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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, Forgiveness, God, Identity, Your Story

Not Okay.

January 29, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

It was a typical Sunday morning as I walked into the doors of the church I have attended since elementary school. I smiled at the familiar face of a dear friend greeting me at the door and remembered all of the happy pictures on Facebook she shared. “Good morning,” I said cheerily, “How are you?”

“I’m good…” she responded hesitantly with a smile that would appear natural to anyone who didn’t know her. Her eyes appeared to be filled with a burden so heavy, she felt she couldn’t tell anyone… Not even someone she could trust.

I think this is a common story for us ladies in the brave new world of a social media saturated society. Everywhere we turn, there are highly filtered “picture perfect” moments captured and posted on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag “no filter” or “blessed.” At the beginning of this social media frenzy, photos were not at all filtered, were less than picture perfect, and certainly didn’t have hashtags attached. As time has passed, we’ve become unawaringly numb to the staged images that fill our brains on a daily basis. Now, we’ve started applying that filter to our everyday lives.

We apply a “happy” filter when we’re with good friends and telling them about our lives. We force our eyes to crinkle in a seemingly genuine smile and fill our sentences with words like “amazing,” “awesome,” or “fabulous” while on the inside we’re struggling with where we are at and questioning if what we’re doing is what God has really set aside for us. And our friends are none the wiser because they have their filter on too. We apply our “spiritual” filter at church to show everyone that we’re happy and we’re growing in our walks with Christ when really, we’re struggling with our season of singleness and wondering if this is really God’s best for us. We apply our “content” and “satisfied” filter with our spouse or our family members to show them that we are happy with where we are in life but inside, we’re questioning if there is something more for us in our career, our relationships, our household, and every other area of our lives.

We live in a world that tells us that it is not okay to be anything but okay or good or awesome. We live in a world of staged moments captured on social media and staged responses to basic questions like, “How are you?” We live in a world that tells us to always hustle and strive for perfection but at what cost? Our mental health? Our relationships? Contrary to popular belief, it is not healthy to hold all of those feelings of hurt, confusion, sadness, anger, or whatever other emotion is coursing through your precious veins. I can also tell you that you can’t build a solid foundation for a solid relationship (friendship or otherwise), based of off cookie-cutter responses to cookie-cutter questions. Can I also tell you something else very important? It is absolutely okay that right now, you’re not at all okay.

One of the things I heard in church a lot when I was growing up was, “It’s a sin to question God,” or, “You should never get angry at God because, well, He’s God.” You probably have heard some variation of those overtly religious statements. As I have grown (physically and spiritually) I have learned two really important things:

  1. Religion teaches us rules, while Jesus teaches us relationship.
  2. Part of having a relationship with Jesus means being completely honest about how we feel with Him. He already knows, so why not tell Him?

In my life, I strive to have relationship with Jesus Christ and not rules set up by religion interfering with my Christian walk. Let’s be honest, religion has a lot of rules. Base your life and walk with Christ off of Scripture and Christ Himself, and you’re doing just fine. Notice I said walk with Christ and not walk to Christ. That’s the best thing about the Gospel: we do not have to work to receive God’s gift of His Son. His Son came down to us to be with us as we journey to heaven to be with God for all of eternity. On that journey, there are going to be places where you are angry at God. Those are the places where your relationship with Him will grow and strengthen. Religion tells us to evaluate our lives and see what we’re doing wrong but Jesus tells us to come to Him, walk with Him, learn from Him, and in Him we’ll find rest, healing, and redemption (not in anything we could ever do or say). Religion tells us to grin and bear it. Jesus tells us to fall at His feet and be vulnerable before Him.

If you don’t believe me, read through the Psalms. There are so so many Psalms that David wrote where he is pouring his heart out God, getting mad at God, questioning God, and praising God for His presence and redemption. And what do people call David? A man after God’s own heart.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be scared. God isn’t expecting perfection. He’s expecting honesty and trust. Take your filters off before the God-Man that gave up His life to know you. Take off your filters before the people that love you and desire relationship with you. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a sign of trust and that’s all God wants from us: our explicit trust because if He has that, He has the rest of us. And can I tell you a secret? He will never let you down, never leave you, never hurt you, and never take advantage of you. He loves you more than life itself, dear one.

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetAllison Mozingo is 21 years old. She’s from Clayton, NC. She’s a junior at Campbell University and studying Elementary and Middle Grades English.

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, Faith, God, Relationships

Let’s Talk About Boys

November 11, 2015

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FINALLY…. BOYS.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How can we love them well?

How should I treat my “brothers in Christ”?

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

We can honor the guys in our lives.

We can honestly encourage them.

We can celebrate the men we are in community with.

We can respect them.

Younger. Older. Whoever.

 

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

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

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

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

I’m the Only One

October 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

Lies:

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

2. You are alone in your struggle.

3. There is no hope.

 

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

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

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

TRUTH:

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

Matthew 11:28-30

 

“You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

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

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

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

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

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.”

Psalm 139

 

 

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

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

Community, 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.

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

Community In Us

September 23, 2015

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This morning, the sunrise was radical.

The way the clouds stretched across the dark sky felt like the red velvet curtain in a theater was about to bust open.

The surface waters of the Atlantic reflected every speck of light that began to break over the horizon.

 

I could see it all.

The land stirring with dawn’s creatures under my feet.

The waters full of life only feet away.

The sky full of stars that seemed to be so close.

 

Dolphins searching, birds in formation, my family close, track of turles that had come up the beach where their mother’s had laid their eggs decades earlier- community was all around.

 

God created community.

God loves community.

God is community.

 

When we are unsure of what community looks like for ourselves, we have the perfect example in God Himself- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

 

God is the perfect image of community, and you may have heard the radical grace in Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image…” Right from the start, we see that we are created BY community FOR community.

 

So we can’t talk about being in relationship with other people without being clear of the relationship within us. We can’t try and figure out community between us and other people without knowing how we are wired.

 

The need for community around us is fed by the Community within us.

 

Dear believer in Jesus, dear girl who has admitted your need for a Savior, the Holy Spirit is inside you. The Holy Spirit, God in community, lives in all believers of Jesus.

 

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14

 

At the end of Jesus’ life and ministry, he gifts us with the Holy Spirit to guide and counsel us. He even says that for now, we are “better off without Jesus”.

 

So how are we to be in community with God the Holy Spirit? Maybe I should have written a disclaimer at the top that said that this is not a Buzzfeed ‘Top 5’ list of ways to be closer to God or to know the Holy Spirit. I like simple and let’s be real—it’s Wednesday morning and you’re probably either reading this at work or on your phone under your desk at school (girrrllll I do it too!). There are a lot of other things that need your attention right now. So one thing to know better who the Holy Spirit is in us:

 

The holy, perfect, relevant, comprehensive word of God, the Bible, is the premier way of being in community with God. We can study Scripture. Meditate on it. Pray it. Read it out loud alone. Read it with other people. Check out Acts 2 for the picture of the Holy Spirit coming to Earth after Jesus ascended to heaven.

 

Ask God to help you understand how to engage in the community that He has already put around you. After all, God has community in Himself and we have community with God. The only way we can have true community and deep relationship with other people is because of the Holy Spirit living in us.

 

The Fellowship of the Believers

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Community, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

Worth Fighting For

September 9, 2015

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“Hi, my name is Chelsea and I’m a people-loving, complete-opposite-of-shy, social butterfly and expert conversationalist.”

A year ago, that big mouthful is exactly how I would have described myself. I’d call myself an extreme extrovert who can talk for days and make friends with strangers. I would have confidently stated that large crowds don’t intimidate me, and new people and places are what make me come alive. And I fully believed this to be true.

That is, while I was living in my comfort zone and community was handed to me.

I grew up in a small town, small church, small school…everyone knew everyone, and friends were always easy to find and close by. As I moved on to college and then working with a ministry, my community was chosen for me – roommates, classmates, co-workers.

You see, I’ve never known what lonely feels like. Community was easy for me. It was something I never had to work for or be intentional about. It was always just there. At my disposal. Someone else cultivated community for me and I was just a pawn with a success story.

Then I moved. All by myself. To a brand new city. Where I knew only a few people. I’ve come to realize that now that I have to work for community, I’m more shy than I ever thought. I don’t want to visit churches by myself. I get too nervous to strike up a conversation with the girl sitting next to me at a coffee shop. I hesitate to share too much of my life with new people because I’m suddenly insecure.

So for a while I just kept to myself, hoping that the next time I walked into the grocery store I would randomly meet someone who would randomly invite me to go do some random thing somewhere sometime. I didn’t know how to build community, so I was kind of just hoping that it would find me.

But here’s the thing – sitting at home watching Netflix and waiting for new friends and weekend plans to appear out of nowhere will not satisfy our innate need for relationship anytime soon. The truth is, you are never going to find true community if you’re not actively looking for it.

…Ok. So maybe the Biebs was onto something when he said, “never say never”…I guess it is possible for community to come to you, for you to be in the right place at the right time, or for a complete stranger to reach out. Possible…sure. But likely? No. That’s not quite a reliable community-building plan.

So what do we do? How do we create community?

  • Church is probably the best place you can start – There’s something about a church family that just doesn’t compare to any other community. If you don’t have a church, find one! Ask a friend if you can join them some Sunday, or ask another friend who doesn’t have a church home either to start trying out churches together! Whatever it takes, make it a priority to find a place to get plugged in, and then get involved in the groups, events and activities your church offers!
  • Embrace the community right in front of you – You’re surrounded by people at school, the gym, your favorite coffee shop, work, your neighborhood…talk to them! Take time to get to know the stories behind the faces you see every day.
  • Remember to do life with people – Because that’s the point of community, right? To do life. Side by side. As Heather explained, we were never meant to do it all alone.
  • Invest in the relationships you have – We don’t deserve friendships; they are a gift. And gifts aren’t meant to be neglected, they’re meant to be cherished and enjoyed, cared for and well-loved.
  • Spend quality time with friends – I don’t mean texting each other from across the room or going to a movie and not talking. Take time to pay attention to the souls in front of you and love them well. Make the effort. They’re worth you’re time.
  • Get real – Let your walls fall, and fight every urge to build them back up. Dig deep. Bear your heart. Share your highs and lows, hopes and dreams, struggles and fears, the good, bad and ugly…laugh from your belly, let out a good ugly cry, and pray together. Remember, to have a friend, you have to be friend! Take the time to hear what’s on their heart, too.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this: Community isn’t about you. The focus shouldn’t be on what you’re going to get out of it. It’s about becoming more like Christ through serving and loving those around us.

Philippians 2:1-11 tells us the point is to be selfless and humble, valuing others above ourselves. Why? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did when he “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7). He didn’t have to reach out to us. He didn’t have to serve us. And he certainly didn’t have to die for us. But he did. Not because he was getting anything out of it. Not because we deserved it. But because he believes our hearts are worth fighting for.

So let’s join the fight. Let’s fight for community and serve our friends. One way we’ve started doing that on the AGLM team is with Friend Fridays! You may have noticed on some of our posts on social media we’ve hashtagged #FridaysAreForFriends. On Fridays we try to serve a friend in some way. Maybe that means bringing them coffee. Maybe we help a friend with a project. It could be anything! It just helps us remember to take the focus off of us and devote that day (or some part of it!) to someone we care about and show them they’re loved.

Now we want you to join in! As we go through this community series, be thinking of ways you can reach out to friends, old and new, and serve them. Show them you want to be in community with them! Invite them to go on an adventure with you. Bake them a special surprise and drop it off at their house or work with a note to encourage them. Get creative! Fridays are for Friends…but they can also be so much fun for you, too. And make sure to share you’re Friend Fridays with us! Post a picture or story, tag us and hashtag #FridaysAreForFriends. If you have an encouraging story once you try out our challenge, email us! You may see it on the blog!

”And so, my fellow AGLMers: ask not what your community can do for you – ask what you can do for your community.” (In the words of JFK…loosely adapted, of course 😉 )