Hey Sisters!

I don’t know about you, but I need some “light-heartedness” for just a bit. It’s been SO heavy between hurricane stuff & political stuff. I need a good dose of nonsense, AND for the temperature to drop for about 20 degrees. Sadly, I think we’re outta luck with the temps, so let’s just stick to the nonsense, shall we?

I was going through some of my emails, trying to reply to as many of you as I could. And then it occurred to me that I could answer your questions here! Plus, I’ll add a few more.

A Few of My Favorite Fall Things

Hands down – no competition – the question I get asked the most is:

1. Carmen, what is your favorite Fall candles – or – what were the candles you mentioned on air the other day?

I have 3 favorite FALL candles! They are (in order):

a. Rewined Pinio Grigio. I love, love, love this candle. It’s soft and not over-powering. It makes me happy! You can get it HERE. I buy mine from Candle Delirium. Amazon also has them!

 

b. I sure love this one too. It’s a Voluspa’s Baltic Amber. It’s a little stronger than the Rewined, so I like burning this one at home. I have vaulted ceilings, so this one fills up the house a little more. I buy mine at Anthropologie. But, I also order from Candle Delirium too.

c. Dave introduced me to this one several years ago. It’s the Woodwick Fireside candle. When I’m watching college football on Saturday night, and want to pretend it’s cold and that I have a fireplace, I light this! It’s strong! It smells AND sounds like a fire. It’s amazing!

 

2. Carmen’s what color nail polish are you wearing on your fingers & toes?

On my nails: Malaga Wine. It’s OPI, and I love it for Fall! {btw, it looks more red in the pic than what it is}.

On my toes: My Private Jet. It’s a taupe-y gray with a slight shimmer. I would wear it year round if they’d let me, but my sweet girl who does my toes tells me “no, you have to wear summer colors for the beach, Carmen!”

3. What Lipstick are you wearing?

I wear several in the Fall:

My favorite lipgloss is Beautycounter’s Fig. The thing I love most about Beautycounter’s lipgloss is that it isn’t sticky like most! I normally wasn’t a lipgloss girl, but I laid down my Burt’s Beeswax last year, and I’ve looked to other things to keep my lips from being chapped. I wore Burt’s forever, but found that the more I used it, the more I needed it. Abbey convinced me to stop. It was HARD. But, now I wear Fig pretty much every day in September, October & November. Just FYI, I do rep BC, so you can click on the BC tab if you’re interested. Beautycounter is fairly new, and they use all safe ingredients. Fig isn’t as dark as it looks. It’s so pretty! And light! This isn’t a pitch. I just really love it! If you’re interested, you can order at www.beautycounter.com/carmenbrown.

I also love Mac’s Capricious & Velvet Teddy!

4. Carmen, what that protein stuff you put in your coffee every morning? 

It’s Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. You can get it here. My girlfriend, Carolyn, introduced me several years ago. It’s a great source of protein! I use it every day! I just recently bought the individual servings, so I could take it on the go with me, if I’m traveling etc. It’s unflavored, so you don’t taste it in your coffee. It’s oh-so-good for you!

5. THIS.

I’ve never been a fan of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes. And you know I love me some Starbizzle. But, they’re too sweet for me. However, Haley introduced me to this creamer. And I’ll admit, I’m pretty hooked. I like black coffee in the morning. But, later in the day, a little shot of this in my afternoon coffee is delightful! GET SOME! Oh, and it’s also Whole30 compliant!

 

6. “Morning Pumpkin” Mug! 

 

I love mugs! I have more than I’ll ever use. But, this one is just adorable, and perfect for Fall! You can get it here:


Ok, that’s enough for now. I am working on my official Favorite Things for this Christmas, and already have a good list going! Comment below and tell me some of your favorite things!

What I learned during Katrina. Yes, I mean Katrina.

Before Katrina, I was the girl who watched a natural disaster on television and then ran to my closet to see what I could donate. After that I’d look in my pantry, pull out the cans of beans that were left over from last year’s soup season, and then after that – still on my good-hearted, well-meaning quest – I’d rummage through other things I’d been meaning to take to Goodwill. I absolutely shudder even writing this now. I’m just being straight up with you.

But then Katrina happened.

Right after Katrina, our listening family rallied together and did a gift card drive. It was amazing. We collected tens of thousands of dollars worth of gift cards and even had a private pilot, Don, offer to fly us directly to the hardest hit area in his plane to hand-deliver the cards.

We left Tampa early one morning and made our way to Biloxi, one of the devastated “victims” of Katrina’s destruction. When we landed, a sweet guy from the Salvation Army picked us up in his Ford F350.

He drove us around and showed us the damage. It was a war zone. Traffic lights were non-existent which, as crazy as it sounds, was not a problem because no one was there! I’m talking zero signs of life. Several big, offshore casinos the size of a Carnival Cruise Ship had been picked up by the storm and set down on the OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET. Not the water side! The land side. Across the road.

But…. even with all of this ruin and desolation, the thing I saw that hit me the hardest was a consistent series of red X’s on homes.

These were FEMA markings. The red X’s were spray painted on the houses. In each quadrant of the X, the markings represented such things as the date the house was inspected, whether or not the gas line was still intact, and any other pertinent information that was needed about the home. That was efficient. But in the bottom quadrant was a number. This number represented how many people had been found dead in the home. It was chilling. We passed so many homes with a “2,” “4,” “8.” I remember the highest number I saw being a “9.” I wanted to cry. And when we passed one that said “0,” I cheered inside!

We made our way to the Salvation Army’s (makeshift) Community Center. It was a huge field set up with hundreds of tents. Some tents were medical. Some contained personal hygiene items. Others were for water. Still others were for clothing, shoes, blankets and such.

I talked to many families there. Their eyes spoke a mix of desperation and gratitude. Happy to be alive, but desperate and exhausted and unsure of what the next days, weeks, and even years would look like. They were totally displaced, having lost every single thing they owned.

After spending a few hours at the Community Center, our host took us back to the Salvation Army warehouse. Imagine with me a warehouse the size of a football field. Enclose this football field, and that was the size of the building. (Maybe even bigger!) He walked us in and said, “Now I want to show you the other job that tragedies bring us.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but he explained. As we walked though the warehouse, we saw broken baby cribs that only “needed a spindle here and there.” Hundreds of grills that “just needed a little work.” There were tons of other things. Tables, some with chairs, some without. Mattresses with stains. Couches that looked like they’d been taken from the back of a frat house. And garbage bags on top of garbage bags on top of garbage bags full of clothes and shoes that needed to be sorted, inspected, washed, and potentially distributed. Or discarded.

What did all this landfill stuff mean? Someone cared! But, what did it really mean? The unintentional message was, “I care enough to de-clutter, but not quite enough to cost me something.”

Bob said, “We can either help the people or we can sort and fix and wash and determine how ‘gently used’ things are. We can’t do both.” He went on to say that they graciously accepted all donations, but then they brought them here to sit until they could get around to all the sorting, and that could be months from then.

He shared with us that he, too, once had the same well-intentioned but misguided mentality about helping. That was before he started working in Disaster Relief. And it was then, he said, that God gave him this verse from 1 Chronicles 21:24:

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it for the full price. I will not take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not present burnt offerings that have cost me nothing!”

Note the last line, “I will not (give offerings) that have cost me nothing!” That was David’s response to a gracious offer from a sincere person (Araunah) who wanted to help in a dire situation by giving away some of his land. Why did David refuse? He recognized the difference between a response that would be cheap and easy for him and one that would be hard and costly and effective. So he paid full price (the equivalent of over $200,000 today).

I think the whole reason we want to help is sincere! We love Jesus, and as believers we are drawn to those in need. We are to love others as we love ourselves! We are compelled to do this. We WANT to do this! So we jump on the need with our surplus, without really considering the cost.

Let’s really think about what that looks like. What are we really communicating? I love you enough to give you what I really didn’t want anymore anyway?

I know my words will cause some to bristle. That’s okay. I get it! I know there are some who want to give but simply can’t. I get that too. I truly do. I know there are some who will say, “But Carmen, it really is gently used.” And it most likely is. But how one person defines gently used is vastly different from how someone else defines gently used and what Disaster Relief experts can really use.

Instead of getting into all of the “buts & asterisks,” and there are many—please hear my heart. I am looking more at the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, so to speak. Speaking only for myself, I wanted to help, but I didn’t want to help sacrificially! I wanted to re-allocate my Goodwill run to Katrina, or tornado victims, or a family that had just lost everything they owned to a house fire.

Think about it. If you have lost absolutely everything, and someone brings you a gift, do you want to put on a brand new pair of shoes? Or do you want somebody’s old clothes that they were about to throw out? How would it feel, having lost everything, to put on a brand new shirt? Or would you rather have someone’s that has their perfume or cologne scent, their pricking? It almost fits you but could be taken in or out just a little bit.

I bring this up not to discourage anyone. This is the very last thing I want! But because as the body of Christ, we have been given an INCREDIBLE opportunity to love well!! Let’s do it, friends! I know the old adage is, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” But some of our sweet neighbors have lost EVERYTHING! Let’s treasure them enough to give treasures they can make their very own!

I love The Message version of the verse I referenced above:

I’m not going to offer God sacrifices that are no sacrifice.

What if that were our mentality in helping? Maybe then our help, like David’s sacrifice, would address the real need and bring real healing into dire situations like we’ve seen from Irma. Our good intentions are a start, but real help requires a thoughtful, intentional, sacrificial response.

I have been asked recently how I have been able to maintain my faith while living on a college campus. From an outside perspective, faith and “the college experience” don’t seem to coincide… and in a lot of aspects they don’t. I had to figure it out myself when I got to Tallahassee. But through the grace of God and making some hard but smart decisions, it is possible to reconcile the two worlds of a college student wanting to stay true to their faith. Thankfully, I have navigated (and am still navigating) how to walk with Jesus and have the best college experience I could ever imagine.

This time two years ago, I was getting ready to leave home and start a life in Tallahassee as a Florida State University student. I was just as nervous as I was excited. Everyone has the idea of what a traditional “college experience” looks like. To be completely truthful, I was excited about having that experience myself. I had almost everything about my college life planned out, from joining a sorority to living with the roommate I’d met online. (Kinda sketchy sounding, I know, but hey I’m still here…so I guess it turned out okay!) The only thing I wasn’t quite sure of was how my faith was going to fit in to my plans. My faith became real to me my senior year of high school, and it was the first time I truly asked Jesus to be the center of my life. I remember having conversations with my mom on her bed saying, “Gosh! I want to be a Christian, I just hope I don’t get sucked into that college lifestyle,” which makes me laugh now because I acted as if I didn’t have the choice.

I enrolled at Florida State during the summer semester of 2015. I’d been advised by some friends a few grades above me that a summer start was the best way to go, because it gives you a chance to get comfortable with the campus and classes before everything really picks up for the fall. I also used that semester to try out the “college experience” and see just how much fun I was going to have in what everybody refers to as “The Best Four Years of Your Life!” During that time, when I was completely honest with myself, I knew the “fun” wasn’t living up to all the hype. I tried to ignore all the guilt I had while accompanying my roommate into bars and clubs, telling myself that it was what’s normal and what you’re supposed to do in college. After a few weeks, I got tired of convincing myself I was having fun and justifying how awful I felt on the inside. I decided that the fun of the “party girl” lifestyle wasn’t worth feeling so bad about myself. I was exhausted from thinking, “It’s just what you have to do in college,” and pushing away the conviction of the Holy Spirit inside me.

I decided that I wanted to use my four years to grow in my faith and follow the Lord’s will for my life rather than rely on my salvation and God’s grace as an excuse to do whatever I wanted. I knew I needed to make some really important decisions and take some actions that would ultimately change the way the next four years would go. Luckily, the summer semester was coming to an end, and I had the fall to establish some new, healthier habits that would allow me to be the person I knew I wanted to be. My heart and mind embraced a new way of thinking: I didn’t want to give up what I wanted ultimately to satisfy what I wanted immediately.

So, here are some of the things I’ve been learning that have helped me to walk out my faith while being surrounded by all of the temptations of college. Granted, I do not have it figured out…at all!! In fact some of the things on this list I am still forcing myself to do (or am in the process of doing). I’ve learned that it’s all about finding balance and knowing that you’re not always gonna get it 100% right, but knowing truth and chasing Jesus will never steer you wrong.

Community. There is no way you can do it alone. In fact, the Lord commands that we live in community. The first thing I knew I needed to do was surround myself with a community of other Christ followers from the get go. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. For me, this community is Young Life. Going into college, I thought that I was going to join a sorority and make all of my best friends through Greek life, but I am so glad I decided not to. This is not me saying that sororities are bad. At all! Some of the best girls I’ve met on campus are in sororities. It’s just about knowing how much of your time you have to invest in things and finding the balance of what fills you up both personally and spiritually. For me, pledging wasn’t in the balance. Young Life was my first instinct because it’s what I was most familiar with from high school, which is the beauty of this organization. I started attending Young Life College events and quickly met some of my best friends, three of whom are my current roommates. It also became a place that I could do ministry by becoming a Young Life leader. YL is one of the best and most worthy organizations I’ve ever given my time and energy to. While this has been a great fit for me, Young Life is certainly not the only way to meet college-aged believers. There are countless campus ministries and student groups with the sole purpose of connecting college-aged Christ followers. Use whatever your campus’ version of “club rush” is to learn about all of the ministries your campus has to offer. Finding your community is the best way to set yourself up for success in pursuing your faith in college.

Find and become involved in* a local church. I put an asterisk by “become involved in” because that is something I’m still working on doing. This is something that the Lord calls us to do as Christ followers, and I believe it is just as important in college. This is another place where you can establish community. I spent my first year trying out different churches before I ultimately settled on one this past year. I know as a college student who goes to bed sometimes only hours before the real world is getting up for the day, its hard to get yourself out of bed before noon! (I’m speaking from experience.) Most churches around campuses have a Sunday evening service that works well for many people. But even if your campus-area churches don’t offer such convenient times, commit to going every Sunday you can. When I make going to church a priority, It gives me a consistency in my week and makes my new city feel like home.

Staying in the word. I’m already halfway through college and just this past summer had a revelation about how not only important, but FUN reading the Bible is! It is the only tangible thing we have on earth that is the word of God. Growing up, I had the misconception that because it was written so long ago, that the Bible has nothing to do with our lives today. Goodness! That could not be further from the truth! Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I feel like as Millennials, the only thing we crave more than free food is something to light and guide our path. Well, we have that light, if we can learn to see it.

I’m writing this post because I want girls my age to know that it IS possible to be on a college campus and not only maintain but grow in your faith. The temptations are real, but the promises and blessings of God are so much better! I am so thankful the Lord has found me time and time again and allowed me to use this season of my life to grow closer to him than ever before. If I’m being truthful, there are moments when I still wonder if I am missing out on anything or not getting the full “college experience.” But by being surrounded with like-minded community and constantly hearing truth, I remember that there is so much more to life than boys and bars.

About a month ago, I took some of my high school girls to camp at Sharptop Cove and was really struck by something our camp speaker said. He said, “If the God who created the mountains and the sky and the seas and something as magnificent as all of humanity is real, do you really think the best he could come up with for fun is beer pong and hookups?” As funny as it is, it’s SO true. When I wonder if I am missing out on the fun of college, I think about how I have had the best overall two years of my life, experiencing more real, meaningful fun than I could imagine ever existed. Because following Jesus is fun, and living life with people who love him just as much as you is one of the greatest gifts he could ever give us, we CAN and should maintain our faith in every season of life, especially while in college.