeing a bit of ourselves in it and that's a little irritating. So, rather than feel our real feelings about that, we get mad and cover up with criticism or avoidance. I could read that quote and then blast Ann on Twitter or Facebook or simply brush it off and try to pretend I never saw it, but instead I took a look at my own life. Rather than feel offense, I decided to really dig into my feelings, mostly because it stung my heart to think the two things Ann referred to could ever be mutually exclusive. 

Certainly there’s some truth to what she said. If all we’re striving for are material things – outward beauty and acclaim – then we’re really missing the point. There will always be someone prettier, smarter, skinnier, stronger, richer, more athletic, more outgoing, someone with more business sense or more common sense, more skill or more knowledge, more, more, more than you, yes you, in whatever way you want to compare yourself. Always. There will always be better writers and people who are better at styling hair. I mean, have you ever seen Hair and Makeup by Steph? Amazing, I know. But, if all we’re trying to be is MORE, endlessly comparing to someone else and how they’re living their life, gunning for position and power, then we’re basically lighting our time, energy, and money on fire, and probably being fairly critical in the process. 

I think the heart of the issue is that Ann picked at something I have been feeling anyway. I have felt convicted lately about not doing the hard and holy things, about shying away from difficult conversations, about not speaking the truth when I feel like it might cost me something. It’s easier to just let the moment pass sometimes, isn’t it? In talking through this very thing last week, it dawned on me that the reason I don’t speak up more, the reason we don’t do hard things sometimes is because maybe, just maybe, we don’t fully believe the answer is Jesus. Maybe we don’t fully believe that that’s what everyone is really seeking – what they really need. I mean, it is for me. Heaven help me, I don’t know where I would be without daily preaching myself the gospel. I have struggled hard and ugly through some circumstances and life events that would have been nearly impossible without this steadfast anchor of hope. But, maybe we step away from hard and holy, from gospel and grace, because everyone seems pretty happy doing it their own way. They're getting along just fine without us speaking up or apologizing or taking that next right step. And maybe the real truth of it is we’re a little bit scared. We like comfort and ease. We like happiness and fuzzy feelings and Instagram-worthy moments. Everything we do is only seeking that end, no matter what decisions we make. We’re always about our own joy. But sometimes that rubs against the grain of hard and holy. Sometimes ease and happiness are wholly opposite of righteousness and sanctification. 

There seems to be some fear in Christian community lately – panic over the times we’re living in because Gosh darnit, can we get back to the good old days when America loved Jesus? Certainly, our country was founded on a belief in God. You can’t deny that because, well, history. But I wonder if it was ever as easy as we think it must have been. America is no Eden and every single generation has had their own struggles and trials. There were laws people didn’t agree with and ways in which they felt everything was in a furious backslide. We romanticize the good old days, but if you look at the history of our nation, I often don't know what good old days we're talking about. Clearly, God has shed his grace endlessly on this country, but there have always been moments in history to go to bat for holy things and what if we just determine that we're here now for such a time as this? 

Last year I read the book, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It's historical fiction (nerd alert, I love this stuff) about the life of Sarah Grimke and what she did to help end slavery in the United States. She lived in the south and defied her family (never speaking to them again), traveled three weeks BY BOAT (woof!) to the north and helped write and distribute some of the first pamphlets about the horrors of slavery and the slave trade. If that's not hard and holy, I don't know what is. So, maybe that angst people feel lately is starting to creep in because we've been pretty comfortable sitting on our hind legs and we don't really feel like doing hard things – there are missionaries for that, right? And besides, it's easier to post an article raging that we should #BoycottTarget or whatever we're offended at this week, than form relationships with real people and give out grace like party favors. 
My favorite short story in all the earth is, A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. I read it in college and it has been haunting me in the best ways ever since. O’Connor had this transcendent way of mixing religion and prose and working out her faith in story, and one of the last lines constantly gnaws at me when I trade holy for comfort. The Misfit is pointing his gun at the grandmother and, as death stares her in the face, she’s spouting the gospel. SPOILER ALERT: he shoots her in the end and O'Connor wrote, “'She would of been a good woman,’" The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.'"

I guess I’m not so much worried about the times we’re living in because, rather than panic and shake our fists and yell a little louder about how great it used to be and how awful it is now, maybe it's just time for us all to do more holy things. Maybe in little ways we're all the grandmother and it's time to start telling the truth a little more often. Life isn’t easy - it’s not supposed to be and it was never promised to be that way, and instead of working ourselves into a tizz, maybe now we’ll learn how to really speak the truth in love. At least I hope so. I hope we don’t pass this moment up. I hope I don't either.

Unfortunately, the tendency is to confuse hard and holy with comfortable and joy-filled, but those are rarely synonymous. Rather than complain about the current state of affairs in your life or the country or the world, look for ways in which you can be used – keep your eyes open and step up for the holy things each day. What does hard and holy look like in your life? They’re certainly different for everyone. For me, today, right now, it means sharing the truth in a blog post that would more easily sit unread by others in my journal. Maybe for you it means making dinner, again, for your people or wiping a runny nose for the 28th time or breaking up another fight between littles when all you really want is some quiet time and a night off. Maybe it means inviting the neighbors over for dinner or getting together with an old friend or simply not making that snarky comment you want to make. Maybe it means a tough decision at work or leaving the job altogether. It may mean showing up in your marriage, even when you don’t feel like it, or making the phone call that will repair a relationship or finally quitting that habit that strangles you with its control. Or maybe, if you’re in the darkness today - that dark night of the soul - it means just getting out of bed and living one sweet breath to the next.  Doing hard and holy things means breathing light and life and hope into every arena of our lives.

I actually really like Ann Voskamp. I told you back in January how her writing changed my perspective. So, nothing against Ann, but you can do hair and hard and holy things. There are ways to step up to the plate for holy things no matter where you find yourself today. You can build machines or design websites or heal sick people or start new companies or create art or plan events or be a circus clown, or climb the corporate ladder til you're so high you can't even see the bottom, all the while doing hard and holy things. But, let’s just make sure we’re always doing both and not sacrificing the latter for the former. I think that’s what she really meant.