Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Reflections

As we approach the holidays, I thought it appropriate to share a couple of passages from my daily devotional. The book is Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning. As with all of his works that I have read, this one encourages and challenges me daily. Manning's words never fail to confront and comfort. The selections below have appeared during this sacred season we call Advent.

To those who want to see and experience the birth of Jesus Christ in new ways this Christmas...

"Once a year the Christmas season strikes both the sacred and secular sphers of life with a sledgehammer force: suddenly Jesus Christ is everywhere.

For approximately one month his presence is inescapable. You may accept him or reject him, affirm him or deny him, but you cannot ignore him. Of course he is proclaimed in speech, song, and symbol in all the Christian churches. But he rides every red-nosed reindeer, lurks behind every Cabbage Patch doll, resonates in the desacralized "season's greetings." Remotely or proximately, he is toasted in every cup of Christmas cheer. Each sprig of holly is a hint of his holiness, each cluster of mistletoe a sign he is here.

For those who claim his name, Christmas heralds this luminous truth: The God of Jesus Christ is our absolute future. Such is the deeply hopeful character of this sacred season. By God's free doing in Bethlehem, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Light, life, and love are on our side."

"My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, if you have been struck by the grace of Christmas, if the Lord in his mercy has given you the courage to accept acceptance, if you are convicted that Christmas is the decisive breakthrough of the passionate love of God in Jesus, if you trust that Godi is faithful to his promises, that he will finish what he began, that amazin' grace is at work right now, that you have only checked into the hotel of earth overnight and you are en route to the heavenly Jerusalem, then in the immortal words of John Powell, 'Please notify your face!.'

On the other hand, if you have not been struck by the grace of Christmas, ask for it and it will be given."

And for those who have experienced loss, disappointment, or find themselves discouraged this Christmas...

"Christmas is the promise that the God who came in history and comes daily in mystery will one day come in glory. God is saying in Jesus that in the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father's love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it."

And finally, the words of John that so richly describe the beautiful event that is our hope: Christmas...

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

Friday, December 05, 2008

An Update of Sorts!

Jason and I had a fantastic, whirlwind trip to Kentucky for the book-signing event. It was both no-big-deal and a-very-big-deal at the same time. It was no biggie because it was an intimate, informal affair. There were a handful of people there I knew and equally as many that I did not. It was fun and surreal. So very weird to be sitting up there signing books like I knew what I was doing! I definitely need to work on my signature. :)

It was also a pretty big deal because of how it motivated me. My husband (Jason) got completely into it and snapped a ton of pictures. He is constantly reminding me of my desire to ultimately write on my own and that night was no exception. His excitement over this little event really inspired me. The whole experience energized and motivated me to move forward with writing something on my own. I've already made myself a tentative schedule and plan to get started at the turn of the year. Feel free to join Jason in bugging me about it...I need the accountability!

It has been super-busy around here since our quick trip to Kentucky. We have been to Arkansas and back to visit family and have some fun. We have been busy on this end decorating for Christmas and trying to stay on top of our Christmas shopping, too. I also had an interview today for a job I hope to get here in Auburn. I promise to post another update soon!

Friday, November 07, 2008

My Crazy So-Called Life

Many of you know that I have collaborated with a professor and friend of mine, Dr. Ben Witherington III on a couple of books. The first of these, Incandescence, came out a couple of years ago. Dr. Witherington offered me the opportunity to write spiritual formation excercises to go along with his sermons. It was a difficult, but rewarding task. It afforded me the chance to put my love of the saints and spiritual formation to good use. It also allowed me test my skills as a writer.

Dr. Witherington approached me again about collaborating with him on another volume. This one, entitled The Living Legacy, afforded me another chance to use my gifts in the area of spiritual formation writing. I was able to couple ancient practices with modern poetry and theological reflections. Also, this volume allowed me to write and reflect upon authors and saints that I love and have learned from through the years. It was difficult, as I worked on the bulk of it during my engagement! But it kept me focused on what is most important during a busy time in my life. I loved the freedom Dr. Witherington gave me to explore classic and current works of the giants of the Christian faith.

All that to say, I am an officially published author! The first volume was a collaboration and my name was graciously mentioned in the forward. This second volume has my name on the cover and everything! If you know me, you'll excuse my excitement about the latter. I am not gloating...just really, really honored and humbled by this fact! This is just another step along the way to my dream of writing on my own.

I can trace the roots of all of this back to a random conversation at Solomon's Porch in Wilmore, Kentucky several years ago. He had already approached me about transcribing some of his poetry (which are included in The Living Legacy) into a permanent book (I have pretty good handwriting which he discovered from the cards I sold at Solomon's Porch). I came in that day, as I often did, to do some much needed studying. He came by to say hello and I asked him what he was doing. He said he was finishing a commentary on Romans and asked what I was doing. I told him I was studying, but casually mentioned I would really like to write a devotional book someday. Well, Dr. Witherington took note of this and said we should collaborate on a book in the future. I smiled and said I would love that, of course. He left and I was dumbfounded, wondering what I had done! I figured nothing would ever come of it. Boy, was I wrong!

As I write, I am preparing for a trip to Kentucky in just a few short days. Jason and I are heading there to be a part of a book-signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky. Is that not WILD, and EXCITING news?! We are looking forward to the trip to Asbury and to Kentucky in general. Plus, anyone who has lived there can tell you that Joseph-Beth is one of the coolest bookstores. It is two stories of books...heaven to an avid reader like myself!

[If you'd like to see more on the books above, go to these websites:
Incadescence: and The Living Legacy: You can also just Google them both.]

Friday, October 17, 2008

Married Life and Living Free

It seems that married life really suits me. I am much more organized, a little more patient (with myself and others...), and it turns out that I am a pretty decent cook. I have had fun with the house-decorating, trying out new dishes, and just being a wife. It has been a blessing to have someone as fantastic as my husband physically there to support and encourage me everyday. I am learning a lot about myself and what it means to do life with another person. It has been much less difficult and dramatic than I thought it might be, given that I have been on my own for so long. I welcome the shared-space aspect and haven't found any quirks I cannot live with just yet. Some say that will come with time, but I choose to think differently.

Please don't get me wrong here. I am not idealizing marriage. There are and will be difficulties along the way. There is always a "rub" when you bring two people together in a relationship and/or marriage. I am well aware of this. But why must the bad always be elevated above the good? Seriously. When I told people I was getting married, the "good-natured" warnings and cautions started flying. I am told the same thing happens when you are expecting a child.

We have a tendency to emphasize the bad over the good in our society. This should not be so. When we find ourselves entering a new season in life (graduation, marriage, children, etc.), we ought to approach it with holy expectancy and joy. We should be ready to see and experience God in whatever is ahead of us. But instead, we go the other direction. We look forward in fear, worry, and anxiety. We start ourselves on this path and others help us with their red flags and warnings.

Why not instead look at the transitions in our lives and in the lives of those around us as opportunities to experience God? Why not surrender ourselves to the care of God and others who love us with complete trust and ready faith? Why not offer encouragement and prayers instead of horror stories and warnings when someone we love is approaching a transition we have already been through?

As Christians, we are to approach the journey of life with stillness and confidence in God (see Psalm 46:3-5, 10) and assurance that God will sustain and even strengthen us (see Habakkuk 3:19). We are to entrust ourselves to our communities and trust that they will also do their best to encourage us along the way (see Hebrews 10). We are to walk without fear and in freedom (see 1 John 4:7-18).

Jason and I have talked about this every step of the way. We understand that the warnings that people offer about marriage and parenthood and what-not are from a good place. But we refuse to give them a place in our marriage and life together. We choose instead to trust God and each other and not to worry about what is ahead. We choose to live in holy expectancy. We choose to live knowing that if and when difficult things come our way, our God, our families, and our friends will sustain us and bring us through. We choose to live free.

That's what this blog is supposed to be about anyway. The subtitle on this blog is "Reflections on Life, Faith, and Living Free." That is what it means to dance anyway - to trust, to abandon, to surrender, and to live. I choose to dance through marriage...and life in general!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

As promised, here are a few pictures from the wedding. It was a wonderful day. I enjoyed every minute of it! Jason was a little more nervous and reserved, but he loosened up a lot once the ceremony was finished. You'll note the serious expression on his face in the picture of us...

The biggest surprise of the day was the flowers. My handful of readers will remember from previous posts that this was the only hard part of the planning process. After a lot of drama and difficulty, we ended up with a company called "The Empty Vase" in Little Rock. Not the most encouraging name for a florist, really. I had no idea what to expect and had resolved to just be happy with whatever simple bouquet I ended up with that day. The consultant was nice enough on the phone, but I really had no idea what the flowers would look like. Honey...they were gorgeous! I could not have been happier. I hope to post more pictures of them soon.

I was honored to have both of my sisters, a dear friend from high school, and my two best friends from seminary as attendants in the wedding. The only picture I currently have of the five of them is a little blurry. I'll add one soon. One of my oldest friends (I've known him since 4th grade) read the Scripture and a dear friend from seminary sang (beautifully...). The minister at my home church presided over the ceremony and offered a wonderful homily that encouraged us both.

Enjoy the pictures...I'll post more soon!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

She Blogs!

I have to apologize for the lack of blogging on my end over the last couple of months. I am so sorry. But I don't feel too bad since what I've been up to has been pretty huge. The wedding took up a lot of my time in July and August has been a time of unpacking and settling. Both the wedding and the settling have been going fantastically well. I love married life...most specifically my incredible husband. Things have been great so far and I promise to blog about it all soon. For now, I'm job searching and continuing to unpack and write thank you notes! I promise a new post and some pictures soon!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Elisabeth Elliot Quote

"The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman. For I have accepted God's idea of me, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be." - Elisabeth Elliot

Monday, June 23, 2008

Searching for Flowers and Spinning Plates

Wedding planning is going swimmingly well. Everything is in place with the exception of the flowers. All of our "glitches" have been in the floral department. I say we should just go grab some at a farmer's market or store the day of, but my mom is committed to beautiful arrangements all-around. I am committed to it, too, but not with such a headache.

We have had quite a time of it finding a florist. It seems there is a floral convention taking place the weekend of the wedding. I am not sure what one does at a floral convention. Sniff flowers? Arrangement races? It must be riveting because just about everyone in the LR Metro area and beyond is going. Needless to say, this has presented a problem for our camp. Well, mostly my amazing mom who has happily done the bulk of the work for the big day. She's awesome, but she's stressed about these flowers. At one point she called me very frustrated (ok, that has happened more than once...). She was lamenting the lack of flowers. I tried to tell her it would be ok and she said, "But it might not be ok, Julie." This made me laugh (after I got off the phone, of course!), as I am sure that I will still be married whether we have exceptional flowers or not. No one is going to be horrified if there aren't arrangements everywhere. Anyone who is should be ashamed. That's not what a wedding ceremony is about anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I would really like to have a great florist and beautiful flowers. My mom met with some guy today at a fantastic shop in Little Rock (they have chosen not to attend the riveting flower convention) that will remain nameless until a later date. I feel sure it is going to work out and this part of the wedding will be as great as the cake, dresses, and everything else. My mom is still a little unconvinced/nervous.

I share all of this as a little window into my life right now. It is a little insane trying to plan a wedding, prepare to move, work, and meet a publication deadline (another post about that last item later...). It is like spinning plates. Sometimes it is thrilling, at other times overwhelming. At all times it is entertaining to the people around me. :)

[The top picture is one of the pictures snapped while we were taking engagement pictures at the beach. We love this one! The picture below it is a random arrangement I found on the web. Mine will likely have a little more color in it, but I like this one for some reason. It is a little large and greenish, but lovely.]

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wedding Whirlwind!

I realize that I promised weeks ago to post more about the engagement and the wedding plans. I am so sorry for taking so long to do so! If you're married (or engaged!), you know that I am up to my eyeballs in details! Wedding planning is all-consuming. So far, though, it has gone really well. We have everything we need. The wedding location was secured less than 2-hours after the engagement. We found the wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses a week or so into the planning. I've included a picture of myself and my little sister in the bridesmaid dresses. They are super cute. I won't be posting any pictures of the wedding dress, as Jason wants to be surprised. I am pretty sure he doesn't check the blog, but...!

We secured the reception site, caterer, and photographer in rapid succession. All promise to be wonderful and have excellent reputations. The final piece to be added was the florist. By some fluke of nature, there is a floral convention the weekend of my wedding. What?! If that isn't the most completely random thing you've ever heard! Anhyhow, we finally got a fantastic florist from Little Rock. I think he is going to do a beautiful job. Plus, it is a world of fun just to listen to him talk. Strangely enough, he shares a name with one of my uncles...very serendipitous.

I will start posting pictures of other wedding details as time permits. It is a busy, but wonderful time! I recommend doing this (3-4 month engagement/planning). It makes it almost impossible to get bogged down in the details. Still, I do covet your prayers and any sage advice you might have!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Engaged and Exhilarated!

In case you haven't heard...Jason and I are ENGAGED! I could not be more excited about my fiancé, the ring, the wedding, and everything in-between and afterward! It all happened on Saturday, April 26th, just two days shy of our one year anniversary. It was perfect. And by perfect, I mean quintessentially me. If you know me, you know that means it was kind of funny, kind of sweet, and mostly a comedy of errors. My sweet fiancé had a plan and I sort of blew that out of the water. It is one for the books and story we'll treasure and laugh about for years to come.

We've been engaged for less than a month and the wedding plans are already going fantastically well. We have pretty much everything taken care of except the flowers and photographer. I do believe we'll have that done in the next week or so. It has been beautiful to see God continue to bless our relationship as we plan for what is ahead. We are both just in awe of His provision and the ways He is blessing us along the way.

I promise to blog as the planning continues. I'll post fun pictures and stories, I promise. I apologize for the delay of this post. It has been a little crazy since the actual engagement. Those of you who have planned a wedding recently (or ever!) understand!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Permanent and Perpetual Thanksgiving

"The Christian is a eucharistic worshiper of the saving love and mercy of the God who has accepted him. His very being is a Eucharist, a permanent and perpetual thanksgiving to God. What does Eucharist mean but thanksgiving? If Eucharist means thanksgiving, Christianity means people who are joyfully grateful people." - Brennan Manning

In the United Methodist Church, the rule is generally that communion happens on the first Sunday of the month. On this I have relied since my childhood. I was prepared for it last week when I realized it was the first of April. I scanned the Sunday bulletin only to discover that communion was given at the early service, but not the one I was attending that morning. I am sure there is a logical explanation for this and we will have our own time of communion in a week or two. On that Sunday morning, though, I was more than just a little disappointed.

Several of the students I work with were equally upset by the lack of communion that morning. I found myself strangely comforted by their disappointment. I was glad that they noticed...and missed it. It somehow seemed to say to me that they really get it.

I feel relatively certain that they weren't upset about not getting communion because it tastes so great. We use those papery wafer thingys and tiny glasses of grape juice at our church (it's a pretty big church, I don't fault them for that...). I am also pretty certain that it wasn't just because it was the first Sunday of the month and that is just when we're "supposed" to have it. Based on what they were saying, it seemed to come from a much different place.

I think these students understand communion. They want/need to be reminded what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. They want/need to be reminded that we are all in this together. They want/need to be reminded of God's goodness. They want/need to remember the new covenant. They want/need to remember and be thankful, which is what Eucharist really means.

And they seemed to really miss all of that. I found myself wishing I could bless the elements before us (we were at a baseball game...) and offer them communion right there. Then I realized that we were, in a way, experiencing the Eucharist together at that moment. It is not the same as receiving the cup and bread, but grace danced among us just the same and we experienced holy communion - community - together.

Let me close this post with a short, personal story from a couple of years ago. Some of you may have heard me tell this before, but it is worth repeating today. While in seminary I kept the most adorable bunch of kids. I spent my Mondays with them and a few others here and there. I love them very much and always had the best time with them. More often than not, they would teach me life and faith lessons without even knowing it.

One day I was walking out of the mid-week communion service and they walked up. Their dad was giving the homily and communion. The little boy was decked out in Power Ranger gear from head-to-toe. Adorable. The little girl was dressed as a princess (naturally). Without missing a beat, the little girl ran up to me and asked a question I'll not soon forget.

"Miss Julie, Miss Julie...want to go have community with me?"

I smiled and said, "Yes, of course!"

I had already taken "community" that morning, so I just watched them kneel at the altar and receive it from their Dad. It was a beautiful moment. Once finished, they got up and ran out talking about how they had "community" and making sure everyone knew it. It was priceless.

These little ones reminded me what it is all about that day. Each time I take communion, I remember this day. Communion is community. It ought to call forth thanksgiving and joy in our lives and an overwhelming desire to share it with others.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Open Eyes

I have just returned from a week in inner-city Memphis for a mission trip with a handful of students. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. I am in full-time ministry and I am pretty sure I had lost sight of who Jesus is. I was reminded of that old worship song "Open Our Eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.." as I prepared for the week. I love the melody and the words of that song. As I came to understand Jesus more in my life, the words started haunting me. So much that I remember wanting to stand up in the middle of the service I was attending and ask how many people really meant what they were singing. Do we really want to see Him? He is dirty, cold, hungry, and thirsty. Is that the Jesus we are looking for these days?

That is the Jesus we look for when we are on a mission trip like the one I was on last week. Then we see Him everywhere. I saw him in a thousand places last week. I saw him in the 24-year old woman we worked for who is struggling to raise her four children and many of her own siblings. I saw him in my friends from seminary who are reaching out to the young people in their inner-city Memphis neighborhood. I saw him in an older man with the saddest eyes I have ever seen. He lives in an abandoned car wash and wakes up each day shaking violently, desperate for a drink. I saw him everywhere.

I am home now and hope that I my eyes stay open so that I can see Jesus in my everyday. This is where it counts. I say that not to diminish the work done last week (and throughout the year through Service Over Self). But it is only fleeting if it only lasts for a week or so here and there. It has to translate into our daily lives. Jesus is all around us - hungry, thirsty, dirty, cold, and broken. Sometimes in the most unlikely places. He is in that woman you see everyday at work who seems to have it all together. Or maybe in the man who holds it all together each day for his family, but is dying inside because of some secret addiction. That child who feels isolated and unloved at home and at school. And yes, sometimes He looks like what I saw last week in inner-city Memphis.

There's this old quote that I love. I wrote it out for my mom years ago and she still has it on her bulletin board at home. I wrote it in a fun sort of font because that is the way I understood it then. The quote reads, "People see God everyday, they just don't recognize Him..." (Pearl Bailey). It carries new meaning today. I hope I will recognize Him...

Monday, March 03, 2008


"Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen." - Book of Common Prayer

This prayer appeared in my Lenten Reader today and really spoke to me. I've come across it before and each time it speaks to me. I love the old language, "Evermore give us...". I am not sure I can explain it, but it awakens something in me. With this sentence, all of the names of Jesus come alive for me. I think not only of Jesus as "Bread of Life," but also as "Living Water," "Vine," "Good Shepherd," and the countless other names of our Lord. Evermore give me this Christ who satisfies hunger, quenches thirst, initiates growth, seeks us out...and provides all I need. Let me be at rest with this One; Savior and Lord of all.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Being Me

I have come the realization that I am a peculiar human being. I am more than a little strange. I am slightly random and only accidentally funny. I speak too soon and have to eat my words almost daily (It's that whole talk-before-you-think syndrome...usually just something stupid, not bad.). I am a big nerd. I love books. I love history. I am fascinated with dead people (the communion of saints). I love a good biography or documentary. It is funny how being in a relationship will expose you for who you really are. And I am...weird.

I can't decide if it is that I am more myself with Jason than I have ever been or I am more at ease with myself because of him. I think it is a little of both. And it has been this way from the beginning with him. I am just me with him. Peculiar. Weird. Strange. Random. Klutzy. Me.

This is both liberating and scary.

Liberating because I feel like I am learning a lot about myself. I am discovering me in all my weirdness and I kinda like me. I'm sort of fun in my randomness and weirdness. I'm learning to embrace my strange self and own my many quirks. I am figuring out what I like and dislike and learning to be ok with what doesn't match up to the majority. It is thrilling.

It is scary because self-reflection always is. Seeing myself clearly for the first time in a long time is sobering. While the people-pleaser in me has diminished as-of-late, it still lurks in the dark corners and rears its ugly head now-and-then. I am determined to live free of that in this life and this road of self-discovery that I've accidentally started on is helping that matter. And seeing myself through Jason's eyes has helped. He digs my quirks and embraces my weaknesses and encourages me to do the same.

I have learned that I am not perfect (shocking, I know). I am decidedly imperfect, quirky, and weird. I am learning to embrace me and I am more alive because of it. And the boy who is teaching me all of these things about myself (without knowing it, really) helps me in that department, too. More on that in the next post. :)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sneak Preview: My Life

A lot has been going on in my little world over the last several weeks and months. A lot. I have plenty to blog about these days. Family stuff. Faith stuff. Fabulous boyfriend stuff. I have a lot to say about all of those things and more...and absolutely no extravagant time in which to do so. I am working on carving out some time to do so very soon. I am sorry for the many blogs lately that have been apologetic, brief, or lacking. Life is very busy, but oh-so-good these days. I really will write more about it soon. For now, here's a short list of things to look forward to hearing about over the next few weeks.

5. I am heading to the 2008 Passion Conference in Dallas, TX this weekend. It should be a fun trip - 6 girls, 2 boys (my boy, Jason, being one of them...yay!).
4. Mardi Gras in Mobile. I went a couple of weeks ago. It was fun and not near as suspicious/strange/scary as I expected.
3. My adorable nephews. I have some fun stories to share about them that I think you'll enjoy.
2. A post of Julie-isms...random times lately when I have been accidentally funny or clutsy. These seem to get the most responses, because this is the Julie you know and love!
1. Jason. The boy. You know you want the scoop on all things related to that. I'll deliver...soon! Suffice it to say for now that things are going better than fantastic. He's the greatest. Just today he sent me roses so I could enjoy them for an entire week instead of a lousy 24-hours before the conference this weekend. He is just that good. We love him. :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

All in the Family

Follow this link to the audio of the sermon I gave on Sunday, January 6, 2008 at Central United Methodist Church. The title of the sermon is "All in the Family" and the text comes from Hebrews 2:10-18 and Isaiah 63:7-9. It is approximately 16 minutes long. Feel free to offer feedback or comments (be honest, but...gentle!).

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Brief Blog

It seems I've been a bit of a blogger slacker again lately. I can explain. Even though we are only eleven days into this new year, it has been a busy one. This is surprising given the fact that I work with college students and most of them are gone. The last two Sundays I have preached in my church. [I am working on getting a copy of it online for those that might want to hear it.] The better part of my time has gone to being sure I would be ready and relaxed. I've had a million other things going on, too. None of which are interesting enough to blog about, though. I promise to write more soon...