gratitude — the way to gladness

As is fitting for this time of year, the Lord has been teaching me much about thankfulness lately.  I decided at the beginning of the month that for every day in November I would record one thing that I was grateful for.  October was a wonderfully full and busy month, but if I’m honest I came into this season of thanksgiving feeling more tired than thankful.

Normally I do my journaling either in the afternoon when I get off work or in the evenings over a cup of tea, but by the sixth or seventh day, I found that I just couldn’t wait that long for the much-needed refocusing of my spirit on the Lord’s goodness in my life.  So I started keeping a pen on my nightstand and insisting that even my half-asleep self practice thankfulness, which resulted in me groggily scribbling things like, “Thank You, Lord, for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances to get out of bed to my alarm.  Thank You for the Keurig machine at work.”  (I think that, like any parent, God finds His children to be especially endearing when they are only half-awake.)

And then on Day 10, a sweet friend reminded me of our shared love for the book of Isaiah, and specifically led me to chapter 51.  After reading through the passage, I responded to her message with tears in my eyes because right there in verse 3 the Lord spoke straight to my soul all the things that I didn’t know I needed to hear.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
(Isaiah 51:3)

Joy and gladness were exactly the things that I seemed to be missing lately – a rare predicament for this self-proclaimed eternal optimist.  So how was I to go about reclaiming a glad and joyful disposition?  My eyes hovered over the third quality that the Lord promises to bestow upon His beloved – thanksgiving.  This was a timely affirmation that I was already on the right track – it seems that joy and gladness are close companions of thanksgiving.  And as I copied those words down into my journal, I realized with a bit of surprise that my lips hadn’t been as full of “the voice of song” lately either.  Perhaps this was a sort of gladness gauge, like the gas light that pops up on my car’s dashboard?  What if the Lord was restoring all of these things to me, and the key to unlock His gift of gladness was the faithful practice of gratitude?


I started praying Isaiah 51:3 over myself several times a day, fervently asking the the Lord to fill not just my life, but my entire being with joy, gladness, thanksgiving, and song.  I copied those words onto a card and set it on top of my desk at work; I wrote them over and over again in my journal, and spoke them out loud to my steering wheel on my morning commute.  The Lord has used this practice of praying a specific promise from His Word to change my heart and life in mighty ways over the last few years, and I am confident that this time will be no exception.

The next major milestone in my thankfulness journey came just a few days later in the form of a daily email/blog I get from the women over at (in)courage.  If you’ve never heard of this wonderful ministry, go check out their website and subscribe to their daily emails right now!  I’m especially grateful for their messages of hope and encouragement each morning.  That’s where I discovered my new favorite quote about gratitude:

“The thing about gratitude is that it’s a little bit sassy.  It’s a feisty declaration that there’s something bigger going on.  There’s no fluff to a grateful heart, it’s gritty, it’s resilient, it’s daring and courageous.
See, celebration, finding the gifts, cultivating gratitude all point us to the same thing: the goodness of God despite and within suffering.  As we determinedly fight for hope and grace, purpose and peace, we discover a foundation that no longer crumbles because we are now sure of how we are loved: Always, no matter what.”
(Sarah Sandifer, The Simplicity of Gritty Gratitude)

Sassy gratitude – isn’t that just perfect?  Again, it seemed like God was giving me a special wink right through my computer screen.  As a little girl just learning to talk, I couldn’t quite pronounce my own name so I went around proudly calling myself “Sassy” and the nickname has since become one of my parents’ favorite terms of endearment for me.  I’ve been called “sassy” for most of my life, and somehow I think the Lord knew that I would need that stubborn resilience to practice gratitude even in the mundane and ordinary.

And if the whole point of gratitude is to remind us of God’s gifts so that we can have eyes to see His extravagant, unending love for us – well, isn’t that He’s been teaching me all along, every day of this crazy, beautiful life?  Isn’t this the truth that I got etched into my wrist so that I would never forget it?  A permanent reminder from God’s eternal Word that I always, always, always have something – countless things! – to be grateful for because He has loved me with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  So not only can I always be grateful because I am always loved, but perhaps more importantly for this forgetful heart, I can always remember how loved I am by practicing gratitude.  And how can my heart not be glad upon the happy realization that it is so unconditionally, irrevocably, and deeply loved?

So here’s what I’ve learned:
Like “bosom friends,” I have found that gladness and gratitude travel hand-in-hand.  We simply cannot have one without the other, and where one dwells, the other is sure to reside.  It strikes me as no coincidence that our holiday centered on thanksgiving ushers in the season of “joy to the world.”  Where thankfulness leads, abundant joy is sure to follow.

As loved ones bid their farewells and the leftover turkey disappears from our refrigerators, maybe you’re finding that your life is still lacking that deep and abiding joy that we know is available to us as believers in Christ?  If so, I encourage you to join me in this intentional practice of gratitude for even God’s most easily-overlooked gifts to us (like cardinals on the back porch or store-bought apple pies when you had too much on the to-do list to make your own).  Life itself is a gift, and the Giver is indeed good, friends.  Let’s pray that He would give us eyes to see His faithfulness.

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me;
to the one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
(Psalm 50:23)

Fall Getaway

 As the air starts to get crisp and the leaves begin to change colors, some of the fondest memories that come to my mind are from the weekends that I spent at Fall Getaway, the annual retreat for my university’s CRU movement.  When I decided to attend my very first retreat as a freshman, I initially failed to notice that it fell on the same weekend as an important event with my scholarship program that was scheduled to take place that same Friday evening.  It wasn’t until after I’d already submitted my registration fee that I realized the conflict and, being the frugal college student that I was, I decided to make arrangements to arrive late for the retreat rather than let that small investment go to waste.  Looking back now, I like to think that the Lord used my desperate need for a more effective planner to work out His perfect plan to bring me into one of the sweetest communities I have ever known.

Now, when I say that I arranged for a late arrival to the retreat, what I actually mean is that I sweet-talked my parents (who were accompanying me at the scholarship event) into driving nearly three hours round-trip with the promise that I would “definitely be able to find a ride back with someone.”  Bless them.  As we rambled down country backroads in the pitch-black dark, I started to grow nervous about showing up late to an event with people that I didn’t know all that well.  Had they saved a bed for me?  Did they even remember I was coming?  What if everyone had already come best friends in the three hours I’d missed?  Would I even get along with these people?  With these kinds of thoughts running through my head, we arrived at the conference center and I suddenly realized that I had no idea where to go.  The retreat was for students from CRU movements at several different universities, and the dim glow from cabin windows barely gave enough light to make unfamiliar faces of the students hanging around outside.

I picked up my phone to call one of the girls I’d met a few times at a CRU community group and tried to play it cool when she didn’t answer.  Good thing I’d gotten phone numbers for a few other people who said they’d be there.  I pulled up another contact, then another – no answer.  Tempted to call my parents and ask them to come back and get me, I decided to just start walking and pray that I’d find someone I recognized.  Just a few minutes later I walked to a group of girls whose voices sounded familiar and sent up silent prayers of relief when I was greeted by excited hugs and welcoming smiles.  Apparently everyone had decided to turn their phones off for the weekend so they could be fully present and invested in what God had in store for all of us over the next couple of days.  By Sunday afternoon I was laughing with these same girls over how worried I’d been that I wasn’t going to have any friends because no one had answered my phone calls that first night!

Four years later, I drove myself up to my final Fall Getaway late Friday night after attending the same annual event hosted by my scholarship program, and couldn’t help but marvel over how much had changed since that first weekend.  God used my first fall retreat to form strong connections with people who have become lifelong friends that have impacted my walk with Christ more than they’ll ever know.  He used one significant conversation on a particular bench in front of our cabin to spark a friendship that would lead to three years of partnering with my friend Courtneigh in ministry, co-leading a women’s Bible study that served as a launching pad for several girls to go on summer projects with CRU and several others to engage in their relationship with God in ways that they never thought possible.   My involvement with CRU was the single most influential experience of my entire college career, and it really all started with that very first fall retreat.

Please join me in praying for college students across the country as they attend their own fall getaways – that God would move in mighty ways to build gospel-centered communities, iron-sharpening-iron kind of friendships, and that students would be open to the teaching they’ll receive!  Some who will be attendance may not be believers yet, and some may be looking back on their first few weeks as a college student with despair or regret over the choices they’ve made – and I believe that we have an opportunity through prayer to participate in God radically changing the course of their college careers, their lives, and their eternities.  I’m specifically praying for students from my alma mater, UNC Charlotte, and the University of Kentucky where my friend Courtneigh works as a full-time campus staff member.


The women of CRU at UNCC at my fourth and final Fall Getaway.  These women continue to change my life and point me closer to Christ.


The bench where it all began.  Grateful for our friendship and for the opportunity to partner with you in what God’s doing through your ministry, Court!

Sing, O barren one

I’ve always wanted to be a mother.

At the age when most little girls were dreaming of being ballerinas or doctors or princesses, I was dreaming of a family to call my own.  Sure, I knew that I would also want to be some of those other things when I grew up, but first and foremost, I longed to be a wife and a mother.

In the last year or so of my life, the ache of this as-yet-unfulfilled longing has grown increasingly more difficult to ignore, and the Lord has been taking me on a sweet, though painful, journey of finding His goodness and love right in the middle of it.  As a 25-year-old woman who is (still) more single than a slice of Kraft cheese, I have had to face the possibility that my life may not turn out anything like I’d planned or hoped.  I may not ever personally bring a child into this world.  I may not ever get to be a mother in the way that I’ve always dreamed.  And if not, He is still good.  Being able to say those seven words in relation to this deep desire of my heart continues to be one of the hardest and holiest battles I have fought to date.

Here in Arkansas, I am a member of a beautiful little church that believes children hold an invaluable place in the heart of God and thus, in the church.  It is one of my favorite things about this community.  But it also means that every week there is inevitably one child (or many children) who cries out “Mommy!” in the middle of the service.  This happened week after week for the first few months I attended Redeemer, and each time my eyes would instantly fill with tears because I long so desperately to be one who responds to that call.  There’s a particular pew on the left side of the sanctuary of a little white church in Siloam Springs, Arkansas that has caught more than its fair share of my tears.

At first, I would try to hold those tears back out of shame or a fear that someone would ask me why on earth I was crying.  But now I simply bow my head and let them quietly slip down my cheeks, because I’ve found that the Lord always meets me in these moments of my wordless aching.  In fact, these have been some of my most sacred and precious moments with God over the last few months.

Sometime in August of last year, I wrote in my journal:

“Last night I wept for my own womb – for the emptiness of the part of me that was created to cultivate life.”

And on that same page I copied down the first three verses of Isaiah 54, which have encouraged and comforted me countless times since.

“‘Sing, O barren one, who did not bear,
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,’ says the Lord.
‘Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.”
(Isaiah 54:1-3)

There, right in the middle of all my unmet desires, God tells me to sing.

The One who knows my heart intimately, of Whom I can say with confidence, “O Lord, all my longing is before You; my sighing is not hidden from You,” (Psalm 38:9), looks on me with infinite compassion, wipes my tears with a nail-scarred hand and tells me to sing.
How can I refuse Him?

Sing, O barren one.

My fingers brush across these words on the thin pages of my Bible and I hear the still, small voice whisper,

My precious daughter, you may be barren but it does not change the fact that you are My beloved.  O barren one, you can sing because you are My beloved.
Sing, O beloved one.

I want to believe Him.  And I do, for awhile.  But then fear comes creeping in and convinces me to curl my fingers tight into a fist around this heart that aches with longing, around all the areas of my life that echo back their emptiness in places where I expected there to be the sound of children’s laughter.  But again I hear Him,

Do not hold back.
Enlarge the the tent of your life and stretch out the curtains that have kept these parts of your heart hidden and dark.  Let the wind of My Spirit catch them in its breeze and let Me breathe new life into your nurturing, mothering heart.  Let Me show you all the ways that you were meant to bring forth life into this world.  Lengthen the cords of your heartstrings and set your stakes deep into the firm foundation of My love so that you will be ready to spread your arms wide to the right and to left and welcome everyone that I bring into your life.  You know that it is My blood that truly makes someone your family (Mark 3:35).  As I promised Abraham that I would make his offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5), so too shall your descendants in the faith spread far and wide across the earth.  You will be a mother to many, even if your womb remains barren and desolate for the rest of your days.
Sing, beloved one.

I will ever be in awe of the Lord’s deep, immeasurable love for me, and how He speaks so sweetly to my soul.  If you know the ache of barrenness, I pray that He uses these words to speak healing and encouragement into your longing.

with love and wanderlust,
Cassady

“How can I keep from singing Your praise?
How can I ever say enough?
How amazing is Your love!
How can I keep from shouting Your Name?
I know I am loved by the King.
And it makes my heart want to sing.”

(Chris Tomlin, “How Can I Keep From Singing?”)

Lord, now indeed I find

“Lord, now indeed I find,
Thy power, and Thine alone;
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

Jesus paid it all,
all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”
(“Jesus Paid It All” – Elvina Hall)

We sang this familiar hymn last week at the prayer group that I go to on Monday nights.  You never know who’s going to show up at these meetings – but the regulars are a diverse, Jesus-loving group of individuals that have changed my life in more ways than they’ll ever know.  I recently realized (recently as in while I’m typing this) that this Monday night prayer group at Ashley Street has been the single most consistent thing about my entire life since I got home from the Race.  For nearly 7 months now, I have spent all but 3, 4, maybe 5, of my Monday evenings in an old house in a small town in Arkansas lifting praises and petitions up to God with one of the most eclectic group of humans that I’ve ever been a part of.  Every week looks completely different, but there are two things that you can always count on – we will always sing at least a couple of hymns and we will always, always, always pray.  Oh, and there’s almost always hot tea.  Those two hours (that often turn into 3 or 4 hours) are one of my favorite parts of the week.

This past week one of our newer friends asked if we could pray for an upcoming doctor’s appointment and some chronic pain that he has to control with medication simply to make get through his everyday life.  We prayed and began to sing “Jesus Paid It All.” Though I’ve sung this song a thousand times, my eyes hovered over the second verse like I was reading it for the first time and my hands instinctively reached for my Bible.  As the song came to a close, my dear friend Kristi read Ezekiel 36:26 where it talks about receiving a heart of flesh in place of our heart of stone.  And as the group launched into another hymn, I finally found the story I’d been looking for in Luke 17:11-19 – Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers.

This story gives us a beautifully simple prescription for how to experience the Lord’s healing work in our lives.  First, the lepers acknowledge their illness, their desperation for cleansing, and their own utter helplessness to save themselves.  And how do they do this?  By coming before the only One who holds the power to heal and show mercy saying,
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (v.13)

And how does Jesus respond?  “When He saw them He said…” (v. 14)  Beloved, God always sees us, and He always responds.
He doesn’t always give us the answer we expect or hope for or want, but He does respond to His children’s cries for mercy when we come to Him.  And when He gives us an instruction, no matter how far fetched, or culturally unacceptable, or even dangerous it may be, it is always in our best interest to obey.  Healing and abundant life are at stake.

So what happens to these lepers when they embark on their journey of doing exactly what Jesus tells them to do?
“As they went they were cleansed.” (v.14)
This is where it gets good, friends.  The lepers received miraculous healing as they went.  So too with us, God often heals us in the process of obedience.  This is the basic rhythm of life He desires for us – the heartbeat of relationship with Jesus – that we come to Him in our brokenness, listen to His voice, trust that His ways are higher than ours, and thus respond to Him in obedience.  Even when His directions don’t fully make sense to us.  Especially when they seem utterly foolish.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man.” (1 Cor 1:25)

He does not ask us to understand His will or His ways, He asks us simply to trust that His healing will come to us as we go on the path of obedience.

And may we never forget that it is His healing – that no matter how He chooses to bring us deliverance from all manner of suffering and bondage, it is all from His hand.  He is the only One who can heal us.  He may use medicine or counseling or surgery or a really good book by your favorite Christian author, but may we never forget to follow in the footsteps of that one leper-no-longer who, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” (v. 15-16)

We must remember to praise Him for the healing that we have already received, because it bolsters our faith in His promise to bring it to completion in the day of Christ (Phil 1:6).  And let us always be praising God for His healing work in our lives, so that every day we may hear Him say to us,
“Rise up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (v.19)

As all this was running through my brain at a million miles a minute on Monday night, my ears tuned in to our second hymn of the night and I smiled as the words echoed the very message that the Lord was already putting on my heart:

“When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will
He abides with us still
And with all who will trust and obey.

But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
And the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey.”
(“Trust and Obey” – John H. Sammis)

What a privilege it is to trust and obey Him.

with love and wanderlust,
Cassady

slow down, you crazy child

I was 13 years old the first time I heard the song Vienna by Billy Joel; I’d gone to see the movie “13 Going On 30” for my 13th birthday with a group of girls that by some miracle I have managed to stay in touch with for over a decade now.  (Seriously, how many people can say that they still talk to the group of friends that they hung out with in middle school?)  My parents had subsequently given me the soundtrack and probably regretted that decision every day for the next who-knows-how-many-months that I blared it over and over and over again from the stereo in my room.  I can’t honestly say that I’m any kind of Billy Joel fan – I couldn’t name another song title by him unless you let me phone a friend (named Google), but his lyrics to this one song have been woven into the soundtrack of my life since I was a pre-teen.

I can’t remember the last time I actually listened to it before today, but as I found myself humming the tune while going about my workday, I realized that the message of its words couldn’t be more fitting to this particular season of my life.

slow down, you crazy child
you’re so ambitious for a juvenile
but then if you’re so smart, tell me –
why are you still so afraid?

where’s the fire?  what’s the hurry about?
you better cool it off before you burn it out
you got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

but you know that when the truth is told
that you can get what you want, or you can just get old
you’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
when will you realize – Vienna waits for you?

slow down, you’re doing fine
you can’t be everything you want to be before your time
although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight

too bad, but it’s the life you lead
you’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need
though you can see when you’re wrong
you know, you can’t always see when you’re right

you got your passion, you got your pride
but don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?
dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
when will you realize – Vienna waits for you?

slow down, you crazy child,
take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile
it’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two
when will you realize – Vienna waits for you?

and you know that when the truth is told,
that you can get what you want or you can just get old
you’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
why don’t you realize – Vienna waits for you?
when will you realize – Vienna waits for you?

The past month has been full of lots change and transition for me – less than one week after getting back from a full and lovely long weekend spent celebrating the weddings of two dear friends in my beloved home-city, I moved into a new house in a new town with a new roommate and just one short week later started a(nother) new job.  (If you’re keeping count, that’s three jobs in less than one year of living in Arkansas.  *insert exasperated eye roll*  And if you’re thinking that I sound like another one of those non-committal millennials who’s always chasing the next best thing and can never just be content and faithful to what’s already in front of them – you are embodying one of my biggest fears.  Just kidding…sort of.  Would you believe me if I said that one of my biggest hang-ups in wrestling with God over each decision to take a new job has been “But Lord, am I succumbing to the culture of my job-hopping generation?  Please don’t let people see me as one of those millennials.”?  I know, I know…trusting God over fear of man and all of that.  I digress.)

Honestly, this latest round of adjustment and new-ness has felt kind of like how I imagine it would feel to have a quadruple shot of espresso injected into the IV bag of someone who’s been on a steady drip of strong coffee for the past two and a half years.  Sure, it’s been jarring in some ways, but as I look back at my life post-college, it has pretty much been one long string of significant change and transition.  Perhaps those of you who are a little older and wiser are thinking, “welcome to the rest of your life, honey.  It’s all one big chain of change from here.”  And I’ve probably heard that from you before, but I guess I just needed to figure it out for myself.

Anyway, I guess all of this is just to say that I needed this Vienna message today.  When I realized that my new work schedule was going to give four whole extra hours of free time every day, my first thoughts were “What can I plan?  How can I use that time wisely and most effectively to make things happen that will make me happy?  What else do I need to do?”  Just a few days after moving in, I was sharing some of this internal dialogue with my roommate and her response was priceless – she looked at me with raised eyebrows and asked, “what if you just took a few days to rest and let yourself adjust to this new season?”  I’m pretty sure my mouth was already open about to launch into a list of possible ways I could “not waste” this time when her simple but oh-so-wise suggestion stopped me in my tracks.  I exhaled an audible sigh of relief that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding back, and thanked her.

It’s been nearly a month since that conversation, and still I find myself constantly needing to be reminded that it’s okay to just slow down.

When I woke up with Vienna stuck in my head this morning, I recognized it as a subtle reminder from the Lord that His message to me right now is (still): “Wait for [Me]; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14).  And so, I’m trying to figure out what it looks like to do things like wait and rest and abide in a season where my heart that’s full of unmet longings and yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams is tempted to look around in despair and bitterness and angst at all the people whose lives seemed to be full of all the things I long for right now (a husband, children, a successful ministry, an established community, financial freedom, etc.).  And how gloriously fitting is it that just one verse earlier David admits, “I would have despaired had I not believed that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Psalm 27:13)

So I’m training my heart to believe that I will see the goodness of Lord here in the land of the actual life that I’m currently living, and not the one that I’d hoped or planned for.  And you know what?  When I stop and look for it, I can see His faithfulness in a lot of little ways that He’s moving me closer to the woman I wish I could already be.  I may not have a family to cook for every night or some grand display of my hosting and hospitality skills, but last night I offered to cook a whole dinner for my roommate and I after her 12-hour workday like it wasn’t even no thing.  This is coming from the girl who started hyperventilating in a Walmart just a few months ago when I was assigned responsibility of preparing one side dish for a few friends that my roommate and I were having over for dinner.  I also bring two dishes to the church potluck every month, and most of the time I don’t even have to think about what I’m going to make until the day of.  That’s what I call serious culinary progress, people.  And as far as community goes?  Even though I doubt and question and forget it often, the Lord has provided rich, sweet community for me here in Arkansas.  People who have seen me cry when His plans haven’t matched up with my own, and rejoiced with me when they’ve been so, so much better.  And I’ve spent the last three weekends with people who love Jesus and swing-dancing, a combination that is unbeatable in my book.

Maybe you needed a Vienna message today, too?  Just in case, here’s what I’ve been hearing from God in the lines of a Billy Joel song:

————————————————————

Slow down, My crazy, beloved child.  You’re so ambitious because I’ve made you for so many good things – but I don’t ever want you to choose ambition over affection.  Your faithfulness to abide in My love for you is far more important than anything you could ever do for Me.  And remember, perfect love casts out fear.  You don’t need to be afraid, darling.  You don’t need to hustle for your worth, because your value, your belovedness, is secure in Me.  I know there’s so much you want to do with your short life, but don’t forget that your times are in My hands.  In fact, I hold eternity in my very palms, and I never run out of time for the things that I have purposed for you to do.  So slow down, child, and don’t forget to remind your soul that true satisfaction is found only in Me.  Slow down, My child.  When will you realize that I’ve been here waiting for you and with you, and that everything you’re really waiting for has been yours all along?

———————————————————-

with love and wanderlust,
Cassady

What do you want Me to do for you?

The telling of this story is long overdue, and I’m excited to share it because if you know me at all, you know that I love bragging on the Lord’s faithfulness.  He does greater things in my heart and life than I could ever imagine or deserve, and it is my privilege to make my life’s song one that shouts of His goodness.

I shared in one of my first posts about how the Lord provided a job for me within five days of arriving in Arkansas, and I had the joy of working at Sunshine School for five gloriously challenging months.  I loved my kids, and I loved my coworkers, and I (still) love the mission of that incredible organization, but I realized pretty quickly that this was not where I was meant to stay long-term.

Being a teacher is hard, y’all.  Being a preschool teacher is NOT glorified babysitting.  And being a preschool teacher to children with a variety of disabilities and physical/social/emotional/mental challenges?  It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.  There was an entire month where I drove home from work every.single.day. in ugly tears.  Most days I spent my 15-minute breaks listening to worship music in the bathroom, because it was the only way I could muster up the physical and emotional strength to walk back into the classroom.  I wish I was joking.

At first, I was mostly ashamed of my misery, and tried to hide it from myself, from others, and even from God.  I thought I was being ungrateful for this beautiful gift that He had given me, and I also worried that maybe this is just what being a grown-up and having a real job is supposed to be like.  What if I’m just failing at being an adult?  What if I’m not enough?

This was, after all, my very first full-time job, and really, my first experience of full-fledged adulthood, since I went on the Race shortly after graduating from college.  And I think every recent graduate can identify with this experience – everyone expects that once you get that cap and gown and the not-so-little piece of paper, everything will just sort of fall into place.  (Is anyone else’s diploma GIANT?  When am I ever going to have the money to pay for a frame that big?)  In reality, though, most of us got to the other side of that stage – hopefully without tripping, probably unemployed, and definitely broke – and our most prominent thought was I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.

So for a long time I chalked up my tears to the stress of stepping into adulthood and being in a new place and I fought desperately for contentment.

And I think that was good.  Those months cultivated a dependence on the Lord that I wouldn’t have learned any other way.  I got to a place where I could acknowledge that my job was hard, but I could still find joy in it.  I knew that I wasn’t thriving, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still be growing.  I grew in gentleness, in forgiveness, and, boy, did I grow in patience!  One of the greatest miracles I experienced during that season was literally feeling the Lord expand my capacity for patience in the exact moment that I cried out to Him for it (and only God could have heard my silent prayers over the screaming of a four year old).  I can only imagine how He will teach me and grow me through motherhood someday!

After several months, though, I sensed the Lord gently whispering to my heart that He had something more for me.  My immediate response was, “okay Lord, what do You want me to do?  I’ll do whatever You ask of me.”  I dare say that at this point in my walk with the Lord, blind obedience is relatively easy.  That’s not to say that the things He asks me to do are always easy, and there are certainly times when doubts and questioning and my own stubborn will slow down the process.  But, for the most part, I am at ease surrendering my decisions before Him and saying “Lord, where You lead me, I will follow.”

But this time was different.  This time, I came before God expecting marching orders and instead, He asked me a question.

What do you want Me to do for you?

I was sure that I had misunderstood Him.  Why would it matter what I wanted?  My response was laced with confusion, “Um, whatever You want, Lord….” and I knew He heard the implied isn’t that what I’m supposed to say here?

Over the next few days, God revealed to me that He wasn’t looking for a Sunday School answer this time.  He wasn’t asking me to be a soldier.  He was inviting me to become acquainted with, and even embrace, my own desires.  The very desires that He Himself placed within me.

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And so, I began to set aside time for intentional prayer and meditation where I began to answer the question: Cassady, what do you want in a job?  It felt a little like a brainstorming session, but it was definitely a form of prayer because I was constantly asking the Lord for help in silencing the voices of so-and-so says you should want this, and society says that this is most important, and even the ever-so-sneaky voice of shame that whispered this is what God wants you to want and He is going to be disappointed if you don’t put it on the list.

Finally, I had a list of four things that I wanted in my next job.  And I was pretty sure that this job didn’t exist.  So I presented my requests before the Lord with a twinge of hesitancy but, ultimately, a heart of peace because I knew that I had done exactly what He’d asked of me.  I had answered His question and, in doing so, I planted my feet firmly on the path of owning and embracing desire.  Not surprisingly, His Word is lighting my way.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…
who satisfies your desires with good things.

(Psalm 103:2,5a)


That’s just a little peak at one of many things He is teaching me in this season.  I am learning that my wants, needs, desires, and longings are not my enemies.  And I am far from the end of this journey.  So stay tuned, friends.  Part two (where I’ll share what those four things on my list were, and *spoiler alert* about the job that satisfies them all and DOES exist!) is already in the works. 🙂

with love and wanderlust,
Cassady

 

On Choosing Community

I wasn’t supposed to make it to the small group meeting this week.  Well, actually, I was supposed to be able to go, but then somehow my “last day” at a twice-a-week side job that I’ve been working the past couple of months turned into, “I guess I can do another week if you don’t have anybody else and since I’m scheduled to work my new job during the time I usually come, I’ll come even later than usual and miss my weekly Bible study meeting.”  #pushoverproblems

So I texted our group leader early that afternoon and put off finishing this week’s Armor of God lessons because on my schedule for the day “BSTUD” had been scratched out and also because, honestly, I was just tired.

But then I got a text around 5pm from the family I was supposed to work for that they didn’t need me after all, and suddenly I could technically make it to the meeting.  It was a sweet and undeserved answer to my half-hearted prayers (read: grumpy complaints) of, “Lord, I just don’t think I can handle another job today.  I am tired.  I am lonely.  I am just going to let myself wallow in self-pity and not actually do or think or ask for anything to change.”  (Okay, I didn’t actually pray that last line.  I was too busy wallowing in self pity to even realize that’s what I was doing.)

Honestly, the day hadn’t started off that great – I’d walked out the door once only to realize that I’d left my lunch in the fridge.  So I’d wrestled with the finicky locks and retrieved it, only to realize after shutting and locking the door (for the second time) that I’d also completely forgotten to put on any makeup and there was no time to do anything about because I was already running late.  And, as frazzled mornings tend to do, that had pretty much set the tone for my entire day.  The icing on the cake was when I was walking out the door of my last client’s house and heard “Oh, by the way, one of the dogs chewed your shoe…”

So by the time I was shuffling to my car in half-eaten shoes at 7:05pm, I had decided that I definitely was not going to small group.  As I made the turn toward home, I started justifying the decision – I’m already late anyway, and I don’t have the book we’re studying or even my Bible with me.  I didn’t even finish this week’s lessons.  I’m exhausted and grumpy and I have literally nothing to offer them tonight.  I’m lonely, but….

Wait.  I am lonely.  I am feeling especially sad and discouraged because I am lonely, and what do I need when I’m lonely?
People.  Meaningful connection. Community.

I literally turned the car around.  (Don’t worry, I pulled off into a parking lot first.)  And I started to examine the real reasons why I almost said no to the thing my heart knew it needed.

First, I felt that I had nothing to offer in the context of a small group discussion or Bible study that night.  Emotionally, and even spiritually, I was feeling drained and empty and dry.  If anything, I was going to walk into that room cracked open and needy – having no choice but draw on the strength and joy and wisdom of these women that I’m still learning how to trust.  And this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve walked into that group broken and weary.  But, of course, community means that we all need each other.  No one is expected to always be the strong one, not even the new girl.  No man is an island and all that.

But the thing that was really getting to me that night was the unavoidable fact that I don’t really know these girls all that well yet, and they don’t really know me.  At least, not in the way that I know and am known by that precious crowd that are “my people.”  What I really wanted was to collapse into the arms of the ones who know me best and love me most, and the reality is that even after seven months, there isn’t really anyone in Arkansas that falls into that category.

And then the Lord graciously reminded me of how those friends-that-feel-more-like-family became “my people” in the first place.  I remembered that you have to choose community.  Even on your worst days.  Especially on the days when you feel like you have nothing to offer.  You find people and you choose them and you keep choosing them over and over and over again, and you let them choose you, too, and then one day you look around and realize that you belong.  They have become your people.

You know what else “your people” do?  They let you interrupt their Bible study to ramble about your almost-decision to not come to said Bible study because of a ridiculous fear of having “nothing to offer them.”  And they respond by saying “We are so glad that you came.”  And then?  Then they agree to your still-more-ridiculous request to take a group selfie so you can remember this night.  The night when you chose to make them your people.

6ca8eff9-9ca6-47b9-9f81-92fae6778a38This is it, folks – the uncomfortable, stumbling, imperfect process of choosing community.

If you’re reading this and there is a particular group of people that you just can’t seem to get out of your head – whether it’s a small group, a book club, or that couples group that plays badminton together every Tuesday night (is that a thing that couples do together?  Maybe!  You’re asking the wrong girl.) – I encourage you to buy in.  Choose to make them your people.  Even when it’s inconvenient and a little awkward and you feel like you have nothing to offer.  Choose them anyway.  You might be surprised to find that they’re eagerly waiting to choose you too.

with love and wanderlust,
Cassady

When You Feel Like a Less-Than

This is a re-post of one of my own blogs that I wrote just a few weeks before leaving for the World Race last January.  I’ve been needing some sweet words from my Savior lately, and the Lord reminded me that He has already spoken these much-needed truths over me.  I think they have encouraged me even more today than the first time I wrote them!  How amazing is it that God knew all of this when I clicked that ‘Publish’ button on December 10, 2014?

So I’ll be honest, I’m partially posting this for my own benefit…but I’m sending these words out into the cyberworld again just in case you could use a little life-giving truth today, too.  If you’re still reading, I have a feeling this post might be especially for you.  I pray that the Lord meets you here in a mighty way!


When You Feel Like a Less-Than….

…you’re not alone.

Do you ever have those days when it seems like you just don’t measure up?  The sun sets, your phone stops buzzing because everyone else is sleeping peacefully at the end of their perfectly successful days, and all you feel is an overwhelming sense of defeat.  The Bible tells us that, ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,’ (Romans 8:37), but I for one have had many days recently when I have felt, well, less than.  Less-than-perfect, less-than-pretty, less-than-organized…or less-than-consistent, less-than-reliable, less-than living up to just about any expectations that really shouldn’t be that hard to meet, right?  How can I feel like such a failure when everyone else seems to be getting along just fine?

On these days I hardly feel like the rightful owner of any identity that sounds like ‘more than a conqueror.’  Sometimes the only ‘more-than’ I can identify with is being more-than-ready for Jesus to come on back and finish what He started because this ‘process’ of sanctification that He’s working in me just isn’t moving fast enough.  Sometimes Satan’s strategy of the day is to bring me face-to-face with all of the ways that I’ve failed yet again in all of the areas of life that seem most important.  And more often than I’d care to admit, I fall right into his traps and this Warrior Princess, Daughter of the King is reduced to a weary soul that is overcome by shame and convinced of the lie that she’s nothing but a less-than.

But here’s the thing about a God-given identity – it is not in the least bit affected by our feelings.  In Christ Jesus, I am more than a conqueror even when I feel like a less-than.  So are you, dear friend.  The unhindered, uninhibited, undeserved love of God that was displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus makes us more-than.  More-than-enough, more-than-loved, more-than-beautiful, and more-than all the ridiculous lies that Satan is trying to tell us today.

I may look in the mirror and see a blubbering mess of a girl who doesn’t seem to do anything right, but God looks at that same reflection and sees me for who I truly am – the strong, loving, chosen, Daughter of Mine that He created me to be.  And who am I to argue with the God who see all things, El Roi Himself?  I think it’s safe to assume that the God of the universe doesn’t need bifocals to get a clear look at the crown of His creation.

So the next time you find yourself feeling like the least of all the less-thans, ask your ever-truthful Heavenly Father what HE sees when He looks at you, His beloved Child.  And then allow Him to paint over your distorted self-image with holy brushstrokes of wisdom and dignity, beauty and grace.

Let Him remind you over and over and over again that you are – and always will be – MORE than a conqueror.


Lord, please show me what it looks like to live as more than a conqueror in this ordinary, everyday life that You have called me to.  Right here, in Bentonville, Arkansas, at my favorite Starbucks, with my hair all matted down by thickened milk that one of the kids chucked across the room this morning.  You’re the only One who could look right at this I-lost-a-food-fight-with-a-preschooler hot mess and stifle a laugh long enough call me beloved and victorious.

With love and wanderlust,
Cassady

Where He Guides, He Provides


Hi again!  I’m so excited that you’ve decided to continue with me on this journey of following Jesus and living with love and wanderlust.  What an adventure it is!  Like I mentioned in last week’s post, the Lord has already been so faithful to provide for me here in Arkansas.  Namely, I have a job!  In fact, I had a job within five days of arriving in Bentonville.  If that’s not divine provision, then I don’t know what is.  I’d like to rewind just a little bit in order for you to fully understand the magnitude of the Lord’s faithfulness in this blessing.

In the post where I announced my move to Arkansas (which you’ll find here, on my World Race blog), I said, “I wish that I had time to write about all of the guiding conversations, countless confirmations, and unexpected twists and turns that this journey has involved,” and since then I’ve had several people say to me “I want to hear about these confirmations!”  What a lovely reminder that we can never say enough about God’s faithfulness.  So here’s a little glimpse of how God confirmed my decision to come to Arkansas:

After weeks of prayer and changing my mind at least once a day about whether or not I was actually going to follow through with the decision to move, I finally told God, “Okay, off to Arkansas I go.  I’m saying yes to whatever it is you have for me there.  I’m saying yes to You, Lord.”  And less than 10 minutes later I had a comment on my post in the World Race alumni page asking about jobs in the NWA (Northwest Arkansas) region.  I was immediately encouraged (read: excitedly jumping up and down in the living room and talking so fast my parents could hardly understand a word I was saying), but I look back on that moment now and imagine God smiling and saying, “Precious Daughter, just wait and see what I have planned for you!”

Because over the next few weeks, that comment from a stranger on a Facebook group with over 2000 members turned into an email conversation with said stranger.  Which turned into another email connecting me to the stranger’s best friend, an employee of NWA Sunshine School and Development Center.  Sunshine School is a multi-faceted non-profit organization that enriches the lives of adults and children with special needs through therapy, education, and support.  If you know me at all, you know that one of my greatest passions is seeing individuals with disabilities live up to their greatest potential, and I sensed that the Lord was going to use this passion in a significant way when I got to Arkansas.  Fast forward to February 17th, about 2 1/2 weeks before my official moving day.  An email pops up in my inbox from the contact at Sunshine School saying, “We just had two positions open up in the preschool and I thought of you, Cassady!  We’ll start interviewing the first week of March – let me know if you’d like to be on that list!”  And that, my friends, is how God works.  His timing is perfect, His plan is greater than anything we could dream up, and His ways are higher than our ways.

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So I arrived in Bentonville on Sunday, March 6th.  I visited Sunshine School for the first time on Wednesday the 9th, and scheduled an interview for Thursday afternoon.  On Wednesday evening, I was rejoicing over the Lord’s faithfulness in bringing me to Sunshine School, but I was, admittedly, still nervous about my interview the next day.  So the Lord led me to what has become one of my favorite passages of Scripture – 2 Chronicles chapter 20 – and gave me three very specific instructions.

“You will not have to fight this battle.  Take up your positions (show up); stand firm (stand up) and see the deliverance the Lord will give you (look up).  Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged. Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chron. 20:15,17)

Show up, stand up, and look Up.  That is all He asked of me.  Victory was mine, if only I would have the faith to lay aside my fear and claim it.  So the next morning, I showed up at Sunshine School a few minutes before my interview at 1pm.  With a deep breath, I stepped out of my car and stood up straight and tall in quiet confidence.  And just before I walked through the doors, I looked up at the heavens and smiled back at the Lord who has caused the light of His countenance to shine so radiantly upon this unworthy sinner.  And within an hour, I was offered a job as Sunshine School’s newest assistant preschool teacher!

I know that sometimes the Lord allows and even commands us to fight in the battles we face.  Some victories require more of us than we think we have to offer.  But sometimes, He asks just three small things of us- to show up, stand up, and look up.  That is why it is so important that we turn our hears to His voice in every situation and circumstance!   He knows exactly what we need to do, and His ways are perfect.  Thank you for rejoicing with me over His faithfulness!  How has He granted undeserved victory and favor to you today?  How is He telling you to approach the upcoming “battles” in your life?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!  Thank you again for coming on this journey with me.

with love & wanderlust,

Cassady

New beginnings

Hi, and welcome to my (new) blog!  After discovering how much I loved blogging last year while on the World Race, I decided to create my own corner of the internet where I can continue to share about my life and what the Lord is teaching me.  (If you’d like to check out my World Race site, click here.)

In case you missed the big news, I just recently stuffed (almost) all of my earthly belongings into my little gold Accord and moved halfway across the country to a place called Bentonville, Arkansas.  Most people know of Bentonville as the birthplace of Walmart, but don’t be embarrassed if you didn’t already know that little tidbit of ‘common knowledge’ (I didn’t, until I decided to move here).  I arrived here late Sunday evening with no furniture, no job, and knowing exactly one person – my housemate, Bailey.   I shared a little about why I made this move in the last post on World Race blog, which you can read here, but I’ll likely talk more about this decision in future posts.  The Lord has already been so, so faithful in this new season, and I can’t wait to celebrate His goodness with you!

For this first post, though, I’ll just share a few moments from my roadtrip and my first few days here in Bentonville!

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I’ve said goodbye to this house many times, but it’s only ever been for a set amount of time.  It sure felt strange to drive away not knowing when I’d be back again.  There in the driveway is my little loaded-down Accord!

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This is Billy the Roadtrip Buddy aka my World Race backpack topped by my small straw hat collection.  Billy never said much, but was otherwise a great traveling companion!

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Technically my first stop was in
Knoxville, TN, but I decided to meet up with some friends near Gatlinburg to go for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains first.
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It was a wonderful time of enjoying nature and wandering off the beaten path with some sweet friends from the CRU summer project I did in Charleston a few summers ago!

image  Day 2 of the roadtrip was a long one – I drove from Knoxville, TN to Bentonville, AR, making several stops for coffee and food along the way!  Two of my favorite stops- Crema, a coffee shop in Nashville, and Huey’s Burger’s in Memphis!  Don’t worry, I wasn’t driving when the burger selfie was taken (If you must know, I was sitting in the parking lot at Starbucks…)

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I finally made it Bentonville late on Sunday evening, and enjoyed a happy reunion with Bailey as we relished the excitement of our first night together in our little cottage.  We’d been dreaming about this day for what felt like forever, and suddenly here we were – a new season had begun!

imageAfter sleeping on the floor for the better part of 11 months on the Race, having some extra blankets to tuck around my inflatable sleeping pad feels like a luxury!  It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll do until I’m able to get a real bedframe!image

And here is my new home!  We’re calling it The Cottage, and it is just the cutest little place.  Luckily I snapped this picture early on my first morning, because it has rained here in Bentonville every single day since!  This next week promises to be sunny and beautiful, so I’m looking forward to exploring the nearby trails and parks this week!
imageMy first day or so was spent poring over brochures and relocation guides for the Northwest Arkansas region and creating my Bentonville Bucket List, which currently features items like, “Visit the Walmart museum and get ice cream from the famous soda fountain!” and “Go scuba-diving, spelunking, or stand-up paddleboarding at Beaver Lake”  Here’s to a season of exploring and lots of new adventures!
That’s all for now, but stay tuned for an upcoming post where I’ll invite you to celebrate the Lord’s faithfulness in already providing a job for me here in Bentonville!  I can’t wait to tell you all about it.  As always,

with love and wanderlust,
Cassady