From High School to Kindergarten, In That Order

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I teach ninth grade English, and I don’t care what anybody says, the high school years can be brutal. Kids can be mean, and they all care way too much about what everybody else thinks. But these years are also precious because you’re only in high school once. (Thank goodness!) In what seems like a completely different world, my sister-in-law teaches kindergarten, and let me tell you, she does an amazing job. I cannot say enough about her as a person, but the same holds true as a teacher. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Rather recently, my SIL’s school was in session on a day that mine was out for break. She offered for me to come visit her classroom and read to her students, and I was so excited! I often hear the sweetest stories about these kids, and now I was going to get to put faces with names. Being in her classroom that day was so fun, and her students made me remember some very precious aspects of life. And sometimes we just need to be reminded of the simple – but important – things in life.

Recess

I was a bit early to her school, so I signed in at the front office and joined my sis-in-law’s class outside. Her class and two others were playing on the playground in the middle of the day, and these kiddos were having an absolute blast. They were talking, running, laughing, swinging, shouting, sliding, and loving their free time. Before my arrival, these kindergartners had been learning all morning, so this was a much needed and well-deserved break. As adults, we sometimes need breaks, too – big ones and small ones. Sometimes we need to take a walk in the middle of the day. Maybe you can go outside and make a lap around your building during your lunch break. Find a way to breathe in some fresh air. Use the buddy system, too. If you can’t get outside, try visiting a co-worked in the office over for a few minutes for a breather. Sometimes, though, we need longer breaks. You may need to take a relaxing vacation, or perhaps you want to take a fun trip. Recess is fun time, and it’s ok to remind yourself to have a little of that.

Love

Kindergartners are quick to tell you they love you, and they anticipate being told that in return. Their hearts are on their sleeves, and they’re excited to show their feelings. They want to feel loved, and they deserve to be loved. This certainly shouldn’t go away as we get older. If anything, we should mature in our ability to love others. Wanting to love and be loved in return is a value our inner kindergartner should fight for.

Patience

Wow does my sister-in-law have it! As a high school teacher, there are days that I feel like I’m asked a lot of questions, but I left her classroom saying that my ninth graders do not hold a candle to these little ones. (And mind you, I’m not advocating that they should.) But my SIL would answer one question only to turn and have another. She answered with both the gentleness and the knowledge that these little ones needed and sought. I can’t imagine how many times she is asked in one day alone for help tying shoes. Yet she never huffed and puffed nor rolled her eyes. Patience is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but because our culture is used to immediate results, patience is often not our initial reaction. It is, however, much appreciated no matter who we are. If you’re in a position that demands a lot of patience, remember that you’re modeling a fruit of the spirit. Be encouraged knowing your model will not only affect others, it may influence them to do the same.

Support

After I read to the kindergartner’s, they took turns asking me questions. They asked things like, “What’s your favorite animal?” and “Where is your favorite place to vacation?” and “What’s your favorite movie?” I noticed that after I gave answer, some of them would quietly say, “Yesssssssss!” They would squint their eyes and do a small fist pump in the air. I felt like they were cheering for me! (I promptly shared this with my ninth graders when we returned from break. Every now and then, I’ll hear a faint “Yessssss” in my classes now.) My sister-in-law explained that they were excited when they realized they had something in common with me. Like, “Yesssssss, we both love lions!” It’s amazing how lots of little cheers can motivate you! This was a great reminder that we need to give these little cheers to our friends. We need to motivate, encourage, and support each other.

Centers

The kindergartners got some free center time while I was in the room, so they had a choice to make. Do they read the books, or do they work a puzzle? Do they play in this center or that one? I didn’t notice any of them standing around conflicted over where to go. They just made a choice and went with it. Life is full of choices, and sometimes a choice is just a choice. One’s not good and the other bad. Maybe you want to eat chicken for dinner instead of steak. You have the option to do either – or both! Enjoy your free center time, and take advantage of it.

Feelings

As it turns out, kindergartners have a lot of them. While I visited, they were all happy. But I know from talking to my sister-in-law, this isn’t always the case. Much like their love, they aren’t afraid to share any of their other feelings either. If they’re sad, they cry. If they’re confused, they ask a question. If they’re happy, they giggle and smile. As we mature, we learn to manage our feelings, but you should always have the people you can express your feelings to. Your tribe. Your people. We should not let our feelings manage us, but we also should not manage our feelings so much that we bury them all together.

Groups

Since the kindergarten classroom has tables, the students sit with three other classmates. They complete their individual work at these tables, but during snack time, they get to enjoy each other’s company. Like these little ones, we, too, need time to productive, sometimes surrounded by others, especially if you’re an extrovert. In a way, you’re somewhat of a siphon because your energy comes from being around other people. We all need time to just be with people as well. So sit yourself at a table and enjoy some company!

Hugs

The day came to an end, and I said my goodbyes. Then as I turned to leave, I was stopped in my tracks. One of the kindergarteners was wrapped around my legs! She was giving me a big hug, and it was the best thing ever. I was overwhelmed by her sweet, childlike way. No matter our age, we need more hugs. I’m not a hugger by nature, but I believe hugs just generate kindness. Give some hugs because it certainly won’t hurt anything.

*The above pictures were taken in the Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cataloochee Valley is now home to elk and lots of other wildlife, too. Getting there is quite a feat, so don’t head out unprepared – but the travel is well-worth the journey! You can read more about Cataloochee here.

Christ, Our Redeemer, Lives

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Hand-lettering // Hope Hickman @sincerelyhope.designs

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4

I have such wonderful memories of Easter growing up. I loved dying Easter eggs, hiding and hunting them, and excitedly opening my Easter basket. I always looked forward to choosing a new Easter dress and readying my white shoes. My mom and I wore matching dresses when I was little, and I adore those pictures! Easter Sunday church service was the focal-point of the week. But most of all, Easter was and is still a time of thankfulness for, honor to, and celebration of our redeemer, Christ Jesus.

Because of Christ’s love for man, He died for our sins. But on the third day, he rose from the grave; He overcame death. Death had no hold on Jesus. The depth of those words is immeasurable.

The Easter holiday is a time of newness, both in nature and in meaning. Nature remarkably symbolizes Christ’s resurrection. Spring has arrived, plants begin to green, and flowers bloom anew. In this season of new life, we celebrate Easter, the holiday of new life. Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, and His resurrection gives man new life in Him.

And if you take this one step further, consider the season before spring: winter. With the arrival of spring, nature returns from death to life. In defeating death, Jesus returned to life, and so, too, do we live when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Jesus is our redeemer. Our salvation is given to us by no doing of our own (Galatians 2:8-9). Romans chapter 5, verse 8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When we accept Christ, we choose to live a new life, a life following Jesus. We are called to change. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And even when we drift, even in our wandering, Jesus will continually call us back to Him. Jesus, our Savior, can redeem anything.

 

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

Busy Isn’t a Badge of Honor

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Photography // Hope Hickman @sincerelyhope.designs

I’ll be honest. I have no idea how often I say that I’m busy. I probably say it a lot because I like to be busy. I’m better when I’m busy. I’ve been like this since I was young. But that’s a story for another day.

Several Sundays ago, our preacher gently encouraged us to stop using busy as a badge of honor. I’ve never quite thought about it that way. How often do you ask someone how they are and they reply by saying they’re busy? And how often do they say that with a little sigh, like, “Whew!” When we say we’re busy, it really can come off as though we think we deserve some sort of medal for the amount of stuff we’re doing. Sometimes it’s in the way we say it. But sometimes it’s just that we say it.

I’m waiting for the person that says, “I’ve got all the time in the world! I just don’t know what to do with all this time on my hands. In fact, I’m actually looking for stuff to do!” We’re all busy. You have deadlines to meet at work. You take on more responsibilities to further your career. You volunteer at a local nonprofit organization. You’re in a Bible study or small group. You’re trying to spend quality time with your spouse. You’re running your kids to the fifteen extracurricular activities that they’re involved in – even if they aren’t in school yet. Your kids are older, and now they need your help for other tasks. And you’re trying to do everything and do it all well.

Even the single guy who leaves work at a decent hour to get back to his apartment is busy. He may be home, but he’s probably tidying up his place, making dinner, working out, and doing laundry. And yes, going to the gym doesn’t compare to getting home to take care of a child. But this guy chose to be busy going to the gym whereas someone else may choose to be busy working more hours, studying for school, or taking care of their child. None of the types of busy are any more right than another; they’re just different kinds of busy. We decide how we want to spend our time. Life is, after all, a sum of all of our choices.

Let me take this a step further by saying, let’s also stop qualifying our busy-ness. I speak as much to myself here as anyone else because I get over-involved. I’m better now at enjoying and prioritizing free time than I ever have been, but I still like to keep a full plate. I’m sure there are plenty of times that I chime in as soon as someone else rattles off whatever they’re busy doing, too. But I really don’t want to come off with a look-at-me attitude, nor do I want to complain about how busy I am. I like being busy, but I want to be intentional in not throwing my busy-ness in people’s faces.

Be busy or don’t. We’re all entitled to our own choice about the matter. But let’s be mindful to not seek a badge of honor for being busy. We live by the choices we make, but we don’t all get badges for them – and nor should we.

So the next time someone asks how you are, avoid the “Oh, I’m so busy!” response. Let’s intentionally try to quit saying this. The badge of business is not a badge of honor, so let’s stop striving for it.

 

Be still.
Psalm 46:10

Running, Faith, and Endurance

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I finally went to the gym after about three weeks of not having set foot in the door. To ease myself into it, I went to a morning hip hop class (thanks spring break!), and the next day I decided to hit the treadmill. Hip hop is certainly a cardio workout, and it also works my leg muscles. I hadn’t been to class in a few weeks, but I knew this would be a good way to get back into the groove (pun intended). The next day, I made good on my promise to myself to get a short run in. I knew a run wouldn’t be easy after having slacked off for a few weeks, but I also didn’t think I would be impossible.

I started out slow and intended on doing only two miles. At half a mile I bumped my pace up just a tad, and at one and half miles, I wanted to stop. But I have this thing about stopping before reaching the goal I set for myself that day. As cliche as it sounds, if I say two miles, I want to make the two. If something is wrong, like a body part is hurting, I’ve learned to pay attention to those aches; otherwise, I try my best to push through.

I made it to two miles and then slowed to a walk. I was really surprised at how winded I was, but I shouldn’t have been because this isn’t A typical for me. When I take a timeout from running (like I had the previous three weeks), I have to build my endurance all over again. It doesn’t take too terribly long; a couple two or three miles runs usually jump start my endurance levels, but, nonetheless, I have to rebuild.

There’s a clear analogy that can be made here, comparing this situation to our faith. Taking a timeout from faith is likely not something any of us do voluntarily but rather circumstantially. We have a lot going on or our normal routine changes, and we take an accidental time out. You don’t forget about it all together, just like I didn’t throw my tennis shoes away during the three weeks I didn’t go to the gym nor did I hang my workout clothes up for good. But we may take a timeout from our faith in that we aren’t as consistent with reading the Bible or perhaps our prayers become more sporadic than they are intentional.

Re-opening the Bible and picking up where you left off is just as easy as opening the gym doors and hopping on a treadmill. But while your endurance on the treadmill may be defined by how far you run or how fast you go, your endurance of faith doesn’t have to do with how much you can read or how long you can pray. These practices – reading your Bible, praying, and the like – strengthen your endurance to navigate life. They keep us focused on God and help us press on each day. They remind us of our purpose, encourage us in our comings and goings, and support us in our walk. Being active in our faith makes living life easier.

When I finished this harder-than-it-should-have-been run, I thought back to the last time I had been on the treadmill. I was running two miles at a much faster pace and was pushing myself at a different level. With each run, my endurance levels go up, and I have to push myself harder because the old pace doesn’t challenge me as much anymore. Similarly, with every act of faith, our ability to persevere is strengthened, and we become firmer in our walk with Christ.

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

Life-Giving Moments

As many of you know, my brother just got married! I definitely consider myself a words person, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to articulate just how sweet his wedding was. My brother has such a big heart, and he found his true match in his now wife. So it seems inevitable that their wedding would be the sweetest celebration uniting two of the sweetest souls together in marriage. Their wedding was filled with precious moments and cherished time. To say it was perfect will never do it justice. These memories will forever be treasured and held close in all our hearts.

A wedding is a life-changing moment. Ryan and Erin’s wedding was unique in that both families spent the weekend together. While we were obviously excited for the wedding, the whole weekend was filled with life-giving moments. I was reminded, too, of just how dear these times are in our everyday lives as well. So here are a few things to remember to enjoy in our day-to-day comings and goings.

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Good Food

There’s just something to be said about food that you love eating. Let me tell you, last weekend, we ate great food. We had everything from a plethora of snack foods to a chef with amazing skills. In our everyday lives, you don’t have to go to a five star restaurant to get some good eats either. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting dressed up and going to a fancy dinner, but some nights, I want to grab Moe’s on my way home so I can sit on my couch and eat in my jammies! Maybe McDonald’s’ fries are your thing, or maybe you like cooking pasta with a tasty marinara sauce. Regardless of you preference, enjoy some good food more often than every now and then.

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Atmosphere

I believe that atmosphere affects how we feel sometimes. The house we stayed in had huge windows, gorgeous wood floors, beautiful decor, and breathtaking scenery. Not to mention, the tablescape (courtesy of one of Erin’s sisters) and the flowers (done by Erin’s mom) were amazing. What a reminder of how much a pretty atmosphere does for our souls! Go to restaurants that you like the feel of. If you teach, make your classroom bright and colorful. If you work in a cubicle, create a space that’s as fun as possible. Add picture frames, holiday decorations, or sports trinkets to your cube. Most importantly, make home feel like home. Pick up some flowers to add tangible happiness to your room, and light candles to spread scented perfume through your place. Make it warm, cozy, and inviting. Make it you!

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Joy

We will all remember Ryan and Erin’s wedding because it was happy, yes, but it was a time filled with such true joy. It was a joy we all felt in our bones. I know if you get down to the nitty gritty there’s a difference in joy and happiness, but a lot of times, I use these terms synonymously. Technically, I think joy is chosen whereas happiness is circumstantial. Happiness is emotionally driven; it comes and goes. You feel it, and then you don’t. It’s fleeting. And though we choose to be joyful, I think sometimes we experience it whether we mean to or not. It’s peaceful. Joy comes when all is well with our hearts. And you feel it deeply, like deep down in your soul. These moments of sincere joy leave an impression on you, and you remember them. Moments of joy don’t have to be limited to milestone events; these moments can be appreciated in our mundane activities if we take the time enough to recognize them. So pay attention in the present, not to the past or future. Acknowledge these moments, and take time to be thankful for them.

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Time with People You Care Most About

I thoroughly appreciate quality time with the people who are most important to me. Over the wedding weekend, we were able to do just that. Ryan and Erin’s closest family was together for relaxation, rest, celebration, and fun! And much like the weekend, we can all make time for this even when we aren’t on vacation. Yes, we must be more intentional in making it happen, but time with those we love is life-giving. Those moments allow us to recharge, re-center, and rejoice!

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Music

Over the course of the weekend, we had a lot of music played on musical instruments, through speakers, and on a TV in the theater room. (We had a sibling dance party after the ceremony!) When you put two families together that love music as much as we all do, you’re bound to have a lot of musical notes floating around. But even if you don’t play an instrument or really even know that much about music, I’d encourage you to find some that you like! Check out iTunes top charts or surf through the radio stations. Then crank the speakers in the car! Put your earbuds in at work or during your run at the gym. In the words of Victor Hugo, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

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Photography // Alyssa Joy Photography

Words Spoken in Love

Perhaps my favorite part of the wedding was the brunch after the ceremony. Ok, not really the brunch – although it was beyond excellent! – but the words that everyone shared about Ryan and Erin. We spoke words of love to these two precious people. Let us speak in love each day to one another. Remind the ones you love that you love them and just why that’s so.

 

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:4

Packing for a Winter Getaway

I love the mountains. East Tennessee is a place near and dear to my heart, and my family still vacations there quite often. We just returned from a vacation in the Smokies about two months ago, and now we’re headed to a different set of mountains in less than a week for my brother’s wedding! Everyone is so excited! Considering that it’s March, we all assumed the weather would be cold, but with our ever-changing temps, at this point, who knows. Regardless, my packing list changes depending on what kind of trip we are taking and what season it is. In the summer months, my family R.V. camps, but when it’s cold, we stay in a condo or cabin.

I keep a general packing list on my phone at all times. Once upon a time I kept a written list, but it’s easier to add to a list on my phone since it’s always with me. Some items remain on the list through every season, but during the winter months, I tack on a few extra necessities. Here is a peek at what I take.

 

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1. Moisturizer

My skin gets dryer in the winter because of the cold air. When the temperature drops (or when I go to a colder place like the mountains!), I have to be careful to use plenty of moisturizer. I love MAC Cosmetics moisturizers. For a true moisturizer, I use MAC’s Complete Comfort Creme. It’s thick, but my skin absorbs it – so it’s not that thick. A little goes a long way with the Comfort Creme. For a lighter moisturizer, I go to MAC’s Oil Control Lotion. It does just that: controls oil all day. But it also provides just enough moisture initially before applying make up. This one is a normal, 1.7 fl. oz. size, but you get more bang for your buck with the travel size, even though it’s smaller. (It’s an ounces-to-dollars thing.)

2. Biosilk Silk Therapy

Before I dry my hair, I run some of this through my hair. I’ve been using it since high school! It makes my hair smoother because it works almost like a conditioner. Also, my go-to conditioner is Tresemme’s Moisture Rich Conditioner. I know you’re not technically suppose to, but I don’t actually rinse the conditioner from my hair. Leaving it in makes my hair smoother and easier to brush. This conditioner is particularly moisturizing.

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3. Facewash

This facewash is great for three reasons. (1) It cleanses my face really well. (2) It’s gentle on my skin. (3) It doesn’t break my face out. My skin is really sensitive so I don’t like to use any kind of soaps with fragrances. I’ve never had trouble using Clean and Clear’s. I do moisturize after I wash my face to help with dryness.

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4. Lotion

Again, much like soaps, I don’t like fragrance lotions unless I’m using hand lotion. For body lotion, I love Aveeno. It replenishes my skin, and the moisture stays locked in – even when it’s freezing outside.

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5. Uggs

Thank goodness they are back! Need I say more?

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6. Gloves

I have some gloves similar to these, and they’re great. They are lined on the inside, but they’re sleek on the outside and not bulky at all.

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7. Cable-Knit Headbands

I don’t always anticipate being outside just a ton in the mountains during the winter, but I always like to be prepared. Plus, even walking from the car down the street and into a restaurant is time enough to get very cold! I have loved this year’s thick, chunky headbands.

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8. Fleece

This fleece is super warm and really soft. My mom and I both have one, and we absolutely love them! We got them monogrammed at a shop nearby. You can find the fleece here or here.

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9. Pajamas

I love spending vacation time in my fuzzy pajamas. I absolutely love these! They are oh-so-comfortable and perfect for the winter months. Vera Wang is my favorite pajama brand.

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10. Books

I don’t go on vacations without some good reads. I just finished Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon and am about to begin Love Does by Bob Goff – Christmas gifts from my soon-to-be sister-in-law. How well does she know me?! I’m always looking for suggestions, so if you’re reading something you love, let me know!

What Seasons, Possessions, and The Originals All Have in Common

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This week, I spent time trying to decide what piece to post to my blog. I was back and forth on a few topics, and by about Tuesday, I started to see a running theme in my week. And when your week has a theme, you go with it.

First…

On Sunday, my church finished a series on Ecclesiastes. It was a series that went faster than I had hoped. But you can’t really go by me because Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Bible. We could have practically spent the entire year in this book (and then some), and I would have been happy. The first two weeks of study were beneficial, but I felt that this past Sunday’s teaching really honed in on Ecclesiastes’ central message: recognizing what is important. Solomon, the wealthiest and wisest man to have ever lived, is whom scholars believe to have written this book. He pursued pleasure, knowledge, work, accolades, and wealth in his life, but in his older age looking back, he deems it all meaningless. Solomon was trying to do us all a favor by giving advice after having lived quite the life.

Each week we receive a fill-in-the-blank notecard in the bulletin which serves as a guide with the sermon. As I completed my notecard, I arrived at the last blank. The note read, “Is _______ enough for you?” Thinking I’d missed the answer, I filled in the blank with the word “this.” Come to find out, I had not missed the blank; it simply had not been stated yet. The word meant for this blank? God. I had wondered if that was going to be the word, but, honestly, I had been a bit hesitant to write that down. “Is God enough for you?” What a to-the-point question. Ultimately, that is the question that Ecclesiastes leads us to. When we are in seasons of plenty, sometimes it’s hard to be honest about this. And when we are in a season other than one of plenty, the answer to this question often becomes our foundation.

Next…

I ended up in Mark 8 this week. “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’” (Mark 8:34-36). I was reminded that denying ourselves means setting aside our self-centered ways and choosing to not be the center of our universe, that following Christ will give us life, and that we can’t keep worldly wealth and possessions.

Even moving from one house to another shows how fast you can rid yourself of your possessions. Perhaps you give some stuff to Goodwill, you trash other things, and you pack up what’s left and move it out. Finally, you leave your whole house – for another. Similarly, we one day will leave this world for a much better home. The difference is, we won’t take anything with us when we go, and it won’t matter one bit what we gained materialistically while we were here. So why gain the whole world and lose your soul in the process?

Finally…

Ok, so I watch The Originals. One of the characters has been in and out of the show, but as of last season, he was present a good bit. I like this guy’s character, but I’ve never seen the actor in anything else. Out of curiosity, I looked him up. Enter Nathanial Buzolic. Long story short, his Wikipedia page names him a “devout Christian.” (See for yourself here.) This past Tuesday, he posted on his Instagram story some passages of Scripture he was reading. His Bible was turned to Romans 8, and he ran his finger under verse 6: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” How refreshing to be reminded of this – and from an actor. It is also worth mentioning that Nathanial plays an immortal vampire on The Originals. (I guess his fictional role hasn’t swayed his real-life person.)

Our world is consumed with consumerism. It’s everywhere. But this theme that developed over my week helped me remember the end goal. Though seasons change, God is ever-present. Though we gain possessions in this world, they remain here only. And though we live in flesh, we thrive focusing on the Spirit. Moments like these from my week keep my perspective in check, and they’re just truly uplifting. Be encouraged that your worth is far more than rubies.