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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.

 

Body Image, Identity, Relationships, Sex, Your Story

The Serial Dater

January 13, 2016

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Allison’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save me from myself

January 6, 2016

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Allison’s Story…

I first want to give you sort of an overview of my life from my earliest memory to the present. I really wish I could do this sitting across from you, face to face, probably with a latte in my hand, and with smiles in thankfulness and some tears in heartache. I definitely would laugh or smile even in sharing some of the hard parts because it’s difficult for me to share my insecurities and probably because I feel overwhelmed. So here it goes anyways.

By the world’s standards, I am the definition of a “good girl”. And that is a huge part of my story because even now I am anxious to share it with you because thoughts like, “my story is boring”, “I have nothing important to share”, and “I probably can’t explain it clearly,” are running through my mind. I keep telling myself that though my story isn’t super dramatic or juicy nor is there a point of radical change, I know that many of you can relate to it.

The core of me starts with my family. My family is awesome. I know God has really gifted me with an amazing family who knows and loves God deeply. My two younger brothers love and follow Jesus. My grandparents and parents have been in full-time ministry as a pastor and missionary my entire life. They all have raised me and poured so much love, wisdom, and truth in me. I am so much a product of their obedience and faithfulness to God.

I decided to be a follower of Jesus when I was 6 years old. Girls, I am STILL trying to understand why God gave me this story. Why He chose to save me at such a young age, save me from so much turmoil in my life because I genuinely wanted to follow Jesus from the very beginning.

I know in my head that this is a HUGE gift that I don’t deserve and I am eternally thankful for, but my ENTIRE life I have struggled with this. I know this sounds strange, but I secretly wished I had a more “radical” story to share with others.

It’s difficult for me to share my story about how God has saved me and changed me because I really never had the experience of being delivered from a life without Christ. And then I questioned in my head if I was ever really “saved” because I was so young.

As I was growing up, I loved going to every church event. I hosted bible studies for my neighbors when I was 9 years old. I shared the gospel with others around me. I wanted to read my bible, my devotional books, and pray. I wanted to live the life God called me to live.

Does this make me sounds perfect?? It probably does. And there’s the problem I experienced.

I was such a GOOD person… what did God actually save me from?!

In high school, I tried to stay out of trouble. I liked boys. A lot (more to come in part 2). I had the phases of being sassy and rude to my family, trying to fit in with the popular kids while still being “good”, and being flat-out ticked at God and others that I didn’t get my way. In other words, when I was tired of being the good girl, I was good at being a brat.

I had an internal battle between keeping up the good girl status because I wanted to please God since I loved Him, BUT I also thought at times that I could easily keep being a good girl on my own because that’s really all I knew.

I was totally missing a very important truth though.

It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to be good on my own. I could keep up the good girl status around others and keep checking off the major things God wanted me to do, but when I start to let the little sins creep in, it was very difficult for me to stop because I was trying to be good and not sin on my own.

I just hadn’t learned on my own the truth that there is NOTHING in me that is good. The “little” sins really mean sins that no one saw, so I didn’t think they were that big of a deal at first since no one but God knew about it. Some of these included lying, cheating, lusting, jealousy, selfishness, pride, anxiety, and arrogance. Just to name a few. And these were present in my life every day.

When I went to college, I didn’t have my family to hide behind, my youth group or my small private school. It was like God didn’t give me safety zones to hide in anymore. He took away any constraints or boundaries I had and let me figure out on my own who He created me to be and how I should view myself. And you know what is so amazing is that God never let me go. He never let me turn from Him.

God called me and has kept me since I was 6 years old. And once I understood this, it revolutionized the way I understood God and myself. It gave me so much freedom because I realized it wasn’t by my own doing that I was a good Christian, but totally God’s power. He gave me Jesus’ identity when I became a Christian. He already sees me as perfect. And He is the one who gives me the strength I need to turn from my sin and live in freedom. I learned how to let go of the bonds of perfectionism and the good girl identity.

Girls, I am not near perfect. I struggle every day. I struggle to love my husband unconditionally, to love God more than anything else this world has to offer, to be a selfless friend, daughter, and sister, to my keep my eyes, mind, and heart pure, and to not compare myself to others. I struggle with this and more every single day. But I also know that with every day and every struggle, Jesus is my perfection, Jesus is my salvation, Jesus is my identity. So I can stop trying to earn my goodness. I can find strength to overcome temptation, and I can find freedom even when I mess up.

I don’t have any “prodigal son” type times in my life. I don’t have a radical before and after Christ story.

But I am truly miracle. I am a miracle from God because for some reason He chose me and kept me since my beginning memories of life. And that is truly not anything I did on my own to deserve.

 

Community, Faith, Identity, Relationships

Your Story Matters is here!

January 4, 2016

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Happy new year!! So glad to be with you in 2016 :).

We are so excited to introduce the series to kick off the new year… Your Story Matters

Thinking about how to tell your story is a much more daunting task than it seems. Your story should be easy to tell, right?! Because you’re the only one who knows it entirely and there is no way you can really mess up telling it since it belongs to you.

Well, it is not at all easy, but it’s definitely a good kind of challenge. And, I challenge you to write your story with us. If you haven’t read the last post before this, don’t miss out on it because we really do want your story! If you go back to the post before this one, you will find details on what we need from you if you would like to submit your story to be posted here!

All four of the AGLM writers will be sharing our stories with you over the next two months, so we hope you enjoy getting to know us deeper and that you’ll be able to relate to at least one of us since we all have different stories to share.

To go along with our posts the next couple of months, we will also be sharing with you on Instagram more about each of us. We really desire to invite you into our lives, as much as we can being a virtual ministry, so we are going to each take turns posting on Instagram the more day-to-day parts of our lives.

Follow along on our Instagram but also with the hashtag #AGLMstory.

We would love for you to also use this hashtag when you think of us in sharing your story on Instagram so we can find you and get to know you better as well!

And as always, we would love to hear from you as well, especially if you have question for us about our stories or just about anything!

We are so excited and really looking forward to see what the new year brings as we journey along with YOU!

Community, Faith, Identity, Relationships, Spiritual Life, The Friday Overflow

When Community Doesn’t Come Easily

December 11, 2015

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Hello fellow AGLM readers! Just a quick introduction: I’m Aubrey, and I’ve been reading A Girl Like Me for the past 3ish years. I’ve been inspired by the community series to write a little bit about what community means to me and how my perspective has changed this fall.

Community doesn’t come easily to me. My idea of a fun night is burying myself in bed with blankets and Netflix and not coming out for 12 hours. Large groups and crowds give me anxiety, and forming new friendships is not my strongest quality. So, at the beginning of the community series, I almost overlooked the posts.

However, this year I’ve been focusing heavily on improving my relationship with Christ and my spiritual life. I knew that this wasn’t something I could do all on my own, and that’s when I realized that I actually did need to build my community. I was complacent in my relationships, closed-off, and somewhat bitter. After going through a difficult summer, it finally hit me that I needed a something deeper. If I was going to live an intentional Christian lifestyle, I needed to embrace the people around me and form the bonds that Christ was calling me to make. I couldn’t wait around for everyone else to make the effort anymore.

So, I’ve planted new seeds, watered budding friendships, and seen my garden grow. Once I stopped living inside of myself and started reaching out, I found that there are so many beautiful people around me. Complimenting a stranger, talking with classmates, saying hi to people in my favorite coffee shop, and striking up a conversation with the barista became easier because my community can be anyone! There are no limits on who Christ calls us to serve, even if it seems meaningless. Community has brought a bigger purpose to my relationships with friends and family.

These past few months, I’ve found myself at 5:45am yoga classes with my best friend, praying with someone I just met in my local coffee shop, planning weekly Bible studies, hanging out with my brother peaceably, staying more connected with busy/long distance friends, going through with plans even when I don’t feel like it, opening up to people, and putting energy into lifting others up. I no longer use my “introverted platform” to keep myself from loving everyone. I thought I was happy in my own little world, but I have found such a deeper joy in having a community. By accepting God’s challenge to love my neighbor, these people poured so much love back into me and helped me deepen my relationship with Christ.

I used to believe the lies Satan put in my head, “No one needs you,” “Everyone already has somebody, why would they want to be friends with you?” and worst of all, “You can’t make a difference, nothing will change.” It seemed easier to me then to pack up and move to a place where I knew nobody instead of finding a community where I’ve lived for my entire life. My excuse for blocking people out was that I wasn’t happy here anyways. The deceiver will do whatever it takes to keep us from joy and living out the will of Christ. Starting out a journey to find community around us puts us in a vulnerable place, but Jesus works through our weaknesses to increase our strength. In our times of fear and vulnerability, He is our safe place.

A passage that especially inspired me recently was Psalms 46:1-5,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.”

You and I are not in this alone. With God in the midst of us, we are never alone. In community, you can never be alone. Trust God to take you beyond the complacency, the fear of rejection, the bitterness, the hurt, whatever it is that’s holding you back from this beautiful life He wants and has planned for you.

I’m thankful for you all here at AGLM, for being part of this community, and I’m thankful for my family, church, school, friends, you, and coffee shop strangers who are all a part of mine. Thank you for inspiring me to live fully.

 

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Aubrey is from Lincoln, Nebraska and currently a junior in high school. In her free time she enjoys weightlifting and playing volleyball, watching Audrey Hepburn movies, journaling, cooking vegan food, cuddling with my puppy, adventuring with friends, and most of all, worshiping her Savior.

Community, Relationships

Together We Stand

December 2, 2015

As I sit here on a rainy Nashville day in my favorite coffee shop sipping on the most excellent of all lattes ever made, I am working hard to hold back tears. What do I say to you, my sweet AGLM family, that could ever possibly convey my love and gratitude and every feel I am feeling right now? I realized that unless I typed a bunch of muffled nonsense and tried to stain your computer screens with my tears, no words would really ever get to the depths of how my heart loves you so. But alas, we are a blog and words I must give. So let’s do this….

You’ve changed my life.

I don’t mean that in any cheesy cliche way. Each of you..this ministry…this family and space we’ve created together….it has changed my life.
545073_10151211513911038_979935450_nYou have allowed me to see the beauty that comes from moving out of hiding and into the light. You’ve shown me there is no fear in being known, fully known- the good, bad, shameful ugly pieces. You’ve allowed me to cry and complain and rejoice and get angry and scold you and scold me and grow and learn together.

12273082_933469433387067_418981352_nTogetherness. That’s what we created. We created a place where we didn’t have to be afraid to be who we are. We made a place where pain and doubt were welcome. We made a place where hope could live and more importantly, there was a friend who would walk with you as you figured it all out. We may have never hugged or had coffee, but we became a family that loved better and deeper than some families we are given by birth. THAT girls, is something to be grateful for.

IMG_222411098425_839468939479183_859726445_nunnamedSince we made such a safe place, our family grew. We reached across oceans and continents, ages and races. Because togetherness has no boundary. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is loved. 10860150_892323810786769_1737473777_n10429467_936072763072076_3395842115171841754_n

I have been blown away by the way you girls have stood by each other through comments or community board posts. How you’ve prayed for each other, encouraged each other, and loved well. You’ve gifted life and grace to one another and in turn shown me and the other writers just how beautiful and big our God is. Me, Kelly, or the other AGLM writers…we didn’t make AGLM what it is….YOU did. We’ve just had the honor of sitting back and watching it all unfold into this tightly woven tapestry of true community. 10801707_978893398790012_2678656561386762067_nDSC_7057

As we face a new year filled with new changes, you might be asking yourself, “What’s next?” For me, well I won’t be going far. My eyes are now set on pouring into the AGLM writers. I’ll be mentoring, advising and guiding them so that they can, in turn, better serve you. I’ll still be posting on the blog here and there, and I’ll always be close by if you ever need to reach me.

We are family. No matter how far apart family may be, we are still always there for each other.

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For you? Well, the choice is yours. Our hope is that you stay. That you stay  to keep fighting for our family. That you keep helping us grow and change and love bigger and better than we have. That you call us on our crap when we’re crappy and let us do the same for you. We hope that you stick with us and continue to try and figure out how to be a girl in this screwed up world.

Together we stand. Because as scripture tells us, “A chord of three strands cannot be easily broken.”

We are better together. Stronger. Hope-filled. So let’s keep doing life together then. IMG_2791IMG_5557IMG_2600

All my love and then some to you my AGLMers. Here’s to many more years of life together and finding out we aren’t so alone after all.

-Heather