July 6, 2018

the day mercy found me in the parking lot

Written January 2018

Last week I ran into someone's car. I had just left work after staying nearly an hour past my scheduled time, so I was looking forward to heading home and eating dinner with my husband. I turned on my GPS and made sure my lights were on. It was raining, and a customer had just warned me to be careful on the way home. I backed out of the parking stall, and as I was turning to drive away, the front of my car smashed into the back of a pickup truck.

It took me several seconds to realize what had happened - the truck's owner jumped out his vehicle and ran over towards me, yelling that I'd hit his car. I pulled into a parking spot and climbed out of my car. I'd shattered his back light. I had never been in an accident before, and I knew we were supposed to exchange information, but I didn't know much else besides that. I was really upset and felt really badly about the whole thing. Thankfully, one of my coworkers was coming back from break and came over. I hugged him and started crying.

"It's okay," the truck's owner said. "No one got hurt - that's what's important. You probably did more damage to your car than you did to mine!" My coworker hugged me tighter. "Is this your dad?" the man asked. 
"No," my coworker and I both said at the same time. "He's my coworker," I explained.

We stood out in the rain for a while and made some phone calls. Eventually, the man said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm not going to report it or make you pay for it. It's raining tonight, and it might've been hard for you to see." 

I started crying again and tried to insist on paying for it, but he pulled something about of his wallet and showed me his badge. He was a policeman. As we stood around the truck, he said, "Little one, as far as I'm concerned, I don't see any damage." We both looked at the spot where a light should've been and where there was just a hole instead. "Now go inside and out of the cold," he said.

My coworker walked me back to my car and made sure I was all right before going inside. I was still very shaken up from everything that had happened, so I called my husband and asked if he could come to work and drive me home. But I was also overwhelmed with gratefulness. I also realized that what had taken place was an incredible picture of God's mercy: He looks at us and knows that we have sinned. And yet because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, instead of seeing our sin - instead of seeing the damage - He says, "Little one, as far as I'm concerned, I don't see your sin." God doesn't disregard the law, because He made it... but he fulfilled it through Jesus. Instead of making us pay for our damage, He paid for it Himself. The policeman is still going to have to pay to fix the light on his truck, but instead of allowing me to pay for it as I deserved, he decided to pay for it instead. 

This is only the second week of 2018, and it has already gotten off to an interesting start. Even so, J and I are incredibly blessed in that God has provided safe housing for us as well as a job for me. There are plenty of unknowns in the future, but we also serve a sovereign God who shows Himself in our lives in remarkable ways and unexpected places...even in parking lots on rainy nights.

June 24, 2018

letter to my love

I found this post, which I wrote a few years ago and never published. I thought it would be fitting to post now, since I've been writing about living simply.
 
* * *
 
First of all, I know you don't really like writing stuff in public. So I apologize for this. It just came to my mind and flowed out of my fingers and here it is. I hope you don't mind.

Less than a week into our relationship, we made a promise to each other: no secrets. We were to have complete honesty with each other. I don't always keep my promise, but I'm working on it. I've gotten better. Now I tell you almost everything, unless it's girl stuff. And sometimes I tell you that, too. So here we go, my confession: 
sometimes I wish we could have nice things.
Our relationship is everything I've wanted and more than I could've imagined. You are honest, hard-working, gentlemanly, thoughtful, and caring. You are willing to one day be my provider and leader. You don't walk away from me when I'm crying, and you don't leave me when I'm upset. You're in this for the long haul. You help me work through my many insecurities and fears instead of discounting them as silly or irrelevant. You reassure and affirm me even if it takes an entire evening. You show love to others too - your friends know you as reliable and loyal. You're open and truthful. Most importantly, you love God and desire to serve Him.
I hope that I give as much to you as you give to me. I love you and everything about you.
I confess that sometimes I wish that we could have nice things. Sometimes I wish that we could give each other expensive gifts and see the world together. Sometimes I wish we could have a nice house for our kids. And a fancy car for you, since I know you like them so much. 
I've struggled with contentment for as long as I can remember. Often I still find myself believing the lie that having the next item or the next experience will give me the happiness I long for. But it's true that you can't buy happiness. No item in the world, no trip or event or experience will ever bring true happiness. It might bring a thrill for a few minutes, but it will soon pass to replaced once again by the familiar yearning for something greater. Sometimes I believe that about us - that if I could be a little prettier, or that if we lived a little closer to one another, or if we could buy nice things one day, that I will be completely happy.
But Christians aren't called to be "happy" in our life here on earth. We are called to follow God and live His way no matter the costs. He has given me salvation, which is all I need to be truly content. Even so He has chosen to give me many other blessings, including my greatest blessing of all, you. 
In the end I realize that I don't need nice things. We don't need to go to fancy restaurants to have a romantic date - we can have just as much fun sitting on the roof looking at stars or taking goofy selfies while grocery shopping. We don't have to buy each other diamonds and silk ties to show our love - acts of kindness and handwritten letters will do just as well. We don't need a big house someday - the genuine love that our family will hold for each other will be enough. I still want to go to Paris and New Zealand with you, but if we never get to go, that's okay too. Because I don't need to see the world when I know that someday I will be able to wake up and see my world lying beside me - because you are my world. I would not trade you for all of earth's treasures. I would not chose anyone else to be a father to my children. I would not ask anyone else to hold me when I cry tears of self-hate, frustration, or sorrow. I would not exchange the thoughtful gifts you have given me for any other things, no matter how "nice". 
Because at the end of the day, I would rather spend the rest of my life with you, in our small home with a beat-up minivan, than anywhere or with anyone else.  

May 3, 2018

The Burden of Things (The Problem)
 
I have always enjoyed my things. When I was growing up, I discovered the joys of thrift store shopping and continuously added more and more stuffed animals to my "family." My dad and I made an Excel spreadsheet of all my "kids" including their names, a description, and where I bought them, and we discovered I had almost 300 stuffed animals! I also enjoyed making crafts with recyclables - I made cardboard dollhouses with dozens of rooms and furniture made of cardboard and tape. I had toys in my bedroom and even more toys in my playroom. But even though I had hundreds of stuffed animals and more toys than I could ever play with, I still wanted more. 
 
As I grew older, I still enjoyed buying plushies...as well as purses, messenger bags, scarves, and jewelry. I found myself constantly thinking of ways to rearrange my room to fit one more container or one last piece of furniture. My mother-in-law still remembers the first time she came over to my house (at this point in time, J and I had only recently met, were still in high school, and not dating). I tried to show her something in my closet, but it was so full that items started falling out when I opened the door!

Now, J and I live in a cozy two-bedroom apartment. We turned the entryway/living room into an office area and made the master bedroom into a media room (we made the last room our bedroom). After living with my parents over the summer, we were excited to have a place of our own. We only brought the essentials with us - all of our furniture, clothes, and things fit in the back of a strategically packed pickup truck and a small car. Our parents kindly offered to hold onto the rest of our possessions until we move back. But even though we moved here with only a dozen or so boxes, somehow our things have once again multiplied. Trips to the thrift store have brought back enough books to fill up a five-foot bookshelf; we've had to buy multiple sets of hangers to accommodate my - I mean our - growing collection of clothes; my half-finished art projects are scattered everywhere. 

Living Simply (The Solution)
 
Through the years, the idea of minimalism (living with only the bare essentials - one pot, one pan, a few clothes, etc.) has always fascinated me. My parents used to call me a hoarder, only half-jokingly... We watched the TV show as a family in hopes that maybe I would be willing to give away some of my stuffed animals (I finally did - I only have about 100 now). I used to wonder what would happen if I lost all of my things in a fire - would I be sad, or would I feel relieved that I didn't have the burden of so much "stuff?" When I was in high school, I read the book Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn, and I started to rethink my lifestyle. I knew that I was materialistic, and it was something J and I have talked a lot about because I don't want to pass my habits on to our children someday. We are also aware that going into ministry, we will be thrilled if we are financially stable, but realize that we may at times have to depend on others for our needs.

While living the true minimalist style is not really feasible for us (we are both terribly sentimental), I recently fell in love with the idea of living simply. For me, this encompasses more than not having hundreds of things - it depicts of a lifestyle that instead of being extravagant or wasteful focuses on spending time investing in people and creating memories together. Instead of chasing after the American dream of getting a better job so we can buy a bigger house and a better car, we will spend our time and energy loving, teaching, and mentoring. (I don't think that the "American dream" is necessarily bad; I just know it isn't something our family is working towards).

Right now, I have a long way to go - for me, the first step to living simply is to start cleaning out things that I don't need. John and I actually love living in a smaller space, and going through the few items we have here will be a good start for eventually going through the rest of the boxes at my parent's house when we finally move back to the area. I'm planning to document the process of living simply in the next few posts - this post focused mainly on the "stuff" aspect, but hopefully future posts will elaborate more on simplicity as a lifestyle.

To close, I'll share my "Reasons to Live Simply" - a list I made to remind myself why I am doing this in the first place.
  • We'll have more space
  • There will be less clutter (which will make my hubby happy and also make me feel more relaxed and less anxious)
  • I won't waste time thinking about my stuff!
  • Puts the focus on PEOPLE, not THINGS
  • I will buy less things + save money
  • We can give away things we don't need
  • Create a lifestyle that values memories instead of materials
 What about you? Do things flow freely through your hands, or do you feel the burden of having too much stuff?

December 19, 2017

the girl i used to be

Once, I met someone who reminded me of the person I used to be. She was bubbly, kind, sweet, and fun to be around... She remembered little details about myself even though we hardly knew each other, and she was talkative and outgoing. Whenever she mentioned something rough she was going through, she was quick to add that of course God was still in control and that she was trusting in Him. I loved being around her, but I also felt a pang of guilt. She reminded me of the myself three years ago, and it was easy for me to see that the girl I was in 2014 is not the person who I am today.

A lot has happened in the past three years - good things, rough things, hard things, frustrating things, and beautiful things. I was in a long distance relationship with my now-husband and learning how to communicate with each other is something that we are still working on. Being long distance wasn't extremely hard at first, but as we grew closer and closer, it became harder and harder. We struggled with whether or not we would be able to have children. I came to terms with the fact that my mental health is not always at its best. I also finally realized that I was in a situation where I was being taken advantage of. As they say, "hindsight is the best sight" - looking back, I can clearly see how I had been manipulated and hurt. Today I'm still bitter about it. More recently, I struggled to distinguish myself as the person I am now versus the person I used to be. Not everyone was willing to see that I had changed.

The other day, I asked J, "Is it bad that I'm not that person anymore?" What I really meant was: should I feel guilty because I don't feel obligated to speak Christianese every time I open my mouth? Should I feel guilty that I am not bubbly, optimistic, and naive anymore? Should I feel guilty because sometimes I am depressed and anxious and I have come to terms with this? Should I feel guilty because I have changed?

The answer is: no. We aren't made to stay the same. That's why we grow up. That's why children become adults. That's why friendships grow stronger and relationships grow deeper. Life is ever-changing, and we are ever-changing, whether we realize it or not. The fact that I am not the girl I used to be is just a fact of life.

Sometimes I feel like I am broken now, like I can't be fixed, and if only I went back to who I used to be, everything would be okay. But that's not true, because even though I may feel broken now, one day that brokenness will be changed into something else, something beautiful. Though I may be bitter now, one day that bitterness will be changed into forgiveness. Though I may struggle with my mental health right now, one day all of that will be gone.

The girl I used to be and the woman I am now are not the same person.

And that's okay.

December 5, 2017

twelve days of love

Hello, dear friends!

Twelve Days of Letter Writing...
 
I just wanted to share an amazing opportunity with you. Last fall, I learned about an organization called, "The World Needs More Love Letters." Their mission is to "make love famous" by writing positive and encouraging notes to strangers. Each month, new letter requests are posted on their website. These requests are stories of people who are in need of love and encouragement. From December 4-15, TWNMLL is doing something special - they are featuring 12 nominees over the course of 12 days! If you would like, you can check out their website (click here) and learn more about this awesome movement, learn how to write a love letter, and read some testimonials of people who have received bundles of letters! 

I would also love to share a few reasons why TWNMLL is so near and dear to my heart.

I Love TWNMLL Because...
 
First of all, I have always loved letter writing! There is something special about taking the time to hand write (or type) a letter to someone that a text or e-mail could never replace. Plus, writing letters gives me a chance to use some of my stationery and washi tape... I think my hubby finds my collection a little excessive. :)

Secondly, I struggle with anxiety and depression. Even though I love being around other people, sometimes I'm not up for going out or inviting someone over. Other times, my social anxiety gets the best of me, and I just don't want to leave the house. Writing love letters gives me a chance to connect with people without feeling like I'm "bothering" anyone. Plus, whenever I am feeling down, I have discovered that oftentimes, showing love to someone else helps me to stop thinking about myself and more about others.

Lastly, I have seen first-hand how amazing receiving a love letter bundle can be! Earlier this year, I nominated one of my friends for a love letter bundle, and my friend was chosen! I was the facilitator for the love letter bundle, which meant I received all the letters, read through them, and was given the opportunity to present them to my friend! Watching love show up on my doorstep (or in my mailbox) is something I will never forget. Beautiful letters poured in - people sharing their stories, their vulnerabilities, and their hearts. I was able to see how just one person - one letter writer! - can encourage someone and how working together can create such a powerful movement. People truly showed up for my friend and me, and that was truly something incredible. In our fast-paced world where everyone is always so busy and it seems like there is always something depressing or sad in the news, it was truly refreshing to see how a piece of paper and a few words, something so simple, could be so powerful.

It's Your Turn!
 
I think it is often easy to grow weary in doing good. As I am preparing for a life of ministry (my husband is studying to become a pastor at the moment), I think that often we can get so caught up in doing big things that we forget that small things - paying it forward, holding the door for someone, being kind to someone you don't know, or even writing a letter to a stranger - can change the world, too. Being a part of the More Love Letters community has helped me in more ways than I can describe - it has taught me that when you do something kind for someone, even something little, it makes a difference!

In the busyness of this holiday season, I challenge you to stop for a few minutes. Put aside thoughts of the gifts you need to buy, your list of things to do, your treats you need to bake. For just a few minutes, take out a pen (or open a Word document) and write a message of love and encouragement. Your words do not have to be eloquent; your message does not have to be long. I ask only that in your letter, however long, short, messy, beautiful, artistic, plain... I ask only that you LOVE. After all, isn't love what Christmas is all about? We have been given the best gift ever - eternal life and a relationship with a loving God! This might be a chance for you to pass a little of that love on.

If you would like to join me in the 12 Days of Love Letter Writing, check out today's request below!

December 5
 
PATTY & MEREDITH

Patty and Meredith are a mother/daughter duo in need of encouragement + love as they face memories of loss during this holiday season. Their friend shared their story with us:

"I have been friends with Meredith since first grade - for fourteen years now. Meredith hasn't had the easiest life. In first grade, her sister died. Even though a tragedy like this has the power to destroy any family, Meredith and her parents - John and Patty - became closer than ever. I was always struck with the amount of joy and love that they were able to have and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with this beautiful family.

Our junior year of high school, tragedy struck again. Meredith's dad, John, was diagnosed with glioblastoma - a brain cancer. This was devastating, but their family still stayed strong and didn't let it get in the way of their love for each other. However, last year John died a week before Thanksgiving and near Patty's birthday. In his last moments, Meredith played his favorite song on the violin and he went peacefully. Although John is gone, he is always with us in Meredith. Her snarky demeanor and humor is all John, and I'm sure he is more proud of her than words can describe. John always taught Meredith to be a kind woman, and to go through life living it to the fullest. I would love to give Meredith and Patty the gift of words, and not just my own. The holidays are coming up and I know there are some dark days to come for them."

Please join us as we write Patty + Meredith and let them know that they are not alone.

PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:
 
Meredith and Patty's Bundle
c/o Isabella J.
915 W 23rd St
Austin, TX  78705
USA

October 11, 2017

why ed sheeran's new album means so much to me

I have always loved music. When I was a little kid, my mom taught me to sing hymns; there's a home video of toddler me singing "Holy, Holy, Holy." For a long time, I only listened to Christian or instrumental music. Eventually I fell in love with movie soundtracks and musicals and Josh Groban's voice. Now I listen to all of the above, with a few additions such as Ed Sheeran or Vance Joy. I am almost always singing or humming...sometimes in tune, sometimes a little sharp or flat. Though I am first and foremost an author, I always tell people that though writing is my love, musicals are my passion. The best part of being home alone is that I can turn on karaoke tracks and (attempt to) belt all of my favorite show tunes without fear of anyone's judgment. 

The only thing I regret about my love of music is something that I can't really help. Most people, when they listen to a song, are brought back to the time when they first heard it - but this is particularly poignant for me. For example, I listened to a certain musical throughout my junior year of high school. Now, whenever I hear that musical, it is hard for me to enjoy the songs as part of a story, because all I can think of while listening to the album is my junior year of high school. 

I started listening to Ed Sheeran music a few years ago, because one of my close friends is a die-hard fan, and I wanted a way to connect with her. I also play a little bit of guitar, so it was fun to be able to pick out the guitar chords and notes in his music. But at the same time, I was also struggling with depression, afraid to tell anyone or confide in anyone. The only person I could talk to was my then boyfriend (now husband) J. Since we were in a long distance relationship, communication was challenging and being able to talk to him whenever I felt anxious or scared was not an option. So during that time, I wasn't really in the best place mentally. I couldn't stand to be around people after a long day at work dealing with customers, so I would disappear to my room and not come out until the next morning. The only thing I let in my room was Ed Sheeran's music. 

Now, I'm happy to say that I'm in a better place. The ongoing story of my journey towards mental health is a long one that I won't go into detail here, but I eventually confided in my parents; they helped me find a therapist who changed my life. I still struggle with depression and anxiety, and I think it would be unrealistic to believe I've "conquered" it or "won." But I am in a better place now, with tools to help me and truths in my mind and heart. So although I'm not "cured" and probably never will be, I now find hope in looking towards the future and making the decisions that are best for my mental health.
 
Unfortunately about two years ago, I realized I couldn't listen to Ed Sheeran anymore. Though I loved his music, it conjured up images of long nights spent alone in my room, surrounded by feelings of hopelessness and self-hate and despairing thoughts. I could listen to his music on occasion, but if I was in any way already feeling "down," the music would trigger a depressive episode. I was heartbroken because I loved his music and it had been my friend when I would not let anyone else in. 
 
But, if you are a Sheeran fan like I am, you will know that earlier this year, Ed Sheeran released a new album - Divide. This album has touched my life deeply, because it serves as the soundtrack for my recovery. These new songs from an artist that I enjoy so deeply don't remind me of a time in my life that I'd rather forget. Instead, they propel me forward, encouraging me, gently reminding me of where I've come, but more importantly where I'm going.

I'm married now - for the first time in my life I have a roommate! - so J and I have to make compromises about which songs play when. I can still belt out karaoke tunes when I'm home alone, but now we live in an apartment complex; although I'm sure my neighbors wouldn't mind, I'm not so sure they wouldn't judge. But when I have control of the speakers, you can bet that I play Ed Sheeran's new album. Right now, his music doesn't remind me of anything - I can simply enjoy the songs. But I know many years from now, when I listen to his album, it won't remind me of being sad - it will remind me of getting better.

So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I blame someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I love someone else, I've got to love myself 
 
"Save Myself" - Ed Sheeran 

September 9, 2017

home

I just want to go home. 

Why am I no longer "home," you might ask?

Well, on May 20 I married my best friend on one of the loveliest days of my life. I woke up that morning and had a leisurely breakfast with two of my dear friends. Then I spent the morning and early afternoon getting ready with my two maids of honor, three bridesmaids, and awesome flower girl. We stuffed my big, poofy dress into a Honda and drove to a nearby park that we'd practiced driving to multiple times so that we wouldn't get lost. It was raining, so I put on my bright red rain boots instead of my turquoise heels. I and my sweet photographer trekked through the muddy grass until we reached my future husband, looking handsome in a grey suit and turned away from me. I came up behind him and we had the "big reveal" -- then we stood there, looking at each other, giggling like children.

The ceremony went off without any major hitches. I walked down the aisle to the opener of one of my favorite anime, arranged for cello, violin, and piano. Our pastor shared the gospel as part of our wedding, which had been our most important request. We shared an awkward kiss (not our first, but awkward enough that people asked if it was!) and left the church as Mr. and Mrs.

The reception was a grand party of Hobbiton proportions - I am quite the introvert, and surprised myself by actually enjoying the music and dancing and staying longer than we'd originally intended. Eventually we exited to a flurry of glow sticks. We honeymooned in the Wisconsin Dells in off-season, which served as a pleasant getaway and a chance for us to spend some alone time. After we returned, J started his internship and I continued working. At the end of the summer, we packed away or packed up most of our things, climbed into a pickup truck (betta fish included) and drove to a big city 500 miles away so that J can finish school. 

Moving is always a big change. Growing up in a military family, I've moved several times growing up. But this time, it's different. I left my best friends and my coworkers/second family. I left my mom and dad. For the first time, I'm alone in the house when J is at school. I don't have a job now, and I'm no longer doing school. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know it would be like this - wandering around Wal-Mart searching for a toilet plunger because you know that when you need it, you'll need it (we never did find one), feeling like I’m in a completely different culture because people are ready to run you over with their shopping carts and their cars, and trying to make dinner realizing too late that I didn't put a can opener on the wedding registry. 

For someone who hates change and experiences intense anxiety, it's been mostly a nightmare. I thought getting a job might help, but I've procrastinated doing that because I can always find an excuse why I should just wait “until tomorrow.” I've met people who I know will be very special friends in the future, but right now, I feel like time is not on my side. I thought getting a pet would help - perhaps knowing that a life depended on me and loved me would help me get out of bed in the morning. But that idea was crushed, and I'm back where I started from. 
There's a saying - "Time changes everything." Time can heal almost anything, too. But right now, I feel like time is not on my side, because a person that lives with anxiety can only see the present. Right now, I just want to go home.