Friday, November 18, 2016

You're Not Behind


"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
Jeremiah 29:11

What do you do when it seems like everyone is ahead of you?

This is a question I have struggled with constantly these past couple of years. As long as I can remember, my greatest desire for my life has been to get married and be a stay at home mom. My career goals have changed a million times and then some. I have watched these past few years as siblings and close friends enter serious relationships, get engaged, get married, start families, enter their dream careers, or any combination of those things. Through all of it, I have yet to even go on a single real date or have a clear and consistent career aspiration. I have watched my greatest dreams for myself happen for everyone except me. As a sister and a friend, it is important for me to be genuinely happy and excited for all of them...and I honestly am. Yet it would be a lie if I didn't say that every time I see the hand holding, the rings on their fingers and the lovey-dovey photos on Facebook, the happiness I feel is accompanied by deep pangs of hurt and even emptiness. You see everyone making the progress in life you so desperately desire, and you feel behind. Those same people try to assure me that I'm young, I don't need to worry about it and I'll find someone. Yet most of those people met their significant others before they were my age, so their comfort doesn't have true understanding behind it. It's a difficult place of life to be in.

I used to ask God why He was punishing me this way...and sometimes, on bad days, I still do. Why is He making me watch everyone around me find love and begin families and jump into long-desired careers while I'm so far behind? Why is He giving my greatest dreams and desires to everyone except me? It seemed so harsh to me...and it sometimes still does. I have come to a point where I honestly don't see anything ahead, which on its own is scary. Add to that seeing your family and friends' career aspirations coming to life, along with them having fulfilling romantic relationships and starting families of their own, my own life feels even more empty, and sometimes even hopeless. Yet I press 'like' on the mushy photos and gush at the engagement rings with a smile that is half-genuine and half-forced, feeling guilty that my loved ones' happiness causes me pain.

So what do you do? What do you do when it feels like you're behind? What do you do when it feels like you're losing? What do you do when you watch your own dreams come to life for everyone else and not for you? What do you do when you feel like you're a captive to hopelessness and your life isn't going anywhere?

Yes, I have God, and God is all we need. Yet let's be honest, those people who have love and careers around me also have God. It's not about simply having God, it's being complete in Him as you are. Some people dream of marriage, some don't. Some people who desire to get married and have families don't get one or either of those things. Some people end up with the career they've wanted their entire life. Others change careers even in adulthood. What matters is being able to say that if I never get married or if I never have kids, I'll be ok. I know I can have a fulfilling life without either of those things. I can be happy in a career I never thought of having. Am I 100% there yet? Honestly, no. I'm working towards it every day. Being ok doesn't mean I'm giving up. I have time to meet someone, get married and start a family...it may not be in my own planned-out timing, but it could still happen. Yet my life won't be any less amazing or fulfilling if I don't get those things. God will reveal His plans for my career. It may not be what I had been so set on, but it will happen. With every new engagement, wedding, and pregnancy announcement, I feel a little less inner turmoil than the last. With every long-dreamt career goal that comes to life, I feel a bit more genuinely excited. I am beginning to honestly trust God with my own unknown future. I am slowly learning to feel complete, even in my unknown. I am not less whole being single than being married. There is no less fulfillment in a career revealed by God on the brink of graduation (or even later) than one dreamed of for many years. I am not less than because I don't have those things as early as my friends, or because God's plan is different for me than it is for them.

The point is simply this: never stop dreaming, but be ok if your dreams don't happen the way you thought they would. Know that in God, you are enough in your own right because having a spouse is not what makes you complete, it's your identity in Christ. Your career goals may change a million times, you may not have a specific career in mind at all, but God will reveal that part of your path in His timing. Just because you see nothing ahead doesn't mean that there is nothing ahead. God planned a life for each of us greater than any adventure we have read about in any book. Those who have found their career and found love earlier in life are not ahead or any better off. Don't feel as if you are falling behind, or God wants to bless them more than you. His plan for you isn't the lesser one, it is simply a different one. Dreams and desires are important, but the greatest dream and desire we can ever have is to seek God whole-heartedly and to do God's will in our life, no matter how much it may differ from our own plans. That is where true fulfillment is found.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Faith Like That...


"After they [Paul and Silas] had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them."
Acts 16:23-25

Paul and Silas ended up in those horrid conditions for simply casting a demon out of a girl, a demonic possession that had been a business for that girl's master. Casting out demons was an ability Jesus gave to his followers through his Holy Spirit...Paul and Silas had done as Jesus Christ had done, and they did it through his spirit. Despite the fact that their actions were just and of God, they still suffered horrendous consequences for those actions. They were flogged (a punishment they were legally exempt from due to their Roman citizenship), and then they were thrown into the inner cell of the prison- the area with the most disgusting of conditions with their feet bound and their severe wounds untreated. They were suffering through terrible, unjust circumstances, and yet it was in those agonizing moments that they prayed and sang hymns to God.

Could you even imagine being in that situation? You have done no wrong, yet you are sentenced as if you were a criminal. The skin on your back is torn and bleeding, your feet are bound, and you're in a cell filled with human waste. You're in horrendous pain, surrounded by sickening smells and deep darkness...and you choose to sing to God.

It's hard to relate to those physical conditions, but we too face our own pains and imprisonments in our lives. We are hurt by those we trust, we are rejected, and we are treated unjustly. We are abused and wounded by the words and actions of others, and we face pain and heartbreak. We struggle through depression and anxiety and fear and hurt. We become prisoners to our overwhelming emotions and situations. Yet what Paul and Silas so beautifully display in Acts 16 is that even when we are treated unjustly, even when we are hurting and we feel trapped by our circumstances, we still have the ability to choose to sing. God is good, even when our circumstances are not- because of that, we can sing through our struggles. Paul and Silas could have groaned and complained and questioned God, yet instead they prayed and sang in faith, and God showed up.

"Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose."
Acts 16:26


When life gets difficult and depression sets in, I want to have faith like Paul and Silas. I want to have faith strong enough to sing songs of praise even when I feel like there is seemingly nothing good in my life. I want to have faith powerful enough that it shakes the foundations of the earth. I want to have faith so enduring that I can pray and sing from the moment I feel the chains of my circumstances bind me all the way until those same chains are broken. Even when we don't even see a reason for getting up in the morning, with just a mustard seed worth of faith, we will see that we have a reason to sing a song of joy.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Letter To My Thirteen Year Old Self

Dear Thirteen Year Old Me,

It's not too often that I think of you. It's been eight years, and remembering you is still difficult...the memories are vivid, but I wish they were not. But here are some things I wish I could tell you:

In a few years, you will finally truly experience God for the first time. I wish you would experience Him right now and save yourself from the hopelessness and the pain and the scars. I know you want to give up, but a meaningful life is coming for you, so hold on just a little bit longer. You will finally meet your savior here on earth, and He will save you in every sense of the word. He is the hero you don't even realize you need yet.

People say terrible things to you. Their words cut you down, and you are allowing it. You allow others' hurtful words to become your genuine thoughts. Here is the truth, though. You are not defined by the words of bullies, of those who hate you for simply being you. I wish you knew the words of Psalm 139:14...a reference now tattooed forever upon me because of what you're facing. You have so much worth, but you are blind to that truth right now. I promise that one day, in a few years, the words that you are allowing to define you will be nothing...you will be defined by God's truth.

I know that right now, you have no thoughts on how serious it is to be hurting and scarring yourself. You think you will spend your entire life doing this, and that it is the key to continue living. I know you don't believe this, but one day you will stop. You will be free of your newly formed addiction. I wish you cared about the reality of permanently scarring yourself. I wish you understood that the body you are in was created by God, and that it is beautiful and precious for that reason alone. I wish you understood that you deserve better from yourself. But it's ok. I forgive you, and I am not ashamed of you. Your pain is my testimony; what you use for darkness, I now use for light.

You're going to be okay. I know that you feel like you're alone, drowning, and hopeless. I know that you are overwhelmed by the intensity of your pain, depression, and self-hatred. I know you think, and sincerely hope, that you will never even make it to the age of eighteen. But here I am, twenty one years old, saying that the season you are in will eventually pass. When you meet God oh so soon, it will change everything.

If I could travel back and tell you that you made it to your twenties, and that you are truly happy, you would never believe me. For awhile, I was ashamed of you...of your thoughts, of your actions, and of the pain you cause yourself and those that love you. But I have learned to love you because God does, and every not-okay thing you have done and will do will ultimately not be in vain. God will use your painful, shame-filled choices for His glory. While I wish you would go down a brighter and straighter path, I am where I am now because of you. So thank you for surviving long enough for God to touch your life...I live fully today because you held onto your existence by a thread. God will help you overcome all of your shameful, self-destructive ways, and because of that, I now know He will help me overcome anything I might face. I am a better and stronger person because of you. You are not some past version of me that I hate and regret. You are a testimony that God can take a dark and hardened heart, and He can transform it into something beautiful and full of life.

Sincerely,

The woman you never imagined you could be

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Enough


"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
Psalm 139:14

I have spent most of my life comparing myself to others. "She is more beautiful than me." "He is more intelligent than me." "She is a better Christian than me." "He is funnier than me." "She has more friends because she is a better person than me." And the list goes on...

I never wanted to be in pictures with my friends because I looked like the "ugly fat friend". I tried to avoid spiritual conversations because, "they are so spiritually intelligent, I'll just sound stupid." I compared myself to others so much that I held myself back so no one else could see how "inferior" I was compared to everyone else. How could I ever measure up to those around me?!

Comparison is one of most easy, natural, and dangerous habits to engage in. We all have people around us, and so our human nature constantly causes us to compare ourselves to those people. Some people think they are better than those around them and see themselves as superior. Others, like myself, think they are worse than everyone around them and see themselves as inferior. Those who see themselves as superior convince themselves it's a healthy sense of confidence. For the longest time, I tried to convince myself that my feelings of inferiority were simply a healthy sense of humility. We try to mask the reality of what comparison has done to our minds, yet the truth comes out despite the mask. I couldn't hide the negative effects comparison had on my mind and self-esteem. Many of my compliments to others came with insults aimed towards myself. Self-deprecating jokes were the norm. I felt, and sometimes still feel like everyone around me is better than me, and everyone knows that. Yet the comparison and constantly not feeling good enough were more damaging than I ever knew.

We all want to be "enough": good enough, smart enough, pretty/handsome enough, spiritual enough...we want to measure up to those around us. The truth is that on our own, we cannot and will not ever be enough. Without God, we are only a small portion of ourselves. With God, we are whole and complete in our identity, and that is how we become "enough". God does not put more or less effort into the people He makes. I wanted to be as beautiful as my best friend, but Christ designed my physical being with as much care as hers. Therefore, I am pretty enough. God created me with an intense desire to learn. Therefore, I am smart enough. God ignited within me a passion to ponder and meditate on His word, and to worship Him and feel His presence. Therefore, I am spiritual enough. God gave me a heart to love and serve others. Therefore, I am good enough.

I have come to see the harsh reality that when I undermine how God created me as an individual and see myself as less than those around me, I am insulting His work...His creation. God didn't want me to have the same exact looks, mind, talents, or spirit as anyone else. The theme of my college this year is "Live Your Purpose", and it is my motivation to avoid the destructive act of comparison. God created each of us with unique, one-of-a-kind sets of traits, skills, and gifts specifically for our unique purpose in this world. We were never meant to compare ourselves to others because we were each created to fulfill God's individual plan for our life. We can be inspired and mentored by others, and learning from others is crucial in order for us to grow into the best version of ourselves as individuals. But we were never meant to attempt to emulate another person's exact being. The world doesn't need a replica of Abraham or Moses or Daniel or Paul. The world doesn't need another Kim Walker or Steven Furtick or Judah Smith. God created the sun, the moon, and the stars. He created mountains and seas, day and night. God, the creator of Heaven and earth, looked at the world and decided that it needed the unique creation that is you.

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Ephesians 2:10

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Be Still


"He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.'"
Psalm 46:10‭-‬11

"Be still, and know that I am God." For weeks, those words have been like a song stuck in my head. Life seems to move a million miles a minute, one circumstance after another. The world is unpredictable, as are the lives we lead. I am sure there are many others, like myself, who become overcome with stress and anxiety when unexpected circumstances beyond our own personal control enter our lives. Lately, there seems to always be an uncontrollable situation that makes my mind and heart anxious, where I try to find any worldly way to control and fix whatever is happening. My spirit, as a result, has been unsettled. It hasn't been unsettled by the uncontrollable circumstances themselves, but by the fear and anxiety I have been feeling. I have come to understand just how greatly my anxieties affect my spiritual life.

I felt two pressing questions from God on my heart in the middle of everything. The questions were, "If nothing goes the way you are planning and hoping, will you still trust in me?" and "Would you be able to simply be still and know that I am God, even if the worst happens?" Wanting to be a "good Christian", I wanted to believe the answer to both was "Of course!"...but I knew that my fears contradicted that response. I realized that I trusted in my own thoughts of what I believed should be rather than God's plans.

In the best moments and the worst moments, he is still God. If nothing goes to plan and every worst-case scenario comes to pass, he is still God. When I set aside my fears and anxieties and began to live out that truth, peace came over me like an ocean wave.

We can't depend on our desired plans to defend us from the unknowns that we fear in life. There is, of course, great power in the prayers we speak to God. Yet one of the most powerful prayers we can offer up to God is unspoken: when we give him all of our cares, relinquish what control we want to believe we have, and trust that he's got it. It is in this truth that our fears pass away and genuine peace can be found. Once you begin to be still in the knowledge of who God is, light will begin to shine through even the darkest crevices of your life. Our defense from life's hardships and unknowns cannot be found in our own mere human plans for what we think should be. It is simply being still, and knowing that he is God...that is our light and our fortress.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Exodus 14:14

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Freedom in Forgiveness


"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Colossians 3:13


Forgiveness is something required of us from the time we are children, and a lesson we learn earlier than our minds can probably even remember. It's required when a sibling accidently breaks your toy, or when someone calls you a name on the playground. As young as we might be when we first learn the importance of forgiveness, it never seems to become easy. As we get older, the offenses against us become greater, and so our ability to forgive becomes seemingly more difficult. Forgiveness is always a difficult decision to make and even more difficult to genuinely do, no matter how many times you've had to forgive.

I was bullied a decent amount in middle school. I was called fat, ugly, annoying...and it affected me. Yet ultimately, I came to see those instances as more petty than cruel, so I was able to label them as middle school immaturity and forgive them. When I began my 7th grade year, though, I was tested in my ability to forgive. I had a classmate who, every single day of that school year without fail, said to me, "Nobody likes you. You should jump off of a bridge and kill yourself." It was a much more cruel sentiment than calling me fat. It seemed so much more hateful, and so it hurt much more. It wasn't a random immature comment in passing, but a constant and intentional effort to hurt me. I couldn't write it off as I had in other instances of verbal bullying. Each day I would hear those words again, and then again the next day, for over a hundred days. My hurt grew with each day, as well as my bitterness towards that person. Forgiveness wasn't even a thought, because he seemed so undeserving of forgiveness. He threw those same hurtful words at me day after day, so I knew he wasn't sorry. Of course there are other, more intense situations where forgiveness was more difficult than this, but this was the most severe situation I felt comfortable publishing.

I never knew the true importance of forgiveness until I gave my life to God. It wasn't until the God of Heaven and earth forgave me, every sin, every wrongdoing, every hurtful act against others or my own self, that I understood the power of forgiveness. Yet, even in that knowledge, it is still so unbelievably hard to forgive. We suffer time and time again from the words and actions of others that seem to cut us like knives. So many times, we plead, "But God, you don't understand how much they hurt me!" We act as if God doesn't understand the difficulty of forgiving those who hurt us most, those who offend us so severely without having remorse. Yet God does understand, because Jesus Christ walked this earth and experienced the human condition. To me, one of the most powerful sentences to come from the mouth of Jesus is said in the most unforgiving of circumstances. Jesus was humiliated, spat on, mocked, brutally flogged, had a crown of thorns shoved onto his head, forced to carry his own cross up a hill on his wounded shoulders, before being painfully and horrifically nailed to that cross. Then, as his torturers and murderers gambled for his clothes at the foot of the cross he was hanging on, broken and bleeding, Jesus spoke these powerful words:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Luke 23:34


Reading that red text in my Bible is a true conviction when struggling with unforgiveness. How many of us could endure so much cruelty and torture, and in the midst of that, be forgiving? We'd all like to believe if we were in Jesus' place, we could say those words. Yet how many of us truly could? Yes, there are people on this earth who endure injustices where forgiveness is near impossible. Yet Jesus proved anything can be forgiven when he endured torture and pain that was so great that it was enough to cover the sins of all of mankind, and in the middle of it all, forgave those who inflicted that agonizing cruelty upon him.

When we live in unforgiveness, we live bound in heavy chains that keep us from living in Godly freedom. Unforgiveness prevents us from experiencing the joy, peace, and blessings that God has for us. Our perfect Heavenly Father forgives us, so how much more should we as imperfect people forgive one another? I have the life that I have because of forgiveness that I did not deserve.

It was at the altar that I forgave my classmate for the months upon months worth of telling me that I should end my own life. There were people and situations where I felt the hurt and bitterness for so long that I had become numb to my own unforgiveness...and I forgave those people and situations at the altar, many years later. I became free when God forgave me. I became free when I forgave others. Forgiveness isn't easy, but when we break the chains of unforgiveness, it is so worth all of the goodness that comes from it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Time Is Now

When you're in your early twenties, it's a strange time in life. You're an adult, sure...but you're in the very early stages of adulthood. You are in college or fresh from it. Chances are you're not yet in your desired career field, or you are at most in one of the lowest positions in that field. You just aren't quite "there" yet. Obviously, that all makes sense, but what I have come to see, at least in myself, is that sometimes my young age causes me to underestimate myself and what I can accomplish, even as a young adult. 

I, like countless others, was always the person who constantly changed their mind over what profession I aspired to be throughout my childhood and teenage years. I wanted to be a veterinarian, a teacher, a marine biologist, a rock star, a psychologist, a social worker...so many different things. Of course, I am now in ministry school majoring in Ministerial Leadership, aspiring to work in the church full-time. Through every change in my career dreams, there have always been two different things I aspired to be on the side of whatever profession I held. Those two aspirations are to be a mother, and to be a writer. 

I loved writing from a young age. Seeing the author's name on the front of a book always fascinated me. I always read the short biography of the author in the back of the books I read as a child, because it completely amazed me that the book I was so engaged in had come from the mind and hands of an average person. I quickly realized that maybe I too could one day be that name on a book cover. Over the course of my life, I grew in my passion and skill for writing. There were times of discouragement, such as when a particularly tough English teacher barely passed my essays, and I stopped writing for years. Yet when I finally picked it up again years later, I found that I still, despite the discouragement, loved putting words to paper. It was a passion that refused to go away. 

We all have something we love, that we have unworldly passion for, that was weaved into our DNA when God created us. Like an artist loves to paint, like vocalist loves to sing, like a motivational speaker loves to encourage. Everything you do with that kind of love and passion has a piece of you within it. In the words of Gollum, every piece of writing that I create is "my precious". When you love something, you don't just do it for others, you do it for yourself. It's actually easier to do it for yourself, because then no one else can judge it or reject it. If you were to look in my blog post archive, you would see as many as six or seven drafts at a time of posts I didn't think were up to the standard needed to press the publish button. I reject my own work, but that isn't the same as someone else, a professional in the world of writing, rejecting a piece of writing that I put not just my effort, but my heart into. 

 I'm only 21...my writing isn't good enough to be published. I have no right to even attempt to get my work published anywhere at my age. That's selfish of me. That's a conceited thing to do. I need to write a good twenty more years before it would make sense to try to become a published writer at any capacity. I shouldn't begin writing a book at this age. No one will take a book seriously that was written by some kid in their early twenties that has the audacity to think she could have her work on the same shelf as genuinely successful authors. Those are just a few of the reasons I have continuously refused to put my writing out there and attempt to be published. Those are the types of thoughts that keep many young people from even attempting to make their dreams into reality.

God gives each of us gifts and talents. Some have beautiful voices to sing, some can compose flawless music, some can sketch and paint in ways that intrigue both the eye and the mind. I have been given the ability to write well. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that our gifts and talents are only for ourselves. Nowhere does it say that we have to improve upon our gifts and talents well into our forties before we can share them. Contrary, our gifts and talents are meant to be shared with others. To be blunt, it's selfish to keep our gifts and talents to ourselves, to not use them to glorify God as He meant for us to do when He placed those passions/talents in us. Besides, there is no question that God uses the young. God used a sixteen year old to bring Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, into the world. Therefore, God can use the singing of a 13 year old. He can use the paintings of an 18 year old. He can use the writing of a 21 year old. There is no guarantee on the length of one's life, so why put your dreams off for a day that isn't promised to you? When you discover your passion and talents, don't let your age be your blockade. Don't place restrictions on yourself out of fear. Dreams aren't meant to be thought of today and put off until tomorrow. The time to make your dreams into a reality is now. God gave you the gift and talent. God will provide the opportunities. The only thing that stands in our way is ourselves. Get out of your own way, take chances, and don't be discouraged when it takes try after try. Know that you can be successful and you can make an impact, no matter how young you are. Age is but a number when you have God on your side.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Strong, Courageous, Fearless & Encouraged

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 

There are many times where I feel overwhelmed, so burdened that I can barely stand, and I feel nothing but weakness in those moments. 

There are times when I see the mountain in front of me and I am too scared to take that first step, because I can't see what is ahead of me. It is a moment where I must decide to stay where I am or to move ahead into the unknown, yet I don't have the courage to choose the unknown. 

There are times when I think of the future, or even my current situations, and I feel fear, fear of being stuck where I am, fear of failure, fear of not ending up where I dream of going...fear that plagues so many aspects of my life. 

Then there is the discouragement, the part that ties the weakness, cowardice, and fear together into the dangerous notion that you will never measure up...your works aren't enough, your heart isn't enough, and you will not succeed because of everything you are and everything you are not. 

Weakness, cowardice, fear, and discouragement are human emotions. There is no human alive today who has never felt those emotions plague their mind, heart, and spirit. To not be any of those things is a difficult, nearly impossible command to follow...it's certainly no "Thou shalt not murder". They are emotions that can come up at any point, because life is filled with struggles and uncertainty. When I first read Joshua 1:9, I thought it was the most unrealistic command. How am I supposed to never feel weak or discouraged? How am I supposed to never feel cowardly or afraid? That is an impossible command! If I could just snap my fingers and never feel any of those things again, I absolutely would. No one wants to feel that way, so how can God just expect me to not feel that way? Doesn't He know how unrealistic He's being? Did He miss those years where I struggled with horrible things in an attempt to survive those feelings? Yet He wants me to just not feel them?! Now to feel them is going against God's commands?! What am I supposed to do? 

The misunderstanding I felt for this verse and those like it is simple, really. I took this verse to mean that I needed to summon up every pathetic drop of human strength and bravery I had in my body and try to overcome every struggle with that. My strength, my courage, my fearlessness, and my own sense of encouragement needed to be enough, and I knew it wasn't. I thought those feelings in and of themselves were sin. I was wrong. Those feelings aren't sinful, they're human. God isn't commanding us to just find something in our own humanity to give us strength and courage. God is commanding us to lean on Him, to let His strength and courage and fearlessness and encouragement become our own. He is commanding us to depend on Him and to let Him sustain us. When God asks us to do what is impossible for us, it's so that we will depend on Him to make it possible. 

With God's strength, I can face the trials of today. 

With God's courage, I can be brave when I have to take a step into the unknown. 

With God's fearlessness, I can find peace in the knowledge that He has everything under control. 

With God's encouragement, I know that no, alone I am not enough. Yet He created me and chose me for a purpose that will come to pass. 

With God's spirit, we all have it within us to be strong, courageous, fearless, and encouraged no matter where we are or what we face.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Living Unashamed

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!" 
2 Corinthians 5:17

As time goes by and we live out our lives, the chapters of our life story are constantly being written. Some chapters bring us joy and good memories. Others bring heartache, and many times feelings of guilt and shame. 

One of the biggest obstacles in my spiritual life so far has been overcoming my past...forgiving myself for the things that I did before Christ made me new. It has been through the difficult process of self-forgiveness that the true power of God's redeeming love has been revealed to me. 

To briefly summarize my testimony, I began struggling with self-hatred, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts at the age of nine, which escalated into a lot of self-destructive behavior in my teenage years, mostly in the form of cutting myself from the ages of thirteen through seventeen. There were times of eating disorders in there as well, and a suicide attempt that I will be forever grateful to have survived. Having gone through all of these struggles and incidents by the age of seventeen, I felt constantly weighed down by every horrible thing that I had already done in my young life. When I was eighteen, a Christian saved and forgiven by God, no longer engaging in constant self-destruction, I found myself still living in a state of unending shame. I was living in constant guilt over what I had done to myself and the hurt that I had caused to those close to me. I would wake up in the morning, see my scarred arms, and instantly be reminded of four years of shameful actions that I deeply regretted. I never doubted God's forgiveness, but it wasn't enough to make me forgive myself. I wasn't hurting my body with blades anymore, but I was hurting my mind and spirit with shame and unforgiveness.

I used to pray every single day that I could hide the parts of my past that couldn't be seen on my skin. I prayed that God would erase the scars off of my body, that my skin would be as unmarked as the day before I first inflicted cuts upon my own body. I wanted to hide and erase the past that I had been saved from, suppress it and pretend it had never happened. If it came up, I would simply make it into a joke so it wouldn't seem so bad and dark. It wasn't until I realized how much shame my own testimony brought me that I finally realized that I couldn't deal with my past on my own. I remember the first time that I surrendered and changed my prayer, when I asked that God would use my scars instead of begging Him to get rid of them. It was the beginning of my past no longer being a story of shame, but healing and redemption. 

Everyone who has accepted Christ has a story, a past from before they were renewed by God. Honestly, it seems sort of easy to just give my present and my future to God, letting go of the anxieties that come with them. Yet it is seemingly so much more difficult to give God my past. It's the past, it's over...I thought, "I can handle it myself", but I couldn't. None of us can. Without God, the past is a heavy weight. It will create shame that will follow you into your new life, hindering the joy and light that we are called to live in as children of God. When you give your past to God and forgive yourself, that will begin the process of healing. When every mistake is in God's hands instead of on your shoulders, and you finally let go of the shame of what you have done, you can truly begin living in freedom as the new creation that you are. Your days of living under the burden of shame will cease and become a life of living joyously, healed, redeemed, and unashamed.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Take It For What It's Worth

*Siren-Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Siren-Crash-Rooster Call-Crash-....*
My obnoxious alarm (appropriately named "Extreme Alarm Clock") goes off at full volume, waking me from the coma-like state in which I sleep. I turn it off and roll back over (I have another six alarms set anyways). The last alarm goes off and I wake up irritated and desperate for either more sleep or a giant cup of coffee. I get ready, wishing I was still in bed, and then start my day.

How many of us wake up in a fashion at least somewhat similar to that every day? Not being a morning person is just considered normal (and anyone who doesn't hate mornings, you confuse me greatly). How many of us focus on how much school or work stresses us out? How many of us get irritated when there is "no food" in the house, yet don't feel like getting in our gassed up cars to go to the store? I'm actually procrastinating a trip to Wal-Mart right now! Our wi-fi goes out, our phone battery dies, it's allergy season and it's harder to breathe...the glass is always half empty.

Blessings...if many of us were to sit down and list all of the blessings we have and encounter within a single day, we could easily list over a hundred. Yet we're constantly stressed, frustrated by at least one thing...and that one thing dictates our entire attitude. Why? We don't truly understand the incredible value in our blessings.

Not everyone alive on earth today will wake up tomorrow. I know that it is a somber and morbid thought, but it's the truth. Yet many of us wake up and press snooze five times because we are irritated at the thought of getting up. We don't see the significance when we open our eyes each morning (and some people don't have coffee makers for morning coffee, which is a less tragic, yet still very sad story). Some people can't afford to go to college or can't find work, yet we get stressed out and irritated because we have homework or a long shift that some people only wish they had. Our phone battery dies and we get irritated by being without a phone...because at this point it is normal for basically everyone to own a device that lets us contact everyone we know, access the internet, play games, and download apps. We find it normal have eveything in the palm of our hand, from the Bible to a flashlight to an app that lets us self-diagnose any little thing (and then convince ourselves that we have some crazy rare foreign disease and are dying). We devalue our blessings because we have turned them into expectations.

As for me, I want to start taking my blessings for what they are worth. Life holds no guarantees and no entitlements. I wasn't entitled to wake up today, but I did. I'm not entitled to take my next breath, for my heart to make its next beat, but it does. Today, my eyes see, my ears hear...my nose doesn't smell, but I am blessed to not be able to smell the litter box used by seven cats. The sun rose in the east and today came to be. There's food in the fridge. I have a brain to think, legs to walk, and fingers to type this post. I have a college to return to in the fall, family who loves me, and a God who gave me these things and so many other things as gifts because He loves me.

Maybe I will never be a morning person, but hopefully I will appreciate mornings a little bit more.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lonely with God?

I would argue that one of the most powerful things to feel is loneliness. Loneliness has a power in the human mind and heart that not many other feelings have. Our level of loneliness can easily dictate our mood, affect how we act, and even affect how we see ourselves. As someone who is very much an introvert, time alone is crucial and precious to me. I love and crave those moments where it's just me (and maybe a couple of cats), and I can just enjoy some peaceful moments away from the hustle and bustle of social life. Unfortunately, alone time can become loneliness if it is overly used.

Most people are familiar with the five love languages (words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch). Our love language is how we best receive love from family, friends, a significant other, or anyone else in our lives. My love language is quality time. When it comes to my relationships, I need and crave genuine, quality time together. If someone is willing to take the time to spend with me, that to me is a true indicator that they love me and value me as a part of their life. Even aside from that, we are created for community. In Genesis, we read that Eve's creation is the result of God declaring that it is not good for man to be alone. We are not meant to live in constant seclusion. I am at the far end of the introvert spectrum, I can (and do) spend days on end with minimal human interaction and am completely content. I am almost never the first to contact someone or initiate time together...it's out of my comfort zone and I mostly prefer being alone anyways. But there is a limit to introversion, a line between being happy alone, and feeling lonely. The line between needing alone time, and needing community. If that line is crossed, we end up in a place of loneliness.

Have you ever been surrounded by people, but felt completely alone? Loneliness doesn't just come from physically being alone. Loneliness comes from a lack of genuinely connecting with people, from not feeling close to anyone. It comes when you feel disconnected physically and emotionally from seemingly everyone. Loneliness has such an intense affect on how we think and feel, and can take away our rationale. Loneliness, if not dealt with on a spiritual level, can lead to more destructive thoughts and feelings. There have been countless times when I have been away for weeks and almost no one contacts me. There are times when I'm in a group, but not included in conversation. While there is a level of personal ownership, those times have often lead to feeling hurt, feeling disliked or unwanted, feeling like I am not good enough, valued, or even loved. Those feelings then lead to me actually being anxious and afraid to send the first text or initiate quality time, because I feel like I will be rejected...because I don't feel wanted...because I first felt lonely...and the cycle repeats itself time and time again. Maybe loneliness doesn't turn into such a vicious cycle for everyone, but I know it does for me and it can for others as well. Yet in the times when no one is around, when no one is contacting me, when I'm beating myself up because I'm not "good enough", that's when God has to be enough.

I will say in complete honesty that I feel lonely, even with God. It's hard to admit, but it is simply the truth. It's easy to feel alone because the fact is that God isn't a physical human being sitting next me. Yet His company in my prayer closet is as real as the company of a friend at Starbucks. Time with Him is always of the highest quality, yet in times of loneliness, it doesn't seem like enough...but why? Do we subconsciously, or even consciously blame God for our loneliness, or the feelings of inadequacy that can come from it? Do we hold back because we feel guilt for letting people take God's place in our lives and depending on other people instead of Him? Do we actually believe the feelings of inadequacy so much that we feel that even God might not want to bother with us? For me, at least, it's a combination of all of the above. Family can fail sometimes, friends come and go, but God is constant. Even in the much needed alone times, He is there in the room. He's ready to spend time with us and love us, if we would only give Him our own time. Were we created for community? Absolutely. But we were also created to depend on God as our source...including our source of community and love. As much as I can sit around being the stereotypical single woman that I am, eating ice cream while binge-watching Netflix with my cats as company while somewhat wishing that I had a boyfriend or a better social life, the truth is that there is no special person or amount of social interaction a person can have that will perfectly fulfill their need and desire to feel valued, wanted, and loved. As much as we can sit around wishing just one person would take the time to text us, that text would not heal our loneliness. The only way we can feel truly loved and valued is if we first find those things in our relationship with God. If we don't let God fill the empty parts of us, they will never be filled.

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
Proverbs 18:24

People will fail us and hurt us, as we will fail and hurt others. We cannot depend solely on friendships, which fade and grow apart. We cannot depend solely on our spouse or family, who's human nature will come short of our needs sometimes. We want to place our dependence on the imperfect people around us when we have a perfect friend who sticks closer than a brother, who's bond to us and love for us is unfailing, unchanging, and greater than that of any person. We have a relationship with the God of heaven and earth, the God of the universe. As long as we cling to that truth, lean on Him, and whole-heartedly embrace the incredible relationship that God created us to have with Him, loneliness will not be able to hold us captive.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pain is Only Part of the Story

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Romans 8:18

I came upon this verse a couple of days ago in my Bible. It was the first verse I saw when I opened my Bible seeking comfort, my eyes drawn to the bright yellow highlight over the text, letting me know that this verse must have stuck out to me once before. Since then, I have been meditating on this verse in both it's comfort and practicality. Every struggle we endure in life always seems overwhelming in that moment. When we face a conflict, deal with a time of depression, struggle to pay for college, cope with unemployment, lose a loved one...that circumstance is all we see. It seems to be human nature that many times, we are able to see the negative much more prominently than the positive. When we deal with fighting with a friend, or struggling to make ends meet, or constant feelings of inadequacy and hurt, it is so easy to focus on that. Sometimes we become so focused on those circumstances that we allow them to overwhelm us, to control us, and even define us. It is a personal problematic mindset that I have recently had to face about myself.

When reading over this verse repeatedly and getting revelations, I wondered why it is so easy to be defined by negative circumstances, why my personal feelings and struggles can control so many aspects of my life. The answer I came to was difficult, and it was simply that I, somewhat subconsciously, have a tendency to blame God when life gets difficult. I feel, in a way, that this is honestly a common mindset. God has full control, right? He could make the situation better. He could make ME better. Why is He ignoring my pain? Why did He make me the way that I am? Why are my prayers for everything to get better not making the pain go away instantaneously? We've all been there, asking God why He let something happen or why He is allowing us to feel a certain way. Our human minds get so wrapped up in our current struggles that we forget that that's all that they are; current struggles...or as it is written in Romans 8:18, present sufferings. No painful situation feels temporary in the moment. When we struggle, it can feel like the end of our world, and it's all that we see.

I am reminded of the story of Joseph. If anyone had to deal with unkind circumstances, it was Joseph. Let's just be honest, when your own brothers sell you into slavery out of jealousy, that is easily defined as a "present suffering". He was betrayed by his own family. Just place yourself into this story. Imagine having your own siblings, who you grew up with, become so overcome with jealousy that one, they plot to murder you. Then, even when they decide to let you live, they then choose to sell you into slavery, transforming you from their own flesh and blood into a piece of property, sold like you are nothing more than a mere object. I would have a hard time trusting in God in such terrible circumstances. Yet the Bible said the Lord was close to Joseph. Joseph could have turned away from God and allowed himself to be defined as simply a lowly slave, yet by trusting in God, he found favor and was raised from where he was, no longer defined as a slave, but had high position and standing. The betrayal he endured was but a small piece of a greater story of the visions and goodness and glory that God displayed through him.

Even though I am only in my early twenties, I have seen a share of hard times, times of struggle and hurt that seemed hopeless. I have endured situations where my only goal was to survive, but that was all. If circumstances didn't get any worse, that was enough for my own satisfaction. I couldn't see anything good coming from what I was suffering through. What good can come from losing a loved one, or near-crippling depression? Yet in my life, in the years since some of my most long-lasting and painful struggles, I have seen the truth of this verse come alive. The most pain-filled and shameful aspects of my life are now a story I tell to let people know how incredible God is! Our struggles are always horribly overwhelming in the moment, and it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If I have learned anything in the past few days, it is that when we turn away from God in the difficult times, it only makes those times darker. Times of trial are only hopeless and lost if we turn away from the hope and victory that God will always provide. We can either dwell in the pain and sorrow and let it destroy our very being, or we can turn to the only One who can keep us together and give us the strength to truly overcome our suffering. Every painful experience comes with the option to learn and grow, or stay beaten down and bitter. Ultimately, the choice is our own. We cannot choose to never face times of trial and suffering, but we do have a choice in how we will respond to those trying times. At the end of the day, our current struggles will become a testimony, so long as we allow ourselves to overcome those struggles with God's strength. Our times of suffering are only one part of our life story. Every testimony helps to form our life story, but more importantly our faith and character. Even though it is not easy, when times get tough, we have to trust in God and know that what we are facing right now is just a quick moment, and that while it may seem significant now, it is nothing compared to what God will ultimately do through us.