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Community, Faith, Family, Suffering, Your Story

Redemption Wins

February 5, 2016

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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

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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 :).

Community, Faith, Family, God, Identity, Relationships, Your Story

Confessions of a Perfectionist

January 22, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

You’re not the only one who feels like this
Feeling like you lose more than you win
Like life is just an endless hill you climb
You try and try but never arrive
I’m telling you something this racing this running
Oh you’re working way too hard
And this perfection you’re chasing is just energy wasted
Cause He loves you like you are

I felt a little shocked the first time I heard this song.  How did a Canadian musician whom I have never met somehow write a paragraph exactly documenting my struggles during the past few years?

See, I grew up in a good Christian home, with five sibling and parents who loved each other and us.  Yep, I pretty much had it made.  But a few years ago, a trait that had for the most part laid dormant during my childhood reared it’s ugly head in full force, and I was suddenly a fanatical perfectionist.

I suppose it came partially from the fact that I am highly sensitive, which is in strong contrast to my three rough and tough older siblings.  I felt rather different — in a not good way — from the rest of my family, and to counter that decided I had to be the perfect daughter and sister and friend and whatever else.  I can also be extremely secretive about weighty matters, and the combination of those two led to a very long, lonely period of my life.

I was obsessed with being perfect, for my parents, for myself, and for Jesus.  And of course, I failed miserably.  It’s simply not possible for a hormonal teenaged girl to be perfect, day in and day out.  So when I inevitably goofed, it was hard to keep from all out hating myself.  Self harm began to make sense.  And then it became a temptation.  I thankfully never acted on that temptation — mostly because it wasn’t something a perfect girl would do — but it was often on my mind just the same.

Any sort of critique or rebuke would make me extremely defensive because I didn’t want any more guilt added to load I already carried.  But it was always added anyway, and then I would have to fight my way through the next few days until I did something ‘right’ enough to please myself and take some of the pressure off.

Though it may have originated in my family environment, my perfectionism injected the most poison into my relationship with Jesus.  Because I wasn’t measuring up to what I felt like He should have from me, I preferred to remain at arms length, not to protect myself, but to protect Him from me.  As someone once said, ‘You hand me grace, and I think You’re handing me an expectation.  And it weighs so much.’  I put up barricades because anything more than short, distant communication was unsettling, again, not to defend myself, but to keep Him out of my mess.  And I thought I was hiding my issues pretty well, until my very perceptive brother let me know otherwise.

I had just purchased Tenth Avenue North’s latest album, No Man Is An Island.  And while I liked the concept of the album in theory, I still was hesitant to open up about my troubles to anyone.  While chatting with my brother one day (who is no Tenth Avenue North fan and knows very little of their music) he said, “I get the feeling you’re on an island.”  I was slightly freaked out by the coincidence, and that, along with some other factors, prompted me to confide in some trusted friends about what was going on.  But for the next few months, I still was on a roller coaster of guilt that just wouldn’t go away.

And then, after a startling revelation one evening as I was driving home from work, things finally began to change.  I had the music cranked up and pondering the fact that the only time I felt close to God anymore was when I was worshiping.  It suddenly clicked.  I had spent years focusing on my own inadequacies, and even when you’re looking at yourself finding fault, you’re still looking at yourself.

Since that memorable day, I’ve been trying hard to ditch the microscope I was carrying around to assess my failures with, and invest in a telescope instead.  It hasn’t been all uphill, and I often feel myself sliding back into the old familiar ruts of self hatred.  But by God’s grace, I’m at least spending a lot less time there than I used to.

FullSizeRenderVirginia Kirby

Faith, Family, Fear, Forgiveness, God, Identity, Redemption, Self-harm, Your Story

I am a messenger

January 8, 2016
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By one of our readers:
My story started when I was 9 years old. I got baptized. Not because I got saved, but so I wouldn’t have to do it when I was older. I did it to “get it over with”. Somehow I didn’t understand that you had to make a personal commitment to Jesus and I didn’t understand how to do it. I repeated a prayer after my mom but didn’t understand what I was doing at all. Just that it made me uncomfortable.

I found out in middle school what being a Christian really meant. I thought I was okay. I had thought because I had been baptized me and Jesus were cool. Boy, was I wrong. I struggled with trying to find who I was in Christ. I always had a fear that my (many) prayers to God didn’t count. I had “lost my salvation” by not being good enough for God. I went back and forth, gaining Hid favor and then losing it. I was a selfish, selfish person. I wasn’t a “bad” kid but I was bad in the worst way. Now I realize how disrespectful, angry, and hurtful I had been to other people. I knew I wasn’t good. But I was too self-centered and self-righteous to realize I needed a change.

But I digress.

2011 was the worst year. I entered the year and was bombarded with more bad stuff in a few months than in my entire life. I found myself alone. I fell silent and shut myself off from everyone. I continued to put a happy face on when I was around others. I refused to let them see me cry. I was surrounded by the sickness and death of my family. I struggled with what I believed about myself, other people, and God. I wanted to die.

For 3 years I dealt with these horrible feelings of loneliness, misery, hatred, fear in its deepest form, and the realization of who I truly was. I was a horrible, selfish person. But I couldn’t change. I wouldn’t change. I just wanted to give up and die. That’s what my mind was telling me to do. I couldn’t keep going. No one wanted me to keep going. I wasn’t needed. I was a failure and a screw up who just made people sad so why go on?

In the midst of all that I clung to the pieces of my shattered faith in the form of music. I discovered what I was feeling in the words of Flyleaf, Disciple, RED, Skillet, Evanescence, Tenth Avenue North, and many other bands. God was using those bands to keep me going. My unhealthy fear of God, my family, and those lyrics kept me going. The words of Disciple’s “Invisible” kept playing in my head. “You’re not invisible to Me.”

One year things changed. I joined a Christian theatre group. There I found friends. And not just friends to go to when I wanted to have a good time. These were people who cared. They were living out the faith that I thought I believed. Something began to melt inside of me.

One night I had gotten a “gig” playing drums for the theatre group’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Completely last minute. The night of the second performance I was hurt by someone close to me. They basically said what I had been telling myself for 3 years. No one needed me. I sat backstage listening to the kids worship God before the show (a usual ritual for them) feeling all those things I had been dealing with…Then the worship leader said something. She said “You know, we never think about how miserable we are before we accept Christ.” A light went on. “God, I’m miserable now,” I thought. “and I’m sick of it.

Take me or leave me. I’m done.”
He took me.

My castmates saw the change. I felt the change.
I never had a suicidal thought from that day on.

That same year me and my family moved to Charlotte. I was healing. Even though that first year or two in Charlotte hurt and I was lonely and scared. I was healing. God began to speak to me. He put evangelism on my heart. Fear began to creep in and taint my relationship with Him.

April 8, 2015 I went to a Disciple concert. I was finally going to see this band that had influenced me so much when I was lost and suicidal. They played a bit of “Invisible” and then told the story behind it. I wept. The story was the lead singer was out of song ideas for their next album. He prayed for a song that God would use as a message to the generation he would be singing to.

“Wish you were someone else. Every night you fall to pieces. Wishing you could save yourself. I can see you, I can hear you…YOU’RE NOT INVISIBLE. YOU’RE NOT INVISIBLE TO ME.”
God had sent that song to me.
To keep me alive.
Why? Because He loves me. That’s the reason.
How could I hold back anything from Him? How could I let fear creep in and steal my joy? I could tell you so many more stories of God’s hand in my life but that would take more than 1000 words. I believe God wants me to be a messenger through the music industry. When I was saved He took my selfishness and melted my heart of stone. He placed the salvation of His beloved creation on my heart. He wants to use me to reach them.

I was once dead. Now I’m alive. I am a messenger for Him. He wants me to use my story to help other people. I am a messenger.

My playlist: “Invisible” by Disciple

“The Reason” by Lacey Sturm

“Not Alone” by RED

“Beloved” by Tenth Avenue North

“SOS (hope won’t let go)” by About a Mile

“Breaking Down” by Disciple
“Walk on Water” by Britt Nicole
“Isle of Flightless Birds” by twenty one pilots
“Messenger” by Lecrae
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 This is Rachel Capps story. She is 19 years old from Charlotte, NC.
Community, Faith, Family, God, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life

Save me from myself

January 6, 2016

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Allison’s Story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was totally missing a very important truth though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Community, Family, Relationships

Realer than Real

October 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When your attitude just plain sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community, Faith, Family, God

As we face transitions

September 30, 2015
fair traveler with vintage suitcase at the station

fair traveler with vintage suitcase at the station

I want to take a second before this post to say, I have missed you ladies! 

This summer held All. The. Things.  The first week of June my older sister had her third baby, making me the happiest aunt to three you ever did see.  Immediately after, I was forehead deep in sports camp and vacation bible school and sleep-away camp and “water olympics”… all the joys of working in full-time Children’s Ministry. 

Then, in August, my sister and brother-in- law filed for divorce.  There have been so many tears and late nights as my family figures out what comes next.  We are living in the “just take the next right step” season, and if I’m being honest… it’s not my favorite.  

I haven’t written about it, in fact, I haven’t written about anything lately.  So while I am so excited to get back into this blog, I am also nervous.  Sharing about community hits close to home.  Community has both kept me near the cross and discouraged me tremendously the past few months.  

I hope you will find grace in these words, and if you’re going through a season of hardship I pray you are surrounded by a community of believers who keep you near the cross.  

Seven.

The number of times I’ve moved in my life. Two were byproducts of my dad changing jobs and transferring locations.  The others were my choice, like going to college or moving to Nashville, or leaving for the World Race.  You might remember from this post, I love change and newness.  No one signs up for a mission trip to eleven countries in eleven months if you cringe at the word change.

Life is full of ending and beginnings and community is no different.

Some are planned and calculated, some are abrupt, and some are the natural progression of life.

Each move and transition brings with it incredible opportunities for community.

Each season also boasts the incredibly difficult tasks of re-defining community and the frightening reality of being honest, vulnerable and transparent with yet another group.

I will be the first to admit that at times I am paralyzed by the thought of new community.

In fact, I actually had a conversation with a teammate month three of The World Race, that went something like this::

ME: I’m not really here for “community” I have my community back home in Nashville.

TEAMMATE:  Are you kidding??! why would you come on something like this if you didn’t want to build community?

ME:  I’m just good, I’ve got “my people” already, I’m not on this thing to make friends, I’m here to help people.

TEAMMATE PROBABLY BEAT HER HEAD AGAINST THE WALL BECAUSE I WAS  THE WORST MOST STUBBORN AND RIDICULOUS SOUNDING WORLD RACER… 

It is nearly impossible, and guaranteed destructive, to travel the world with a group of amazing people and insist on not creating community with them.

Obviously, my stance on community changed.
Lovelies- God did a work in my heart, allowing for community.

He allowed for honesty and vulnerability to tether us together.

The women I traveled with were His provision and portion.
They were my sounding boards and accountability and advocates.

They were my strength some days and pains in the neck others.

I would not trade them for anything!

Today, we live forever away from one another.

We will most likely never all be in the same room again.

But every memory, and prayer, and tear, and joke from that season, intricately holds the seven of us together.

You have women in your life who will be there forever.

Sisters, mothers, cousins, BFFs…

and you have women in your life who will be there for a season.

Community will look different as you go to school, and travel, and date, and get married.

Teams and clubs and groups are fluid and it takes a whole lot of grace to navigate community well.

My prayer for us this morning is that we will look at the community in our life as daily bread.  I pray we will be the body of Christ to those in our life TODAY.  I pray for the courage to be vulnerable one more time, with one more person.

And I pray especially, for those of us in the middle of turmoil, help us to ponder in our hearts the many ways you show your love in our lives. Open our eyes and our hearts to the community keeping us near the cross during this time.

Faith, Family, Fear, God, Spiritual Life

Trail to Lake Louise

August 12, 2015

IMG_0951Lake Louise is a dream.

It’s a collection of glacial runoff in British Colombia that seems to glow a blue light. When I stood on the shore to take it in for the first time, my little eyeballs couldn’t quite process the beauty. It looked like an enhanced, 2D postcard.

About a year ago, my parents decided to spend part of last summer in Canada exploring as a family. My brother and I knew my mom had been set on seeing Lake Louise in her lifetime ever since she saw it in a magazine YEARS ago. So we packed hiking boots and Clif bars galore. Our days were filled with early morning walks around the lake, hikes through the woods, rock climbing, and trying to find local pubs for dinner to escape the other tourists.

And then came the Alpine Hut. Along the ridge of the Canadian Rockies, there are a series of huts and only the most serious mountaineers make the ascent to the huts to stay overnight. No electricity, plumbing, or food access because they’re on ancient glaciers. So naturally, my mom signed us up.

Kyle was our guide.

He lived in a cabin in the forest and didn’t have a cell phone.

He wore the same clothes for three days and smelled like the earth.

His main occupation was repelling out of helicopters to rescue hikers that were stranded in the mountains.

We felt taken care of.

We met in a parking lot one morning, stuffed warm clothes, sausage, and water bottles into our packs, and started walking. There was a general direction that everyone took to get to the hut, but no obvious trail. Hours and miles and hours and miles later, we see the sandy colored shell of a shelter stand out against the white ice surrounding it. That night we collected water from the glacier to drink, pooped in a bucket for a helicopter to eventually pick up, slid around on the ice as the sun went down, and sat around the wood stove after dark. We wore all the clothes we brought and huddled together on the plywood shelf that was our bed to stay warm at night.

There was something about the silence that made the cold night feel like home.

There was something about how the starlight came through the window of the shelter that taught me about the ever-presence of God.

Also, Kyle snored like a beast from somewhere across the room.

 

When the morning came, I was intimidated.

From how freezing my body was.

From how the others staying in the hut were gathering ice picks to continue their journey.

From how my muscles were sore from the day before.

From how this trip with my family was the last before I became a wife.

I wished for a shortcut to the parking lot where the car was parked and was dreading the trail down the mountain. The sky felt only feet away because the haze was thick and the snow was coming down. We sat looking out the window waiting for a break in the weather. It never came so we started anyway. Kyle went first.

Where the rocks were slippery from the snow, he gave each of us a hand to where conditions were safe. Where we had to cross the river that had risen overnight, he built up a few stones so we could cross.

Where there were gaps between the boulders that were too wide to jump, he went before us and would grab each of our arms when we stumbled across. Even my strong Colombian dad had to rely on someone else’s strength at different times.

It was so much easier to cross the risen river and take a step a bit too far for comfort from rock to rock knowing that someone was going to make sure I didn’t fall.

As we descended from the high altitudes and our bodies warmed up, God informed my heart that in the same way Kyle helped me, He was there. After that trip, I was about to step into a year of transition and was asking God for sure-footedness for the trail ahead. I didn’t know if I was “ready” to be married, or “qualified” enough to graduate college, or “sure” about where He was calling me to work.

He told me to step intentionally with Him, but keep stepping, to know that He was there and His glory was in the present and future. In life with Jesus, the confidence that He always goes before us is enough to take a step. He knows the trail ahead. He has been there day and night and says it’s okay to continue when we are unsure.

…if God is for us, who can be against us?

[romans 8:31]

So many of my interactions online and in person with girlfriends, obviously including AGLM ladies, are about how you’re not sure what’s ahead. What is God going to do with your life? Where does he want you to go to school? What job should you work? Who should you marry? I’ve asked Him EVERY single one of those questions and a million more. This is what the Bible says:

rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you

[1 thessolonians 5:16-18]

But wait?! That’s so simple! God knows that when we stop rejoicing, forget to communicate with Him, and quit being thankful, our eyes wander and our hearts grow weary. May we be courageous women to take a step and know that He is there.

There is nowhere that God hasn’t already been.

To the most extreme, He willing took the cross to defeat death.

And offer us life with Him.

In the striving. In the pressure. In the steps that feel too far, He is there holding out a hand.

I’ll take any risk when I know God is the firm foundation on which I stand.

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Faith, Family, God, Relationships

Bear the Armor

June 17, 2015

armordetail

YO GIRLS!

Happy Summer to you! Every Wednesday morning, it is a rush for me to think about you ladies who are reading the newest post with anticipation—for us to get to know each other better, for a refuge from the craziness of the day, for hopefully getting one more glimpse of the mighty, beautiful God we serve.

Lately, we’ve been focusing on who we are as individuals- the characteristics and qualities that God has given us. On learning how to use what we’ve been given for the kingdom of God, how to embrace our quirks, how to answer the question “Who Am I?” honestly. And I don’t know about you, but if I spend too much time in my own head, I go crazy with the future and tend to forget the now.

 I am obsessed with knowing the next thing. Graduation. Marriage. Job.

But what about when we have no idea? What about when a season of life is coming to a close and we’re stuck with a big fat question mark? When we know Jesus is an extraordinary Savior and we have nothing to worry about but we still want to know.

Dear friend, if you’re there, I’m standing right there with you.

I’ve recently stepped out of a busy season doing my own thing into one of assisting the people I’m surrounded by. I am a helper. I am a supporter.

 

Maybe in the tension of wanting to know what God is “going to do with our lives” we should just look outward. In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment of all is, and He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Love God, love people.

 

So I’m starting a social experiment on myself and you are more than welcome to join me.

I want to be an armor-bearer.

No, I’m not enlisting in the military.

1 Samuel 14 is a prime example.

Read it if you have a minute.

Imagine this:

Once upon a time, highly regarded military men would have the weight of the army on their shoulders. It was their responsibility to make decisions, take care of the troop, and protect the camp. They casted vision for their team. By being in the military in the first place, you are expected to respect, honor, and follow the leaders of the army. So every major had one man. One armor-bearer. Someone they trusted with their lives to walk and fight alongside them. While the major may have two spears in his hands, he was defenseless. The armor bearer would be the one holding a shield- being their rear guard, their front guard, all the while fighting with their soldier.

 

So this concept is figurative in many ways for us ladies, but listen,

Imagine living in the woods far from home.

Since you are an armor bearer, their schedule becomes yours.

You strap on heavy protective gear and carry the weight with joy.

When your camp is attacked, you go with your friend into the fight.

Being attentive to all sides, you encourage them to persevere.

It’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it’s the tightest relationship you have now.

 

So when I get stuck in my own head about my future, my dream, my goals, the “what is God going to do with my life?”, I remember my duty and serious honor of being an armor bearer for the people God has given me to live alongside.

In 1 Samuel 14, God tells Jonathan to approach the enemy camp because He will deliver them into His hands. Jonathan tells his armor-bearer the plan and without hesitation, he gets up to follow Jonathan and says, “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” There is great trust there.

Being an armor-bearer means taking risks for people. I pray that I would be useful to God in other people’s lives because of this thought.

 

I want to be my husband’s armor bearer to lift Him up.

I want to be my friend’s armor-bearer, to be her loyal confidant and to lovingly walk alongside her in her engagement.

I want to be my mom’s armor-bearer, to remind her of the grace God has given her for today and that what might seem like loss and distance may turn into greater growth in our family.

I want to be my future boss’ armor-bearer to encourage them in integrity.

I want to be my 87 year-old neighbor’s armor-bearer, to be her companion when she has few and to make sure she knows she is still a blessing to others.

This is not a burden, it is a great joy.

 

So when I ask, “What can I do for them?” God gives me room to learn more about His heart of service, which is eternally valuable.

You know the over-your-shoulder, breathing-down-your-neck, how-can-I-focus-at-all person who can’t leave you alone long enough to finish something you’ve already started? Sometimes I get a sense that I am that way with what God is doing.

So let’s spend our time being thankful for Him and not just what He gives us.

Let’s spend our time standing for the people in our lives, the easy-to-love and not-so-easy-to-love, bearing their armor.

And when we give of ourselves, may we see more clearly

 

Great is Thy faithfulness

Great is Thy faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

 

 

 

 

 

 

Body Image, Family, God, Identity, Relationships

My Digital Friend is Taking Over

May 29, 2014

I consider myself to be a pretty well rounded mother of three. I do the laundry, cook the food, clean the messes, bandage the boo-boos, read stories and kiss little cheeks. I’m a multi-tasker to the max and I take pride in getting many things done at once.

I also consider myself an excellent phone consumer. I can scroll through Instagram, check my email, search the weather, pick through Pinterest and text my friends and family all at once.

What’s truly impressive, however, is my ability to be a mother and a phone consumer at the same time. Although impressive, this “talent” you could say has led me down a path of habit, addiction and absence.

My i-phone has become another member of the family. I catch myself constantly saying “hold on a minute, wait one sec, let me just finish this sentence, I’ll be right there, etc.” as I hold my phone in my hands typing away as my child pulls on my pant leg and as my husband waits for my full attention to say something. I hear the bing of an incoming text and I’m answering its call as if it has trained me to come like a dog by its master. Somehow everything seems urgent on the phone. My friend asked an important question, this person needs something from me, I need to get back in touch with this person right away…. Or else what? What will happen if I just wait to answer? What would happen if instead I gave my attention to those who are right in front of me? -The ones looking at my face waiting for me to make eye contact with them. The ones who are wanting to know if they are more important than the machine in my hand.

According to Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Family and Childhood Relationships in the Digital Age– she says that I am not alone. “ Kids suffer as a result. After interviewing hundreds of kids and adults, I have found that what kids feel the most is sad, isolated and alone. They feel like it’s impossible to get their parents’ attention. Walking into a room to talk to a parent and being told brusquely “in a minute, hold on,” makes the kids feel deflated and bad about themselves.”

This breaks my heart. And it’s not just kids who are reaping the consequences. It’s relationships period! The husband and wife who sit next to each other and instead of looking at one another in conversation they are looking at the screen. The friend who is sharing something important while the one across the table is reminded to look at a picture or an email instead of being fully present. We cant even watch a movie all together without the majority of us looking up facts about the movie, where else did we see that actor, and when was this movie made all leading us back to our phone.

It has become a crutch to lean on when we find ourselves in awkward situations, when we find ourselves alone while waiting for someone to show up, when we are wanting the world to think that we have it all together when really we don’t. My husband just said the other day….. “Do we ever do anything anymore to just do them? Or are we living our lives to make for a good picture on our social media?”

In the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” there is a scene where a photographer has traveled across the world to take a picture of a snow leopard that rarely makes an appearance. As he sits there gazing upon the animal as it emerges from the caves… he doesn’t take the picture. His friend asks if he plans to capture this moment and his response is so profound. He answers by saying there are moments so good he wants to remain in them fully present rather than interrupting it with a push of a button.

Our lives are filled with precious moments and we can certainly miss them.

In Deuteronomy 6:6-9 it says “ …. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Sounds like all the times we’re on our phone. Right? And yet its talking about verse 5- “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Phew.  The majority of my day is spent with my mind on the phone rather than on loving God with my whole heart.

Before you even read this post, I’m sure you were already aware of the digital problem we face. You know this, but have you done anything about it? Of course it isn’t realistic to throw away your phone or stop emailing and answering texts all together! I mean the phone allows me to see my husband when he’s gone.  The phone allows me to connect with people.  But we definitely can learn to manage better. This is about boundaries. This is about what our minds and hearts are constantly stayed on as we go about our day. We can learn to check our phones when we want, not when it wants. Set your boundaries, walk outside and be fully present where you are.