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Family, Spiritual Life

Lead Me To The Desert

August 3, 2016


“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”  -Hosea 2:14

I never thought the desert was pretty. Growing up in Arizona, I’m not sure I knew the color green existed in nature until I was somewhere in middle school. Even now, as an adult, every time I fly into Phoenix for a visit I look out the window and all I see is a landscape that looks like someone took a brown crayon and just scribbled everywhere. It’s hot, rocky, full of cacti (which I have fallen into several times in my life) and did I mention brown?

To me, the desert was a place where things went to die, not come alive…..or so I thought.

> > >

Three years ago my world was shattered. Coming to the realization that I had been sexually abused by an old boyfriend sent my life into a whirlwind. Everything I felt I had known of myself from those past thirteen years felt like a lie. I felt like I was a lie. The world I was living in, so rich with color and joy and life… all of the sudden…. felt bland and desolate.

> > >

“Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk.” – Antonio Machado

I had had “desert seasons” before. Moments in life where God felt far and life felt like trudging through hot sandy terrain. But this one was different. Those other wilderness ventures felt like I was just there on a visit. Like God was asking me to just take a quick pit stop, get a little sunburnt and then it was back to the cool comforts of every day life. But this time, this time felt like He wanted me to stay a while, and the thought of that scared the hell out of me.

I didn’t know how to exist in this new place God had put me. How does one live life in a place where they don’t feel alive? How can you move ahead when the road in front of you feels so unfamiliar? I was lost and looking for an oasis, a place to breathe, and all I saw was sand.

For two years I wallowed. I was mad at God for making me be in this place. For sticking me the desert and leaving me to die. Sure, there were moments where I was given a drink of water and the hope of that “better and familiar place” but it quickly passed. As days turned to weeks and then months, I slowly moved from annoyed to pissed. I had no idea who I was, who my friends were, where my life was going and if I was ever going to feel true joy again. My home was now in the desert and my spirit was dying.

> > >

Did you know that cacti are actually the smartest plants around? Because of the climate in which they live, they are the most adaptive to surviving any type of weather. In seasons of rain, they swell and store up moisture holding in as much as they can so, in seasons of great drought, they can draw from that stored well and survive. The spikes, though painful and not always pretty are actually how they pull moisture from the air to get nutrients and fend off those that wish to attack and destroy it. The great plant of the desert is the greatest survivor. And I wanted to be just like it.

So often God asks us to come to the wilderness with Him. To the place where there is no path and the chances of survival seem slim. He brings us here not to punish us or to crush our spirits- He does it to make us come alive. Because in the desert, we have nothing but Him. He is the manna we feast on and the dew we drink. In the desert is where he shows us how strong we really are, and better yet, how strong He really is. It’s the place of no distraction except the quiet, gentle whispers of Him saying, “I love you. You can do this. I’m right here.” The desert is where I fell in love with Jesus and learned to feel alive right where I was at.

Joseph, in Genesis, was given a vision of his life at age seventeen. It took thirteen years of betrayal, slavery, jail, hatred and belittling before that vision came to pass. When that day finally arrived, Joseph didn’t raise his fist in anger at God. He didn’t say, “Screw you, why did you leave me in this place for so long?” No, instead, Joseph said that all these things had to come to pass so that he could fulfill the plan God had for him. He learned, much like myself, that the desert can be the place God uses to lead you to your dreams.

I know the wilderness can feel scary. It can seem like God has chosen to forget you and leave you for dead. But as someone who has lived here a little while longer than you, believe me when I say that is the furthest from the truth. If you let it, if you surrender yourselves to this place and the process, this desert wilderness can be the greatest gift you’ve ever been given. It can become the time you truly come alive.

Don’t be afraid my sister if you feel a bit lost. If you find yourself wandering in this strange new land uncertain of where to go and what to do next. Just take a deep breath and listen as he begins to woo you back to His heart and sets you free. And if you ever get lonely, just remember, I’m right there with you.

Community, Faith, Family, God, Identity

Lou, Smell the Flowers

July 27, 2016


When I opened the door, the refrigerated air and the intense smell of flowers filled up my lungs. I immediately became obsessed with this tiny warehouse. As I stepped out of the bright sunlight and into this cement room full of buckets, I saw Lou. We had just talked on the phone for an hour while he taught me about growing dahlia tubers and how to harvest flowers to make them last. When I went to shake his hand, I could feel the years of making arrangements and working in the soil in his grip. There was passion in his eyes but his wrinkled skin gave it away-the sun had beaten him up. Growing flowers is no joke. He said he would buy any product I could grow as long as it was quality and to call him again with any questions. I was curious about this little warehouse so full of life. I asked an annoying amount of questions and only some were about the wedding I was helping prepare flowers for. On my way out, I took one more deep breath of the rose-lily-peony-lavender-eucalyptus goodness and asked him if he ever got tired of that smell and I’ll never forget his response.


“I wish I could still smell these flowers.”


Over the years, he had just gotten used to the smell. His senses were completely dulled. Man, to be surrounded by such beauty every single day and not be able to fully enjoy it anymore? Not gonna lie, it broke my heart in a little way.

And it made me think.

How many times do I complain about dumb crap instead of enjoying the blessing that is so plain to see?

How many times do I wish time away just to get to the next thing?

How many times do I drive the country roads to work and not realize the changing of the seasons in the color of the wildflowers?

How many times do I hear “I love you” from my husband and take it for granted?

How many times do I forget to be completely amazed at the ability to talk to God in prayer?

How many times do I panic about the future when I know the reality of heaven?

So many times.


I wish I could still smell these flowers.


So this changes things. Desiring the perspective of being aware of what’s around me has been changing my life. From decluttering my house to decluttering my schedule (these things are still in the beginning stages), I’ve been ever so slightly able to see more clearly.

These few uncomfortable things may change your life like they’re changing mine:

Eye contact. More than what’s usual or expected. With my husband and with the woman who is at the bus stop I drive by every morning. I want to say “I see you and I care” with my eyes.

Silence. I force myself to turn off the podcasts and not call people to leave ridiculous 4-minute voicemails (sorry, Heather). Sometimes it’s almost painful to turn talk radio off and listen to the hum of the road or the drone of the air conditioner at home. When is the last time you truly sat still and stopped your brain from running 100 miles an hour?

Get out! I have been sitting with my baby chickens (this is a whole other post… I’m obsessed with them) every night in the backyard in the quiet as a practice of slowing down. They wander around pecking the dirt and flying at each other and staring at me with their scruffy adolescent feathers and beady eyes like alien babies. And before I know it, I have sweat dripping off my face and bug bites on my legs. But man, something about the fresh air is like plugging my batteries in for a good charge.


I wish I could still smell these flowers, said old man Lou.


I want to smell the flowers every day.


Fight to smell the flowers.

Family, Forgiveness, God, Redemption, Relationships

God is forgiving

April 20, 2016
Have you ever known that you were loved by someone, but seemed to have a hard time feeling that love?
That may sound confusing but it was definitely the head-to-heart struggle that I had when it came to my relationship with my dad growing up. I always knew he loved me, but I couldn’t help but feel the distance between us. He was a respected businessman and had to travel for work all of the time. He was gone aaaalot. Sometimes 7 months out of a year. Although he was doing it to provide for our family, it slowly started to put him into one specific role – “the provider” – instead of any kind of emotional or relational father that we needed. Everyone saw it happening, and felt it happening, but to me as a little girl I really had no solution to the matter. I couldn’t ask him to leave his job and he was in the position where he had to travel, so…we just accepted it.
That was the secret to making it okay. Just accepting it, and not acting like you care, right? I didn’t need his help or guidance anyway, right? I have two amazing older brothers – they will be my father figures and that’s normal, right?
These were the thoughts that unintentionally started building up bitterness and resentment in my heart towards my dad. Sometimes it would come out as anger, or deep hurt, or complete lack of talking, or even total disobedience. I didn’t have a close personal relationship with him, so why take seriously all that he says and tells me to do?
I realized I didn’t trust him…
I didn’t know how much he hurt me and how I was sinning because of it.
I didn’t know how to forgive him for all the years lost between us.
Two years ago was when I married the love of my life. There’s really nothing like marriage that can bring out all of this kind of baggage over a dinner conversation:) My pain from not having a close relationship with my dad was clear and every so often it would be brought up if Hank disappointed me even in a little way. Hank is an artist and naturally has to travel for his music, but I really had never expected it to freak me out like it did in our first couple months of marriage. I automatically thought, “Traveling away from family for any reason = Bad”…but this was all just rooted in the fact that I had yet to forgive my father.
I could make so many excuses to convince you that this anger and resentment was justified to feel towards him, but when I looked to Christ and what he had done for me on the cross, I was deeply convicted. He died for me, offering forgiveness for all of MY sin. My sin that isn’t deserving of forgiveness at all.
Who was I to hold such a grudge? Who was I to let this bitterness build and build without even talking to my dad about it? Who was I to tell God that someone was unforgiveable?
Well, the conversation happened. And I wasn’t alone in how I felt. Girls, the guilt that my dad had been living with for years and years was heartbreaking to hear about. He knew what happened. He knew how his travel affected our family. He knew how it distanced him from his only daughter. He knew. He very sadly knew and regretted it.
The beauty of the gospel is that Christ’s kindness and immense love for us literally brings us to repentance: A repentance that both my dad and I needed to voice. And a repentance that CAN be forgiven.
Trust me, this doesn’t mean that everything is just perfect now with my dad and I. We still have a long way to go. But in the last two years God has truly brought us closer like we’ve never been before. Why? Because of one beautiful word. Forgiveness.
For the girl who has a great relationship with her Dad, but maybe it’s a sibling or friend that has really wronged you, I encourage you to dwell on this characteristic of God and ask Him to give you the same heart.
God is the God of forgiveness. 
I want to encourage you that forgiveness WILL set you free from the weight that you are feeling overwhelmingly burdened by. And when you can’t even imagine doing so, like I did for so many years, look to Jesus. He will give you the strength. Even if it’s an everyday decision to forgive over and over, God calls us to be like Himself in this way.
He is a forgiving God – therefore we shall be a forgiving people.
Family, God

God is rich

March 9, 2016


I grew up in an out-of-the-ordinary home. My parents are missionaries. We didn’t live overseas, but they have been on mission full-time mainly in Raleigh, NC with a ministry called Cru. Obviously my parents weren’t in it for the money, nor did we ever have an excess amount to spend where we wanted.

When I was little, I didn’t understand totally how this all worked.  I didn’t understand why we had to order water every time or split meals, why our house was smaller than most of my friends, and why we were always in money-saving mode. I was never stressed about my needs being met, but I didn’t understand how much my parents were living by faith to what God had called them to do.

I didn’t understand that everything we have is the total provision from God till I got older and had to pay for things myself. God not only met our needs because my parents trusted Him, but He also blessed us more than we could have ever imagined. He blessed us Christmas presents and vacations, but he also blessed us with an amazing childhood and community through Cru that I would NEVER trade for any amount of money. It has shaped me and made me who I am today, and I am so thankful for that.

My parents taught me one of the greatest truths about God which so many people are blind too because of our materialistic culture, and that is God is the provider. Everything we have is from God and ultimately belongs to God, not us. You will never know Him as provider without looking to Him only for your provision.

It is so freeing to realize that everything we have, money, friends, a home, food, gifts, education, etc., is from God and there’s nothing we could do to deserve it. And the more thankful you are for God’s provision, the more joyful and generous you will be. It helps you break free from comparison, worry, jealousy, and discontentment because you realize it doesn’t belong to you anyways.

When I was living on my own in college and graduate school, I could only work part-time to pay for rent, food, bills, gas, etc.  There were times that I would panic wondering how would I save and pay for rent the following months. And honestly, sometimes I was really really ticked. I wanted to buy my own car so I didn’t have to use my family’s. I wanted to go out to dinner with friends without having to choose the cheapest thing on the menu. I wanted to go to that concert that everyone else was going to but knew it wasn’t wise to spend money on it at the time.

But I would then always remind myself of two things, God has always provided for me, and everything I have is from Him. And that would always lead my heart to thankfulness instead of bitterness.

His word is true and still brings tears to my eyes when I read Matthew 6:25-33 because I can remember God telling me over and over to look how He constantly provides for the birds and the flower, so how much more will he provide for me, his daughter made in the image of God worth so much more than all the birds and the flowers!?

Girls, you are God’s precious creation, his daughter with whom he wants a deep relationship with… how much more do you think God will provide for you if he provides already for the birds and grass?!

And you know what’s crazy? The more you realize how much you have been given, the more you will want to give to others… even if you don’t have excess money, you still want to give anyways. That’s the result of God working in you. And no amount of money can buy the joy that He gives.

I want to encourage all of you today who may be worrying or anxious about money or finances… look to Him! He promises to provide for you. Aren’t you worth more than the lilies and birds of the fields? Yes, you are.

Family, Relationships, Your Story

16: A Driver’s License and a Future Husband

February 24, 2016


Nina’s Story 

I just wrote an entire post on how Brendon & I’s story began but realized I was awkwardly dancing around the simple truth: our beginning was scandalous… to the point that Heather (who I didn’t know at the time) sat him down and interrogated him about what the heck he was doing. Looking back, I’m actually questioning his sanity too. 😉

Here are the facts:
I was 16 and he was 25.
We met at a vegetable tray.
We started dating when I turned 18.
He proposed at a vegetable tray two years later.
Now we are 21 and 31 and married.
It’s awesome.

Can we get past the age thing? Cool.
Official Disclaimer: if my future 17-year-old daughter ever asks me if an older guy can drive 30 hours to come visit her, I will absolutely freak out.

Back in the day, the band I played keys for was opening for his band, Tenth Avenue North, at a concert in my hometown. That night, I was preoccupied with helping my mom who was producing the event so I actually remember very little of my interactions with anyone that night. Anyway, later that week Brendon found me online (creepy?) and we started talking about music and the university he went to. He was just a friend (I’m serious.) I had other healthy friendships with guys and had no idea that Brendon was interested in me. Like, clueless. FOR A WHOLE YEAR.

So obviously, I didn’t “just know” that B would be my husband when I first laid eyes on him. When God gives some people instant confirmation that their spouse is standing in front of them, I call that a beautiful blessing, but I didn’t expect or receive that. I was actually hesitant and scared of giving my heart to someone else. What if he steals it and breaks it? What if I make a mistake? I think I’m too weird for him. Am I too young for this? Is he serious about finding a wife? I just got my drivers license.

Eventually, basically, I remember saying to my mom, “He cares so much about what I say when he asks me questions.” She finally convinced me that he liked me. Can we mention S-L-O-W here? As in we talked mayyybeee once a week and saw each other mayyybeee every other month and then BAM.

He called to ask me if he could visit.
At this point, with the miraculous approval of my protective Colombian father, the answer was obviously DUH.
He drove Florida. To see me. And get to know my family. He gave me deep respect and I remember having sore cheeks from smiling for those three days.

Fast forward a year of long distance dating… arrive at me moving to Nashville for college. We made scrambled eggs for dinner. We went to the chiropractor. We sat on the floor of his living room and watched documentaries about Alaska. We spent summers visiting each other. I sat next to him as he painted his bathroom and he sat next to me as I studied for zoology tests. We planted a garden in his yard and his bachelor pad was slowly invaded by my sneaky decorative pillows. We wandered around farmers markets. He learned that I was an impulsive nerd and I learned that he was a meticulous nerd. We had hard conversations, tense days because of unrealistic expectations for each other, and conversations to get past communication roadblocks, but we always prayed for and with each other. Some days of getting to know each other are exhausting and some are exhilarating, but when we operate out of gratitude the crap melts away. I realized that being loved by Brendon, while imperfect, was like being loved by Christ- both kind and strong and safe and radical.

When that love was begging to be official and forever, my family hid in the bushes nearby (again, creepy?) while he asked me to be his WIFE.

Three days after we got engaged, I disappeared to a farm in Indiana to begin studying agroecology. On the first day of class in a tiny town that isn’t officially on a map, my professor asked my four classmates and me, “Why are you here?” Although I felt a deep peace about being there, I honestly answered, “I’m don’t know. I’m here to find out.” Since then, my heart has also exploded for small farm, organic vegetable growing. Dreams buzz around in my head all day, seed catalogs are always with me in my backpack, and I literally can’t stop thinking about the status of my broccoli plants at home when we are away. And could we have chickens with our travel schedule? Since working for a non-profit farm for my last semester in school, I want to grow food anywhere and everywhere. Don’t tell me I can’t grow avocados in Nashville. We will find a way.

Cue graduation. Then marriage. Dang, y’all. The last year has been the greatest year I’ve known so far. Living on the road in a bus with a dozen people is challenging at times but thrilling. Every single day is different. We must be intentional to connect and not let days slip by, but oh the adventures we’ve had thus far! God has been faithful to consistently humble and encourage this Type A, slightly scatterbrained, ESFJ (whatever that means). Reflecting on the past is always eye-opening. I see God’s presence in it all and I’m slowly coming to a place of thankfulness even for the struggles because I know He didn’t leave me.

We are complex creatures- full of light and joy deep down inside and sometimes life gets hard and it mutes that God-given spark. Thank you for sticking with us as we tell our crooked, painful, beautiful stories and thank you for sharing yours. This is a place where we can be honest with our crap with the intentions of bearing each other’s burdens because that’s what Jesus did for his friends too. There is serious freedom in surrender to the Lord. He can handle whatever we’ve got to unload. He really can.
Let’s walk into that together.

Faith, Family, Forgiveness, Redemption, Your Story

Redemption even when hopeless

February 19, 2016


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
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.
Faith, Family, Fear, Relationships, Your Story

Trust Me

February 10, 2016
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.
Community, Faith, Family, Suffering, Your Story

Redemption Wins

February 5, 2016



Written by one of our readers:

I guess you’d say my story started when I was born. 😉 But I don’t remember much from before I was about 5. I know most of my childhood was sheltered and happy. I grew up in a Christian home. I had (have) a big yard, and 5 siblings (you know…tickle monster, clubs, mud pies…a lighthearted childhood!). I was always in good health and mostly happy. For a while I thought I was saved, but now I know I wasn’t. I didn’t have assurance. Oh, I believed in Jesus’ existence my whole life. I “accepted” His “free” gift of salvation over and over again. But nothing changed in my heart. I didn’t actually believe I was bad. I didn’t realize my NEED. And I didn’t realize Jesus was crazy about me. Yeah, I knew “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” but it was just because I was told that, not because my heart had been transformed by that Love.

Tragedy struck in January 2012 when my wonderful dad passed away unexpectedly. I think that his passing really woke me up to the fact that this life is temporary. My 11-year-old brain was desperately trying to deny the news that my daddy isn’t here anymore at the same time I was trying to let it sink in. He is with Jesus now. This experience shouted to my young heart that tomorrow isn’t promised.

This is scary for me to say, but it’s important. God has led me to see that I may not have been saved and seriously started pursuing Him if it hadn’t been for my dad’s death. I know. That’s been a really tough realization for me. My dad was a joyful, strong, and gentle man. I never doubted he loved me. I love and miss him more every day.

I’ve seen God redeem my dad’s death, not just in the redemption of my soul, but also in how I can reach out to others now. My loss has made my heart go out to people who are in pain. It has reminded me to look beyond the small right now, to keep sharp focus on the bigger picture. It has taught me crazy lessons of trust and surrender in God.

In November of 2012, my older sister participated in a local home school drama seminar, which was run by a Christian Drama trade school called The Academy of Arts ministries (AOA). Among other things, AOA travels to Christian schools and home-school groups to hold weeklong drama seminars and on the last day they perform a play. Their mission is to bring the Bible alive– it’s very effective! Throughout the week, my sister told us that group shared a special love among themselves—almost like they were siblings.

Little did any of us know how important her new friends would become to us.

September 2013 a friend introduced my family to Tenth Avenue North. TAN has a huge part in my story. Through them God revealed to me so many truths I had not known or taken seriously before. I learned that I am free to struggle, I am more than what I do, and redemption wins. By them I have been challenged to be honest, to give grace as I have received it, to forgive even if it feels like I’m losing. I have seen and felt God’s love in whole new ways. Their words and music say what I need to hear and tell me I am not alone with my feelings and struggles. Not only through their music have they instructed me, but also in their daily lives. I don’t know them personally, but mostly through the internet I have seen that they’re serious not only about saying but about doing.

They practice what they preach. That is so encouraging and inspiring to me.

The following November (2013), my big brother and I decided to “try it out”. 😉 We had an awesome time! Every morning we would be a little early to sing hymns and pray as a group before the day officially began.

I felt so at home! I knew beyond a doubt that I belonged.

On Saturday after the production, clean up, and pizza party, we wept for hours. I promised a friend I would try my best to come back. I scavenged money, and returned the next year…and the next. Between seminars we love getting together. We will make something up, or drive 6-12 hours, just so we can be together for a few hours! Without these fantastic people, I know I would not be who I am. God has redeemed so much within me through my AOA family.

Then came 2014. Though it had several very beautiful memories, it was overall a very chaotic time in my emotional and spiritual life. That year I wrestled with bitterness, hate, and anger. I struggled to forgive (others as well as myself), to love, and let go. That was the year I hid in my closet (spiritually and physically) several times, not because I was trying to pray, but because I was ashamed, and emotionally hurt–because I was trying to hide from everything. Trying to shut the world, the pain out. Even though I wasn’t planning to pray, by God’s grace, I did end up crying out to my Maker from my closet floor. It was in those dark times that I most deeply experienced His presence; though I know those were the times I least deserved Him.  It was a long process, but that year I came to the point where I finally saw my desperate need for Jesus. And so, it was also the best year of my life in more ways than one. This was the point where He could show me that He loves me with an unreasonable, unquenchable, and unfathomable love. That was the year I really WANTED God for myself and started following my Savior. My heart began to be transformed by His Love.


12183743_977968492260208_9173308097032215377_oLeah lives in Southeastern PA. She is 15 years old and homeschooled.

Faith, Family, God, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Your Story

Made in California

February 3, 2016


Ashton’s Story:

I am from California, born and raise, and have been living in Raleigh NC for two years with my hilarious, handsome, and loving husband Hank. I have a mom and dad and two older brothers who I adore with all my heart. Growing up in California has its incredible blessings but also its very difficult cultural standards. It’s so different from North Carolina I find myself almost laughing because I never thought I would experience such a culture shock in my own country, let alone be married to a sweet Georgia gentleman! This isn’t a bad thing at all but definitely makes me see that where I came from has shaped me into the type of Christian and woman I am today. It’s always good to remember where you came from right?

When I was in the 1st grade my family started this tradition of traveling to a different country every summer. This greatly impacted my life at such a young age because it forced me to see with my own eyes how other cultures lived. I saw beautiful things but also poverty in many different forms. Every trip I realized more and more that most of the world lives differently than we do in the states. This sparked a HUGE love for different cultures and almost an addiction to travel and adventure…Which is a crucial part of why I think I have always wanted to become a missionary, and why I have made some crazy decisions in my life that others would think to be risky or unwise…you’ll see :).

As a little girl, I remember feeling morally different from my friends – or simply just wanting different things in life. Being surrounded by such a liberal culture formed my worldview as a believer and forced me to be comfortable with being different. I understood that my beliefs were not popular. It wasn’t normal or cool to believe in God. In fact, it was looked down upon and seen as “ignorant” or “narrow-minded”. I had far more non-Christian friends than I did friends at church. It was never a normal sight to see people reading their Bibles in coffee shops, and out of my public high school class of 600+ students, I could count on one hand how many true Christians I knew. So when conversations were brought up about what we wanted to be when we grew up, instead of saying “a doctor” or something of that sort, I would say “a missionary” or something crazy like live in a hut somewhere with a tribe (which I still honestly would LOVE to do lol)…but nothing prized by this world or relatable to my friends.

The success-seeking, “do it this way” culture I was growing up in wasn’t attractive to me, and little did I know this being different mentality would play over into so many areas of my life. Almost as if I just enjoyed swimming against the current of cultural norms. I see now that I was developing a rebellious, free spirit. All that being said, it’s a complete anomaly that I am saved. Seriously. Truly. Wholly. By God’s grace alone. Growing up in a world that is addicted to wealth and success, to physical appearance and the type of degree you have, and is SO good at storing up those achievements even at the expense of their souls…Yes…it is truly by God’s grace that my heart turned towards Him.

This grace that God gave me to understand His love didn’t come easy, though. It was a tough battle, and a trial that brought me to seek the gospels in a way I never had before. In the eighth grade, I felt that I was a Christian: I attended church with my family on Sundays and read the Bible maybe as often as any 13 year old, but my faith had never been deeply tested and I didn’t have a true intimate relationship with Christ. This changed, though, on the day that my dad told my brothers and I that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom was my most treasured possession on this earth. She was everything to me. She had to fight through chemotherapy for a year, get a full mastectomy (completely removing both breasts), and had a couple more years of surgeries to follow. Watching her go through these battles was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I was angry and deeply afraid. But God used it to draw me to Himself. I went for a walk on a dirt path in the mountains near our house, and prayed and wept before my Father. In my expression of furious anger towards him, crying out of desperation and fear, God showed me that He was simply there. He was clearly asking me, “Am I still worthy to follow if I take your mom away?” He was asking if I trusted Him and truly believed He was a Good Father. Did I believe He loved my mom more than I did? Was I ready to lay my life down for Him because He laid His life down for me? Would I do so, even if He took my mom away? …And through the tears, I said “yes”.

I’m so thankful to tell you that my mom survived, and even defeated kidney cancer just three years ago. Seeing her be so strong and never lose hope has truly changed me. Her battle with cancer has drawn me close to Christ in ways that I can’t even describe. Because of this personal commitment, I was baptized on my first missions trip in the Baltic Sea in Latvia when I was 15.

I lived and worked in an orphanage in India for two summers in high school and this deep love for travel continued to be affirmed. All the while I was on a year round volleyball team that traveled nationally. It was a lot of work but I loved every second of it. I started receiving many scholarship offers and because it was the next level to achieve in my volleyball career, I committed to the University of San Diego at the beginning of my junior year.

When I think back to how quickly and freely I made that decision, I loved how fearless I was but also wish I could have had deeper discussions about my future and where my heart was really at. I had this unending passion to do missions overseas and couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do…and then I also had this incredible opportunity to play D1 volleyball and get my education paid for…why wouldn’t I take that?? I would really only be going there for volleyball…but that’s ok right?? This decision started to seem like something everyone else wanted and desired for me, and although I loved playing and went through with it, I deep down knew it wasn’t what I wanted and that it wouldn’t satisfy my longings for very long. This was my first big life decision that I was questioning: “Is this what God wants me to do, or what my coaches and parents and friends think is right?”

Over and over I saw people obtain it all by the worlds standards, but truly they just.felt.empty. Many people I knew had no self worth even though they had all of these things; they had no joy even though they were told money would buy them happiness; they thought they didn’t need God because their academic achievements told them they could do it all themselves.

These were the things I grew up being afraid of. I desperately wanted to avoid believing those lies. And THAT is what fed my rebellious spirit against the “cultural norms”. I had inadvertently faced death with my mom and it kind of made me internally say “YOLO” even though that didn’t even exist then. God doesn’t say, “Get perfect grades, go to college, get married, find the right job…and THEN follow me.” No. THAT is what I wanted to be careful of and as a teenager tried to navigate the best I knew how. This has always been an internal battle of mine. Maybe some of you totally get what I’m talking about, and maybe some of you are for the first time asking if you have just been doing what everyone else is because it’s easy, but I encourage you to just go to God and ask Him. Ask the hard questions. We can do that together :).