I am normally fine with rain. I usually like it because I know that we all need it; humans, plants, animals. But, not today.
It’s raining here in Fayetteville today. There is historic flooding in Texas, thanks to hurricane Harvey. As I stare at the rain outside, and imagine how it would feel to be out in that, my heart just aches for the people in southeast Texas. People are trapped. Lives have been lost. Homes have been lost. There is devastation all around. And, while I am reading and seeing some amazing and uplifting stories of people coming together and working together and helping each other and saving each other, I still have this sadness, this dark cloud shrouding me.
I want to be in a position where I can stop what I am doing and go to Houston and help. I want to put my boots on the ground and work. I want my hands to be busy, reaching out. I want to do something useful and good and productive. Something to help other people. I want to be of service in some way.
Instead, I am here at work. Admittedly, I am typing this blog post and sharing my feelings, rather than doing the work I am paid to do. (But, in my defense, we are slow right now, so I thought I would put my down time to good use. I honestly believe that sharing our what is on our minds in times of sorrow can be restorative, especially for females.)
Regardless, I am not in a position where I can just up and leave and go help. My hubby and I have made monetary donations to two different organizations doing great work in the area. And, I have been praying and praying and praying for everyone out there. So, I am doing what I can do, what I know to do. Yet, somehow, it just doesn’t feel like enough.
Harvey feels like Katrina all over again. I just hate that people are feeling helpless. I can’t imagine anything much worse than that.
So, here I sit, being sad and wondering if there is anything else I can do.
I will end by sharing some lyrics from the Casting Crowns song “Praise You In This Storm”
I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it's still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I'm with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away
For some reason lately, I have been thinking about priorities--both, my personal priorities, and priorities in general. I am not sure what has led me to this topic, but I felt the spirit prodding me to blog about it. So, here I am.
The dictionary defines priorities, the adjective, as: highest or higher in importance, rank, or privilege. Basically, our priorities are the people or things that are most important to us in life. So, I ask you, “What are your top priorities?”
Even though I don’t necessarily know you, I am going to go out on a limb and guess that most of you would say that your family is the most important thing in your life. That is good. I get that. I certainly agree that family is important and it should be towards the top of your list.
But, if you are a Christian, I ask you to re-think your answer. I will give you a few seconds. Did it change? If your first answer was your family, and after re-thinking it, you still say family, I am respectfully here to tell you that your priorities are NOT straight. And, I am telling you this, mainly because I need to hear it for myself. This is something that I think most of us get wrong—at least some of the time.
As a Christian, your first priority should be God-- to seek God, follow Him, trust and obey Him. We desperately need to put Him first. The Bible tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). And, in the Bible the first commandment given on Mount Sinai is, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
This can be hard to do. At least, I know it can be for me. As I have said before, and will undoubtedly say again, I am only human. But, I am working on it. I make God a priority every morning by spending some time in prayer and by reading my Bible before I go to work each day. I am not where I want to be yet as a Christian, but I have come a long way from where I used to be. (Thank you, Lord!)
When we put God first, we can develop a godly character for ourselves. As Christians, we should always want to follow God’s lead and be as much like Him as we can. I would argue that this should be our second priority in life. Or, maybe you lump it in with putting God first. Either way, these two should be at the top of your list. For the purposes of this post, I am lumping them together.
The second priority in your life, in my humble opinion, should be yourself. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, when you have a family—a spouse and kids, and work—the last person you tend to think about is yourself. At least most females I know are like this. And, even though I don’t have kids, I have enough friends and family who do, to know that they take up an exorbitant amount of time and energy. Most of the moms I know let their kids be their top priority. Please don’t fall victim to this practice.
Taking care of yourself—spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally is of vital importance. How can you give of yourself in all (or any) other areas of your life if you are sick or tired? (Or, both?) Don’t think of this as taking away from your other priorities, but rather as the only way you can tackle all your other ones. This is the only way to keep doing the good work in every area of your life.
This makes me think of being on an airplane. If you fly a lot, you know what I am about to say. When you fly, your flight attendant will go over what you are to do in case of an emergency. If the oxygen masks drop down, they tell you to put your mask on FIRST, then help those around you. The reason for this is that if you can’t breathe, then how can you be of use to anyone else? The same principle applies to our everyday lives.
Your third priority should be your spouse. In Genesis 2:24 we learn, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”. Even though, as a mom, you may still feel compelled to put your children next, I urge you to put your spouse ahead of them in your priority totem pole.
In the natural order of a marriage, you start with two people in love, and ultimately, end with two people. (Hopefully, still in love.) Children grow up, move out, and start their own families. Sure, it is necessary to love and take care of your kids, but not at the expense of your spouse. When you and your partner remain in a loving, committed relationship, it provides stability for your kids. And, it shows them how a marriage really works.
Do you want your marriage to last a lifetime? I hope certainly hope so. I know I want mine to. Marriage is hard work, even for those of us without kids. It you want it to last, you must work hard at it and put in a tremendous amount of effort. You should give it the proper amount of attention it deserves. Which, is a lot!
Plus, when you put your kids above your spouse, the kids become self-centered and grow up believing that everything should be handed to them on a silver platter. This is doing a huge disservice to both you and your kids. Don’t you want your kids to be able take care of themselves when you are no longer around? Because, unfortunately, sooner or later, you won’t be there anymore. If they can't wash their own clothes and at least make a sandwich, they are headed for a world of hurt.
The rest of your family comes next on your priority list. This includes your parents and siblings, and in our case, our pets--who are family in our household. Then aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. At least this is how it works in my life.
After that, well, that is up to you. Actually, since God gave us freewill, all of this is up to you. This list is my personal priority list and it is how I choose to live. But, I think it makes sense for all Christians to have some sort of guidelines to follow. (That is why spending time reading and studying your Bible is so paramount. That book has the answer to every question you will ever have.)
I firmly believe that if we put God first, then everything else falls into place. All it really takes is having your priorities straight!
We have this wonderful new (er) tradition in our family: taking a trip to somewhere new for my birthday each year. My husband came up with the idea before my 40th birthday. He thought it would be nice to celebrate my big 4 – 0 by going somewhere I have never been. That year we went to San Francisco. It was wonderful. We have kept up that tradition ever since.
This past week was another birthday. While I am thankful for another year, I don’t necessarily enjoy getting older. I do, however, enjoy going places I have never been. God created this huge, wide, amazing, and wonderful world and I want to see and explore as much of it as I can. I often read that it is better to spend our money and time on “experiences” rather than on “stuff”—I couldn’t agree more!
This year we decided to take a trip to Montreal. I have never been to Canada before, and Montreal did not disappoint! It was an easy trip to make from Atlanta, and while it was a quick trip, we packed in as much sight-seeing as we could.
We left on Friday, and thanks to the rainy weather, our flight was delayed. By the time, we landed and got to our hotel, we were starving. We decided to clean up a little and head out to an early dinner. Montreal is known for its jazz scene, so we thought it would be cool to hit up a jazz place where we could eat, drink, chill, and listen to some great music. We found the perfect little spot. And, by little, I mean little.
Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill is a small hidden gem. Even though it is in the downtown area, It feels like it is tucked away from everything else. Maybe it was because it was raining and getting dark. Maybe it was because it is named “Upstairs” and the sign outside is actually upside down, but you really have to go downstairs to get to it. (Which, initially, threw me for a loop. But, I love silly idioms like this!) Maybe it was because I was craving nourishment. Whatever the case, Upstairs was just the cozy atmosphere we needed. The food was good, the drinks and atmosphere were great and the music divine! It was the perfect way to kick off our trip.
Saturday morning came and the rain didn’t stop. Thankfully, even with rain, the world keeps turning, and since we don’t melt, we headed out to the Old Montreal/Old Port area. St. Paul street is a MUST if you are in Montreal. It is the oldest street in Montreal and its first cobblestones predate American democracy. All of the beautiful old buildings there have been preserved and St. Paul street is home to some of the best restaurants, galleries, and shops in the area.
My husband is of Portuguese descent, and he scouted out a charming little Portuguese café with breakfast for us to start off our day. Cantinho de Lisboa is a small, but warm and inviting eatery that is part bakery and part delicatessen. We both had tasty little sugar donuts. I had one with chocolate filling. It was delightful! I also had some pear juice to go with it. So, lots of sugar to start off my day. While we were there, the staff was cooking up some soup and putting the sliced meats out for the sandwiches. It smelled heavenly. I made a mental note for us to go back and have lunch, but unfortunately, we didn’t make it. But, if we ever go back, I will make sure we don’t miss it again.
After breakfast, we decided to take a stroll down St. Paul. We ducked into a few little shops that were open, just to get out of the rain. As we kept wondering along, with no real destination in mind, we soon happened upon what was, for me, the highlight of our trip: Notre-Dame Basilica. With the rainy weather, there were not too many people out and about and we walked right up and bought our tickets to go inside. What an amazing and magnificent holy place!
Founded in 1642, the church started out as a small chapel operated by the Jesuits. Over the years, it grew to be the breath-taking basilica it is today. In 1982, Pope John Paul II designated it a basilica —raising its status from just a church. This shows the architectural and artistic value the church represents. You can read more about Notre-Dame Basilica here. (And, enjoy my pictures below.)
From there we walked all around the Old Montreal/Old Port area. It is like stepping back in time. The history and small streets make it delightful to explore. The outdoor market and artists were in full swing at Place Jacques-Cartier. Once it started getting a little warmer, we cooled off by going into the shops in the Marche Bonsecours. We ate a delicious lunch of fish and chips at Brit + Chips. Then, we headed back down the port and got ourselves some Italian ice from a street vendor.
For dinner, we found this amazing Italian restaurant called Café Il Cortile. Their website says that since it opened 25 years ago, it has consistently been described as one of Montreal’s best kept secrets. Whoever they are, they are NOT lying. This was easily the best meal we had on our trip. Their European style terrace was quaint and loaded with colorful, stunning flowers. Our server was so friendly and knowledgeable—he knew his stuff and so did the chef. My homemade, hand-made gnocchi al gorgonzola was to die for. Then, the chocolate mousse cake for dessert sent me over the moon. I can’t rave enough about this place. If you ever go for a visit, you MUST eat dinner here. Period.
Sunday, our last full day in Montreal, we finally got a full day without rain. Yay! We started out at another Portuguese bakery for breakfast. This time we went to Saint Laurent Boulevard. And, wow, let me tell you, it was not what I was expecting. The area, at first glance, looks run-down and sketchy. When our taxi driver dropped us off, I was wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Well, as it turns out, we were in a melting-pot of astounding creativity allure! I quickly fell in love.
The Portuguese bakery we had breakfast at was incredible! Since 1983, Patisserie Notre Maison has been serving up authentic Portuguese fare for whoever is lucky enough to come across it. They had our favorite: malasadas! (Or, as we refer to them as, mullies.) We sat in their petite interior and savored every bite while inhaling the heady scents of baking bread. Speaking of, they also had sweet bread. Score! We bought a bag of 6 rolls of sweet bread to go. (One of the best ideas we had the whole trip!)
Afterwards, we ambled down Saint Laurent Boulevard, taking our time and taking in all the dazzling murals. They were everywhere! The artistry, the creativity, the skill-set, the expertise, the sorcery and magic of it all. It blew me away. I was like the proverbial kid the candy store. This is the kind of stuff I live for! Read this great article on the history of Saint Laurent Boulevard.
For lunch, we walked a few blocks from our hotel and ate at 3 Brasseurs. I finally had the chance to eat some poutine. I had read that eating poutine was a must while in Montreal. And, it is! Poutine is an authentic Quebec-inspired dish that is basically French fries with a special poutine gravy and cheese curds. I had mine with some BBQ-braised pulled pork and crispy bacon added on top. So good! I am drooling now just thinking about it. This is one of those dishes that I am glad we don’t have here in America. If we did, I fear that my clothing would not fit me much longer.
Sunday afternoon we decided to head up to Mount Royal and check out the park. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York’s Central Park. It is a lovely spot that was bustling on this gorgeous day. We didn’t get to take in as much of it as I would have liked, because doing so required a lot of walking. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have it in me. But, we hung around the lake and the pavilion and did some people watching. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
After a nap and before dinner, we decided to take a walk around a little more and just see what we could see. On the other side of our hotel from the Old Montreal area, we found lots of little pleasures and treasures. This year Canada is celebrating 150 years of history and Montreal is celebrating turning 375 years old. There is a lot going on! (I wish I had known this earlier, so I could have planned our trip a little better, but, c’est la vie!) There is basically a walking tour outlined across the city, highlighting outdoor sculptures and artwork. Part of this tour goes through the campus of McGill University, which is only a few blocks from our hotel. The campus is undergoing some renovations, but it is still a pleasant place to delve into. It was a nice way to spend some time before dinner.
Sunday was my actual birthday, and as such, Paul treated me to a high class dinner. Gibbys in housed in a cool 200-year old building in Old Montreal. Paul and I both enjoyed some tasty seafood. And, I had what they call a Monte Carlo baked potato, which is a double baked potato with bacon, sour cream and chives. It was the bomb.com. But, the very best part was the dessert. We shared a hot apple croute—apple pie in an amazing pastry, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce. The pastry was so light, flavorful, and yummy. And, thank goodness we shared it, because it was huge. It was the perfect ending to an enchanting trip.
So, in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I loved Montreal. If you have never been, you should go. I promise you won’t regret it!
Yesterday was a pretty great day. Why? Because, I had the pleasure of helping a friend of mine. She is looking to change career paths and needed some help updating her resume. I offered my services, as I have done a great deal of this sort of thing myself. (If you look at my career history of job-hopping, you will understand why I am a quasi-expert on it.)
I spent my lunch hour re-working her resume—updating it and, hopefully, turning it into a personal branding document that will land her a job in her dream field. I didn’t do anything other than put some skills and knowledge that I already had to good use. And, I just gave her the framework and explained to her how to fill it in for herself. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. But, to her, it was. She told me that she couldn’t thank me enough. I told her to use it to get the job she really wants, and that that would-be thanks enough. And, I meant it too.
I spent the rest of the day feeling pretty good about myself. And, it was all because I helped a kind person who needed it.
Then, this morning, as I was reading my Bible and doing my daily devotional, I came across a verse that made me stop and think. It was Psalm 21:6 which says, “Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.” When I read that, a huge smile spread across my face and I laughed to myself a little. By spending time reading my Bible, I was spending time with God. And—this is the kicker—I made Him glad. I made Him glad. I. Made. HIM. Glad.
Just by doing something that I have gotten into the habit of doing anyway, I made God glad. I gave him joy. This is an amazing revelation to me. As I sit and think about it as I type this, it makes me want to cry. Just knowing that by doing something as simple as reading my Bible brings God joy, well, that’s truly something!
As I look back over my life, even as recently as yesterday, and probably especially because of yesterday, I have realized that giving joy to others makes me happy. Helping others, makes me happy. And, nothing could mean more in the world than to give joy to our maker, Christ our Father.
So, I am here today to tell you that you need to give it a try. Try helping others. Try reading your Bible. Try spending more time with God. Try to follow in God’s footsteps by loving others as you love yourselves. Luke 6:38 tells us, "Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full--pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back." Isn't this wonderful?! Thank you, Lord!
This is God’s will for us! And, trust me when I tell you, when you give to others, you get happiness for yourself in return. Now that is a great deal, if you ask me!
But, don’t just take my word for it. Here are some great articles to read that drive this point home:
I am so glad you are here! I am Erica Strickland, a girl who loves God. My goal here is to simply share His love and light and any good thing that I come across.