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Community, Faith, Family, God, Identity

Lou, Smell the Flowers

July 27, 2016

flowers

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

 

“I wish I could still smell these flowers.”

 

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

And it made me think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many times.

 

I wish I could still smell these flowers.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I want to smell the flowers every day.

 

Fight to smell the flowers.

Fear, Forgiveness, Identity, Redemption, Spiritual Life

Don’t Go There

July 20, 2016

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“I want you to make a collage.”

After a couple months of counseling, I had my first assignment. I was given a big piece of paper and told to draw a circle. Inside the circle I would put pictures that represent things I know to be true of myself. On the outside, things I think other people believe to be true of me.

I thought the assignment was pretty easy. I went home and mindlessly cut words and images from magazines and organized them on the paper. I didn’t think too deeply about what each piece meant as I glued it down. I just described myself the best I could in a visual representation of the me I put on display and allow people to see, and the me I keep carefully hidden.

A week later I brought it back. I unrolled it. We talked about it. She asked questions. I answered. And the past month has mostly looked like that.

This week, however, she asked a question I wasn’t ready to answer.

“Is there anything on here that you want to talk about?”

And that’s where I shut down. I could handle direct questions. “Tell me about the quote inside the circle…What does the smiling girl outside the circle represent?…Why did you put the wedding picture inside the circle instead of outside?” I was ok with that. I’m a pretty open book when people show that they are curious about my life – asking deep, intentional questions because they’re genuinely interested in my struggles, my victories, my day-to-day and the condition of my heart. But I won’t volunteer insight into my life if I’m not absolutely certain it’s wanted or welcomed, if I don’t feel 100% safe.

Of course, there’s no reason I shouldn’t feel safe with my counselor. I trust her and actually love going to my appointments, talking to her for an hour and knowing that she’s listening. But I think that’s where the road block lies for me. “If I tell her about _____, will she be interested and truly care? Or will she just be listening to me because that’s her job?” To willingly invite her to the deepest parts of my heart, without being prompted, feels terrifyingly vulnerable…and I’m not sure I’m ready to go there yet with her.

Or, for that matter, to even go there at all.

You may have noticed by now that pursuing and fighting for vulnerability has become a theme for us at AGLM. It’s something we each have learned to value and truly crave. Personally, it has a lot to do with my choice to seek counseling in the first place. I want to dive in and dig deep. I want to visit every dark, dusty, neglected corner of my heart. I want to face my demons, attack my struggles head on, connect all of the dots and understand the things that have shaped me into who I am.

Or at least in theory, I do. Once I actually start to go there, to that really tender place where my deepest wounds and most personal secrets are kept, it becomes a different story.

And that’s exactly where that question went.

So I pumped the breaks. Hard. Harder than I expected, actually. I tried to find a nonchalant way to change the subject. I smiled too much and laughed nervously, because that’s what I do when talking about something that makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and uncomfortable. I’ve always been that way. It’s my automatic defense against breaking. When something strikes a chord and tears feel imminent (and in that moment, they did), I instantly fight them with a happy face. It’s like I somehow think that if I can outwardly appear to be fine, I can trick my emotions into thinking it’s true.

I will not cry. I will not fall apart.

Because if I do, if I let one tear fall, the whole dam will break. And to crumble in a mess of emotions because something about my life is hard or hurts…that, to me, is the most raw, vulnerable state I can be in, and I am not ready to go there. Not alone, and certainly not in front of someone else.

It seems verbal vulnerability is much easier for me than letting my guard all the way down and getting my feelings involved…to say “I feel hurt/sad/angry/disappointed/etc” is one thing, but to provide evidence of that is too much for me. That’s where my boundary lies. That’s where the resistance kicks in.
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So as I sat there on that couch, knowing she was waiting for a response, I decided the only thing I could do was be honest. Not about the pictures glued on that paper. But about the conflict I was feeling. About the part of me that really wants to go there, to that place, to see what more there is to learn from a simple collage…but also the other part of me – the stronger part – that was suddenly struck by a fear that paralyzed me and said, “This is too much…you think you’re ready, but you’re not…vulnerability is just not safe today.”

And she said, “Ok.” She didn’t push. My walls and defenses fell. And I felt safe again.

But it scares me to know that I have to go back there. That moment revealed that there’s a level of hurt I didn’t fully know existed. I didn’t realize I’ve been ignoring it…avoiding it. But now that I do, it’s just another dark, dusty corner of my heart that I know I need to visit. Maybe not all at once. But a little bit at a time I will start to let myself feel whatever lives there.

Maybe I will cry tears that need to be cried. Maybe I will find forgiveness that has been begging to be found. Maybe I will heal in a way I didn’t know I needed to heal. And maybe – just maybe – I will find a way to feel ready to invite someone to go there with me.

Faith, Identity, Spiritual Life

Little Voice

July 13, 2016

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The moment just before I wake up is my favorite part of every day. In this simple and quiet moment the world feels still, as if I’ve somehow found the key to push pause on my life, and for a second I can breathe. Like really breathe. I’m obsessed with this moment simply because I know that as soon as I allow myself to really wake up, she’ll be right there waiting for me.

Who is she? She’s the voice inside my head.

No, she’s not some literal voice, but she is very real and VERY persuasive. She’s the unwelcome visitor into my world who always has an opinion and is never EVER nice. The worst thing about her though? She never goes away and she never shuts up.

Look how fat you look today, Heather. 

You really think those two things look good together? 

You yelled at the kids AGAIN. Seriously, don’t you have any patience?

I wonder if Jeff is bored with you. 

I wonder if he still thinks you’re pretty

Looking at your phone AGAIN? You’re such a bad mom. 

You haven’t read your bible in like a month. What kind of Christian are you?

No one has texted you to hang out this week, probably because you’re a bad friend. 

Why can’t you look like that girl? 

You know, if you just ate less you’d probably have an easier time getting that body you want. 

Don’t let them see how sad you are, if you do, they won’t be your friend anymore. 

You want to have sex? You’re a girl, you shouldn’t want that. Only guys want that. 

I wonder how much a nose job costs.

I can’t believe you don’t have a job. Seriously, you’re going to make this family broke. 

Here you go again, screwing up the kids. 

Just quit this day and go to bed. Maybe you won’t be such a screw up tomorrow. 

This voice, well she’s a bitch. And the sad thing is, I believe what she says most of the time. I remind myself that no one knows me better than me so if I’m saying these things about myself then they have to be true.  In a world where everywhere I turn someone or something is telling me I need to be more than what I am, it doesn’t help that the one screaming the loudest is my own self. And no matter how hard I try, that little voice, she never leaves me.

For a long time I beat myself up for believing the little voice inside my head. I kept saying that if I read my Bible more or prayed more or thought of myself less then she’d go away and I’d be better. And where those things all helped for sure, they never fully silenced her completely. Truth is, they never will.

CS Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

I’m always going to feel like I’m never enough and too much at the same time. I’ll never pray enough or read my Bible enough or go to enough Church services to fill the ache inside me that makes that little voice so loud and so powerful. Because at the end of the day, the only cure is Jesus and to be reunited with him fully.

As depressing and hopeless as this all sounds, it’s granted me a freedom I never knew I could have. I’m broken. Nothing this side of heaven can fix that. There will never be a level of holiness or happiness or positive self talk that will satisfy. When I embrace that, the little voice and the lies she tells, I can welcome in a grace and mercy that renews my spirit and gives me great hope. What hope is that?

The hope that I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be broken. 

When I make myself and what I can do the way to silence the voice inside, I unknowingly put myself on the throne instead of God. I’m saying that I can do it myself, and if I try hard enough, I can make me better. But that’s not how it works dear friends.

In embracing and accepting the little voice that lives inside, we are making room for Jesus. We are admitting that life is hard and trying to navigate it feels impossible. Brokenness means grace. Brokenness means mercy. Brokenness means an awareness of just how much I need the love of God and just how grateful I am that he cares for the mess of a person I am. And brokenness…it also gives me a place to see Jesus take the ugly things and craft it into a tapestry of loveliness. Because that little voice, she can only be silenced when we acknowledge that she is just another extension of our our mess and a representation of just how desperately we need Jesus.

This morning, I woke up and the voice came calling. But today, today I’m hopeful. Because when her words gets louder and feel overwhelming, I can whisper a prayer of thanks that I don’t have to face her alone. And just like that, my world starts to feel a little bit quieter.

 

Identity, Your Story

Dirty Little Secret: I’ll Do It Tomorrow

June 1, 2016

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I am a major procrastinator.

I’m the queen of “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

I always pack for trips the day before I leave…and end up staying awake half the night to get it all done.

In high school, homework was not done and papers were not written until the night before.

In college, it was more like the morning of.

I once waited to get an oil change until I was 1,000 miles overdue.

I’m the girl who will pass a dozen gas stations, but wait until my tank is empty and my gas light comes on to actually stop and fuel up.

I often put off getting groceries until I have practically no food and have no choice but to finally stop at the Kroger I drive past every. single. day.

I’ve been living in Nashville for almost a year now and I still haven’t gotten a Tennessee drivers license or license plate.

 

If I’m honest…I can be a little lazy. (…orrrr maybe a lot lazy…) When something needs to be done, I can think of a billion other things I would rather do at the moment that don’t involve me thinking, speaking or moving. (And by a billion I mean Netflix.)

And the funniest part? I’ve even procrastinated writing a blog post about procrastination.

I sat down to start writing this a week ago, feeling really great about myself for being ahead of the game and not waiting until the last minute. But before typing a single word, I of course had to get a snack. Then I downloaded some new music to listen to while I worked. I checked all the social medias…ya know, get it out of the way so that would be one less thing I’d be tempted to do once I started writing. I went upstairs to get something, forgot what I’d gone up for, and came back down to my computer.

Focus, Chelsea, focus.

I got hungry again. I made pizza. I unloaded the dishwasher. I called my mom. I danced around the kitchen, loudly singing songs from various musicals, while waiting for water to boil so I could make tea. I took a bathroom break (though what exactly I needed a “break” from, I’m not sure). I checked social media again (I had to have missed something at this point). I remembered what I wanted upstairs, so before I could forget again, I went back up…to get nail polish so I could paint my nails. I thought about watching the two episodes I have left to finish 30 Rock, but quickly decided against it because, well, I didn’t need to get myself distracted… (HA!).

By the time that was all said and done, I had to leave for work…and that document I had opened on my computer two hours ago was still blank.

But now, here I sit, the day I’m supposed to send my post to Heather and Nina for editing, and I’m completely focused. Typing away. Zero distractions.

I don’t know what it is about the last minute that triggers an unbreakable focus that I can’t seem to find any sooner. I don’t like it. It only causes stress and usually lack of sleep. Let’s just say you start taking your time a little more seriously when you pull an (almost) all-nighter to write a paper, then sleep through your alarm and don’t make it to class to turn it in. Not a good feeling. Trust me. So I’m working on the self-discipline to prioritize better and do things in a more timely manner. Maybe I’ll get a planner or something…maybe if I “schedule” time to do specific things I’ll actually stick to it…maybe I’ll buy one on my way home from work today…

Eh, who am I kidding, I’ll do it tomorrow. 😉

Body Image, Faith, Identity, Relationships, Sex

Dirty Little Secrets- Don’t Touch

May 25, 2016

**DISCLAIMER: The content talked about in this post is of a mature and sexual nature. If you are uncomfortable with this type of material,  a young reader, or my grandma, please consider not reading. Thanks.**

Her name was Mindy. She lived up the street from me and we were in the same fourth grade class together. Her mom was a single parent so Mindy was home alone a lot. Often when I’d go over to play with her we’d be left alone in the house, no one to supervise what kind of trouble we might have been getting into.

Sometimes secrets come to you in obvious ways. Other times, they sneak in the back door. 

It was a typical afternoon at Mindy’s house. We had been playing with some Barbies when she told me she had something to show me.

In her room she had a daybed but not the pull out trundle bed that typically lived underneath. We’d often crawl in there and imagine we were hiding away on some kind of mysterious adventure. You know, kid stuff. However, this day, it became a place where secrets were born.

She began to tell me me she wanted to show me something that feels really good. What followed is a bit foggy still in my memory simply because, at the time, I didn’t have a name for what she showed me. Now I know it to be masturbation. I was nine.

For the next decade I would occasionally engage in masturbation,  knowing somewhere in my heart that it was wrong, feeling confused as to why it felt good, and still not understanding exactly what I was doing. It was a tornado of fear, shame, embarrassment and pleasure.

These kind of things weren’t talked about in the circles I operated in. My youth group would have never thrown around the word masturbation, and if they did, it was behind closed doors in hushed conversations. As I grew, I learned the word and what it meant, but only that it was a foul and horrific act that only the grossest of men ever struggled with. Women don’t lust and we most certainly NEVER ever touched ourselves.

I’m really not sure when all the pieces finally started to fit together and I had my big “ah-ha” moment that what I had been doing all those years was masturbation. Maybe I had known all along but was finally able to actually admit it. I don’t know. I just remember feeling like crap and thinking I had become one of those disgusting people my youth group leaders talked about.

I wish I could tell you the moment that the “ah-ha” came, my desire to masturbate left. But it didn’t. It took time. Lots of false starts and set backs. It was in the tiny everyday choices to desire something better for myself, and changing my thoughts to actually believe I was worth that something better, that finally made me stop altogether. But it was a long road.

The shame, well that one took a bit longer to go away. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s really left me yet. There are still moments I still feel like that scared little girl, hiding under that bed, wondering what just happened to my innocence. I get afraid that people (aka my friends and family) will find out and hate me and think I’m gross. I still struggle to believe that God has even forgiven me for it.

Maybe you’re in the thick of sexual sin right now. Maybe, like me, you’re caught between shame and freedom; longing for one but stuck in the other. Hear me when I say this: YOU ARE NOT TOO BROKEN OR IMPURE OR VILE TO GAIN FREEDOM. These places?  This is where grace is born. These battles? Well, they are the catalysts for growth and joy, and yes, even life.

I’ve been struggling to find a way to end this post well. How to wrap this messy topic up in a bow that will make it all nice and pretty and wonderful. But I got nothing. Because life isn’t like a tv show and things don’t just magically work out in forty five minutes.

So, instead, I am choosing pray a prayer for you. May it meet us both where we need it.

I pray that you will know that you ARE loved and are WORTHY of love.

I pray you know that even in your sin you are treasured and valued.

I pray that you would see that in these dark places, light is shining through, you just have to look for it.

I pray you would seek out the light.

I pray that you would see that there is an army of women, me included, who have walked the path before you and are ready to link arms and go to war for the freedom of your heart.

I pray you’d be brave.

I pray you’d find the courage to tell your secrets and let yourself be known.

I pray that those you tell would receive you with grace and love.

I pray you’d choose more for yourself than immediate and fleeting pleasure.

I pray that you would feel God’s grace, love and mercy, even in the middle of your sin.

I pray for you to give yourself grace. That you’d believe that it’s more about the journey rather than the destination. That you’d know freedom doesn’t come overnight, but that it will come.

And lastly, I pray that you and I would know that these secrets, well they may speak into our past, but they don’t dictate our future.

Lived loved sweet friend. Embracing hope with you. -H

Faith, Identity

Dirty Little Secrets: My Spot on the Couch

May 11, 2016

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“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out. Then you didn’t.”
– Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts

I never thought I’d be the one sitting on that big couch.

I never thought I’d be rattling off my doubts and insecurities to a stranger with a notepad and a degree…I mean, that’s what I have friends for, right?

My problems aren’t big enough to “need help”…not that kind, anyway.

I believed every stigma attached to the idea of counseling. I had myself pretty well convinced it’s great for other people – people with serious issues, people who have faced the worst traumas or are in the midst of things like addictions, self-harm, or family turmoil – but “it’s just not for me.” I don’t fall under any of the appropriate categories that deem counseling necessary.

But then life got overwhelming. Confusing. Messy. And I found myself wondering, what if life itself is a good enough reason to give it a shot?

 

Writing out my story on the blog launched me into a season of extreme self-awareness. By publicly airing out some of my dirtiest laundry, I felt like my imperfections had been amplified. Not only was I fully exposed to readers, family and friends, but I couldn’t hide from my own mess anymore.

On top of that, from the day I moved to Nashville ten months ago, nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – has looked the way I thought it would. I arrived with plans. Goals. Dreams. Passion. Ambition. Confidence. I expected my life to take off. Nashville was where all the pieces would really start falling into place for me.

I should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.

Instead of living the dream, I’m working a mundane retail job that I can’t stand. It was supposed to be temporary until I could get settled here. Then I would pursue my passions. But I quickly realized I actually have no idea what I want to do with my life. So I’ve just stayed put. Waiting for a door to open (ANY door at this point). I feel stuck. Without purpose. A dreamer without a dream.

 

It took me a while, but it finally hit me – who says my day-to-day struggles aren’t “big enough” for counseling? We’re all fighting some kind of battle. And just because my battle doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it’s any easier for me. At the end of the day, we all just want to be heard and seen and have someone say that the things we’re feeling are valid.

And I’m certainly no exception.

So I did it. The secret’s out. I started going to counseling. And I have never felt more vulnerable, alive, uncomfortable or free.

I’ve been going for almost two months now. It only took three sessions for the casual “get-to-know-you” stuff to end and for the real digging to begin. I left that day feeling angry and exposed. But after one short hour, I had connected so many dots between my past and who I am now, and I walked away understanding myself and my life better than I could have imagined.

All it took was one. hour. to shed light on so much of where I’ve been and where I am. It was exhausting and painful, but dang…I left wanting more.

I’ve learned how beneficial counseling is, in the big issues AND the small, and my struggles ARE worth talking about and seeking help navigating through.

Counseling isn’t something to be ashamed of. And believe me, I’m still learning that. I wrote, deleted and rewrote this post a dozen times because, while I know counseling is good and normal, I still wrestle with what other people are going to think. I feel the need to over-explain myself, to convince all who read that I’m not that messed up.

But you know what? The truth is I’m in counseling because I’m broken. It’s that simple. My life is a mess, nothing makes sense, my heart feels like it’s been run over by a freight train a few times, my whole world is like a snow globe that someone has turned upside down and just keeps shaking relentlessly…and sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe.

But once a week when I plop down in my spot on that big couch, I find a moment to take a big, deep breath again. I look my notepad-ready stranger in the eye and I admit my need for guidance and grace. And as long as I keep finding exactly that, I’ll keep going. Because this is where I’m finally learning what it means to be set free.

Body Image, Identity, Spiritual Life

Dirty Little Secrets: My Miss-Stache

May 4, 2016

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I was ten the first time I tried to shave my face. I had FINALLY been allowed to shave my legs after many months of pleading and a very convincing letter writing campaign to my mom and dad. I’m not kidding, in another life, I could have been a very successful politician.

After experiencing the joys of silky smooth legs I became addicted to removing any form of hair from my body that I could. Legs, check. Armpits, check. Arms, check. I wanted babies butt smooth skin and dangit, I was gonna get it.

One very foolish night while my parents were out and my irresponsible older brother was brooding in his bedroom, I took to ridding myself of the last remains of hair from my body. I grabbed my lady razor and my brother’s shaving cream and took to my face like crazy woman.

Blood.

Tears.

More blood.

More tears.

Shaving my face was a bad idea.

The trauma from that night kept me from removing hair from my face for a long time, but vanity, that little she-devil, got the best of me and I found myself once again staring down the mirror picking out every little dark scraggly hair that landed on my face.

I began using Nair, wax, and then landed on bleaching my upper lip. Every few weeks you could find me sitting on my couch, a nice little white mustache, working hard to not make it known that those Italian/German roots run real deep. Funny the things we girls do to create a sense of feeling beautiful. Am I right?

A friend recently turned me on to a new trend of face shaving, but this one didn’t involve shaving cream or a bic razor. Praise the Lord. This method was definitely less toxic than all that bleach on my face and a whole heck of a lot easier. I’ve been using it for about three months now and I am IN LOVE. Like, me and this little razor are in a serious relationship. All the heart eye emojis.

Listen, wanting to feel beautiful is not wrong. We all have that thing about our looks that drives us nuts. You might have that demon pimple that shows up every month right in the middle of your face. Maybe it’s a funny shaped toe or the fact that you have one boob bigger than the other (raising my hand on this one) or no boobs at all (also raising my hand on this one). However annoying the physical quirks might be, the amazing thing is that they are YOUR quirks. They are the markings of a creative God who has intentionally crafted within us a unique beauty that is ours and ours alone.

Maybe I’ll never look like Beyonce or TSwift, but you know what? They’ll never look like me either. They’ll never have my scar above my right eye reminding me of an accident that should have taken my life but God saw fit to save me. They won’t have the stretch marks on my stomach that remind me of the two precious lives I was gifted to carry inside of me.  And they’ll never have those horrific black hairs above my lip as an homage to a family legacy rich in culture and a love for Jesus. Nope, those are just for me.

Maybe one day I’ll stop shaving my face and rock my miss-stache. Embrace my weird fully and live out in the open as the hairy woman I was meant to be. But today, I will hold my razor high, and with each stroke to my face thank the good Lord that He loved me enough to make me special…rogue hairs and all.

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

Back Story

February 17, 2016
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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.

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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

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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 :).