“Off with the dead!”

The Sago Palm is one of my favorite plants ever. My Bestie (AKA Mrs. Sandra “Greenthumb” Damer) gave me this as a house-warming gift over 5 years ago when I moved to the Dallas area and into my own apartment. It was my first time to ever live alone. I had always lived with my parents or been married; so it was a super big deal that, as I approached [and by “approached” I mean went limp as Mother Nature dragged me by my arm kicking and screaming] 30 years old, I was finally getting to spread my wings and have my own space.

Sadly, a few weeks went by in July of 2016 where I was out of town or just forgot to water my beautiful palm, partly because there were more important things in my house to keep alive, like, um, a baby. I know, I know. Still not a good excuse. It was around the first part of August when I finally went out on the porch to give it a nice big drink. It was bad, y’all, and I had to cut off one big branch that was completely dead. The others were looking pretty yellow, and I honestly thought I was going to lose it. About a week later, I went back out there and these 3 new branches were like this!!!! What?!? That’s awesome! The color even came back to the ones that had turned yellow.


I was thrilled, but it got me thinking about how many times I had wasted so much energy on a dead area of my life, so much so that the other healthy areas start to suffer. Not only that, but it had kept new growth from happening as well. This helped get me started on my mission to focus on the things and people that God had called me to. At that time, I came up with a list of people or things that I believed needed my energy and focus. I even put together a KEEP Collective bracelet to remind me of this very thing. Little did I know it would be just a few weeks later that I would begin the newest season of my life: beginning to cut off branches I didn’t even know were dead in effort to bring the color back to the rest of my life and hopefully survive.


Several months ago I noticed some new growth, and over the course of a few days, three of the most beautiful branches grew from the very center of my “Green Goddess.” They were bigger than I ever imagined would have grown from this plant that I almost lost. All on the same day in May, my divorce was final, I got a promotion at work, and the three new branches on my Sago Palm were fully uncurled and on display. To me this was just a perfect picture of how sometimes, when it seems like all hope is lost, life can be restored. And sometimes, even if it takes a while, life can be bigger and better than you ever expected.

Over the course of the last year or so, my bracelet and plant have been almost daily reminders that dead branches were cut off for a reason, to celebrate the life that has come from the pruning, and to ask myself, “Are there dead branches that still need to be cut off? Am I wasting precious energy on certain relationships, emotions, insecurities, or tasks that I really need to just cut off so that the healthy ones don’t suffer and I can focus that energy on new growth?” It’s hard to cut off dead branches sometimes, but the life that can come from doing so is totally worth it. So if we were hanging out right now and you were struggling with the idea of cutting off some dead branches in your own life, I would raise my glass, encourage you to do the same, and say, “Off with the dead!” [Clink glasses]


“Bless The Cooks!”

Everybody go around the circle and name 10 things you’re thankful for.” My dad says this jokingly every Thanksgiving as we all hold hands to pray before enjoying the beautiful feast that is set before us. Of course we are thankful, but when you’ve been smelling turkey and sneaking pickles from the relish tray all day, you kinda just want to bless the food and dig in. There are, of course, so many things I am thankful for. God and His love, mercy, grace, and provision that I can’t even begin to measure. My precious little boy. God knew exactly what kid I needed when he blessed me with Johnny. I’ve learned more about God’s love and grown more in my faith by being a mother then I ever have in any other season of life. It’s hard at times, but totally worth it. Some other things I’m thankful for, of course, are my home, my job, my church, and yummy food.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
    for His steadfast love endures forever!” 

Psalm 118:29 ESV

What I really want to focus my gratitude on this year are the many people in my life whom I couldn’t live without. This past year or so has been rough, but I look around and see where I am and I just can’t contain the emotions that well up inside of me. I am so incredibly blessed to be where I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and it is only for two reasons: God’s grace and the people He has blessed me with. I look back at the sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure that so many of you have made for Johnny’s and my sake, and I am blown away.

Another phrase that is heard around our family table comes at the end of our mealtime prayers. “Bless the cooks!” I’ve heard this my whole life starting at my Grandpa and Grandma Schmidt’s house at holidays and now at my parent’s house when we have family meals. It’s a reminder to remember to be grateful and pray the Lord’s blessing on those who helped make what we are about to enjoy possible. So on this Thanksgiving Day I want to say “Bless the cooks!” and pray God’s richest blessing on those of you who have sacrificed for me and Johnny, who have helped prepare what is set before us in our life to enjoy.


Hot Mess!!!

Okay. So I’m just gonna put it out there: I am a HOT MESS! So incredibly far from perfect. Just when I feel like things are going pretty good, I feel like God says, “Oh, okay, cool. Let’s work on this area now.” [Rips off bandage to expose an unhealed wound.] Over the past couple weeks, there have been some opportunities for me to extend forgiveness. I truly believe this has been God freeing me from some toxic thinking and blame games in my own mind. But in letting go of those issues, I was left with a pretty big emotional hole in my heart, and I started spiraling, really having to go to God and ask Him to fill that space and to be enough in my life. I am so thankful for my family and friends who never fail to surround me with lots of love and support. I know that I’m not alone in my messiness.

“I have found that allowing myself to feel all the pain also allows me to feel all the love. And that, my friends, is magical!”

Everyone is different, but I firmly believe in two things. [Okay. I firmly believe in a lot of things, but we’ll just talk about these two for now.] First, it’s important to feel the feelings. Okay, sometimes I eat them or try to clean them away. I seriously ate a burger, pizza, or chocolate every single day this past week, and it was delicious. I also tend to straighten up my desk, weed the flowerbeds at work, or clean my entire house when I’m stressing about something. I’m sure it’s just so I can feel like there is some area of order and control in my life. I mean, it’s probably fine for like a second, but I can’t live in “Junk Food & Perfectly Clean Land.” Well, wait; that actually sounds pretty good…no, it’s not healthy. I have to give myself permission to sit in the yucky feelings and ask God to meet me in them. It’s not easy or fun, but it’s necessary. I have found that allowing myself to feel all the pain also allows me to feel all the love. And that, my friends, is magical!

The second thing I firmly believe in is allowing God to use my story, as messy as it is, to bring Him glory. I’m not saying that everyone needs to share all their stuff, but I know that when I have kept things to myself out of fear or embarrassment, then the enemy swoops in, tells me a lie,  and then uses it against me. As open as I am, I don’t share everything with everyone, but as far as I know, I have shared everything with someone – a friend, family member, or counselor. I am constantly asking God to show me areas that still need work. Believe me, He keeps revealing them. My onion has so many layers it would win a blue ribbon at the county fair. Thankfully, my God is incredibly loving, gracious, patient, and merciful with me. He knows my heart is fragile, and He handles it with care.

Recently, I was able to attend and lead worship with some precious friends of mine at the Chase Oaks Church women’s retreat. The theme of the weekend was “My Story Matters,” and a few of us were asked to share a 5-7 minute version of our stories. I had been praying that God would give me an opportunity to narrow down my story so it could be easily shared; then the next day I get an email asking me to do just that. My first thought was “How do I fit MY 34 years into 5-7 minutes?” But I am so glad that I did. Many of you know my journey because you have walked it with me. For those of you who don’t know, this will give you an idea where I’m coming from, and hopefully there is someone who can find healing in knowing they are not alone. In further effort to allow God to shine through my cracks and broken places, here is what I shared at the retreat.


Hi. My name is Ariel Talitha and this is my story:

I grew up in an incredibly loving Christian home. As the oldest of 5 children, I fell right into the typical firstborn role of rule follower and people pleaser.

As far back as I can remember, my dream was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. So at age 20, I married a guy who was a youth pastor, and I thought that my dream had come true. I quickly discovered that was not the case. We had some major issues in the areas of physical intimacy and finances, but the final straw was about 3 and a half years into the marriage when there was an act of abuse that caused me to fear for my life. That day I grabbed my 2 dogs, my guitar, and everything I could fit into a black trash bag, and drove home to Texas.

Because I felt that God had let me down, I decided that I was going to do things my own way. I quickly starting dating a guy who I had known as a kid. Our relationship progressed extremely fast, and 2 months after my divorce was final, we got married. The areas of physical intimacy and money were not an issue for us, but my rebellious heart had blinded me to some other pretty serious areas of control and abuse. In a short period of time, I had basically been stripped of everything that made me who I was and cut off from everyone who loved me. I reached the point where I knew I couldn’t handle one more day in that situation. My plan was to end my own life, but I made one attempt to get help first. I was able to sneak a phone call to my sister and ask if I could come home. She said yes. The next morning when he left for work, I went home and was meeting with a counselor within an hour.

Over the next two years, I threw myself into counseling, Celebrate Recovery, church, and any good book or teaching I could get my hands on. I had surrendered my life back to God, and He was being incredibly gracious to restore so many things and relationships that the enemy had taken away.

In 2012 I met a man who I thought was my knight in shining armor. We had both had a rough past but were on the upswing. I saw how we were going to be a power couple and do great things. We married in 2014 and quickly found ourselves pregnant with our miracle baby. Our marriage wasn’t without its challenges, but 2 years in I looked around and saw that I was living my dream. I was married, we were building a house in a great area, we were a part of a wonderful church where I was able to sing and serve, and I was able to be a stay-at-home mom to my precious little boy. Then on August 23rd of last year, I got a phone call that shattered my world. Over the course of the next few weeks, I found out that my husband had been living a double life and had never been faithful to me. Seven months later I found myself divorced for the third time.

The past year has been an unbelievable journey with God. I find myself each day with opportunities to exercise my faith, hold onto hope, and experience true love. I have been discovering what it means to find my identity as His child and pursue the calling He has placed on my life. What the enemy intended for evil, God is using for His glory.

Today I choose to thank God for my story…because MY STORY MATTERS.”



Okay, sooo… Sometimes #FrenchToastAndChina day isn’t so perfect and glamorous. After a little bit of a sleepless night with my sweet little 2 ½ year old boy, Johnny, he woke me up with a big hug and then got right in my face and asked for pancakes. Now, Saturdays are usually #FrenchToastAndChina day, but I knew we only had two heels of bread left and really who wants that?! Since Johnny is only 2 ½, I am thankful he doesn’t know it’s #FrenchToastAndChina day, so I agree to the pancakes, scoop him up out of the bed, and carry him into the kitchen.
We don’t have all the ingredients for pancakes. Cool. Thankfully, my son doesn’t freak out at all about ANYTHING when it’s doesn’t go his way. Oh, no, wait, that’s someone else’s kid. I was, however, able to find in the fridge half of a leftover pancake that my Mom made when she was here two days ago. Praise the Lord! I glance over to my dining room (I’m being generous when I call it a dining room) table and see that the tablecloth is dirty and so is the table. I have clean laundry piled – socks, underwear, and shoes to be exact. I had to wash the shoes because Opie, my dog, was mad that Johnny and I went on a walk to the dumpster without him and so upon our return he peed on my red shoes. In the middle of the table is my laptop and some overdue bills, which I thought were paid but turns out I was wrong. Sigh!
I knew that half a pancake wasn’t going to cut it since both my toddler and I eat like teenage boys. So I grabbed the two heels of bread, eggs, and almond milk out of the fridge. To my pleasant surprise, I found two pieces of leftover sourdough bread hiding behind some other leftovers that need to be thrown out because they are growing me a new pet and quite frankly I don’t have the energy to keep one more thing in this house alive. I then grabbed the cinnamon, vanilla, mixing bowl, and whisk out of the cupboard. My big helper boy wanted to help me “hatch” the eggs and mix it all up, so we pulled his step stool up to the counter, cracked some eggs, had a lesson in why we don’t lick raw eggs off our hands, and then mommy finished making the French toast. As it was cooking, my sweet little boy, in his precious little voice, asked so nicely for his Donald Duck plate so we can put the syrup in the little circle (I’m actually not being sarcastic here; he was really sweet). The plate was dirty along with what seemed like most of the other dishes in the house, but he was really being so sweet (I don’t know if I’ve really made it clear how sweet he was being). I took a deep breath, gave him a big kiss on the cheek, and washed the plate. He climbed up into his chair and was thrilled that I knew how to put his syrup in a circle. With the way I’ve felt over the past 24 hours, I was pretty impressed myself.

I wasn’t going to get my china plate out to eat on today because I didn’t want to add one more dish to the “hand-wash only” section of the dirty dishes, but I was reminded of something Francis Chan said yesterday during his session at the RightNow Media conference: “What am I saving it for?” The whole reason I even started doing #FrenchToastAndChina was to stop waiting for things to be perfect to use the special things, to use the gifts. I got this china from an adopted grandmother in our church as a gift for my first wedding almost 15 years ago and maybe used it once. Why? Because life over the past 15 years has been FAR from perfect.
This year I made the New Year’s resolution to “Act with Confidence in Areas of Truth.” At first this choice mostly looked like seeking God’s direction and listening for his voice in regards to the choices I was making with the details of my divorce. Then I started finding myself getting out of my comfort zone a little bit in my personal life and enjoying it – pushing past what could possibly be embarrassing, too risky, or imperfect and just going for it, even if “it” was looking someone in the eyes and saying “Hello” or using my china for French toast with my 2 year old on Saturday mornings.
I think about how many gifts we have been given by God and we don’t use them because we are waiting for just the right timing or occasion. We’re waiting until we have things in our lives cleaned up or enough energy or more time. I’m so over that. Today was just another reminder of the precious memories I would miss out on by letting excuses get in the way of just using the gifts in the midst of my messy life. My precious boy and I sat at the table together and thanked God for ALL that He has done for us. We ate yummy food (btw, I’ll probably make all my French toast with sourdough bread from now on), laughed, and read his little devotional book. I am so incredibly thankful for this morning. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure was special.