“It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content.” [Maria Sharapova]
There’s a coffee shop in town that serves the best grits I’ve ever eaten – and they’re only $5.99 a bowl.
Now I know shrimp and grits is a staple southern coastal dish, but this particular bowl is even better. Its simple, cheap, surprisingly creamy. Hot grits, topped with melting pimento cheese, crumbles of real bacon (note: not bacon bits), avocado and Cholula hot sauce. The combination is absolute perfection.
Something happens when unappetizingly cold, mayonnaise-y pimento cheese melts into hot grits. The bacon adds a whole level that only bacon can add. And the avocado makes it healthy. Just kidding – it’s not healthy. But the calories are worth it. It’s the definition of comfort food.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve found that this is no ordinary menu item. And certainly it’s no ordinary grits bowl. It’s a bowl that brings people together in mutual murmurs of awe and admiration. It’s a meal that leads to full stomachs, copious cups of coffee, and good, deep conversation.
As spoons scrape the sides of our grits bowls (getting every last bite), and locally made bread dips into the stringy pimento cheese and bright green avocado slices, as we slightly crunch freshly fried bacon, we also find ourselves listening to one another. Sharing our hearts. Talking about our new town (since so many people in Augusta are transplants themselves). Asking questions. Swapping stories. Sometimes shedding a tear or two.
It’s only been a few months since I made this delicious discovery, but now I recommend it to everyone. When meeting up with acquaintances for coffee, I suggest the grits bowl.
Grits and conversation – two of my favorite things.
Several months ago I wrote this post about our experience “church shopping” here in Augusta, which was written from a heart of love and concern. But also (if I’m being honest) genuine longing and loneliness. I craved community and fellowship. I desired friends. I desperately wanted to be known and know others.
Last summer was long, hot, and lonely. And I remember thinking, just three more years and we can get the heck out of this place and hopefully land in Colorado or Washington – some place with no bugs or humidity.
But slowly, things started to change. And little by little, community began to happen. I guess it started in small ways. Like in the first month when my husband’s sponsor, a young and single sailor, came over for dinner (our first guest in our new base house). And in June when we sheepishly went to our first FRG meeting – fighting my own insecurity as a brand new, unknowledgeable Navy wife. In October we went to our first military ball, and in November, we found our church (which we officially joined in December).
Relationships here took time to cultivate, community took time to discover, the loneliness took some time to dissipate.
When you move a lot, there is a temptation (even as an extrovert) to keep people at a distance and avoid deep connections and meaningful relationships. That’s something husband and I talked a lot about in those initial weeks and months here. There was the question: what’s the point of investing when we’re just going to move and start all over again in a few years? But really what a mistake that would have been. We would have missed out on countless blessings, beautiful friendships, and significant opportunities. I absolutely love this reminder from Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be ALL there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
We are not even guaranteed tomorrow, let alone three years from now. But we are here. Today. Right now. So we should be ALL here, investing, giving, serving, loving the people and community we find ourselves in. How easy it is to give up on the search for community when it’s sometimes hard to find. But then again, community isn’t always what we expect it to be. Sometimes it’s the homeless man downtown who engages you in conversation, or the barista who remembers your order, or the mailman, or the waitress, or the grocer, or your neighbor. Community happens wherever there are people, and sometimes we can be completely shocked and happily surprised to discover community in the most unlikely of places.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been blessed to be in fellowship with some amazing people. The Lord led us to a church where we’ve seen Acts 2 played out everyday. Community is not only happening within the walls of the church, but outside. Down the street. In the neighborhood. Person by person.
My heart is full of gratitude as I’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s kindness. My perspective has changed dramatically. Though I still long for travel and adventure, we’ve found a home here. The place I was so discontented with nearly a year ago, is now precious to me. I’ve been reminded to never give up on community.
God desires His people to be in community, to have fellowship and work towards common goals, breaking bread together and opening our homes to one another. It might not happen right away. You may have to fight for it, extend invitations and even be rejected. But don’t give up on it, because through community comes ministry. Through hospitality comes a genuine display of love for others (though they be strangers or old friends).
Last Thursday we did something kind of crazy, a little surprising, and incredibly exciting.
We bought a house!
After living in base housing for eight months, we decided to break our lease and move across town (same city, different state). It’s been a chaotic few days (our fourth move in less than two years). We’ve discovered junk that has somehow, despite my best efforts, continued to accumulate. Boxes are strewn around the house in jenga-like towers, clothes remain in piles waiting to be hung. The house is a mess but we’re home, and so incredibly thankful for God’s provision.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve felt a little like gypsies moving from space to temporary space. But we’ve learned a lot about appreciating the space we occupy – even if it’s not our “dream home.” We’ve also learned we don’t need much to be welcoming, loving, and giving to whomever may walk through our front door.
Eventually everything will be unpacked and organized, but for now here’s a little peak of our new home!
I don’t really know how it’s possible that yet another year has passed and a new one is literally a day away. It feels like just yesterday that everyone was panicking and hoarding in preparation for Y2K…and here we are nearly 17 years later and our lights are still working, our computers still humming, our iPhones chiming…
It’s that time of year when our jeans are tight, our wallets slim, our emotions a little frayed and even raw as we reflect on the past year – the failed resolutions, the mistakes, the disappointments. And at the same time, there is renewed hope at the prospect of turning a new leaf – no matter how many new years we may have ushered in – 15 or 95 – it doesn’t matter. Every January 1 is a fresh start. A new beginning. An opportunity to try again. Make plans. Dream. Resolve.
A lot was packed into 2016. It’s been a very busy year with a lot of traveling and one really long – but amazing – road trip. We left Pensacola at the end of April and embarked on a week-long trip through 11 states. We ate beignets and drank rich cafe au laits at Cafe Du Monde, and wandered through the French Quarter in New Orleans. We stayed the night in Houston and ate bison burgers washed down with ice cold Lone Stars at a tiny dive underneath an overpass. We drove through the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma, and camped in the middle of the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. We made a quick stop in Memphis at the tiniest and somewhat sketchy hole-in-the-wall (which really was just somebody’s kitchen) for award-winning Memphis barbecue, and camped outside of Nashville where we enjoyed giant, flaky and delicious biscuits for breakfast the following morning. We then spent a week and a half with family and friends in North Carolina before heading down to Augusta, Georgia (our new duty station).
We had a lot of fun in 2016. Made new memories. Laughed. Decorated our home. Explored our new city. Visited new places. Joined a new church. Connected with new friends. But there’s been hardship too. Occasional loneliness. Bouts of discouragement. Feelings of isolation during the long and brutally hot summer months. We grieved this year as we said goodbye to Pappaw. We gathered together to celebrate his life – reuniting with some family members we hadn’t seen in a while. We shared countless stories, loved on Granny. A bittersweet week honoring a life well lived that we all miss terribly …
There are a lot of resolutions I could make for 2017. (Drink more water, lose 10 pounds, run a half marathon, make more money on Etsy, etc.) But what I really want as we head into 2017 are more opportunities to love, serve, and listen. Three simple things really, but they’re so hard. We’re moving in a few weeks. Which is exciting and kind of insane, considering we just moved seven months ago. We’re buying a house and it really is perfect timing. A new home is exciting for a lot of reasons, but my main desire is that this home will be a haven. A welcoming, and hospitable place where we sit around the table with friends and strangers. Where people can feel free to come and go and know that if nothing else, there will always be coffee.
A few months ago, my mother-in-law gave me a book called First We Have Coffee – a memoir about the author’s mother during the early part of the 20th century. I’ve read a lot of wonderful books this year about hospitality and creating welcoming homes but I think this one was my favorite. Not because it was full of tips or wonderful recipes. But because it was a genuine glimpse of real love. A roaring fire. A welcoming table. Homemade bread. Generous cups of coffee. I think this book is a beautiful reminder that there is indeed a lot of pain, grief, and loneliness in the world. But we should never underestimate the power of listening ears, compassionate hearts, and a hearty meal. That’s what I want for our new home.
That’s what I hope 2017 will bring.
In January, I made a devastating self discovery. I realized I had made it through 2015 having only read one lone book. That’s pretty pathetic. I mean, I grew up with my nose stuck in a book – I absolutely adore books, and bookstores, and libraries. But after graduating college, as countless people can attest, I just could not seem to find the time to read anymore. And the sad thing is that my evenings are more likely to be spent watching Netflix than devouring a novel or leafing through a biography. I’ve grown lazy and I realized I missed reading. So I decided that 2016 would be the year that I rekindled my old love affair with books. I created a Goodreads account – possibly the best app ever. And I started a reading challenge. I’m not even close to the 40 books I thought I’d somehow manage to read. But here we are, 18 days away from the New Year and I’m pretty excited to say I have officially finished 24 books (6,372 pages according to my Goodreads account)!
I stumbled across some amazing books this year: a few novels, a handful of classics, a timely political book or two, a few on theology, and just for fun, a couple of biographies. The more I read, the more I crave. This year, I was reminded of a time before Netflix. Before Facebook. Before E-mail. When one of my greatest sources of entertainment and distraction was books. I’m not going to share reviews of all 24 books because that would be absurd. But I thought I’d share my top five favorite books of 2016 – not necessarily books that were written in 2016, but books that I either discovered or finally got around to reading this year. I’ve been challenged and blessed, emotional and contemplative as a result of thoughtful, deep, educated, and compassionate authors. I hope you will be too!
1] Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
This, quite possibly, is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and most definitely my favorite book of 2016. If you are not familiar with Rosaria’s story, I’d recommend starting with her first book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
This year, I’ve listened to several podcast interviews with Rosaria. I devoured her books and I’ve been so impacted and blessed by this woman’s heart of compassion, hospitality, and deep knowledge of scripture. I finished Openness Unhindered feeling absolutely challenged about the way I engage and interact with unsaved souls, the openness of my home, my own compassion (or lack of compassion) for my neighbors and people in my community.
In this book, Rosaria talks about the history of of sexual and gender identity in the universities and our present culture. She pulls from her own years of research and study as a highly educated woman. She also beautifully and lovingly details Christ’s design for creation, and the beautiful and distinct differences between men and woman. She talks about loving people where they are, cultivating an atmosphere that is open and welcoming – even to people who are different and even sometimes uncomfortable to interact with. She talks about being purposeful and intentional in relationships. Loving people where they are.
If I had a book on hand to just pass out to people, it would be this one.
2] Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary
I’m a huge lover of true stories. I devoured Unbroken in four days, and many of the books on my Goodreads to-read list are biographies and true accounts. I first heard Rifqa’s story on a podcast (confession: I discovered a lot of books this year via podcasts), and I knew I had to get my hands on her book. Rifqa was raised in a strict Muslim home in the United States, but had an encounter with God as a young child. This is the story of her salvation, God’s protection and deliverance, a battle with her family and the court system, and ultimately the Lord’s mercy in a situation that seemed impossible. The book is captivating and beautifully written. It’s also incredibly sobering, and convicting in the kind of way that forces one to examine their own hearts and think about what truly matters.
3] Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist
I loved this book for 1,001 reasons. If I could mirror anyone’s writing style, it would be Shauna’s. She’s hilarious, descriptive, and down to earth. Her writing is infectious, her stories so beautifully and wonderfully illustrated. But I think more than anything, I appreciated her genuine approach to just writing about life – the ups and downs, the kitchen successes, and little life disappointments. I found myself relating so deeply to her love of food: discovering new places and associating some of the best memories with delicious food. I can also agree that one of my favorite places to be is around the table, immersed in conversation, passing plates, clinking classes, pouring wine or coffee. Throughout this book, I found myself constantly exclaiming, yes!
4] 1984 by George Orwell
It’s a classic I somehow failed to read in high school. So I read it this year (a super timely book, by the way). This is not a happy book by any means, but it’s an absolutely interesting storyline and one worth reading. It’s gripping. Thrilling. Incredibly interesting. I read several novels this year, but 1984 was certainly the best. And while current New York Times Best Sellers have their place, there’s nothing quite like classic literature.
5] All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
It probably took my two months to finish this novel. It was long, and dealt with difficult subject matter – Nazi occupied France, a blind girl, and a German orphan. I’ve noticed a lot of readers disagreed about this book. Some thought it was just another predictable WWII novel. But I thought it was brilliant. I was captivated by the storyline, the characters, the mystery. Like 1984, it was not a happy book. It certainly did not have a happy ending. But that’s not always a reason to read books. Sometimes a story cannot possibly end happily. That’s a reality, but it doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told. This was a fictional novel, but it was obviously based on non-historic fiction (unlike 1984). I’m a little picky when it comes to novels, but this is a good one that I would definitely recommend especially on a snow day, or a long trip, or just a few hours lounging in a hammock.
Thanksgiving has long been a favorite holiday of mine. It’s the beginning of the Christmas season, a time for delicious calorie-heavy food, and a welcome opportunity to break from the craziness of life and catch up with family we haven’t seen in months. It’s a season of reminiscing; lots of laughter, sometimes tears.
For my family, this was the first Thanksgiving without Pappaw. It was different, and a little sad. But also sweet. Because sitting together and digging through boxes of old pictures and memorabilia sparked so many stories and memories. We found childhood drawings and letters we’d sent to Granny and Pappaw decades ago. We laughed at awkward family pictures, and passed around old family photographs from the early 1900s. I think this year, more than ever before, we were all reminded of our beautiful inheritance.
I’ve recently realized that most people don’t have cousins they can sit around a table with for hours, drinking pour over coffee, sipping red wine, eating buttery pop corn, laughing out loud, playing hand after hand of Oh Shucks, quoting movie lines, loving life together. We are a family of laughter and joy. Even with the heartache of this past year, the difficulties of life in general, the miles apart (many of us spread out in different states and countries). This year, we all returned. My sister from Mexico, my brother from college, my husband and I from Augusta. This year, for the first time in many years, we all met together again at the home that holds some of the happiest memories.
I am thankful for these 28 years with my family. Twenty-seven with pappaw. Almost three with my husband. And as we’ve left the nest, and started this new military life, it’s been so important to me that we carry on a legacy of hospitality with our Navy family here. This past week, we enjoyed three separate and uniquely different Thanksgiving meals. Yes, it’s a lot of food. But more importantly, it’s a lot of fellowship. A table full of beautiful souls.
A few months ago, I commissioned my brother to build us a six foot farmhouse table. Now I realize everyone and their mother currently has a farmhouse table or is making one, or at least dreaming about one. It’s a trend that has caught on like wildfire – and for good reason. Farmhouse tables are beautiful and welcoming. I wanted a space where people could gather, converse, laugh, swap stories, enjoy food, drink wine, break bread. I told my husband to invite everyone. Our house is small. Parking is a problem. The turkey was only 13 pounds. But I didn’t care. Come one, come all. I decorated for Christmas, roasted a turkey, turned up Bing Crosby, made a bowl full of homemade cranberry sauce (boiled down from plump cranberries in water, orange juice, and sugar, with a just a hint of cinnamon). Last Tuesday night, we had a house full of sailors. One soldier. A few wives. The house was loud. We ran out of chairs. But somehow, there was plenty of food. I made homemade hot apple cider and passed around tupperware overflowing with brownies.
And once again, I felt grateful for this opportunity. I knew very few of the people gathered around the table. But it didn’t matter because I absolutely believe that the walls of separation diminish when you sit down to share a meal with a stranger.
Our third Thanksgiving took us back home to North Carolina for two days. After far too much turkey, casseroles, and pie, my mother in law decided to bake a few lasagnas instead – a very welcome reprieve from all the leftovers we’d been consuming for days. This time, we gathered with my husband’s sweet family. Grandparents. Sister. A brother home from college. It was intimate and welcoming. We ate leftover pumpkin cheesecake, and turned on the fire as the temperature dropped outside.
I know it’s a cliche to say I’m thankful for family. But I am. I have a rich, beautiful heritage that has only grown sweeter with age. We’re surrounded by a growing group of supportive sailors and soldiers who actually enjoy hanging out with us, pet sitting, or coming over for a meal. And to top it all off, I married into a loving family of servant-hearted individuals.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” [Ralph Waldo Emerson]