More

Matthew and I are on the verge of celebrating our one year wedding anniversary, and together we have been reflecting lately on all that has happened.  A lot can happen in one year.  Let’s see.  I got married, moved to a new state, landed a new job, started attending a new church, found out I was pregnant, finished my Master’s, and gave birth to Nora.  Whew.

Four short years ago, I had big plans to finish my Theatre degree and move out of Orlando to L.A. or New York in order to pursue an acting career.  I expected to wait a long time before getting married, and I definitely did not plan on having children any time in the near future…ha ha.  My heart was set on taking the theatre world by storm, traveling the globe, and settling into a big city for a life that was more than just the average life of a stay-at-home soccer mom.  Offended by my terminology?  Me, too.  But that’s what I wanted; glamour and spontaneity and excitement and…more.

I looked into my future and thought I had it completely figured out.  Fast forward four years later.  I am married to a man who dreams of becoming a pastor, I got pregnant so fast after our wedding that I beat my parents’ record, and…I live in Arkansas.  My first child was born in Arkansas.  Never thought I would use those words.  Maybe, My first child was born in Africa. But not Arkansas.

Nevertheless, here I am.  Sitting on my couch in Bentonville and glancing every so often at my daughter sleeping in her swing.  And I have joy.  My cup runneth over.

Psalm 139:16 says, “…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”  I marvel that the Lord not only knew my days ahead of time, but that He knew His daughter’s heart so well.  While I thought I craved the fast-paced, brightly-lit life of a successful artist, my Father knew me better and gave me the deepest desires of my heart.  Desires that I didn’t even know existed.  Growing up, I was resolved to lead a “special,” unconventional life.  Younger Mallory would have shamefully scoffed at my current life as a young mother who stays at home with a baby and is completely dependent on a husband.  Younger Mallory would look at me scornfully and say, “Didn’t you want more?”  In fact, sometimes I feel like the rest of the world looks at me and says, “Didn’t you want more?”

This is the most important lesson I think I have ever learned and may ever learn in this life (and I type this with tears of thanks in my eyes): God’s plan is always more.

He knows us better than we know ourselves, He loves us more than we love ourselves, and His plans for us are greater than our minds can fathom on our most imaginative days.  But we have to trust Him.

Everyone’s life looks different, and I am not suggesting that a woman has to be married with children to be fulfilled– I am suggesting that if we trust and acknowledge the Lord with our plans, He will offer our hearts contentment that we cannot attain for ourselves.  Our lives as followers of Jesus will not be perfect and forever peaceful; but the Lord’s plan is for our ultimate good. Always.  Even when parts of life leave us feeling impatient or unfulfilled or afraid or broken…At the end of the day, we can trust Him to carry out the best possible plan for us.  (To those of you who are muttering to yourself, “Some plan.  I’ve never been truly happy,” I encourage you to look to Christ and then wait on Him.)

At one time in my life I was praying for “more” thinking I knew what that meant, but thankfully God answered my prayers in His own way.  I may not have an acting career, but my life has tremendous purpose in caring for my family.  I may not live in a big city, but I have a beautiful community of people that love me.  And I may not have traveled the world, but I’m only 24…

Rather than yearning for “more,” I find myself asking God, “What more could I possibly want?”  And I feel a familiar whisper to my soul, Just wait.

At one of our favorite restaurants in Bentonville, the Station Cafe
At one of our favorite restaurants in Bentonville
My sweeties
With my sweeties
This smile
This smile
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Fairest

I have felt so unattractive lately.  Having given birth not long ago, I feel flabby, stretch-marked, and frumpy.  My clothes don’t fit right, I don’t have time to fix my hair, and every morning I go without exercising my self-esteem plummets a little more.  It doesn’t help that every time I go on Facebook or watch TV I am bombarded by images of gorgeous, photo-shopped girls with tan, skinny bodies and perfect makeup.  Finally I realized that my anxiety isn’t because of my extra baby weight.  It’s because of the trap of comparison.

I’ll never forget working at a youth camp while I was in college and meeting one of the pretty high school volunteers.  She was teeny tiny, with thick dark hair piled on top of her head, and bright blue eyes fringed with thick lashes.  Every time I saw this girl I got annoyed.  I finally realized that I was annoyed because every feature about myself that I was slightly proud of or was praised for, she had the better version.  Truly.  I’ve never particularly loved being 5 feet tall, but I do like being petite.  This girl was more petite.  My hair is one of the features about myself I like the most, but her hair was thicker and darker.  I like my round blue eyes, but hers were bluer and she had long eyelashes.

One minute I was content with who I was, and the next minute I was questioning my confidence.  All because I had compared myself to another girl.  Women do this all the time.  She is such a trendy dresser, I really need a wardrobe more like hers.  She does her makeup so perfectly, I really need to watch more YouTube tutorials.  Her arms are so toned, I really need to start lifting weights.  The problem with this is that there will always be somebody that we deem better looking.  Angelina Jolie was quoted as saying, “I struggle with low self-esteem all the time! I think everyone does. I have so much wrong with me, it’s unbelievable!” (I wanna be like, “Really, Angelina?  Really?”) But there you have it…

We can never be perfectly satisfied with how we look.  Remember the evil queen from Snow White? She was totally satisfied with her beauty until the Mirror on the Wall told her that some other chick had her beat.

So what can we do to separate ourselves from society’s laser-like focus on outward appearance?   Let’s help each other!  Let’s continue to have fun with makeup and clothing, but all the while remembering that it’s simply that: fun.  It’s not where our identity is found.

The apostle Peter encourages, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—  but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4).  How on earth do I raise my daughter to care more about being precious in God’s sight than in society’s? How can I teach her that outer beauty fades but inner beauty lasts forever?  *Sigh.*  I suppose by attempting to live this out myself.

By refraining from making disparaging comments about my personal appearance in front of her.  By praising celebrities who give generously and speak thoughtfully rather than those who are simply good-looking.  By telling her she’s lovely even during her awkward years (thanks, Mom).  By warning her that modesty and faith will land her a better guy than a short skirt will.  By feeding her Scriptures like 1 Samuel 16:7 that says, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” By reminding her that while her body will grow old, her soul will live forever. By helping her grow into a beautiful woman who is known for her stunning compassion and kindness rather than for her facial symmetry.

And just one last thought.  What if instead of comparing our beauty to that of other women’s, we compared good works?  Perhaps then instead of logging onto Facebook and being overwhelmed by artful selfies and endless articles about beauty and beach bodies, we would be encouraged by others to love our families and communities better.  Maybe we would then be obedient to Romans 12:10 that says to “outdo one another in showing honor,” and to Hebrews 10:24 that says to “stir up one another to love and good works.”  Just a thought.

Perhaps then we would live in a world in which the woman who loves deepest and works hardest and speaks kindest would be considered fairest of them all.

Telling her she's lovely
Telling her she’s lovely
Our precious girl
Our precious girl

Kiss the Wave

Last week Matt, Nora, and I vacationed with Matt’s family and my sister at the beach in South Carolina.  We stayed in a beautiful condo at Litchfield-by-the-Sea and bathed ourselves in sunshine and family togetherness.  It was egg-frying hot and the air was wet, reminding me of home in Naples.

I remembered how much I love vacation.  Not just for the relaxing time by the pool and family game nights (by the way, Matt and I now play bridge if anyone in Arkansas wants to start a snooty Thursday night bridge club), but for the plane flights and unpacking and waking up in a new bed and my mother-in-law’s spinach omelets.

As I sat on the sunny beach next to my husband and kept an eye on baby girl (who was enjoying the ocean breeze from underneath her umbrella), I thought, life can’t get any better than this.  I sat in my beach chair, dreaming of future beach trips with lots of cousins, tiny bathing suits hogging up the towel racks in the bathroom, sand castles, and the smells of sunblock and saltwater.  We have so much to look forward to, and so  much to be thankful for.

But it won’t always be like this.  The sun won’t always be shining.  (I know, total Debbie Downer moment- but hear me out…)  On Friday of our trip, it poured cats and dogs and the wind blew so hard that whole palm branches were ripped from the trees and pieces of the roof blew clear away.  We stayed inside and watched the news.  It was still really fun.

Life can still be good when sunshine is interrupted by dark clouds.  I think of when the disciples were being tossed around in a terrible storm, and they woke Jesus and said, “Save us Lord, we are perishing.”  In His sovereignty, Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and “there was a great calm.” The disciples wondered, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:24-27).  In their darkest hour, the scared disciples were given a gift: assurance that God can protect them.  Assurance that they need not fear.  During difficult times when we aren’t enjoying a book by the pool or a friendly game of Taboo (if such a thing exists), when we are face down in the dirt with no clear hope– we can remember that Christ is on board with us, ready to ask us why we are “of little faith.”  And sometimes during our trials God graciously gives us a clearer understanding of Himself.  Just as Job states at the end of his terrible suffering, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You…” (42:5).

When my thunderclouds start rolling in, I pray that my heart will be comforted with the knowledge that Jesus is always present in the storms. The storms we face may be family health issues, tragic loss, difficulties at work, seasons of low self-esteem, or broken relationships. (Living here in Arkansas our storm may actually be a storm- this is tornado central, y’all).  I want to always remember God’s promise in Isaiah 43:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” (43:1-2).

May we all be ready to call upon the name of our Savior when our tribulation comes, ready to faithfully seek the help of He who never fails. As Charles Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”  What a blessing storms can be.  Especially if you’re stuck inside a condo with cable and a full kitchen.

But for now, I’ll just soak up the sun with a heart full of thanks.

Ready for the beach
Ready for the beach
At the pier
At the pier