Architecture of happiness

If Im being really honest right now, Ive looked to a lot of things in life with the expectation that theyll bring me happiness. I've told myself if I could just have that salary, or that marriage, or that number on the scale-- that I'd be fully satisfied. That I'd know what real happiness was. 


Sometimes I’ve chased things to the point of exhaustion, but I’ve also chased some wonderful things. Because I’m a dreamer, and I love encouraging people to go after the dreams that are on their heart. But somewhere along the way, all the chasing (good or bad) caused me to fall prey to the illusion that I’m in complete control of my life. And while that’s a very seductive place to be— it’s also a cyclical one that's guaranteed to leave you unhappy and feeling like you're on a carrousel (although much less picturesque than this one). 



After relinquishing some serious control issues earlier this year, I’ve often used the metaphor of God being the artist, and my life being the canvas on which he creates. But I've still struggled to maintain a balance of letting myself dream big and reach for the stars, while remembering God is the man with the plan for my life.


In the parable of the talents, a master entrusts his servants with various amounts according to his ability. We learn that each servant uses those talents to grow what had been gifted. But the servant who did nothing with what he’d been given didn't grow or receive an abundance. He wasn't rewarded with “well done my good and faithful servant” like those who multiplied theirs. 


I’d have to agree that God wants us to be more involved in our lives.  No, it’s not our job to be the artist and try to steal the paintbrush from him, but I have to think we were created to do more than just exist and let circumstances be thrusted upon us like paint splattered on a canvas. 


I think that’s where most of us miss the mark. We either live under the illusion that we have control, or we helplessly exist, claiming we can’t do a damn thing. But I believe God entrusts us with the portions that we can control, and then it’s our job do so something with it. 


I recently switched churches, and we’ve been talking about God being the architect of our life. This metaphor identified a missing piece of the puzzle for me— the part that lets me be involved. Because In the metaphor of God as the artist, I’m merely a canvas, but in the metaphor of God as the architect, I get to help build. 


Now, if I fight for the control, I’m doomed— because It’s highly unlikely that a construction worker can build a stable structure without looking to his architect to draw the plans. And sure, God absolutely doesn’t need me to do what he wants to accomplish, but he's happy to employ me. He let’s me be an active participant in the story of my life. 


This last year I've learned a lot about what it means to create my own happiness. I think sometimes realizing all the things you can’t control makes you also realize all the things that you can. 


For example, I realize that I can’t control when I’ll meet my soulmate or if that driver cut me off and laid on his horn for no apparent reason in traffic. I can’t control if the economy is falling apart or if people make decisions that betray me. 


But I can choose to be happy about what I’ve been gifted. God has personally entrusted me with a beautiful season in life that I have a say in, and it’s a season filled with freedom. I have the freedom to pack up and move tomorrow if I wanted, to eat ice cream for dinner, or have sleepovers with my friends without asking for anyone else’s permission. I can pull the tequila bottle out of the freezer, cut up some limes, and have a dance party on the porch to comfort my best friend because she had a terrible day at work. I can listen to someone who needs to talk, help someone who needs a favor, and be generous with how I love people. 


And probably my favorite freedom that this season has given me is the freedom to do things like book trips to Paris (and London, and Vienna, and then back to Paris again) simply because God has wired me with an insatiable appetite for travel.  And he's also gifted me the luxury of nothing else to keep me from pursuing it whole heartedly. 


There’s a lot I’m still figuring out about where my life is headed— and that’s okay. Because this is where God has me- in an uncertain season of freedom and with a heart that’s hungry for adventure. And I’ve learned to be really happy about that, and to trust there is a lot he has in store for me if I'm willing to jump at the offer.


This trip that Sarah and I took to Paris had a ton of significance and left us both with tons of stories that I can’t possibly sum up into one singular blog post. But for the sake of this one, Paris taught me how capable I am of creating my own happiness and making my life a more beautiful story using the resources that God’s gifted to me.


These days, my happiness isn’t contingent on one particular thing, because I've learned there’s a lot of things that can make me happy. Sometimes they end up being what I had in mind, and other times they look really different. But I know now that what’s in front of me is what I have to work with, and I'm proud of what I'm creating out of it. And I'd like to think that God's response will someday be "Well done, my good and faithful servant."



“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

Nice is nice

I’m a sucker for a good story. I live for them. The tuna steak I’m currently eating is seasoned with herbs and salt I bought at an open-air market in Nice just over a week ago. I crushed them in the muddler I also bought there from an old man that spoke no English. 

My house is filled with all sorts of trinkets like these.  I’m wrapped in a tartan blanket I bought in Scotland. My wine rack is filled with bottles I’ve collected from around the world. I smile and smell my hands every time I wash them because my soap is made from the fresh lavender in the fields of Provence. 
To the naked eye, my house probably appears to be a mismatched collection of knickknacks without a theme. But I don’t care, because they all tell a story. 

When I sit down to write these blog posts, I typically am typing ferociously because the story is already in my brain well before I try to tell it. And while I have dozens of stories I could tell about my time in Paris, I won’t lie- I've had a hard time trying to think of the story I want to tell about Nice.  I didn’t leave feeling like I learned a deep lesson. I didn’t have an “ah-ha!” moment that opened my eyes to something. I’ve looked back on the trip several times over the last week to see if there was something that I missed. 

But through the process of looking for “my grand story” I realized that there were dozens of other stories.  Sure, they aren’t milestones in my life that shook the earth. But they’re still stories worth telling. 

For starters, Sarah is one of my very best friends, and we had never been to the beach together. But now I get to tell the story not just about our first beach trip, but that it was in Nice-  the freaking French Riviera. How’s that for starters? 


I get to tell the story about how we took the train to Monte Carlo and went vintage shopping. How she bought a Valentino coat and I bought a Burberry trench. How we looked at each other in disbelief and laughed on the train ride home that either of those items were in our bag and now belonged to us.

There’s the story about how we asked our cab driver to take us wherever he recommended once we landed at the airport. How he looked at us like we were crazy, because we literally had no plans and no idea where to go or what to see in Nice. How he literally dropped us off in the city center and we got lost in the streets with no agenda. 

I get to tell the story about how we couldn’t find a Nikon store in Paris to save our life (the converter blew Sarah’s camera battery and she needed to buy a new one) but we found one at 1 in the morning on a side street in Nice because we were on a hunt for crepes and gelato and laughing too hard to be even close to tired. 

I get to tell the story about how we chased down a cab at 4:30 in the morning in front of the Eiffel Tower to catch our flight to Nice, and then how we flew back to Paris still in our bathing suits the next day. 

I get to tell the story about how the last time I went swimming this summer was in the Mediterranean Sea with a belly full of shrimp scampi and rose. How I danced in the water while Biebs was blasting in the background (Let’s all pause for a moment of silence to reflect on HOW GOOD “What Do You Mean?” is).

There’s the story of me peer pressuring Sarah to finish her shot of limoncello after lunch, the story of us drinking a bottle of wine on the beach and both falling asleep on the towels we bought the hour before, the story of us walking along the rugged coastline at sunset to find a spot to eat dinner-- of us chatting with a couple who was traveling the world and hearing all about their stories. And there are countless other moments I could go on and on about. 

Nice didn’t change my life, but it made my life a better story. I’m guilty of wanting everything to be magical. I’m a dreamer, a hopeless romantic, and a believer that anything is possible. This year I’ve realized how much God is teaching me, and it brings me great joy to share those stories. But I don’t want to be so preoccupied looking for those grand moments and realizations that I miss these simple pleasures that are making my life more beautiful. Because those are still stories worth telling. 

Sarah and I pray Ephesians 3:19 a ton: “that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness that comes from God.” I think that’s what Nice was for us. It wasn’t mountains moving or lessons learned. It wasn’t where we had our deep conversations about what God is doing in our lives. But I can say with complete confidence that in Nice, we lived life to the fullest- the fullness that only comes from the Lord. I’m so thankful for the random assortment of stories that were born there— that I get to add them to my prized collection. I’m thankful that I got to experience them with my best friend, and that we can laugh about them together for years to come. And I'm thankful that I get to share these moments with anyone else that's willing to listen. They're some of my favorite stories to tell already. 

Being still on bastille day

France has been someplace I've dreamt of visiting for years, and I was thrilled to learn that my first day I'd ever spend there was on Bastille Day (if you're not familiar- just think France's version of the 4th of July). When we arrived, we strolled through the cobblestone streets past stunning cathedrals. We stumbled upon local shops where I bought lavender soaps to bring home to my friends. We ate decadent macaroons that make me drool just thinking about. We walked along the port where hundreds of boats were tied up as the locals set up for the firework display that evening. The people there spoke little to no English, so we struggled through conversations when ordering lunch or purchasing rosé.


It was a wonderful day, but the most memorable part of my Bastille Day wasn’t my time on shore like I anticipated it would be. It was what happened just now on the ship before I came inside to write this blog before bed. 


I won’t get to publish this post until this moment has long passed, because I’m currently sailing somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea between Marseille and Cinque Terre. I could publish it now if I really wanted to. The boat has internet. In fact, it has endless things to fill my time: wine and casinos and Broadway shows and pools. There's even Michael Kors and Kate Spade stores on the boat (because God forbid I decide I want a new purse and not have a place to buy it for an entire week). It’s honestly overwhelming that in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, a place that should feel remote, I instead find myself able to zip line, play putt-putt or watch an ice skating show. So after dinner I opted to have a drink with my dad on the deck before heading back to the balcony of my stateroom. And then, I sat outside with a glass of rosé and watched the sunset instead.


We love distractions, don’t we? Not just on cruise ships, but in every aspect of life. We watch TV shows. We follow sports teams. We text people we’re not that interested in to avoid feeling alone. We browse through our social media feed for hours, flip mindlessly through magazines, or become a slave to Netflix. The options of activities we can engage in are endless, and we choose them practically all day everyday just to remain preoccupied. We're uncomfortable sitting still without something to do. We call it unproductive or boring, but I think that really we don’t know what to do if we’re not looking at another face, or another screen. 


So tonight I didn’t let my mind wander to thoughts that preoccupy me at home. I didn’t let myself scroll through all the pictures I’d taken so far (I left my phone inside altogether to avoid the temptation). I didn’t let myself try to plan my future or reminisce about my past. I just watched the waves dance and seagulls fly alongside our boat while the sun disappeared over the south of France. I was still. 


Why is this so hard for us to do? Why is it so rare? I for one, know that when I’m still God starts to reveal the things he wants me to change. He shines a light on the stuff that he wants me to do that sounds really scary. The stuff that I alone don’t know how to do. The stuff that requires me to surrender completely and depend on him.


It’s easy to run from these feelings by staying distracted. Because staring them in the eyes is scary. Actually, when you start to notice that God is moving you in significant ways, it's pretty terrifying. As someone who’s had her fair share of disruption already this year, more movement and change isn’t exactly what I would ask for. While there has been incredible beauty that’s been born out of the discomfort I’ve experienced, I’d be lying if I claimed that because of it I now suddenly welcome all change. That I’m totally okay with continuing to leave what’s familiar, or what I love, or what I know to embrace the unknown and follow where God is leading me. 


No. Instead, I shamefully find myself still clinging on to the bits and pieces of the life I saw myself living. I try to pretend that it only has to be a little different, not a completely new thing. I barter with God the way I did with the Spanish vendors selling fans on the streets of Barcelona, hoping to land on a deal that's as close to what I think I want as possible.


"Okay fine God." I tell him "I’ve wrapped my head around this curve ball I've been thrown, but that doesn’t mean I have to change EVERYTHING about my plans, right? Can’t l keep SOME of my security blankets? Can’t SOMETHING work out the way I had it all planned? Does the “perfect” life I saw myself living really have to be a completely different life altogether?"


This is what happens when I’m still. These are the questions that surface- the fears that arise. And I realize that the answers I find usually aren't the easy ones that I hope for. When I’m distracted, it’s easy to avoid. It's easy to pretend I didn't hear. But when I'm still, it all comes bubbling up. And God reveals the stuff that scares me. The possibilities that require a ton of uncertainty and room for failure before there's any hope of a happy ending. 


But I wouldn't trade tonight for all the lovely distractions in the world. Sure, I love watching The Bachelorette with my girlfriends or scrolling through my Instagram feed countless times a day (you do it too- don't lie). But being still is when the good stuff happens. It's when I find myself weeping in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea because I'm afraid and full of hope and excited and unsure all at the same time. It's when I realize how things really are and what they're capable of being. Being still allows me to hear who God is calling me to become and what he's calling me to do with my life. 


So ignore the text. Skip just one episode. Respond to the email tomorrow. But whatever you do, don't miss the chance to be present. To be in this moment where you are right now. Not stuck in yesterday. Not racing ahead into tomorrow. And not escaping to some fantasy that doesn't even exist. Be here. Be still. And be willing to listen to what God has to say. Because even if it's scary, I promise you want to hear it.