Southern Airs

The South is an ambiguous Graceland. A place where the words bless your heart, having slipped slowly off the tongues of many a proper Southern Belle, can take on a myriad of meanings with a slight inflection of tone. A place where cadence is an art form and a raised eye brow assumes the power of God himself on Judgement Day. Home to the front pew dwellers, the good ole boys, and green-thumbed grandmas. A place where most people have entirely too much time on their hands, camouflage is a wardrobe staple, and comfort food will make you slap ya’ momma. Lilly Pulitzer reigns queen and monogrammed merchandise runneth over.

The lovely  eloquently says it this way, “The South is a land where grace and guilt sit shoulder to shoulder, where the past isn’t past, and redemption is ever on offer.”

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Ahh…yes ma’am. Journey just below the Mason-Dixon and you’ll find life lived a little slower and the tea sweeter. But, you see, the problem is a picture only paints 1,000 words. Let’s look a little further, past the perfectly manicured camelias on the front lawn and walk through the red door to white manor house to find dusty Bibles on bed stands. Suddenly the leather bound cover and the gold trimmed pages lose a little luster when we peel back the corner to peer below the surface. We don’t have to go far to tarnish the perceived reality to see what’s real.

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Let me be clear with y’all. These words are neither meant to condemn or judge nor are they a universal assumption.  I was born  in The South and raised Baptist. I love country music and I prefer my comfort foods deep fried and smothered. I own more camouflage (with pink trim) than your average girl raised in the sun. I have a monogrammed purse and I’m proud of it! I’ve blessed more hearts than I can count and at times my Bible has gathered some dust of its own. If you ask me, I’d have to agree with the boys of Florida-Georgia Line…it is all about The South. Yeah, I love the crazy quirks of Southern life.

In the words of Ann Voskamp, I’m preaching Gospel to myself.

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This is a challenge. A wake up call to you and me both, Sister. Y’all we have got to get it together! Let’s stop giving Grace in one breath and rationing guilt in the next. Since when did grace (sans the amazing) become so conditional? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want grace that requires me to check the box at the bottom to agree to all its terms and conditions. Do I need to sign in blood, too?

Y’all. Jesus already did that at the cross. Once and for all. 

Can we start living like He did??

I’m so tired of settling for being “the good Bible study girl” I could throw up! What are we doing this for? Why are we wasting our time playing good Christians? We’ve got all the right bumper stickers and perfect church attendance record. We plaster on a big smile and pretend to have it all together. And for what? A gold star?

Girl, please. 

God is not impressed with our novelty awards. He sees straight through our facade to the heart. And the last thing a broken world needs is a bunch of Bible trivia know-it-alls with Southern accents parading around in our UGG boots armed with monogrammed Vera Bradley pocket books. And you can insert whatever name brand makes your heart flutter here, but let’s reign ourselves in for a reality check real quick. Jesus don’t care about the price tags on our stuff because He already paid the ultimate price for us.

Knowing your Bible and knowing Jesus are two totally different things, girlfriend. Can we own that Truth? Can we stop runnin’ our mouths long enough to actually start walkin’ out our faith?

Let’s end with this last graceful thought from Ms. Allison,

It was, of course, the perfect metaphor. We were all plunging into the unknown, the South nothing if not a place of infinite mystery. I had come back, boomeranged yet again, still searching for that elusive missing part, the Southernness—otherness—one finds only in Dixie, a land of stark contradiction, where grace and guilt sit shoulder to shoulder, where the past isn’t past, and redemption is ever on offer.

Redemption is ever on offerand all my Jesus girls said, Amen! The truth is, I’m just as much of a hot southern mess as the next girl and that should make me want to give grace that much more freely. No strings attached. I’m choosing to live that truth this year. How ’bout y’all?

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All in good time.

New Years Eve. Big city. Bright lights. Contagious energy.  I had the dress, the shoes, the coat. Hand in hand with the guy I love strolling the city sidewalks. All the elements a girl could ever want for a perfect NYE were there (with a cherry on top.) I was beaming on the outside, but secretly my mind was heavy.  With stars in my eyes, I tried to suppress my churning thoughts of the future and what exactly this new year was going to ring in…or out.

Press rewind.  The past year had proved interesting to say the least. 2012 delivered the full spectrum of all life had to offer right to my doorstep.  Rush delivery.  No signature needed. Ready or not. No return policy. Of course, some I welcomed with open arms. Love, namely, swept me off my feet like a breath of fresh, spring air.  True to my southern ties, I was beginning to think, at the withering age of 22, I might as well assume the Lord had called me to a life of singleness and I had better locate some literature on the subject so I would have something to read while I died alone and my ovaries collected dust.

All jokes aside, the start of 2012 had felt rather promising. I had met the love of my life.  The stresses of college graduation coupled with the inherent “first big girl” job search had seemingly paid off. And just in time to sign a lease on an affordable first apartment with my best friend.   The guy. The degree. The “career” job. The new digs. And a best friend to share it with!

Everything seemed to be working out perfect.

But my lofty ambitions for my shiny first job, AKA fast track to a lucrative career in marketing and everything I ever (thought) I wanted, would soon lose its luster.  It had been hardly six months and I was desperate to escape the toxic, cut throat environment I was entangled in.  Stress was taking its toll, physically, mentally, spiritually. I felt stuck. It was soul sapping. I was completely drained in every way.

I never imagined a job could have such a debilitating effect on my life.

Thankfully, God has blessed me with some truly incredible people I’m lucky enough to call my support group.  I would have been totally lost without the loving, unwavering support of the relationships in my life.

After tireless months of job searching and beating my head against the wall to no avail, there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.  My one way ticket out of that pit wasn’t what I imagined, but I didn’t care.  At that point, I felt like a fish out of water.

I was gasping for air.

I gladly accepted an office assistant position that had opened up at the local law firm where my roommate worked. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it paid the bills and I was beyond grateful to be delivered from the ninth level of HELL I was drowning in everyday.

During the eight months I worked at the law office, I was afforded time to do some soul searching while I scoured southern Florida for yet another “career” job in the marketing industry. Months of networking, applications, and interviews with no cigar can trump anyone’s confidence and sense of self-worth. Was I even looking in the right places? Did I even really want to be in marketing and advertising? Should I be considering other career options? Maybe I should get my Master’s or go back to school for something totally different. What did I want to do? Where did I want to live? Had business school been the right choice?

Y’all. The quarter-life crisis is real. 

(Somebody’s got an Amen!)

All these questions had been racing through my mind for weeks now, keeping me awake at night, so it was hard to silence the dull roar of thoughts about the future as I tried to savor the last hours of my visit with my boyfriend and make the most of our NYE together. We live on opposite coastlines right now – I’m in Florida, he’s in Oregon – so every second we get to see each other not on a computer screen is precious.  The last place I wanted my thoughts was in the future when I simply longed to be in the moment with him.

By the time my plane landed back in Florida my mind was set on exploring a new career path. And so the roller coaster ride began. I traveled all the way back to an old high school ambition to study dermatology.  Before I made the decision to continue my volleyball career at a business school, I had somehow spun the career wheel and landed in the medical field. Over the next six months or so I delved deep into the career possibilities in skin care ranging from Esthetician to Dermatologist to business owner. I researched and visited schools, spent countless hours gathering information from blogs and websites, compiled a list of industry professionals I planned to contact in hopes gaining their advice and knowledge. I found myself spending my afternoons and evenings glued to my computer screen or sitting indian style in front of the self help shelf at Books A Million.

I should mention for the first few months the only soul who knew anything about my elaborate career change scheme was my roommate and best friend. I dreaded the thought of having to explain myself and my plans to everyone else in my life and it was just easier to keep it a big secret. Eventually I opened the can of worms against ever fiber of my being straining to keep putting it off. Shortly after the unveiling, though, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a shock that reverberated in my mind for the weeks following and altered my perspective of the future. At the time I was heavily considering staying in the South Florida area and enrolling in the Esthiology program at Aveda Institute. I decided to put that plan on hold to move home to be with my mom and possibly enroll at the school’s Tallahassee location when things calmed down.

Fast forward to today and all I can say is…wow. God is truly in our midst. I may have taken myself on a few detours, but He never lets me stray too far without bringing me back to where I need to be – to where He needs me to be. God uses our deepest trials to lead and direct us to a greater purpose. And it often takes coming to the end of ourselves to really seek Him with all our hearts and everything we have. He can transform any of our circumstances into something beautiful and good no matter how hopeless or desolate they may seem in the moment. I believe this with all my heart now because I’ve experienced it so deeply and purely in my own life.

I feel like I’m finally leaving the valley and have my eyes set on the mountain. God has given me a season of rest and restoration in my time at home with my family. He provided an escape from the toxicity of where I found myself and gave me time to heal and prepare for what’s ahead. Today, my mom is cancer free and in full remission from her sickness. Praise you, Lord! When I finally gave my search for work over to God and stopped trying to fix everything in my own power by trusting in Him, I find myself with not one amazing job, but two! I have the privilege of coaching the JV volleyball team at my old high school and in just two weeks I will be employed full time. I have since settled back in to my old church home. Please know there are so many more blessings in my life (just in the present moment I am typing!) I could continue listing and listing! But by far the richest reward, I have had time – free of distractions and stress – to spend in God’s word and nurture my relationship with Him. I’ve learned a lot about who I am in Him and I have so much to be grateful for, but mostly I’ve learned how desperately I need my Lord.

Apart from Him I have nothing, but with Him I can do anything. And it will happen in His perfect timing. No sooner. No later.

That truth is so beautiful it takes my breath away.

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