Wednesday, April 6, 2011

story girls.

Listening To: God Made the Automobile by Iron & Wine
Trying to decide: if I'd rather purchase Sarah Addison Allen's new novel or Tina Fey's memoir. Eventually, I'll own them both. Which do I buy first ... thoughts?

Hey there lovely-types. I'm writing to you from my kitchen table, which is so cluttered with crap you probably wouldn't even know it was a table. I am listening to Iron & Wine and drinking coffee from my Eiffel Tower coffee mug. Biscuit is stretched out on the floor in a patch of warm sunlight. Occasionally, I look down at her and she flaps her ear at me. Kind of like Yoda.

I'm back in town after doing some session-
ing in Gatlinburg. As you might recall, Mom (The Pie Wizard!) and I spent the weekend at Connection, an event for 7th through 12th grade girls.

If you prayed for me this weekend, my word, thank you
SO MUCH. I cannot even tell you how much that means to me. I'm excited about giving you an update. While in Gatlinburg, the following things happened: * I decided to travel wearing black denim leggings and suede boots.

I'm pretty sure that's also what I wore on trips to Gatlinburg when I was six. Except I wore an airbrushed unicorn t-shirt back then, instead of a gray cardigan. (My airbrushed unicorn t-shirt was at the cleaners this time around.) * A man dressed like Abe Lincoln, who was standing in front of a taffy shop, tipped his hat to me. Nothing makes my heart flutter like a founding father giving me "the nod." Fourscore and seven years, baby. * Mom and I pulled an orange suitcase for approximately sixty billion miles all along the sidewalks of Gatlinburg. We looked like an indie-movie. Note: when I say "Mom and I," I mostly mean MOM. And this mostly had to do with my horrific sense of direction. Mom is, by far, the sweetest person I know. She deserves a medal. All she got was potato skins from TGI Fridays. One man's gold is another man's cheddar cheese.* I found a giant, inflatable globe in the convention center. Because I'm a nerd, I asked my mom to take a picture of me hugging the globe. Mom, realizing there was no way around this, agreed. Then she said, "There's a trolley behind you!"

So of course I said: "Get the trolley in the picture too!"

What came of that exchange is this:

In which I look like I'm about to crush the world. Also, I mostly look dumb.

Also, it is probably not professional to have pictures made with the props. Note to self.
* I decided to get an airbrushed t-shirt, with the Paperdoll emblem, and give it away here on the blog. But. That plan never worked out. So I didn't get to procure any tacky giveaways. I am sure you are crushed.(But I do have some seriously awesome (small :) giveaways coming up on Friday. Stay tuned for that.) * I squealed over the snow covered mountains. They were gorgeous. Mountains know how to show off. No matter the season, they never, ever disappoint.

* I could see that same mountain from my hotel room. Glorious. Few things settle my heart like mountains do.

* I got teary over sweet text messages from my friends, who know how stinking nervous I get about "speaking" in any capacity. I could feel their prayers for me this weekend; heavy on my heart. Not heavy like a weight though. More like an anchor. (My bffSarah even offered to come sell books. And I hadn't even tried to bribe her with food.) (For the record: I did not have a book table. But the LifeWay on site carried Paperdoll and I am SO very grateful.)* I read this verse the morning I left, then wrote it on an index card:

My health may go frail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart, he is mine forever ... I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things He does. Psalm 73: 26, 28

And kept it with me the whole time. Prayed it. Reminded myself of it. Bet my heart against it. And went for it.
* And then my session started. I talked about one of my most favorite things: stories.

Do you love that word as much as I do?

Books open.
Spines crackle.
Pages whisper:
dark and light,
love and war.
Swords drawn.
Battles won.
Kissed good-bye.
Kissed awake.

I talked about the stories I like to read and the story I want to live.

I talked specifically about the Bible, which is the best story and, still, very much better than a story.
I seriously like talking about the Bible. Makes me jittery though.

Talking about the Bible feels as personal as talking about a diary, because inevitably it means talking about what the Bible has been teaching me. Or revealing in me. Or how it encourages me. I try to be reactive about my Bible - actively listen when people teach from it (and to follow along because, hello, they could be saying anything. I don't wanna nod my head along to something I don't agree with. Know what I mean?). I try to actively read it; stopping to think about what it means to me. I try to actively pray it. I make notes all over my Bible. I know some people can't get down with that - writing in books. But I'm all for it. While I was reading through a specific passage with the
Connection girls I saw this note:
5/1/2010 - This became real to me. P.T.L.

Writing this may seem dramatic but here goes: there is nothing - no event, no person I've met, no decision I've made, that has changed my life like God's Word has changed my life. If you flip through my Bible you'll see:

notes and crinkle-pages from tears I've cried,
and yellow post-its with questions I keep asking.
Also, a ticket from the Swell Season concert with this question scribbled on the back:
"Who feeds the ravens?".
Also, a Skittles wrapper. (I worked at a camp a few years ago and led a small group. I was convinced every kid in that small group hated me. They never participated. They yawned the whole time. At the very end of the week, one of the boys in my group gave me a pack of Skittles and said, "Here. You're cool.")
And poems. (I have a poem by Langston Hughes taped inside the front cover and another poem, one that I wrote, stuffed into Psalms).

(Note: It makes me sad when folks use their Bibles to berate other people, to tear people down or tell them off. It amazes me sometimes; the hate people try to justify as "speaking the truth in love." There are things about the Bible I don't understand. I'll never be able to learn everything about it. But when I hold it, and read it, it's always hope that takes hold of me; never hate.)
I keep a notebook for when I get long-winded-reflective over my Bible. But I like to keep those other pieces of my days tucked into the actual pages, too. Cause there are days I'm not feeling it. Days I don't feel close to God at all. Days when all I do is doubt; when I feel strangled by doubt. Days I feel like a failure. Days I open the Bible and I can't ever connect with it. However. When I open my Bible and see dates and notes and hearts and pieces of poems, I remember Psalm 117. I remember that His love for me is endless. I remember that His faithfulness endures forever.

So glad he's faithful to me even when I'm not "feeling" it. So glad His love is bigger and better than my feelings.
I waver. But He never does.

I'm also grateful for days those words ignite. Despite my nerves when it comes to reading the Bible out loud (not just because of the personal nature of it, but because of the reverence associated with that), I felt the spark this weekend. The verses pounded against my heart like a rocksong.
For my session, I brought several books with me. I had taken the actual covers off the books and made new ones. The new covers said: Fear, Regret, Insecurity, Rejection. And on and on and on.
(I decided to make Regret a trilogy.)

I put those books - those stories - in my trusty pink backpack and talked about how, for too long, I thought those were my stories. For too long, I thought those stories had more to do with my life than the Bible. I thought I had to carry those other stories - insecurity stories, regret stories - around with me forever (hence the backpack). Sometimes they weigh me down so bad I can barely limp, much less "run" (like Hebrews 12 says to do).
I thought the kind of abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10 was not for a girl like me, who frequently carried that kind of junk around.

I figured an abundant life was for a girl more outgoing, more secure, more beautiful. I wondered if, to some degree, God picked people the way people pick people. Only the pretty. Only the well-off. Only the confident. Only the leaders. Girls with crowns and ribbons.

Insecurity, in particular, has smashed me. And it sometimes still proceeds to smash.
Some days I'm flat-hearted because of my insecurities.

The only way I know to push through insecurity is to hold God's Truth up against it. To pray His words, to believe them, and to shift my focus and run ahead. If I wallow in them (or "waller" as we say in these parts), they only get bigger. They get worse. But praying God's Word gives me a burst of energy, and confidence, and
peace, that I cannot even describe. I can't move without that. I am convinced I cannot exist without that.

During this session, I took Insecurity out of my bag and said "This is not the story you were created to live." I got teary every time I practiced saying that. I was reminding myself of that every bit as much as I'm trying to communicate it to them. There is not a day that goes by that I'm not praying through some insecurity. But I am determined to pray through it; to cling to the Truth and
Maybe you don't need this reminder. But just in case: Insecurity is NOT your story either.

Regret is not the story you were created to live.

Neither is fear.

Neither is failure.

You were not created to crawl. You were not crated to cower. You were created to run after something better.

To say I was nervous about this weekend would the understatement of the decade. But
wowzers was it sweet to remind a bunch of awesome girls that they were beautiful, and loved, and called to live out a better story than any fairy-tale they've ever read.

I thought of you people a bunch.
This weekend, I saw a bunch of sweet middle school girls. And it made me think of you few, fabulous middle school readers who drop by here on the blog. The middle schoolers at Connection were intense - taking notes, asking me to repeat a scripture reference so they could write them down (Get it!). And when I talked about the books I loved, the stories that first unwound my imagination, the middle schoolers were the ones who fist pumped the air. They cheered over books. My kinda girls. Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia.I chatted with high school girls who were trying to buffer their hearts against the big decisions they have coming up. They talked about first loves and broken hearts. They talked about regret. They talked about how hard it is to be the girl who is never, ever picked. They talked about fears and hopes for the future. I met one gorgeous girl who told me her parents still live in Mexico. She's here, living with a host family. She told me she wanted to go to college here, to make her parents proud. But she saw her dad a few weeks ago and misses him every day, so, so much.

How crazy-brave is that?

She got me to thinking about all the references in the Bible to living in "pilgrimage." About finding that strange balance between taking hold of the moment but living in light of eternity. About realizing that we're just passing through. That our time and money and talent can all have eternal value. That we will never feel "at home" here because we
aren't really home yet. I don't know if anybody understands that unsettledness, that uprootedness, that key theme of finding "home" in who you love (and Who you love) better than those of you sweet sisters who are here in the US from other countries. You are making a new home. And a new life. And big sacrifices - personally and financially - for generations who walk behind you. Same goes for you lovely MK's reading this blog (holler!). You are brave, brave souls. Lion-hearted, in fact. I look up to you all so much.

I saw college girls this weekend, sitting together on the front row.
I am so glad they came. I know a bunch of you who read this blog are college girls too. You inspire me like crazy. I know how far your brain is stretched. You could leave your education there - somewhere in the brain-stretch. But I love the way you choose to engage your heart in what you're learning. I love the way you make time for spiritual growth. In college, I think I stupidly believed that, since I went to a "Christian college" ... that sort of counted as my time with God. People around me were always talking about Jesus. There was some kind of ministry meeting every single night. Sad fact: I've never felt further from God than I did when I attended a "Christian college." I'm proud of you people for not being satisfied with scraps. You go for the good stuff. The best stuff. You want something personal. You college girls deserve hugs and accolades for that. Consider me your standing ovation for choosing to run after God, to take hold of your faith, especially in a society that convinces you that it's okay to sit still and be spoon-fed.I met moms and aunts and hipster-grannies. One lady asked me if it was okay if "old women" came to my session.Please.

If those ladies consider themselves "old women" then I sincerely hope I look that good when I am "an old woman." And I hope I am still running after God with everything inside me, just like they are.

It was so fun to look over the faces in that room and see teen stuff: flashes of coral-nail-polish and sparkly braces and tiger hats (!) and then see someone my age, or older. In one of my sessions, an elderly lady in a wheelchair rolled in, parked at the end of an aisle, and nodded along the entire time. She could have taught a much better session than I did, but I'm still tickled that she came.

Loved being around so many different women - different ages, backgrounds, different hopes, different dreams. So alike though, in so many ways.
I maintain that I wasn't the right girl to lead a session for women who are that tough and awesome. Back when I was a girl going to girls conferences, it seems like most of the session leaders I heard were way more polished than I will ever be. They were former beauty pageant winners (who always talked about Esther). Former models (who talked about how they finally embraced true beauty). In any event I've ever spoken at, I feel like the tag of that Sesame Street song that goes: "Which one of these is not like the other ones?"

Cause I like to write stories and listen to folk songs and hang out with my family (and my dog). I don't like parties or crowds. A good pair of jeans is far more essential to my wardrobe than a little black dress. I sometimes watch PBS just for kicks. (How rad is NOVA?!)

I look quite normal. I
am quite normal. I speak with a very noticeable drawl. I am not a beauty queen or a model or a bestselling author or the kind of girl that draws a crowd (if I get applause it's usually because I drop my tea glass in a restaurant). I am a chronic nerd. Jesus loves nerds, is the thing. The only thing that finally helped me stop feeling barfy about "speaking" at Connection is realizing 1.) They weren't there for me. They probably don't even remember my name. I am quite fine with that. And 2.) I would mess up my session somehow. That is a given. But between the messing up, I got to talk about Who matters most to me.I'm baffled by the fact that God even likes me, much less loves me. Just like I am.

I'm blown away by the fact that He knows my name. That He calls me beautiful. That he says I'm worth it. That He writes something good for me; always. Even out of my mess-ups. Especially out of those. I know He wants me to live a story that's better than anything I'll ever read or write. He inspires me and encourages me. It would have been enough if He won my soul and that was it. I get forever with Him;
that would be awesome enough. But it's even more than that.

There are days I slip into His Word, or turn my imagination loose wondering about Him, thinking about Him. There are days when I'm very aware that all the good around me is all a gift from Him. That I realize what it means to love people. That I realize how good I have it because I'm loved. And the fact that He loves me most of all? Is WILD. I cannot articulate how grateful I am to be so loved. Every day, He wins my heart again. Not because he has to. But because he delights in me.

He's my happily ever after. He's my here and now, too.
I rarely get this serious here on the blog. I try to save the for-serious posts so you don't feel overwhelmed. Today seemed like the right day for this though. Several girls left cards on my table this weekend; personal prayer requests. One card wasn't a prayer request though. One said:

"I wouldn't mind having you as a sister."

That's just the sweetest.

Please allow me to close by being very, very sisterly ;):

If you've visiting the blog because you were at
Connection this weekend, thanks so much for dropping by my session. You were such an encouragement to me. I hope you keep running after the better story. And if you're a regular reader, I hope the very same for you too. I don't know what you're facing this week, but I do know you are loved. And I know God writes something beautiful out of the dark places. Your past, your mistakes, your regrets, your weaknesses - none of that defines who you are. God writes your story; and it's a whoa-good story He's writing for you.

Losers and loners and in-betweeners and dreamers all get a turn on the dance floor in His story. Nobody is forgotten. Nobody is left out. No glass slippers are required. Your Hero does not grow tired or weary.

Go get em, Story Girl.

I'll be back Friday with a small (but quite fabulous) giveaway. Would love to hear about your weekend (or your week :) down in the comments!


  1. HEY!!!!!!!

    I'm so proud of you for doing that! You really do have a great heart for God! I REALLY look up to you! (My mom almost knows your name now because I talk about ya so much... it's a compliment because it took her about a year to learn one of my BFF's names haha!)

    You're weekend sounded amazing!!!! I wish I was there! I love just listening to people tak about God and stuff... getting personal and sharing things... it makes God seem more real to me. Like I'm not alone. and I too wish you were my sister :) or at least some kind of close relative!!!

    My weekend was actually eventful! My YG had a formal banquet Thursday night! It was AWESOME!!! We got all gussed up and took pictures, had a good meal (sort of), watch a video made by our pastor (HILARIOUS!), and we did skits. We actually made them up in about 6 minutes... 2 teams... I was made leader (I have a loud mouth and tend to take charge) and we KICKED BUTT!!! We did a murder mystery :) It was awesome :) haha! Then we went bowling... my town is so redneck it's funny! We walk in, in our formal wear, and people asked us if we were here for a wedding........ yeah.... then they asled if we were a singles group :) hah! One word, drunk. Sad, but we did try to witness. Key word, try. All in all, it was awesome :) I really need to post pictures of it

    I absolutely love your blog and everything that you write. Faith follower of ya!!!! always will be!

    Love you bunches!

  2. Wow. I have said this before and I'm going to say it again. You have SUCH a way with words. Your words are like a beautiful melody that cuts straight into the heart. I needed to read this today. I'm glad you decided to post a serious post. I love all of your posts, but the serious ones always make me think so much. I wound't mind having you as a sister either :)

    And your note on Abe Lincoln made me lol! :)

  3. I love that you are so honest in your blog, thank you for that- it's really important. I guess I was just a little thrown and brokenhearted at the whole "Christian college" thing. (And I'm not looking to start a debate) I go to a Christian college and love it- I have so many opportunities to grow spiritually because I'm here and because God has brought me to these people and places. Although you are right, in that I struggle to make "God time".It hasn't at all been easy but I've gone through a lot of change because I have the Christian college enviornment. And it's def. not for everyone. I just hope that you aren't turned off by the idea of a Christian college because it really is about the individual experience. But I hope you have people around you who encourage you and support you in your faith walk :)

  4. Hey Deanna! Thanks so much for this comment. I certainly did not mean for this post to come off like I've got a bone to pick with Christian college. I think, more often than not, they are incredible places. If you asked my three college roommates about their college experience, they would all echo your statement. They LOVED college. I think college, and any experience really, is pretty much what a person makes of it. You are right - it is totally about an individual experience. I think my college experience was tainted because I kept pulling further and further away. It was totally my own fault. My particular college (and I think this is true of some colleges Christian or not) was also so small that it was very clique-y. Very much like a big high school. Nobody was cruel, but I never felt like part of a particular group there. Again, that has more to do with me just being hesitant to get involved. Sorry if this post made it seem like I had anything against Christian Colleges. I most definitely do not. And I am SO glad your experience has been a great one. :)

  5. Oh my goodness Natalie.
    1) You now have me wanting an airbrushed unicorn (or paperdoll, even better) airbrushed shirt. no joke
    2)Taking a picture with a giant globe is something I would do...just so I could say "I've been around the entire globe"
    3)Your book references always always always make me smile
    4)I so wish I could have been at Connection, sounds like it was an amazing time.
    5)God knows I needed to read this today. :) Thanks so much.
    6)I will definitely be stealing Bethany's copy of Paperdoll until I get a chance to get my own.

  6. ooo, a give-away? i so wish i could have been there. i'm sure you were awesome. i needed this post, i think we all needed this post. and i would LOVE to have you as a sister.

  7. I needed this! My day started off good, with handsome guys holding doors open and at least two people in my public speaking class wanting to do their persuasive speech against abortion (I never expected people in my class to feel the same way I do in that case). But then it soured. I was almost in tears coming home- a big blob of nerves, stress, and mostly insecurity. Feeling the full impact of how I'm different from everyone else and wondering when I'll meet someone who "gets" me. Anyway, trust me, I needed this. I need to get excited about the Bible again.

    P.S. As someone who is terrified of public speaking, I think that you speaking at the conference was awesome. :) I so wish I could have been there.


  8. I just want to let you know that I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I am really enjoying it.

    I am going through a somewhat stressful time in my life right now. Your blog really brings a smile to my face. Reading your blog is really a highlight of my day.

    Thank you for making my day with every post you write and being an encouragement to me!

  9. I just want to let you know that I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I am really enjoying it.

    I am going through a somewhat stressful time in my life right now. Your blog really brings a smile to my face. Reading your blog is really a highlight of my day.

    Thank you for making my day with every post you write and being an encouragement to me!

  10. Natalie-

    I was at Connection.

    You did an awesome job.

    Your love of the Lord was so clearly evident, quite inspiring actually.

    I'm a 30 something single girl, and I totally identified with so much of what you shared. The girls I was there with really enjoyed your conference, too!

    I bought Paperdoll, and am enjoying it so much so far. I'm hoping to do a study with it this summer with some of my girls.

    I'm so glad I got the chance to listen to you, and to be introduced to your work!

    Thanks for sharing your stories!

  11. Oh Natalie,

    This post made me teary. You have an amazing heart and I am so blessed to be able to learn from you and chat with you. :) Thank you for this post!!!

    Love the boots and leggings. And I totally agree about the jeans. :)

  12. dear Natalie, this was beautiful.

  13. Hey Natalie!
    Connection sounds like it was an amazing experience and I'm so glad that you were able to speak into girls' lives there. Just curious, what poem by Langston Hughes is in your Bible? Because he is my favorite poet, and I have his poem "The Dream Keeper" written inside the cover of my Bible and on a pair of purple Converse!
    "Bring me all of your dreams,
    You dreamers,
    Bring me all of your
    Heart Melodies
    That I may wrap them
    In a blue cloud-cloth
    Away from the too-rough fingers
    Of the world."

  14. Hi Natalie,
    I have been going through your devotions book "Want more life", and was looking for a way to contact you, and lo-and-behold, you have a blog! Yay!!

    I just wanted to tell you that your book has been SO great for me. I'd been kind of in a rut of doing my quiet times and then I remembered that I had this book, so I started doing it and it totally hit on all the things I was struggling with. You always encourage me to reach out to people more and reach to Jesus the most. I can't even express how much this book has meant to me!

    Just this past week I read the devotions about "Unlikely Friends" and loving our enemies. Well, the person I had to forgive and love wasn't my enemy (she's a family member), but that totally brought me to God ASKING Him to forgive me for not loving her and not seeing her the way that He did. Since I prayed for His love, I've been able to love her sooo much more! So you changed my whole relationship with that very important person!

    Just wanted you to know that what you do really does make a difference. And that even for girls like me, who is missionary kid in Czech, learn things from you. :) Thank you so much. I look forward to reading your blog now. :)

    In Christ, Claire

  15. Oh, and just as a side note, I think you're really beautiful! Way to shine from the inside out. :)

  16. This post was absolutely amazing! I feel so encouraged by what you wrote here. Have a nice Friday!

  17. Thank you so much for posting this! God has been showing me in the past year how important staying in His Word is. He tells me something new everyday. And everyday I can't help but get emotional about it. Either I'm crying because it floors me that God would want to encourage me and love on me so much or I'm devestated because sin stings when you're closer to God than ever before. I feel so bad when I sin. And that makes me a better person. I love this post so much because it's awesome to know that I'm not alone in this. I look up to you so much. Thank you!

  18. Hi Claire! I found your blog through your comment on this blog. I'm an MK as well and I've lived in Guatemala and Thailand. I currently go to university in the States, but my family still lives in Asia.

    I love your blog and I can't wait to try out some of your recipes! (I tried to comment on it, but it kept messing up so that's why I'm writing here.)

  19. What a sweet opportunity, Natalie! I know that God used you in mighty ways, even though you probably won't see the results of a lot of it.

    I love using the idea of stories, and it's amazing how often we all buy into the idea that our story IS rejection or insecurity or isolation or whatever it may be - yet God's story and plan for us is so much bigger and so much more victorious!

  20. Frannie, Thank you so much!! What a sweet note. :) I'm so glad you like my blog! And woot woot for MKs! :) I love finding new MKs...because no matter where we're from, we have something in common and we understand each other!