Let's Be Real.

While I was in New York last week, I had the chance to meet up with a friend from college late one night after I saw a Broadway show.  I wasn't sure what to expect from our time together, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of that trip, all because our conversation was some of the most real stuff I've been a part of in a long time.  This was a girl that I hadn't seen or really connected with (apart from mutual likes on Instagram) in over five years, and yet we so easily and freely shared some of the deep, hard stuff in our few hours together.  And all I can say is that it all just felt so good and so right.

If there is one thing that I've learned over the last few years, particularly while I've been living in Nashville, it's that true authenticity is absolutely key to the best kind of relationships, and some of my closest friends out here are the ones that I am able to be 100% real with.  They know my good parts and they know my crap, they embrace my quirks and my weirdness, and they know too many of the thoughts that I should probably keep to myself... and they love me anyway.  Why?  Because authenticity breeds authenticity; when one person chooses to be real and show both the good and ugly sides of themselves, the door is then opened for others to do the same.  This means less hiding, less feelings of isolation, and a hell of a lot less faking, which is something that needs to be celebrated.

What I keep going back to from my time with that NYC friend is the necessity for vulnerability, honesty, and trust in any close relationship, especially in the face of a world clamoring for the perfect social media post (complete with the ever-ironic #liveauthentic hashtag).  This means being true to your story, your feelings, and your heart, and not being afraid of the potential of rejection in sharing those things with the people around you.  Life is beautiful and hard, and as fellow human beings -- and especially as followers of Jesus -- we need to be willing to dive into the nitty gritty of life with one another, because it's in that place that we will all flourish.  When we make the decision to be honest and vulnerable, we have no idea how our willingness to be real may impact or influence those around us.  Authenticity is a domino effect, and I hope that you choose to believe that being true to yourself and your story really does matter.

So let's be real.


Some Wilderness.

Time for me to get real honest, guys: for the last few months, I have been walking through a very bleak wilderness season.  And the ugly truth?  I don't know that I've cared enough to do much about it.   While it may be true that I have been busy and disconnected, there really isn't a good enough excuse that justifies my lack of spending time with Jesus.

And let me tell you a little bit about the wilderness, because it can be deceiving.  Yes, it can look like a desolate wasteland where you can't seem to find water or sustenance or... well, anything.  There is no hearing or seeing or feeling God in this wilderness.  But I've learned that it can also look like life moving along pretty smoothly and seeking the things that don't really matter.  This is where I have been: stuck in the routine of the every day, hustling through the mundane to the point that I have been spiritually desolate.  He has been present... I've just been too busy looking in every other direction.

In the same spirit of honesty, I have also been wrestling with some tough questions and doubts in this wilderness.  I've been walking with Jesus for a decade now, and when I made that decision in high school I had no questions and no doubts.  He was so real to me then, meeting me right where I was and giving me more than I could have imagined.  But ten years does a lot to a person, especially as a young adult.  You stretch and you grow; your heart is exposed to all kinds of people and passions and heartbreaks; your mind is stretched by thoughts and opinions and worldviews of those both similar and different than yourself.  Ultimately, you come to know yourself in new ways and establish your core beliefs and opinions.  And until now, I have not needed to question much regarding my personal faith.  I have seen God do so many amazing things, namely completely changing my life's trajectory... because I should seriously be living a very different life.  While He has taken me on some of the greatest adventures (seriously, so great, and I know He's just getting started!), I have found myself questioning much over the last few months.  Maybe some of it has been a reaction to the current state of the world - because I am sure we can all agree it's a little nuts, right? - or the fact that I am approaching 30 as a single (and kick ass) gal.  Maybe it's that I've been settled in the Bible belt for a while after growing up in a non-religious area or maybe it's that complacency has been easy to settle into lately.  I don't think there is one thing to pinpoint; in fact, I think it's probably a combination of all of it.  

I love Jesus, that is without question.  I love Him and trust Him and know Him as kind and loving and powerful in my life.   I do not question His existence or presence.  But there are some things that I read in the Bible, that I see in the Church, and that I hear amongst His people that cause me to question some stuff.  And this is a very new feeling to me: questioning God about such things.  It's uncomfortable and challenging and, honestly, can feel isolating.  But after opening up to a friend (read: crying unexpectedly as I spilled my guts on her couch), I was reminded that questioning is not a bad thing in itself, because it forces one to actually ask those tough - and very legitimate - questions, to search for answers, and - ultimately - to seek more of God's presence in the midst of it all.

This is some wilderness.  It isn't pretty and it's sure as hell not easy, and I don't know what getting out of it looks like.  But I do know that, however uncomfortable I may be, this is a necessary season.   In this place I am being stretched, I am undoubtedly growing, and I believe that I will walk away more confident and convinced in what I believe.  I do not have all the answers and I never will, but I refuse to sit back and let life happen without asking the questions that find themselves on my heart.

Sticking to my personal motto of keeping it real, I hope this post might resonate with some of you.  Are you or have you been in a similar season, questioning or doubting parts of your personal beliefs/faith?  If so, know I feel you and am 100% here for you.  God can handle our questions, and He can handle our doubts.  They do not surprise or anger or frustrate Him.  Keep pressing into those hard things... I'm rooting for you.



Travel: Harry Potter World.

Back in December, I got to celebrate paying off all of my debt by going to the one place I'd dreamed of going for over six years: Harry Potter World.  AND YOU GUYS it completely lived up to all of my expectations, and then some.  I was pretty much a twelve year old the whole time I was there, and truly had the time of my life entering into the magical world dreamed up by my girl J.K.  Prior to the trip, I had heard that there were a lot of hidden gems throughout the two parks - Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley - so before making my way to Orlando, I made sure to do my research and compile a list of HP World Secrets.  Make sure to keep reading for some of those trickled throughout this post as I share some of my experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!


Like mentioned above, Harry Potter World spans Universal Orlando's two parks: Universal and Islands of Adventure.  So if you want the whole HPW experience, you really need to get park hopper passes... trust me, it's worth it.  Once you get there, I recommend starting at Islands of Adventure since that is where Diagon Alley is located.  As you prepare to have your little muggle heart burst, imagine you're a first year getting ready to head into the magical world for the first time, just like Harry when he found out he was really a wizard (year one, Sorcerer's Stone).  Make your way to the back of the park, and all of a sudden you'll notice you're in London, staring right at King's Cross Station.  Secret #1: head into the red telephone booth, dial "MAGIC" (62442), and get connected directly to the Ministry of Magic.  Then head over to the Knight Bus, and be sure to strike up a conversation with Stan Shunpike and the shrunken head.  Secret #2: the shrunken head will talk to you directly, even using your name and cracking jokes at your expense. 


What I loved about heading into Diagon Alley was that it was an extremely discreet entrance; look for the opening in the brick wall and walk on through, but be prepared for your jaw to drop as you take it all in.  For real, no detail was spared or overlooked.  Your first stop should absolutely be Ollivander's Wand Shop.  While I was there, I was actually the one chosen out of the group to have "the wand choose the wizard!"  I won't lie, I almost lost my ish as Ollivander had me handle a few wands before we got the right one, which meant trying a few spells that failed miserably (like trying to water a flower but killing it instead, or sorting books and inadvertently making the bookshelf fall).  But when the right one chose me - and I am not kidding - light shone down on me, wind blew in my hair, and the most glorious sound echoed throughout the room.  It was pure magic!  And you best believe I bought that wand and used it all throughout the parks to cast spells!   Secret #3: If you choose to buy a wand, spend the extra money on the interactive wand, which comes with a map of the parks that show the spots where you can cast spells.  It's so worth it (even when you're 27 years old).  Secret #4: there are two places that are not on the map where you can cast spells; the first is at the storefront of Slug and Jiggers Apothecary on Diagon Alley, and the second is in the right-hand window of Scribbulus Writing Implements on Horizont Alley.  Also, be sure to just hang around on the street for a bit, because every 15 minutes the dragon on top of Gringott's bank roars and breathes fire!

More fun things in Diagon Alley include heading into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes for some of Fred + George's fun inventions, making your way through Carkitt Market into Gringott's Money Exchange (Secret #5: you can exchange your muggle money for galleons that can be used in the park to purchase wizarding goods), hopping in line for the Escape from Gringott's ride, wandering through Madam Malkin's Robes for all Occasions (Secret #6: go up to the mirror and see what she has to say about your outfit, and be warned: she can be real sassy), and drinking all the butterbeer you can get your hands on.  That means drinking it cold, hot, and frozen (my favorite!), and then be sure to get some butterbeer ice cream from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.  Don't forget to get some grub at The Leaky Cauldron, where I'd highly recommend you order the Cottage Pie.  So much yum!  Now, if you're feeling like a walk on the dark side, make your way into Knockturn Alley.  There, you can head into Borgin and Bourke's for all of your dark wizardry needs.  Secret #7: in Bourgin and Bourke's, find the vanishing cabinet, get as close as you can, put your hand on the handle and listen for the chirping of the bird that Draco put in it in year 6 (Half Blood Prince).  Secret #8: while you're still in Diagon Alley, find the giant snake outside of the Magical Menagerie and listen carefully as he speaks to you in parseltongue.

Alright friends, by now I think it's time to head on over to Hogwarts, how does that sound?  Exit Diagon Alley the same way you entered, but before you head to King's Cross Station, be sure to check out 12 Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix (year five).  Secret #9: if you look closely, you might find Kreacher the house elf peering out of the window directly above the door of 12 Grimmauld Place.  Once you're back to King's Cross, be sure to (Secret #10) ask the muggle train conductors at the entrance where Platform 9 3/4 is located, and prepare for them to look at you like your crazy.  As you make your way through the train station, make sure you get ready for the best photo/video opportunity as you "walk through the wall" onto Platform 9 3/4.  Board the train, and keep your eyes and ears open to hear from some of your favorite Hogwarts troublemakers: Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  Also, let it be noted that whoever they got to voice Hermione on the train is a travesty... I'm pretty sure I could have done a better impression of my girl Granger.  Secret #11: be sure to ride the Hogwarts Express both ways, as it is a difference experience each way!

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Welcome to Hogsmeade Village!  First things first, head into the Hog's Head for some butterbeer, because you really can't have enough.  Then make your way into Honeyduke's for some Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizbees, Pumpkin Pasties, and of course a package of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.  Secret #12: make sure to use the toilets in Hogsmeade Village, because whether you're a witch or a wizard you will be able to hear a familiar voice while inside, as Moaning Myrtle likes to hang around and make sure everyone knows just how miserable she is.  Head on over to the Dragon Challenge, not just for the ride, but for the experience of walking through the most magical line (okay, second most magical).  Check out the Weasley's Ford Anglia, all beat up from its meeting with the whomping willow in year 2 (Chamber of Secrets), make your way into the Triwizard Tournament tent from year four (Goblet of Fire), then wind your way through the magical corridors and be sure to check out the floating candles on the ceiling.  So much magic, guys.  And remember that you can choose the red dragon or the blue dragon to ride!  I'd recommend riding both, though the blue one had more twists and turns and ended up being my favorite.  I'm pretty sure my friend and I rode this one like twenty times, it was SO fun!

FRIENDS, it is time (finally!) to head to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!  And, if you're as big of a fan as I am, prepare yourself for ALL the tears.  Yes, I legit cried when I saw Hogwarts for the first time.  It's massive, it's beautiful, and it's really just so freaking amazing to take in.  IT IS PURE MAGIC!  After you're done marveling at the castle itself, head inside to join Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the Forbidden Journey.  This line is the longest (by far), but it's worth the wait, because the line winds through the castle itself!  You will get to walk through Professor Sprout's green house, the hallways of magical portraits - including those of the famed Hogwarts founders, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin, Dumbledore's magical-artifact-filled office, the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom (my favorite!), and other various classrooms (Secret #13: listen closely outside of the potions classroom and you will hear teachers and students chatting away).  You'll even get to see the Sorting Hat in his natural habitat, after which you will be totally for the ride!  You'll exit through Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, where you can't forget to look up into the rafters to see some of the things Filch has managed to confiscate throughout the years.  After that, head back into Hogsmeade for more butterbeer (duh!), or maybe switch it up for some pumpkin juice if you're feeling fancy.

Man, Harry Potter World really was the best.  I had such an amazing time in the few days I was there, and it was completely worth waiting over six years to finally visit.  I think that I would do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance, but for now I am content knowing that these tips might help some of y'all enjoy the wizarding world a little bit more the next time you find yourself walking from London into Diagon Alley.  



Simple Living.

Over the course of the last few months, I have been walking through some small but effective methods of simplifying my life.  Funny enough, when I was a child I was a bit of a pack-rat, and I held onto almost everything.  But as I've gotten older, I have realized how much I actually hate the way that we live to consume, and the ways that things work their way into our lives and latch on to us.  So I made the decision to pretty much overhaul my life and ditch the things that are unused, serve little to no purpose, or just don't really even matter.  It started with getting rid of a lot of things that I realized I didn't need, then clothing that was sitting in my closet unworn, and then I moved into digitizing a good chunk of my life.  Some close friends have thought this was pretty cool, and some couldn't quite believe I was able to rid myself of so much, so I thought it might be fun to share with y'all what I decided to let go of, how I got rid of those things, and why I've chosen to live with less.

Less Stuff

The thought of less stuff was actually not hard for me, because I've moved enough in the past to know that it's so much easier and faster when you have less crap.  But still, I have been living in the same house now for over two years, so it's been pretty easy for stuff to accumulate over time.  Thus, I made it a point to start small, first taking a hard look at things like decoration items.  I had plenty of random - albeit very pretty - decor items around the house that I realized I didn't really need, things like frames, jars, painted plates, etc.  So I went through it all one by one and made very deliberate decisions as to what was necessary right now.  I then moved onto my beloved books.  Y'all, this was tough, but I realized that, in spite of how much I love to read, there are some books that I am probably not going to need to pick up in the future.  So I purged, keeping only those that I truly believed I would want to read again (or held some serious sentimental value).  Also, I have started renting e-books from the library in an attempt to keep my physical bookshelf small, and it's been a bit of a gamechanger because I still get to read the books I want to without the physical burden of massive book piles.  Winning.  The last things to look at were the big items, like furniture.  I had a friend who was looking for a new dresser, and when describing what she wanted I realized it sounded just like the one that was sitting in my room.  Now, I did technically use the dresser, but I knew that I also didn't really need it (I only had intimates, work out gear, and jammies in it, which would have been better placed in my closet anyway).  BOOM, sold.  So easy, guys.

Less Clothing

I'm going to be honest here: I go through my closet on the regular, only because it's fairly small as it is and I've always been good at keeping it that way, namely because I have found that more clothing equals more time spent each morning trying to figure out what to wear (and yes, I know that I could always lay clothes out the night before, but that rarely works for me as I tend to dress based on how I feel, which easily changes overnight).  But this time around, I made it a point to pull every single item of my wardrobe - including shoes, bags, and accessories - in order to assess the ones that I really wanted/needed to keep.  For the things I was iffy about, I folded them and put them in the corner of my closet to see if I would reach for them over the next few weeks.  And guess what?  I only reached for maybe one item over the course of four weeks, which was an easy indication that I didn't really need to keep the things in that pile.  I'm currently at about 15 tops, 10 dresses, 4 sweaters, 4 pair of jeans, 2 skirts, and 5 outwear pieces, all of which includes specialty items like winter coats and a fancy holiday dress or two.  It's not a capsule by any means, but I've never wanted one of those anyway.  I just like being able to look into my closet and actually see every piece of clothing I have, knowing that I truly love each and every one.

Less Paper

This area of simplifying has been interesting, mostly because it's been a fairly gradual process.  It started in college, when I knew I didn't want to have a ton of paper lying around while I was studying.  I took most of my class notes on my laptop, and transferred any paper notes through photos, scans, or manual transcription to my computer.  Now as a post-grad adult, I have continued to try to keep things as paperless as possible.  When I take webinars or go to a conference that require handwritten note-taking, I often scan those documents into PDF's and save them either right to my computer or, and most likely, put them into Evernote (a cloud-based note application that I've used since 2011 and still love).  I do the same thing with book notes, which was why getting rid of some of my books was a little bit easier.  Having a fairly terrible short-term memory, I have found that when I finish a book I really loved (usually non-fiction), I will go back through the book and type any highlights or notes I made in the margins into an Evernote document, which helps to ensure that I can always go back and get the information that seemed most pertinent to me when I read it.  This practice has proved so valuable over the last few years.  Other things I've chosen to make digital include: sermon notes, budget sheets, and pre-tax documents (like receipts).  It should be noted that the one thing I will never go digital with is my journal.  As an INFJ, I know that I process best through writing, and there is just something different - and much more therapeutic - about physically writing something down vs. typing it.



Okay, but how?  One word: easily.  I'm not one to get too attached to things, so it really was just easy for me to say goodbye to those things that I didn't need anymore (or at all to begin with).  My method was as follows: gather ALL of the things, lay them on the floor, and then sort then into either a "sell," "donate," or "toss" pile, trying to make sure the latter was tiny (if not nonexistent).  From there, I attempted to sell the first category of stuff over the course of a few weeks, using avenues like Buy Sell Trade groups, my work's internal forums, and Facebook.  Anything that didn't sell I rolled over into my donate pile, and got those things ready to go to Goodwill.  Note: if you choose to donate and care about tax deductions, be sure to make a list of all of the things you donate and log them into My Goodwill Donation (where you can access all donation history come tax season).  And when it came to the "toss" items, I did my best to recycle what could be recycled before putting anything in the trash.


The "why" behind this process was also pretty easy for me: less stuff means less stress, and less stress is a real good thing.  I've been attracted to the thought of a more minimal lifestyle for a long time, so when I finally made the decision to just go for it, I was really excited.  And through the process I ended up realizing just how little I really cared about (or even liked) some of the things that were just taking up space in my life.  Another "why" for me was that, with the season I believe God is preparing me for, less stuff is going to be a requirement (rather than a mere option).  So it was almost like an act of obedience for me, and I have regretted nothing thus far.  I don't even remotely miss the things I've gotten rid of, and find myself much more content with less.

I hope that this post can inspire you, even if just in the tiniest way, to consider a more simple lifestyle, especially if you're feeling at all overwhelmed by all of the stuff.  It is possible to live with less, and I would dare to say it's much more fulfilling, too.  If you're a reader (like me!) and want some serious inspiration and motivation, I'd recommend the following books:

Happy simplifying, friends!