THE TWELVE DAYS OF LOVE LETTER WRITING.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! First of all, it’s Christmastime, so the holiday tunes, yummy food, and pretty lights have got me feeling all sorts of festive. Be Rich, my church’s annual giving campaign, just wrapped up with amazing results. Aaaand… it’s the Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing with More Love Letters!

The World Needs More Love Letters is a fab organization that writes love letters to people all over the world. Anyone can request a letter bundle for a loved one who’s going through a tough time—illness, loss, breakup, or just down in the dumps and needing some encouragement. Then, people can view those requests on the More Love Letters website and write an uplifting note to them. The person who requested the bundle gathers all the letters and gives them to the bundle recipient in one huge outpouring of love.

Since its founding by Hannah Brencher in 2011, The World Needs More Love Letters has celebrated the holidays with 12 days of 12 letter requests. The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing is one of my favorite things about the holiday season! I love taking a break from studying for finals to write a word of encouragement to people who need it (and sometimes, the notes I write for others are exactly what I needed to hear myself.) It’s a great way to dig in to what the holidays should be about: giving love to others without expecting anything in return. In a time that often becomes more stressful than joyful, we need to remember that people need us. We have the incredible opportunity to be there for one another. The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing is one way to do just that.

The Twelve Days campaign started on Monday, and a new letter request will be published on the More Love Letters blog every day until next Friday. If you’re looking for a way to spread some holiday cheer, look no further! You can write a letter to one of the requests or go cray-cray and submit a note to all 12 bundles. All letters should be postmarked by December 20, 2017.

Today’s request is for students at REAL School. This one is close to my heart because I’m a student, I love working with kids and families, and I believe in the importance of education. I’m encourage all of my readers to write one note to the following request:

REAL school serves middle school students who require structured therapeutic school-based supports and are at-risk in the areas of academic achievement as well as emotional and behavioral development. Most are dealing with challenges at home and in the community—trauma, abuse, violence—as well as mental health disorders. They and their families oftentimes lack access to effective resources and lack exposure to people outside of their communities, city, and the world around them. Research shows that these types of disconnections lead to ongoing struggles: incarceration, homelessness, a lower lifetime earning potential, chronic difficulty getting and keeping a job, living in extreme poverty, lack of health insurance, substance abuse, and chronic depression.

Our students (we currently have six boys in the program, ages 12-14) are resilient, vibrant, creative, outspoken, musical, funny, caring, curious, resourceful, athletic, and often, overlooked. They love to rap, dance, play sports, do arts and crafts, and learn about others. They deserve to feel appreciated and supported. They deserve unconditional positive regard. And, most of all, they deserve to feel connected with others.

I’d love to share letters of encouragement and motivation, of overcoming tough times, and of different life experiences (cultures, cities, people) with our students as well as our amazing REAL School staff members.

Please address all letters to “Dear Students” and mail them to the following address:

Students of REAL School

c/o Elizabeth L.

12 S. Stafford Avenue Apt. A

Richmond, VA 23220

USA

Let’s brighten one another’s lives this holiday season! If you’re interested in learning more about The World Needs More Love Letters, you can check out their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on twitter and Instagram.

BSTUD :: MATTHEW 22:9-10.

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‘So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Matthew 22:9-10

Just imagine: You plan a wedding, receive RSVPs from 150 guests, and then on the day of, no one shows. So you go out into the streets and invite 150 randos. Totally not weird, right?

Jesus tells this parable that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet. The king prepares the wedding banquet for his son and sends his servants out to tell the invited guests that it’s ready. But they ignore the invitation, and some even abuse and kill the servants. So the king drastically expands his guest list, inviting people right off the streets.

When I read this passage a few days ago, one particular phrase stood out to me: “Invite to the banquet anyone you find” (v. 9). I asked myself: Am I willing to be found?

Hiding from God isn’t new, even though it’s entirely futile. The first two people tried—and failed—to hide from Him in the Garden. In John 3, Jesus speaks about our tendency to cover up our ugly:

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

v. 20

When we do wrong and fall short, our first instinct is to run from our only remedy. We try to bury our sin in the depths of our hearts, where it grows roots and breeds shame. We hide. Then, when the King comes around to invite us into all He has to offer, we don’t want to be found. We’re embarrassed by our shortcomings. We wonder why He would want failures like us at His table. We fear being fully seen, because what if our perfect God rejects us, these imperfect sinners? The thought of Him knowing everything about us, inside and out, drives us into panic.

What we don’t understand is this: He’s not inviting us to His banquet so He can laugh at us, reject and ridicule us, turn us out when He sees our mess. He’s inviting us into the solution for all our problems. He’s inviting us to receive the grace we so desperately need. He’s inviting us into the relationship with Himself that we were meant for all along. He’s inviting us to know Him and be fully known by Him, in the intimacy we were created for. And He’s inviting everyone—but will we let Him find us so He can place the invitation into our shaking hands?

Are we willing to be found by our Father? I mean fully found: fully seen, fully known, and the best part—fully loved. Will we let the darkest parts of our hearts into His marvelous light? Will we stop hiding even the sin that floors us with shame, and step into the loving arms of our Father who can take all that pain away?

When we’re in hiding, it’s like a little kid who closes their eyes and thinks they can’t be seen. He sees us anyway. He’s God. So let’s quit pretending like we’ve got it all together without Him. He’s aware of the mess we’re in. We don’t have to hide; He already knows everything about us, everything we’ve done, all our fears and failures—and He still loves us. He still desires us. He still offers His mercy and extends His grace to us. He still wants us at the banquet, to feast on Jesus, the Bread of Life. He pursues us when we run, in a grace-filled chase scene. Even though we’ve made ourselves ugly and broken in sin, God desperately wants us with Him; may we be fully found by Him, so that we can receive His invitation and shout a thundering, exuberant yes in response. Then, the miraculous cleaning and healing begin.

(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)

INTRODUCING: BSTUD.

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B(ible) STUD(y) = BSTUD.

I know, I know, I’m so cool you almost can’t handle it.

Introducing… BSTUD, a new blog post series of little wisdom nuggets straight from Scripture.

A lot of the time, when I’m reading the Bible, I learn something cool that I want to share, but it’s too long for an Instagram caption and too short for a normal blog post. #relatable, right? I’m starting a new series to share the wisdom God gives me in mornings spent with Him. I hope you enjoy! Scroll alllllll the way to the bottom of this page to follow this blog and receive updates with each post as we dive into truth together. Thanks for reading!

WHY YOU SHOULD LOOK AT YOUR APARTMENT BEFORE PAYING THE FIRST MONTH’S RENT.

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Confession: I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with transitions. Each time I approach a fresh start, whether minor or major, I think: This is it. It’s my time to shine. I am finally going to pull it all together. I’m going to complete all my homework days before it’s due, maintain a spotless living space, eat kale for every meal, run five miles every morning, and spend my free time volunteering for a somewhat obscure but definitely worthy cause. This thought process arises at the beginning of new school years, semesters, months, and even weeks. Confession #2: I have always fallen short of these perfect goals. Every single time, I find myself needing more grace than I expected.

Of course, the beginning of my sophomore year brought the familiar feelings of excitement and anticipation. I was moving into an apartment with two of my roommates from freshman year. I had it all planned out: My bedroom’s color scheme was light pink, gray, and navy; I would have trendy hand-lettered quotes up in picture frames on the wall; I would finally own a car to drive around Aubs; I would spend Fridays (when I only have one class #blessed) meal-prepping cute, healthy dinners; I would use my new planner to finally stop procrastinating once and for all. Fortunately, after repeated failures of the “my year” philosophy, I did start out this fall a little more realistic. I tried to reframe my thinking, to hope more for growth than for perfection. Little did I know, God had a surprise in store for me to help me accomplish that goal.

When I showed up in Aubs on Wednesday afternoon, I checked in to my apartment, payed the first month’s rent, and received my keys. We walked in… and were met with mold, a broken toilet, a missing smoke detector, a completely black air filter, and an overall filthy, unsafe apartment. We spoke to a manager that night, asking them to fix the issues by the next day so that we could move in. After spending the night in LaGrange, we went back to the apartment the following day to find… the exact same mess. Ultimately, after many unsatisfactory interactions with staff and management, we decided to try to get out of our lease and began searching for other places to live. I’m writing this post from a guest bedroom in my mom’s former coworker’s house.

A few days ago, I read the following passage from Matthew 8:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'” (vv. 23-27)

The winds and the waves of my current apartment storm obey Jesus. As I prayed in my journal today, Holy Spirit led me to gratitude to say: Thank You for this apartment situation. Thank You for starting my sophomore year off in a place of dependence on You. What a miracle, that God gave me what I needed, not what I wanted. What a miracle, that He orchestrated these events to grow my faith in Him, instead of my sense of self-sufficiency. What a wonderful God, that He has already used this crappy apartment for so much good in my heart. And who knows? Maybe there are even more reasons for this mess than just growing my faith. Maybe my new neighbors at another apartment complex need Jesus. Maybe my previous apartment complex will prove to be unsafe, and this situation is His form of protection. Maybe one of my new neighbors will end up being a friend and a light to me. I may not know all the reasons yet, but I believe these events are on purpose.

Now, I definitely haven’t been a ray of sunshine and faith this whole time. My emotions have been rampaging all over the place the past five days. My flawed handling of this situation is yet another reminder that I must seek growth, not perfection. And I’m thankful to say that God has grown me. A friend told me last night that she noticed how surprisingly okay I seemed, given the fact that I’ve been living out of my car since Wednesday. Truthfully, Jesus deserves all the credit for my stunning lack of freakouts. He’s covered me in more peace that I thought possible. He’s teaching me that peace in any circumstance is far greater than the control over my circumstances that I was seeking.

He reigns as King of this world, of my heart, and of my current living situation. He is already redeeming it all and using it for my good and His glory. What a wonderful God He is!

THE B-I-B-L-E.

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For the past thirteen months, I’ve been reading through the entire Bible, cover to cover. This morning, I finished! It’s been a thrilling, challenging, amazing adventure that has forever changed my relationship with God. In this post, I’m sharing about what God has taught me on this journey.

1.

If you read the Bible, you will know God more. Period. The Bible is the word of God, and when you want to know someone, you let them talk to you. You listen. You make time to communicate. That’s what the Bible is. It’s listening to God speak to you.

It’s honestly difficult to describe how much better I’ve gotten to know God through this experience. I’ve never understood His bigness, His essence, what it means that He is God, this clearly. I’ve never seen Jesus this fully. I’ve never experienced Holy Spirit this closely. And the cool thing is, the more you get to know Him, the more there is to know.

I heard a pastor this fall put it this way (paraphrased): So many of us want to see God and hear His voice. Reading the Bible is how to do that. We don’t realize that we have what we so desperately want, sitting right there on our bookshelf.

2.

Reading the Bible requires discipline, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no magical formula, at least not that I’ve found, to make yourself excited to read genealogies at six in the morning. I’ll be the first to tell you there were days I snoozed the alarm and squeezed in my Bible time later in the day, or forsook it altogether. I won’t pretend that I’ve jumped for joy opening my Bible every morning, craving the message of Obadiah. Some days, I’ve only read the day’s passage out of habit and my motivation to finish this goal. Other days, I haven’t read it at all.

Reading the Bible is deepening your relationship with God, and relationships aren’t always rainbows and cupcakes. Relationships require work. It’s not wrong to not feel like reading the Bible. The proper response to God’s word is certainly awe, but this response takes practice and time to occur naturally.

The best way to get a good attitude about reading the Bible is to read the Bible. If you make it a habit to explore God’s word, you realize how amazing it is. Over time, that cultivates a deeper sort of excitement: one that lasts.

I feel like people talk smack about reading the Bible as a habit, but I’d like to counter that. When you make reading the Bible a habit, you’re telling God: what You have to say is more important than what I’m feeling in the moment. What You have to say is so important that I’m regularly carving out time to listen to You. I want to make Your word part of the fabric of my life. I want to put in the work to hear You and see You. I want to need Your word every day. Doesn’t that sound a little more like awe than hoping for fireworks every time we turn the page? Don’t despise the discipline; glory can be found in the hard work, too.

3.

Start with what’s clear, then move on to what’s not. The last book in the Bible is Revelation, arguably the least clear book in the entire thing. But through this lens of focusing on what I understand, I was able to find some pretty cool, fairly obvious truths: God will be worshiped eternally. He is victorious and will reign forever. All that stuff about the dragon (y’all, there is a dragon in the Bible!) is certainly important—after all, it’s in the Bible—but it’s not clear yet. I can trust God to help me understand what He wants me to know when He wants me to know it. God is endlessly revealing His mystery, and it’s easy to get bogged down in what we don’t comprehend. Instead, I’ve started to come back to the essentials again and again: God loves me. Jesus died for me. Holy Spirit lives inside me. The details are important, but they aren’t worth forgetting the core of God’s word.

4.

The Old Testament gets a bad rap. I went into it expecting to find God harsh, even mean, because Jesus hasn’t arrived on the scene yet. What I found instead?

A consistently sinful people, loved by a consistently faithful God.

The Old Testament chronicles the failures of God’s people. Time after time, they fall short of holiness and righteousness. They worship idols a lot. They stubbornly ignore prophets. Their family drama showcases hatred, bitterness, and jealousy.

Isn’t it amazing that God’s response is never permanent abandonment? How good must God be to still want these people? He disciplines them so they will turn to Him. He’s not being mean; He’s being loving. He chooses people who choose everything but Him. His voice, through the prophets, tells of His hope for the future: “They will be My people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 32:38). He longs for a right relationship with His people, even when they don’t want it back.

The story of modern Christians is so evident throughout the Old Testament. We are still a consistently sinful people, loved by a consistently faithful God. God isn’t different in the Old Testament, because He never changes. The story changes, though, when you get to the Jesus part. And man, I am so much more grateful for the Gospel now.

5.

When you read the Bible, celebrate little victories. The Bible is a big book. Maybe you’re inspired to read it cover to cover now. Maybe every January 1 you start a “Bible in a year” reading plan and give up by February. You look at that big book, and it seems daunting. Impossible.

But I’m a big believer in little victories. I didn’t finish the Bible by waiting for a year to celebrate God’s work in me. I rejoiced when I finished a book, or a week. Honestly, I wish I had celebrated even smaller wins. I wish that I had finished every day of reading not just thankful for God’s word, but also thankful for what He had done to bring me to the point of waking up and reading Obadiah.

Every time you read a Bible verse, that’s evidence of God’s faithfulness to you. Don’t forget to thank Him for that. Not in a “thank You for helping me find the earring I lost” way, though I don’t want to discredit that kind of gratitude. Thank Him for orchestrating your life so that you can read an easily accessible Bible. Thank Him for calling you to know Him more fully. Thank Him for stirring your heart to read His word. Thank Him for propelling you through whatever you read and speaking to you the whole time.

Don’t the little victories seem like kind of a big deal now?


One last thing: The Bible is seriously so amazing, but it’s not God. It’s His word, alive and powerful and true. It’s one of His avenues for helping His people get to know Him. He reveals His mystery through those pages, and that’s so cool. But the word of God is only powerful because He is powerful. It’s only good because He is good. And even this holy, sacred book of His word to humankind—it pales in comparison to the Author.

 

WORDS THAT STICK: I.

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I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait… but you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

This quote from Mere Christianity describes the process of finding a church family after becoming a Christian, but I definitely think it can apply to waiting in other senses, too. One thing I’ve learned about college is that the whole thing can honestly be described as waiting. Waiting for the semester to be over. Waiting for spring break. Waiting for summer. Waiting to graduate. Waiting to get a job. Waiting to move out of the dorm and into an apartment. Waiting for your #ringbyspring. Waiting for whatever is next.

This quote struck me as convicting and inspiring, all at once. The first half: “I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” There’s always a reason for not-yet‘s. God has so much goodness for me here and now if I’ll just look up to Him instead of constantly looking ahead. I can get excited about what’s next while also passionately staying rooted in the present. I don’t want to miss what He has for me today. I trust the process He’s got me in and the end results of it. I trust His goodness not only at the end of my waiting, but in the middle of it, too.

The second half: “You must regard it as waiting, not camping. You must keep on praying for light.” To me, this means continuing to move forward and make progress. Ultimately, what are we waiting for most? Heaven. We can’t forget that this world is only temporary. We must have an eternal mindset and heavenly focus. That’s the difference between waiting and camping: While we wait, we keep going. We don’t sit idly. We let God work in and through us to bring heaven to earth, instead of resigning ourselves to laziness and the idea that we’re simply stuck in a broken world.

Camping is what most of us think of when we think of waiting, but C.S. Lewis presents a different idea: active waiting. Like active listening, it starts with attitude. We don’t sit around. We try. We keep on praying for light. We expect God to move and work. We’re patient with His timing. We trust that He has our best interest. We have faith in His ways. We put our hope in Him. We seek Him here and now. We find joy in each moment He has given us today. It’s a balance of patiently looking forward and digging into the present.

The external outcome is the same after any type of listening and waiting. You’ve listened, and you’ve waited. But waiting well matters so much internally. It reflects faith. I want to be the kind of girl whose faith leads her to wait well, knowing God will not disappoint in the future and God will work miracles in the present.

To my companions in the waiting, whatever you’re waiting for: You are not alone, and this time is not without purpose. Don’t camp out. Why don’t we wait well, together?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

WILD.

Version 2

A while ago, my suitemate and I volunteered with Auburn’s big day of service. We went to an older lady’s house and helped her out. One of our tasks was to remove as much overgrowth as we could from the fence surrounding her backyard.

It took about 30 seconds for us to see that we’d just undertaken an enormous and impossible challenge. This overgrowth was everywhere: between her fence and the neighbor’s, behind her fence in a jungle, wrapped around the fence in tight coils, encroaching into the backyard. There were plants of all shapes and sizes, and most of them were prickly (like the you-thought-this-job-was-tough-I’ll-make-it-tougher barbed wire on the fence). Time constraints weren’t the issue; this overgrowth was so big and overwhelming that it seemed quite permanent.

As we worked, I was struck by how these vines and wild plants had completely taken over. They weren’t just rooted in the ground, easy to cut down and take away. They had wrapped around the fence in the most complex, intricate ways. Many of them had sprouted little tendrils that wrapped even tighter around each other. We encountered the same conundrum that Greek heroes encountered with the Hydra and Dwight on The Office encountered with the red wire: Once you start to hack away at a problem, it seems like it’s getting bigger and more difficult. That was what these vines were like. All our efforts to remove them just showcased their unwillingness to be removed.

Our work reminded me of a chapter I’d just read in Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan. My small group had discussed “Chapter Three: God of the Wild” just that week. I’d been so touched by this chapter that I had started blabbing out my heart to them, these girls I’d only known for two months. Chapter Three addresses a splendid duality beyond comprehension: God is wild in power and wild in love. God is big, full, complete, in control, and so glorious; He is also compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and caring in the details.

He is wild because He is consecrated and set apart and worthy of our absolute adoration and praise. But what makes Him most wild is that these things do not separate us from His love or protection… Our Father isn’t just holy beyond all other things and worthy of our holy fear; He is also wildly loving toward us (page 69).

I saw those vines wrapped around every nook and cranny of the fence and started to see more clearly: That’s it. That’s the way God’s love is wrapped around every part of me.

Sometimes, it’s easier for me to focus on the first part of God’s wildness and forget the second. It can be easier to praise God for His power, His might, His glory, how God He is and how small I am in comparison. This feels like honest worship, like humility, and to some extent, it is. But true humility doesn’t make you feel like God is so holy that He must be mad at you for your failures; true humility is found in the arms of the Father who will always welcome you home no matter how many times you’ve failed. It’s shame, not humility, that makes us want to run from God; it’s humility that pushes us deeper into His unfailing, grace-giving, all-covering, holy, forgiving love. When I think He’s such a powerful, perfect King that He couldn’t possibly love a sinner like me, I’m actually not recognizing Him for who He is; when I thank Him for His amazing amazing amazing love, then I am humble in truth. God is love, according to 1 John 4:8. If we treat our sin like it’s too big for Him to love, that’s not humility; it’s ignoring His character and missing out on another reason to praise Him.

His love isn’t small. It’s not tame. It’s not powerless. It is absolutely wild. It is wrapped around every piece of every person like those vines were wrapped around that fence. He loves not because of anything we do, but because it’s in His very nature. We exist by breathing; God exists by loving. It’s who He is and what He does, tied together in one. If God is big and powerful and holy, then it follows that His love must be, too.

That is wild. Not to view God as so perfect and amazing that He’s probably mad at us and disappointed in us, but to view God as so perfect and amazing that He loves us in a perfect, amazing way. That is wild. That is walking in freedom from shame. That is embracing grace. That is true living. That is worth and value we cannot find on this earth. That’s God: totally, completely, brilliantly, graciously, wildly in love with us. And all this wildness just makes Him even more glorious and worthy of praise.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19

HIYA.

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Hiya, and welcome to haleytodd.com!

I am so excited to be launching this space! This site will be the new home for my writing. It’s clean, fresh, and fun, and I can’t wait for God to fill it with words. Thanks for checking it out!

I’ll be writing mostly about my relationship with Jesus and what God’s up to in my life, with some posts about books and music mixed in. If you’d like to receive post updates, scroll down a little and click the “Follow” button. If you somehow stumbled here and don’t know who I am, check out my About page.

Thank you so much for reading—it means the world. I’ll start posting soon. Lots of love!