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Spiritual Life

Faith, Fear, God, Redemption, Spiritual Life

Decisions, Decisions

June 22, 2016

Decisions

I hate decision making.

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

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

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

…Have I mentioned I HATE making decisions?

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

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

I think sometimes on the outside it looks easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, Relationships, Spiritual Life

Someone’s Somewhere

June 15, 2016

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve always struggled with the whole friendship thing. Never having the same friends from season to season, friendship for me has always felt like either a flood or a drought: more friends than I care to handle or so few that I wonder if anyone likes me at all.

In the last two years, heck, the last six months, God has really opened my eyes to what I desire in a friend and how I want to be as a friend. But I’m finding the more that understanding grows, the farther off having these kind of friends start to feel.

See, I don’t want nine million friends. Shoot, I don’t even feel like I want nine friends. What I do want are Somewheres.

Somewheres, a term coined by author Sarah Bessey, are your people. The ones you can say anything to. The one you can tell that dirty joke you just heard, the not so humble brag about yourself, and the horrible ugly thoughts that nestle deep inside your heart. Somewheres are the ones you can call at two in the morning and will let you ugly cry on the phone with them and not feel like they have to say anything because just being there is enough. Somewheres, in my opinion, are friendship in it’s rawest and most beautiful form and yet also the hardest type to cultivate.

Friendship like this just doesn’t happen over night and it never comes handed to us on a silver platter. It takes work. Lots of work. It’s give and take. Sacrifice and vulnerability. It’s daring to let someone see you and being gentle and kind enough when they let you see them. It’s forgiveness lived out. It’s rarely perfect, always messy, and one of the most life-giving things you’ll ever experience. It’s the gospel made flesh.

In journeying towards these kinds of friendships, my own insecurity and self-doubt begins to creep in and I start to wonder if anyone thinks, or better yet, wants me to be their Somewhere. Simply put, I wonder if anyone wants me to be their friend as badly as I want to be theirs.

In the last two years as God has been breaking and mending me in the best of ways, I’ve seen a lot of friendships that I held dear fade away. Some by the natural course of life and distance, and others because one or the both of us felt we were not the friend the other needed at this point in our life. Whichever way they’ve left, I always wonder if they miss me like I miss them and if I meant as much to them as they did to me.

Then comes the task of trying to make new friends. Seriously, I’d rather have a root canal than work at new friendships. I generally don’t make great first impressions, and can sometimes come across as a little “too much” when in a group of people. I can be an over-sharer, which leads me to constantly feeling like I said too much or talked more about myself than I should, or didn’t seem like I really wanted to hear about the other person. And that’s where my problem lies: I want to be someone’s Somewhere so badly that I’m constantly insecure about whether people feel I am worthy of such a title.

There have been women, even now, that I desperately want to be friends with. Some I’m already friends with but would love to go deeper and some who I’ve only scratched the surface with. Amazing women who share my same heart and passions. I’ve cried tears over wanting to be their friend, prayed prayers, and pep talked myself multiple times into taking that step to reach out and ask them to be my friend. But that’s as far as it goes. Because at the end of the day, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I’ll be rejected. I’m afraid that because they haven’t reached out to me first that that means they really don’t want to be my friend so there’s no point in trying. I’m afraid that since I’ve been wounded by other close friends, that if I let them in, they’ll eventually do the same to me. All these fears pile on top of me, paralyzing me, and putting me right back in the place I never wanted to be in the first place. Alone.

I could sit all day wondering why I don’t get called to hang out. I could stew and complain how I feel like no one is pursuing me as a friend, but in the end, maybe they’re just as scared as I am. Maybe, like me, they want to be a Somewhere but are trying to find the courage to get there. Because like I said, this business of being seen is a messy one. It’s risky. But the reward is priceless.

Today I’m praying the prayer that Brene Brown mentions in her book Daring Greatly: “Lord, give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” Who knows, maybe my next Somewhere is just around the corner. All I have to do is step out and try.

Body Image, Identity, Spiritual Life

Dirty Little Secrets: My Miss-Stache

May 4, 2016

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

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

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

Blood.

Tears.

More blood.

More tears.

Shaving my face was a bad idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redemption, Spiritual Life

Gotta Secret, Gonna Keep It

April 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

God is Ironic

April 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. I can’t make this stuff up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, God, Spiritual Life

God is the visionary

April 6, 2016

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You know when you plan something in your life to go a certain way, but then God takes it and says, “Nope, I’m taking you somewhere different”…

That’s happened to me many times. And it’s happening to me now.

I know that God is for me. Even if life doesn’t seem good at the moment, He is using it for my good.

I know that God has a very specific and amazing plan for my life.

And I know that His plans are always better than my plans.

I have had so many times in my life that I’ve learned these things about God, like:

  • In high school I wanted and planned to go to a magnet school so badly that my best friends were going to, but I didn’t get in.
  • I tried out for the volleyball team in high school (I had already been playing volleyball at my previous school), but didn’t make the team.
  • I enrolled at my dream school in NYC the end of my senior year of high school but ended up not receiving the scholarship money I thought I would receive, so I had to go to a university in my home town.
  • One summer in college, I planned to go on a mission trip to Venezuela, but ended up breaking my leg so I couldn’t go.
  • In college I had at least 5 break-ups, and I obviously didn’t begin those relationships planning to break-up.
  • After I graduated from college, I applied to a job that I was 90% sure I was going to be offered, but they decided to hire someone else.
  • I wanted to move out of my home town and tried to find a way, but it was always clear that God wanted me to stay here.
  • I broke up with a guy right after college because I knew it wasn’t who God had for me after we both talked about getting engaged.

Those are just some of the major times I have learned that I may try to plan what’s best for my life, but ultimately, God is in control, and knows the best plan for my life.

He is the greatest visionary.

His plans for you are greater than yours could ever be, no matter how hard or how long you plan.

And out of all  8 of those major plans I had for my life, I don’t wish any of those to have gone the way I had originally planned. I am so glad I let go (or was forced to let go) and allowed God to establish my steps for me.

Since I graduated from seminary in December, I have been on a journey of figuring out what’s next for me. I am planning my steps, but again, God is the visionary for my life. He establishes my ways.

I’m learning to go after what I’m excited about doing and trying not to overthink it. If God wants me to continue in whatever that is, He will make a way. And if He doesn’t, He will make that obvious too. God doesn’t reveal His plan for you in the sky or spell it out for you in your cereal. It’s not always direct at first. That’s why He calls us to live by faith, not by sight.

Sometimes when God reveals his vision for us, it means letting go of something you love. Following God’s plan is an act of sacrifice and walking by faith is usually not easy.

The more that we trust Him and just step out and DO what’s in front of us, following desires and the steps He gives us, the more evident His plans become. Sometimes it’s hard to explain. And sometimes others won’t understand what you’re doing, but I promise that following God is worth it. Trusting and surrendering to God’s plan for you is the most fulfilling way to live. And even if you don’t understand  what He’s doing, that is the beauty of TRUSTING Him and not your own plans. You’ll look back on your life and see the beauty that God was weaving together for you all along.

Faith, God, Spiritual Life

God is a Farmer

March 30, 2016

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Corndogs and French fries. I was the skinny kid who refused to eat vegetables. I should probably be dead due to the number of frozen hot dogs I’ve consumed. I was so picky about fresh foods that I remember spilling my orange juice on myself one morning in elementary school so I wouldn’t have to drink it. Stubborn? Yes. Extreme? Absolutely.

My mom usually keeps books once she reads them and there are about a dozen parenting books in her closet on different methods to get a kid to EAT SOMETHING. Yeah, it was bad. Yeah, I still apologize to her for her having to wonder if her firstborn was going to contract scurvy. Yeah, that’s the disease pirates get after months without fresh fruits and veggies in their diet.

Watermelon was her only hope. At a pool party in fifth grade, one of the moms brought out a tray with half a watermelon cut up into slices. I ate the whole thing by myself while the other kids were swimming. Call me a sneaky fox! Something about that bright and juicy fruit had me mesmerized. Then she convinced me that carrots were good for my eyesight so I’d come home from school every day for years and eat ONE carrot. Pathetic.

All the while, our small elementary school had a tradition to uphold. Every Friday, the fifth graders would help in the butterfly garden with Mrs. Bucky, a half-blind, hunched-over old-lady gardener. We would plant new plants, weed around the pathways, and learn the names of all the butterflies. I stuck to her side like glue and thought she was a flowery botanical genius. This was my Gardening 101 and it has stuck with me for years.

Our family would also head out west every summer and we usually ended up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Horseback riding became my favorite way to spend time and the mountains taught me how small I was. Fresh air got in my soul. These summers created my need for time outdoors and I studied environmental science from there on out.

So after years of trying one new food at a time and letting my stubborn walls against new vegetables down, I went to college. Somehow, the local food movement in Nashville was intriguing and the salad bar became my best friend. Organic agriculture turned out to be the way I could help the earth, help people, and study science to put it all together. I lived on a farm in Indiana two years ago, interned on a non-profit farm for my senior year of college, and worked on an organic farm last year.

Now, I see God in my garden. I know Him on a farm. We all tune in to the heartbeat of God in a different way and it shapes us one moment at a time. I know that God is a farmer.

I see the face of a sunflower follow the sun across the sky throughout the day. We were meant to fix our eyes on heaven.
I see honeybees travel from flower to flower in the spring- the pollen feeds the bees and the bees help the flowers become fruit. We need each other.
I see my ten foot tall cherry tomato plant produce more fruit than I can eat on my own. The harvest is best when it’s shared.
I see the dead leaves on the ground in the fall becoming the nutrients that the garden needs in the spring. Redemption wins when death becomes life.
I see huge carrot come out of the dirt when I pull on the green tops. Growth is happening even when I can’t see it.
I see myself sitting in the row between the peppers and the beans on a summer evening after an emotionally exhausting day and how God whispers in the breeze to breathe it all in. We need a place of solitude for God to tell us it’s going to be okay.

He is the grower of seeds. He is the provider of rain. He gives the birds their song and the bees their wings. He is the ultimate farmer. In Genesis, creation happened in a garden. Earth is God’s farm and we are all His farmhands.

Plant a seed and see what happens!

Faith, Fear, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life

God Is Understanding

March 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m mad at God.

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

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

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

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

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.