Lessons from Two Months in the Peach/Peanut State

Sometimes I still can’t believe I live in the peach state (which should, technically, be called the peanut state, but that’s another whole post).

Anyway, I have lived here for almost two and a half months now, and I am settling into my new normal: Work, church, small group, sleep, eat, work… Serving in kids’ Sunday school every other week… Leftovers, date night, laundry… It’s a little repetitive and a whole lot of busyness, but I learning how to settle in well.

I dreamed about being here for several months. However, now that I’m here, I feel a bit disappointed that, somehow,  it isn’t exactly like I dreamed. I’m adjusting to a new living arrangement (with sweet but new roommates), a new work environment (enjoyable but challenging), and a fairly long commute in metro traffic. At the same time, I’m adjusting to a new extended “family,” new friends, a shifting relationship with members of my family, a longer distance to my family, and a much shorter distance to my boyfriend.

We went from living three and half hours from each other to working literally around the corner from the each other. As in, down the hall and around the corner. Imagine that. We see each other single day, at least three times a day, but usually around 87, since he pops in my classroom around five times each planning period, much to my combined delight and annoyance. 🙂

Here’s the kicker: I moved expecting everything to just work out. I moved expecting a seamless, simple transition where life would be ten thousand times better. I moved expecting, in a sense, all my problems to go away.

Here, I still have problems. Different problems for the most part, although I’m sure a few of the same problems crossed over the state line with me. The problems are a little more grown-up, but nonetheless real and emotional and concerning. I may even have fewer “problems,” per say, but there are still things I’m working through and dealing with and adapting to.

I realized today that I moved without giving grace to myself. Or, for that matter, the people who were with me during the process. In those few moments surrounding the move, I packed up a lot of emotions and concerns that I have harbored against others. I withheld grace from myself and from those closest to me because my heart was (and is still) processing those emotions. Instead of trusting God with my loneliness and brokenness and doubt, I wrestled in my heart, and I had nothing left to give myself or those around me.

At my core, I am fragile. And though I like to proclaim my stoic strength as a woman of stability, I am one of those crispy little leaves, withering in the autumn wind, letting go of the tree I called home.

The first chapter of the Gospel of John says that Jesus took on flesh and blood and “made his home among us” (Jn. 1:14, NLT). He came here to the filthy, messed-up earth and pitched his tent and lived with humans. Why? Because we need him.

We are fragile, broken, dirty, messed-up. Yet he comes into our lives. He intersects our paths where we are mostly desperately in need. He comes alongside us and ministers to us in our places of darkness and loneliness.

Picking up and moving for the seventh or eighth time in six years is challenging. No wonder the little girl inside me is lonely. But Jesus came. He came to the Jewish people, in need of a Messiah. And he comes to me, in need of a Messiah, a Savior, a King, a Father.

I realized my fragility because I saw my need. Yesterday, my boyfriend of one year and three months wrapped his arms around me and told me he had me. He told me he would hold me. He told me he was there. That’s the same thing that God does. And you know what? It makes me angry. Forgiveness makes me angry. My boyfriend is rarely mad at me because he has a heart of forgiveness, and it makes me so confused that I end up getting angry. I am used to anger. I am used to frustration. I understand it because I have received it and dished it out. But God doesn’t harbor anger against me. He doesn’t withhold grace because he is frustrated. 

His mercies are new every morning.

When I think I’m solid and stable, like I thought I was during the moving process and as I settled in, I expect everything to be peachy. I expect to do all the things I had planned and be prepared for all the things I had expected to be prepared for. I thought that by now, I would have homemade-from-scratch baked goods for every social event and birthday cards two days early for every birthday and a perfectly organized social calendar and good relationships with everyone possible.

But I’m not solid and stable. My God is, and I rest on his unchanging grace, but I’m not. By two months in, I’m supposed to have a place to live, a job, and a couple ways to get to work. I’m supposed to have met a couple people at church and had dinner with a couple friends. I’m supposed to have a shelf in the fridge and a section in the cabinet and a favorite grocery store. But I’m not supposed to have everything figured out.

I must give myself the grace to still be learning.

I think I approached this stage of my life adventure the same way I approached my summer as a camp counselor or my semester student teaching in Thailand. Both of those were high-energy, short-lived experiences. They required investing a lot upfront for a fast payoff. I also got by with learning less and speeding more.

However, this part of life is going to be one of slower growth and deeper progress. I am not going to survive this entire school year, or the next one, or the next five without pacing myself. Will Reagan sings about climbing the mountain in front of him with his hands wide open, leaning not on his own understanding. This is that kind of mountain. I am investing here. I am investing into relationships. I am investing into this school. I am investing into this curriculum.

I am preparing for a future with not one, but two. And later on down the road, three and four and more. I have to pace myself so that I have more to give then.

One of the best ways to pace yourself is to take Kaley Thompson‘s advice and “fill it to the brim.” Sleep well, eat well, pray well, and study the Word well. Get counseling, take a day of R&R, invest into relationships that pour into you, and depend on God. Running through life without so much as a coffee break will not fill your bucket to the brim.

So, what I have I learned from two months in the peach state? What have I learned from one year and three months of dating?

  • Give grace to yourself and others.
  • Be open to receiving grace. It is God’s love that gives this grace.
  • Pace yourself to avoid spiritual and emotional burnout.
  • And finally, I have so much more to learn.

Isn’t that always true, though? I have been learning grace since 2013, and I still have no idea what it actually means. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe in my weakness and fragility, I can be used by the God of the universe. Maybe God’s light can shine through my brokenness into the lives of others. What a humbling thought.

You Can’t Keep God in a Box

Back in 1995, when I was just a little thing, I was privileged to see the Atlanta Braves win the World Series with my dad and grandma, both of whom are huge fans. From then on, despite the fact that I find the sport itself not exactly super exciting, I have attended numerous baseball and softball games. From watching my brother struggle through two treacherously scorching summers of T-ball and eating way too many salty sunflower seeds at church softball games when I was in college, to attending minor league games on warm summer nights and seeing my dad’s favorite college team at their stomping grounds, I have watched my fair share of baseball games. It’s funny what a baseball game experience recently taught me.

Can'tKeepGodinaBox

Last night, I got to see my cousin play a game of coach’s pitch baseball at the community park in the town where my parents live. A bunch of little boys running around in tiny baseball uniforms is precious, no matter who’s winning.

One little boy in a green shirt with tiny blonde curls caught my eye. Too young to play on the team, he sat outside the fenced-in diamond… Maybe “sat” is not the right word. He was constantly up and down, running this way and that way, playing with cups of water and sticks and weeds that hadn’t been cut recently. He couldn’t be still. His dad was after him every few minutes, carrying or calling the child back to the lawn chairs they had arranged beside the bleachers. After a few attempts to keep the little boy in the chair, his father raised his voice at him, demanding that he stay put.

I had been observing the boy, and I thought he was acting in a way akin to little boys. In fact, my cousin who was playing has an older sister and a younger brother, both of whom were roaming the area between the diamond and the concession stand, and given free reign to do so. Everyone was safe, as numerous concerned parents had an eye on the little ones. I couldn’t understand why this father wouldn’t let his little boy go play.

I realize that there may have been a special circumstance, and I acknowledge that each parent has the right to parent as he or she sees fit within reason, but this event stuck with me as I drove back that night.

Little boys don’t sit still, and that’s a good thing. The boy I watched couldn’t be kept in the lawn chair and he was into everything. Likewise, God doesn’t sit still either. He is constantly moving. Often, we tend to put God in a little box and relegate him to meeting our needs when and where we want them met, like a genie in a bottle. But that’s not who God is.

When I was preparing to go to Hong Kong in Summer 2012, the organization I went with gave us a preparatory devotional book. One of the book’s key points is that God has already been working in Hong Kong. Our arrival does not “bring God” to the people of Hong Kong. Our arrival just coincides with the work God is already doing there. It was a new experience for me to arrive in the western-eastern hybrid world of Hong Kong, but God was already a “regular” there. He had been there since the beginning of time, using His circumstances and His children to till soil, plant seeds, water seedlings, and shine sunshine in the hearts of the people there, in order to make his name known. I was just a minuscule blip on God’s infinite timeline of eternity. I was an important part of the team going to Hong Kong, and I believe that God used me and shaped me, but I didn’t “save” anyone. I didn’t single-handedly change the region of HK for Jesus’s sake. I was just a servant doing the will of her master for basically no earthly reward.

And yet for some reason, I feel that I have to keep God in my little box, as if I’m walking around with a little “God-in-a-box” that provides for my every desire.

That’s not how it works.

Going to Hong Kong made me aware that God is so much bigger than I had thought. Not only is He omnipresent (existing everywhere at the same time), but he is also omnipotent (all powerful in every situation). He is “in” time and space, but He is also outside of time and space. And he is in every time and space. At the same time.

No, you can’t wrap your mind around it. And that is good. God is not understandable by the human mind, and that makes him worthy of worship by the human heart.

Instead of praying for the “God-in-a-box” to bless the plans we have created in our finite minds, why don’t we ask the infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God to place us where he wants us to go and show us what he wants us to do? See, he’s already laid the foundation for our paths, and his plans will come to fruition (Proverbs 19:21). And God is good. He will always provide. He works all things together for our good and for His glory.

How does this play out practically? How do we avoid asking “God-in-a-box” to bless our human plans? 

First, go where God is and invest there. Join the people there. I find this especially useful advice for college students and young adults because I am one of them. We want to start new adventures and plan exciting things and change the world. While that’s exciting and great and some of those ventures have made great differences for the better, we can do great things just by joining the work God is already doing. This is why I’m not a huge supporter of church plants, unless there is already a stirring for God in a certain needy area or demographic. Don’t plant a church just for the sake of planting a church. Don’t create a new ministry just for the sake of creating a new ministry. Go where God is already working and love there. Minister there. Invest there. Love right next door and see what happens. Support a local ministry with your time, talents, and money. This is an excellent way to keep us grounded in the fact that we are not saviors of the world, but Jesus is.

Second, pray big. A common of prayer of mine includes petitions for “grace, guidance, and protection.” Those things are nice, and God promises us all three, but that’s kindof a boring prayer. I think it’s fine to pray with repetition, because it’s a great reminder. However, I would ask that we pray bigger. If we really do have a relationship with the One True King, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Redeemer and Restorer of our souls, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, why do we pray so small? If prayer is communicating with the One who made our inmost beings, why do we pray so small?

I have heard people say that we should pray generically, following a “May your will be done” philosophy. I have heard others say that we should pray specifically, asking for big things with faith in a God who can move mountains. I think both are correct. Sometimes we pray with broken hearts: “God, we don’t know what to do in this situation.” Other times we pray with hopeful hearts: “God, we ask for this job, this healing, this provision.” In both situations, however, we are naming things. We bring our specific worries and needs and cares before God, trusting that he will make paths for us and work through situations in ways that only he can, for our good and His glory.

Personally, I don’t think prayer changes God’s mind much. I think it changes our hearts. I think it makes us more aware of what God is doing. I think it opens our eyes to see God’s work in, around, and through us. When we pray big, we acknowledge that we want to see God at work. We acknowledge that he may work out things differently than how we expected him to do so. We acknowledge that he is big. He is not “God-in-a-box.” He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and worthy of worship.

Third, always be thankful. When God answers our prayers by way of Scripture, people around us, circumstances, or provisions, our response should be gratitude. Thankfulness proves that we are small. To extend thanks to someone else makes us humble and accepting. It reminds us that we cannot provide for all of our needs on our own.

I recently read a few articles detailing things happy and healthy people do first thing in the morning. Many of the article listed gratitude as a good morning habit. Thinking of one thing you are grateful for keeps you going on stressful or difficult days. Is it any wonder that God calls us to be “Thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18)?

You can’t keep God in a box anymore than you can keep ten kittens out of trouble or an ice cream cone from melting on a hot day or a little boy from wandering around outside. Don’t ask God to bless your finite plans. Ask him where he wants you to go, and then go. Go with love, go with prayer, and go with thankfulness.

Take a Hike!

Hi, you’ve reached a post from the archives of Grace Upon Grace Today! Last Updated: June 21, 2017. I am now happily married to the “boyfriend” in this post! Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to look around.

In one session of my recently-completed Christian counseling, my counselor M and I discussed appropriate coping mechanisms. She asked me to share what was working for me (as well as what was not working). At that point, winter was fading fast and we were seeing highs in the 70s and 80s. I mentioned that I had been going on walks: around the neighborhood, around the lake, and that I was loving it. M brightened at this. She told me that both the back and forth movement of alternating left foot, right foot, left foot, and moving the body forward help not only to improve creativity and creative thought, but also to relieve anxiety.

Is it any wonder then that I love taking walks and going on hikes with my boyfriend?

Take a Hike with someone you love! | Date Idea from Grace Upon Grace Today

We’ve been dating for almost one year, and we’ve been hiking basically since the beginning. In fact, for our very first date, J took me to the state botanical gardens, which is full of beautiful flowers, plants, and a couple easy hiking trails.

We’ve spent other dates walking the paths of local parks, ambling beside rivers, visiting waterfalls, and climbing mountains of various sizes. I love it. Not only does this give us a chance to try new things together, but it gives us a chance to talk. That’s something a date to the movies just can’t do.

Most of our relationship has been long distance, and unfortunately, there is a lot of stress, fear, and uncertainty that comes with long distance relationships. It’s hard not being able to go for an impromptu ice cream date on a bad day. It’s difficult to make it through challenging situations when Skype dates are as close as you can get. For that reason, I would urge new couples to consider the pros and cons of long distance before signing up for it. On the other hand, being long distance has taught us a lot about communication and has made our time together that much more special.

If you have been in a relationship or a marriage for very long, you’ve realized that sometimes it takes creativity to solve problems and reach compromises. When possible, J and I try to save important conversations for our in-person dates, because we’ve found that when we can walk together, we can come up with more creative ways to work through situations. Just as Steve Jobs brainstormed ideas for Apple while walking, we can brainstorm ideas for our relationship.

A final word about hiking dates: They are usually free! Bring a water bottle, maybe a picnic lunch, and you’re all set. We have been to local city parks, state parks, natural waterfalls, a botanical garden, and even an abandoned railroad tunnel, and very few of them charge for admission.

So go take a hike with someone you love!


This post has been submitted to the Summer Date Ideas blog round-up by Susannah Kellogg at Simple Moments Stick.