Friday, June 24, 2016

When We Reach the End of Ourselves

     She always told me her problems, but one night she poured her every woe into my unsuspecting hands. I sat beside her, hoping my presence was a comfort. Crying real tears, she gushed all the fear, problems, and pain she had been holding in all day.

     I prayed in my head, “Lord, the wisest people I know always say not to jump in and fix problems, so let me be a good listener and friend. Oh, and when I do speak, I really need You to speak through me, because I don’t know what to say. I don’t know.”

     She swiped at her tears with the back of her hand, smudging her dramatic black mascara. I rubbed her back and looked up at our mutual friend with confused and weary eyes. But neither of us had the words to fix her problems.

     I was at a loss; it was one of those moments that I can’t remember what I said because the Spirit took over. God answered my pleas by filling my heart with a healthy dose of soul-relating, heart-breaking, hands-reaching compassion.

     But what my troubled heart said over and over was:

     “I don’t know.”

     Knowledge is so comforting, isn’t it? We feel secure in our own stores of wisdom. Whenever we need to impress people or give advice, we just dig up the facts we have stored up in our memory banks.

     But in the messiest places, we don’t know what to do or say.

     When we reach the end of our own strength, our hearts become quiet enough to hear the Lord say, “I’ve got this.”

     I don’t have to know.

     It’s terrifying and reassuring at the same time. I don’t have to know what the diagnosis is. I don’t have to know how to fix her problems. I don’t have to know all the details of how to work it out. I don’t have to know what they’re going through. I don’t have to know the reasons why.

     Even when we don’t know, He does. God, who holds us through the what-ifs and the might-haves and the what-nows, is ready for anything that comes our way, so we don’t have to be.

     Our only hope, our only confidence, is in the Lord. If we can only reach the end of ourselves and stretch out our empty hands, hope blossoms.

     In a world that tells us to be independent, strong, and smart enough to out-argue the other guy, our quiet dependence on the Lord is beautiful and different.

     It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Because when we reach the end of ourselves, God is at work.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to Move on from Embarrassing Failures

     The second time I went to pump gas independently, I drove home on a still-empty tank.

     Without someone standing over me, watching my every move, I'd somehow not pressed all the right buttons in all the right order. The transaction was cancelled, and I drove home in defeat.

     Usually, I thrive off of beginner's luck.

     I grit my teeth, try something, and voila! it goes perfectly. Whether it's putting a flashlight back together, trying the zip line, or writing a submission to a big website, I can do things well the first time. The flashlight is fixed, I summon enough courage to go down the zip line, or I get accepted with a big "WE LOVE YOUR WORK!"

     For some reason, when I do something a second time, it blows up in my hands. (Don't worry, the flashlight never literally blew up.)

     I get it wrong. I'm awkward. I fumble.

     "But it went so smoothly the first time," I argue with myself.

     But the second day. The second time. The second trial.

     You can imagine how scared I was the second time I drove by myself. Or tried cutting a pineapple. Or went to coffee with a new friend.

     Some people might get superstitious when they recognize a pattern like this. Most of the time, I can continue to be brave and do things a second time.

     I think, "Maybe it was just my overconfidence that blew it for me the second time."

     Even if the first time's the charm for me, the second time should still exist. Even if I don't always find favor in the second run, but I will keep doing, being, trying. So, it sounds cliche, but try, try again.

     I walked into the house, and, in my sweetest voice asked, "Hey, Dad. Could you come help me?"

     I didn't want to be that kid who couldn't do it by herself, but I was. I faced my incompetence and did what needed to be done. (Unfortunately, the car wasn't going to feed itself.)

     But yesterday. Ah, yesterday! I went back a third time and successfully pumped gas without a smidge of help.

     Let's just hope that next time, I can remember which order to press those buttons.

     What scares you away from doing things? How do you conquer fears?

For more on fear:


Monday, June 20, 2016

40 Things I Learned in 4 Years of Blogging

     Guys. I have been blogging for four whole years!!! 4 blogging years converts to like 40 real-life years.

     I've learned so much in my "four decades". I've taken time to find out what in the world HTML and SEO and all that other jibber-jabber is.

     And I've learned life lessons too. I mean, blogging lessons. Yes, naturally. As you can see, I'm a pro and totally know what I'm doing.

     (Hang in there, folks. I'm tired.)

     40 Things I Learned in 4 Years of Blogging

  1. How to make graphics in PicMonkey
  2. Blogging is hard
  3. What HTML and SEO are (not that I am a pro with either)
  4. How to balance school/life and blogging
  5. How to make social media buttons
  6. How to post pictures from my phone so I don't have to email them to myself
  7. How to write in a time crunch
  8. How to make graphics that link to another page
  9. How to use and optimize MailChimp
  10. To never give up, even if no one comments
  11. To give the glory to God
  12. How to make adorable business cards
  13. How to arrange flowers
  14. How to spell lots of different words
  15. Why editors are important
  16. That my readers like books as much as I do
  17. How to start and run a Goodreads group to drive traffic to my blog
  18. Why I will never buy a domain name from GoDaddy again
  19. How to change all my social media profiles in under 10 minutes
  20. How to widget (is that even a verb?)
     We interrupt this long list for a commercial break...sponsored by...oh wait...I don't make any money blogging...oh well...back to the list.

     21. How to use affiliate links (even though I stopped using them)
     22. How to put my hair in a crown braid and make a video about it
     23. How to customize my YouTube thumbnails
     24. Not to get discouraged when people unsubscribe
     25. To write no matter if anyone reads it or not
     26. To write about somewhat consistent themes :/
     27. How to link-up
     28. How much to charge others to be their virtual assistant
     29. How to have Twitter automatically tweet my posts
     30. How to connect with other bloggers
     31. Why it's important to leave comments for others
     32. How to write consistently
     33. To never apologize for taking a break from blogging (no one will ever notice you were gone, and you look like you have nothing to say if you spend a whole post apologizing for never writing...just write!)
     34. To listen to my heart and my head.
     35. To publish imperfect material
     36. Why I love to write
     37. How to Write 31 Days in a row
     38. Why I need to write up post ideas quickly (I forget otherwise)
     39. Which posts are most popular
     40. To write for the love of it!

     There. Forty things I've learned in 4 years of blogging! And that was the super easy stuff that I could think of off the top of my head. There are so many more lessons and little things that keeping The Little Decorator has taught me.

     She is my beauty, and I love her.

     Today marks 4 years. You can read the very first TLD post here:

      What a journey it has been already, with so many more years to come too! Thank you for reading and following along.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Father's Day

     I love it: the way I came home from the hospital for the first time on Father's Day seventeen years ago and the way we always get to celebrate on the same week.

     I love you: the way you make me laugh, the way you train me in the Lord, and the way you lead me by example into being a hard worker and an idea generator. You understand me, care for me, and are always there for me.

     For all the things you are, you have done, and you have been,

     For the love and truth you proclaim,

     For the earthly example of our Heavenly Father you are,



Friday, June 17, 2016

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

     I am sixteen. Tomorrow I'll be seventeen. Today I'm in the middle of my teen years. Tomorrow I'll be in the older teen years.

     When I turned sixteen, I wrote, "I've been ready for sixteen. I've been waiting. It doesn't sound too old. It sounds just right. It sounds very me." I was trying to capture the feeling I've had my whole life that sixteen was the most perfect, beautiful, young, and Madeline-ish age ever. If I'm honest, I still think it is.

     But now I'm on the cusp of 17, which sounds more like my mature and adult side. A few weeks ago, I started practicing being an adult because I've found from observation that it's in the little moments and split-second decisions that adulthood-ready teens set themselves apart from the childish teens.

      Yet why is it that when kids turn 18, they suddenly have expectations cast on them by adults? I don't want to be caught unprepared. It is the year of 17 that prepares you for your first year of adulthood, after all. And in most cultures throughout history, I would be considered an adult already.

     Real adults don't whine.

     Real adults work hard.

     Real adults will take time for fun and not feel guilty.

     Real adults can face their past, present, and future undaunted.

     Real adults rely on God instead of their accomplishments.

     Real adults are proactive.

     Real adults are patient.

     Real adults hold their tongues.

     Real adults spend their time wisely.

     Real adults take care of their whole beings: body, mind, and soul.

     Real adults know that they don't know everything.

     Real adults aren't worried about not having their lives together.

     While I now have adult expectations of myself, I will still hold on tightly to my childlike faith and wonder. For the last time, I can say honestly, I am sixteen going on seventeen.

You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, it's time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
Baby, you're on the brink

     Thank you for journeying with me into this year: this last year of childhood, the year of preparation, and the year leading up to my golden birthday!


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Ten Commandments of Borrowing Books

     There are unspoken rules I follow for different areas of my life. I've already written about how I guide my relationships, but now it's time to talk about something almost as important: how to treat borrowed books.

     Whether you're new to the literary world or you're a hardcore bibliophile, you'll appreciate these ten commandments to help you rule the world of books.

1. Thou shalt read no other books before me. When you borrow a book, read it before reading anything else (in the spirit of getting it back to the Lender in a timely manner).

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any food that might spill upon the book. This is one of the most heinous book crimes there is. For everyone's sake, keep your food miles away from the book.

3. Thou shalt not misuse the book of the Lender thy friend, for the Lender will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses her book. No writing, staining, ripping, highlighting, bending, beating, scratching, etc., the book.

4. Remember the written word by keeping it safe. Keep it off the floor, indoors, and away from water sources, open flames, pets, and small children. In the event of juggling too many things, always drop the other things but clutch the book--gently--for dear life.

5. Honour thy book and thy jacket: that thy days may be long within the hardcovers which the Lender thy friend giveth thee. Do not remove or beat up the jacket. Protect it like the delicate beauty it is, rather than like that scrap of paper with book recommendations from B&N that you tore into a million pieces.

6. Thou shalt not stab. Even if the story is terribly sad or you get mad at a villain, don't ever take your violence out on the book. Don't shoot the messenger.

7. Thou shalt not commit corner-bending. There's a reason someone invented bookmarks. Never bend the corners of a page, even if it appears the Lender did so.

8. Thou shalt not re-lend. How dare you even think of such a thing!

9. Thou shalt not buy false books if you damage the originals. Do not attempt to trick the Lender by replacing the book you damaged without giving them a heads up. They'll probably realize it's new. Admit your mistake, return the original, beloved-but-damaged copy, and then offer to buy a new one.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy friend's books. If you like it all that much, buy your own copy and return the borrowed one.

     I hope none of these have happened to you as a lender! By following these, you will be a more reputable borrower. Is there anything I have forgotten? Let me know which book crimes should be outlawed in the comments below!


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why I Am Teaching Myself French

     I started teaching myself a new language in April.

     I've always wanted to. Smart people in books are constantly teaching themselves new languages, and Adaline Bowman started teaching herself Braille.

     Why French?

          I've always been fascinated by two places: England and France. I already know English (obviously), and now that I have four years of Latin behind me, I'm ready to tackle any language with Latin roots.

          Spanish, German, and French will be my primary foreign language choices in college. So I wanted to get a head start on the one I will learn. My preconceived notions contributed a lot to my decision:

  • No offense, but Spanish is boring (everyone does it, especially since we live in Texas).
  • German is just plain creepy.
  • French is romantic (thank you, pop culture, for brainwashing me).

     Why are you teaching yourself?

          I am homeschooled and love to cultivate my skills of teaching myself something new. I have a tutor now, so it's not completely teaching myself.

     Why now?

          If I'm taking French in college, I might as well start getting a taste for it now. I'd rather be ahead than behind in my freshman year, wouldn't you?

     How are you teaching yourself?

         I have downloaded an app, Duolingo, and I plan to begin watching French foreign films and reading books that will improve my understanding of the language. I'd like to pair that with a culture study.

     I am also getting tutored weekly and talking with a French foreign exchange student to get my pronunciations correct.

     What languages do you know? Which ones do you want to learn? Do you have any advice for me? Let me know in the comments below!