Monday, March 28, 2011

Becoming grateful... the gift of my best friend

Christmas 2010... a self-timed photo of our gift exchange
Twenty four years ago, on this day, my best friend was brought into the world only to swiftly leave, heart stopping and soul fluttering to God's embrace... but praise God in all His goodness that He sent her sweet soul back to earth so that this day could be the anniversary of her birth, not her death.  

The thing is, I can't imagine God being able to part with Ashley once He held her in His arms, however fleeting... which just shows what a great purpose she has on this earth.  
Please excuse my bright lips and very tanned skin... This was at our senior prom... 
I just couldn't help but post it...
In her 24 years, she has been a bright light shining for the Lord.  She sacrifices her life for Him constantly, serving with her gifted nurse hands, her incredibly bright smile, and her joyful heart.  She grows more into His likeness daily, and I can hardly imagine how brightly she will shine for him with every passing year of her many birthdays to come. 

I become more grateful for her friendship with each happiness shared, new fact discovered,  sadness comforted, and silliness dispensed.  I could fill book after book of the thousands of gifts my best friend gives me.  Instead, we will continue filling our lifetime with these best friend God gifts (and many will certainly continue to make their way into my gratitude journal of 1,000 gifts). 
Random picture from high school... We were the face painters at a little girl's birthday party
HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!  (said in my best Frosty the snowman voice for a very deserving best friend....who most likely imagines me saying this as she reads this.  And she's probably smiling.)  Words can never fully express my thankfulness for you, the years we have shared together, and the many more years of blessings and Frosty HAPPY BIRTHDAY calls!
This was taken a few weeks ago when Ashley, her mom, and I went wedding dress shopping!

The count to 1,000 gifts continues... It has surely been a week of blessings!  Here are a few on the list (with a few coordinating pictures to follow!):

113... My "handy-woman" skills that stopped the threat of a major toilet disaster
117... Aforementioned toilet opened floodgates in rebellion at 11:30 pm... and the joy-seeking led to joy-finding, just because it was so humorous to find joy in a not-so-joyous event...
135... The tight hug, soul-squeezing and heart-affirming, of my beautiful friend Kate 
136... The fantastic silliness of my little sister and her long list of things to tell me
142... Reading before bed
144... Praying requests in prayer journal
145... God answering swiftly!  (Read story HERE)
149... A celebratory smoothie to rejoice in God's gifts...
150... Making it across the doorstep without mishap (specifically referring to the safety of my smoothie... last week's smoothie story HERE)
151... Jigs of joy for answered prayer!
152... Delightful colors and tart tastes of Sour Patch Jelly Beans
158... Coral polish, bright and cheery (and ready for spring!)
159... Picture of nails, with a little doggy photo bomber...
160... Ever curious, sniffing, Darcy nose finding its way into a picture of jelly beans...
161... Lady Darcy of Pemberley, the photo-bombing dog
164... Green shoots of new life bursting from the deadness, hinting at spring to come
166... The gentle offering of a ball and hope of playtime laid at my feet (literally...)
173... The bittersweet feeling of a good book ended, satisfaction and contentment with a hint of sadness and the wishing for more 

A Kate hug (#135)
This is the little sister of #136.  She is gorgeous, don't you think?
Photo bomb #1 (158, 159)
Photo bomb #2 (152, 160)

To read others' gratitude lists, go here:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

God is SO good!

Have you ever had a gift from God so wonderful that you want to share it with everyone you know and don't know?  Well, I have been blessed by a perfectly answered prayer that shows the beauty of my God.

Last Friday morning dawned, bringing with it my heavy heart.  As a part of my doctoral program, I am required to gain clinical experience each year with a practicum.  Last year, I applied to many practicum sites, college counseling centers, private practices, etc., knowing all along that I, as a recent college graduate, did not have the experience of many of my fellow applicants.  I was asked to interview at a few different sites, but knowing that each site only accepted 1 or 2 applicants, I was realistic about my chances.  The dreaded "notification day" arrived, in which sites are allowed to call (promptly at 9a.m.) their top choices with an offered position.

I did not receive a call.

Fortunately, I was prepared for this, and I continued on to the next step of the process, knowing that this always happens to a few students.  I began another tedious application process, interviewing at sites that had not found what they were looking for in the first round.  

I was hopeful and faithful in the Lord's provision, and He definitely showed His goodness with my placement at the college counseling center at which I work now.  This site has been a HUGE blessing in my life.  Knowing the personal trials that awaited me, God knew that I would need the encouragement and support of my precious supervisors in the months that followed.  

How is this relevant?  Well, it's that time of year again.... tomorrow is notification day.  However, even after several months of counseling experience, I only received one interview.... less than last year.  After my previous experience, I have had no doubt that I will ultimately be at the site that He wills, but I admit that I have been a little overwhelmed by the thought of having to reapply and face the unknown once again.  

A little over a week ago, I interviewed at my one and only site... the good news?  I loved it.  The bad news?  I was one of many applicants.  I have been "realistically optimistic" about my chances of actually receiving an offer from the site, knowing that even with a good interview, I was probably one of many good interviews.  

So what did I do?  Around 9:45 on Friday morning, I prayed.  Convicted in recent weeks of my lack of faith in the power of my prayers, as well as my fear of God's answers, I have been keeping a prayer journal of specific requests and the answers God gives.  Sometimes the requests are small, and sometimes they are what I call "risky"...the asking for miracles.

It's not that I doubt His ability to answer... I have total faith in that.... but I've realized that what I fear most is that I will ask and I will not see or understand His answers.  Worse yet, He may not give me what I asked, and I fear being disappointed in my God.  Better to never ask than hear His firm "No."  In my mind, I have thought, Why not just let Him do His will instead of trying to convince of what I want?  A silly thought, but true.

And by doing so, I have greatly limited the opportunities to see the little and big miracles my Heavenly Father has waiting for me.... The beautiful gifts that He wants to give me, and the ways that He wants to shower His love and provision on my life.

So, 9:45a.m., I asked for (what I consider) a miracle.  I asked that, if it is truly His will, I would receive a call from the practicum site that very day telling me that I would be offered a position on notification day.    I prayed a few-and-far-between risky prayer, knowing that God may answer "No," but dearly hoping that He might show His glory with a "Yes."  

15 minutes later, my phone rang.
God said YES!

I never would have imagined that God would have shown His glory and goodness so perfectly.  Every time I think about how I was chosen for this position and how God answered that risky prayer, I am humbled and in awe.   Maybe it seems a little silly... but I know that many applied, and I never dreamed that I would stand out from the rest of the wonderful and highly deserving applicants.  

And 15 minutes after giving my risk to Him?  Is His timing beautiful, or what?! 

I don't know why I didn't have several interviews this year, and I don't know what story God is writing for me in the years ahead... but I know that God had a purpose in my one interview, and He has a purpose for my story.  Maybe this precious gift of answered prayer would not be nearly as sweet if I had interviewed at many places.... or maybe I would never have taken the risk to lay my burdened thoughts and desires at His feet.  Clearly, I will not always understand the ways of my Father on this earth, but I am trusting in the knowledge that He sees the bigger picture.  For now, I am more happy than ever to continue my journey to becoming a prayer warrior.    

Do you believe in the power of your prayers?  What miracle are you frightened to ask of God?

p.s.  How do I celebrate a beautifully answered prayer?  With a celebratory smoothie, of course!  And this one made it to my stomach instead of the "Welcome" mat

Monday, March 21, 2011

Becoming grateful... don't cry over spilt smoothie.

The story of Friday around 2 pm…

Groceries heavy in hand, I walk to the door, opening carefully, cautiously, so as not to drop anything.  After dropping a gallon of milk in my doorstep earlier in the year, my thoughts fill with determination to unload everything without mishap…and also fill with the glorious thought of my treat lunch for the day…. A “Carribbean Passion” smoothie from Jamba Juice.  A practicum interview and errand-running all in one morning inspire this much needed little pleasure.

Most groceries are in.  All that's left: a bag or two more, my purse, and the lovely smoothie.  Only a few savory sips into the deliciousness, I walk quickly back to the apartment threshold... anxious and ready to delight in the rest of my treat.

I near the door, hand reaching out in anticipation... smoothie calling my name. 



There it goes.... the smoothie's downward spiral towards the "welcome" mat seems slow and dramatic until reality sets in...  Lid still in hand, but cup with lovely smoothie goodness mysteriously missing... 

The old familiar feeling began to bubble up, threatening to seep through every pore of my being.

Discontent, I remember you.  You sneak into my heart unawares and blacken my soul.  Joy-stealer, sin-lover.  This old feeling…. It was coming, threatening the joy of living fully.

But wait… what is that?  My thoughts turn to something else…. 

I marvel at the deep pinkish-orange, smooth and cool (and sticky), spread full on my doorstep.

And then, bubbling up and out of my body is something different… a giggle quickly reaching fullness of laughter, ringing clearly for all neighbors to hear.

Joy.  I find it.  Pure, unadulterated joy.

God finds me in this moment of bliss and contentment.  Spilt smoothie, you are beauty to my joy-seeking heart.

No lunch.  No treat.  No Caribbean Passion. But JOY.... hunger pains find fullness in this odd elation served for lunch.

Perhaps this is the meaning of giving thanks in all circumstances… Yes, it was just a spilt smoothie, but to find beauty in something so small and defeat the discontent that could have set the tone of the rest of my day... that is a God miracle.  When the Bible says to give thanks, it's for our own good.  Otherwise we are just hollow shells, empty of the joy we could have.  The joy and fullness that God desires to give us.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, 
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)~

My doorknob is sticky with Caribbean Passion smoothie, but it makes me smile… so I may delight in a sticky welcome a few days longer.

And the God-gift count to 1,000 continues (I've reached 108 as of this morning)...

Some of the gifts of the past week…
10. The side-splitting, tear-spilling, stifled-silent laughter with sweet friend Anna while we work next to an elevator and listen as a waiting boy sings a love song WITHOUT earphones in…. (we felt like he was serenading us…. But it was a little awkward.)
17. Pink puppy tongue licking toes lovingly
33. Multi-colored candied chocolate hidden in the depths of chocolate chip cookies…
39. The privilege of walking alongside someone in their life journey
43. God answering prayers
52. Long Thursday phone dates with Lizzy
54. Long voicemails from my best friend
65. The search for the perfect apples
67.  The orange color of a spilled smoothie
73. First trip to the park in 2011
79. Well-loved Teddy Bear, worn in age yet full of comfort, hope, and nostalgia
87. Scotty eyebrows and mussed beards
91.  The most precious text from sweet friend Kelly saying the Lord put me on her heart… so uplifting!
96.  Colorful pages filling with the black of blessing words
102. Rain music on car windows
105.  Knee bend filled with curled Scotty body (during Sunday naptime… which also made the list at 104)

Are you finding joy today?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday adventures of Darcy

It's a beautiful, 45 degree, blue sky day in Wheaton, so Darcy and I decided to make the most of it with a little game of fetch in our "front yard."  The camera on my phone captured this first big adventure of the day (other than our midmorning nap)....

(She's never one to pass up a good stick...)
Sniffing... one of her favorite pastimes. 
Next on our agenda (other than another nap)?  We may go to the pet store for more food.  And, of course, we will have a nice long walk and pretend like it is 75 degrees instead of 45.  
(and then there's the homework that I'm temporarily avoiding.......)  

I hope everyone is enjoying some sunshine this Saturday!
Is that a doggy smile??

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The grass is greener

In honor of St. Patrick and all things green, here are a few of the greenest photos I could find... and they all just so happen to be pictures from spring break and my walks around the wonderful farm.... 


Maybe one day very soon the Chicago grass will turn green too..... and the leftover blizzard snow piles will disappear....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Becoming grateful... living a life overflowing

It's funny how something will be on my heart and filling my thoughts for a time, and then the coincidences (or what I like to call "God-incidences") start happening.  For a few weeks I have been pondering the importance of giving thanks in all circumstances.   Then somehow, a treasure made it to my hands... the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

I haven't finished it yet, but the poetic lines about living a full life of gratitude haunt my waking hours and challenge me to seek out my many gifts... big and small.   

Ann writes: 
"From all our beginnings, we keep reliving the Garden story.  Satan, he wanted more.  More power, more glory... Satan's sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude.  Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave.  Isn't that the catalyst of all my sins?  Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren't satisfied in God and what He gives.  We hunger for something more, something other."

I believe this is so very true... At the very heart of sin is the focus on what's lacking rather than what's being blessedly given.  

We forget to notice God.

Being thankful, even in the small things… ESPECIALLY in the small things… fills the heart with a bit more God joy.  Taking the time to notice every gift in the moment fills the heart til overflowing… and when the heart is overflowing, the God gift of joy spreads to others.

As the world is facing the horrific tragedies of earthquakes and tsunamis, lives lost and death feared, I can do my part to notice the good and gracious gifts…. The things that fill my heart to the brim.  And maybe then, I can impart some of that joy to those who may be suffering, carrying the hope when they are struggling to find it. 

I want to live fully.  To live a lifestyle of gratitude and praise... grace and fullness.  I want a heart overflowing joy.

Time slows today as my heart fills with the joy of the small things. The things that would go unnoticed if not for the looking…. The rainbow orb of light shining on my staircase… the warm tingling on my face from the sun peeking out of clouds…  the joy of the simply noticing. 

I'm making a list of my 1,000 gifts.  I'm going to live intentional moments of thankfulness.

And so the list begins...

1... Prayers, soothing soul and cleansing spirit
2... The kind words of a professor that show deep caring about how and who I am rather than what I am or can do
3... Sunbeams making a rainbow of surprise through the peephole on my door
4... Empty journal in need of blessing words and God gifts to fill pages
5... Books that challenge me to live a deeper, fuller life (The Prayer Dare by Ron Kincaid; One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp)
6... Birdsong in the air thwarting the winter long dormant... a hope of spring to come
7... Feeling sun warmth on my face despite still present winter chill... MORE hope of spring!
8... Spring break memories made and laughter shared with loved ones... and the pictures to help remember... (a few pictures will come soon... promise!)

I'm well on my way to 1,000, don't you think?  Do join in on the fun.  Don't you want an overflowing heart and life?  Let's live a lifestyle of praise.

What has blessed your heart today?

"And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
~Ephesians 5:20~

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Happy birthday Mama!

Have you met my mom?
Lee Ann, Mom, and me
Right before boarding the Disney Wonder for a New Year's Cruise
She is pretty wonderful, and today is her day.

I don't think it is possible to fully describe in words how stellar this beautiful woman is.  She has spent her life sacrificing for others, constantly showing me the true meaning of service.  She loves with her whole being, and she is constantly showing her love through her words and actions.
Christmas 2010
She loves to have fun, especially with her girls, never hesitating to be silly.  Often, she laughs so hard that she cries (especially when she is with her sisters... those Rutherford gals are a hoot!).
Christmas 2010
My mom is a gorgeous woman of God who shows great strength daily.  She has had many trials in this life, but in everything, she demonstrates perseverance, resilience, and loyalty to God.
Atop the highest point in St. Maarten
My mom is immensely brave.  I am often in awe of her passion... a passion that she pours into all of her actions.  She is never afraid to stand up for what she believes in... and there should be more people like her in this world.
I adore these two... and this picture of them!
I always have, and always will, admire my mom.  I think some of my best traits come from her, and I am so thankful for all of the love and encouragement she has shown me.  I am honored to call her Mom.

She has taught me so much about life, love, family, and God; I am so happy that I could be the one to make her a mom a little over 24 years ago... and I am so very grateful that she is mine!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent... becoming focused

"Lent. It’s the preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice... Lent isn’t about forfeiting as much as it’s about formation. We renounce to be reborn; we let go to become ‘little Christs’. It’s about this: We break away to become.” 
Lent is not something that I have ever practiced in my Christian walk.  I remember hearing about it on the playground from my childhood friends.  Wearing ashes on their foreheads, they spoke of unnatural things such as giving up candy for 40 days.  As a part of a non-liturgical church tradition, Lent was not overly emphasized... yet in recent years, I have come to realize its value.

A few months ago, I started thinking about Lent.  I knew I wanted to give up something in my life for the 40 day period, but I was not really sure what I would sacrifice.  Chocolate didn't seem appropriate since it is not something I eat all the time (although, I would LOVE to eat it everyday)... and as much as I love Diet Mountain Dew, it's not something consistent in my life either.  I had to ask myself: what is something that I do everyday?  Something that I really can't imagine giving up?  Something that tends to distract me from more important things?


I love facebook.  It's a tool that has allowed me to connect with people that I don't see often.  It's a way to keep in touch with my friends and family that I may not be able to talk to every day.  Overall, facebook is a positive aspect of my life... except for one thing.

I have a tendency to spend too much time there.  What better way to distract myself from schoolwork?  And, sadly, it can distract my focus from God, too.  

So, for my first Lent experience, I'm giving up facebook.  For 40 days, I will sacrifice something insignificant so that I may know Christ's sacrifice more significantly.  I will rid myself of something that has a tendency to distract from the most important way to spend my time, and I will use my newfound time to remember... I will remember the journey to the cross that Christ traveled for me.  The sacrifice he made so that I may live fully.  My sacrifice is nothing in comparison... and I am humbled by the thought and the immense love behind it.

Lent begins today....I am already realizing how often I habitually browse the newsfeed or read my friend's walls.  I am being tempted, and as I am tempted I am trying to pray, praise, and remember... and in 40 days, may I be more aware of the beauty and sacrifice of Christ than ever before.  May I be more focused on my Christ and less focused on status updates, who is friends with who, and what I should write to others.

If I mess up in some way, I will remember that I am human and more fully appreciate the perfection of Christ on His 40 day journey (and lifetime!); and I will remember that I am a sinner undeserving of His precious grace.  

I will remember that He loves and cherishes me without restraint, and I should do the same for Him.  After all, He did save my life.    

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday in the South

What a lovely Sunday with some of my favorite people down South!  Yesterday I left the snow of Chicago for the rain and semi-warmth of Mississippi for my spring break.  Although I'm missing my little sister (who is still at school), I am loving some quality Mom and Rutherford family time.  I was able to hear my cousin Bill preach for the first time, go to lunch with the Blairs, Wilkinsons, and Mom, and spend the afternoon playing hide-and-seek with my little cousins Luke and Lani.  Oh, and I took some pictures... specifically of the new addition to the Blair family, Marly Mae the Miniature Schnauzer (who very much reminds me of puppyhood Darcy).  Enjoy!

Happy Sunday!