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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, 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, 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, Faith, Relationships, Spiritual Life

You Belong HERE!

November 18, 2015

FullSizeRender-6Well, girls, somehow we made it. We are already at the end of our Community series and hello, Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK! Maybe it’s because I am getting older, but time is flying by so fast that I feel like I was just wearing shorts and soaking up the sun, but thank the Lord I don’t sweat every time I dry my hair… Count your blessings, right?! 😉

Ok, so I want to be really honest with you. This was a difficult series to write. A lot more difficult than I realized, and I think I can say this is true for all the writers. Some of us are trying to find our own community or are having constant change in community. And, we are still trying to navigate with you what community really is and means, what good and healthy community looks like.

I know we (AGLM writers) say this often, or at least we think this often, but we are not “the professionals”. We are not here to give you our wisdom as the master Jedi’s to you as our young padawans (sorry, I’ve been going through the Star Wars series, eeek #nerdstatus). But we are here because we have been exactly where you are now. We know life is hard, and we totally get it when you just want to say over and over again, “life’s not fair!”

Maybe you are at the loneliest point in life that you have ever been. Or you want to fit in with a certain group and are doing everything you can to make that happen, but it just isn’t working. Maybe you’ve been stabbed or hurt by those who you thought were your closest friends (Yeah, I’ve been in all those places). So you may be frustrated because you’re thinking, “I thought the community series would help me, give me answers or direction, but it didn’t and I am in the same place.”

I TOTALLY get that. But I also want to say again, the writers here also don’t have perfect community, we don’t have all the answers. So you may not find your answers here. But what you will find… women who truly care about you, who love you and pray for you. A Girl Like Me IS community!! It’s not the same as having community physically and presently around you in your day to day (which we still believe is super important to pray for and seek), but we are still a community. And we are here for YOU. No matter who you or where you have been. I promise if you stick with us and reach out to us, you will find that we are here for you.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, God has placed us here, a part of A Girl Like Me. And we WANT to walk along side of you the best we can through our virtual avenues, or maybe WE get the pleasure of meeting you one day.

So many times I sit and think about A Girl Like Me and I ask God, what do I have to offer?! But then he reminds me of the women who take their time to reach out to me, and that speaks volumes, no matter what they have to say, as long as I know they’re there because they love me and are for me.

That’s my daily prayer for A Girl Like Me, and what I hope, whether you’re a brand new reader or a veteran reader, that you will find here. True, real community.

So stick with us! We will take a break next week as we enjoy Thanksgiving with our families, but be back in December to finish off the year and talk about what’s to come!

If you did learn from the community series, we would LOVE to hear from you! Leave us a comment and let us know.

Love, Allison

 

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

I’m the Only One

October 28, 2015

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I was in high school. I just got my heart broken by the guy I “thought” I was in love with. My mom was going through intensive chemotherapy to fight breast cancer. If I did go to anyone to talk about my problems, it would be her…but there’s something that doesn’t quite feel right when you’re venting about your little problems to a loved one who is fighting for her life. (I know now, though, that my mom would never want me to think that way). I was on a traveling team for volleyball and gone almost every weekend. Naturally that meant I missed church, small group, and hanging out with any friends I had at school quite often. And lastly, I would straight up tell you that I wanted to live in any other country than America. Since I was a little girl I wanted to be a missionary and my heart always seemed to be somewhere else…in a hut or tribe that I had never even been to. I felt depressed because, well, I was stuck in high school doing “worthless high school things” and thought there was no one else like me.

Flash forward to a conversation with a pastor who had always been like a father to me: I was glad to finally be talking to someone, and as I wept I spilled out these words: ”I’m the only one…

That day I learned that those four words are among the most dangerous that can come out of our mouths, let alone enter into our minds. Those four words are what Satan, our enemy, wants you to believe, and not AT ALL what Christ promises or wants for us.

Yes, there are incredibly hard circumstances that we all go through in our lives, but the exact thing that the enemy wants us to feel in those downcast, burdened times is that:

Lies:

1. You are the only one who has ever on the face of the earth gone through this and felt these emotions.

2. You are alone in your struggle.

3. There is no hope.

 

The only thing to do in addressing this state of mind of self-centeredness (yes, it took me a while to admit to and call it what it was) that we are so prone to wander into, is to be washed over and cleansed by TRUTH. We have to learn how to address the enemy’s lies about being lonely and outcasts, and proclaim God’s truth over them. I have laid out a few for you below and challenge you to ask God to help set your mind on HIS words rather than the enemy’s.

We may be tempted to say “I’m the only one…” but God says, “I AM THE ONE” that you need. God knows us and loves us. We are never alone because God is ALWAYS with us. He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.

The point is not to have another person who you can perfectly relate to. The point is that God did not intend for us to do life alone. You have to be intentional about reaching out not only for the sake of yourself but also for the goal to glorify God in whatever you’re going through. His strength is made perfect in us, sharing in our weaknesses.  God is bigger than your present problems and if we are open to it, He WILL teach and transform us into more mature, godly women.

TRUTH:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

“You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.”

Psalm 139

 

 

FullSizeRender-1-1Ashton lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, Hank Murphy. They work and serve at the Summit Church in Durham, NC. Ashton is originally from northern California and moved here 2 years ago. She loves traveling the world on mission for the gospel, getting coffee with Allison, painting and creating beauty in spaces, cooking delicious food, nannying a lot of cute kids, and spending time with Hank.

P.S. Allison wrote this on behalf of Ashton as they were once roommates before they married their husbands :-)

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

Community In Us

September 23, 2015

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This morning, the sunrise was radical.

The way the clouds stretched across the dark sky felt like the red velvet curtain in a theater was about to bust open.

The surface waters of the Atlantic reflected every speck of light that began to break over the horizon.

 

I could see it all.

The land stirring with dawn’s creatures under my feet.

The waters full of life only feet away.

The sky full of stars that seemed to be so close.

 

Dolphins searching, birds in formation, my family close, track of turles that had come up the beach where their mother’s had laid their eggs decades earlier- community was all around.

 

God created community.

God loves community.

God is community.

 

When we are unsure of what community looks like for ourselves, we have the perfect example in God Himself- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

 

God is the perfect image of community, and you may have heard the radical grace in Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image…” Right from the start, we see that we are created BY community FOR community.

 

So we can’t talk about being in relationship with other people without being clear of the relationship within us. We can’t try and figure out community between us and other people without knowing how we are wired.

 

The need for community around us is fed by the Community within us.

 

Dear believer in Jesus, dear girl who has admitted your need for a Savior, the Holy Spirit is inside you. The Holy Spirit, God in community, lives in all believers of Jesus.

 

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14

 

At the end of Jesus’ life and ministry, he gifts us with the Holy Spirit to guide and counsel us. He even says that for now, we are “better off without Jesus”.

 

So how are we to be in community with God the Holy Spirit? Maybe I should have written a disclaimer at the top that said that this is not a Buzzfeed ‘Top 5’ list of ways to be closer to God or to know the Holy Spirit. I like simple and let’s be real—it’s Wednesday morning and you’re probably either reading this at work or on your phone under your desk at school (girrrllll I do it too!). There are a lot of other things that need your attention right now. So one thing to know better who the Holy Spirit is in us:

 

The holy, perfect, relevant, comprehensive word of God, the Bible, is the premier way of being in community with God. We can study Scripture. Meditate on it. Pray it. Read it out loud alone. Read it with other people. Check out Acts 2 for the picture of the Holy Spirit coming to Earth after Jesus ascended to heaven.

 

Ask God to help you understand how to engage in the community that He has already put around you. After all, God has community in Himself and we have community with God. The only way we can have true community and deep relationship with other people is because of the Holy Spirit living in us.

 

The Fellowship of the Believers

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Community, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

Worth Fighting For

September 9, 2015

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“Hi, my name is Chelsea and I’m a people-loving, complete-opposite-of-shy, social butterfly and expert conversationalist.”

A year ago, that big mouthful is exactly how I would have described myself. I’d call myself an extreme extrovert who can talk for days and make friends with strangers. I would have confidently stated that large crowds don’t intimidate me, and new people and places are what make me come alive. And I fully believed this to be true.

That is, while I was living in my comfort zone and community was handed to me.

I grew up in a small town, small church, small school…everyone knew everyone, and friends were always easy to find and close by. As I moved on to college and then working with a ministry, my community was chosen for me – roommates, classmates, co-workers.

You see, I’ve never known what lonely feels like. Community was easy for me. It was something I never had to work for or be intentional about. It was always just there. At my disposal. Someone else cultivated community for me and I was just a pawn with a success story.

Then I moved. All by myself. To a brand new city. Where I knew only a few people. I’ve come to realize that now that I have to work for community, I’m more shy than I ever thought. I don’t want to visit churches by myself. I get too nervous to strike up a conversation with the girl sitting next to me at a coffee shop. I hesitate to share too much of my life with new people because I’m suddenly insecure.

So for a while I just kept to myself, hoping that the next time I walked into the grocery store I would randomly meet someone who would randomly invite me to go do some random thing somewhere sometime. I didn’t know how to build community, so I was kind of just hoping that it would find me.

But here’s the thing – sitting at home watching Netflix and waiting for new friends and weekend plans to appear out of nowhere will not satisfy our innate need for relationship anytime soon. The truth is, you are never going to find true community if you’re not actively looking for it.

…Ok. So maybe the Biebs was onto something when he said, “never say never”…I guess it is possible for community to come to you, for you to be in the right place at the right time, or for a complete stranger to reach out. Possible…sure. But likely? No. That’s not quite a reliable community-building plan.

So what do we do? How do we create community?

  • Church is probably the best place you can start – There’s something about a church family that just doesn’t compare to any other community. If you don’t have a church, find one! Ask a friend if you can join them some Sunday, or ask another friend who doesn’t have a church home either to start trying out churches together! Whatever it takes, make it a priority to find a place to get plugged in, and then get involved in the groups, events and activities your church offers!
  • Embrace the community right in front of you – You’re surrounded by people at school, the gym, your favorite coffee shop, work, your neighborhood…talk to them! Take time to get to know the stories behind the faces you see every day.
  • Remember to do life with people – Because that’s the point of community, right? To do life. Side by side. As Heather explained, we were never meant to do it all alone.
  • Invest in the relationships you have – We don’t deserve friendships; they are a gift. And gifts aren’t meant to be neglected, they’re meant to be cherished and enjoyed, cared for and well-loved.
  • Spend quality time with friends – I don’t mean texting each other from across the room or going to a movie and not talking. Take time to pay attention to the souls in front of you and love them well. Make the effort. They’re worth you’re time.
  • Get real – Let your walls fall, and fight every urge to build them back up. Dig deep. Bear your heart. Share your highs and lows, hopes and dreams, struggles and fears, the good, bad and ugly…laugh from your belly, let out a good ugly cry, and pray together. Remember, to have a friend, you have to be friend! Take the time to hear what’s on their heart, too.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this: Community isn’t about you. The focus shouldn’t be on what you’re going to get out of it. It’s about becoming more like Christ through serving and loving those around us.

Philippians 2:1-11 tells us the point is to be selfless and humble, valuing others above ourselves. Why? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did when he “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7). He didn’t have to reach out to us. He didn’t have to serve us. And he certainly didn’t have to die for us. But he did. Not because he was getting anything out of it. Not because we deserved it. But because he believes our hearts are worth fighting for.

So let’s join the fight. Let’s fight for community and serve our friends. One way we’ve started doing that on the AGLM team is with Friend Fridays! You may have noticed on some of our posts on social media we’ve hashtagged #FridaysAreForFriends. On Fridays we try to serve a friend in some way. Maybe that means bringing them coffee. Maybe we help a friend with a project. It could be anything! It just helps us remember to take the focus off of us and devote that day (or some part of it!) to someone we care about and show them they’re loved.

Now we want you to join in! As we go through this community series, be thinking of ways you can reach out to friends, old and new, and serve them. Show them you want to be in community with them! Invite them to go on an adventure with you. Bake them a special surprise and drop it off at their house or work with a note to encourage them. Get creative! Fridays are for Friends…but they can also be so much fun for you, too. And make sure to share you’re Friend Fridays with us! Post a picture or story, tag us and hashtag #FridaysAreForFriends. If you have an encouraging story once you try out our challenge, email us! You may see it on the blog!

”And so, my fellow AGLMers: ask not what your community can do for you – ask what you can do for your community.” (In the words of JFK…loosely adapted, of course 😉 )

God, Redemption, Relationships, Spiritual Life

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

September 2, 2015

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“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” 

           -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you know me by now, you know one thing to be true: I love relationship and community. I love the life that comes from broken people coming together in their brokenness and standing with one another right where they are at. There is nothing more life-giving nor more humbling than the act of friendship.

For some of you community and relationships come easy. You’ve always been THE friend-the one getting asked to hang out and never the one sitting alone binge watching Netflix on a Friday night. Then there are those of you who are like me where building community is work. You’re not a difficult friend necessarily but you often feel like no one would hang out with you if you didn’t ask them to. Then there are others of you who feel like you have no community at all and you’re left wondering if God and society has decided your just not friend material. Whoever you are and where ever you land on the spectrum, this series is for you.

In looking back through scripture we can see that the overarching theme God weaves is one of relationship. God with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God with us, and us with one another. We were made to be in relationship. It is essential to our lives and no matter how stubborn or resilient you think you are, everyone needs friends. The issue that we often find ourselves in, is that when it comes to nurturing or developing a relationship, we often fall short or mishandle it.

There is a great irony about living in community. To live in true community is to allow ourselves to be known by another. Being known is something that each of us desperately wants, yet something we are also incredibly terrified of. There is where our problem exists. How do we free ourselves from the fear of being known so that we can embrace the joy of being known. This is something that we hope the next few months will help to clear up for you.

So how about we make a deal with one another, ok? Let’s promise right now that we are going to toss out the playbook we’ve made on friendship and start fresh. That means casting aside our expectations, our past hurts, our pride and what we think we know it means to love others well. Instead, how about we open our hearts and minds to a new way of thinking. A way that’s going to mean dying to our selfish entitlements and need for rightness or validation and humbling ourselves to the idea that just like most things, we have no clue what we are doing.

No man is an island girls. Good or bad, life is meant to be lived with one another. So let’s do just that. My hope is that by the end of this series you’ll know not only just how loved you are by us and others, but just how much Jesus loves you as well. Strap on your seat belts girlfriends, it’s about to get crazy up in here.

Faith, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

Preparation

August 26, 2015

Good morning, girls!

I hope you are, like me, no longer mourning that summer is over because I know it’s a hard reality to accept after summer! But good news! September is almost here. That means football, fall, scarves, everything pumpkin, beautiful trees, and also AGLM new series begins! We have been planning, praying, and really preparing for our series on Community this fall. Next week we will officially begin, but I wanted to give you a week to prepare your hearts as well for what you will be hearing from us as we lean on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

I am challenging you during your #AGLMmorning to read the passage below over and over. Highlight, look it up in commentaries and different translations, ask God to enlighten these words to you in a deeper way than ever before, and pray that he will speak to you personally in our series on Community!

And as always, we would love to hear from you!

All our love,

Allison, Heather, Kelsey, Steph, Nina, and Chelsea

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

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Faith, Identity, Redemption, Spiritual Life, Suffering

He Picked The Wrong House

August 19, 2015

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Ever since I was a little girl I always fantasized about one day living in a red brick house with a fireplace and a staircase. Coming from Arizona where every house was brown and stucco and the seventy degree winters made fireplaces seem irrelevant, my little heart longed for the cozy homes I saw on TV.

The day I saw the house is one I’ll never forget it. We pulled up into the driveway, a beautiful summer day, and there it was. Strong, proud, and a brilliant shade of red brick. My heart was already racing at what we would find once we opened the door and looked inside. I was overjoyed as I walked through this beauty to see a perfect staircase and a glistening fireplace. It was my dream home. It was perfect. It was mine.

After we bought the house and moved in, we were rifling through a bunch of paperwork the previous owners had left behind when we found them. Pictures.

You see, our house was built in 1938 and we were only the fourth people to ever live there. The people who we bought it from had purchased the house from a woman who had called it home for over twenty years. But when they bought it, the house was, well, let’s say, in need of a facelift.

We flipped through the pictures, seeing the house as it once was, and were overcome. We couldn’t believe that the beautiful home we were standing in had once been so hideous….so hopeless looking. But here it was today, remade and so stunning.

As I sat in my counselor Al’s office last year, tears spilling out of my eyes, I kept telling him how I felt so hopeless…so broken. I couldn’t see how the abuse I had suffered and all the horrible life events that came from that could make me anything less than a mess of a lost cause. Sure, maybe I’d find a way to cope with the pain. Maybe I’d even find a way to forgive and heal a little. But I’d always be broken. I’d always be the girl who was molested.

He told me of a book called The Prince Of Tides. The book was the story of a man who had suffered terrible abuse in his youth and how as a man he was finally able to start dealing with the pain. In one particularly graphic part of the book there is a scene where the main character is getting raped by his abusers inside of his home. As it’s happening, he looks out the window to see his older brother standing outside with their pet tiger. He goes on to say, “In that moment, I knew that they had picked the wrong house.” The older brother then proceeds to bust into the house with tiger and kill all the abusers. End scene.

Maybe like I did, you’re feeling a little bit like an old, broke-down house. Time and pain has worn you down, and you feel like merely a shell of the person you once knew. You want so badly to be remade. To feel beautiful, hope-filled, loved, and even useful again. But the scars are too deep and you cant imagine how you’d ever arrive at that place.

When heartache comes to us, the enemy, he thinks he’s won. He thinks he’s finally found the thing that beat you. But listen in real close sweet friends because I have something to tell you:

He picked the wrong house.

Hearing those words, for me, was like taking breath for the first time in forever. He picked the wrong house. I was not the defeated one, he was.

Ladies, I know the days can seem dark. I know and have felt the consuming feeling that our sin and shame and hurt can have over us. I know how it clouds everything we see, making day seem impossible and night our constant. But I also know this: you and I, we are not lost causes.

Much like my house, we are empty and broken shells in need of someone to come in, clean us up and make us beautiful again. Yes, there will be work to be done. Walls will be knocked down, things will be cut and removed, but there will also be rebuilding. Because we have Christ, and if He is with us then no amount of chaos or harm or abuse the enemy could ever throw our way will knock us down. We are a house on a firm foundation.

My lovely friends, you are not hopeless. Do you hear me? That weight you’re carrying that seems so heavy will not take you down. That light at the end of the tunnel that feels dimmer and dimmer….it WILL come. Because you, yes YOU, are a daughter of God and that means no abuser or mistake or death or break up or self-harm or addiction can ever defeat you.

THEY PICKED THE WRONG HOUSE

“Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of theLord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you.” 2 Chronicles 20:16-17

My house, much like myself, was once a lost cause. A place of desolation. But today, we both stand tall, stronger than we were before. The scars of the past still remain, but only as faded remnants against a colorful canvas. Do not give up dear sister. The Lord is with you and you will overcome.