The Gift of Loneliness

Monday Night Football was on the TV. The pizza box was empty. My coconut flavored La Croix was open but barely touched. The night was fairly young and my sight was set on a half dozen box of Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. Yep. The binge eating frenzy was in full effect and there was no stopping it now. My stomach said I was full, but my heart said I was empty. 

Dang, those donuts were good.

*VIBRATING TEXT NOTIFICATION*

Annnnnnndddd, the witty, flirtatious banter ensues with a guy I’m messaging with on Bumble – the latest and greatest dating app. *sigh* Yeah, he’s cute and kind of charming, but I’m sure he’ll fizzle out just like the dozens of others before him. I give this one another 48 hours max, but – hey, at least it makes me feel like I’m an active player in the dating game.

There, I sat in the aftermath of my binge, bracing for the mental beat down I would eventually give myself. This was the usual pattern. Binge —-> beatdown ——> determine not to do it again ——-> repeat.

I waited…. and waited…but this time the self-degrading thoughts didn’t come.

Silence.

Emptiness.

Numbness.

Well, this can’t be good. Am I so mad at myself that I can’t even speak to myself?!

Then I heard it…

The Voice: You’re lonely.
Me: No, I’m not. I still have my family.
The Voice: You’re in a season of loneliness.
Me: Nooooo, I have incredible friends here and back home.
The Voice: It’s okay to feel lonely. I’m here.
Me: Okay, okay, yes… I feel a little lonely when I think about being 34 and single, but then I quickly remind myself I’d rather be single than with the wrong person!
The Voice: Lacey, you can have the best family, friends, job, be happily single or married and STILL be lonely. The binging and need for male attention are just symptoms of the greater issue… loneliness. You’re seeking people and food to fill a need that only I can.
Me: *eats the last donut*

The Voice was right. I had been lonely. Terribly lonely.

Life hadn’t gone how I planned. I was in a new city. I missed my mom. I missed my family. I was heartbroken from a guy who said he loved me and then ghosted me out of nowhere. And, now here I was feeding the emptiness in my heart with food and flattery.

However, that lonely night, among the literal trash from of my latest binge, the conversation with The Voice gave me a new perspective. I could either wallow in my loneliness or reframe it to be a gift from God. Thankfully, I chose the latter.

I made the decision to use it as an opportunity to…

Make the most of my time.
I realized boredom was a breeding ground for loneliness, so I decided to create the action. I went to concerts. I read a lot of books. I started a blog. I explored the city. I joined a small group at church. I ate with good people. I took group classes at a gym and became friends with my classmates.

Minimize my pain.
I had to quit replaying painful events in my mind. I also made a conscious decision to forgive the people who hurt me. I stopped building walls of bitterness and start building bridges of forgiveness.

Confront my fear of love, vulnerability, and intimacy. Head on.
Here I was lonely, yet scared to death to let anyone in! I had to be vulnerable with God so He could heal my heart. Once I did, it allowed me to experience Him in the sweetest, most intimate way, which then allowed me to be vulnerable with trusted friends again.

Quit focusing on myself and emphasize the needs of others.
If someone needed a hot meal, I signed up to bring them one. If a friend needed help in their garden, I was there pulling weeds right there with them. If someone needed a house or dog sitter, I’d make myself available. If they needed an actor in an Easter production, I volunteered.

God draws close to those who are lonely and provides for them. – Psalm 68:5

It’s been a little while since my journey through that season of loneliness. While I’m thankful to be on the other side, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I grew in more ways than I ever thought possible. In fact, I’m convinced God used it to set me up to know Him better than I ever have before.

Of course, I can’t say I don’t ever have momentary lonely feelings (don’t we all?), but I can say I’ve recognized my triggers.

• I know if I’m aimlessly scrolling social media or dating apps late at night, that’s a trigger.
• I know if I’m replaying hurt from my past, that’s a trigger.
• I know if I’m not making time with God a priority, that’s a trigger.

So, let me ask you… Do you know what your triggers are?

Just as The Voice said to me, let me remind you… it’s okay to be lonely. He’ll use it for your good.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. – Romans 8:28

The God-shaped hole in our hearts will never be completely satisfied with anything less than Him. No man, no woman, no situation, no amount in your bank account, and even Krispy Kreme donuts will do the trick. They’ll always leave us wanting more. We are insatiable creatures. That’s why Jesus referred to Himself as living water in John 4:14… In Him, we will never thirst again. We no longer have to use people, sex or things to fill our hearts to satisfaction. He is the living water our hearts long for!

Could a season of loneliness possibly be the exact thing we need to reconcile our lonely hearts with our need for Him? It sure was for me.

So, to all the lonely hearts out there, be encouraged…It’s just a season. It will pass. I can’t promise it will be brief. But, I can promise it’s a gift wrapped in grace fit to carry you through safely to the other side. Only when you accept it as His goodness and embrace it with gratitude – Then, and only then will you sense His closeness and see HE is truly is everything you need.

God’s given you everything you need for this season in your life. If you don’t have it yet, you don’t need it. – Pastor Steven Furtick

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Irrevocable

A year ago I never would have imagined my life as it is right now… Back home – Like HOME home… as in the same house my parents lived in since before I was born. I’m helping my brother launch a church. I’m teaching dance again – and not just teaching again, but getting to do so with my friend, Dede. That in itself is a miracle. Never, EVER, would have imagined it, I tell you. But, now it’s my new normal. And, I couldn’t be happier. Truly.

Post aftermath of the winter of 2016, I honestly thought my teaching days were over for good. I believed I was disqualified from my calling. That my mistakes were unforgivable and I was unredeemable. I gave merit to the person who said I’d never work in this town again. I convinced myself I wasn’t welcome in Hampton Roads anymore. I allowed myself to feel shame. Worst of all, it didn’t just make me question my calling to teach dance – it made me quit. And, I was okay with that. It felt like a past life and I was ready to move on to the next chapter. To move on to whatever God was calling me to do next. So, that’s what I did…. I moved on… To Texas.

Texas was perfect for me. It was a safe place. It allowed me time to heal. It gave me space to be vulnerable without judgement. But, I’ll never forget the day I sat at my desk at my new job in Austin and had the following conversation with God…

Me: God, thank you so much for this job. I love that I feel like I’m making a difference. I’m so glad you brought me here. But, as much as I enjoy what I’m doing, is THIS my calling now? To be a Connections Coordinator for a church? If this my current assignment or is this my calling now?

God: Lacey, what did I call you to do?

Me: Ummmmm….You called me to dance… To teach dance… To mentor and inspire others through dance.

God: Exactly. My gifts and call are irrevocable.

Me: *crickets*

And, I started to remember how I was as a driven seven-year-old who knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. Every night after my family went to sleep, I cleared the coffee table out of the way, popped my music into the cassette player, and entered my own little dance world. Into the wee hours of the morning I would create movement, imagine entire productions and dream of what it would be like to be a dancer someday. It was my favorite place. My escape. Just me and God. And, it was in those days of sweet innocence, I knew God called me to dance.

Then I thought about how my mother saw the gift and calling on my life and did everything she could to see I had every opportunity to pursue it. Even as much to send me to a dance conservatory in Florida when I was 13… and she let me stay for five years! I still can’t believe that to this day. If I were her, there’s NO way I’d send MY 13 year-old to live in another state! But, you know what? When people asked her how and why, she’d tell them she’s letting her daughter follow her calling.

And, it was at the dance conservatory in Florida where my mentors uncovered my gift for teaching. I didn’t even know I had it. But, they didn’t just see it – they cultivated it. It’s a good thing, too, because that’s actually where my passion lied. A lot of my friends went on to dance professionally, and even though I made a brief attempt to as well, it never felt like the right path for me. My calling was to dance… to teach dance. To invest into others what was invested in me. It made it possible to influence hundreds of students through my work at Bethel School of the Arts – a performing arts school I co-founded and directed from 2004-2015.

“God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.” – Romans 11:29 (The Message version)

It hit me like a freight train… I wasn’t disqualified. Yes, I messed up. But, His call on my life is irrevocable. I’ve read and heard Romans 11:29 so many times before. How could I have forgotten that?

That revelation gave me so much to pray about. With a few connections to the Texas dance world, I thought some doors would open. But, they didn’t. I had no reputation there. How was I suppose to fulfill my calling to dance and teach dance in Texas?

When my friend Dede asked me to think and pray about moving back to Virginia to team up with her and expand her business to include dance, I knew God was up to something… And, He was… He was leading me back to my calling. The place where I had sown many seeds and had yet reaped a harvest. A place where my teacher reputation was known and appreciated.

I’m not going to lie. I questioned my decision to move back to Virginia so many times. I had it made in Austin. I really did. It took me a few weeks to fully believe I made the right decision. But, I can honestly say after teaching three weeks of dance camp for young girls and watching them go from being forced to dance to LOVING dance, I know I made the decision that aligned with my calling.

This is Mia and Ally – two of Dede’s junior aerial students forced to take dance camp.

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Let me tell you… They went into the experience all but kicking and screaming with the promise if they didn’t like it after the first week, they didn’t have to do the second or third weeks. Well… not only did they change their tune about dance and beg to do the second and third camps weeks, they stayed up late the night before the last day and made up a dance for me. The emotion I felt watching them perform a routine consisting of movement inspired by what I taught them brought tears to my eyes. And, it just confirmed to me once again I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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Teaching dance is what He’s created me to do. It makes me feel alive. It gives me purpose. I’m in my element when I’m in the studio creating, teaching, and inspiring. And, I’m beyond grateful to God for reminding me that my past didn’t disqualify me from His call… Especially when I’m willing to answer it.

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Plot Twist

I really don’t like goodbyes. They seem so final. So finished. So over. Like the period at the end of a sentence or chapter. What if I wasn’t ready for it to be over? What if I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to that person? 

As a dweller in possibility, I like the idea of an ellipses… a to be continued… a dot, dot, dot. It makes it feel like there’s more to the story and makes room for a potential plot twist. That moment in a story you can say, But, wait… it’s not over – There’s more!

I moved to Austin with pre-conceived ideas about the next chapter of my life…

That I would live in Texas the rest of my life. Period.

That my dance teaching days were over. Period.

That I would never direct another creative production. Period.

That I would meet and marry a Cowboy and have cute Cowboy and Cowgirl kids, live on a ranch or in an airstream, and live happily ever after. Exclamation point. (Haha)

I truly believed that’s how my story would unfold, but, wait… PLOT TWIST!

 

We experience life forward, but understand it backwards.

 

Tomorrow, I move (literally and figuratively) into another plot twist moment in my story… All of those pre-conceived ideas I had when I moved to Austin will be proven false.

I’m moving back to Virginia to re-claim my spiritual inheritance…

I’m pursuing the irrevocable call on my life to teach dance and create art through movement and any other means God wants me to…

I’m going all in with Lifehouse Church, a brand new church my brother is planting in the Newport News area in September of this year. Yet, again, another plot twist neither John or I ever saw coming…

But, this plot twist comes with some really sad see you laters… There are so many people that contributed to making my season in Austin one I will forever cherish… Wendi, Curtiss, Sande, Rachel, Alaina, Michelle, Todd, Linda, Tod, Lori, Jake, Rodney, Jill, Karen, Renee, Pastor David and Kathleen, Pastor Randy and Denise, the LifeAustin staff and like I said – so many more. Because of them, I have expanded my collection of handprints on my heart.

 

I know your past is broken… You can move on, it’s over now.  – Elevation Worship

 

When I think of Austin, I’ll think how it was a place of refuge. A place of healing. A place of transformation. That, and because of all the people I now know and love – it won’t be the last Austin sees of me. For sure.

So, until next time we meet again… keep it weird, Austin. And, I’ll keep being a Virginia girl with a Texas heart. I promise.

P.S. And, no – I didn’t find my Cowboy… But I did find a new level in my relationship with Jesus that I never knew existed. And, knowing Him like I know Him now, I prefer that over a Cowboy any day. Period.

A Virginia Girl with a Texas Heart

I remember March 13, 2016, like it was yesterday. It was the day I walked into LifeAustin for the first time. I was a broken shell of a person. At that point, I had experienced so much loss in a such a short amount of time.

Just over a month before, I had resigned from a job I had been at for 13 years. I had put so much of my identity and self-worth in my job, so when I had to walk away from it, it felt like a part of me died. Then just thirteen days later, my mother passed away from a four year battle with Non-Hogdkins Lymphoma.

I felt like I had lost everything. I needed a change. I needed to get away. So, I applied to a Connections Coordinator position I saw online at a church called LifeAustin. The position wasn’t in my wheel-house at all, but that was fine with me. I just wanted to get out of Virginia.

That brings me to March 13, 2016. The moment I drove onto the LifeAustin campus for my interview and to experience the church, I felt God’s presence. It was so thick and so real. I cried through the entire service. And, right in the middle of the worship, I sensed God tell me He was going to give me life at LifeAustin… And, that’s exactly what He’s done…

I am not the same person I was when I moved to Austin. Through incredible friendships, LifeAustin has been a safe place for me to grieve… to be vulnerable… to be loved… to be transformed.

That’s why it saddens me to say I will be leaving Austin on May 1, 2017, and returning to Hampton Roads to pursue the opportunity to co-own/direct Transcendence Aerial and Dance with my friend, Dede Ulses. But, I’m not just returning home. I’m returning to my first love, my first calling: teaching dance.

My theme word for 2017 is ROAR. As I mentioned in a previous blog, lions roar to proclaim territory and rally straying members of their pride. For me, going back home to proclaim and reclaim territory and rally my heart, mind, and resources around what God’s called me to do since I was 15 years old, is a part of how that theme word is manifesting.

I would be lying if I said my family didn’t play a role in my decision. I miss them terribly. I don’t want to watch my nephews grow up over FaceTime and Instagram photos. I don’t want my brother to launch a church without me. I don’t want my dad and grandmother to grow older and me not be there to help them and make sure they’re taking care of themselves.

As happy as I am to return home to my family, my friends and my students, I’m so sad to leave the great state of Texas and the wonderful people I’ve met here. There’s no place like Texas. Truly, there’s not.

I used to say I was a Virginia girl with a Virginia heart living in Texas, but now, I think it’s safe to say, I’m now a Virginia girl with a Texas heart.

2.21.16

Mrs. Ware, we’ve done all we can. I suggest you make every effort to enjoy your life while you still have it. Go on vacation. Be with your grand-kids. Live it up. I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could do.

We were lost for words. All three of us: my mom, my dad and me. After years of chemo and countless blood transfusions to defeat and manage the rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma my mother had, the doctor tells us this is it. He’s done everything he knows to do. He’s exhausted his resources. Nothing was making my mom better.

After we left the doctor’s appointment, my mother and I sat in the car holding hands in complete silence. It seemed impossible to wrap our heads around what the doctor said was inevitable. We tried so hard to push the lump in our throats down, but when hers gave way, so did mine. We cried. Together. In the car. In the parking lot of Riverside Cancer Center.

To console the shock, she wanted her favorite sweet treat: Yogurt V – the frozen yogurt place in Peninsula Town Center. The conversation we had that day is one I’ll never forget. As much as it hurt, we talked about all the things we’d feared, but was even more afraid to voice. Things like, what life would look like without her? How she wouldn’t be at my wedding or meet my future husband or be with me when I have my children. How she wouldn’t get to see Jaxson, Judah (and the other kids John and Kristen have) grow up. Her worries about my dad and him taking care of himself. How she wanted me to continue teaching dance and investing in my students. It was the kind of conversation you hope you never have to have, but are so thankful for on the other side of it.

So, that day, right there in the courtyard of Peninsula Town Center, we made a Live It Up list. The list included spending as much time with her family as possible. Going on a Disney Cruise. Seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains, going wedding dress shopping, and more. I’m happy to say we were able to check all the items off her list, except for the wedding dress shopping. She couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the sales associates’ time knowing full well we weren’t going to purchase anything. So, we spent hours on Pinterest making wedding boards. Those are memories I’ll never forget.

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She’s gone. She’s really gone. 2.21.16.

Every night before I go to bed, I ask God to let me see my mom in my dreams. There was one particular dream that was so vividly real. In it, I was able to hug her. (I can still feel how that hug felt.) We laughed. She encouraged me to keep going, to not give up, and that she was proud of me. As she got in her car and drove away, the tears I shed in my dream became the tears I shed upon awaking. So much joy. So much sorrow. All at one time.

Here I am, exactly one year to the day after my mom’s passing. I still can’t believe she’s gone. The details of that 48 hour time period still haunt me. There are days I still wake up praying that 2016 was just a bad dream. They say the first year is the hardest. Honestly, I can’t imagine it ever getting any easier, but that’s the nature of the grief process; However, I’ve learned to not just embrace God as I go through it, but to invite Him into it.  That’s made all the difference. And, He gladly accepted the invitation.

As I continue to dance through this life, I imagine how my mom is dancing right along with me. Knowing she is healed and with Jesus is the only comforting thought I keep in the forefront of my mind. I feel her spirit. I feel her strength. I feel her love. Everyday. And even more so, her legacy inspires me to love God and love people…. just like she did. Everyday.

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2017: The Year of the ROAR

When I thought about what to title this blog, my first thought was: 2016, You SUCKED: Thank You for Being Over.

Have you seen the video meme floating around the internet of Chris Farley’s non-stop tumble down a steep hill? Well, that’s a perfect depiction of what 2016 felt like to me. Especially the first half of the year.

Yes, no doubt, 2016 was the worst year of my life, but upon further reflection, 2016 was also the best year of my life…

Yes, I moved away from home, but I fell in love with Austin, Texas.
Yes, I left my family and friends, but God gave me new family and amazing friends.
Yes, I had my heart broken, but God renewed my hope that I can and will love again.
Yes, I lost my mom to cancer, but I feel her with me and know she would be proud of me.
Yes, I battled depression, but God won the battle in me before he won it for me.

Because the first six months sucked so badly, I decided to redeem the last six months… So, I did… And, boy, I LIVED IT UP.

I went to as many concerts as my budget could afford: The Lumineers, Taylor Swift, American Authors, The Fray, NeedtoBreathe, Phil Wickam and the Outcry Tour featuring Elevation Worship, Hillsong Young and Free, Rend Collective and Kari Jobe.

I went to Formula1 even though I had NO idea what the heck it was. (In case you don’t know what it is, F1 is the highest class of single-seat auto racing that is sanctioned by the Federation International Automobile.)

I started (very-casually) dating again and even two-stepped with a guy at a country bar.

I explored breathtakingly beautiful Texas hiking trails and swimming holes.

I took ballet classes.

I took up running.

I had real days off that I took full advantage of.

I got completely out of debt.

I read 18 books in 8 months.

I attended the BRAVE Conference and heard my favorite author, Annie F. Downs, speak.

I went to the Dallas vs. Washington game at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving day all by myself.

I went to my first Texas high school football game and I watched the UT Longhorns get pulverized by TCU.

I went to Magnolia Market and the Silos in Waco, Texas, with Nicole.

I was a part of a successful campus church plant at the legendary Austin City Limits venue.

I produced LifeAustin’s Christmas production after I thought I’d NEVER produce a church production ever again.

I was a part of an amazing team that hosted over 6,000 people for Christmas Eve services.

I downsized over half my belongings and couldn’t feel better about it.

I finally feel like I am living. Really living. Authentically. And, it feels so good.

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My word for 2016 was BRAVE. Which is the exact word I needed to go through what I did and come out on the other side the person God’s shaping me to be.

My word for 2017 is: ROAR (Cue the Katy Perry song, please!)

Did you know lions not only roar to proclaim territory but also to rally straying members of the pride? That’s what I feel God wants me to do in 2017 and he’s confirmed it over and over… Reclaim the territory He gave me and rally my heart, mind and resources around my dream and calling.

After a year of feeling like I was face down in the arena, this year is about the comeback. My worst fears have already come true, so it’s going to take A LOT to scare me now. It’s amazing what you’ll risk when you feel like you have nothing to lose.

This year, I will be bold as a lion. I will chase my dream. I will pursue my calling, and, you’re gonna hear me ROAR. Ar! Ar! Ar! Ar! Arrrr! (Thank you, Katy Perry.)

2017, let’s go.

The Calm Before the Storm

It happened a year ago today. The door bell rang and my life, as I knew it, was never the same. It was the warning of the storm headed straight my way. And, it wasn’t just any storm – it was the perfect storm. I never saw it coming either. I’m thankful someone else did and loved me enough to wake me up, both figuratively and literally, to warn me. I still get anxiety when I hear door bells ring.

Living on the East Coast my whole life, I’ve been through a few hurricanes. There’s always the eery calm before the storm. You’ve been warned. You know it’s coming. You’ve stocked up on water, flash lights, batteries, generators, and bread. Now all you can do is batten down the hatches, wait and worry. You wait and worry about who and what will survive. You pray the storm will pass and everything in your life will be in tact when it’s over – including you.

That’s how that day and the next 47 days felt. Wait, worry, repeat.

As I sat in the eery silence of the calm before the storm, I heard God’s still, small voice whisper:

I’ve got you.

In that moment I knew no matter what devastation the storm caused, I was going to survive. Not without feeling like I was going to die first though…

The perfect storm destroyed everything in its’ path. My dreams. My identity. My self-worth. My relationship with the church I worked at for 12 years and gave 33 years of my life to. Not to mention the people I thought were grace-filled friends and leaders.

But, through that storm and the next two storms, God kept His promise to me. He was with me through them all. Even after the storms passed and I sat in the wreckage of my sin – He never left me.

It’s ironic the day after the hurricane seems like the most beautiful day God’s ever created. The sun is shining brighter than ever and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Interesting. But, yet – there’s devastation all around. It’s a mess – yet it’s beautiful. A beautiful mess. And, only God can take our mess and make it our message, or shall we say, our story. He makes it a beautiful message. A beautiful story of His grace.

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It’s taken almost a year to pick myself up out of the beautiful mess. And, by God’s beautiful grace, I haven’t just survived – I’ve thrived. In fact…

I’m dreaming again.
I’m believing the best is yet to come.
I’m rejecting the lie of being disqualified.
I’m confident and have clarity of my calling now more than ever.
I’m owning my story.
I’m not allowing a couple scenes to define my story.
I’m chasing the lion. (This will make sense in a later blog)

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned, never underestimate what God can do in a year. When that door bell rang, I never imagined I’d be thriving and most of all, dreaming again – just 365 days later. I never imagined He could take the wreckage of my sin and make it into something beautiful. If he can do that in 365 days, I can’t imagine what life will be like 365 days from now. Knowing God, it’s gonna be good – no matter what.

Intentional Dependence

My confidence is coming back. I can feel it. The light that once cracked through the dark clouds has made them completely dissipate. I feel the light on my face. It feels so good to feel so normal again. I wake up everyday with hope. I’ve put the past in the past – I’ve moved on. I am living wholeheartedly in the present, and loving every second. I am excited about the possibilities the future holds.

But, with my new found hope and confidence, I fear I’m letting go of what got me to this place…

When I encountered the storm that wrecked my ship, there was a natural reflex to hold on to God for dear life. It really was a life and death situation. I needed him. He was my life raft. If it weren’t for Him, I don’t even want to think about where I would be right now. I clung to him for security in every area of my life. I depended on Him like never before. And, for the little girl who’s first full sentence was I’ll do it myself, complete dependence was a big deal.

I’ve always found pride in my ability to take care of myself or do whatever task is at hand myself. Delegation was never a strength and could be down right painful sometimes. But, when the perfect storm hit, all of that self-dependence went right out the window and my debilitated state made me realize how much I needed God. It was sobering at first, but surprisingly, it became a relief to finally surrender to Him. It was a forced surrender, but a surrender nonetheless.

Now I’ve adjusted to the new normal of my new life, the need for God doesn’t seem as necessary. Is it okay to admit that?

God, I’m good again – I got this. I can do this myself. You can now go back to your supporting role in the script of my life.

See, this is exactly what I didn’t want to happen. After everything I’ve been through, I never imagined going back to the self-reliant, independent person I used to be. Here’s what I know:

If my God-reliance doesn’t transition from a reflex to intentional…the gravitational pull will have me right back where I started.

I can’t… I won’t let that happen.

Maybe it’s a new season in our relationship though? It’s almost as if He’s gone from carrying me, to walking beside me. We’re doing this together. He’s still with me. I can still hold tight to his hand, but maybe I don’t need to hold on as tightly as I had to in the last season. Now I can just thread my fingers in His and enjoy His presence without all the drama.

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The relationship can take on a new dynamic… one that’s focused on joy, laughter, peace and vulnerable friendship. But, just as any other human relationship, it’s going to have to be intentional. Whatever plant you water will grow, right?

So, today I will make my public declaration of intentional dependence on the God I will rely on in the midst of the storm, in the aftermath, and even more so, when the sun shines again.

EVEN IF

I intentionally kept my political opinions off social media during this election season. No one needs to know what side of the fence I fell – nor should it matter, really. I am not defined by my political affiliations and I refuse to judge others by theirs.

The way I see it, I’m am a citizen of the Kingdom of God first and foremost. He is my King – the one I place my trust and hope in. And, I sleep peacefully at night believing no matter what politician lives in the White House – God’s still in charge. He has the final say.

But, man, after today, it’s beyond clear not everyone shares my sentiment.

My social media timeline was full of status updates from people who were either ecstatic about the results or shocked, broken-hearted, scared or pissed. I knew no matter who was elected, there would be a lot of disappointed people, but I wasn’t prepared for some reactions…

Friends told me (the reader) to unfriend them if I didn’t vote for their candidate. Some called me a racist, a bigot, ignorant, a follower of Hitler, a homophobe,  if I didn’t vote for their candidate.

To be honest, if I had voted for President elect Trump, I would have felt persecuted today. Persecuted by some of my friends, a couple of the women on The View, and most media outlets.

At first, I was hesitant to even use the word persecution to empathize with Trump supporters. The word felt too harsh. Too dramatic. Like it should only be reserved for when we’re talking about martyrs and the church. But, then I looked it up…

Persecution: Subject someone to hostility and ill-treatment, because of their race, political, or religious beliefs.

Yep. That pretty much described the seething hatred protruding from the computer screen today.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego found themselves in the middle of a persecution that resulted in an ultimatum:

Worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s idols or be tossed into a blazing furnace. I’ll be honest, I would need some time to think about this one. Don’t lie – you would too.

King Nebuchadnezzar: Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music,  if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?

IF.  There’s that word again.  That just exudes pressure. Pressure to bow. Pressure to bend. It’s contingent.

Their reply was brave, to say the least:

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego: King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Even IF.   I love that.  Even IF He doesn’t ___________ , I will still give you my worship.

Even IF my candidate isn’t elected, I will hold tight to the hope that is the anchor for my soul.

Even IF my candidate is elected, I refuse to place my trust in an earthly king.

Even IF it is the end of the world as we know it, I will stand firm in faith, for I know who holds the world in His hands.

Even IF I am persecuted for my race, political or religious beliefs, I will still offer grace and love to my persecutors.

Even IF my persecutors spit in the face of my grace and love, I’ll give it to them anyway.

EVEN IF I never get married, I will worship You with the rest of my life.

EVEN IF I never have children, I will worship You through investing into my students.

EVEN IF the dreams and plans I have for my life don’t pan out how I see it, I will still choose You.

EVEN IF You strip me of my identity and rebuild me from the ground up, I will wake up everyday and choose to believe You work all things together for my good.

EVEN IF He slay me, yet will I hope in him – Job 13:15

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego had their EVEN IF?

Job had his.

I have mine.

What’s yours?

Dear, 15 Year-Old Me…

Dang, y’all – 35 years goes by so fast.

My mom always told me: the older you get, the faster time flies. As usual, she was right. I’ll never forget something Sandy Johnson said to me: Lacey, you don’t really ever age in your mind. I’m in my 50’s, but in my mind, I’m still 26.  I believed her because she was Sandy Johnson, but I now know it to be true. Age is just a number is something I thought old people told themselves to make them feel better about aging – but no – it’s true. Age really is just a number.

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Thank God, because I don’t ever plan on growing up. Neverland will remain my home and Peter Pan will always be my boyfriend.

I started thinking about what life was like at 15. Taylor Swift sums it up perfectly in her song Fifteen. Everything was so much easier back then. Whoever said being an adult was better – lied. Straight up lied. Oh, what my 35 year-old self would tell my 15 year-old self! Which got me thinking… What would I tell my 15 year-old self? Here’s what I came up with…

Dear 15 Year-Old Lacey,

It’s both a good thing and an unfortunate thing you don’t know how your story will unfold over the next 20 years. If you did, you’d do a lot things very differently and keep a lot the same…

You’d make wiser choices. You’d be more courageous and take more risks. You wouldn’t care so much about what people think about you – Especially in your bathing suit. You’d pick people over productivity. You’d buy the one way ticket.

You’d stay clear of the players you knew would inevitably break your heart into a million pieces. You wouldn’t have ignored the red flags. You would’ve listened to your gut.

You would get a college degree. You’d boldly state your opinion when asked. You would learn how to take care of yourself – body, mind, soul and spirit. You’d spend less time in the office and more time in the studio. You’d spend less time in the studio and more time with the people who love you – like your mom. You will only have her with you on this earth 24 and a half more years, so don’t waste a moment you have to cherish her.

You would’ve rejected those credit card offers and learned how to create a budget and stick to it. You would’ve been content to drive your 2003 blue Honda Civic Si till it drove its last mile.

You would’ve listened to your mother more. You would’ve prayed more. You would’ve guarded your heart better. You would’ve believed what God could do through you.

You wouldn’t have cut your hair like Felicity’s and you would’ve learned how to use a flat iron… and TONER. You would’ve demanded your hair stylist use TONER. *face palm*  And, while we’re talking about hair – you never would’ve dyed it red or brown. Mom was right. You look so much better as a blonde.

You would’ve gone to that intimidating audition – knowing full well you didn’t have a chance. You would’ve told that guy you liked him – knowing full well you didn’t have a chance with him.

You would’ve left that movie earlier or later so that guy wouldn’t have rear-end you at 55 miles an hour.

You would’ve ended that relationship sooner.

You wouldn’t have let that person go.

Lacey Louise, I know it sounds like your 35 year-old self has a lot of regrets. And, she does. I know it seems like she’s experienced heart break beyond what your teenage mind can fathom right now. And, she has. But, you know what? Just because she regrets it doesn’t mean she would change it. It’s made her who she is. It’s made you what you’ll eventually become.

You should know you’re going to live an incredibly blessed life. You’re going to travel the world. You’re going to love the wrong guys whole-heartedly. And, yes – it’ll result in heartbreak most of the time – but at least you gave your all, even if it wasn’t wanted. You will be proud of yourself for that.

You’re going to serve tables. You’re going to sky dive twice. You’re going to swim in the Sea of Galilee. You’re going to get your nose pierced. You’re going to work for a software company and wonder every day why in the world God has you there?. You’re going to create services and productions that will bring people closer to Jesus. You’re going to pioneer a school that will teach hundreds of people how to dance, sing, act, play music and hang from the ceiling on apparatuses.

You’re going to love animals and help the homeless – just like mom. Speaking of mom, you’re going to be more like her than you prefer to be right now. But, trust me – around 34, you’re going to be more than okay with that.

You will meet so many people who leave hand prints on your heart. People like Gail, Sandy, Bekah, Brianne, Rodney, Becky, Rachel, Taylor, Yvonne, Kevin, Brian, Nicole, Dede, Nathan, Grant, Telvin, Beca and Dave. Each one of these people will change you for the good. They are going to be a reflection of God’s unfailing love and grace in the brightest and darkest times of your life. They’re your tribe. It won’t matter how much time passes, what web of sin you find yourself in or traumatic life event you encounter. They’re going to be there in body, spirit or both. Never take them for granted.

Then there are the hundreds of dance students God will entrust to you. Those hand prints will bring you so much joy and sense of purpose. That’s because you are called to teach dance. Don’t ever think just being a dance teacher isn’t enough. It’s what He made you to do – no matter how old you get or where life takes you. His calling is irrevocable. Those students will teach you more than you teach them. Each one of them are as unique as the stars in the sky. Treat them how you wish your teachers treated you. While you may not be a mother for a long time, they’ll make you feel like you are – and they’ll make you so proud.

Let’s talk about your beautiful family… I already mentioned you only have 24 and a half years left with your mom. You should take more pictures. I know you both hate having your picture taken, but do it anyway. You’ll be so glad you did.  (And, just so you know, this will be easier when you get a smart phone.) You’re going to take her on adventures like she’s never experienced. This will serve to create memories that will keep her alive in your heart and mind. Savor every moment you have with her. Every moment. By far, her hand print will always be the most influential.

After much prayer on everyone’s part, your brother will hear the will of the Lord and choose to marry Kristen. Haha. They’re going to have the most beautiful boys who will leave the tiniest, healing hand prints on your heart. Kristen will be the sister you never had. Her hand print will become even more evident when you encounter a life altering, personal shipwreck. She and your brother’s collective hand print will bring the brightest joy and provide much needed healing to your soul.

Just so you know, your dad will never cease to blow your mind. Just when you think you’ve figured him out, he will surprise you with his generosity, wit, wisdom, support, and rock-solid love. And, he is going to be the best grandfather you could ever imagine. You’re going to wonder where this version of him has been your whole life. The way he takes care of your mom all the years she battles cancer, you’re going to pray your future husband has half the amount of patience, love and support as your dad does. He will be the hero of your family, but remember he needs you as much as you need him.

I hate to break it to you, but you won’t have met your person – the man you’re going to love for the rest of you life – yet, but don’t worry. He’s out there. I know seeing all your friends get married, have kids and live seemingly perfect lives will make you feel like you’re on the clearance shelf every once and awhile. When you feel that way, tell yourself that Christ is in you and you are enough. Cause you are – just the way you are. You are enough for God. You’re enough for you. And, you will be more than enough for the man you spend the rest of your life loving. Just remember, there are worse things than being single…Marrying the wrong person is one of them! You’ll be SO glad you didn’t marry any of the guys you’ll consider to be options.

Funny enough, you’re going to be able to check off living in Texas off your bucket list by the time you’re 35. The situation that takes you there, the city itself and the people God puts in your life will shape you into a  stronger, better, braver version of yourself than you ever thought imaginable.  I’m not going to lie to you… It’s going to be scary. You’re not going to want to stay. You will experience depression and anxiety for the first time. But, if you don’t give up and trust God’s healing process, you’re going to be more than okay. You’re going to rise strong. You’re going to thrive. You’re going to live the next 35 years plus with a God-glow you could only get from persevering through adversity.

God’s got you, Lacey. And, this is just the beginning…. a new beginning of the rest of your life.

Standby for greatness,

Your 35 Year-Old Self

PS… I know you don’t like coffee now, but you’ll become an addict around 27. 😉