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Community, Faith, Fear, Identity, Relationships, Suffering, Your Story

When life isn’t as we planned

January 15, 2016

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By one of our readers:

I went into 2015 with hopes and dreams just like everyone else. I was finally in a relationship, I was graduating in May, and I had the rest of my life completely planned out. The first week of February I got extremely sick, and two weeks later I got diagnosed with Mononucleosis (Mono) and a bacterial infection. I couldn’t breathe, sleep, or eat. One morning I sat there crying in pain when I prayed “God take control of my life, it’s all yours. I can’t hold on anymore”. That night Proverbs 16:9, “In her heart a woman plans her course, but the Lord determines her steps”, became real in my life.

That night my boyfriend broke up with me (great timing, right?) and I was finally able to eat something other than soup, it was an emotional rollercoaster already. No one fully understands why God determines our steps the way He does or why we have to go through pain. From that night, my heartbreak only got more painful. We went to a small church together and every Sunday was salt on an open wound. I felt empty in a place where I should feel full. Then, our pastor preached on Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. That verse confused every part of me. How was any of this good? All things? Are you sure, God? How can you show Your glory through this?

I missed two months of school and my weak body could barely keep up with my dropping grades. The college acceptance process was in full swing and our bank account was dry. Every scholarship I applied for was given to someone else, and the rejection hurt. My dream to go to a small private college was destroyed, while my pride was diminishing as the reality of community college drew near. So I prayed. I prayed for clear direction of my steps. I prayed to find a community of believers that loved me, supported me, and prayed for me. I prayed wondering if everything will really be for my good and for His glory.

The feeling of loneliness became real when I sat wearing my cap and gown at graduation surrounded by 352 classmates, completely without plans. My best friend was the valedictorian and my heart stopped when she read Jeremiah 29:11 in her speech. I could barely hold back the tears trying to escape. I could feel the arms of the God who I thought abandoned me, wrap around my body. I felt like David in his psalms; one minute full of anguish and the next full of joy.

The transition into college was challenging, even to the local community college. My campus is in the middle of a very religiously and culturally diverse city. I was sitting in class when I started to realize just how broken this world is. I am a social work major so seeing brokenness is my thing, but all I could see was how much Christ was being taken away. I was told I could not mention my faith or my beliefs whatsoever in any of the class discussions. I would leave class questioning the Bible and if God was real because everyone was so assured that I was wrong.

My college only has one Bible-preaching organization in five campuses. When I saw a booth at the activity fair with a huge flag saying “H2o Church”, my heart was stirred. I attended the first small group with hopes of Christ-centered friendships. It became painfully obvious that God had His hand in it the whole time. My leader just so happens to also be a social work major at the partnering 4-year college, crazy huh? God handed me someone who understood what I was going through the moment I needed it the most.

At our fall retreat quiet time, I sat alone by the lake reading the passage H2o is based off of, John 4. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman about how the water He can give will no longer make her thirst, because it comes from the spring of eternal life that only come through him. But then this happens,

“He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’” (v. 16-18)

Jesus just showed how he knows EVERYTHING! He’s never met this woman before, but he knows her and her sin. Then,

“The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he.’” (v.25-26)

This is one of the few times Jesus referred to Himself as the Messiah and Son of God. The fact that it is told to a sinful woman is astounding. He revealed Himself to her despite her sin, her doubts, or who she is.

In that moment, I realized what God was doing. He was revealing Himself to me in every step of that craziness. Despite my disbelief, heartbreak, and frustration, God used His Truth to show me who He is. He never left me. He wasn’t taking everything away from me. He wasn’t pushing me away.

He was showing His glory through my life.

This was all for my good and His glory.

 

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This is Tiffany Noble’s story. She is 19 years old. She is from Columbus, Ohio and attends Columbus State Community College.

 

Community, Faith, Family, God, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life

Save me from myself

January 6, 2016

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Allison’s Story…

I first want to give you sort of an overview of my life from my earliest memory to the present. I really wish I could do this sitting across from you, face to face, probably with a latte in my hand, and with smiles in thankfulness and some tears in heartache. I definitely would laugh or smile even in sharing some of the hard parts because it’s difficult for me to share my insecurities and probably because I feel overwhelmed. So here it goes anyways.

By the world’s standards, I am the definition of a “good girl”. And that is a huge part of my story because even now I am anxious to share it with you because thoughts like, “my story is boring”, “I have nothing important to share”, and “I probably can’t explain it clearly,” are running through my mind. I keep telling myself that though my story isn’t super dramatic or juicy nor is there a point of radical change, I know that many of you can relate to it.

The core of me starts with my family. My family is awesome. I know God has really gifted me with an amazing family who knows and loves God deeply. My two younger brothers love and follow Jesus. My grandparents and parents have been in full-time ministry as a pastor and missionary my entire life. They all have raised me and poured so much love, wisdom, and truth in me. I am so much a product of their obedience and faithfulness to God.

I decided to be a follower of Jesus when I was 6 years old. Girls, I am STILL trying to understand why God gave me this story. Why He chose to save me at such a young age, save me from so much turmoil in my life because I genuinely wanted to follow Jesus from the very beginning.

I know in my head that this is a HUGE gift that I don’t deserve and I am eternally thankful for, but my ENTIRE life I have struggled with this. I know this sounds strange, but I secretly wished I had a more “radical” story to share with others.

It’s difficult for me to share my story about how God has saved me and changed me because I really never had the experience of being delivered from a life without Christ. And then I questioned in my head if I was ever really “saved” because I was so young.

As I was growing up, I loved going to every church event. I hosted bible studies for my neighbors when I was 9 years old. I shared the gospel with others around me. I wanted to read my bible, my devotional books, and pray. I wanted to live the life God called me to live.

Does this make me sounds perfect?? It probably does. And there’s the problem I experienced.

I was such a GOOD person… what did God actually save me from?!

In high school, I tried to stay out of trouble. I liked boys. A lot (more to come in part 2). I had the phases of being sassy and rude to my family, trying to fit in with the popular kids while still being “good”, and being flat-out ticked at God and others that I didn’t get my way. In other words, when I was tired of being the good girl, I was good at being a brat.

I had an internal battle between keeping up the good girl status because I wanted to please God since I loved Him, BUT I also thought at times that I could easily keep being a good girl on my own because that’s really all I knew.

I was totally missing a very important truth though.

It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to be good on my own. I could keep up the good girl status around others and keep checking off the major things God wanted me to do, but when I start to let the little sins creep in, it was very difficult for me to stop because I was trying to be good and not sin on my own.

I just hadn’t learned on my own the truth that there is NOTHING in me that is good. The “little” sins really mean sins that no one saw, so I didn’t think they were that big of a deal at first since no one but God knew about it. Some of these included lying, cheating, lusting, jealousy, selfishness, pride, anxiety, and arrogance. Just to name a few. And these were present in my life every day.

When I went to college, I didn’t have my family to hide behind, my youth group or my small private school. It was like God didn’t give me safety zones to hide in anymore. He took away any constraints or boundaries I had and let me figure out on my own who He created me to be and how I should view myself. And you know what is so amazing is that God never let me go. He never let me turn from Him.

God called me and has kept me since I was 6 years old. And once I understood this, it revolutionized the way I understood God and myself. It gave me so much freedom because I realized it wasn’t by my own doing that I was a good Christian, but totally God’s power. He gave me Jesus’ identity when I became a Christian. He already sees me as perfect. And He is the one who gives me the strength I need to turn from my sin and live in freedom. I learned how to let go of the bonds of perfectionism and the good girl identity.

Girls, I am not near perfect. I struggle every day. I struggle to love my husband unconditionally, to love God more than anything else this world has to offer, to be a selfless friend, daughter, and sister, to my keep my eyes, mind, and heart pure, and to not compare myself to others. I struggle with this and more every single day. But I also know that with every day and every struggle, Jesus is my perfection, Jesus is my salvation, Jesus is my identity. So I can stop trying to earn my goodness. I can find strength to overcome temptation, and I can find freedom even when I mess up.

I don’t have any “prodigal son” type times in my life. I don’t have a radical before and after Christ story.

But I am truly miracle. I am a miracle from God because for some reason He chose me and kept me since my beginning memories of life. And that is truly not anything I did on my own to deserve.

 

Community, Faith, Identity, Relationships

Your Story Matters is here!

January 4, 2016

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Happy new year!! So glad to be with you in 2016 :).

We are so excited to introduce the series to kick off the new year… Your Story Matters

Thinking about how to tell your story is a much more daunting task than it seems. Your story should be easy to tell, right?! Because you’re the only one who knows it entirely and there is no way you can really mess up telling it since it belongs to you.

Well, it is not at all easy, but it’s definitely a good kind of challenge. And, I challenge you to write your story with us. If you haven’t read the last post before this, don’t miss out on it because we really do want your story! If you go back to the post before this one, you will find details on what we need from you if you would like to submit your story to be posted here!

All four of the AGLM writers will be sharing our stories with you over the next two months, so we hope you enjoy getting to know us deeper and that you’ll be able to relate to at least one of us since we all have different stories to share.

To go along with our posts the next couple of months, we will also be sharing with you on Instagram more about each of us. We really desire to invite you into our lives, as much as we can being a virtual ministry, so we are going to each take turns posting on Instagram the more day-to-day parts of our lives.

Follow along on our Instagram but also with the hashtag #AGLMstory.

We would love for you to also use this hashtag when you think of us in sharing your story on Instagram so we can find you and get to know you better as well!

And as always, we would love to hear from you as well, especially if you have question for us about our stories or just about anything!

We are so excited and really looking forward to see what the new year brings as we journey along with YOU!

Community, Faith, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life, The Friday Overflow

When Community Doesn’t Come Easily

December 11, 2015

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Hello fellow AGLM readers! Just a quick introduction: I’m Aubrey, and I’ve been reading A Girl Like Me for the past 3ish years. I’ve been inspired by the community series to write a little bit about what community means to me and how my perspective has changed this fall.

Community doesn’t come easily to me. My idea of a fun night is burying myself in bed with blankets and Netflix and not coming out for 12 hours. Large groups and crowds give me anxiety, and forming new friendships is not my strongest quality. So, at the beginning of the community series, I almost overlooked the posts.

However, this year I’ve been focusing heavily on improving my relationship with Christ and my spiritual life. I knew that this wasn’t something I could do all on my own, and that’s when I realized that I actually did need to build my community. I was complacent in my relationships, closed-off, and somewhat bitter. After going through a difficult summer, it finally hit me that I needed a something deeper. If I was going to live an intentional Christian lifestyle, I needed to embrace the people around me and form the bonds that Christ was calling me to make. I couldn’t wait around for everyone else to make the effort anymore.

So, I’ve planted new seeds, watered budding friendships, and seen my garden grow. Once I stopped living inside of myself and started reaching out, I found that there are so many beautiful people around me. Complimenting a stranger, talking with classmates, saying hi to people in my favorite coffee shop, and striking up a conversation with the barista became easier because my community can be anyone! There are no limits on who Christ calls us to serve, even if it seems meaningless. Community has brought a bigger purpose to my relationships with friends and family.

These past few months, I’ve found myself at 5:45am yoga classes with my best friend, praying with someone I just met in my local coffee shop, planning weekly Bible studies, hanging out with my brother peaceably, staying more connected with busy/long distance friends, going through with plans even when I don’t feel like it, opening up to people, and putting energy into lifting others up. I no longer use my “introverted platform” to keep myself from loving everyone. I thought I was happy in my own little world, but I have found such a deeper joy in having a community. By accepting God’s challenge to love my neighbor, these people poured so much love back into me and helped me deepen my relationship with Christ.

I used to believe the lies Satan put in my head, “No one needs you,” “Everyone already has somebody, why would they want to be friends with you?” and worst of all, “You can’t make a difference, nothing will change.” It seemed easier to me then to pack up and move to a place where I knew nobody instead of finding a community where I’ve lived for my entire life. My excuse for blocking people out was that I wasn’t happy here anyways. The deceiver will do whatever it takes to keep us from joy and living out the will of Christ. Starting out a journey to find community around us puts us in a vulnerable place, but Jesus works through our weaknesses to increase our strength. In our times of fear and vulnerability, He is our safe place.

A passage that especially inspired me recently was Psalms 46:1-5,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.”

You and I are not in this alone. With God in the midst of us, we are never alone. In community, you can never be alone. Trust God to take you beyond the complacency, the fear of rejection, the bitterness, the hurt, whatever it is that’s holding you back from this beautiful life He wants and has planned for you.

I’m thankful for you all here at AGLM, for being part of this community, and I’m thankful for my family, church, school, friends, you, and coffee shop strangers who are all a part of mine. Thank you for inspiring me to live fully.

 

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Aubrey is from Lincoln, Nebraska and currently a junior in high school. In her free time she enjoys weightlifting and playing volleyball, watching Audrey Hepburn movies, journaling, cooking vegan food, cuddling with my puppy, adventuring with friends, and most of all, worshiping her Savior.

Community, Relationships

Together We Stand

December 2, 2015

As I sit here on a rainy Nashville day in my favorite coffee shop sipping on the most excellent of all lattes ever made, I am working hard to hold back tears. What do I say to you, my sweet AGLM family, that could ever possibly convey my love and gratitude and every feel I am feeling right now? I realized that unless I typed a bunch of muffled nonsense and tried to stain your computer screens with my tears, no words would really ever get to the depths of how my heart loves you so. But alas, we are a blog and words I must give. So let’s do this….

You’ve changed my life.

I don’t mean that in any cheesy cliche way. Each of you..this ministry…this family and space we’ve created together….it has changed my life.
545073_10151211513911038_979935450_nYou have allowed me to see the beauty that comes from moving out of hiding and into the light. You’ve shown me there is no fear in being known, fully known- the good, bad, shameful ugly pieces. You’ve allowed me to cry and complain and rejoice and get angry and scold you and scold me and grow and learn together.

12273082_933469433387067_418981352_nTogetherness. That’s what we created. We created a place where we didn’t have to be afraid to be who we are. We made a place where pain and doubt were welcome. We made a place where hope could live and more importantly, there was a friend who would walk with you as you figured it all out. We may have never hugged or had coffee, but we became a family that loved better and deeper than some families we are given by birth. THAT girls, is something to be grateful for.

IMG_222411098425_839468939479183_859726445_nunnamedSince we made such a safe place, our family grew. We reached across oceans and continents, ages and races. Because togetherness has no boundary. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is loved. 10860150_892323810786769_1737473777_n10429467_936072763072076_3395842115171841754_n

I have been blown away by the way you girls have stood by each other through comments or community board posts. How you’ve prayed for each other, encouraged each other, and loved well. You’ve gifted life and grace to one another and in turn shown me and the other writers just how beautiful and big our God is. Me, Kelly, or the other AGLM writers…we didn’t make AGLM what it is….YOU did. We’ve just had the honor of sitting back and watching it all unfold into this tightly woven tapestry of true community. 10801707_978893398790012_2678656561386762067_nDSC_7057

As we face a new year filled with new changes, you might be asking yourself, “What’s next?” For me, well I won’t be going far. My eyes are now set on pouring into the AGLM writers. I’ll be mentoring, advising and guiding them so that they can, in turn, better serve you. I’ll still be posting on the blog here and there, and I’ll always be close by if you ever need to reach me.

We are family. No matter how far apart family may be, we are still always there for each other.

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For you? Well, the choice is yours. Our hope is that you stay. That you stay  to keep fighting for our family. That you keep helping us grow and change and love bigger and better than we have. That you call us on our crap when we’re crappy and let us do the same for you. We hope that you stick with us and continue to try and figure out how to be a girl in this screwed up world.

Together we stand. Because as scripture tells us, “A chord of three strands cannot be easily broken.”

We are better together. Stronger. Hope-filled. So let’s keep doing life together then. IMG_2791IMG_5557IMG_2600

All my love and then some to you my AGLMers. Here’s to many more years of life together and finding out we aren’t so alone after all.

-Heather

Community, Faith, Relationships, Spiritual Life

You Belong HERE!

November 18, 2015

FullSizeRender-6Well, girls, somehow we made it. We are already at the end of our Community series and hello, Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK! Maybe it’s because I am getting older, but time is flying by so fast that I feel like I was just wearing shorts and soaking up the sun, but thank the Lord I don’t sweat every time I dry my hair… Count your blessings, right?! 😉

Ok, so I want to be really honest with you. This was a difficult series to write. A lot more difficult than I realized, and I think I can say this is true for all the writers. Some of us are trying to find our own community or are having constant change in community. And, we are still trying to navigate with you what community really is and means, what good and healthy community looks like.

I know we (AGLM writers) say this often, or at least we think this often, but we are not “the professionals”. We are not here to give you our wisdom as the master Jedi’s to you as our young padawans (sorry, I’ve been going through the Star Wars series, eeek #nerdstatus). But we are here because we have been exactly where you are now. We know life is hard, and we totally get it when you just want to say over and over again, “life’s not fair!”

Maybe you are at the loneliest point in life that you have ever been. Or you want to fit in with a certain group and are doing everything you can to make that happen, but it just isn’t working. Maybe you’ve been stabbed or hurt by those who you thought were your closest friends (Yeah, I’ve been in all those places). So you may be frustrated because you’re thinking, “I thought the community series would help me, give me answers or direction, but it didn’t and I am in the same place.”

I TOTALLY get that. But I also want to say again, the writers here also don’t have perfect community, we don’t have all the answers. So you may not find your answers here. But what you will find… women who truly care about you, who love you and pray for you. A Girl Like Me IS community!! It’s not the same as having community physically and presently around you in your day to day (which we still believe is super important to pray for and seek), but we are still a community. And we are here for YOU. No matter who you or where you have been. I promise if you stick with us and reach out to us, you will find that we are here for you.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, God has placed us here, a part of A Girl Like Me. And we WANT to walk along side of you the best we can through our virtual avenues, or maybe WE get the pleasure of meeting you one day.

So many times I sit and think about A Girl Like Me and I ask God, what do I have to offer?! But then he reminds me of the women who take their time to reach out to me, and that speaks volumes, no matter what they have to say, as long as I know they’re there because they love me and are for me.

That’s my daily prayer for A Girl Like Me, and what I hope, whether you’re a brand new reader or a veteran reader, that you will find here. True, real community.

So stick with us! We will take a break next week as we enjoy Thanksgiving with our families, but be back in December to finish off the year and talk about what’s to come!

If you did learn from the community series, we would LOVE to hear from you! Leave us a comment and let us know.

Love, Allison

 

Community, Faith, God, Relationships

Let’s Talk About Boys

November 11, 2015

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FINALLY…. BOYS.

This might be the post that you have been waiting for all this time. What is a community series without talking about boys?!

This is not Top 10 Ways to Attract a Perfect Mate or How to Find a Godly Man or even How Nina Met Brendon (YET!). There are countless resources for believers on the topics of marriage and dating relationships, but what about plain ole’ male-female friendships?

Not only do I believe that it’s possible to be “just friends” with a guy, but I believe God designed that kind of friendship to grow us in a unique way. Aside from overgeneralized stereotypes, guys just operate differently than we do- in communication, in emotions, in probably more ways than we can understand.  Whether or not you are in a relationship, the only way that a friendship with a dude will work is mutual respect.

Talking about community with guys is simply just that… community with guys. Pretty sure half the planet is the male gender, so it will serve us well to learn how to be in healthy relationships with dudes.

Let’s leave out the romantic intentions, the let’s-just-be-friends-but-just-kidding-I-actually-want-you-to-like-me, because let’s be real, we’ve all been there. WHO’S WITH ME? Errrrrrrr, maybe I was the only high schooler who thought that?

 

How do we as women have appropriate, normal, awesome friendships with dudes?

How can we love them well?

How should I treat my “brothers in Christ”?

 

Although God has consistently blessed me with solid girlfriends and female mentors, I’ve always been surrounded by boys too. All of my mom’s best friends had sons, I grew up in a church where there were more guys than girls, played in a band in high school that was mostly guys, and now live on a bus with a bunch of dudes.

When I was an intern at my church in high school, there were pretty helpful expectations for the kind of time and space guys and girls spent together. To protect each other out of love, the staff and interns all abided by the standard of not being alone in a room with a person of the opposite sex with the door closed. A lot of the staff was married and there were a few of us that were single at the time, me included. This took away any potential awkwardness or weird situations between us. I honestly can’t remember any drama. Being a youth leader for middle school girls, I remember our youth pastor asking me to join when one of the girls needed prayer from him. When my band traveled to play a show while I was the only girl, our worship leader’s fiance would come so we could share a room. We functioned so well as a team and it was all deeply rooted in respect, not fear. I had Godly men as a healthy, secure part of my life. We could encourage each other openly.

 

I’m probably asking more questions than I am giving answers. This post is not a list of things that are allowed and not allowed between guys and girls. The church culture that I grew up around was helpful for my heart in understanding healthy guy/girl relationships and it made being on the road with a bunch of guys feel pretty normal. Throughout the course of our lives, different levels of intimacy with guys will change. When I had really close friendships with guys in high school, I didn’t have Brendon. Now that I have complete intimacy in marriage, I don’t have the same depth of relationship with other guys. It’s a natural ebb and flow in the river of time. Praying for wisdom on how to handle friendships with guys no matter what season we are in is the most mature thing we can do.

I am happily married to my forever guy. I am SO conscious of my friendships with guys- of intentionally never being in a situation emotionally, physically, and mentally that would compromise the integrity of my relationship with my husband. This will be important for our whole lives together. I also never want to unknowingly threaten another girls relationship with her guy. That would be weird/bad/ew.

 

We can honor the guys in our lives.

We can honestly encourage them.

We can celebrate the men we are in community with.

We can respect them.

Younger. Older. Whoever.

 

To wrap up our community series, it’s worth noting that as humans, as women, we want to know and be known by God and people. God intended to deeply satisfy our desire for community in Him because He IS community in the trinity. We are made in His image. Community on earth, with our best friends and those who are hard to love, community face-to-face and with the help of technology, community in the church and through transitions, is purely a gift. It’s dang hard sometimes, but it’s worth it. Here’s a tidbit from a book by Tim Keller that sums it up pretty well:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

We love you girls! Thank you for sticking with us through this series as we navigated some unknown waters. As always, keep an eye out for what is next!

Community, Faith, God, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life

I’m the Only One

October 28, 2015

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I was in high school. I just got my heart broken by the guy I “thought” I was in love with. My mom was going through intensive chemotherapy to fight breast cancer. If I did go to anyone to talk about my problems, it would be her…but there’s something that doesn’t quite feel right when you’re venting about your little problems to a loved one who is fighting for her life. (I know now, though, that my mom would never want me to think that way). I was on a traveling team for volleyball and gone almost every weekend. Naturally that meant I missed church, small group, and hanging out with any friends I had at school quite often. And lastly, I would straight up tell you that I wanted to live in any other country than America. Since I was a little girl I wanted to be a missionary and my heart always seemed to be somewhere else…in a hut or tribe that I had never even been to. I felt depressed because, well, I was stuck in high school doing “worthless high school things” and thought there was no one else like me.

Flash forward to a conversation with a pastor who had always been like a father to me: I was glad to finally be talking to someone, and as I wept I spilled out these words: ”I’m the only one…

That day I learned that those four words are among the most dangerous that can come out of our mouths, let alone enter into our minds. Those four words are what Satan, our enemy, wants you to believe, and not AT ALL what Christ promises or wants for us.

Yes, there are incredibly hard circumstances that we all go through in our lives, but the exact thing that the enemy wants us to feel in those downcast, burdened times is that:

Lies:

1. You are the only one who has ever on the face of the earth gone through this and felt these emotions.

2. You are alone in your struggle.

3. There is no hope.

 

The only thing to do in addressing this state of mind of self-centeredness (yes, it took me a while to admit to and call it what it was) that we are so prone to wander into, is to be washed over and cleansed by TRUTH. We have to learn how to address the enemy’s lies about being lonely and outcasts, and proclaim God’s truth over them. I have laid out a few for you below and challenge you to ask God to help set your mind on HIS words rather than the enemy’s.

We may be tempted to say “I’m the only one…” but God says, “I AM THE ONE” that you need. God knows us and loves us. We are never alone because God is ALWAYS with us. He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.

The point is not to have another person who you can perfectly relate to. The point is that God did not intend for us to do life alone. You have to be intentional about reaching out not only for the sake of yourself but also for the goal to glorify God in whatever you’re going through. His strength is made perfect in us, sharing in our weaknesses.  God is bigger than your present problems and if we are open to it, He WILL teach and transform us into more mature, godly women.

TRUTH:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

“You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.”

Psalm 139

 

 

FullSizeRender-1-1Ashton lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, Hank Murphy. They work and serve at the Summit Church in Durham, NC. Ashton is originally from northern California and moved here 2 years ago. She loves traveling the world on mission for the gospel, getting coffee with Allison, painting and creating beauty in spaces, cooking delicious food, nannying a lot of cute kids, and spending time with Hank.

P.S. Allison wrote this on behalf of Ashton as they were once roommates before they married their husbands :-)

Community, Family, Relationships

Realer than Real

October 21, 2015

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So far in our series, as we’ve talked about different types of communities, they’ve all ultimately involved a choice.

To be in community, or not to be in community…that is the question.

Community generally requires a certain amount of pursuit on our part. We have to be willing to actively seek relationship with others. And if we’re not, we can easily pull away, seclude ourselves and try to do life alone.

Even when we do choose to be in community, we can fake our way through it. We can go through the motions, spending time with people and having conversations, the whole time wearing masks that allow us to be who we want them to see and keep everything else hidden. We have to choose whether or not to be real with others.

But what about the community we don’t get to choose? What about the people we live with, the ones who see us at our best and our worst, whether we like it or not? The ones we can’t really avoid?

Families. Roommates. Home can be it’s own community. Sometimes just walking in the door is all the effort we have to make.

These are the people who see you for who you really are.

Without makeup or your hair done when you get out of the shower.

In your sweats, mismatched socks and messy bun (not in the cute, I-totally-meant-to-do-that way) after a long day at school or work.

When you don’t feel well and your tolerance for any well-meaning human being is unfortunately low.

When your attitude just plain sucks.

When it’s taken all you have to keep it together for the rest of the world, and you come home and ugly cry and eat all the ice cream.

Behind closed doors, we take off our masks. We’re real. We’re raw. We’re vulnerable and exposed. Maybe not all the time, but more than we are when the rest of the world is watching. And the ones who live behind those doors with us get a front row seat.

This is a gift that is so easy to miss. Somehow the people in our lives who are just always there tend to go unnoticed.

As I prepared to talk about community in the home, quite honestly I had no idea what to say. But thinking about what to write made me more aware of the ways my family and roommate serve me constantly – in small, yet impactful ways – and I realized I have truly been taking them for granted.

A got to visit home a few weeks ago and my mom, despite her exhaustion, sacrificed her usual early bed time to stay up late and catch up on life and laughs with me – the simple gift of her time was her best expression of love.

My grandma and a friend from my church baked me some of my favorite special treats (even some to send back to Nashville with me!) – they recognized my need for a taste of home (no pun intended) and saw the opportunity to bring comfort to my food-lovin’ soul.

Earlier this week, my roommate walked into my room to see me on my knees with a tear-stained face. She could have asked a dozen different questions, but the only thing she said was, “Do you need a hug?” This beautiful friend who I’ve only known for 2 short months embraced me and just told me she loved me. Over the next few days she gently asked every now and then how I was doing, delivered a warm plate of homemade cookies to me in my room, and somehow just knew the most appropriate times to either make me laugh or give me space to cry.

When I’m in need of something – anything – I’m always searching for someone to notice, to listen, to comfort me, to speak into my life, to walk with me…how is it I’ve had exactly that in front of me the whole time and never noticed?

The community that I actually live with has served and continues to serve me so well. Realizing that has flooded me with thankfulness and a desire to strive to serve them just as well. To care so much that I learn the best ways to show them they’re loved. To take time for the little things. To remember that my home, whether here with my roommate or hundreds of miles away with my family, does not revolve around me.

To be loved when we’re unlovable, unreasonable and so much less than perfect…

To be noticed and cared for in the most subtle, yet important ways each and every day…

In the place where our walls and guards are down and our masks have been removed…

When fake is forgotten and we’re realer than real…

It all makes becoming fully known somehow just a little bit easier.

Maybe, like me, you’ve been overlooking the community in the comfort of your own home. Let me challenge you this week to be intentional about noticing the little things. This community we didn’t choose or go searching for is made so easily accessible for a reason! Embrace it. Appreciate it. And let it drive you to love and serve with a thankful heart.

Community, Faith, Forgiveness, Identity, Redemption, Relationships

Unfriendable

October 14, 2015

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It may come as a shocker to you, but I am a hard friend to love. I’ll let you all take a moment to gasp a little at that thought. 😉 But seriously, I’m not always the easy friend in a group of people.

Naturally a little stand-offish and pretty opinionated, oftentimes I can come across as rude and unapproachable. My filter isn’t always very strong and sometimes even my most loving and gracious “encouragement” can come across as more of a lecture than a pep-talk. Know the type? Yeah, that’s me.

We’ve all got someone in our lives who’s “that friend.” The exhausting one. The Debbie-downer. The one who it feels more like work than a joy to to be around. The one who if you didn’t think it would be a total jerk move to do, you’d totally unfriend and unfollow them on social media. We all have them, and in truth, we might even be that friend ourselves.

What do we do when someone is difficult to love? Is every friendship worth the work? I know we don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how do we handle relationships with people who God has put in our path? Are some people just a lost cause?

About three years ago I would’ve said that some people just aren’t worth the work. Phrases like, “This is about as close as we’ll ever get” and “They just don’t want to know me or be friends with me” or “Forget them, I have other friends anyway” were common coming out of my mouth. I was very quick to dismiss anyone who wasn’t willing to put forth the effort I was and wrote it off as them just being stand offish and not friend material. Then I came out of the “I’ve been sexually abused” closet and everything changed.

For the first time in my life, I hungered for people to know me. I wanted people to see my pain and not only stand with me in it, but walk with me to see beyond it and find a new way of living. At the same time I was dealing with my crap, one of my dear friends was walking through the loss of a child. Her pain was far worse than my own, but her desire of being known was the same. Together we discovered something amazing.

To love well and to be loved well in return means to pursue the heart of another.

You see, I wanted so bad for people to see how I was hurting on the inside, but I was never going to show it on the outside. I needed to know that they were safe enough to entrust my fragile heart to. I needed to know that they cared for me not just when it was easy, but when I was at my most difficult to love. The only way I could know that was by them seeking out to know me and meet me where I was at.

Friends, we all carry secrets that create fortresses in our hearts. Wounds that build steel doors, keeping anyone at bay who may come too close. Yet it’s those very places that we want people most. Because those places of weakness, the places we hurt most, those are the places we need others. We just need someone willing to fight through.

That friend, the difficult one, she’s fighting a battle too. Her pain may run so deep that she has no idea just how fortified her heart has really become, and sadly, no one has ever tried to get in. So she keeps herself guarded, mean, and unapproachable not because she doesn’t want you as a friend, but because she doesn’t know how.

To be like Jesus to those around us means to press in, push harder, and love stronger even when there is never any return of the affection.

I’ve had a friend I’ve known for several years. She’s quiet and guarded. She’s so private with her emotions that I’ve only seen her cry once in the entire time I’ve known her. For many years I thought we’d never be more than casual friends, only discussing things like our kids and marriage. She was impenetrable and the only way we’d become closer was for her to change, or so I thought.

Last year I began to implement this idea of pursuing the hearts of my friends. She was my particular goal. I started slowly, just a simple text here and there letting her know I was thinking of her and praying for her. When we were together in groups, I’d make sure to invite her places and then let her know she was missed when she didn’t come. All the while on my own I kept asking God for an opportunity to let her know I loved her and wanted to love her well. He granted that prayer six months later over a cup of coffee.

While talking about a recent mission trip she had been on, I felt God give me a nudge to say something. I began by telling her how much I valued her as a friend. How I really was wanting God to use me to love my friends well and she was one of those. I told her how each of my friends needed love differently and so I asked her how I could love her better. What happened next was amazing.

We began to talk, I mean really talk, for the first time. She told me how I could love her better and what ways of approaching her or helping her would embarrass or make her uncomfortable and which ways would help. Then she said something that floored me. She said, “Heather, I really want to be known by people, I’m just not good at it. I need someone to help me.”

Ladies, that girl you find so frustrating, she wants to be known. That girl who you feel sucks the life out of you or never returns your kindness, she aches for friendship too. But maybe, like my friend, these girls aren’t good at it and they need someone who is willing to walk with them and help them break down those barriers to let someone in.

If Jesus Christ was willing to walk right into the depths of hell to claim our hearts, don’t you think we should be willing to do a fraction of the same for another?

Loving the unlovable is hard. It means loving simply because and not out of our desire to be loved back. It’s remembering that sometimes love means fighting for the heart of another, even if it doesn’t look like they want you to. It means drawing close when your instincts tell you to walk away. It means laying down your life, your needs, your wants, and loving simply because we are called to. I can say with full honesty that what comes out of that kind of love is something so wonderful and pure and holy that it is mind blowing. But you have to be willing to change yourself first.

How about today you put on those boxing gloves and go fight for the hearts of the unlovable. In time, you’ll set both your hearts free and discover the beauty of redeeming love.