Tonight, my small group ends. After three and a half years together, more tears and laughs than we could ever count, and dinner together every Tuesday night, it’s over.
I just can’t even believe it.
Aren’t they the most beautiful humans you’ve ever seen? (A few are missing from this picture, but trust me- they are gorgeous too.)
In 2011, I moved home from Scotland and immediately these lovelies entered my life. College freshman babies, they barely knew how to live outside of their parents’ house and now they are young women, finishing school, and forging into their next season of life.
Again, I can’t believe it.
The last semester has been the sweetest. Honesty. Joy. Depth. Tears. The kind of stuff that only comes from trust and commitment to each other. And now, I can’t quit thinking about them, and about where they will go and what they will do. I have so many hopes for them each.
I hope they love better when they leave my house because of how they loved so well when they were here. Y’all just wouldn’t believe how they have rallied for each other and pressed in for each other and argued and fought and SURVIVED it. Yes, we’ve had things fall apart, but they always put each other back together.
I hope (and I know) that when things get hard, they turn to the Word of God. I hope they remember the times the Lord showed up when we read the Word, and I hope their love for the Bible grows every day.
I hope they face life with courage and strength, even when there is no guarantee of what is around the next corner.
I hope they pray their guts out every chance they get. I hope they each love Jesus every day of their lives. I hope they believe God, even when it looks crazy.
I hope they eat healthy and exercise and treat their bodies well so they can do anything they want- climb any mountain, run any race, and go to any country they feel called.
I hope they remember my imperfections, my screw-ups, and the time that the baked potatoes in the crockpot were terrible. I hope they remember that leading well means being honest and vulnerable and broken, even when that feels terrifying.
I hope they still call me when things go very right and very wrong and very funny. I hope our Facebook group lives on into eternity. I hope they all cancel whatever plans would get in the way of attending my wedding someday.
I hope, in a few years, when they have their feet under them as adults, they will turn around and mentor younger women and men. I hope they pass on what they lived and learned and I hope they cook meals for college students when they have jobs that make them money.
I hope Tuesday nights always remind them of my red couch and paper plates and the sound of my trashcans being rolled down the driveway, the weekly symbol that SMALL GROUP IS OVER YOU YAHOOS GO HOME.
And I hope they love each other forever. Because I will love them forever.
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You guys know I have special place in my heart for award shows, particularly when it involves country music. Remember I got to go to the Grammys with my friend Hillary in 2010? And remember when I got to go to the CMA Awards in 2014? Yeah. I love award shows. I blame the sparkle. And the music. And watching my friends win trophies. Fine, all of it. I LOVE IT ALL.
So when Mary Kay® offered for me to try three of the looks they are featuring this year for the Academy of Country Music Awards (because they are the beauty sponsor… I want to have a beauty sponsor…), I was like OH HECK YES I WANNA.
No, I’m not actually going to the ACM Awards. At least, that’s not in the plans today. And neither are my friends Nichole and Amanda, who each tried a look as well. But on a Sunday afternoon, we dressed our faces up like we were about to be on the red carpet! I set up a station at my dining room table with the makeup samples, separated by look, and some technology so we could watch the super helpful how-to videos for each look.
We each had our own little area to watch and learn and apply the makeup. Here were all the pieces of my look. And then we took “before” pictures and got going with our unique looks!
. . . . .
I’ll start with moi. I picked the All-American Girl look, which has nothing to do with the dolls or I’d have braids and round glasses (shout out to my girl Molly!).
Y’all. No kidding. I am IN LOVE with this look. The application was simple and the color palette was my favorite. Soft pinks with brown eyeliner and killer mascara. Totally love it. I’m definitely going to keep doing this look in my real life. And the lip gloss? SO SPARKLY. Two people I know saw me this night and stopped me to ask what I had done different! No joke!
Amanda went for the Boho Beauty look, and that she is, my friends. That she is.
There is a lot of eye product for this one, which threw Amanda off for a minute. But the longer the evening went on, the more she talked about how much she loved it. Again, the lip color is SPOT ON and I’m only a tiny bit offended that she packed up all the Boho Beauty makeup samples and made out like a bandit. So yes, she loved the look enough to steal from me.
Nichole was the last to arrive, so we gave her Queen of Country because of her showing up late like a famous person behavior.
Y’all. The eyes! Am I right? So so gorgeous. She kept saying, “I never wear eye makeup this dark, but I kinda love it.” We did too. The eyeliner had a lot of steps, but for a night out? Totally worth the extra few minutes. When you are the Queen of Country, you’ve got that kind of time.
All three looks are pretty easy to figure out and the makeup, as you know if you know Mary Kay®, isn’t heavy or cakey, just light and beautiful. I hope my bottle of mascara lasts forever, I love it that much.
I’m also seriously considering live-tweeting the ACM Awards on April 19th like I did the Oscars. Does that make you happy or ruin your life? I can’t tell how my friends feel about it.
. . . . .
Check out the tutorials of all three country music-inspired makeup looks and let me know which one you like the best. Leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win a Mary Kay® prize pack of your own!
Brought to you by Mary Kay. All opinions are my own.
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I have to tell you (in case you don’t know)… I am a huge fan of the fashionABLE product line.
If you don’t know fashionABLE, you should read the whole story of the creation of the company here. But simply stated, your purchase of a fashionABLE product creates sustainable business in Africa.
EVERYTHING IS GORGEOUS AND I WANT IT ALL.
I tend to give at least one fashionABLE gift every Christmas. Anytime a sale comes across twitter or instagram, I’m scrolling through the website in about half of one second. And when a new product launches, mama wants. And with Easter coming, I was thinking you might want to add one nicer item (besides Cadbury Creme Eggs) to the Easter basket on April 5th!
I thought it would be fun today to share with you some of my favorites that are on the site right now AND ALSO? ALSO?
They gave us a 15% off coupon.
YES JUST FOR US.
When you order, just use “ANNIE15” and you will get 15% off between now and Saturday night! Insane.
. . . . .
The entire leather section is what I absolutely cannot quit.
I carried the Tigist Clutch for some time and it is great.
But right now? It’s the Agnes Foldover Crossbody Bag that is my purse. The strap length is perfect, it zips shut so it doesn’t spill into every crevice of my vehicle when I make a sharp turn, and it is so beautiful.
Many of you saw on instagram that the Mamuye Tote is my constant travel companion. Again with the strap length! It’s perfect. And it holds my purse, my Real Simple magazine, my laptop, my cords and headphones, and a water bottle. Pretty much all the things a human could need on an airplane. I have the bag in cognac, but all the celebs are rockin’ the black one (OLIVIA WILDE and JESSICA ALBA. WHOA).
I gift the Kalkidan Wallet to many-a-dude in my life.
And here are my two favorite scarves:
Niguse Textured Scarf (this powder blue they have? Perfect spring blue. Like, PERFECT.)
The ABLE Scarf (you know words are my love language, so obviously.)
. . . . .
If you spend $80 or more, the shipping is FREEEEEE!
Use the coupon code “ANNIE15” and get 15% off — and remember that only works until Saturday night!
Also, I think if you give them your email address you get $10 off or something. (I tried to go to the website and get the banner to pop up for me, but it won’t do it again. But I think that’s true.)
Also, I didn’t get paid to tell you any of this. I just genuinely think they are awesome and that you would love these things, so I asked Marisa if my people could have a coupon. That’s about how it went. Just wanted you to know that.
Happy Thursday, friends. I can’t believe it is still snowing in Nashville. Gross.
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It’s my favorite season of the year.
There is something about the quiet and the without-ness and the focus that is given to us for these next 47 days (okay, fair, 46) that I really really love. I grew up in the Methodist Church and so I have always known Ash Wednesday and Lent and giving something up. So every year, even if I’m not in a church tradition that pushes Lent, my heart is drawn towards it.
I’ve given up everything at least once in the last 20 years of purposefully celebrating Lent: chocolate, caffeine, TV, dessert, Coke, social media. All the things.
This year feels like it is going to be different.
You know me, you know I talk about PCOS, and you know that I talk some about issues I’ve had with my body and how God is constantly healing that in me. (I wrote about it in Perfectly Unique and Let’s All Be Brave, if you want to read more.)
So. As you can imagine, as a girl who is allergic to dairy (always have been, just didn’t know) and who doesn’t eat gluten and who has PCOS, I think about my body and food a lot because it matters that I do this well- for my brain, for my heart, for my body.
As so as Lent 2015 came around, I started wondering what it would look like this year and I thought in my mind of what I wanted to give up.
And as I prayed, I kept hearing the Lord push me on one little thing-
Hey Annie. During Lent, what if you cared about your spirit as much as you care about your body?
[insert wide-eyed emoji because it felt like God was calling me out]
It’s something I haven’t thought about in the last two years of this journey, how a healthy lifestyle can still mean my priorities are off.
So for me? Lent is going to be about what most people think about during Lent – aligning my spirit with what Jesus was about for these 47 days. Setting aside time in ways I don’t usually to think and pray and read and learn.
I will kneel every morning from 7:03-7:14. Just like my sister Ann has suggested.
I will read SheReadsTruth and journal.
I will fight the urge to subtract random foods for vanity’s sake and I will press into whatever it is that God has for me, for Christ’s sake.
That’s not to say that subtracting food or adding activity is wrong in any way for anyone else. Like, LEGIT DO NOT HEAR ME SAYING THAT. I’m just saying for me, I can feel in my guts that God wants my heart to look long and hard at Him, and less at me. Yes, I still will eat the way that makes my body feel the best and exercise, but for me, it can’t be the center of my thoughts for the next 47 days.
. . . . .
Around the internet, our friends have made incredible lists of reading plans for Lent and what you should be doing for Lent and etc. So I thought I’d loop them all together here for you. (And no, it’s not too late to start!)
Eric Willits’s Lent Devo (I ordered these for my Vandy boys, so if you know a dude who wants a guide this season, this is the one I would pick.)
Things Every REAL Christian Should Give Up For Lent (thank you, Relevant, for being hilarious, but I’m still gonna wear my pirate blouse.)
My hope and prayer for you, no matter your age or place in life, is that this Lent season will draw you nearer to the Cross and nearer to Jesus who, as Ann says, is the only One who has loved us to death. And, gratefully, to life again.
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I just have to tell y’all what happened last night at small group because while it makes me look like a bit of a buffoon, it shows how incredible my small group is.
So we are doing Joy Eggerichs’s Illumination Project. It is incredible and I think any small group would benefit from it. This week was all about how Joy entered into ministry and the catalyst that got her there.
And during this week’s video, she spent good time talking about a painful breakup and how that launched her into a new season and eventually into ministry.
When the video ended, we discussed a host of topics, asked questions, shared some heart stuff. And when things got quiet, thinking about Joy and her ministry birthed out of a really dark time, I said, “sometimes it makes me mad that God uses the painful things in my life. Like, it’s hard for me that some of the things I don’t want to write about- like singleness- are the posts that really matter to people. I don’t always like sharing the things He asks me to share. Sometimes I don’t like sharing the parts of my life that are hard.”
And then Jordin, one of my girls, looks at me and says, “yeah. I get that. But we live in a fallen world, and we don’t get everything we want, and bad things happen to good people. I guess I look at it like a gift that God takes the bad things and redeems them to good things. It’s like when you share your stories and people are impacted, God is redeeming the hard times. God using your pain is actually really Him being kind and making your pain matter.”
And then she dropped the mic.
(Not really. 🙂 We don’t use a microphone in small group.)
But man did God convict and speak to my heart in that moment.
He brings victory in my life by going right to the place where I feel defeated and asking me to share from there.
What I was viewing as an unfair use of my pain? God is actually seeing as His redeeming hand.
What I get mad about? It’s actually God’s grace in my life.
What I wish He would leave alone? He uses FOR MY GOOD.
I call it a disappointment, a pain, a hurt. He calls it a gift.
AND HE IS RIGHT.
. . . . .
I needed to be reminded of allllll of that.
Maybe you needed that reminder today, too. That God is good and right and true and using all things for the good of those who love Him.
Maybe you needed a good solid reminder that the gal on the other side of this screen (me!) is far from perfect.
Or maybe you need a reminder that your pain matters. And God will use it.
So here is your reminder:
. . . . .
Happy Wednesday, friend. Praying these things for you today. Really.
. . . . .
Please tell me you’ve seen this clip with Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman from Tuesday night’s episode of The Tonight Show? Where Nicole tells him that ten years ago she hung out with him thinking they could maybe be a thing- both were single and she was interested. He thought it was a hang out about a movie role. And a love connection was never made.
Watch it if you have a few minutes….
I watched them the other night, Jimmy being in legitimate shock at Nicole being interested enough in him to hang out and see if there was any chemistry. He had no idea that was her intention then.
That day, she walked away disappointed. And still single.
That day, he was oblivious. And still single.
Eventually they married other people, had kids, live way different lives.
And as I watched that segment, I felt God whisper to me,
. . . . .
I think about myself. I think about my single friends. I think about the worries we have (I have) of being alone forever. I think about that time I cried at my dentist’s office when he said, “the right guy at the wrong time is still the wrong guy, Annie,” because I knew he was telling me the truth even though I was sure the character in question was (a) the right guy at (b) the right time.
And I cannot even list for you the amount of times I’ve thought a relationship was going to work and it didn’t. But I can list the reasons that scroll through my mind every time it happens.
(I could. But I won’t.)
Yet here sit two celebrities, seemingly not hindered by budget or looks or opportunity or any of the lies we hear in our heads as to why we are single, and they missed a chance.
They missed the wrong; but in time, they got the right.
I needed to see that.
I needed to see that sometimes it just doesn’t work out because sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I needed to watch as two people, ten years later, finally see the story through the same lens. I needed to be reminded that God’s sovereign hand is tightly gripped around my little life. I needed to remember that for all the times I’ve walked away from a man and thought, “dang, he is NOT interested in me” and felt deeply alone and sad, Nicole Kidman has felt that, the guy had no idea, and the truth? God knew all along.
God. Knew. All. Along.
. . . . .
He knows when I walk away disappointed. He knows my story. But He knows the story of each man I encounter too. God knows the chances I feel I have missed. He knows that often what I call a “miss,” He calls a “rescue.”
He knows when I walk in a room full of the wrong guy, I will still try to make one (or two) right. And they don’t play along and I’m sad. He knows better for me will come. And maybe better and I have been in the same room already. I don’t know. God knows.
And whether you are Nicole Kidman or Annie Downs or [fill in your name here], I think this story is great reminder that He knows you. He sees you. There is not an encounter in your life in which He has not been near. And He is working ALL things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
We will never know how many near misses and misunderstood stories and random circumstances all had to dance together to get us right here, with the right people, at the right time.
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Being single during the holidays sometimes feels like a mess.
I’m a pretty confident fun-loving gal who appreciates the life I have. But something happens during the holiday season- my friend Kelley calls it “hyper-awareness”- when my singleness just feels. IT FEELS. It’s palpable in December moments in ways it never shows in April.
God knows it. The enemy knows it. And I know it. I have to take more thoughts captive, make good choices, and call it what it is- messy.
And yesterday was messy.
Sunday morning at church I sat in an unusual spot to save seats for four friends who, for a variety of reasons, all decided not to come to church. “You will not cry about this,” I said in my head, “you are an adult, you are loved by people in this room, if you need to sit somewhere else you can, this is NOT a big deal,” etc etc etc. All the positive self-talk I could muster. Yet little puddles formed at the corners of my eyes while the worship band played, and the lies whispered in my head, “you are alone and it’s always going to be like this.”
“Remind me I’m not alone, God,” I prayed. (I know. Very deep and profound.)
The second song through, I see one of my Vandy bros Keenan and his girlfriend turn the corner into the sanctuary and we made eye contact. They bee-bopped up the stairs and hugged me and sat down in the chairs saved beside me, thinking they were just a little late to church, never realizing they were an answer to prayer.
And as we sat there, me whispering prayers of thanks, Pastor Pete began to preach about Christmas.
“Christmas is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t run from your mess,” he said, “He runs to it. And He redeems it.”
. . . . .
Last night was Dave Barnes’s Christmas show, an absolute highlight of the year for me. Through a series of bizarre events, when I got my ticket and sat down, I was not in a row with my friends and the seats on either side of me were vacant. Because this is tiny Nashville, I knew people all over the audience, just none of them were sitting by me. “Not again,” I thought. What are the chances that I would have to fight loneliness at church this morning, in a room full of people I love, only to have it happen AGAIN, in a room full of people I love?
The show started.
I thought about the people sitting behind me and how they probably felt sorry for me, the girl who came to a concert alone. I felt embarrassed, though there was no reason to be.
I whispered to the Lord that I knew I would be okay and I said, “Jesus, this is a mess. Come sit with me in it.”
And no kidding, two songs in, one of my best friends walks in with her three year old son (that I just absolutely love with my whole heart) and which ticket do they have? The one besides me.
He sat quietly in her lap, shuffled over to her sister for a few songs, and then climbed over to me just as Dave started singing “Good.” (video below, by the way.)
As my little buddy sat in my lap, his hands resting on my arm, I kissed the back of his head and patted his chest to the beat of the song, and Dave sang,
It’s so good.
I have more than I ever thought I would.
I can finally see how all the wrong turns and the heartaches
The lessons in the mistakes
Help me count my blessings like I should.
And it’s so good.
There He was. Just like I asked.
At a Christmas concert.
Using a little boy and a song to redeem my mess and remind me that this life is so good.
Truly. I have more than I ever thought I would.
It may be messy, but it also may be the most wonderful time of the year.
. . . . .
Last night was one of my favorite nights of the year- the night when my small group gals all spend the night. We call it a Small Group Snoozle because we think that is funny.
This is our 6th one; we have spent the night here at my house on the last Tuesday of the semester since these seniors were just little baby freshman. And this year, in order to remain unemotional about them graduating and leaving me forever, I decided we were having a competition. A dessert competition.
When you go on Pinterest, and search “Christmas Crack,” there are four main recipes that show up.
So I made them all. And had milk because, obviously, palate cleanser.
Christmas Crack #1 // made with pecans and graham crackers and sugar and butter and vanilla. YES PLEASE.
Christmas Crack #2 // made with peanuts and chocolate chips and peanut butter chips and white chocolate. WHOA.
Christmas Crack #3 // saltines, chocolate, butter, sugar. I CANNOT QUIT YOU.
Christmas Crack #4 // a bowl of chex and pretzels and M&Ms and cheerios covered in white chocolate. YUM.
. . . . .
So when most of the girls had arrived, we had the CRACKOFF. We took it very seriously- the girls judged by taste and by looks. We started with Christmas Crack #1 and worked our way around the semi-circle.
And here is how it ended up, after much discussion and eating and sipping of milk:
Three votes for Christmas Crack #1.
One vote for Christmas Crack #3.
Two votes (and one more if you count me) for Christmas Crack #4.
And obviously, God agrees with Hannah and shines down upon Christmas Crack #3.
But that Christmas Crack #2?
Yeah, no votes. No yummy. It’s made in the crockpot, and I followed the directions to the minute and I think it burned or something? I dunno. But it wasn’t good. It was so bad that Kendall refused to even be in the photograph with it (them?).
Proceed with caution if you decide to have your own crackoff. That is A LOT of sugar. We were all sick to our stomachs about 3 minutes after this photograph.
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…… BOOKPLATES!
No joke. For three years running now this has become one of my very.favorite.things.
Autographed books as Christmas gifts are awesome. Unfortunately, unless you live on my street in Nashville, I can’t personalize each book. BUT. I can mail you a signed bookplate that sticks inside the book! So if you are gifting Let’s All Be Brave, Perfectly Unique or Speak Love, I’d love to autograph it! And it won’t cost you anything except a few stamps!
. . . . .
Here’s what you have to do to get one:
2. Mail a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
c/0 Annie Downs
PO Box 121826
Nashville, TN 37212
Pretty much, address an envelope to yourself, put a stamp on it, and then fold it into another envelope, address and stamp that outer envelope, and mail it to me.
3. Wait patiently a few days… hang a few ornaments… and then the sticker will come in the mail, personalized by me! Stick it in the book you are gifting, wrap it, and you shall be able to give your friend/child/cousin/person an autographed copy of the book you think they will love!
. . . . .
A few things:
I need to receive your envelope BEFORE DECEMBER 19th to guarantee it gets to you by Christmas.
I will let you know by email when I put the bookplate back in the mail to you! [I’ll have your email address after you fill out this form and I will be able to get in touch with you.]
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If you haven’t seen, new nude magazine cover photos were released of Kim Kardashian this week. (It’s not the first time, but it surely seems to be the most viral release.) It has been hard, nearly impossible, to avoid seeing her full backside displayed, and as of yesterday, her full frontside as well. And while I hope you can get around the internet without passing by these, most won’t be able to. If you can avoid seeing it, do. If you can protect your children from seeing the photos, do.
If you can’t, like I couldn’t, I have a few things to remind you- as a grown woman- and to remind you as you mentor the next generation of women. Please say these things to yourself and to the younger women in your life.
. . . . .
1. We are worth more than this. While the human body is beautiful, this particular display does not add to or celebrate the value and strength of her as a woman. These photographs are not a great reflection of the worth of a woman.
2. Every body is different. We are each uniquely made, uniquely shaped, and uniquely celebrated by God. Therefore…
3. There is not one body that is THE female standard. She is not what we are all supposed to look like. This woman is not our standard. The world will try to convince you, with just a few simple photographs, that we should all look like that. We shouldn’t. I should look like the best version of me, you should look like the best version of you, and we should not feel pressure to conform our bodies into any one shape.
4. You are beautiful the way God made you. I needed that reminder after I saw the pictures, maybe you do too.
5. What the internet says about your body does NOT determine your worth. Positive or negative. What Kim is displaying for every teen girl is, “look! show it all and everyone will LOVE you!” No. No they won’t. They will not respect you, they will not honor you, they will not love you. They will look at you, and they will use you, but it will be short lived and way less awesome than you are imagining.
Also, while we’re here. Likes on your instagram post don’t decide if you’re awesome or not. RTs of your tweets aren’t the what make you valuable. The comments on your posts don’t judge your worth. To quote my friend Cassie, “your online presence is not who you are. It is not your heart. It isn’t your soul. And it is certainly not your value.”
6. Cultivate who you are on the inside. Please. It matters far more the woman you are versus the way you look. Read good books. Deepen your friendships. Learn how to cook. Pray. Jog if you like it. Dance if you want to. Finish school. Become the woman you want to be on the inside, and your inner beauty will radiate out in major ways.
7. Don’t be naked on the internet. Ever.
. . . . .
I’ll leave it at that. Speak to the heart of the young women in your life- remind them of their worth. Speak to your own heart if necessary, and say the kind things. God made you on purpose. This isn’t our standard. This isn’t beauty. These photos need to be a good internal check for all of us to remember what we value, what we honor, and who we are letting determine our truth.
(And yes. You need to talk with young men about these photographs as well. That blog post is coming…)