Browsing Category

Faith

Community, Faith

Courage, Dear Heart

April 27, 2016

IMG_7271

“Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it. By doing just acts, we come to be just. By doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled, and by doing brave acts, we come to be brave.” — Aristotle

I never would have thought of myself as someone who is brave. More accurately, someone who possesses great courage. Sure I’ve done cliff diving or ridden that questionable roller coaster- but that was always accompanied with a heavy dose of fear and the prevailing thought of “What the he– am I doing?” So yeah, big fat wuss over here.

Did you know that the word courage is actually a heart word? Quick school lesson: (just stick with me here people) but the word courage comes from the Latin word which means heart. In its whole, courage actually means: to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

And isn’t that what we’re trying to do here? Tell our stories: the hopes, fears and everything in between? To gather our courage and become women who aren’t afraid to be real? Women who know that life is better together out in the open and not in the hidden spaces? So I guess you could say we all  have a lot more courage than we think we do.

When I left the blog last year I had no intention of coming back. My time was done and I had made peace with handing your precious hearts over to a new group of women who I knew would treasure you as much as I did. Something I learned last year was that love and care  sometimes can look a lot like letting go.

Over the past several weeks, Allison and I have been having a lot of hard conversations. Better yet, a lot of courageous conversations. We talked about heart and vision and unity and passion and calling. I asked hard questions and Allison gave hard answers. And together, we made a really hard, yet really courageous decision. Allison is leaving AGLM and I am stepping back in.

After serving as leader of this blog it became clear to Allison just how much she loves ministering to young women like yourselves. However, she also realized that the kind of girl and way she wants to reach that girl doesn’t quite fit the vision of AGLM. So, she is taking the bold move to step away from AGLM to better focus on the place in ministry where her heart’s passion truly lies. She’s writing a book, blogging on her own site and counseling/mentoring  women in her community. She’s bravely stepping into serving in the place her heart feels led, and you know what? We couldn’t be more thrilled.

Taking the reins of this blog back over wasn’t exciting for me, let’s be honest. I worked dang hard last year to let it go. To surrender it. What was going to happen if I came back? Would the passion still be there? Would I even have the energy to do it again? Would you guys still want to hear from me or had this thirty-something year old become irrelevant?

I can’t say I have the answers to these questions, but I can say that I’m anxious to find them out and the only way I can do that is by fearlessly jumping back in. So I jumped.

If courage is the telling of who we are with our whole hearts, I wonder what stories you and I have yet to share? Fears that live only in the silent tears we use to cry ourselves to sleep. Hopes and dreams that are only spoken in the hidden pages of journals and desperate prayers.

I wonder what would happen, if together, we all grabbed onto that courage and hand in hand faced the untouched parts of our stories with unguarded grace and guts. I don’t know the answer to that question either, but I’m ready to find out.

** If you’d like to continue to follow Allison on her journey, you can find her on her Instagram or her Blog.**

Faith, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

God is Ironic

April 13, 2016

head vs heartIf I ever doubted before that God hears me, I certainly don’t now.

Remember when I wrote about how deeply I desire companionship and long to be in love, and how much I’ve prayed for that? Well…God heard me. And He answered. But not quite the way I expected.

A couple months ago, a guy I dated in the past (but haven’t talked to in two years) waltzed back into my life. I thought we were just two old friends catching up. Recently, however, it became clear that he was pursuing me. And I didn’t know it. I thought we were just talking. He thought we were “talking.” (It’s hard to believe those two things could be so easily confused…*face-palm*)

This guy was a great friend. I have a lot of respect for him, and at one point I really thought I could see myself with him. But when it came down to it, I knew he wasn’t the right guy. So I had to put an end to the relationship that had been developing right under my completely oblivious nose…and walk away.

I felt like I had just gone through a break up, in a weird sort of way. It wasn’t fun. And it kind of felt like some cruel joke…I mean, come on, the only guy to show interest in me in two years was a guy I’m no longer interested in. Thanks, God…

But, though I ultimately didn’t feel this guy was right for me, he was close. And for the first time in a while it seemed Prince Charming might not be too far off. So I prayed boldly, and I literally told God to “bring it on.”

The very next day, a guy I met at work asked me out.

Yep. I can’t make this stuff up.

I spent a couple weeks getting to know him, and I found him to be exactly what I always thought I wanted. I’m not sure I’ve ever really known what my “type” was, but I think it was him.

So God gave me what I asked for. The guy I told Him was right for me.

But even more than that, He gave me the pursuit that I wanted. I wanted a guy to see me across the room and say, “I have to have her.” I wanted the “good morning, beautiful” texts and the lift-me-off-the-ground goodbye hugs. I wanted someone to hold my hand, plan fun dates, and to catch them staring when they thought I wasn’t looking. And I got all of those things.

But he wasn’t pointing me to Jesus. I could tell we were at much different places in our faith. I felt like he was such a great guy who I enjoyed being with and getting to know, but without that crucial spiritual component, I knew I couldn’t keep seeing him.

Everything in me was screaming, “No! This feels good! This is what you want, right? Stay here in the romance, where you feel wanted and special.”

And yet, somewhere deep in my heart I knew a flirty romance, butterflies and strong chemistry wouldn’t be enough. I knew I needed someone who would lead, encourage and challenge me in my faith, and I couldn’t see that in him.

So I had to fight the strength of physical attraction for the sake of spiritual connection and have a really hard conversation with him, ending things before either of us got more invested. Unfortunately, what could have been a peaceful decision to do what’s best for both of us actually became a painful show of his true colors, leaving me to walk away hurt, confused and angry.

So let’s recap: In the course of a week, I “broke up” with one guy who I didn’t know was pursuing me, went on a few dates with another guy, broke things off with him, and experienced my first real heartbreak.

I’ve felt all the feels I think I could possibly feel over the past few weeks. A month ago I was mad at God for not giving me what I wanted. Now I’m mad at God for giving me exactly what I asked for and allowing me to be burned by it. It seems a little ridiculous.

Through it all, though, He’s shown me that many of the things I want in a guy aren’t wrong. But I can’t be romanced by romance alone. There’s something to be said for a man who loves Jesus, who prays for the woman he will one day marry, and who leaves every other woman he encounters along the way in better condition than what he found her in. That’s the kind of man I need, and that’s the kind of man who’s worth waiting for.

Ya know, after all of this, I have to laugh. God, in His irony, answered my prayers just to show me that I have no idea what I’m actually praying for. He gave me exactly what I wanted to show me it isn’t what I need.

Oh, and in the midst of all of this? Heather and Nina have been basically campaigning for another guy who they believe could be my perfect match. I’m just hoping cupid’s aim has gotten a little better this time. 😉

It’s funny…we always want to make God out to be so serious and “all-business.” But I bet He laughed when Christ was on earth and one of the disciples farted. I bet Jesus tripped over a rock in his path a time or two and God got a good chuckle out of it. And I bet He’s up there laughing at me now trying to navigate the love life I didn’t know I had. So I guess I can laugh at this romantic comedy I’ve found myself in, too.

Faith, God, Spiritual Life

God is the visionary

April 6, 2016

image1 (2)

You know when you plan something in your life to go a certain way, but then God takes it and says, “Nope, I’m taking you somewhere different”…

That’s happened to me many times. And it’s happening to me now.

I know that God is for me. Even if life doesn’t seem good at the moment, He is using it for my good.

I know that God has a very specific and amazing plan for my life.

And I know that His plans are always better than my plans.

I have had so many times in my life that I’ve learned these things about God, like:

  • In high school I wanted and planned to go to a magnet school so badly that my best friends were going to, but I didn’t get in.
  • I tried out for the volleyball team in high school (I had already been playing volleyball at my previous school), but didn’t make the team.
  • I enrolled at my dream school in NYC the end of my senior year of high school but ended up not receiving the scholarship money I thought I would receive, so I had to go to a university in my home town.
  • One summer in college, I planned to go on a mission trip to Venezuela, but ended up breaking my leg so I couldn’t go.
  • In college I had at least 5 break-ups, and I obviously didn’t begin those relationships planning to break-up.
  • After I graduated from college, I applied to a job that I was 90% sure I was going to be offered, but they decided to hire someone else.
  • I wanted to move out of my home town and tried to find a way, but it was always clear that God wanted me to stay here.
  • I broke up with a guy right after college because I knew it wasn’t who God had for me after we both talked about getting engaged.

Those are just some of the major times I have learned that I may try to plan what’s best for my life, but ultimately, God is in control, and knows the best plan for my life.

He is the greatest visionary.

His plans for you are greater than yours could ever be, no matter how hard or how long you plan.

And out of all  8 of those major plans I had for my life, I don’t wish any of those to have gone the way I had originally planned. I am so glad I let go (or was forced to let go) and allowed God to establish my steps for me.

Since I graduated from seminary in December, I have been on a journey of figuring out what’s next for me. I am planning my steps, but again, God is the visionary for my life. He establishes my ways.

I’m learning to go after what I’m excited about doing and trying not to overthink it. If God wants me to continue in whatever that is, He will make a way. And if He doesn’t, He will make that obvious too. God doesn’t reveal His plan for you in the sky or spell it out for you in your cereal. It’s not always direct at first. That’s why He calls us to live by faith, not by sight.

Sometimes when God reveals his vision for us, it means letting go of something you love. Following God’s plan is an act of sacrifice and walking by faith is usually not easy.

The more that we trust Him and just step out and DO what’s in front of us, following desires and the steps He gives us, the more evident His plans become. Sometimes it’s hard to explain. And sometimes others won’t understand what you’re doing, but I promise that following God is worth it. Trusting and surrendering to God’s plan for you is the most fulfilling way to live. And even if you don’t understand  what He’s doing, that is the beauty of TRUSTING Him and not your own plans. You’ll look back on your life and see the beauty that God was weaving together for you all along.

Faith, God, Spiritual Life

God is a Farmer

March 30, 2016

image1 (1)

Corndogs and French fries. I was the skinny kid who refused to eat vegetables. I should probably be dead due to the number of frozen hot dogs I’ve consumed. I was so picky about fresh foods that I remember spilling my orange juice on myself one morning in elementary school so I wouldn’t have to drink it. Stubborn? Yes. Extreme? Absolutely.

My mom usually keeps books once she reads them and there are about a dozen parenting books in her closet on different methods to get a kid to EAT SOMETHING. Yeah, it was bad. Yeah, I still apologize to her for her having to wonder if her firstborn was going to contract scurvy. Yeah, that’s the disease pirates get after months without fresh fruits and veggies in their diet.

Watermelon was her only hope. At a pool party in fifth grade, one of the moms brought out a tray with half a watermelon cut up into slices. I ate the whole thing by myself while the other kids were swimming. Call me a sneaky fox! Something about that bright and juicy fruit had me mesmerized. Then she convinced me that carrots were good for my eyesight so I’d come home from school every day for years and eat ONE carrot. Pathetic.

All the while, our small elementary school had a tradition to uphold. Every Friday, the fifth graders would help in the butterfly garden with Mrs. Bucky, a half-blind, hunched-over old-lady gardener. We would plant new plants, weed around the pathways, and learn the names of all the butterflies. I stuck to her side like glue and thought she was a flowery botanical genius. This was my Gardening 101 and it has stuck with me for years.

Our family would also head out west every summer and we usually ended up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Horseback riding became my favorite way to spend time and the mountains taught me how small I was. Fresh air got in my soul. These summers created my need for time outdoors and I studied environmental science from there on out.

So after years of trying one new food at a time and letting my stubborn walls against new vegetables down, I went to college. Somehow, the local food movement in Nashville was intriguing and the salad bar became my best friend. Organic agriculture turned out to be the way I could help the earth, help people, and study science to put it all together. I lived on a farm in Indiana two years ago, interned on a non-profit farm for my senior year of college, and worked on an organic farm last year.

Now, I see God in my garden. I know Him on a farm. We all tune in to the heartbeat of God in a different way and it shapes us one moment at a time. I know that God is a farmer.

I see the face of a sunflower follow the sun across the sky throughout the day. We were meant to fix our eyes on heaven.
I see honeybees travel from flower to flower in the spring- the pollen feeds the bees and the bees help the flowers become fruit. We need each other.
I see my ten foot tall cherry tomato plant produce more fruit than I can eat on my own. The harvest is best when it’s shared.
I see the dead leaves on the ground in the fall becoming the nutrients that the garden needs in the spring. Redemption wins when death becomes life.
I see huge carrot come out of the dirt when I pull on the green tops. Growth is happening even when I can’t see it.
I see myself sitting in the row between the peppers and the beans on a summer evening after an emotionally exhausting day and how God whispers in the breeze to breathe it all in. We need a place of solitude for God to tell us it’s going to be okay.

He is the grower of seeds. He is the provider of rain. He gives the birds their song and the bees their wings. He is the ultimate farmer. In Genesis, creation happened in a garden. Earth is God’s farm and we are all His farmhands.

Plant a seed and see what happens!

Community, Faith, God, Relationships

God is All-Satisfying

March 23, 2016
Miss-you-lonely-girl-call-you-in-lonely-field1
“I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis
 
One thing that I consistently struggle with is unmet expectations.
 
I have always considered myself to be flexible and adaptable, and although that may be true as far as overseas missions go, I have found myself falling into the trap of unmet expectations for the last couple of years. It is never fun to admit to and one of those “ugly” habits that I wish I didn’t struggle with.
 
Our expectations are never truly realized until they aren’t met. When things go our way we usually just respond with excitement and joy instead of saying “Oh my goodness! All my unspoken expectations were just met!” Our expectations seem to be realized when our plans don’t go right and when either people or experiences disappoint us. Then we will be quick to realize those specific things we didn’t even know we wanted.
 
I struggle with not being where I thought I’d be at this stage in my life. I think we can all attest to that in some way.
I struggle with not having a job that is involved with what I’m most passionate about.
I wonder if I will ever live overseas like I have always dreamed of.
I fear what my “normal” will be like with a husband traveling out of town so much.
No church will ever be perfect, but I have had to face unmet expectations with the church that we go to.
I struggle with feeling like I’m not meeting other’s expectations.
I could drown myself in worrying about what others want or need or desire from me on a daily basis.
 
The list can go on and on and on…. SO. MANY. EXPECTATIONS.
 
Is anyone else just tired of them? When do they end? Do they ever end? What is the solution to stop being so disappointed or stop being the one to disappoint?
 
The only thing I know to do is fix my eyes on Christ. It’s not just the church-y answer. It can be confusing, frustrating, messy and imperfect…but it’s the ONLY way to free myself from expectations.
 
When I look to Christ, I see that He is truly all-satisfying. I can try so hard to make all of my dreams come true, and I can try every day to make things go the way I planned…but even if that were to happen, I still wouldn’t be fully satisfied.
THAT is the lie of unmet expectations: That if somehow we get everything we want, we will be happy. Christ teaches differently. He tells us that HE is the only one who can fully satisfy our soul’s longings, and until we are face to face with Him, we will always have that sense of unmet dreams, unmet plans, and unmet desires. It’s God’s way of reminding us that we were made to be fully satisfied in Him, and not in this world.
 
This is a real tension and struggle for us believers. God is teaching me that it’s how I respond to all my unmet expectations that counts. I need to constantly remind myself that this life is temporary, and that getting everything my heart desires isn’t the most important thing. When I think about it hard enough, I truly don’t want my life to be all about me. I want it to be for something greater than what my earthly desires create in my mind. I need to release control and TRUST in my Father who loves me so dearly. Loving God and loving others, in the midst of whatever unfulfilled circumstance we’re in is what God calls us to do. I want to have my eyes so fixed on Christ that everything in this life will fall in comparison to the satisfaction I have in my Father.
 
I’m trying to free myself from the burden of unmet expectations by laying my life, my plans, my dreams at the foot of the cross. I’m not the one in control and I want to be okay with that. God doesn’t promise to give us what we want, but He does promise that we can find all of the fulfillment and acceptance and satisfaction we need, in Him alone. And one day, when we are with Him for eternity, we will NEVER feel disappointment again.
Can I get an amen for that?! The struggle is real, ladies. Thank you Jesus for that promise because He knows we all need that today.
Faith, Fear, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

God Is Understanding

March 16, 2016

jealous-kids

If you were to ask me what is the one thing that I desire most in life, I would probably tell you about my dream job that would allow me to travel all over the world, drink tea and lattes all day long, and have deep conversations with people…and get paid for it.

Or I’d share with you the vacation I have planned to take my family on if one day I find that tree people say money grows on.

Or I would rattle off all of the things that make up the perfect life I’ve imagined on Pinterest.

And while each of those things certainly rank high on my list (however unlikely they may be 😉 ), there is still one desire that trumps them all…one I tend to keep hidden so deep in my heart because somehow I think if I tell anyone what I wish for, it won’t come true.

But really, if I’m completely honest, what my heart longs for more than anything is companionship.

Gosh, I just want to be married. I’m almost 23, I’m young and “I have my whole life ahead of me.” But when it seems like everyone around me is falling in love and getting married, it feels like this constant reminder that I’m alone.

Some days it’s like, if I see one more relationship status update on Facebook…
…if I hear one more sappy date story…
…if I see one more engagement ring on my Instagram feed…
…if I get one more “you plus one” wedding invitation (and if THAT one isn’t a double whammy…”not only am I getting married and you’re not, I’m inviting you to bring a date that you don’t have.”)…
Lord, help me…it might just drive me to Christian Mingle. I mean, obviously nothing else is working…

Friends, can I be candid? Sometimes singleness just sucks. I know there is so much good that comes out of this time, so much freedom in being able to focus on me, go anywhere, do anything. This season should be embraced. But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes (most times) I just want someone to do life with. I want my own fairytale. I want to be in love.

I have prayed soooo much about this. Seriously, if you could see my journals…

But every week, Friday and Saturday night roll around and the closest I come to a hot date is lounging in my sweatpants with Heather, catching up on the Bachelor (sorry Heather, but sometimes I want to spend my weekends with someone a little more “tall, dark and handsome.” 😉 )

For one more week my prayers go unanswered. And you know what?

I’m mad at God.

There. I said it. I’m mad at Him because I feel like He’s holding out on me. I’m annoyed because He knows what I want, what I have been hoping and dreaming for, and He’s fully capable of giving it to me! But for some reason He’s holding back. I feel like He’s not listening. I feel like I’m being punished. All of which I know isn’t true, but it doesn’t make me feel any less lonely, like I’m missing out and He doesn’t care.

But He does. That’s just it. He understands what I’m feeling because He’s the one who gave me that desire to be married and walk through life in partnership with someone else. He knit this longing for love into my being when He made me.

He gets it. He understands my anger and my frustration. He understands my confusion and my impatience. And because He understands, He gives me so much grace for when I don’t understand Him.

So to you, single girl…don’t feel guilty if you can’t find joy in this season, if you’re tired, if you’re jealous…I get it. I’m right there with you, and I understand. But more importantly, so does He.

Faith, Family, Forgiveness, Redemption, Your Story

Redemption even when hopeless

February 19, 2016

IMG_0098

Written by one of our readers:

My story begins 6 or 7 years ago. Not because that was when I was born, but because major stuff has been happening in my life since then. You see, my parents separated when I was 2 (I’m 26 now), and my mom raised me and my younger brother as a single parent. Growing up we spent a considerable amount of time with our dad, but we lived our day-to-day lives without him.
About six or seven years ago, my dad and I had a huge fight- a fight big enough that it has kept us apart all these years.
I was hurt, angry and upset not just for this one incident but for a lifetime of hurt and pain that had been bottled up or excused away my whole life. I told myself I would never let anyone else treat me that way ever again. So I began to isolate myself and slowly gained about 150 pounds.
Long story short, I had a very personal encounter with the Lord. He made Himself so real that I just couldn’t ignore it, and it was also then that I heard His voice for the first time. So I made a commitment to follow Jesus. I went from not caring about myself or how I treated my body depressed and hurting, to having the motivation to become a healthy person both physically and spiritually.
Fast forward to last year. I found out that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Not from him but from my brother who heard it from various family members. I was so hurt that he wouldn’t just call to talk to me I decided then and there that I didn’t care anymore. I was not going to waste my time and energy on someone who obviously didn’t want me there. The problem with my way of thinking is that God wasn’t done with him yet.
My uncle called and left me a message last week. “If you have anything to say to your dad, you need to come now”.  I felt the Holy Spirit say to me that this was it- I needed to go. So Friday last week one of my best friends offered to make the 4.5 hour trip with me to see him.  We get to the hospital to see him, and I cannot explain the level of peace that I felt in that room. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but it sure wasn’t peace. My dad and I sat next to each other and talked for the first time in years. He held my hand the entire time, and just could not stop looking at me.

Before I left I looked at my dad and asked “Hey, can I pray for you before I leave?” “Sure.” he said- and I did. I did what I thought I could never do. I prayed for peace, mercy and love to overtake him. I prayed healing over his cancer-ridden body. I held his hand and made eye contact with him for the first time in years. I also remember putting my hand on his face and saying “I just want Jesus to become more and more real to you.” His response was “He becomes more and more real every day.”
I never thought I could do it- and I promise you if it were up to me I wouldn’t have.  This is the beauty of our God- He chooses and transforms even the most unlikely of people. But these are exactly the kind of people that Jesus looked at and said, “Come. Follow Me.”
I got into the car and I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of me. The memory of the last awful confrontation I had with my dad years ago has haunted me every day since it happened. I got saved, joined a church, went through Freedom ministry, conferences, personal ministry sessions, and even went through processing my feelings and thoughts with people I love and trust who love me unconditionally.  I could not break free of this memory. It kept me from feeling like people really love me; like I am good enough…it even affected me being able to fully realize the Father’s love for me.

It was not until the Holy Spirit in His perfect timing told me clearly to go that it changed. Now the last memory that we have of each other is good and peace filled.  But here’s the crazy part. I had to get up and go. My father was never going to make the first move. But what if it was never all about me? Sitting in that hospital room, I found that there were some things that I had to apologize for. My selfish and self centered attitude for one. You see, I had made this entire situation about what he did to me- my anger and my pain and hurt took over and I allowed those thoughts to distance me from him. That day, it just wasn’t about me.
Here’s an even cooler epilogue to the story- remember the peace I talked about? The peace I felt in the room that I couldn’t understand? My crazy awesome Jesus loving friend who went with me said in the car- “I bet your dad had an experience- that’s why you can’t explain it.” I thought to myself, well maybe he has…I’m not sure.
I arrived at my mom’s house the next day and was telling her how the visit went, and how I was able to lay hands on my father and pray for him. She said “well, you know he’s had a lot of people go in and out of his room praying for him…you brother said when he was there yesterday one of his old co-workers stopped by, had your dad kneel and led him through salvation.”
YOU GUYS. I’m not sure there are enough words to convey what I am feeling here. In my mind, this could never happen. This is a man I was convinced was too far gone… and he’s wasn’t. Jesus still came and was with both of us the whole time.
I want to encourage anyone who feels like there is a relationship that is past mending- I promise you it isn’t. If we let God write our story, it will turn out more beautiful than we could ever have imagined.

 

*Ashley’s Dad passed away this past week, just a few days after Ashley wrote this post for us. We are so thankful that she let us into her story. We love you, Ashley. -AGLM

 

photoMy name is Ashley Garza. I am 26 years old and have been following AGLM for the last 3 years.

 

Body Image, Community, Faith, Family, Identity, Suffering, Your Story

Back Story

February 17, 2016
image1
Nina’s Story
This right here is like hundreds of coffee dates at one time. Telling our stories to each other reminds me of common threads- joyful days, hard days, belly laughs and ugly cries, pasts and futures that get us all jumbled in the head. Welcome to my belly laughs and ugly cries.
So I was born in south Florida to a southern Kentucky girl and a Colombian papa bear. My parents met on a blind date and were married a few months later. A few years later, I came along and when I came out of the womb, my dad called me “coconut” because of my already thick and dark hair- probably not the most romantic thing my mom could’ve heard in that moment, but anyway…
Next came my brother who probably arrived on earth kicking a soccer ball. We argued a lot growing up, but we were constantly together- playing outside, at each other’s games, watching the same movies, and I may or may not have slept in his room when we were little because I didn’t want to be alone at night. Tough, stubborn, strong older sister? HAHA!
We grew up with family close by and with a solid group of friends that felt like family. Consistently covered in sand from the beach, sidewalk chalk from afternoons outside, or water from the pool, my tendency was to play outside before anything else.
Jesus became real to me in seventh grade during worship at a conference that my youth group was attending. I felt His presence in a way that was unknown to me before and I realized God is closer than the breath in my lungs. Because of growing up in church, I knew the Bible stories but in the quiet days following this trip, I remember sitting behind our house looking into the backyard and asking Jesus to live in me. Since then, I’ve had stepping stones of my faith walk where I learn new parts of His character, but I treasure the memory of that day.
I guess I could further explain my “normal” childhood, sweet and stable family, church friends, the culture shock of public high school after private Christian middle school, and the joy of always having the ocean nearby. But I’d rather tell you about a secret.
In elementary school, I got X-Rays.
Sure enough, my spine showed up on the lit screen as a rotated and backwards “S” just like my mom and grandmas. At first, I was scared for my body because I knew something was wrong. But then I was scared because of shame, that it’d be impossible for me to be perfect because the very thing that held my body together was crooked. My bones weren’t broken, they were distorted.
The doctor sat with us for hours and tried to explain why I’d have to wear a brace while I slept for the next five years. And if it didn’t work to manage the curvature, they’d consider immobilizing parts of my spine with a metal rod to protect my organs from potential damage.
Confusion was paralyzing and I cried from deep fear and sudden panic.
And then I didn’t tell anyone.
Nobody knew my secret. For some reason, I shut up. I avoided sleepovers so that nobody would see the plastic brace I kept under my bed. I know it sounds dumb, but it was a monster to me. I kept my pain a secret for years and ran to hide my brace whenever someone came in the house. When I was in the trenches of the years of endless trips to the doctor, more X-RAYS, and uncertainty of progress, I was frustrated with my spine.
Looking back, I see how simple the situation was. My spine is crooked and God was so kind to put the best doctors in my life to help me heal. The whole story is grace-filled and I love sharing it now, but at the time I didn’t want anyone to realize my flaws.
In college, a friend taught me how to crochet a scarf. Although I’m still clumsy with the hook and yarn, I’ve seen yards and yards of thin string become messy but beautiful pieces of clothing. My first scarf was a disaster but you could still see the woven pattern despite my inability. In the middle of the project it’s impossible to see the fullness of the finished work.
To the girl with a medical history, I see you. Maybe you feel alone in that doctors office and like nobody else will understand what you’re going through- your disease, your deformity, your mental illness. Whether or not it is obvious to the world what’s going on inside you, believe that it is for good somehow. And that it’s okay if you can’t see it now. I know that it is dark and hard and waiting for news sucks, but oh the freedom I’ve found in sharing the struggle. Such freedom. Such grace.
Community, Faith, Identity, Your Story

Embrace who God created you to be

February 12, 2016

 

 

Written by one of our readers:

Hey girls! Can I just say how excited I am to be writing to you all?!? My name is Shanna, and I’ve been following AGLM since 2012.  I am so thankful for this blog; God directed me to it at a very vulnerable time in my life.  As a shy eighteen year old fresh out of high school, I was in desperate need of a community that could pour into my questioning heart.  As I pondered just what I wanted to share with you ladies, the Lord brought this phrase to mind “Embrace the person God created you to be.”

Some of you are saying, what does that even mean?! Good question!! At eighteen, I was thinking the exact same thing.  Now at twenty one, I’m still searching for the answer, but I have a better grasp.  How many of you have spent weeks, months, even years etc.  trying to figure out just what you should do with your life? Or maybe you have an idea, but you don’t know how to achieve it.  Or, you could be like I was, fully aware of what God is calling you to do, but terrified of doing it.

You see ladies, this is a hard thing for me to admit, because I wish it wasn’t true, but I spent the first 18 years of my life denying one of the gifts God gave me.  I had a heart for worship and singing that God had been cultivating in me since I was a little girl.  But fear had a tight grip on me. My confidence in who I was as a person was so depleted, that I couldn’t even fathom the idea of singing in front of five people, let alone a congregation at church.  I refused to use my voice to serve God; the very thing he had gifted me the voice for!

My first year of College was a whirlwind of change.  I watched many of my friends head off to Universities, while I stayed home and went to a local community college.  I said goodbye to familiarity that year, and walked uneasily into the season of change that God was bringing.

Lonely, insecure, and confused, I found myself praying for two things; a Godly friendship, and for the Lord to give me a deeper desire for him.

At a time when I needed it most, God answered that prayer. I met my very best friend, Ashley, at church.  We had so much in common; it was like hanging out with myself!  As our friendship grew, I felt the weight of insecurity fall from my shoulders.  I firmly believe that God brought that friendship in my life to bring us both closer to him! I also really began to hunger for God’s word, prayer, and worship.  As I pursued the things of the Lord it became clear to me, God was saying “Embrace the Person I created you to be.”

The closer I became to God, the more secure I was in the person he made me to be.  My identity was no longer my own, I found my true self in Christ.  By the end of that first year, with the encouragement of Ashley and my family, I finally did what God had been asking me all along, I gave him my voice.  I joined the worship team and never looked back.

God has changed my life through worship.  The moment I gave that part of myself to God, fear left me.  I realized that I had nothing to fear; worship is not about me or being heard; it’s about glorifying and pouring out my heart to the one who saved us all.

Being obedient to God and true to who he made you to be is one of the greatest acts of worship you could ever offer.

Think about this, God knows the deepest desires of your heart.  He is familiar with all of your ways.  God loves you as you are.  You don’t have to deny or suppress the dreams and desires that lay dormant in your heart.  God put them there! He created you in a special way, with a unique purpose.  Not only is it okay to pursue the things that God has put on your heart, it is his will!

God’s word says it all.  We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the greatest creator.  Our “inmost being,” the very essence of who we are, was crafted by God.  It is God’s Holy Spirit within us that directs our hearts. (Psalm 139)

Ladies, I still don’t have it all figured out.  I’ve only scratched the surface on God’s plan for my life.  There is one thing that I’m absolutely sure of though, it’s not going to take me another 18 years to listen to God’s call.  If you’re in that place of uncertainty, cry out to God.  Ask him to reveal his will, to make his desires your desires too.  If you have sought God’s word and prayed to him, and you know what he is calling you to do, then it is time to follow his lead.

Change your college major…..become that missionary in Africa…..sell your paintings…..lead worship…..whatever it is God is calling you to, do it for him.

309467_198006120267645_2018917496_n

Shanna is 21 years old and a resident of Portland, Oregon. She loves going to concerts (Switchfoot is her all-time favorite).  Creating art, playing the guitar, cooking, singing on her church’s worship team, and spending quality time with family and friends are some of her favorite past-times.

Faith, Family, Fear, Relationships, Your Story

Trust Me

February 10, 2016
image1
Ashton’s Story:
Let’s be honest, following Christ can be messy, scary, chaotic, and sometimes seem to not make sense to the world, but that’s also the beauty in TRUSTING someone. we don’t have to dwell on the “what if’s” – instead we can embrace where God has us and confidently move forward trusting in HIS plans.
For college, I decided to go to the University of San Diego when I was recruited to play volleyball. I loved it and God provided such a great ministry among my unbelieving friends and teammates. It was a crazy ironic tradition, but the volleyball team was superstitious about having to “pray” before every game. I may have been the only person who took those moments seriously, but I still loved seeing how God provided a way for them to hear truth. He was pursuing them in ways they didn’t even realize. I learned in my time at USD that if you just put yourself out there and ask to be used by God, He will always open doors. Step out fearlessly, confidently stand up for what you believe in, and genuinely love those around you…and you WILL be a light to this world.
 
Apart from these sweet moments with teammates, it took one year to make me realize that I was completely consumed with something that I wasn’t deeply passionate about. God was convicting me of it. I would wake up early for 7:00am classes, get to the training room by noon to get taped up, practice for 3 hours and then head to the weight lifting room for another 1 hour workout, go back to the training room for ice baths and stretching, then head back to my dorm to muster up any energy I had left to get my homework done. Then repeat the next day. On top of that, every other week we would travel out of town for games, missing A LOT of classes. I found my days to be very full of something that I knew would end in just a matter of time. I missed church every other week, I had no possible way of being apart of a small group, and no time to build a community outside of volleyball. I loved playing the game, but at the end of the day I deeply yearned to somehow be a part of global missions. I knew my days weren’t wasted there at all, but I felt God calling me away. I felt Him asking me to trust Him, again. Giving up volleyball was like asking me to give up my comfortability; my self-built identity that I found a lot of worth in; my “thing” that I could hide in when life just wasn’t great. We all have had something like that, right? It was scary. Because despite knowing how all of my friends and family would think of me, it was clear that God was asking me to trust Him with HIS plans, even though I didn’t know what they were yet.
 
Trying to whole-heartedly follow the Lord, I decided to leave USD, leave a full-ride scholarship, and transfer to Biola University (the Bible Institute of Los Angeles). My decision was not a popular one. My coaches were caught off guard, my friends didn’t understand my spiritual reasoning, and my family was mostly supportive but just hard to read. I knew as soon as I left that this sport I consumed my life with for so many years had truly become an idol. A big idol. I found too much worth in it, and God knew.
 
Biola has one of the best Intercultural Studies programs and I was ecstatic to be a part of it. I learned A LOT in my time there yet still didn’t feel at home. Ironically enough, even going to a Bible teaching, mission’s focused school for a year seemed to not feel right for the calling I felt upon my life. I thought it would take away my itch to live overseas but it only made it stronger! I know that many have different opinions about this, but I was right back to the same question of, “Is going to school what God is telling me to do, or just what our culture says is the right way to do things?” I was deeply challenged by this, and through countless different conversations I had with my parents and mentors, I again decided to leave school. This time though, not to transfer to another school. I felt called to live overseas and experience first hand what it’s like to be a missionary. Not everyone was for this, but I knew God had a plan bigger than what we could see at the time. TRUST was the biggest lesson I learned.
 
This brought me an amazing opportunity to work at a church for two years and be sent all over the world. I learned so much in that time and would never take back my decision to stop school. I ended my term being sent to the Middle East to start a church plant and my goodness did I fall in love. I fell in love with the culture, and it lit a fire in me to see the unreached Muslim world come to know Christ. I am forever changed because of how I saw God work in the lives of people in such harsh conditions overseas. I feel like I continually saw His glory in new and unexpected ways and it only made me fall more in love with Him. My college years may not have been “normal” to the world’s standards, but I would never take back my decisions. I genuinely trusted and followed the Lord the best I knew how, and will never regret doing so. It has been quite the adventure!
 
I thought I could be a single woman missionary for the rest of my life, but little did I know I would be pursued by my now husband right when I returned to the states:)
You know how they say, “When you know, you know”? Well, that really is what happened with Hank and I. We met way back in 2010 at a camp in CA, and quite frankly my cabin of 6th grade girls were far more in love with him than I was haha. But God just has a sense of humor like that huh:) He was living as far across the country as he could in North Carolina, and I was back living in California. I’ll never forget Skyping for the first time and we just knew that we would be together forever. There was a LONG road ahead of us of dating, meeting families, and somehow eventually living in the same state, but we trusted that if it was right, God would provide a way.
 
Fast-forward 4 years and here I am today, writing this blog in NC, married to that wonderful man. One thing I can say about my life is that God has proved over and over again that His ways are FAR greater than anything I could have planned for myself. Following Christ may not look like the life we expect or let alone how our families and friends expect…but it sure is a beautiful adventure when you surrender everything to Him and trust in the Holy Spirit leading you. I sure have made some decisions that didn’t seem “wise” or “normal” to the world, but I don’t regret fearlessly putting my faith in Christ and just going for it. He is the One who wants to use us in incredible ways if we just offer ourselves up to Him. It may look like chaos to some, but with God it’s always organized for our good and for His glory.