Okay let me first preface this by saying there is a LOT of the Highlands I have yet to explore (like all of Northeast Scotland— would love to make it to Shetland someday!), but until then, this is a list of all the places that have captured my heart.
Chris and I first traveled here two years ago (pre-baby!) and spent about ten days hiking and eating our hearts out. The great thing about the highlands is that there’s something for every pace— intense, long, arduous hikes up snow capped mountains, long 6-hour hikes across misty peaks and river ravines, shoreline strolls and even if all you ever do is drive through this part of the world, you won’t feel like you missed out at all. We fell in love, keep scheming ways to make it back regularly and is currently Chris’ number one retirement destination… we’ll see if that happens! 😉
In this post you can check out all my recommendations for favourite hikes, where to stay, coffee, scenic drives and places to eat (including health-conscious options!)
I wanted to start with this because in our two trips now we stayed at B&Bs, hostels and hotels (varying in excellence) and our favourite without rival were the B&Bs. Every single one was clean, cozy, comfortable and actually the most cost effective. Hotels and even hostels get pricey quick. Even when we tried to treat ourself to a nicer hotel in the Isle of Skye we found that though it was charming and had an incredible view of the ocean, the breakfast wasn’t great, the beds were uncomfortable and the wifi was patchy at best. Basically the moral of the story is stay in the B&Bs when possible— however they fill up FAST (probably because they are nicer and cheaper) so plan ahead.
Known as the capital of the Highlands, Inverness is the northern most city in the United Kingdom and is located at “the mouth” of the River Ness. Which basically means it’s the last bastion of civilisation before you embark into the wonder of the wildness of the Scottish Highlands.
Little Bird - In the heart of downtown, this place is small but great for getting a delicious cup of coffee and a bite to eat before hitting the trails. Favorites from Little Bird for me include the avo toast menu and the coconut flapjacks. Perks include delicious oat milk as a non-dairy. soy-free milk option.
Nourish - a vegan restaurant and therapy shop. I had their hearty lentil stew, an oat milk turmeric latte and the vegan lemon cardamom cake. All delicious. This place is special because they also offer a therapy of the day— when we were there last they were offering hypnotherapy sessions, but also specialise in therapeutic massage, yoga and aroma therapy. So fun!
Lochness - There are so. many. trails around Lochness, it’d be impossible to list them all. So I’ll just tell you what we’ve done. We took a trail starting in Iverfarigig to the Falls of Foyer and then looped back. We didn’t rush and just ambled through forests so lush and mossy I felt like I was in Brave. It was about 9 miles and took us about 4 hours. We did an abbreviated version of this hike with Danny this week starting at the Falls of Foyer and hiking about 4 miles. It was beautiful. Perks? There’s a shop at the top of the falls that makes homemade softserve ice cream. Perfect mid (or pre!) hike treat.
GLENCOE/ FORT WILLIAM
Frickin Glen Coe. If you’ve ever watched Skyfall and found yourself drooling over the scenery before uttering a Liz Lemon-esque, “I want to go to there,” this region is a must. Bare, wild mountains with rivers, streams and ravines in every nook and cranny. It’s a hikers dream.
So something you need to know about Scots and feeding yourself in the highlands— you’re in their territory now, which means you’re on their timetable. It’s not uncommon for the local eateries to keep specific hours— forget about getting breakfast after 9:45 a.m. at most places— or to show up somewhere only to find they’ve closed for the day. Don’t get annoyed, just bring some supplies if you miss the breakfast deadline or need a bite and the cafes are closed.
Seafood Restaurant (Fort William) — not actually sure if this place as a name but it’s a white and red trimmed house perched on the side of the road (unmissable as you drive to Glencoe). Michelin guide recommended (on the pricier end!) but delicious seafood. I had herb-crusted haddock on mashed potatoes and a bed of asparagus (but Danny ate most of my potatoes!) They serve you brown, warm, homemade crusty bread as soon as you sit down and you get to watch the boats go by as you eat.
Wild Cat (Fort William) — this vegan coffee shop and cafe is in downtown Fort William. V60s, matcha lattes, vegan sandwiches and bake goods abound. Oatmilk is served as standard with all lattes. Love their approach to limiting waste by not serving to-go cups. You can bring your own, otherwise you’re sitting in and enjoying this stop in full. I’ve never had vegan bake goods that tasted as good. We had: mushroom rocket soup (hoooollly cooowww! So good), walnut coffee cake, lemon drizzle cake, date cake, and the the carrot cake. Not all in one go, we visited twice because this place was that. freaking. good.
Clachaig Inn (Glencoe) — pub grub at its finest. Rustic, wood beamed, low ceiling and fireplace ablaze. My mouth still waters when I think of the mashed potatoes I had here. Probably not the best place to go if you have a ton of allergies but worth the caloric splurge. Other pros outdoor seating below the mountains.
Glencoe Cafe — coffee is okay, but the bake goods and homemade soup is where its at. Skip the coffee, get a cuppa Scottish tea.
Again, picking one hike in Glencoe is impossible, but here are three to get you started listed from easiest to most challenging.
Signal Rock Trail - 2 miles round trip. No incline, just a pleasant dander in the valley along the stream through the woods. Lots of mossy trees, winding paths and great views of the mountains. We did this one with Danny on a rainier day because we didn’t want to be out too long. It didn’t feel like a compromise just because it was short.
Hidden Valley Trail - this one is probably the most popular and for good reason. The history behind this trail is that it was where the MacDonald clan in Glencoe hid their cattle, up in the mountain so they wouldn’t get stolen! It’s an upward amble following one of the many beautiful streams from the mountain tops. It is steep, you do have to cross the water and there are parts that feel a little precarious, but Chris climbed this one with Danny on his back the whole way. Definitely doable. Not sure how many miles round trip but it took us just shy of four hours going at a slow pace (snack break included at the top).
Pro tip: go in the morning before all the tourists get there! It gets crowded fast but is worth it for the views and gorgeous scenery along the way.
Buachaille Etive Mor — 8.25 miles and it took us the full 9 hours but it was amazing. You walk in a gradual incline through the wild and barren parts of the mountain. Stunning views, endorphin-pumping, endurance hike that is worth every step.
Pro tip: invest in hiking boots. It’s all rock (as are many the good mountain hikes) and by the end of the walk our feet were shredded. Went and splurged on hiking boots the very next day so we could actually enjoy the following next five days of hiking without wanting to die!
ISLE OF SKYE
This island has my heart. It’d be impossible to mention this place without telling you that the drive up to your ferry port (because you have to drive your car onto a ferry for a 30 minute ride to get there) is STUNNING. Tons of the scenes from Harry Potter were filmed there, you can even see the Hogwarts Express steam past you as you drive by. The island where Dumbledore was buried and many more sights are to be seen (if you care about such things, as I do!)
Your ferry port is in Mallaig. Buy your tickets for the ferry, park your car in line, and then go grab a bite at the local chip shop while you wait. Probably still the best scampi supper I’ve ever had. Pro tip: DO NOT FEED THE SEAGULLS. Unless you want to reenact a Alfred Hitchcock scene.
Single Track Coffee — located at the upper most point of the island this place is the site of a Grand Designs home and is run by two women— one in charge of the coffee, the other makes fresh bake goods aaaaallll day. They also sell local art. I bought a print there that I still have hanging in my home. Really tasteful and beautiful stuff.
Pie Skye Cafe — oh my goodness guys. We only got to eat here the last day (again, it was always closed when we were coming and going from our hikes!) and we were so sad we didn’t find it sooner. A whole restaurant devoted to sweet and savoury pies (Americans think what we would call pasties!) They also sell homeware goods and it’s a lovely place to sit and enjoy a respite from all your walking.
Three Chimneys — feel like I have to mention that there IS a two-star Michelin rated restaurant if you’re feeling super fancy.
The Storr — this hike is around that steeple shaped mountain you see all over instagram. Trust me, you haven’t seen an Instagram picture yet there compares to the real thing. Tourists usually just hike up to the base of the steeple and back down, but if you’re feeling adventurous the trail goes on up over the mountains even higher. This was my scariest hike the whole trip because a storm rolled over the peak just as we reached it make it nearly impossible to see three feet ahead, making the rocks wet and slippery and there ARE some dangerous falls if you’re not smart. But it was still such an incredible experience walking through this cloud literally on top of the world. There are no words for how majestic (and terrifying) I found it.
The Quiraing — An absolute must. This was my favourite hike of the whole trip. It takes you all the way up to the top of one of the highest peaks, and it’s a relatively easy trail. It’s 4 miles and takes about 2 hours.
The Fairy Glen — Short and sweet walk around these cone shaped hills. Super easy and beautiful. A little over a mile but you feel like you’re a hobbit.
The Fairy Pools — huge tourist destination, but if you follow the official trail you’ll lose 90% of them. So beautiful. A collection of pools that are clear and blue from fresh mountain water streaming and pool on its way down from the mountain. Bring your swimsuit. You’ll wanna swim (even if it’s freezing!) it’s about 5 miles and took us 3ish hours.
I think I’ll leave my guide at this for now. But I think it’s worth mentioning that even if you don’t ever do any of the official hikes, even if you just drive around and stop and walk whenever you see something that looks fun, it’s worth it. We walked every where we could, explored every coast that looked fun, climbed up every hill that seemed like it had a good view and ate every cake that was offered to us. Just do it. You won’t regret a single bite or step.
Here’s video of our time in the highlands two years ago. Sad to be leaving tomorrow!
So I had heard whispers about it, but nothing really prepares you for the utter trauma of going from that pregnancy glow to life after giving birth. (Insert eye-roll, death face, sobbing emojis.) One day your skin has never looked better, your hair is full and glossy and thick, and the next your jawline is covered in spots and your hair is falling out in handfuls. "Congratulations, you made a human, here's some acne."
Not eager to revisit Gabby-circa-2004, I quickly started researching what to do. While it's still a process, I've managed to start transforming my skin literally overnight which is why I wanted to share what's been working for me with all of you. The thing is, I didn't actually find much in terms of advice. Generally, the mommy forums and baby blogs just shrugged their shoulders and said "Wash your face, and ride it out."
So I set out on my own (and little help from my friends on Instagram) to figure it out. Before going any further I just want to say I'm not an expert, I did not consult with any dermatologists, nor am I sponsored or paid by any of the companies I list below. These are just some of the products I've been using that have transformed my skin and I wanted to share.
Final note: there is a bit of a "ride-it-out" component since postpartum acne is hormone induced and it takes awhile for your body to naturally level out its hormones after giving birth. Have grace with yourself, but also care for your healing body in these early stages of recovery. I have pretty average, combination type skin that tends to get a little dry in the winter. So if that sounds like you, read on:
First things first. What you eat matters. We're learning more and more about how food has the power to heal and help prevent so much of what goes on with our bodies. So I first looked to what I was eating and drinking, and came up with this matcha latte recipe that I drink daily.
I love coffee but it tends to dehydrate you, so I traded out my afternoon mug for this latte which has less caffeine and is full of beauty benefits!
Matcha is FULL of antioxidants, chlorophyll (so good for skin!) and fiber. It also helps focus and calm your mind which means it's perfect for my afternoon slump.
Tocos is short for tocotrienols, is a fat-soluble relative of Vitamin E, that comes from rice (or other grains), and we all know what Vitamin E is good for-- SKIN. Growing it, healing it, restoring it. That's why this stuff makes it into my latte everyday, also it gives it a creamy consistency which is YUMMY. (Plus? This helps fade and heal stretch marks too!)
Collagen peptides. I started mixing these into my morning cup of coffee two years ago when my nails were brittle from the lack of nutrition that sometimes comes with living on the road when you don't get to pick what you're getting fed everyday. But the first benefit I noticed wasn't actually in my nails but in my skin-- it was clear, lush and healthy. I haven't stopped taking it since. I would highly recommend reading about all the benefits of collagen if you've never have.
It always amazes me when food contains such power. It's such a reminder that we've been provided for and given so many gifts in this world of ours.
I had never used any Juice Beauty products before but wanted something that was natural and would be gentle on my skin. I picked this up at Whole Foods and it's been working wonders. Best results when you wash your face in the morning and the evening, and full confession: most nights I'm so exhausted from the day I tend to crash land in my bed and forget to wash. I know. It's horrible. But it's what having a newborn will do to you!
Next I spray on a toning mist, and I ADORE this one from Leahlani. It's fresh, smells like heaven and is so good for your skin.
This mist includes chamomile, aloe and lavender to help reduce inflammation, so angry acne gets soothed away. I had been using this stuff during my pregnancy and found it helped my face not feel so puffy. Turns out I still need all the help I can get in that department!
More matcha! So I don't use this for my acne specifically, but I have been using MyMatcha from cocokind stick for about a year now in the areas of my face that need a little extra moisture. It's a bit heavy (but contains just THREE organic ingredients: coconut oil, beeswax and matcha powder!) so I apply it under my eyes and around my lips when I tend to get a bit dry. I'm including this product because it's a part of my everyday skincare routine and I'm obsessed.
Finally, facial oils. Down the street from my house is a little local natural beauty shop called Lemon Laine. You can book appointments and mix your own facial essential oil mix customized to your face. Mine contains ylang ylang (kills bacteria and promotes relaxation), chamomile (soothes skin, also kills bacteria, is naturally hypoallergenic and anti-fungal) and two other essential oils I'm having trouble remembering....
The other oil I've been applying is tea tree essential oil from Young Living directly on my acne. It works better than any drug store spot-killer I've ever used. Literally worked overnight. However, you have to be careful when using it because it can really dry your skin out fast, which is why it's good to have hydrating mists and other facial oils to maintain an overall healthy moisture.
Let me tell you a story. My story. I grew up in a conservative, Swedish Baptist church in Minnesota. We were into minimalism before it was cool, and sang songs out of hymnals. We loved order, intellectualism and avoided chaos-- especially when it came to the messy parts of life and faith. We didn't like disorder, we didn't know what to do with it. At least I didn't. I made my life mission being right. I loved knowing all the answers, I was that annoying kid who raised their hand during Sunday school to correct others, I was pedantic, and self-important-- like Hermione Granger but without the cheeky, sweet side. I grew up into an adult who followed rules meticulously and was hounded by a deep seated fear of being "wrong". By the time I was 22 I was depressed, unable to avoid my over-active conscience, and someone who saw faith as a list of rules that I wasn't sure if I was quite following. Underneath it all I hated faith, I felt choked, stifled, suffocated under the weight of my own holiness. I poked holes in other people's theology because it made me feel right. And I desperately needed to be right. I didn't want faith but I was too scared to leave. So I stayed and hoped it would somehow get better.
This is a common story. I'm sure you've heard it before-- maybe you're even living it. I think it's what happens when we miss the forest of freedom that comes with believing in Jesus for the tree of self-righteousness and theology.
Jesus' message is much more inclusive and beautiful than the one I was chasing. When he hung on the cross he didn't turn to the thief hanging next to him, asking for mercy, to recite catechism or if he believed in predestination or free will. He didn't ask him about his beliefs on skirt lengths, or sexuality, or drinking alcohol, or whether or not he had any tattoos.
He didn't ask him anything, he just told him that he'd see him on the other side of this life, plain and simple.
I remember one tearful phone call with my mom, where I was "confessing" how I had screwed up, again. And finally in exasperation she said "I wish you'd break the rules so you could realize how much grace and love God has for you! There is an ocean of grace waiting for you to swim in."
So I started breaking my own rules and asked God what he thought about them. Never did I ever find he was angry with me. I began to find freedom when I realized I had made up most of my religion, not God. I watched chains fall off my heart when I realized He cares more about me than even I do.
If you don't feel free right now then you don't believe the message of Jesus.
If you don't feel loved then you've missed the point of the Bible.
If you don't see your heart changing to love God instead of fear his wrath, then you haven't really met him.
These days when I watch Christians get in online debates, or lose their minds when another Christian's theology doesn't exactly mirror their own I know they can't feel free. Only caged people try to cage others. Only people who feel judged try to judge others.
Loved people love others.
Forgiven people forgive others.
People who have required the benefit of the doubt extend that same grace to others.
I'm not sure what your faith looks like. But if you're choking know you can breathe again-- just so long as you let go of your own throat.
He's there, trying to gently pry one finger off your neck at a time, looking in your eyes and saying "I'm better. I'm better. I'm better."
I'm already bracing myself for people to read this and breathe in sharply, shake their head and tell me I've let grace go too far. But if I'm going to get it wrong, I'd rather be wrong loving people too much. If I'm going to get it wrong, I'd rather extend too much grace. Because you know who else was accused of showing too much mercy? Jesus. And he is infinitely better.
Disclaimer: don't hear me saying "Go defy Jesus' words in the Bible, it'll be fine." I just found in my own life that there was a lot of baggage and nonsense I had unnecessarily strapped onto my faith that Jesus never mentions and the weight of THAT crushed me. So if you feel like Jesus' yoke isn't easy and his burden isn't light, maybe it's time to reexamine what you're carrying.
You know what’s harder than dating? Making friends. This was solidified for me in Alaska, when I subconsciously decided to not be be friends with anyone ever again.
I think it’s because we analyze friendship less. Or at least I do. When I think of my dating life before I got married, I think of being in my college apartment kitchen, standing on the linoleum floor barefoot in a sloppy tree pose, recounting every detail of the night to my roommates between mouthfuls of microwavable popcorn.
He said this, then I said that, then we stumbled upon the ballroom dance club practicing in an empty room at the student union and tried to dance between fits of giggles. What do you think it means?
Is it a deal breaker if his best friend is a girl? How do I pretend it doesn’t bother me that two weeks into dating doesn’t make us automatically best friends?
He texted. You always know if you’re in if he texts you before going to bed. It means you can roll over and fall asleep safe in the knowledge that you were someone’s last thought too.
Turns out if you text a girl you just had coffee with that day saying you had fun and let’s-do-this-again you come across a bit extra— or even worse— desperate. The same rules don’t apply. But it’s not my fault I never had to think about them before.
Until recently, friendships were a thing that happened to me. I’d stumble into them obliviously in lecture or through other friends, or at a party.
Friendship got complicated after college when I moved across country to Atlanta, Georgia. Suddenly I was meeting tons of sweet girls (because everyone’s sweet in Georgia, no really, all the most genuine and nicest people I know are from Georgia). Meeting people was easy.
But finding a way to say “Hey I know it’s almost midnight, but can I come over and watch episodes of Lost and eat my body weight in popcorn and pass out on your couch if I want to?” was harder— much harder. I craved familiarity; I missed laughing so hard I peed my pants and getting hand-me-downs; I missed knowing I never needed an invitation because I was always invited; I missed never thinking about having friends and just having them.
I started to hate meeting people. Particularly the phrase “You should meet my wife.” It automatically meant the pressure was on. We’d go out for coffee, I’d send her a text saying we should hang out again, and often never hear back.
Dating was way easier than this crap. At least I understood the rules of dating, making friends post-college as an adult was a jungle of insecurity, second-guessing your sense of humor and hearing the phrase “same life phase” thrown around a lot.
All of this brings me to last summer in Alaska. I had discovered the best way to stop just meeting people was to stop being someone they would want to meet (I’m so smart).
So when Maegan came over to me with a big smile and said “Hey I’m Maegan, I live in Nashville too!” I remained cool. Chilly in fact. I was not about to meet anyone else. It didn’t matter that she was funny and nice and clearly confused about why she was getting the mean girl treatment. But I was on a mission, and few hours later I waved good-bye nonchalantly having successfully avoided another friendship.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I thought of Maegan randomly. I heard a whispery voice say “You could have had a friend, you know, the kind of friend you want, but you robbed yourself of that experience by being a complete ass.”
Call it conscience, call it an inner voice, I call it Jesus because I think he cares about things like whether or not we have friends. I knew that little voice was right, it just meant putting myself out there— again. Vulnerability is the best worst feeling. Like emotionally doing karaoke, or like that butterflies feeling you get when you maybe swam just a little too far out from shore. So I texted her while I sipped my morning coffee, bracing myself for the non-response I was sure I was going to get.
But to my surprise she texted back, and we got coffee. The voice was right, it was wonderful.
These days we text all the time. Usually they’re things like “Hey Jared and I just landed at Nashville airport. I know it’s late but we’re coming over”
Or, “Dessert? We’ll bring the ice cream.”
“Chris is busy— want to go on a baby moon with me instead?” And then five days later “I’m freaking out. I can’t go on a baby moon! What if I give birth to this child on the beach?!”
And getting texts back like “Forget the baby moon, let’s just hang here.”
I still think it’s harder than dating. But the same principles actually apply in an unexpected, quirky way. I always assumed it would be effortless, but really good things take time to grow. Good friends are like stalactites— they require the consistency of showing up in the mundane and exciting. It’s seeing people for more than just Instagram squares and wondering what’s going on behind the filters. That and a love of food and talking until way too late into the night— these things help.
It was Father's Day.
“Chris, if they sing Good Good Father and preach on the Prodigal son, I might blow my brains out.” I groaned.
We were driving to try another new church that Sunday and I was already weary. Weary because I knew what lay ahead.
Hi, my name is Gabby and for the past two years I've been a church-shopaholic.
I know it's bad. I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's true. I know I'm the type of millennial that inspires hilarious mock videos like this one. It's not something I like to share because I know I really fit most of the stereotypes. Flaky, non-committal, in-it-for-the-wrong-reasons, like I’m picking out a Starbucks drink.
In the last two years I've tried nearly every kind of church Nashville has to offer. I've been to your classic suburban, middle class white evangelical church, with that stellar kids ministry and a multi-million dollar play complex on the grounds. I've been to small charismatic churches, lit with candles and bead drapes hanging from the walls, and people shouting and swaying side-to-side with Holy Spirit abandon. I've been to churches with female pastors and churches with male pastors. To Episcopalian churches where I sat and stood, tears streaming down my face because it felt so good to read Scripture out loud as a congregation. I’ve been to churches where worship is just a bluegrass band twanging out ‘Be Thou My Vision’ (this is Nashville after all). Churches where worship is led by 30 year-olds who look like 20 year-olds, dressed in long t-shirts and jumping to ‘This Is Living Now’. Churches where my hand cramped from trying to write everything the pastor said because it was so profound, and churches where I didn’t need to open my Bible. One church started at 8:30 (isn’t this suppose to be the day of rest?!), another on Tuesday at night. Oh, and they all served coffee. Except for the Episcopalian church which had wine and real bread at communion. None of them felt like home.
Yet I knew I need it. I felt this yearning for connection every week. So I kept visiting churches, waiting for one to feel like home.
“Church is not entertainment, church is not entertainment. Father, help me absorb this message, meet me in the worship, this isn’t about me, this is about you. Jesus, I love you, I want to draw near, why I am I so bored?!?”
That was my inner monologue that Father’s Day Sunday (and most Sundays). Equal parts guilty for feeling bored, trying to open my heart to the experience, but also wanting to be real with God about where I was at. I didn’t want to fake it until I made it.
I’m not saying I was faultless, or that my heart didn’t need a healthy dose of humility, truth and good old-fashioned faithfulness. I’m just saying this is where I was at until recently. However, I also don’t think it’s entirely my fault that I struggled with this for so long.
Think about it, 90% of Sunday mornings are structured like this: you file into your preferred seat (given you arrive early enough, ideally somewhere near the action but not too up front), you sit in the congregation (audience) and wait for worship to start (the opening act), after which there’s sometimes a moment to greet your neighbor (an intermission) before the sermon (the main act). Sometimes you can even pick up the sermon at the book store (merchandise table).
While I know there are good reasons why churches across America structure services this way, I also wonder if it’s time to rethink it? We structure our gatherings like entertainment events, so is it any wonder we come in with an entertainment mindset? The problem is, compared to a Justin Beiber concert, Sunday morning, no matter how many lights, doesn’t really hold up.
In my search I was hungry to be taught and to learn more about the Bible, I just didn’t want a sermon. I was thirsty to be ushered into the presence of God through worship and communion, I just didn’t want a concert. I wanted to meet the person next to me, I just didn’t want to have 30 second conversation with someone I may never see again. I was desperate for something real, that I could take with me into the week.
I know, I’m even cringing as I type these words. But this is a confession, so hopefully y’all can take it.
In the last two years my favorite church services were the ones we had on tour. Everyone on our team would roll out of bed in their pyjamas, find some coffee and sit in a circle. We’d read Scripture and our tour pastor Dustin would share a 15 minute lesson he’d prepared that week. Then he’d turn it over to us. I learned so much about God in what he revealed not only to Dustin (who did an amazing job every week), but through my peers on tour as they shared what they learned from that passage. I felt closer to them, more encouraged to pray for them, I saw Jesus actively working in their hearts and it made me want to open my heart up too.
I think this is what most people want from a church— a forum to bring their real selves, to be accepted, a chance to speak, a chance to respond to what God’s saying and doing, to meet with Jesus and feel him near. As my Northern Irish Pentecostal husband often remarks about American church services, “sometimes it feels like we program the Holy Spirit right out!”
Anyway, my purpose in writing this wasn’t to “fix” church, to say I’m better than a standard church gather (because I’m not!), or to offer some wisdom about what church should be. There are plenty of wiser, more experienced men and women out there who can speak to those things. What I do hope to do is a couple of things: 1) share my experience in case it’s your experience too. In those two years there was only one friend of mine who voiced the same struggle, and it made me feel even more lonely than I already did. So if this is you, don’t give up. Keep pressing into Jesus, he knows the desires of your heart. 2) To ask my questions out loud, if you have questions, voice them too. Maybe some of you have some good answers, maybe there are some solutions someone who has been down this road can bring.
All in all, I think we’ve all been guilty of this mindset at one point or other. I just wonder if what’s often interpreted as flakiness, is just a yearning for something more?
* * *
Epilogue 1.0 - I have found a church that meets in a high school auditorium a few blocks from my house that feels like “home.” Yes, I file in and sit alone most mornings (Chris is on the road), and we sing Chris Tomlin songs and there are candles. But Jesus meets me there so I’m going to keep going. I’ve been twice and signed up for a small-group. This is big for me haha!
Epilogue 1.1 - Sounds like you need a house church, some of you might be thinking. But if you’re just visiting, attending a house church can feeling intimidating and intense. Not saying it’s a good reason to not go, just saying that was my honest reason for avoiding them.
Epilogue 1.2 - Yes, they did sing Good, Good Father that morning, and yes, the pastor did recap Tim Keller’s Prodigal God. My brain is still in tact, and God met with me that morning despite my fears and anxiety about the content.
I was 15 when I decided I wanted to get to know Jesus. Up until that point I remember squirming through youth retreats and Bible studies and feeling a bit like a faker. Everyone else seemed to have this Jesus thing on lock, while I wondered if I was doing all the right things, and if any else could see me stifle my panicked face whenever we were asked to look up verses in Nehemiah (was that BEFORE or AFTER Psalms?)
In a particularly vulnerable moment I remember confessing to my Bible study leader that I wanted to want Jesus, but at the end of the day I found faith boring, confusing and completely out of reach (I remember she told me "The fact that you even want to want to is a good thing!" Which I think was meant to be an encouragement, but it felt like she had thumped me on the back and said "Nice job, sport! Try again next year!")
Spirituality felt unattainable and mysterious. Like being in hot yoga and slyly peering around to make sure you're doing the right thing, and wondering why everyone else looks relaxed while you feel like you want to vomit from contorting your body upside down in 100 percent humidity.
But as uncomfortable as I felt growing up surrounded by Christians who wanted me to "believe," that was never enough to really inspire me to make the leap. There was never a Christian who ever said the right thing at the right time, or a verse in the Bible that suddenly made it all clear. There wasn't an amount of peer pressure (or parents of friends who thought I was a little "too out there") that made me want to want Jesus.
What made me want Him was the fact that He never asked me to be anything but me.
I didn't know He wanted that because all the Christians in my life were telling me He wanted me to change. But when it came to it, when it came to me crying my eyes out every night before bed because my life felt hallow and weak, when it came to chasing down everything I wanted in life and always still coming up short, when it came to being rejected by Christians and non-Christians alike and feeling like my life had become one, big, ravenous hole of neediness, that's when I heard it. It wasn't an audible voice, but it might as well have been because of how clearly it came into my heart:
I want you.
He wanted me. Not different but like this. Not better, or worse, or less weak, or more intelligent, or even more Christian.
That's when I finally, for the first time in my life wanted to get to know Jesus, because He first wanted me.
It's funny how the Holy Spirit can do in a moment what a lifetime of awkward Bibles studies, cheesy Sunday school songs, and well-meaning pastors and camp counselors try to achieve.
This is just my story about my Jesus. Maybe you have a different story about who dried your weepy eyes and reminded you that your humanity was precious. But today, whether you believe in Jesus or not, I hope you know that you are wanted just the way you are.
If you want someone to talk to or affirm that you're wonderful, please don't hesitate to reach out. You don't need to "believe in Jesus" or have the same faith as me, I won't try and force you to think those things. I'll just listen and remind you that you're loved and beautiful. Send me an email, drop me a note, it'll make my day.
A few weeks ago in Chicago I caught a flash of a sign outside an old stone church. In place of service times and hours of operation, it simply read "We're Christians, of course we welcome refugees."
My mouth hung open, as our uber driver continued to whip around the corner and the sign was gone. So simple, so profound.
I'm going to be honest with you, I don't really care about making America great again. America, like Rome and Greece and Babylon and the British Empire will come and go. While I'm deeply grateful for the education, opportunity, and relative freedom being American has given me, I'm not nationalistic.
I think that's maybe my parents fault for raising me in Central Asia, in a Muslim city where we could play hide-n-go seek around ancient mosques and hear the call to prayer, that distant yearning for something more meaningful at five in the morning.
Although I always knew that we believed different things, that didn't stop my Uzbek friends from being little, laughing, brown-eyed girls from being humans with hopes and dreams.
We're Christians, of course we welcome refugees.
Of course we champion the cause of the defense-less, perhaps even at our own risk, because Jesus came for us at His own risk. And he calls us to pick up our crosses and follow him. Of course we gather in the homeless, the huddled masses, the orphans and widows because it's what we're commanded to do. How can I claim the love of Christ, and not give myself up for the sake of other's? It's my conviction that I cannot.
We aren't made for this world, this kingdom, this America. We were made for a kingdom that is yet to come. Let's hold onto that promise! Let's pour our energy, our time, our love, our sacrifice, our names into that kingdom. One that will never fade.
So if you're like me and feel like you wish there was something you could do to help, to speak up, to make your voice heard for those who have no voice of their own, I'd ask you to sign this petition to help keep our arms open towards refugees, in the knowledge that real love often costs us our very souls, and that anything cheaper isn't worth it.
Words have always been my safe place.
Numbers, science, math are all more logical, more sure, more sturdy. But they feel cold and devoid of nuance, lacking the grey areas that makes us human. Writing has always been where I go when I'm scared.
And these days I'm scared.
I'm scared because I'm watching the politics rip the church of the United States of America open, leaving her bloodied, battered and scattered across the floor. Jesus' prayer feels distant and idealistic:
"That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
But that's the thing, when words are your safe place, you hold onto them, no matter how out of reach they may feel.
They also break your heart when they come in crashing and destroying over social media.
These days I'm tempted by segregation. I want to distance myself from those who feel so fundamentally different to myself. I want space, a break-up, a canyon between myself and the ones who claim a Jesus who feels foreign.
Through tears I watch my Muslim, black, Mexican, and LGBT fellow humans cower in fear, strategize for their safety, and think "This cannot be the Gospel! Perfect love casts OUT fear, it doesn't inspire it!"
And since when is grace fair?
These are the things I find my heart heavy with the days since the election. Maybe you do too.
But I'm fighting. Not the OTHER, I'm fighting the divide. I'm a strong believer in hugging those who don't hug you back.
It feels like there are a lot of Christians who aren't hugging me back right now.
I want to close the canyon. Instead of distancing myself from those who are different to me, I want to lean in and ask questions. I want to listen, I want to show love.
Show love. Show love to illegal immigrants. Show love to fellow women who feel objectified and used by men. Show love to Trump supporters and Hillary supporters. Show love until it bleeds me dry. If I'm pushed away, I want to lean in harder. We are one. We are the prophetic voice preparing the way of the Lord.
Jesus says, THIS is how we know who belongs to Him. Not by who we vote for, but by our unity.
Not by having all the same opinions, ideals and dreams for the future. Not by our country. Not by the color of our skin. But by our love, unconditional, radical, border breaking love.
These are the words I hide in today.
Growing up, it was not uncommon for us to sleep out under the stars.
Summer nights in Uzbekistan were hot and dry. So different from muggy evenings in Minnesota where we had come from, where the air you breathed carried the moisture of a ten thousand lakes. No, Uzbek summer nights were dry, hot, and unrelenting.
So on those nights, we’d sleep outside under an ocean of stars.
All five of us kids would sprawl out on so many mats and blankets with both dogs lying below the wooden frame we were sleeping on. I can still remember the smell, and feel on my skin. There’s nothing like a desert night sky to make you feel small.
Not in a bad way though. It’s funny how God doesn’t make bullies, not even in creation. It’s not the kind of smallness we humans sometimes impart to one another, using each other’s weaknesses to step up on in life.
It’s the kind of smallness that fills you with wonder. Instead of making you wonder why exist, it’s the kind of smallness that teaches you your proper place and makes you feel like you belong to a heritage of created things.
I used to wonder if the stars could see us, if we were twinkles they looked down on in their own night sky. Did they try to reach out and touch us too?
While all my brothers and sisters breathed deeply, I’d lie awake feeling the breeze on my face and significantly insignificant.
We don’t treasure the purpose of small things enough.
Maybe because we lose the perspective of the stars?
My small nine-year old life felt tiny, and yet full of infinity. I loved feeling the contradictions embrace one another inside of me, even though I didn’t really understand how they could.
Years later I place too much worth in figuring things out. I’m less content with mystery and more fixated on answers.
I want to make things feel right and orderly. I want everyone to feel like the sun, instead of helping them find their constellation in the stars.
When pain, questions, and frustrations arise, I’m too quick to start a blind search for the unknowable instead of laying back and experiencing my smallness in the midst of it all.
How do we unlearn our need for the finite? How do we relearn to utter the words “I don’t know?”
I’m afraid I’ll lose that child-like acceptance of the mystery of the universe. I’m afraid I’ll lose the peace of feeling small and important.
So today, I’m here to say “I don’t know.”
Tonight I’m resting in an infinity of unanswered questions and the peace of untameable stars.