All photos by Annsley McRae Photography
As many of you already know that I a huge fan of the hilarious, beautiful, author/speaker, and now friend of mine, Annie F. Downs. Therefore, you can only imagine my reaction when I discovered my mom and I had won tickets to her That Sounds Fun Weekend 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. My happiness could not be contained and I immediately wanted to begin planning the details of the trip.
Annie became a part of my life this past December, when Chris and I were moseying around our local Lifeway© Christian bookstore. As I was meandering about a tiny blue book placed on an end cap caught my eye. On the cover was written it’s title Looking For Lovely and for $9.99 it was soon mine. After reading the first couple of chapters, I began following Annie on Instagram and began browsing her website. A few weeks later another one of her books, Let’s All Be Brave, was added to my Amazon© cart and I read (and cried) through it very quickly. At the same time, I began listening to Annie’s “That Sounds Fun” podcast and it immediately became one of my favorite things.
Every bit of Annie’s work is completely uplifting. Whether it is through her literary pieces or in conversations on the podcast, it is all filled with the joy that only Jesus can bring. Her words are comforting and convicting, hilarious yet humbling. She loves the Lord and His presence is evident within all that she does. You just never know what she is going to say on her Instagram story or what she will share when she is speaking in person. One thing is for certain though, her laughter is contagious. She has an aptitude for making connections with people, inspiring others, and all things random. Three things I am in completely in favor of.
It was only by the grace of God that I was able to attend the TSF Weekend. The Lord opened many closed doors that I had once thought would keep me from venturing to Nashville. The last weekend of July had originally been blocked off at my work, in which case no employees were allowed time off. In the back of my mind I was also still thinking about transportation. God overcame both of these obstacles for me. In a causal conversation, my supervisor said it would be perfectly fine for me to take the weekend off. My amazing friend Sara had already been planning to drive to Nashville that weekend to visit her sister and graciously offered for me to ride along with her. My heart was overwhelmed! My mom, thankfully, was able to take off work as well. Soon she and my Grandma were commuting from the middle of Missouri to the Music City. I love reuniting with family/friends, especially with my Mom, my best friend. I ran to hug her the minute I saw her standing in the hotel parking lot and just like that our we were off!
The weekend events began Friday night at Forest Hills Baptist Church. As we entered the church each of us were given a name tag and a swag bag filled with goodies given by Annie. Pearl the Summer Time Pegasus was on display for photos, as were golden pineapples. The atmosphere was definitely filled with everything Annie and I knew that all 100 plus women and I were in for tons of fun.
The night began with Annie personally welcoming us, followed by a delicious dinner, and a live recording of the TSF Podcast. Eddie Kaufholz, producer and host of The New Activist podcast, spoke with Annie. He captured the entire room with his hilarity. Performances by Kelleigh Bannen, David Barnes, and Christy Nockels followed. Each of the artist took a moment to speak with Annie and each were equally entertaining. They shared stories about their life, faith, and hopes for the future.
To cap off the evening Annie spoke about how Jesus desires for us to experience joy and how she hoped that this weekend would be a breath of relief in our lives. She believes having fun can be a Holy experience and shared the message of Psalm 126 with us. In this chapter, the Bible says:
When the Lord brought them back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter, and we sang with joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!
Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. NLT
Though Psalm 126 is short in words its meaning rings resound. Annie’s prayer was for all everyone to be filled with armloads of blessings, because Lord has done amazing things for us.
Things became very personal for me on Saturday morning. After Annie’s yoga instructor, Emmy Singer, lead us in a work out we brunched on amazing food prepared by Alex White, owner of Milk and Honey Food Company (side note, her husband is Drake White, got to love these Country Music connections). During this time of eating Annie individually invited each of the winners of the “Isn’t She Fun!” Contest to the stage to speak. This of course, included my mom and I. After seeing four groups of beautiful and bubbly women walk on stage and share their story I became was entirely nervous.
Finally, Annie announced us, “Kristi and Kohlie, mom and daughter duo, come on up!”. Tears filled my eyes as I started speaking about the reasons why I had originally nominated my mom in the contest.
A little over a year ago my family entered a season of drastic change. May of 2016, I married my husband, an active duty service member in the U.S. Navy and moved to Pensacola, Florida, where he is currently stationed. Three weeks after I said “I do” my brother left for Army basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. Almost overnight my parents went from having two loud teenagers running around their house to being completely empty nesters. This transition has taken a major toll on all of us, because we have always been such a unified group. We are very very close, to the point of believing that we are unbreakable. My mom took this shift very personally. It has been a very difficult adjustment with her children living so far away from her. She is brave, strong, and completely supportive of all that my brother and I do. What is more, she is also an advocate for veterans and active in supporting the troops in anyway that she can; whether it be bundling up care packages, participating in the REAL Military PenPals Group, or attending events such as Central Missouri Honor Flight. She truly has a heart to serve those who serve.
My words were not this well put as I was standing on the stage speaking with Annie fighting back my tears. Annie asked my mom how it felt to be nominated and she replied in saying she was undeserving, a typical answer from the sincere heart of my humble mother. She never gives herself enough credit, but she is beyond worthy.
Before our conversation came to a close I asked Annie if I could say one more thing. She Without any hesitation she replied, “Of course!” I then thanked her for sharing in her most recent book, Looking For Lovely, about her struggle in having PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Just this past March I was diagnosed with the same condition. Annie asked me to share more about how I discovered that I had PCOS then she offered to pray for me. I was completely floored and being the awkward individual that I am, I said “Oh, you really do not have to do that”. She responded, “No, I want to”.
Annie and my mom both put there arms around me and invited all other women in the room, struggling with a similar situation, to pray over themselves. Annie, along with 100 plus other women, prayed over my ovaries, overall health, my husband, and the future generation of my family line. To some this simple prayer may seem small, but to me it meant everything. I felt like God had brought me to Nashville for this moment alone to be fulfilled. This prayer that was spoken on my behalf overflowed me with hope for my future.
The rest of the weekend was, as promised, packed with fun. Saturday night we sat in the pews of The Grand Ole’ Opry and listened to the most glorious country music. Sunday morning we gathered in Sevier Park to hear to Sadie Robertson speak. In person she is everything that you might imagine her to be, beautiful and oh so humble. Her presence is so sweet and sincere. She spoke about how easy is to let fear consume our lives and encouraged us to not just ask God to change our situation, but to change our hearts.
There are some moments in life that leave you without words. Tears are filling my eyes as I share this with you, because my little story started long before my first time visiting Nashville. I am not sharing this with you to boast about all the fun I had with my mom at Annie F. Downs’ That’s Sounds Fun Weekend 2017. My purpose in writing goes beyond golden pineapples, Pegasus’s, and perfect weekends. I want you to know that God can take bad things that happen in your life and turn them into bright memories. If you hand Him your burdens He will offer you armloads of blessings.
Please go past reading my blog and purchase Annie’s books. Subscribe to the “That Sounds Fun Podcast”, it is a decision you will not regret. Follow Annie on Instagram, Facebook, and on any form of social media in between. She openly admits on each episode of her podcast that she is embarrassingly easy to find. This beautiful woman is releasing her latest book, 100 Days to Brave, on October 24. It will be on the shelves of Target and I plan to stockpile several to give to my friends and neighbors. I will also be giving a copy of the book away to one of the Psalm 139 All the Time readers, more details on this in the future. In the meantime, I am committed to praying for Annie’s ministry as well as her personally, and I invite you to do the same.
Armloads of blessings everyone.