Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When Life Appears Peachy (but it really isn't)

It was a cold Sunday morning, last December.

My week had been rough. Actually, kind of beyond rough. My world felt about as upside down and inside out as possible, and basically no one knew. It was a pretty low point and I was really struggling.

But it was Sunday morning. And it wasn't going to help anyone to wear my life on my face, so I pulled myself together as I knew I needed to, and headed to church. I spent the hour prior to church as normal, helping my pastor's wife get her babies all ready and to church, and I finally slid into a seat in my class's room just as announcements were starting.

Our Bible fellowship class always start out with prayer requests and announcements. Someone asked if there were any prayer requests. All was one said anything. I was such a mess with my own internal struggle that I was halfways tuned out and not paying a whole lot of attention to what was going on around me anyways.

Our leader got up to give the lesson. He looked at us and smiled as he said, "Well, its great to know that everyone's life is so peachy that there are no prayer requests!"

There were a few looks exchanged, and half-hearted laughs, and I could literally feel the vibe around that table, and I knew I wasn't the only one, that was thinking "My life? Peachy? Not a chance! If only you KNEW."

His statement stunned me. At that moment reality hit me between the eyes. Hard. I was out of my fog and in the zone immediately. I could think of a whole lot of descriptions for my current circumstances in life but peachy was not even close. I realized, "People have NO CLUE."

And then I got to thinking. If I had all this stuff in my life, and nobody knew, and I was faking everyone so well in concealing pain that I had...then for all I knew everyone else in my class was at the same place.

That hit me hard too. Really? It rocked my world to think about this. Who knew the pain of the girl sitting next to me? Who knew the monumental decision facing the guy across the table? Who knew the stories of their struggle of current living and just doing life? Surviving?
Probably no one...just like no one knew about me.

I thought about this a lot that morning during our class, and I continued to think about it in the coming weeks. It struck me so greatly that I started a blog post about it (this) and I'm finishing + posting it now, five months later.

This experience made me think about several things.
First of all, it made me realize yet again that just because someone looks perfect and like they have it all together, doesn't mean they are and do.
Secondly, it showed me how important it is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If I sense Jesus wanting me to talk to someone, or send a note or text of encouragement, or just take a minute to stop and pray for someone, I need to do that RIGHT AWAY, even if I have no idea what they are going through. Because chances are very good Jesus put them on my heart for a reason, and they are going through something of which I may have no idea.

It was funny; I had already been thinking for a while about this concept of being more sensitive to the Spirit's leading. I had seen several situations in my life where just a simple text to let someone know I was praying for them, had been just at the time when they needed encouragement, even though I didn't know that beforehand.

But this experience in my class in December got me thinking about it even more. "How many people are going through life, putting a smile on their face + stuffing the pain, and nobody takes time to ask them how they are REALLY doing, because they assume that because they look perfect and like they have it all together, that everything in their life is peachy?"

I was so convicted at this! It is so easy for me to go through life and forget that there are also other people out there who may be going through things of which I have no idea. Some personalities are more open + honest about their struggles, but there are many people (like me) who often just stuff everything inside and wear a smile, trying to make it through without other people knowing what is really going on. There are pros and cons to each side, obviously---there is a time when honesty + openness are very good, and other times when one has to just learn to deal with things and move on. The whole world doesn't always need to know of our struggles. At the same time, it isn't a good idea to always keep everything bottled up and put forth this facade of perfection.

I honestly didn't used to write posts like this. For much of my life I have felt like I could be more effective by "having it all together" and being as "godly" as possible. I struggled with bondage from feeling like I had to be a good example; like I had to look good, regardless of what I was actually experiencing or feeling.

Don't get me wrong, I am still striving for godliness. But more than having a beautiful, picture-perfect life, more than having it all together, more than any of that...I just want to be used in my brokenness. This life is not about perfection. It's not about giving an impression of a perfect life. It's about being REAL. Real with Jesus, and real with people.

I feel like as Jesus is showing me freedom in some of these areas, that there is a need for me to be more open + honest. I struggle with life at times just like anybody else. I have so many flaws it's really quite humbling! I feel sometimes as though I am a kindergardener in the school of life, instead of being a twenty-something year old who you would think should have a lot more of life figured out by now. But even in this very humbling and broken state, my heart is to be honest and share as I'm learning. Not when I have arrived, or reached a state of "perfection" in the areas I write about. But I need to write when I am "in the midst", because that is when the true testing happens, and where the heart is the most vulnerable. That is when we can push each other on to new heights in the Lord...when the fire is hot and our hearts are being tested.

I hope something said here can challenge someone else in the area of being open to the Holy Spirit and reaching out to people in your life, even if it looks like those people's lives are perfect and "peachy". For all you know, there are layers of hurt and pain hidden beneath the smile, and that person you spend time with today may be in desperate need of someone to say a kind word or a prayer and just give them a little extra Jesus.

Just because they are putting on a smile and "looking the part" doesn't mean their life is peachy perfect.

 Listen to the Spirit. Reach out. You just might make a difference bigger than you know.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A New Year + A New Day

This kind of post gets written on January 1st, typically. Y'all are probably reading the post title and thinking, "Did I miss something? This should've been posted four months ago!"

No, you didn't miss anything.
Yes, I know it is April 16th.
Yes, a New Years Resolution post of sorts does not typically get written a third of the way into the new year. (which is no longer the new year anyways!)

But let's all just keep in mind that this is Chelsy Bontrager writing here today, and her middle name is Odd, not Typical. (keepin' it real...)

Thanks in advance for giving me grace, friends! =)

For a plethora of reasons of which I will spare you, I really am feeling four months behind in the world of 2016. My goals are still in progress, and I will be honest and tell you that I just started writing them down not too long ago. My energy, my vision, the fuel that lights my fire...that all didn't kick in until last month. I've just been behind on life this year.

But when it finally did kick in and I sat down and dealt with some stuff and then started writing and dreaming?! That was like vision OVERLOAD. The real Chels who would normally want her whole year planned out by December 31st, had been missing in action, and in March she returned to her scene of crime, ahem, scene of attack. =)

I'm telling you, those were some glorious days!

First of all, I'm so thankful God knows the timeline of our lives and that He runs it, not us! As always, He knew just what I would need on the exact day. He knew that I would need those three days that I had off at one of my favorite spots ever. He knew that that time would be the perfect time, in which I would be ready and have quiet and rest and TIME to plan and dream and scheme and prepare. HE KNEW.

I haven't written on the blog here (as in, REALLY written) for a very long time. In fact, I think that the only "contemplations" style posts (or more like, fireworks style maybe!) this year have been political posts. It's not that I haven't been writing at all on heart stuff. My pen and keypad have been on a roll lately.

I was pretty dried up in January + February and honestly had the thought more than once about deleting this whole blog. (I'm serious) But then in March God just really got me back on the straight + narrow and gave me a distinct vision for what He has next for me. And, like I said, my pen and keypad have been on a roll. I just haven't had peace in posting much of it until now. I have literally dozens of post ideas written down, and about twenty articles saved in my drafts folder. So y'all can pray that I will post them whenever God gives me the green light + final thoughts for each one! Things will be pretty sporadic still for the next two months as I am focusing on some relationships + personal goals + also working on changing things here on the blog. (think new look!) All good things take time, yes?!

Jesus is doing great things in this world and my life. I'm just blown away again at how AWESOME it is to be on the Jesus team. I can't imagine life without Him-He has shown Himself SO STRONG in my life this year already and I'm beyond grateful for the opportunity to lean on Him when my strength is weak. There's this song that says, "life is hard but God is good" and I just couldn't agree more. I'm especially blown away by how He can take the darkest seasons of our lives and make something beautiful come out of it.

Painful, yes. Undesired, yes. Messy, yes. But still beautiful.

The header picture for this post was taken on our road, last fall, just before harvest. It goes perfectly with my title today because it is a picture of the sunrise, which always signifies a clean slate to me. 

As Anne Shirley would say, "it's a new day, with no mistakes in it". 

That's the thought I'm taking for the coming year, or the two-thirds that remains of it. Jesus has a purpose and He ALWAYS gives vision + direction when we seek Him for it. I'm excited about what He has given me. And I have JOY in my heart because I know He always gives strength to carry out the vision He gives. And that is something to be excited about!

Y'all have a gorgeous weekend + I'll see ya back here soon!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sisterhood Adventure || A Roadtrip + Ontario Wedding

Once upon a time...two sisters planned a trip to work a wedding in eastern Ontario. 

Ah. Weddings. If the sisters had their choice they would very possibly do nothing but weddings. They are dearly in love with weddings and everything that happens at these wonderful events. With the sisters' current job schedule (aka touring with the family band half of the year) there don't end up being very many weekends available for them to do weddings. So when wedding requests AND their schedules line up together, it is a happy time. =)

When their sweet Ontario friend asked them to come and do the music + bridal hair/makeup at her wedding, the sisters knew they wanted to go if it was at all possible. With the crazy fall schedule they were running it took a little arranging and planning, but the details finally worked out!

As usual, the sisters divided and conquered with the planning of the trip. Sister A was responsible for vehicle details, arranging directions + stops, and communicating with the bride about the music details. Sister B was responsible for food packing, coordinating the hair/makeup details, and making the schedule.

Everything finally came together and early on Friday morning (think 4am!) the sisters headed east in their little red car.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, there was a stop made at the incredible Sweetwater Sound. The sisterhood had been commissioned by the fam with several instruments that were in need of repair.

The stop was quite informative-if they would've had more time they definitely would have had fun browsing the place.

As it was, they were laser-focused because they had a rehearsal they needed to attend and not much extra time to spare.

It was slightly awkward because brother had said his guitar had a crack in the center, so sisters took the guitar in and then the guitar repair guy couldn't find the crack and he said "are you sure?" and sister A said "of course I'm sure-I SAW it with my own eyes!! I don't know what happened to it but it was there!" So then of course guitar repair guy thought sister A was being a little odd but she was adamant that there WAS a crack so repair guy took the guitar to the window for better light and praise the Lord he found the crack. Apparently depending on weather and such, cracks can become bigger or smaller. In this case, it had become smaller. Who knew?

Getting all of that figured out took a while, and the sisters were getting anxious to get back on the road because time was running tight. They walked with pep in their steps towards the door and deliberately ignored the rather unique looking group of lounging guys that said "hi" and seemed to be hankering for a conversation. (Not happening, gentlemen) The sisters definitely had more important things on the agenda, such as a wedding. No time to stop and chat with random sketchy men today. (well, or ever)

Chipotle is where it happens. The sisterhood's restaurant of choice. Amazing sister B even had the foresight to purchase drinks ahead of time (because we all know that they are cheaper at the store than they are at the restaurant!) and bring them along. (because fizz with Mexican food is just perfection)

Unfortunately, the sisters hit Chipotle at a very busy time of day. They had to wait in line for 20ish minutes. Sister A decided to quickly run to the bathroom because the line was just going nowhere. Of course, right when she left everything sped up and sister B was up to order within seconds. Sister B tried to order for Sister A and ordered the wrong thing so when Sister A got back she had to hold up the line by changing her order. (because WHO EVEN gets a bowl when they can get a BURRITO for the same price? Okay, the healthier version of the sisterhood, which would be Sister B. NOT Sister A) Naturally then both the guy behind the counter AND the guy behind her in line were both upset for the holdup. But such is life.

Other than that the experience was fabulous. =) So was the 86% dark chocolate that they had in the car to top things off as they drove away later.

Beautiful skies and scenery from the window during the drive.
And then the sisterhood had the story of the border crossing.

Mercy, what a saga...

To start things off, they were running just a tad behind. (as mentioned previously) 

They had been keeping stops to a minimum and speeding right along, but the drop off at the music store had taken longer than planned, and that infamous line at Chipotle didn't help either. Things were pretty tight to make it to the rehearsal on time. So there was no extra time for border issues. (fingers crossed...)

They drove up to the checkpoint and handed in their passports. Right from the beginning there was trouble. The border guard was, um, less than ideal, to put it mildly. Sister A took one look at him (or rather, it was when he took one look at THEM) and she knew she would not want to meet this guy in a back alley. He started off asking all sorts of unnecessary and personal questions and honestly sister A was just wanting to get AWAY from the man. At some point in his list of interrogation, he asked if the sisters had guns or mace along. 

Well, they did not have guns, but they did have mace. Sister A had no intention of giving up her mace, so she said no, but sister B (who would never dream of lying) sweetly said, "Well I have mace." 

Whereupon the border guard got upset and demanded that she hand it over (like really? Why is that weird for a girl to carry mace? Especially when going to Canada? Not that Canada is bad place exactly, but seriously...if their other border guards are as disturbing as this one was, one would want mace in their purse just for the possibility of having to use it on the guards!)

Anyways. The border patrol guy told Sister B to put her mace up on the dash. Then he leaned out of his window and almost down to the sisters' car and looked Sister A straight in the eye and said, "Now young lady, you are going to drive straight over to there (pointing to the search area) and you are going to get out of your car and give them this mace and this paper and then they are going to search your car. And if they find ANYTHING ELSE of this nature in your car, they will arrest you before you even know what's happening." 

Now. Sister A is not a gullible person. She is not easily intimidated, and she is quite confidant in her ability to get out of difficult situations, particularly those involving men.

However. This guy was CREEPY. 
He was also dead serious. 
And Canada has strange rules. 
For all she knew they very well might arrest them.
And the sisters were already running late for the rehearsal and had no extra time to spare for jail escaping, which was what would follow in case of an arrest. (naturally) Normally, of course, this all would have been no problem, as sister A would love nothing better than to add "escaped convict" to her repertoire of adventures.

But. There was a wedding at stake here. A deadline to meet. Things to do, places to go. 
What if, just what if, they did find her mace during the search...?

She just couldn't risk it. 

So sister A did what was her only option. She looked up at the guard and she opened her mouth and said, "Well actually...I have some mace as well." 

Sister A's note to self for future: Say the truth in the beginning. 

To make a long story short, you can imagine that this revelation did nothing to increase the jovial less-than-cordial spirits of the guard. Quite the contrary. He was furious and had no qualms about letting the sisters know it.

The sisters were commanded to exit their car. Then their car was searched top to bottom. Next they were told to "sit and wait" while several different people went through their list of offenses and matched things up with their IDs.
Both sisters were quite frustrated by this point, because they were getting the distinct and very accurate vibe that they were being treated like twelve year olds, which was exactly what was happening. 

FINALLY after multiple explanations and signing a form saying they would not sue to get their mace back (don't think it wasn't considered!) they were allowed to continue on their way.

Relief!! Self inflicted speed limits (in other words, a lack thereof) ensued as the little red car sped away, on towards the destination.

Next the sisters lost phone reception, which meant that in addition to being unable to call anyone, they also lost service with their GPS. Now they were in the middle of a strange land with no GPS and no ability to call anyone. Quite a situation. Thank heavens that sister B is much more directionally skilled than sister A and was able to somehow navigate the situation and get them to the correct destination, in spite of the aforementioned non working technical devices. (now that is skills, people!)

They finally arrived at the church, just half an hour late. Thankfully the dinner portion of the rehearsal was first, so no one had to wait on them for the actual ceremony run-through. The rehearsal went well and the sisters slept quite well that night after the very full and interesting day!
Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful. The sisters spent the morning curling, styling, and applying.
Above, a details shot of a few of the essentials of the trade!
The sisters have their craft honed to best fit their loves and skills in various areas.
Sister A does all the curling. Sister B does all the makeup. Sister B also does all the updos, and occasionally sister A helps with braids/down styles.
Time to get the bride ready!
So beautiful!
The wedding was at 1pm, which made for a pretty full morning! The sisters literally arrived at the church at 12:20pm and closeted themselves in the bathroom for fifteen minutes to try to make themselves presentable before starting the prelude music at 12:40pm. 
(the best marketing for a hair/makeup team would be to have decent hair/makeup themselves, right? Right. Sisters' to self: ALLOW MORE TIME NEXT TIME TO IMPROVE ADVERTISMENT PACKAGE =))
Here are a few shots to give a better view of the finished hairstyles...
The wedding was beautiful-so Christ honoring, and it was such a blessing for the sisters to be a part of this special day. The bride and her family were so kind + gracious to them and the sisters truly felt right at home. 
The sisters provided all of the music for the ceremony. The bride had asked for only sacred selections, so between her requests and the sisters' ideas, they had put together a list of various hymns for each part of the ceremony. 
Included was Come Thou Fount (groomsmen/groom), Great is Thy Faithfulness (bridesmaids' processional), How Great Thou Art (brides' processional) and To God Be The Glory (recessional)

One of the beautiful bridesmaids-here you can see more of a close up shot of her hair and makeup.

The sweet and lovely Mr + Mrs

The sistas grabbing a quick selfie with their dear friend, the beautiful bride.
The cupcakes at the wedding were really the last word in cupcakes.
All of the food was, for that matter. The sisters weren't able to stay for the main meal but they grabbed some of the snacks and cupcakes for the road and found them to be delish!

Beautiful skies on the way home.
Coffee time! A sweet friend had given the sisterhood a Canadian Starbucks gift card last summer. Due to an intense schedule and no available time the sisters had been unable to use the gift card on that tour. It came in handy this trip when they stopped for supper and coffee on the way home, right at the Canadian/USA border.

Speaking of the Canadian/USA border. You would think border crossing No.1 was enough for one trip, but apparently not. The sisters were destined for yet another adventure.
(what is with them and the border?)

While waiting in a long line at the border, about sunset time, the sisters chatted while sipping their coffee and eating their dinner. Things were going along quite well when suddenly sister B said, "Um, don't look now buuuut....I regret to inform you that the two dudes in the car next to us are checking you out."
Whereupon sister A laughed and said "yeah right-whatever".
And sister B said "I am not exaggerating in the slightest."
And sister A said "oh help. Well, okay, I won't look then. Tell me when they leave."

Well, you guessed it...the people up at the front of both lines were taking eternity to get through, which meant that the sisters were stuck right next door to these two, ahem, "gentlemen", for a significant amount of time, which seemed to stretch infinitely longer due to the rather "boring-holes-through-you" stares. At one point sister A did venture to look and then she wished she hadn't. (Gracious!)
People should keep their eyes on the road.

Near Fort Wayne, around 10pm, it was time to stop for the night. With Sister B being employed at
a hotel and all, she wasn't about to just go to the first one available.

No, it seemed to be necessary to drive around and try to snag the best deal possible by pitting the hotel's rates against each other and trying to get each to lower their prices. Sister A patiently drove Sister B back and forth until a rather uncommonly good rate at a very nice establishment was finally achieved.
There had been several different driving routes available for the trip, but the sisters choose the one that went through Fort Wayne because they really wanted to stop at one of their favorite churches on Sunday morning. 

(Note: this church, The Ekklesia, is amazing, not because the church or the people in and of themselves are amazing (which they ARE) but because JESUS IS THERE. This shouldn't be a rare thing, but unfortunately it is. There are a whole lot of churches out there that have lights and glam and glitz but you have to search to try to find Jesus in the middle of all of it. This church isn't like that. Jesus is just all over everything they do-on their faces, in their worship, EVERYWHERE. It is a beautiful thing. The worship service was incredible, as was time spent in the "war room", pictured above. )
The pastor + his wife took the sisters out to lunch after the service. Such a rich time of talking about Jesus and what He was doing in their lives. Both sisters are eternally grateful for people like this who take time to INVEST and pour into others' lives, all for the cause of Christ.
Sister selfie at a rest stop.
A fuzzy but beautiful phone shot sister B took of one of the bridges they crossed.

And there you have it-another adventure taken, another wedding accomplished, and another sisterhood roadtrip saga for the books. 

The end.

(special thanks to the wedding photographer, Liz Heikoop, for use of her pictures. You can see more pictures of the wedding on here blog, here)


Hope y'all enjoyed following along on our adventure! =)