Expect the Unexpected (Part 1)

Lately God has blessed me with things that I have not expected to be blessed by. More specifically, situations that have already ended badly in my mind, yet turned out for good. The only reason I have been able to be blessed in situations that look unfavorable is because of my attitude.

Let me tell you about the Cleveland wallet story.

This past weekend, I was visiting a good friend of mine in Cleveland. We had planned to explore the downtown / Tower City area, and so when she picked me up, I rearranged all of my belongings so that I would carry a small bag around town, rather than lug around my huge Jansport backpack (which my friend immediately recognized from my nerdy high school days – they have a lifetime warranty, can you blame me?!).

Anyway, I had taken out everything: my wallet, keys, phone, the all-important umbrella, and repacked my purse and then we were off to see the moments, church, and the arcade downtown. We popped into a souvenir shoppe for some postcards and as soon as I went to pay, I noticed my wallet was missing. I must have left it on the seat of the car, I thought. I didn’t think much of it after that, and we continued to explore Downtown Cleveland.

When we had returned to the car, I noticed that my wallet was not on the front seat. Okay, play it cool, don’t panic. So I check the trunk, where my backpack was. Still not there. Okay, clearly I dropped it on the grass or something. Well, maybe someone stole it. Someone definitely stole it. It’s a dog eat dog wor–

And before I let my mind get any more down that slippery slope (and then have a full-blown panic attack), I just prayed. I probably said something like, “Okay Jesus, work your magic.” It was simple, but it was enough to calm me down. I turned to my friend and suggested we retrace our steps. She looked at me like “this cannot be a good thing,” but came along anyway.

Just as it started to rain (which, would have been a super sad scene if it wasn’t for what happened next). I received a phone call from an Ohio number. A woman had found my wallet and she was at a local bar not too far away. Overjoyed, I said I would be there momentarily and we hopped into the car to speed a full two blocks away where I found a woman who had returned my wallet. With everything inside. She said she found the wallet just lying in the middle of the parking lot.

Where I’m from, that would have been fair game. Everything would have been missing. Credit cards. Coffee punch cards. Cash money. Yet everything was just as I left it (even the butterfly necklace in the coin pouch – because, you never know when you are going to have a butterfly necklace emergency).

The whole thing was wildly unexpected. Losing the wallet. Finding the wallet, with everything inside. Even how I responded. Wildly unexpected. A year ago, I would have been in tears, probably in some sort of half tantrum, half panic attack. But I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It took me awhile to get to that point, but the past year God has taught me so much about peace in the midst of chaos. I’m still a work in progress, but learning to train my heart and mind to be peaceful when all seems chaotic is an invaluable characteristic to have.

Here are three of my favorite Bible verses to whisper to myself when I feel I am not at peace:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philipians 4:6 ESV).

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all (2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV).

While this is just a small example of things that could happen in my life, seeing progress in this area brings me hope. And when I see that progress I can become stronger, knowing that the peace of God has helped me before, and it will help me again.

I’ll soon be sharing a video highlighting all the fun I had in Cleveland this past weekend! Some of my favorite sights were the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Art Museum, House “Hunting” on Fairmont Road, and seeing the Orchestra (highly recommended!). Enjoy!

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We All Deserve Nice Things

About a week ago, I had a very vivid dream about a couch (bear with me here). I had just purchased a house, and I had no furniture in it. I would sleep on the floor, because I was looking for the perfect pieces to complete “the look” and “the vision” I wanted to have for my new house.

One day I was heading home from running errands and when I walked in, I saw this beautiful tufted midnight blue velvet couch (with clawed-foot detail) much like this one here, just sitting in my living room. No note attached, no reason for me to think the delivery was a mistake. I was taken aback by the gesture of kindness from a stranger, a stranger who had gifted me something I didn’t think or know that I would like, but loved the moment I saw it. Immediately following, I thought “well, this couch is too nice to sit on. I wouldn’t want to ruin how perfect it looks in the moment.” Then I woke up from my dream.

Later that day, God told me, “why would I continue to give you nice things if you never use them?” And it struck me: all the things that I had been given as gifts that I had never used. Not just physical, tangible gifts, but gifts like hospitality, the ability to speak life into others, and talents that I have not used to glorify, encourage, or uplift others. They just sit there dormant and unused. Three verses that come to mind highlight the good and actionable work that God calls us to do through our talents.

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The first is 1 Corinthians 12: 5-6.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” This is always a hard one for me because it deals with the aspect of comparison. God has given each and everyone a special set of skills, so when you compare your gifts to others, you are discounting your own ability and as a result, probably putting yourself in a lower position that no one asked you to be in. I have to remember that no matter where I am or what my gifts are, God is the one who is working through me. I am not authorized to discount my gift in any way, because it says in the Bible that my gift DOES look different from everyone else’s. I cannot compare apples to oranges, so why would our gifts be any different (despite what the world may say).

The second is Matthew 5:14-16. 14

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We are called to be lights of the world. How can we possibly be a light if we keep all of our gifts hidden from the world?

The third is Proverbs 22:29.

“Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” God tells us that when we are skilled and humbled in our work that we will presented before the highest officials as a way to honor Him in every place on earth.

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Luke 16:10 says “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” I believe that this not only applies to materials possessions, but also the gifts and people in our lives that God has entrusted us with. If every good and perfect gift comes from above, shouldn’t I be treating every good and perfect gift that comes my way with the upmost care, respect, and attention that it deserves?

We all are worthy and deserving of the gifts that God has given us (not to be confused with entitlement), so let’s use them to the best of our ability, knowing that the creator of the universe is working right alongside with us. This week I’m asking myself: what are some gifts that I have that may be going unused at the moment? And (more importantly), how can I use this gifts for the greater good?

 

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Follow the Trailblazer

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This past Saturday, I took a little day trip to go hiking in Cold Spring, NY to spend some time in solitude and nature. As I set out for the day, I decided I wasn’t going to listen to any music. 1- partly because I wanted to get “the most” our of my experience and 2- I didn’t want my phone to die in case I needed it for a emergency. Plus, nature and Spotify don’t really “go” together.

When I arrived at the trail head of Blue Hill, I read the directions for the hike several times and even took a picture of the map to bring with me. As I started up the trail, I saw this couple not too far ahead of me that had on their full hiking gear (special boots, backpacks, and sunglasses – I didn’t even know there were special hiking sunglasses!). I felt that because they had the right gear they clearly knew what they were doing. (As a newbie hiker, this is a totally logical explanation. Meanwhile, I’m still in my pearls and I’ve got my matcha to-go in a thermos tucked away in my backpack.)

So we set off on the hike (they didn’t know it was “we,” but I did!) At the beginning, the trail was clearly marked and there was only one way to go. Then, we reached a clearing after the first mile uphill and took a break for some water. I decide to continue on; and started walking the first direction I saw. I had an internal voice saying to me “wait a minute, there were a few forks in the road, how can I be sure this is the right way?” I hadn’t been paying attention, but there was a sign that had pointed me in the opposite direction of which I was walking. I quickly turned around and started proceeding on the right path; and, once again, following my newfound friends.

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I followed them all the way to the top until we hit a sign pointing in two different directions that said “short loop” or “long loop.” I wan’t sure on how much time I had before I had to catch the train, so I ended up taking the shorter of the two loops (which still had a great view). I rested on the mountain, taking in the view and enjoyed just being still.

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After the wind started picking up, I decided to head back down the trail. There were many hikers who were on the trail before me; and because it had just rained the previous night, so many of the paths were covered in mud.

I was about halfway down when I saw some hikers coming up a steep rocky path, so I started making my way down there, assuming they had come from the bottom of the trail. This path was awfully muddy and I found myself slipping a little more than usual, moving really slow, and gripping onto tress to get my balance back. After the two hikers past me, one of them shouted “the trail is actually back up this way, we just took a shortcut and went straight up the rock.” Relieved that I didn’t have to continue the steep descent I replied “thank you,” and proceeded back on the trail.

The path on the way down was marked with white tokens nailed to the trees; and I had to keep looking ahead to see which was the right direction to turn. As soon as I had passed a marked tree I immediately looked for the next token. If I kept looking at the ground for footprints where people had gone before, it was near impossible to tell which way was the right way, for so many hikers and made their own paths and gone through shortcuts.

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That is how our relationship with God is on our path of life. As an expert guide and trailblazer, God has already gone before us, laid out a path for us to take, and marked where we need to go with trail-markers in order to keep hiking through life. It is my job to keep my eyes open and head up in order to keep checking in to see where the marked path is. Like life, hiking is not exactly based on intuition alone and following other people’s “shortcuts” doesn’t always lead where I need to be going: it could in fact lead to the edge of a cliff. As long as we’re on this path of life, be sure to check in with the One who marked the path for us in the first place.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Psalm 23: 2-3

Looking to God has a guide, I let Him lead me on a path of righteousness & peace. I am called to be vigilant, aware, and constantly in contact with God. When I forge my own path because I think I’ve found a shortcut, the trail can be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. When I follow other’s footsteps, I can find myself getting lost, or even putting myself into danger. Only God knows the perfect path for me because He has made it just for me and He has gone before me.

 

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Call It What It Is

To be honest, yesterday was a tough day for me.

I was sitting at my desk completely frustrated and defeated, knowing that while God’s hand IS on my life I have not seen the fruit of the seeds that I have sown. While I have come a long way spiritually, nothing really monumental has changed in my life and I feel like I’ve been going through the same struggle I’ve had for the past 3 years.

“I’m not really being used to my maximum capacity” and “I would have so much more to give for God’s Kingdom if He just put me somewhere else,” are things I whisper to myself multiple times daily. Anyone else feel like that from time to time? You’re not alone.

I cannot discount the season that I am in, because I have to live it day in and day out until God moves me elsewhere. I am not any less valuable because of where I’m at today. I’m not any less or more valuable because of my job title, what someone says about me, or even my past. I hope for tomorrow, but persevere and be present for today.

Romans 5:3-5 reads “Not only so, but we also praise God in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not fail us.” So I ask myself this question: What character am I building out of the suffering / disappointment / frustration am I experiencing?

In a moment of frustration, yesterday I found myself saying “How can I possibly thank God when everything around me seems to be completely draining and pulling me in a million different directions??!!!??” and “How am I supposed to give God the praise when NOTHING IN MY LIFE IS MOVING?!”

But the truth is, God can bless you anywhere.

I was listening to a timely sermon by one of my favs Steven Furtick from Elevation Church and he said that “If I say it’s a blessing, it WILL be a blessing If I say God is in it, he IS in it. If I say it is an opportunity than IT IS an opportunity. If I say it is a setup, than IT IS a setup.”

So I decide the purpose of the place by what I speak over the situation. If I say that there’s nothing to give glory to, then that is the attitude that I choose. But if I say, I’m going to find something that is a blessing in this situation and call it a blessing, then that situation WILL be blessed. When I walk away from a frustrating situation, will I become disgruntled or will I make it worthwhile by learning something?

Today I find myself saying “this opportunity is a stepping stone for something greater.” or “today is another gift from God and another opportunity to give someone a bit of encouragement.”

What can I do today to combat frustration to build character?

I DO have the power to choose to bring purpose into something that seems mundane. I DO have the power to breathe life into the lifeless because I have the Spirit of God living inside of me. If I put limits on myself, I put limits on what I believe can be done through me, when we are all called to great works no matter who or where we are.

God may have the power to redeem my time, but I have the power to call it what it is (free will, anyone?). Don’t lose heart, there is a plan.

Lost in the Sauce

Everyone says be true to yourself, be who you want to be. While this is great vague advice, it often leaves me wondering what that really means. I find it so easy to jump into trends, and gravitate to what is popular, what everyone else is doing. Nothing wrong with a good third wave coffeeshop, but sometimes I take a step back and I feel like a clone. A couple years ago, I could look in the mirror and see everyone else: everyone else and not myself.

A few years ago, one of my best friends, Isabella, gave me this piece of paper to fill out. She called it an “essence matrix.” You fill in each “box” with three things for each category. (Categories are: Music, Moving Image, Avocations, Colors, Flavors, Textures,  Visuals, Plays, Literature). The end-product looks something like the picture below (or better, if your handwriting is more legible than mine!) Every six months or so, I make a new one and fill it in again. It’s interesting to see how (and if) my answers have changed over time. It is a really nice way to explore the things which impact my decisions that I simply don’t think about every day.

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“Be true to yourself. Be true to yourself,” I whisper and ponder. What did I use to love that I stopped doing becuase I was afraid I was too different, afraid the world would judge me?

More importantly what does God say about me, who I am and who I should be? At the end of the day, God’s judgement of me is the only one that matters. Not my peers, not my friends, not even my family. Do the people speaking into my life have my best interest at heart as it relates to your God-given destiny? Because trust me, my best interest for myself is not always what is best for myself.

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1 Corinthians 3:12-13 says that “now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” How I am picturing this is a house made of wood; and there is a bonfire next to the house. When the foundation of a house is built of wood, of hay, or of stubble- how does it stand against the fire? A quick change of the wind in the wrong direction and it sets the house ablaze. Once that fire finishes burning, the home owner is left with nothing.

The ways of the world are like an unpredictable wind. We do not know what the next trends will be, how the dollar will value against other currencies tomorrow, or what life changing invention will come into play. Instead of being subject to the wind- build a house on truth, what is everlasting, and what makes you grounded. If you are rooted in the ground and in truth, and the strongest winds of the world come your way, you will not be shaken.

New York City is a constant space of inspiration, influence, and change. It is all to easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing with their lives. Comparing my life to others not only hardens my heart, but it takes the focus off of myself. I no longer am focusing on the truth that God is speaking into my life, nor am I living out my unique calling, the things I feel uncomfortable doing because I am under the influence of what the world wants me to be. If I am not too careful, New York can be a place of “sinspiration,” a place distracting from truth. The only reason I am tempted at times is because my heart hasn’t changed. Those who are truly filled with the spirit of Christ cannot be tempted, just as Christ cannot be tempted. Rather, they can stare temptation and the things that are not of truth – things that do not speak to who the truly are – and say “be gone.”

While we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, sin is not in the nature of those who have devoted their lives to Christ. So while I can be true to myself, I am also subject to the nature of what I have chosen to devote my life to, what I have built my house on, and who I tell myself that I am. So what brings me joy? What brings me closer to Him? What draws others to see that Christ-like nature in me? That is what is most true to myself. Don’t get lost in the sauce: build your house on solid rock.

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Passion Over Distraction

Essentialism

I recently finished reading the book Essentialism and the core of the book could be summarized in the following sentence:

“Less but better” over “everything to everyone.”

So often I get caught up in saying “yes” to responsibilities without thinking because my emotions get involved. In reality, the emotions felt when you say “no” are merely temporary; and what is leftover is respect.

My current struggle is that I am haphazardly juggling too many things at once. (Living in New York City gives me a constant arbitrary pressure and guilt for the need to “keep up” and “be something” to everyone I know – or at least appear that way). I try to justify the so-called benefits to these opportunities. I say things like “but it’s more practice and experience,” “but this is a personal contact and friend, so I feel obligated to…”, or “it will look great on my resume.”

Before I know it, I have taken on more than I can handle and have left no time for me to think about my own goals, what I want, let alone spend time perusing those things with all my heart. Greg McKeown put a little chart inside the book that can be extremely helpful when it comes to making decisions:

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The top row is blank to fill out with an opportunity that could be presented to you. (This could be either personal or work-related). The second row is blank to fill out three minimum requirements and non-negotiables you have already established in order to take on the new opportunity. The second row is for three “would likes:” things that are secondary-tier requirements. Greg suggests that in order to take the opportunity, it must meet all three “must have” requirements and two of the three “would like” requirements. If the opportunity presented doesn’t meet the criteria, then it is not in line with the clear vision you have for your life.

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If I feel like I have lost my vision for my life, I meditate on this Bible verse: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phillipians 4:8). It gives me joy, challenges me and sparks creativity that is rooted in the heart of truth and the heart of purpose. It provides me with a clear vision.

I don’t often read a (secular) book that alters the way I think, but Essentialism is one I will definitely be revisiting. Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned and how it has challenged my life.

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Starting this week I am asking myself: Am I letting the distractions of this world get in the way of my clear vision and passions I have in my life? What can I say “no” to today, to help alleviate pressure? When presented with a new opportunity, does it align with my requirements? “If it isn’t a clear ‘yes,’ then it’s a clear ‘no’.”

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Life-Giving Life

When your mind, body, and soul are operating on the same page, meaning, there is a common goal, beautiful things happen. If you put your mind into a cause or a project where your heart is and your actions follow, passion ignites and things actually start to get done.
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What’s more, when you are operating within God’s will, you are on an accelerated path for the Kingdom, and you become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. When your goals align with kingdom destiny, your goals become on a fast-track.

Philippians 1:21 says “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I paused for a moment to meditate on the “to live is Christ” portion. “Is” in this context is a direct metaphor for life. Nothing you do can separate you from God, so why would you try? I am reminded of that Steven Curtis Chapman song, Jesus is Life. “The air I’m breathing, Why my heart is beating, Everything I’m needing, Jesus is life, Jesus is life.”

Jesus IS life. All encompassing, ever-dependent life. The goal is to operate as one mind, one body, and one spirit: totally and completely in sync with your God-planned purpose. “Be no longer conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test God’s will. His good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2. Just rest in those thoughts, knowing that God WANTS you to know His perfect and pleasing will for your life and He WANTS to be involved. 

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Joy is a Choice

There is a difference between pretending like everything is okay, putting on a front and being genuinely joyful. I’m talking about having an unmatchable lust for life and for the Kingdom.

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It is okay to allow yourself to FEEL. To feel angry, unsatisfied, frustrated. However, in order to move forward into a season of fruitfulness I find that you have to choose happiness, faithfulness every day.
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Choose joy over everything, choose to love over everything. You will find it easier and easier to deflect hardship that comes your way when choosing to be joyful becomes second nature. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
One of the things that has given me complete happiness and joy has been filming short clips of my favorite spots around the city. It’s important to celebrate the where you are.
Enjoy!
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