Influence – The Girl Behind the Blog

I know. I know… Father’s Day is the last time I’ve posted. Things have got busy around here. I moved. I went away for a big chunk of the summer. So much change. Good change… and I’ve been really rethinking the way I want to approach blogging. I’ve been dragging my feet on it really. Last week I marked my calendar to participate in The Girl Behind the Blog vlog link-up today. And then promptly forgot until this afternoon. I was “supposed” to have already done a catch-up, I’m back, let’s relaunch this thing post. I haven’t. But what better way to dive back in than this? So I turned my grandma’s armchair around to face my dining room (the best light downstairs, since I still have no lighting in the living room, and also to hide all the empty moving boxes and piles of Stuff), threw my all-day-with-a-toddler hair into a bun, touched up my make-up, and slipped on some jewelry and my favorite new cardi. So here goes… I hate watching myself, so I haven’t even viewed the video fully myself.

Sorry it’s five minutes long. Here’s a fact about me: I have an extremely difficult time being concise when I’m talking. I just like talking too much. So… I decided to leave it as is. It’s me.

Talk to y’all later… and SOON! I promise.

xoxo,
Alanna

 

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Happy Father’s Day!

This morning, the men of my church gave us such a beautiful gift. Several months ago, one of the men had the vision for a men’s choir. So at their last fellowship dinner (this past Tuesday) they rehearsed and this morning lead us in worship with How Great Thou Art! It was so incredible to see probably 75+ men singing with all their hearts, no matter their musical skill. What a witness to us of what it is to be a faithful, godly man! A role model to our boys, and an example to our girls (including this one) of what a husband should be. To God be the glory!

This evening I was painting tiles for Right Focus. One of the designs had III John 4 on it: “I have no greater joy than to hear my children are walking in the truth.” Y’all know, of course, that today is Father’s Day. As carefully painted the verse several times, I reflected that is such a blessing to be the daughter of a father (and mother!) for whom this is their greatest joy. All I have to do is follow my Lord and I will bring my parents’ joy. It doesn’t matter what job I have, or achievements I gain… if I walk in the truth, I know their hearts are full of joy. It’s not the reason to pick up my cross and follow the Lord, but it is a sweet benefit.

How do I know this is my parents’ greatest joy? They have shown me, in their attitude, teaching, and words to me, but also in the example of their own lives. I don’t have a perfect family; but walking in the truth has always been our family’s primary focus. From Sunday evening family devotions when I was little to daily Bible study before school, my parents have brought me up in the “fear and admonition of the Lord.” Our faith has always come before anything else. Before school (literally!), before material blessings, before entertainment. I have watched both my dad and my mom spend countless hours preparing and planning Bible studies, VBS programs, Sunday School projects, and youth group lessons, all for the purpose of sharing with others how to walk in the truth. Theology has always been as common a dinnertime conversation topic as the day’s activities or current events. My parents’ example has impressed their joy in my own faith as much as the times they have directly expressed that.

I am so richly blessed to have parents who have taught me and shown me how to follow Christ! It grieves me that many children, perhaps even you, have not had this jumpstart to walking in the truth. Even if you don’t have a godly father to celebrate today, you have a heavenly Father Who is the Truth, the one, perfect example. My own dad, as amazing as he is, is still but a dim reflection of God the Father. He loves you more than any earthly possibly could! Ask Him to give you earthly models… hey, if you’re in Memphis, come over to Advent. We’ve got a lot of men who can be as a father in the family of God!

xoxoxoxo,
Alanna

Once Upon a Time: A Blogiversary

Once upon a time, year ago yesterday, I wrote my first post. I thought very briefly about doing a big celebratory post with a giveaway, like many other bloggers do. But it seemed a better fit to the way I’ve blogged this first year to just mark it quietly (and a day late)… and anyway, with such a small readership there wouldn’t be anyone to vie for the giveaway. Haha.

I’ve never been a cannonball-into-the-water type of girl. I always inch myself in slowly, one toe at a time. And so it’s been with blogging. I don’t think I’ve been so much a half-hearted blogger as a cautious and hesitant one. Testing the proverbial waters, so to speak. Seeing if it’s safe to plunge in. And with such a crazy, up-and-down year, blogging suffered. I’m a routine girl. I have a hard time being consistent and disciplined when life is crazy and all over the place.

But enough of that! Life is moving on and I’m slowly settling into a new normal, although there’s still some change to come in the next couple months. It’s time to get serious about the blog. So that’s why I planned to hash out The Plan for year number two on the blog. Perhaps I’d give you a bulleted list of Big Goals like new post ideas (and I have plenty), so many shop updates per month, when in my week I’m going to set aside time to blog, etc.

And yet… looking back over the past year, and looking towards the future, that’s still seems not quite the right thing. Before those Big Goals will work, I need one thing.

I want to blog with PURPOSE.

I don’t mean narrowing a focus for the blog. I don’t mean setting goals and keeping myself on track. Those are important and they will follow. But this is what I mean:

I realized recently that in the past year, I don’t think one single time have I sat down to pray over my blog. To ask God what HE would like to do with Charlie + Lu. 1 Corinthians 10:31 say whatever we do, even eating and drinking, should be done for God’s glory. Eating and drinking are basic survival tasks. If I’m supposed to survive for His glory, how much more so should something like blogging be taken seriously for His purpose! Before I get to any goals or to-do lists, I need to sit down and spend some time praying over Charlie + Lu. And listening. My hope for this blog is that what you see in the coming weeks and months will come from a heart guided by the Lord. That doesn’t mean every post is going to be “Christian-y”! But I want Him beside me as I blog. Every time.

Even for a purposeless, hesitant first year of blogging, it’s been a good one. I wrote some heartfelt posts about things like Honduras and a special birthday. I participated in an art journal challenge, Indie Christmas, and the Spring Fling Blog Swap. I showed you a lot of Instagrams. I am beginning to meet some sweet and amazing fellow bloggers.

I’m excited just thinking about what another year could bring when I blog with purpose. For Him. Soli Deo Gloria!

xoxo,
Alanna

Jeremiah Small

Hi y’all. Sorry it’s been a quiet week. My heart’s been a little heavy and distracted; some personal stuff going on, but I’m moving forward now and looking up. Plus when I got on my computer Thursday to write a belated Once Upon a Time post, I saw some really tragic news on Facebook. I just didn’t have it in me to write a blog post. It’s been weighing on my heart every since.

Some of my dearest college friends, John and Mary, literally sold or put into storage nearly all their belongings two years ago. They left jobs and families to move to Kurdistan, a region in Northern Iraq. The reason? To teach at the Classical School of the Medes, a Christian school begun in January 2001 with now 3 locations. This is their second year teaching, with a brief furlough home over the holidays for the birth of their first child. It has been such a joy and privilege to pray for them and watch their journey of faith.

On Thursday, one of CSM’s teachers, Jeremiah Small, was shot and killed by one of his students. My friends have directed all of us to this article as being decently balanced. Although John and Mary teach at another location in a different city, Jeremiah was their friend and colleague. They, as well as the whole CSM organization, are reeling with this tragedy. As I understand, CSM has never seen a violent incident like this. The three schools are beloved and respected in region and the community is grieving.

This article written by the highschool seniors at CSM is very important to read, as is this tribute by another student. I worry, and I am sure the school’s community and organization do even more, that many Westerners will assume in reactionary ignorance that this is just another reason to think “all Muslims are terrorists”. HOW WRONG THAT ASSUMPTION IS! The details and motivations of the attack are still being sorted out. But even on the big, unlikely if that this incident was fueled by religious motivations, this student’s are no more representative of his entire religion than are the actions of a Christian abortion clinic bomber. Or are we making sweeping statements about the culture and heritage of the student who shot and killed his peers at Chardon High School in Ohio recently? If you want a picture of the Kurdish community, read the beautiful tributes by Jeremiah’s students.

Instead of ignorant, irrational judgment, let us react in compassion and sympathy. This was a beloved teacher, friend, colleague, brother, and son. We need to be surrounding his school, students, community, friends, and family with prayer. John and Mary sent their supporters a link to a memorial fund if you care to give. It will help pay for his family to fly to Iraq, his memorial service, etc.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. – Psalm 116:15

xoxo,
Alanna

Masterpiece

Back in 2008, I took a dream trip to Italy for 10 days. Probably 10 of the most intensely beauty-filled days of my life. I spent much of my time in Rome but I feel as if I barely scratched the surface of all the amazing art there was to see in that city alone. One of the museums I picked to see was the Musei Capitolini. It housed several sculptures I was eager to see in person, although sadly Bernini’s Medusa was on loan to a museum in Venice. I didn’t realize, though, that there was a very nice collection of paintings on the top floor. Paintings are not its primary focus, so I did not expect to see the likes of the collection at the Galleria Borghese (which sadly I did not visit). But then I stopped in my tracks… a Caravaggio! Not one, but two! And… was that what I thought it was? A real Rubens! Cherubic Romulus and Remus in all their characteristically-Rubens, rolly-polly glory.

There were many other paintings as beautiful as the Caravaggios and the Rubens, and perhaps some I liked even better. Yet there was something special about seeing these. To stand a foot from the canvas (yes, there isn’t near the security in Italian museums as here in the States) and examine the brush strokes of these masters whose names had been part of my earliest, grade-school art history lessons. I think I got goosebumps, it felt almost surreal. Little me, standing in the same spot these men had stood when they painted these pictures. Certainly… these weren’t the most famous paintings these men had done. But they were works of the masters!

One of my favorite ways to think of God is as the Great Artist. When I see a brilliant sunset, I see a watercolor He’s splashed across the horizon. The craggy peaks of a mountain are His sculpture. Yet His grandest work… it’s His people. And the amazing thing about the Great Artist is that He creates no minor works. The thrill I felt standing before a small painting by Caravaggio or Rubens, not well known at all… that should be multiplied many times over when we look at His handiwork. Every one of His creations is a masterpiece!

Every one. I’m sure you can agree that your loved ones – your friends and your family – are masterpieces. But what about YOU? Do you believe you are God’s version of the Sistine Chapel? You are a signed, authentic work of the Master. You bear His image. You are His masterpiece.

Caravaggio - St. John the Baptist

Every now and then, a story makes a headline when someone discovers a great painter’s work in a forgotten attic or behind a less valuable painting. Can you imagine what it would be like to find a long-lost, perhaps never-known work of Monet or Rembrandt? Oh, the care that would go into restoring it! Millions of dollars… it would be stored in perfect conditions; many artisans would spend countless hours in painstaking, tedious restoration work.

We live in a fallen world. Every one of God’s masterpieces is in need of restoration. Good thing the Master Painter is ready and willing to breath new life into His creations. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to recognize His marred and damaged works. Yet… the brushstrokes are there. The signature is always visible. You may have to look closer, but it’s there. Nothing, not all the grime and filth and fading in the world can erase the Master’s touch.

Do you see the masterpiece? Let it thrill you when you look in the face of your wife, your boyfriend, your roommate, your son. Take a good look in the mirror and recognize His handiwork. But even more… I challenge you to look for the masterpiece in every person you encounter. The less-than-cordial clerk at Wal-Mart. The students misbehaving in your classroom. The coworker who you know will stab you in the back when you leave the break room. The homeless man panhandling at the busy intersection.

As you begin to see the masterpiece in those around you, open yourself up to the prompting of the Spirit. You never know when God will choose you as a tool in the restoration of another. And you just might find your own colors brightened and a layer of dust removed in the process!

xoxo,
Alanna

Cozy

Yesterday, I spent a sweet and cozy afternoon with one of my besties (yes, I am blessed to have several!). Before I moved in with M. this summer, L. and I had lived together for two years. We’ve got carbon copy personalities and she’s just one of those friends with whom I feel very comfortable. We curled up on the couch with tea and fresh scones to watch Babes in Toyland. Both of us had watched it as children but could barely remember the story.

Mary and Mr. Barnaby

It was so adorably kitschy and far cheesier than we remembered, but we loved it even so. There was a sweet sort of innocence about it, too. The movie begins the day before Tom and Mary’s wedding, yet that evening she’s far too shy to kiss him yet. Sweet. And Ed Wynn? Awww. He’s so cute!

We had fun remembering all the older movies we’d loved as a kid. Long ago we’d discovered we both love The Sound of Music, but yesterday we discussed Old Yeller (actually I hated that – too sad!), The Swiss Family Robinson… it made me want to dig up a lot of the old favorites.

We hadn’t been together since before Christmas and we spent a lot of time catching up. She’s one of those friends with whom I can be honest and know that she’ll listen, support, advise and love me without judgment. It was just a very filling time, ya know?

I’m so glad God blessed me with a sweet afternoon yesterday because today I certainly needed that extra bit to get through a really tough day. To explain briefly, a promise was made to me earlier this week and then broken today in a surprising and hurtful way. It’s got some tough repercussions for my life in the next few weeks. God knew what today would hold for me and although He knows the big picture for my life, how things will unfold according to His plan for the best, He knew I’d need some extra help. He is so sweet to meet me in my limitation with blessings in His hands. Although I know He has great plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), it’s so hard to trust that sometimes. Yet, instead of getting irritated with my feeble faith, He chooses to bless me in a special way.

Sometimes I miss these little “above and beyond” demonstrations of love. But when I stop to evaluate my life as guided by my heavenly Father, it’s so clearly criss-crossed with His love. I pray you’ll stop a minute. Look at the past few days? I know you’ll find evidence of His love.

xoxo,
Alanna

In another’s shoes…

The week before Christmas, I had an interaction with an acquaintance which left me… well, irritated. I felt disrespected and untrusted, that she hadn’t listened to me at all. There’s nothing like feeling as if another is treating me like I’m stupid to get me riled up.

I’m ashamed to say I aired my resentful frustration to a couple friends later that evening. With really no more purpose than to make myself feel better and to give vent to my injured ego. Oh, gossip… how tempting a snare!

This past week I had opportunity to see this lady again. But this time, I remembered to do something that always has helped me to deal with people in the past. I tried to get out of myself and imagine being in her shoes. What was behind her actions? What were her feelings?

And do you know what I discovered? It had nothing to do with me. While it doesn’t make the way I was treated completely un-frustrating, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I realized that it was coming from something actually sweet about her, something I can understand.

You know, there are people who are frankly unkind, unfair, and malicious. Imagining yourself in their position doesn’t make the situation any better, because they’re just being plain difficult. But many times if I can remember to forget my own concerns and view the situation from the other’s shoes… it becomes much easier to deal with. Easier to forgive, easier to be kind, easier to shrug off. And more often than not, when I act from a position of understanding and kindness, the difficulty and frustration of dealing with the other person diminishes greatly. He or she responds in kind. And my own heart is changed.

Next time you feel the steam rising inside of you, take a deep breath. Set yourself aside and step into the other person’s shoes. You might be surprised.

“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:1, ESV

xoxo,
Alanna

Thoughts

Hello. O_o

Ah, yes. Question of the day: do I remember I have a neglected blog and Etsy shop?

Answer: I do. And the neglect is most definitely not from forgetfulness. C + L is actually quite often on my mind. I’ve even got a mental list of post and even post-series ideas. I’m going to be honest… this blog/Etsy venture is so much more difficult than I imagined. STINKIN’ INTIMIDATING, to be quite frank. I’ve got this paralyzing cycle that goes on in my mind. I know that to have better success with especially the shop, I’ve got to put myself out there. I’ve got to put a lot more effort into driving traffic to my store. And I even have a list of marketing ideas. But here’s the little thing that’s been messing with my mind: now I can say, “Oh there’s not many sales at the shop or followers for the blog because of me. It’s my fault… I’ve not done all the marketing projects I’ve planned.” Okay. So that’s not a super enjoyable thing to admit. But you know what’s worse in my mind? If I make the effort, put myself out there… and nothing. Because THAT means rejection. That means that my handiwork and my writing are No Good.

Oh, yes, yes… rationally I know that building up a reader and customer base takes time. Suffering through lots of dry time. But. Yeah, rational and calm thinking aren’t generally my forté when it comes to taking Big Steps to Put Myself Out There. And I do know that what others think is not in any way an actual gauge of the worth of me and my work. But yeah… try convincing my emotions of that truth.

So. FEAR. That ugly word. Fear is what’s behind the neglect. But I told y’all about it, didn’t I? I’m a good one to be motivated by accountability. When I wanted to run the 1/2 marathon last Winter, I told as many people as I could what I was planning… that way I had to do it.

Okay. I’m ready to recommit. I’m going to decorate a little moleskin to dedicate as a Blog/C+L ideas book. ‘Cause cute accessories and tools (and outfits!) are also a huge factor in motivation for me. And once I have the cute notebook, I’m going to write down all the ideas. Get them out of my brain and onto paper. And then I’m going to start crossing them off.

Thanks for listening… see you SOON!

xoxo
Alanna

Handbells

Image via Schulmerich Handbells

I’m in the handbell choir at my church and our “season” just started with a technique clinic on Saturday. I realized that probably a lot of people have never heard handbell music and don’t know what it’s all about! I’ve literally grown up with handbells… my mom took me to practice with her when I was an infant. I think I was pretty much destined to play when I was older.

As you can see from the picture above, handbells come in all sizes. Each bell corresponds to a note. The higher the note, the smaller the bell. They’re typically made of brass, but the really big bass bells – which we don’t have – are made of aluminum because they’re so big you couldn’t lift them if they were made of brass. We have a five octave choir, which is on the larger end for a church choir. I play the very highest treble bells – the itty-bitty ones! My whole hand fits around the brass part, whereas I can barely pick up our largest bass bells.

You may think that bells can just be rung. Wrong! There are so many crazy techniques to produce different types of sounds, and even some fun ways to ring the high-bells. I play with a technique called four-in-hand. I have two bells in each hand – four different notes. Because handbells clappers can only swing one direction the bells are turned in opposite directions. I turn my hand a different way to ring each note. Some people play six-in-hand but I’m not sure how. I’d really love to learn!

At the bell clinic on Saturday, we learned a new technique we’ll be using this year. It is incredible. It’s called the singing bell technique and the sound it makes is so ethereal. I’m sure it’s easier explained by seeing and hearing it, so watch:

Oh my goodness, it is so cool! We actually don’t hit it to start the sound. You can just begin circling the bell rim with the dowel and it “sings” on its own. It doesn’t really work with the highest bells, so I won’t get to do it in any of our pieces but I got to try it out. If you have never heard bell music – or even if you have – please watch this video. It’s such a cool piece!

Handbell music is so beautiful. It’s just such a lovely experience for me. It’s really a great expression of the body of Christ. We each have charge of different bells… I play 4-in-hand with the high bells and my other treble-bell comrades often shelley ring (two in each hand – the same notes, octave apart – facing the same direction, played together). The bass bells are huge and heavy, quite a cool feat to watch and require strength and lots of coordination (my mom is awesome; our bass lady actually can’t lift them so she uses a mallet). The middle bells are neither small enough to play 4-in-hand nor huge, but they are the bulk of the melody and often have crazy handwork, switching sharps and flats. And all together, following our director, we can make a beautiful song of praise. Even without one person, it’s evident that there is something missing. If we don’t keep our eyes on the director, we do not play completely together. If one person picks up the wrong bell on a chord, you can tell. Isn’t it that way with the body of Christ?

Te amo!

If Wednesday was Color and yesterday was Faces… Today was Abrazos y Besos (hugs and kisses)!!
The kids have been just drinking us up since the beginning but today was just the explosion of love now that they are truly comfortable with us and we have reinforced our love by returning a second day. The hugged hello, hugged adios, and hugged just to hug. Kisses on the cheek from the bravest and I said “te amo,” as many times as I could. And I got it back too. Little Jennifer Nicole – a six year old charmer – gave me a big hug and I lifted her up and whispered “te amo” in her ear. She squealed back, “I love you also so, so much!” And Karina… One of the young teenage girls. She drew my heart immediately with her sweet beauty and shy, quiet, attentive smile. She’s hung back a bit, but always participating if a bit tentatively. By the end of vbs today she warmed up to ask me to take her photo and told me about her cousin who had come also. Then right as we were leaving for the day, she tapped my shoulder and said, “I love you,” in English as she made a heart sign with her hands over her heart. It chokes me up just to write it.
Unfortunately our plans have changed a little. We were supposed to spend one day at the beach to unwind and process all we have seen and heard. Unfortunately though the whole village it seems like will be gone for most of the day on Sunday. They do have a night church service but it is not safe for us to be at the village after dark. So we are leaving for the beach a day early. I’m sure it will be quite enjoyable but I would so much rather stay in Cebu and I think everyone would agree. I don’t say that with pride to show you what a saint I am. I say it to God’s glory. He has laced my heart irrevocably to the village of Cebu. My mind is just beginning to roll around a vision for the future. Pray for us as we build this long term partnership.
So tomorrow is the last day in Cebu. Pray that our message will be not “adios” but “hasta la vista.”

Abrazos y besos,
Alanna