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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, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

God is Ironic

April 13, 2016

head vs heartIf I ever doubted before that God hears me, I certainly don’t now.

Remember when I wrote about how deeply I desire companionship and long to be in love, and how much I’ve prayed for that? Well…God heard me. And He answered. But not quite the way I expected.

A couple months ago, a guy I dated in the past (but haven’t talked to in two years) waltzed back into my life. I thought we were just two old friends catching up. Recently, however, it became clear that he was pursuing me. And I didn’t know it. I thought we were just talking. He thought we were “talking.” (It’s hard to believe those two things could be so easily confused…*face-palm*)

This guy was a great friend. I have a lot of respect for him, and at one point I really thought I could see myself with him. But when it came down to it, I knew he wasn’t the right guy. So I had to put an end to the relationship that had been developing right under my completely oblivious nose…and walk away.

I felt like I had just gone through a break up, in a weird sort of way. It wasn’t fun. And it kind of felt like some cruel joke…I mean, come on, the only guy to show interest in me in two years was a guy I’m no longer interested in. Thanks, God…

But, though I ultimately didn’t feel this guy was right for me, he was close. And for the first time in a while it seemed Prince Charming might not be too far off. So I prayed boldly, and I literally told God to “bring it on.”

The very next day, a guy I met at work asked me out.

Yep. I can’t make this stuff up.

I spent a couple weeks getting to know him, and I found him to be exactly what I always thought I wanted. I’m not sure I’ve ever really known what my “type” was, but I think it was him.

So God gave me what I asked for. The guy I told Him was right for me.

But even more than that, He gave me the pursuit that I wanted. I wanted a guy to see me across the room and say, “I have to have her.” I wanted the “good morning, beautiful” texts and the lift-me-off-the-ground goodbye hugs. I wanted someone to hold my hand, plan fun dates, and to catch them staring when they thought I wasn’t looking. And I got all of those things.

But he wasn’t pointing me to Jesus. I could tell we were at much different places in our faith. I felt like he was such a great guy who I enjoyed being with and getting to know, but without that crucial spiritual component, I knew I couldn’t keep seeing him.

Everything in me was screaming, “No! This feels good! This is what you want, right? Stay here in the romance, where you feel wanted and special.”

And yet, somewhere deep in my heart I knew a flirty romance, butterflies and strong chemistry wouldn’t be enough. I knew I needed someone who would lead, encourage and challenge me in my faith, and I couldn’t see that in him.

So I had to fight the strength of physical attraction for the sake of spiritual connection and have a really hard conversation with him, ending things before either of us got more invested. Unfortunately, what could have been a peaceful decision to do what’s best for both of us actually became a painful show of his true colors, leaving me to walk away hurt, confused and angry.

So let’s recap: In the course of a week, I “broke up” with one guy who I didn’t know was pursuing me, went on a few dates with another guy, broke things off with him, and experienced my first real heartbreak.

I’ve felt all the feels I think I could possibly feel over the past few weeks. A month ago I was mad at God for not giving me what I wanted. Now I’m mad at God for giving me exactly what I asked for and allowing me to be burned by it. It seems a little ridiculous.

Through it all, though, He’s shown me that many of the things I want in a guy aren’t wrong. But I can’t be romanced by romance alone. There’s something to be said for a man who loves Jesus, who prays for the woman he will one day marry, and who leaves every other woman he encounters along the way in better condition than what he found her in. That’s the kind of man I need, and that’s the kind of man who’s worth waiting for.

Ya know, after all of this, I have to laugh. God, in His irony, answered my prayers just to show me that I have no idea what I’m actually praying for. He gave me exactly what I wanted to show me it isn’t what I need.

Oh, and in the midst of all of this? Heather and Nina have been basically campaigning for another guy who they believe could be my perfect match. I’m just hoping cupid’s aim has gotten a little better this time. 😉

It’s funny…we always want to make God out to be so serious and “all-business.” But I bet He laughed when Christ was on earth and one of the disciples farted. I bet Jesus tripped over a rock in his path a time or two and God got a good chuckle out of it. And I bet He’s up there laughing at me now trying to navigate the love life I didn’t know I had. So I guess I can laugh at this romantic comedy I’ve found myself in, too.

Community, Faith, God, Relationships

God is All-Satisfying

March 23, 2016
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“I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis
 
One thing that I consistently struggle with is unmet expectations.
 
I have always considered myself to be flexible and adaptable, and although that may be true as far as overseas missions go, I have found myself falling into the trap of unmet expectations for the last couple of years. It is never fun to admit to and one of those “ugly” habits that I wish I didn’t struggle with.
 
Our expectations are never truly realized until they aren’t met. When things go our way we usually just respond with excitement and joy instead of saying “Oh my goodness! All my unspoken expectations were just met!” Our expectations seem to be realized when our plans don’t go right and when either people or experiences disappoint us. Then we will be quick to realize those specific things we didn’t even know we wanted.
 
I struggle with not being where I thought I’d be at this stage in my life. I think we can all attest to that in some way.
I struggle with not having a job that is involved with what I’m most passionate about.
I wonder if I will ever live overseas like I have always dreamed of.
I fear what my “normal” will be like with a husband traveling out of town so much.
No church will ever be perfect, but I have had to face unmet expectations with the church that we go to.
I struggle with feeling like I’m not meeting other’s expectations.
I could drown myself in worrying about what others want or need or desire from me on a daily basis.
 
The list can go on and on and on…. SO. MANY. EXPECTATIONS.
 
Is anyone else just tired of them? When do they end? Do they ever end? What is the solution to stop being so disappointed or stop being the one to disappoint?
 
The only thing I know to do is fix my eyes on Christ. It’s not just the church-y answer. It can be confusing, frustrating, messy and imperfect…but it’s the ONLY way to free myself from expectations.
 
When I look to Christ, I see that He is truly all-satisfying. I can try so hard to make all of my dreams come true, and I can try every day to make things go the way I planned…but even if that were to happen, I still wouldn’t be fully satisfied.
THAT is the lie of unmet expectations: That if somehow we get everything we want, we will be happy. Christ teaches differently. He tells us that HE is the only one who can fully satisfy our soul’s longings, and until we are face to face with Him, we will always have that sense of unmet dreams, unmet plans, and unmet desires. It’s God’s way of reminding us that we were made to be fully satisfied in Him, and not in this world.
 
This is a real tension and struggle for us believers. God is teaching me that it’s how I respond to all my unmet expectations that counts. I need to constantly remind myself that this life is temporary, and that getting everything my heart desires isn’t the most important thing. When I think about it hard enough, I truly don’t want my life to be all about me. I want it to be for something greater than what my earthly desires create in my mind. I need to release control and TRUST in my Father who loves me so dearly. Loving God and loving others, in the midst of whatever unfulfilled circumstance we’re in is what God calls us to do. I want to have my eyes so fixed on Christ that everything in this life will fall in comparison to the satisfaction I have in my Father.
 
I’m trying to free myself from the burden of unmet expectations by laying my life, my plans, my dreams at the foot of the cross. I’m not the one in control and I want to be okay with that. God doesn’t promise to give us what we want, but He does promise that we can find all of the fulfillment and acceptance and satisfaction we need, in Him alone. And one day, when we are with Him for eternity, we will NEVER feel disappointment again.
Can I get an amen for that?! The struggle is real, ladies. Thank you Jesus for that promise because He knows we all need that today.
Faith, Fear, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

God Is Understanding

March 16, 2016

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If you were to ask me what is the one thing that I desire most in life, I would probably tell you about my dream job that would allow me to travel all over the world, drink tea and lattes all day long, and have deep conversations with people…and get paid for it.

Or I’d share with you the vacation I have planned to take my family on if one day I find that tree people say money grows on.

Or I would rattle off all of the things that make up the perfect life I’ve imagined on Pinterest.

And while each of those things certainly rank high on my list (however unlikely they may be 😉 ), there is still one desire that trumps them all…one I tend to keep hidden so deep in my heart because somehow I think if I tell anyone what I wish for, it won’t come true.

But really, if I’m completely honest, what my heart longs for more than anything is companionship.

Gosh, I just want to be married. I’m almost 23, I’m young and “I have my whole life ahead of me.” But when it seems like everyone around me is falling in love and getting married, it feels like this constant reminder that I’m alone.

Some days it’s like, if I see one more relationship status update on Facebook…
…if I hear one more sappy date story…
…if I see one more engagement ring on my Instagram feed…
…if I get one more “you plus one” wedding invitation (and if THAT one isn’t a double whammy…”not only am I getting married and you’re not, I’m inviting you to bring a date that you don’t have.”)…
Lord, help me…it might just drive me to Christian Mingle. I mean, obviously nothing else is working…

Friends, can I be candid? Sometimes singleness just sucks. I know there is so much good that comes out of this time, so much freedom in being able to focus on me, go anywhere, do anything. This season should be embraced. But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes (most times) I just want someone to do life with. I want my own fairytale. I want to be in love.

I have prayed soooo much about this. Seriously, if you could see my journals…

But every week, Friday and Saturday night roll around and the closest I come to a hot date is lounging in my sweatpants with Heather, catching up on the Bachelor (sorry Heather, but sometimes I want to spend my weekends with someone a little more “tall, dark and handsome.” 😉 )

For one more week my prayers go unanswered. And you know what?

I’m mad at God.

There. I said it. I’m mad at Him because I feel like He’s holding out on me. I’m annoyed because He knows what I want, what I have been hoping and dreaming for, and He’s fully capable of giving it to me! But for some reason He’s holding back. I feel like He’s not listening. I feel like I’m being punished. All of which I know isn’t true, but it doesn’t make me feel any less lonely, like I’m missing out and He doesn’t care.

But He does. That’s just it. He understands what I’m feeling because He’s the one who gave me that desire to be married and walk through life in partnership with someone else. He knit this longing for love into my being when He made me.

He gets it. He understands my anger and my frustration. He understands my confusion and my impatience. And because He understands, He gives me so much grace for when I don’t understand Him.

So to you, single girl…don’t feel guilty if you can’t find joy in this season, if you’re tired, if you’re jealous…I get it. I’m right there with you, and I understand. But more importantly, so does He.

Family, Relationships, Your Story

16: A Driver’s License and a Future Husband

February 24, 2016

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Nina’s Story 

I just wrote an entire post on how Brendon & I’s story began but realized I was awkwardly dancing around the simple truth: our beginning was scandalous… to the point that Heather (who I didn’t know at the time) sat him down and interrogated him about what the heck he was doing. Looking back, I’m actually questioning his sanity too. 😉

Here are the facts:
I was 16 and he was 25.
We met at a vegetable tray.
We started dating when I turned 18.
He proposed at a vegetable tray two years later.
Now we are 21 and 31 and married.
It’s awesome.

Can we get past the age thing? Cool.
Official Disclaimer: if my future 17-year-old daughter ever asks me if an older guy can drive 30 hours to come visit her, I will absolutely freak out.

Back in the day, the band I played keys for was opening for his band, Tenth Avenue North, at a concert in my hometown. That night, I was preoccupied with helping my mom who was producing the event so I actually remember very little of my interactions with anyone that night. Anyway, later that week Brendon found me online (creepy?) and we started talking about music and the university he went to. He was just a friend (I’m serious.) I had other healthy friendships with guys and had no idea that Brendon was interested in me. Like, clueless. FOR A WHOLE YEAR.

So obviously, I didn’t “just know” that B would be my husband when I first laid eyes on him. When God gives some people instant confirmation that their spouse is standing in front of them, I call that a beautiful blessing, but I didn’t expect or receive that. I was actually hesitant and scared of giving my heart to someone else. What if he steals it and breaks it? What if I make a mistake? I think I’m too weird for him. Am I too young for this? Is he serious about finding a wife? I just got my drivers license.

Eventually, basically, I remember saying to my mom, “He cares so much about what I say when he asks me questions.” She finally convinced me that he liked me. Can we mention S-L-O-W here? As in we talked mayyybeee once a week and saw each other mayyybeee every other month and then BAM.

He called to ask me if he could visit.
At this point, with the miraculous approval of my protective Colombian father, the answer was obviously DUH.
He drove Florida. To see me. And get to know my family. He gave me deep respect and I remember having sore cheeks from smiling for those three days.

Fast forward a year of long distance dating… arrive at me moving to Nashville for college. We made scrambled eggs for dinner. We went to the chiropractor. We sat on the floor of his living room and watched documentaries about Alaska. We spent summers visiting each other. I sat next to him as he painted his bathroom and he sat next to me as I studied for zoology tests. We planted a garden in his yard and his bachelor pad was slowly invaded by my sneaky decorative pillows. We wandered around farmers markets. He learned that I was an impulsive nerd and I learned that he was a meticulous nerd. We had hard conversations, tense days because of unrealistic expectations for each other, and conversations to get past communication roadblocks, but we always prayed for and with each other. Some days of getting to know each other are exhausting and some are exhilarating, but when we operate out of gratitude the crap melts away. I realized that being loved by Brendon, while imperfect, was like being loved by Christ- both kind and strong and safe and radical.

When that love was begging to be official and forever, my family hid in the bushes nearby (again, creepy?) while he asked me to be his WIFE.

Three days after we got engaged, I disappeared to a farm in Indiana to begin studying agroecology. On the first day of class in a tiny town that isn’t officially on a map, my professor asked my four classmates and me, “Why are you here?” Although I felt a deep peace about being there, I honestly answered, “I’m don’t know. I’m here to find out.” Since then, my heart has also exploded for small farm, organic vegetable growing. Dreams buzz around in my head all day, seed catalogs are always with me in my backpack, and I literally can’t stop thinking about the status of my broccoli plants at home when we are away. And could we have chickens with our travel schedule? Since working for a non-profit farm for my last semester in school, I want to grow food anywhere and everywhere. Don’t tell me I can’t grow avocados in Nashville. We will find a way.

Cue graduation. Then marriage. Dang, y’all. The last year has been the greatest year I’ve known so far. Living on the road in a bus with a dozen people is challenging at times but thrilling. Every single day is different. We must be intentional to connect and not let days slip by, but oh the adventures we’ve had thus far! God has been faithful to consistently humble and encourage this Type A, slightly scatterbrained, ESFJ (whatever that means). Reflecting on the past is always eye-opening. I see God’s presence in it all and I’m slowly coming to a place of thankfulness even for the struggles because I know He didn’t leave me.

We are complex creatures- full of light and joy deep down inside and sometimes life gets hard and it mutes that God-given spark. Thank you for sticking with us as we tell our crooked, painful, beautiful stories and thank you for sharing yours. This is a place where we can be honest with our crap with the intentions of bearing each other’s burdens because that’s what Jesus did for his friends too. There is serious freedom in surrender to the Lord. He can handle whatever we’ve got to unload. He really can.
Let’s walk into that together.

Faith, Family, Fear, Relationships, Your Story

Trust Me

February 10, 2016
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Ashton’s Story:
Let’s be honest, following Christ can be messy, scary, chaotic, and sometimes seem to not make sense to the world, but that’s also the beauty in TRUSTING someone. we don’t have to dwell on the “what if’s” – instead we can embrace where God has us and confidently move forward trusting in HIS plans.
For college, I decided to go to the University of San Diego when I was recruited to play volleyball. I loved it and God provided such a great ministry among my unbelieving friends and teammates. It was a crazy ironic tradition, but the volleyball team was superstitious about having to “pray” before every game. I may have been the only person who took those moments seriously, but I still loved seeing how God provided a way for them to hear truth. He was pursuing them in ways they didn’t even realize. I learned in my time at USD that if you just put yourself out there and ask to be used by God, He will always open doors. Step out fearlessly, confidently stand up for what you believe in, and genuinely love those around you…and you WILL be a light to this world.
 
Apart from these sweet moments with teammates, it took one year to make me realize that I was completely consumed with something that I wasn’t deeply passionate about. God was convicting me of it. I would wake up early for 7:00am classes, get to the training room by noon to get taped up, practice for 3 hours and then head to the weight lifting room for another 1 hour workout, go back to the training room for ice baths and stretching, then head back to my dorm to muster up any energy I had left to get my homework done. Then repeat the next day. On top of that, every other week we would travel out of town for games, missing A LOT of classes. I found my days to be very full of something that I knew would end in just a matter of time. I missed church every other week, I had no possible way of being apart of a small group, and no time to build a community outside of volleyball. I loved playing the game, but at the end of the day I deeply yearned to somehow be a part of global missions. I knew my days weren’t wasted there at all, but I felt God calling me away. I felt Him asking me to trust Him, again. Giving up volleyball was like asking me to give up my comfortability; my self-built identity that I found a lot of worth in; my “thing” that I could hide in when life just wasn’t great. We all have had something like that, right? It was scary. Because despite knowing how all of my friends and family would think of me, it was clear that God was asking me to trust Him with HIS plans, even though I didn’t know what they were yet.
 
Trying to whole-heartedly follow the Lord, I decided to leave USD, leave a full-ride scholarship, and transfer to Biola University (the Bible Institute of Los Angeles). My decision was not a popular one. My coaches were caught off guard, my friends didn’t understand my spiritual reasoning, and my family was mostly supportive but just hard to read. I knew as soon as I left that this sport I consumed my life with for so many years had truly become an idol. A big idol. I found too much worth in it, and God knew.
 
Biola has one of the best Intercultural Studies programs and I was ecstatic to be a part of it. I learned A LOT in my time there yet still didn’t feel at home. Ironically enough, even going to a Bible teaching, mission’s focused school for a year seemed to not feel right for the calling I felt upon my life. I thought it would take away my itch to live overseas but it only made it stronger! I know that many have different opinions about this, but I was right back to the same question of, “Is going to school what God is telling me to do, or just what our culture says is the right way to do things?” I was deeply challenged by this, and through countless different conversations I had with my parents and mentors, I again decided to leave school. This time though, not to transfer to another school. I felt called to live overseas and experience first hand what it’s like to be a missionary. Not everyone was for this, but I knew God had a plan bigger than what we could see at the time. TRUST was the biggest lesson I learned.
 
This brought me an amazing opportunity to work at a church for two years and be sent all over the world. I learned so much in that time and would never take back my decision to stop school. I ended my term being sent to the Middle East to start a church plant and my goodness did I fall in love. I fell in love with the culture, and it lit a fire in me to see the unreached Muslim world come to know Christ. I am forever changed because of how I saw God work in the lives of people in such harsh conditions overseas. I feel like I continually saw His glory in new and unexpected ways and it only made me fall more in love with Him. My college years may not have been “normal” to the world’s standards, but I would never take back my decisions. I genuinely trusted and followed the Lord the best I knew how, and will never regret doing so. It has been quite the adventure!
 
I thought I could be a single woman missionary for the rest of my life, but little did I know I would be pursued by my now husband right when I returned to the states:)
You know how they say, “When you know, you know”? Well, that really is what happened with Hank and I. We met way back in 2010 at a camp in CA, and quite frankly my cabin of 6th grade girls were far more in love with him than I was haha. But God just has a sense of humor like that huh:) He was living as far across the country as he could in North Carolina, and I was back living in California. I’ll never forget Skyping for the first time and we just knew that we would be together forever. There was a LONG road ahead of us of dating, meeting families, and somehow eventually living in the same state, but we trusted that if it was right, God would provide a way.
 
Fast-forward 4 years and here I am today, writing this blog in NC, married to that wonderful man. One thing I can say about my life is that God has proved over and over again that His ways are FAR greater than anything I could have planned for myself. Following Christ may not look like the life we expect or let alone how our families and friends expect…but it sure is a beautiful adventure when you surrender everything to Him and trust in the Holy Spirit leading you. I sure have made some decisions that didn’t seem “wise” or “normal” to the world, but I don’t regret fearlessly putting my faith in Christ and just going for it. He is the One who wants to use us in incredible ways if we just offer ourselves up to Him. It may look like chaos to some, but with God it’s always organized for our good and for His glory.
Faith, Family, God, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Your Story

Made in California

February 3, 2016

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Ashton’s Story:

I am from California, born and raise, and have been living in Raleigh NC for two years with my hilarious, handsome, and loving husband Hank. I have a mom and dad and two older brothers who I adore with all my heart. Growing up in California has its incredible blessings but also its very difficult cultural standards. It’s so different from North Carolina I find myself almost laughing because I never thought I would experience such a culture shock in my own country, let alone be married to a sweet Georgia gentleman! This isn’t a bad thing at all but definitely makes me see that where I came from has shaped me into the type of Christian and woman I am today. It’s always good to remember where you came from right?

When I was in the 1st grade my family started this tradition of traveling to a different country every summer. This greatly impacted my life at such a young age because it forced me to see with my own eyes how other cultures lived. I saw beautiful things but also poverty in many different forms. Every trip I realized more and more that most of the world lives differently than we do in the states. This sparked a HUGE love for different cultures and almost an addiction to travel and adventure…Which is a crucial part of why I think I have always wanted to become a missionary, and why I have made some crazy decisions in my life that others would think to be risky or unwise…you’ll see :).

As a little girl, I remember feeling morally different from my friends – or simply just wanting different things in life. Being surrounded by such a liberal culture formed my worldview as a believer and forced me to be comfortable with being different. I understood that my beliefs were not popular. It wasn’t normal or cool to believe in God. In fact, it was looked down upon and seen as “ignorant” or “narrow-minded”. I had far more non-Christian friends than I did friends at church. It was never a normal sight to see people reading their Bibles in coffee shops, and out of my public high school class of 600+ students, I could count on one hand how many true Christians I knew. So when conversations were brought up about what we wanted to be when we grew up, instead of saying “a doctor” or something of that sort, I would say “a missionary” or something crazy like live in a hut somewhere with a tribe (which I still honestly would LOVE to do lol)…but nothing prized by this world or relatable to my friends.

The success-seeking, “do it this way” culture I was growing up in wasn’t attractive to me, and little did I know this being different mentality would play over into so many areas of my life. Almost as if I just enjoyed swimming against the current of cultural norms. I see now that I was developing a rebellious, free spirit. All that being said, it’s a complete anomaly that I am saved. Seriously. Truly. Wholly. By God’s grace alone. Growing up in a world that is addicted to wealth and success, to physical appearance and the type of degree you have, and is SO good at storing up those achievements even at the expense of their souls…Yes…it is truly by God’s grace that my heart turned towards Him.

This grace that God gave me to understand His love didn’t come easy, though. It was a tough battle, and a trial that brought me to seek the gospels in a way I never had before. In the eighth grade, I felt that I was a Christian: I attended church with my family on Sundays and read the Bible maybe as often as any 13 year old, but my faith had never been deeply tested and I didn’t have a true intimate relationship with Christ. This changed, though, on the day that my dad told my brothers and I that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom was my most treasured possession on this earth. She was everything to me. She had to fight through chemotherapy for a year, get a full mastectomy (completely removing both breasts), and had a couple more years of surgeries to follow. Watching her go through these battles was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I was angry and deeply afraid. But God used it to draw me to Himself. I went for a walk on a dirt path in the mountains near our house, and prayed and wept before my Father. In my expression of furious anger towards him, crying out of desperation and fear, God showed me that He was simply there. He was clearly asking me, “Am I still worthy to follow if I take your mom away?” He was asking if I trusted Him and truly believed He was a Good Father. Did I believe He loved my mom more than I did? Was I ready to lay my life down for Him because He laid His life down for me? Would I do so, even if He took my mom away? …And through the tears, I said “yes”.

I’m so thankful to tell you that my mom survived, and even defeated kidney cancer just three years ago. Seeing her be so strong and never lose hope has truly changed me. Her battle with cancer has drawn me close to Christ in ways that I can’t even describe. Because of this personal commitment, I was baptized on my first missions trip in the Baltic Sea in Latvia when I was 15.

I lived and worked in an orphanage in India for two summers in high school and this deep love for travel continued to be affirmed. All the while I was on a year round volleyball team that traveled nationally. It was a lot of work but I loved every second of it. I started receiving many scholarship offers and because it was the next level to achieve in my volleyball career, I committed to the University of San Diego at the beginning of my junior year.

When I think back to how quickly and freely I made that decision, I loved how fearless I was but also wish I could have had deeper discussions about my future and where my heart was really at. I had this unending passion to do missions overseas and couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do…and then I also had this incredible opportunity to play D1 volleyball and get my education paid for…why wouldn’t I take that?? I would really only be going there for volleyball…but that’s ok right?? This decision started to seem like something everyone else wanted and desired for me, and although I loved playing and went through with it, I deep down knew it wasn’t what I wanted and that it wouldn’t satisfy my longings for very long. This was my first big life decision that I was questioning: “Is this what God wants me to do, or what my coaches and parents and friends think is right?”

Over and over I saw people obtain it all by the worlds standards, but truly they just.felt.empty. Many people I knew had no self worth even though they had all of these things; they had no joy even though they were told money would buy them happiness; they thought they didn’t need God because their academic achievements told them they could do it all themselves.

These were the things I grew up being afraid of. I desperately wanted to avoid believing those lies. And THAT is what fed my rebellious spirit against the “cultural norms”. I had inadvertently faced death with my mom and it kind of made me internally say “YOLO” even though that didn’t even exist then. God doesn’t say, “Get perfect grades, go to college, get married, find the right job…and THEN follow me.” No. THAT is what I wanted to be careful of and as a teenager tried to navigate the best I knew how. This has always been an internal battle of mine. Maybe some of you totally get what I’m talking about, and maybe some of you are for the first time asking if you have just been doing what everyone else is because it’s easy, but I encourage you to just go to God and ask Him. Ask the hard questions. We can do that together :).

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

Confessions of a Perfectionist

January 22, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FullSizeRenderVirginia Kirby

Body Image, Fear, Identity, Relationships, Your Story

Perfectly Imperfect

January 20, 2016

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Chelsea’s Story

“So what’s your story?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When life isn’t as we planned

January 15, 2016

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By one of our readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was showing His glory through my life.

This was all for my good and His glory.

 

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