Browsing Category

Identity

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

Back Story

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

Embrace who God created you to be

February 12, 2016

 

 

Written by one of our readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

309467_198006120267645_2018917496_n

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

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

Made in California

February 3, 2016

IMG_7797

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

it's okay 2-2

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.

Body Image, Fear, Identity, Redemption, Self-harm, Your Story

Between the Mirror and Me

January 27, 2016

perfection-barbie

Chelsea’s Story

“I have an eating disorder.”

It took me so long to be able to say these five simple words, and it’s still hard for me to say.

Three years ago, as a freshman in college, I led a secret life of unhealthy eating patterns. I would essentially starve myself for a week, eating no more than a granola bar or a handful of pretzels a day. Then I’d feel guilty and stupid, so I’d end up binge eating the next week, pigging out on whatever I could find. But then I’d feel gross, the guilt would return, and I’d spend the next week trying to make up for it by cutting back my diet to one small snack a day again.

It started a vicious cycle. But it was all perfectly justifiable in my head. I never went a full day without eating something (no matter how small it was), nor was I forcing anything back up. That’s what defines an eating disorder, right? So what I was doing was obviously no big deal. A big enough deal that I felt the need to hide it, but only because “no one would understand.”

For about six months, I let my insecurities get the best of me. The girl in the mirror wasn’t good enough – her body was flawed, her clothes didn’t fit like they used to, she wasn’t desired, and she wasn’t perfect. I felt like I was falling apart. With my emotions all over the map, I was desperate for something I could control…and I found it.

I wish I could tell you how it ended. But quite honestly, so much of that time in my life is really blurry. I just remember getting to a point where eating only three bites of food made me so full that the thought of taking another bite actually made me feel physically sick. I remember that jolting me back into the binge cycle, and for some reason I didn’t look back. I started eating consistently and stopped skipping meals. I don’t know how. I know it doesn’t make sense.

I should’ve been found out.

I should’ve been pulled kicking and screaming out of my mess.

I should’ve been forced to get help.

But I wasn’t. I walked away the same way I walked in – alone.

And from that very moment forward, I somehow shut out and repressed all memories of what went on. In my mind, those six months never happened that way. I truly believed that and completely forgot my own biggest secret.

It wasn’t until almost a year later that I hit a wall. I felt this darkness inside of me, like a cancer that had been dormant for so long and was finally showing signs. I didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling. All I knew was that I was bitter, angry, sad and confused…I wanted to scream and cry…but I didn’t know why.

I called Heather, hoping for some simple, uplifting words to “cure” me so I could move on. But instead she challenged me to go face-to-face with a friend, be vulnerable with someone in person instead of over the phone, and get to the real root of the problem. That was much deeper than I wanted to go, so I told her she was being ridiculous, and I decided I’d just handle it and get over it by myself.

But Heather could see through my stubbornness to a deeper issue that I didn’t understand, but clearly didn’t want to address. After a lot of pushing, arguing, challenging, and even threatening (tough love is often her greatest tactic with me), she forced me out of hiding. I reluctantly broke down with my friend Mackenzie (making it very clear, however, that I was only doing it because Heather was making me. To say I was difficult is an understatement).

It turned out to be exactly what I needed. She sat with me and patiently sorted through my mess of emotions. I don’t remember much about that conversation or how we got to this point, but somehow all of her digging brought long-suppressed memories to the surface. I just remember a wave of shock washing over me as the truth set in, and for the very first time I spoke the words, “I think I had an eating disorder.”

I dreaded admitting it to Heather. It wasn’t that I expected her to be angry or disappointed in me. But I definitely wasn’t expecting my guilt and shame to be met with more grace and love than I could have possibly imagined. She didn’t sugar-coat anything, of course, and told me the road ahead would be long, hard and painful. But she promised to walk every single step with me, and to this day she has remained by my side through it all. I can’t tell you how many fights I’ve had with her over me wanting to give up when things get hard and her refusing to let me. But her push is what I’ve needed.

Coming to terms with all of this has been hands down the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And even then I’ve still tried to hold on to some semblance of perfection by saying that I had a “borderline eating disorder” – because it wasn’t typical and I felt like I had never gone “all in,” so I still didn’t want to believe I had a real problem. I just almost had a problem.

Even now I struggle to say the words “eating disorder.” I have yet to even call it what it is – “anorexia.” Typing it out is hard enough, but that word has not yet made it past my lips. I’ve only just recently started to work on that and take another step towards healing.

As much as I want to believe that that time in my life was a phase that is completely over and I will never struggle with it again, it’s not something that just disappears. I’ve had to learn that I still have an eating disorder. Anorexia is a disease that is just as much mental as it is physical. While I may not act on the thoughts and feelings that triggered that problem three years ago, that doesn’t mean those thoughts and feelings don’t still attack me. Frequently. The lies still come. I just choose each and every day how I respond. And that is a choice I will always have to make.

Posting this for the world to see feels like I’m completely shattering the reputation I meticulously built for myself and starting all over. I’m admitting to being a liar. A fake. A fraud.

I’m admitting I’m not perfect.

But by stepping into the light and exposing this truth, I am vowing to try harder.

To choose authenticity when deception is easier to default to.

To fight for healing.

To accept that this is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me.

And to believe that my story is still being written…

…and in that, I find hope.

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

Confessions of a Perfectionist

January 22, 2016

FullSizeRender

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

Body Image, Fear, Identity, Relationships, Your Story

Perfectly Imperfect

January 20, 2016

perfectionist

Chelsea’s Story

“So what’s your story?”

I get this question a lot these days, being the “new girl in town” and constantly meeting new people.

My response usually consists of my life’s highlight reel: I was raised in the church…super involved in youth groups and Bible studies…went on three mission trips to Russia…went to a Christian college for a year…left to travel the country with a ministry for two years…then me and my big, bold faith packed up and moved to Nashville to take on the great unknown…and now here I am.

This is the me I tend to share. The me that has life all figured out. I humbly list off all of my perfect little bullet points knowing (from experience) that this is the list that will impress the socks off of most people I meet.

But that’s only because they don’t know about the me in between those events or behind the scenes. The me that I choose not to expose because, well, you just don’t show people the ugly in your life when you’re trying to make a good impression. You show them the perfect.

What I don’t tell people is that I shouldn’t be a virgin. After the situations that I put myself in with my first real boyfriend, parking and spending hours alone “watching movies,” it’s a miracle that I will one day be able to look my husband in the eye and tell him that he will be my first and my only.

I don’t tell people that I have never felt “good enough.” For anyone. Or anything. I so often feel inadequate and like I’m always failing or disappointing the people closest to me. When conflict arises in my family, I feel like I’m the problem…if I’m not there to stir the pot, everyone goes on living much more comfortably without me. With friends, it seems like I’m always the one making the effort, leaving me to wonder, if I didn’t do the work, would they actually reach out and want to keep up with our friendship?

I don’t tell people that one of my deepest desires is to fall in love and get married and have a family…and one of my greatest fears is that I will never have that because I will never be desirable in the eyes of any man (piggy-backing on the fact that I don’t feel like I’m good enough). I’ve never been the girl the guys chase after. I have had one boyfriend, and I did all the pursuing there. I have been pursued only once, and while it was a great change of pace and I learned so much, it just became clear that we weren’t right together before the relationship was ever defined. And now I’ve been single (if I don’t count that undefined “thing” from 2 years ago) for almost 6 years…and some days (most days) it just plain sucks.

I don’t tell people that I am SUPER insecure about my image. I hate summer because I’m not comfortable bearing my jiggle and my dimples in shorts. My flat chest and my big booty make me feel completely disproportionate and awkward. I cut my hair last year for the first time in eight years and I had to really prepare my heart for such a drastic change in my appearance (seriously, I shed some tears and had some intense conversations with the big guy leading up to that appointment).

These are the things I typically hide. Because I’ve become a master of disguise. I’m an actress. And I’ve learned to play confident, secure, and in control really well. I’m not the girl who struggles. I’m the girl who struggling people look to for advice. Because there’s nothing wrong with me.

So I have spent most of my life fighting to maintain this facade of perfection, because if anyone were to see the real me, I would lose all credibility.

Even now, trying to tell you girls this, the simplest thing about me – my story…even that is harder than you know. Because my perfectionism is constantly fighting for control of every move I make and word I say.

Girls, I have revised and scrapped and rewritten this post a dozen times just for my rough draft. I feel like I have to justify my story to you. I have to word it in the most eloquent, perfect way. Because perfectionism is my greatest downfall.

I’m realizing as I write this that I’ve used the words “perfect,” “perfection,” and “perfectionism” so much I probably sound like a broken record. But I guess that’s because that’s been the theme of my story. I am a perfectionist. It affects every area of my life and has been so damaging to me.

I’ve only just begun to be able to admit that I am not, nor will I ever be, perfect. And THAT’S OK. I am human. I will fail. I will struggle. I will fight daily battles, and I’ll have good days and bad. I want to say that I have healed and this is my turning point, but the truth is, this is only the beginning. I have started being honest with myself. I have started being honest with others. And it’s not over. I am still working on weeding out lies, and I’m still finding a way to believe, in the deepest part of my heart, the things I know to be true.

Very few people know any of this about me. It’s only been within the past year that I’ve started telling this story, all my junk and flaws included, instead of the one that sends the message that I have it all together. The one that’s safe. The one that allows me to hide comfortably from the judgement and ridicule I expect and the guilt and shame I feel like I’m drowning in.

I’m only just starting to learn that I will not sink. My head will stay above water, and in fact, I will rise. Because this is not what defines me. This is only a part of my story.

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

When life isn’t as we planned

January 15, 2016

IMG_0021

By one of our readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was showing His glory through my life.

This was all for my good and His glory.

 

10393883_928647503826051_10075945053321141_n

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

 

Body Image, Identity, Relationships, Sex, Your Story

The Serial Dater

January 13, 2016

IMG_1478

Allison’s Story

I really can’t remember a time that I didn’t like a boy.

In elementary school, I had a HUGE crush on this boy in church all the way up to middle school. He was clearly not interested in girls at the time (more like interested in making fun of girls), so I just dealt with the warm fuzzy feelings for him. Then I went to middle school, and again, I was interested in a few different guys all through middle school, but no boyfriend really because no one liked me back. But these years for me were not in my favor in physical appearance. At all…thanks to the big round glasses, super short hair with big bangs, and braces.

Once high school came, I improved a bit physically. I basically went on a rampage of having “things” with boys, which is when you aren’t officially boyfriend/girlfriend but still have this understood relationship without a real commitment. I was really good at having “things”.

I made a pact that I wasn’t going to have a boyfriend in high school because I thought dating should be meant for the purpose of finding your spouse. Obviously, I wasn’t ready for that, so instead of dating guys, I’d just lead them on. I thought this was okay at the time because it seemed harmless. Since I wanted to be a good girl, these “things” for me included hanging out alone together, kissing, and never really wanting a commitment. I was essentially playing with fire.

No serious damage was done sexually, but definitely some damage emotionally. These guys would say really crude and sexual things to me and try to get me to do sexual things with them. These relationships were solely based off attraction. I ended up feeling like a physical object for their enjoyment because I liked being desired.

I wish I had treated these guys in a way by showing them who Jesus is and how much He loves us. But I didn’t. I thought myself as a victim then, but now I see in so many ways that so much of what I experienced then was also my fault. I chose to be around guys that didn’t love Jesus, and I chose to lead them on.

As soon as I got into college, I got involved in a bible study with Cru in my dorm. One week they talked to us about boys and encouraged us to make a list of all the qualities/characteristics we want in our future husbands.

When I wrote my own list freshman year of college, I had almost 70 things listed. I was SO excited to pray that God gives me the kind of husband that would match my list. I thought this would help me stay away from the kind of guys I liked in high school.

I wanted to focus on finding the perfect guy who really loved God and would be a great husband. I used my list as my standard and to justify dating certain guys that were obviously not right for me. Some of the guys I dated said the right things as Christians should, but then our relationship went sour.

My initial instinct is to do whatever makes me feel good, just like my downfall with guys in high school. And honestly, it felt good and it was easy to keep going further physically. It seemed okay because I believed the lie that everyone messed up physically in a relationship, and as long as he was sorry and admitted he didn’t want to keep going that far physically, then we could stay together. I put more value in the good feeling rather than how it would affect me later.  Thankfully I didn’t have sex. But still the temptation was strong and this led to broken relationships. Instead of wallowing in these broken relationships though, I decided to remember God’s GRACE and how he loves me just the same. This motivated me to continue to follow Him alone. And there is SO much joy there!

I also dated some really great guys in college that I really thought I could marry. One in particular, my friends and family really liked. He truly loved God and it was evident in the way he lived. But I was still so confused and sad because deep down I knew that he wasn’t the one. By this point I was so frustrated because I felt like a serial dater, but all I wanted was to find my husband. I hated the long line of broken relationships I was causing though.

After years of dating, when I started hanging out with Jim, my now husband(!), I freaked out. I started liking Jim less than a month after I broke up with someone else. I was so nervous this one wasn’t going to work out either.

I was so tired and frustrated of dating, giving my heart to a guy that ended up not even being my friend, I knew that I could not do this on my own or figure it out on my own. I felt a HUGE need for God’s guidance and I was finally okay with letting go of control.

The pact that I made to not date and the list that I had to find the perfect guy, though these were not bad things themselves, still distracted me from where my focus should have been… I was focused on things that didn’t matter and that distracted me from following Jesus. HE is the giver of all good gifts. HE gives us peace, joy, safety, and security if we follow Him.

Jim and I both had a lot of doubts at the beginning of our relationships since we both had dated and it never worked out. But we also took a step of faith, each in our own way, and even though we didn’t necessarily feel like it, we decided to just focus on following God and being who He wanted us to be instead of worrying about the other person and what he/she was thinking.

I can honestly say being with Jim is better than anything I ever imagined. It all makes sense now and Jim and I both attest that the reason we are together is because God put us together, it was nothing we did on our own. And I am so glad that I can give all the credit to God for my marriage and not take any credit myself! He is the Giver of all good gifts.

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

I am a messenger

January 8, 2016
IMG_0047
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
unnamed-5
 This is Rachel Capps story. She is 19 years old from Charlotte, NC.