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Redemption

Faith, God, Redemption, Spiritual Life, Suffering

And Then I Saw the Flowers

August 31, 2016

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It starts with a few storms – some good, heavy rainfall. Something rare for Death Valley, California. Just enough to soak the parched earth in one of the hottest, driest places in the world. Just enough to encourage growth in a seemingly barren desert.

Once every ten years or so, unforeseen beauty blankets the dusty ground. Thousands of flowers emerge in a phenomenon called a Super Bloom. And for a brief time…life exists in a place named for death.
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It only took a week for my whole perspective to change. Just one week for my wilderness, my desert, to start looking like a field of wildflowers. Nothing about my circumstances changed…just my view…

It started with one flower. I was scrolling through stock photos of the desert to use for my last post when I came across an image – just one – that seemed completely out of place in my search. In the middle of picture after picture of dry, cracked earth was a desert scene with one single flower sprouting up from the rocky ground. Had I been scrolling quicker or not looking as closely, I would have missed it. But the pop of color caught my eye and made me pause…click…and study for a minute this beauty in a such an unexpected place.

In light of all I had just written about the miles and miles of nothingness in the desert I remember, it was kind of mind-boggling to me. How could anything so dainty and delicate grow in a place that seems so desolate and unwelcoming? And where there’s one flower, there must be more…but how?
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This image stuck with me over the next week, forcing me to look at my own wilderness a little differently. If flowers can exist in the middle of the desert, what kind of life and growth am I missing right in front of me?

And then I saw the flowers.

It started with just one – a small, peaceful sigh as I walked into my favorite little coffeeshop one day and was reminded how thankful I am that I get to work there, that for the first time in a long time I truly love my job.

Then another – making last minute dinner plans with sweet friends, bonding over tacos and memories from a wild and crazy year, and remembering that even when life feels a little lonely, I am truly loved and cared for by some really special people.

And slowly I started to see even more bright petals popping up all around me. Some new, and some that have been there for so long, but I haven’t noticed.

I’ve been so focused on the destination just beyond the desert that I’ve overlooked the subtle reminders of beauty, of hope, of growth and life, right here in the wilderness.

Don’t get me wrong – it still feels a lot like New Mexico, or maybe Death Valley, and my last post still holds true for me in a lot of ways. The desert is still hot and dry, long and uncomfortable. But now…now it has flowers springing up everywhere. Suddenly even the desert is lovely to me. Because even in the most unlikely places, life and beauty can thrive.
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One of the most captivating things to me about the Super Bloom is the growth process.

First there is a season of heavy storms. Fall brings rain that penetrates deep into the heart of the desert and initiates a growth that, at the time, can’t be seen.

That growth continues underground throughout the next season, developing roots, strengthening and maturing every day, but still going unnoticed through most of the winter.

Just before spring, the desert begins showing signs of a long-awaited Super Bloom. But while we can guess and anticipate and imagine what must be in store, we still can’t quite predict all that we’re about to experience.

Then it happens. First one. Then another. Starting in the valleys, the lowest points, and working their way up the mountains all around.

And a few months later, Death Valley is alive.
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If we’re not paying attention, all we’ll see is that dry, cracked, dusty earth. But if we look closely, we’ll start to see them…one at a time…flowers all around us, reminding us that maybe the wilderness isn’t so bad after all. What if it isn’t meant to be a hard place? What if it’s meant to be a gift? A place to just rest and be, to stop looking desperately at the horizon for a sign that we’re almost out of the desert, and instead notice and enjoy the flowers?

In my wilderness, God has given me an exciting new city that makes me feel alive, a beautiful family that has become my own, a house that has become home in every way, a new job that has filled me with so much joy, the most encouraging and kind-hearted new friends…and more flowers to discover every day.

It gives me hope that maybe this is my growing season. Maybe my Super Bloom is just beginning. Im starting to see flowers in this valley…but I think I’m working my way up towards a mountain.

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, Fear, God, Redemption, Spiritual Life

Decisions, Decisions

June 22, 2016

Decisions

I hate decision making.

Seriously, ask me where I want to go for dinner and the answer will almost always be “I don’t care.” And once we get wherever we eventually decide on, I need 10 minutes to look at the menu, and I still change my mind a dozen times before I finally order.

Give me the task of choosing a movie to watch, an ice cream flavor, what shoes go best with your outfit or what to name your goldfish and I will agonize over it.

And multiple choice on tests…don’t get me started. Even Buzzfeed quizzes give me anxiety.

…Have I mentioned I HATE making decisions?

I guess it all comes down to this fear that I’m going to make the wrong choice. I’m so afraid that whatever I choose, I’ll end up regretting it later. Yes, even the smallest, most seemingly-insignificant things. Somehow I still get hung up on which one is the “right” choice.

So as you can probably imagine, I reeeally don’t do well with big life decisions.

I think sometimes on the outside it looks easy.

Drop out of college to travel the country with a ministry? Sure! Move over 600 miles away from my family without a clue where I’m going to live or work? Psh, no big deal.

In reality, if anyone got ahold of my journals from around those times, you’d see that the journey leading up to those decisions was one big terrifying, complicated, confusing headache.

I recently had two job offers. At the same time. And I, of course, panicked.

Both were great places that I would be so happy to work for – great environments, great people, just all-around great opportunities! But that was not quite the answer to prayer I was looking for.

I need clear-cut direction. At least I think I do, anyway. I want to see one door open and the other one shut so that I know without a doubt which one I’m supposed to walk through. Better yet, I want big flashing arrows, neon signs, a yellow brick road and an “X” to mark the spot.

Two open doors with perfect little welcome mats doesn’t help my decision making.

I wrestled with it for a while. I prayed so hard about which was the right job, but I felt like God was giving me the silent treatment. I went back and forth all day with the pros and cons of each, but kept coming up with the same answer – I couldn’t go wrong with either option.

But that was just it. I was so focused on which one was right that I couldn’t see that neither one was wrong. God had given me a choice, not to test me and see if I’d choose the right path, but to show me that sometimes there’s more than one right answer…and His will will be done either way, no matter which I choose.

I think maybe the deeper root of my fear is that I’m worried I’ll mess up God’s master plan for my life. Part of me seems to believe that I somehow have the power to ruin everything with just one wrong move.

But the truth is, if we’re loving, following and serving Christ, and if the options before us allow us to live within that calling, I don’t really think there can be a wrong choice. We just have to pick a path. Because no matter what we choose, God is in control.

And if somehow we do make the wrong choices, we serve a God who chooses redemption and who decides daily to craft beauty from our mistakes…and His decisions are never wrong.

Redemption, Spiritual Life

Gotta Secret, Gonna Keep It

April 29, 2016

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When I was seven I accidentally pooped in my neighbors pool and tried to blame it on their dog.

In eighth grade I used to pretend I had my period because I was too afraid to admit to the other girls in my class that I hadn’t gotten it yet.

One time in college I snuck into an abandon construction zone so I could make out with my boyfriend and not get caught by our strict Bible college.

I once sent a hate letter to a guys pastor telling him what a liar and bad youth intern he was because I was mad that said guy stole money from me when we were dating. (I totally had a woman scorned moment)

I chipped part of my front tooth from trying to open a nail polish bottle with my mouth.

Secrets. We all have em. As much as I’d like to think of myself as a pretty open book, I still know that there are many things I choose to keep locked away. God forbid if anyone knew because then I would totally be uncovered for the awkward, vindictive, hot mess of a woman that I am. So I keep those nuggets tucked inside, believing that they are best served when never shared.

Secrets have taught me one simple truth in life: The more you have, the less alive you feel. 

Recently I’ve begun to taste life on the other side. A place where secrets go to die and I can fully be me. Where I feel all the feels and breath a bit more deeply than I did before. Let me tell you, this place is awesome. There’s no more hiding, no more shame- just love and hope and grace…and fun.

For the next two months we’re asking you to journey with us to the other side. To live in the land of telling our secrets and experiencing the grace that comes from it. We’ll be sharing some of ours- the embarrassing and the scary- and we’ll be asking you to join us in sharing some secrets of your own. Everybody has a dirty little secret somewhere. I’m just tired of keeping mine.

Family, Forgiveness, God, Redemption, Relationships

God is forgiving

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

Redemption even when hopeless

February 19, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

My story begins 6 or 7 years ago. Not because that was when I was born, but because major stuff has been happening in my life since then. You see, my parents separated when I was 2 (I’m 26 now), and my mom raised me and my younger brother as a single parent. Growing up we spent a considerable amount of time with our dad, but we lived our day-to-day lives without him.
About six or seven years ago, my dad and I had a huge fight- a fight big enough that it has kept us apart all these years.
I was hurt, angry and upset not just for this one incident but for a lifetime of hurt and pain that had been bottled up or excused away my whole life. I told myself I would never let anyone else treat me that way ever again. So I began to isolate myself and slowly gained about 150 pounds.
Long story short, I had a very personal encounter with the Lord. He made Himself so real that I just couldn’t ignore it, and it was also then that I heard His voice for the first time. So I made a commitment to follow Jesus. I went from not caring about myself or how I treated my body depressed and hurting, to having the motivation to become a healthy person both physically and spiritually.
Fast forward to last year. I found out that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Not from him but from my brother who heard it from various family members. I was so hurt that he wouldn’t just call to talk to me I decided then and there that I didn’t care anymore. I was not going to waste my time and energy on someone who obviously didn’t want me there. The problem with my way of thinking is that God wasn’t done with him yet.
My uncle called and left me a message last week. “If you have anything to say to your dad, you need to come now”.  I felt the Holy Spirit say to me that this was it- I needed to go. So Friday last week one of my best friends offered to make the 4.5 hour trip with me to see him.  We get to the hospital to see him, and I cannot explain the level of peace that I felt in that room. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but it sure wasn’t peace. My dad and I sat next to each other and talked for the first time in years. He held my hand the entire time, and just could not stop looking at me.

Before I left I looked at my dad and asked “Hey, can I pray for you before I leave?” “Sure.” he said- and I did. I did what I thought I could never do. I prayed for peace, mercy and love to overtake him. I prayed healing over his cancer-ridden body. I held his hand and made eye contact with him for the first time in years. I also remember putting my hand on his face and saying “I just want Jesus to become more and more real to you.” His response was “He becomes more and more real every day.”
I never thought I could do it- and I promise you if it were up to me I wouldn’t have.  This is the beauty of our God- He chooses and transforms even the most unlikely of people. But these are exactly the kind of people that Jesus looked at and said, “Come. Follow Me.”
I got into the car and I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of me. The memory of the last awful confrontation I had with my dad years ago has haunted me every day since it happened. I got saved, joined a church, went through Freedom ministry, conferences, personal ministry sessions, and even went through processing my feelings and thoughts with people I love and trust who love me unconditionally.  I could not break free of this memory. It kept me from feeling like people really love me; like I am good enough…it even affected me being able to fully realize the Father’s love for me.

It was not until the Holy Spirit in His perfect timing told me clearly to go that it changed. Now the last memory that we have of each other is good and peace filled.  But here’s the crazy part. I had to get up and go. My father was never going to make the first move. But what if it was never all about me? Sitting in that hospital room, I found that there were some things that I had to apologize for. My selfish and self centered attitude for one. You see, I had made this entire situation about what he did to me- my anger and my pain and hurt took over and I allowed those thoughts to distance me from him. That day, it just wasn’t about me.
Here’s an even cooler epilogue to the story- remember the peace I talked about? The peace I felt in the room that I couldn’t understand? My crazy awesome Jesus loving friend who went with me said in the car- “I bet your dad had an experience- that’s why you can’t explain it.” I thought to myself, well maybe he has…I’m not sure.
I arrived at my mom’s house the next day and was telling her how the visit went, and how I was able to lay hands on my father and pray for him. She said “well, you know he’s had a lot of people go in and out of his room praying for him…you brother said when he was there yesterday one of his old co-workers stopped by, had your dad kneel and led him through salvation.”
YOU GUYS. I’m not sure there are enough words to convey what I am feeling here. In my mind, this could never happen. This is a man I was convinced was too far gone… and he’s wasn’t. Jesus still came and was with both of us the whole time.
I want to encourage anyone who feels like there is a relationship that is past mending- I promise you it isn’t. If we let God write our story, it will turn out more beautiful than we could ever have imagined.

 

*Ashley’s Dad passed away this past week, just a few days after Ashley wrote this post for us. We are so thankful that she let us into her story. We love you, Ashley. -AGLM

 

photoMy name is Ashley Garza. I am 26 years old and have been following AGLM for the last 3 years.

 

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

Between the Mirror and Me

January 27, 2016

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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.

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

I am a messenger

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My playlist: “Invisible” by Disciple

“The Reason” by Lacey Sturm

“Not Alone” by RED

“Beloved” by Tenth Avenue North

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

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

Unfriendable

October 14, 2015

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It may come as a shocker to you, but I am a hard friend to love. I’ll let you all take a moment to gasp a little at that thought. 😉 But seriously, I’m not always the easy friend in a group of people.

Naturally a little stand-offish and pretty opinionated, oftentimes I can come across as rude and unapproachable. My filter isn’t always very strong and sometimes even my most loving and gracious “encouragement” can come across as more of a lecture than a pep-talk. Know the type? Yeah, that’s me.

We’ve all got someone in our lives who’s “that friend.” The exhausting one. The Debbie-downer. The one who it feels more like work than a joy to to be around. The one who if you didn’t think it would be a total jerk move to do, you’d totally unfriend and unfollow them on social media. We all have them, and in truth, we might even be that friend ourselves.

What do we do when someone is difficult to love? Is every friendship worth the work? I know we don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how do we handle relationships with people who God has put in our path? Are some people just a lost cause?

About three years ago I would’ve said that some people just aren’t worth the work. Phrases like, “This is about as close as we’ll ever get” and “They just don’t want to know me or be friends with me” or “Forget them, I have other friends anyway” were common coming out of my mouth. I was very quick to dismiss anyone who wasn’t willing to put forth the effort I was and wrote it off as them just being stand offish and not friend material. Then I came out of the “I’ve been sexually abused” closet and everything changed.

For the first time in my life, I hungered for people to know me. I wanted people to see my pain and not only stand with me in it, but walk with me to see beyond it and find a new way of living. At the same time I was dealing with my crap, one of my dear friends was walking through the loss of a child. Her pain was far worse than my own, but her desire of being known was the same. Together we discovered something amazing.

To love well and to be loved well in return means to pursue the heart of another.

You see, I wanted so bad for people to see how I was hurting on the inside, but I was never going to show it on the outside. I needed to know that they were safe enough to entrust my fragile heart to. I needed to know that they cared for me not just when it was easy, but when I was at my most difficult to love. The only way I could know that was by them seeking out to know me and meet me where I was at.

Friends, we all carry secrets that create fortresses in our hearts. Wounds that build steel doors, keeping anyone at bay who may come too close. Yet it’s those very places that we want people most. Because those places of weakness, the places we hurt most, those are the places we need others. We just need someone willing to fight through.

That friend, the difficult one, she’s fighting a battle too. Her pain may run so deep that she has no idea just how fortified her heart has really become, and sadly, no one has ever tried to get in. So she keeps herself guarded, mean, and unapproachable not because she doesn’t want you as a friend, but because she doesn’t know how.

To be like Jesus to those around us means to press in, push harder, and love stronger even when there is never any return of the affection.

I’ve had a friend I’ve known for several years. She’s quiet and guarded. She’s so private with her emotions that I’ve only seen her cry once in the entire time I’ve known her. For many years I thought we’d never be more than casual friends, only discussing things like our kids and marriage. She was impenetrable and the only way we’d become closer was for her to change, or so I thought.

Last year I began to implement this idea of pursuing the hearts of my friends. She was my particular goal. I started slowly, just a simple text here and there letting her know I was thinking of her and praying for her. When we were together in groups, I’d make sure to invite her places and then let her know she was missed when she didn’t come. All the while on my own I kept asking God for an opportunity to let her know I loved her and wanted to love her well. He granted that prayer six months later over a cup of coffee.

While talking about a recent mission trip she had been on, I felt God give me a nudge to say something. I began by telling her how much I valued her as a friend. How I really was wanting God to use me to love my friends well and she was one of those. I told her how each of my friends needed love differently and so I asked her how I could love her better. What happened next was amazing.

We began to talk, I mean really talk, for the first time. She told me how I could love her better and what ways of approaching her or helping her would embarrass or make her uncomfortable and which ways would help. Then she said something that floored me. She said, “Heather, I really want to be known by people, I’m just not good at it. I need someone to help me.”

Ladies, that girl you find so frustrating, she wants to be known. That girl who you feel sucks the life out of you or never returns your kindness, she aches for friendship too. But maybe, like my friend, these girls aren’t good at it and they need someone who is willing to walk with them and help them break down those barriers to let someone in.

If Jesus Christ was willing to walk right into the depths of hell to claim our hearts, don’t you think we should be willing to do a fraction of the same for another?

Loving the unlovable is hard. It means loving simply because and not out of our desire to be loved back. It’s remembering that sometimes love means fighting for the heart of another, even if it doesn’t look like they want you to. It means drawing close when your instincts tell you to walk away. It means laying down your life, your needs, your wants, and loving simply because we are called to. I can say with full honesty that what comes out of that kind of love is something so wonderful and pure and holy that it is mind blowing. But you have to be willing to change yourself first.

How about today you put on those boxing gloves and go fight for the hearts of the unlovable. In time, you’ll set both your hearts free and discover the beauty of redeeming love.

Community, Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Relationships

Why the Church Is Messed Up

October 6, 2015

While you get ready in the morning, in the car, cooking, or in your waiting today, I hope you will listen.

I pray you will listen with an open mind as I know that some of you have been really hurt by the church and some have misconceptions about the church.

My desire is that you will understand what God intended the church to be, that it is FILLED with sinners, and that it is a beautiful gift that God has given us to understand more of forgiveness, love, and encouragement with one another.