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Faith, Fear, God, Suffering, Uncategorized

Scaredy Cat

June 8, 2016

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I can’t speak Spanish and I can’t dance, so you’d never know I’m Colombian, but it’s true.

 

My grandma, “Lulu” who loves all things tropical, tells us stories of how the weather in Colombia was—balmy and breezy and plants live year-round. My grandpa was a neurosurgeon and helped people he knew could never pay him. My dad grew up playing soccer and sneaking into the neighbors cherry tree with his brothers to eat the ripe fruit.

So life there sounds beautiful except for the hard parts. Like the time when they came home and thieves had emptied their house of everything valuable. Or when the neighbor kids were kidnaped for ransom. Or when my dad was jumped on the street walking home from school. My dad learned to watch his back because he lived in a place where if you weren’t careful, you’d be taken advantage of or stolen from.

When Brendon, my husband, visited my family’s house before we started dating, my dad told him, “This place is like Alcatraz, man. I see everything.” Laugh all you want, but it wasn’t a joke. (Insert crying smiling emoji face here)

He probably wouldn’t be too happy with me if I disclosed his multiple security systems, but lets just say when a “Secret Admirer” left an anonymous note in our mailbox with a rose one afternoon when I was in high school, my dad and I watched the security camera footage to find out who it was. HAHAHA POOR GUY!

 

So I feel very safe in my parents house. I grew up being taken care of and my mom always nurtured my intuition of knowing if a person or place was unsafe. She would point out potential dangerous situations and she taught me to be alert and walk like a boss through dark parking lots at night (and maybe carrying pepper spray). 😉 Having parents that are aware is a GIFT. They taught me well and have always reminded me that God will surround me in whatever situation. He is a fierce guardian and He is my strength.

 

But that lie creeps in. You’re. Not. Safe.

 

When I’m home alone or by myself, the questions come… Are the doors locked? Is the alarm on? Are there people outside rustling around? What was that noise? Am I going to be okay? How will I defend myself if someone gets in? Am I safe at home alone? Can anyone tell I’m afraid? Should I sleep with a knife by my bed?

These are all questions I’ve asked myself and I know I’m not alone. Being “fearless” is kind of trendy (that’s a T Swift song, right?) but let’s be real. Fear is a bitch. (excuse my language) But seriously.

I’m afraid of losing control. I’m afraid of being taken away from the people I love. I’m afraid that I’ll be found out… that I’m not that strong.

 

I know that because I’m writing about fear it seems like I should have some insight or inspirational advice, but I don’t. I’ve been thinking about why I’m afraid sometimes for THREE DAYS. And turns out, I haven’t really settled it, but I do know one thing:

 

When I’m scared, I pray.

 

So maybe that’s it. I still don’t fully understand why some places and situations make me nervous, but I do know what to do to calm my racing heart down. Praying helps me acknowledge that God is all around me and I remember that He says that He will guard me. Fear doesn’t define me, but the little moments of asking Him to be close when I am afraid is lifechanging. I will keep wrestling with this until I see my heart more clearly because I know that God can grow me out of this fear little by little.

If you’re afraid of losing someone or something, of being uncertain, of being alone at night, you’re definitely not alone, girlfriend. Even when it’s confusing,

What are you afraid of? What have you learned that has calmed your fears?

Body Image, Community, Faith, Family, Identity, Suffering, Your Story

Back Story

February 17, 2016
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Nina’s Story
This right here is like hundreds of coffee dates at one time. Telling our stories to each other reminds me of common threads- joyful days, hard days, belly laughs and ugly cries, pasts and futures that get us all jumbled in the head. Welcome to my belly laughs and ugly cries.
So I was born in south Florida to a southern Kentucky girl and a Colombian papa bear. My parents met on a blind date and were married a few months later. A few years later, I came along and when I came out of the womb, my dad called me “coconut” because of my already thick and dark hair- probably not the most romantic thing my mom could’ve heard in that moment, but anyway…
Next came my brother who probably arrived on earth kicking a soccer ball. We argued a lot growing up, but we were constantly together- playing outside, at each other’s games, watching the same movies, and I may or may not have slept in his room when we were little because I didn’t want to be alone at night. Tough, stubborn, strong older sister? HAHA!
We grew up with family close by and with a solid group of friends that felt like family. Consistently covered in sand from the beach, sidewalk chalk from afternoons outside, or water from the pool, my tendency was to play outside before anything else.
Jesus became real to me in seventh grade during worship at a conference that my youth group was attending. I felt His presence in a way that was unknown to me before and I realized God is closer than the breath in my lungs. Because of growing up in church, I knew the Bible stories but in the quiet days following this trip, I remember sitting behind our house looking into the backyard and asking Jesus to live in me. Since then, I’ve had stepping stones of my faith walk where I learn new parts of His character, but I treasure the memory of that day.
I guess I could further explain my “normal” childhood, sweet and stable family, church friends, the culture shock of public high school after private Christian middle school, and the joy of always having the ocean nearby. But I’d rather tell you about a secret.
In elementary school, I got X-Rays.
Sure enough, my spine showed up on the lit screen as a rotated and backwards “S” just like my mom and grandmas. At first, I was scared for my body because I knew something was wrong. But then I was scared because of shame, that it’d be impossible for me to be perfect because the very thing that held my body together was crooked. My bones weren’t broken, they were distorted.
The doctor sat with us for hours and tried to explain why I’d have to wear a brace while I slept for the next five years. And if it didn’t work to manage the curvature, they’d consider immobilizing parts of my spine with a metal rod to protect my organs from potential damage.
Confusion was paralyzing and I cried from deep fear and sudden panic.
And then I didn’t tell anyone.
Nobody knew my secret. For some reason, I shut up. I avoided sleepovers so that nobody would see the plastic brace I kept under my bed. I know it sounds dumb, but it was a monster to me. I kept my pain a secret for years and ran to hide my brace whenever someone came in the house. When I was in the trenches of the years of endless trips to the doctor, more X-RAYS, and uncertainty of progress, I was frustrated with my spine.
Looking back, I see how simple the situation was. My spine is crooked and God was so kind to put the best doctors in my life to help me heal. The whole story is grace-filled and I love sharing it now, but at the time I didn’t want anyone to realize my flaws.
In college, a friend taught me how to crochet a scarf. Although I’m still clumsy with the hook and yarn, I’ve seen yards and yards of thin string become messy but beautiful pieces of clothing. My first scarf was a disaster but you could still see the woven pattern despite my inability. In the middle of the project it’s impossible to see the fullness of the finished work.
To the girl with a medical history, I see you. Maybe you feel alone in that doctors office and like nobody else will understand what you’re going through- your disease, your deformity, your mental illness. Whether or not it is obvious to the world what’s going on inside you, believe that it is for good somehow. And that it’s okay if you can’t see it now. I know that it is dark and hard and waiting for news sucks, but oh the freedom I’ve found in sharing the struggle. Such freedom. Such grace.
Community, Faith, Family, Suffering, Your Story

Redemption Wins

February 5, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

I guess you’d say my story started when I was born. 😉 But I don’t remember much from before I was about 5. I know most of my childhood was sheltered and happy. I grew up in a Christian home. I had (have) a big yard, and 5 siblings (you know…tickle monster, clubs, mud pies…a lighthearted childhood!). I was always in good health and mostly happy. For a while I thought I was saved, but now I know I wasn’t. I didn’t have assurance. Oh, I believed in Jesus’ existence my whole life. I “accepted” His “free” gift of salvation over and over again. But nothing changed in my heart. I didn’t actually believe I was bad. I didn’t realize my NEED. And I didn’t realize Jesus was crazy about me. Yeah, I knew “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” but it was just because I was told that, not because my heart had been transformed by that Love.

Tragedy struck in January 2012 when my wonderful dad passed away unexpectedly. I think that his passing really woke me up to the fact that this life is temporary. My 11-year-old brain was desperately trying to deny the news that my daddy isn’t here anymore at the same time I was trying to let it sink in. He is with Jesus now. This experience shouted to my young heart that tomorrow isn’t promised.

This is scary for me to say, but it’s important. God has led me to see that I may not have been saved and seriously started pursuing Him if it hadn’t been for my dad’s death. I know. That’s been a really tough realization for me. My dad was a joyful, strong, and gentle man. I never doubted he loved me. I love and miss him more every day.

I’ve seen God redeem my dad’s death, not just in the redemption of my soul, but also in how I can reach out to others now. My loss has made my heart go out to people who are in pain. It has reminded me to look beyond the small right now, to keep sharp focus on the bigger picture. It has taught me crazy lessons of trust and surrender in God.

In November of 2012, my older sister participated in a local home school drama seminar, which was run by a Christian Drama trade school called The Academy of Arts ministries (AOA). Among other things, AOA travels to Christian schools and home-school groups to hold weeklong drama seminars and on the last day they perform a play. Their mission is to bring the Bible alive– it’s very effective! Throughout the week, my sister told us that group shared a special love among themselves—almost like they were siblings.

Little did any of us know how important her new friends would become to us.

September 2013 a friend introduced my family to Tenth Avenue North. TAN has a huge part in my story. Through them God revealed to me so many truths I had not known or taken seriously before. I learned that I am free to struggle, I am more than what I do, and redemption wins. By them I have been challenged to be honest, to give grace as I have received it, to forgive even if it feels like I’m losing. I have seen and felt God’s love in whole new ways. Their words and music say what I need to hear and tell me I am not alone with my feelings and struggles. Not only through their music have they instructed me, but also in their daily lives. I don’t know them personally, but mostly through the internet I have seen that they’re serious not only about saying but about doing.

They practice what they preach. That is so encouraging and inspiring to me.

The following November (2013), my big brother and I decided to “try it out”. 😉 We had an awesome time! Every morning we would be a little early to sing hymns and pray as a group before the day officially began.

I felt so at home! I knew beyond a doubt that I belonged.

On Saturday after the production, clean up, and pizza party, we wept for hours. I promised a friend I would try my best to come back. I scavenged money, and returned the next year…and the next. Between seminars we love getting together. We will make something up, or drive 6-12 hours, just so we can be together for a few hours! Without these fantastic people, I know I would not be who I am. God has redeemed so much within me through my AOA family.

Then came 2014. Though it had several very beautiful memories, it was overall a very chaotic time in my emotional and spiritual life. That year I wrestled with bitterness, hate, and anger. I struggled to forgive (others as well as myself), to love, and let go. That was the year I hid in my closet (spiritually and physically) several times, not because I was trying to pray, but because I was ashamed, and emotionally hurt–because I was trying to hide from everything. Trying to shut the world, the pain out. Even though I wasn’t planning to pray, by God’s grace, I did end up crying out to my Maker from my closet floor. It was in those dark times that I most deeply experienced His presence; though I know those were the times I least deserved Him.  It was a long process, but that year I came to the point where I finally saw my desperate need for Jesus. And so, it was also the best year of my life in more ways than one. This was the point where He could show me that He loves me with an unreasonable, unquenchable, and unfathomable love. That was the year I really WANTED God for myself and started following my Savior. My heart began to be transformed by His Love.

 

12183743_977968492260208_9173308097032215377_oLeah lives in Southeastern PA. She is 15 years old and homeschooled.

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, 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.

 

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.

 

Faith, God, Relationships, Spiritual Life, Suffering

On Seeking More Than A Cure

July 1, 2015

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I grew up knowing we would go two places religiously.
Church and Church Camp.
They were my places, they were filled with my people.

Church was where I was baptized and Church Camp where I recommitted my life… every. single. summer.  The two places are so intertwined in my memory I cannot think of one without remembering the other.

No matter where we moved, Fairview was home and Wesley Woods our home in the woods.  I was my most brave self in these places; my most vulnerable and innocent, most trusting and free spirited.

Church and Church Camp were also two places I was most deeply hurt.

Church Camp was the thing that made me the topic of a mean girl’s xanga post in sixth grade.
Church Camp was the place I was told someone had “run out of grace” for another.
Church was where I was told to, “get the hell out of my pew.”
Church was where I shared that her placenta had maybe torn and it was whispered in my ear, “perhaps it’s for the best.”

And of course it wasn’t The Church or The Church Camp who hurt me- but in the same way the smell of chlorine makes me think of Thanksgiving, or a single line in a song makes me twenty-one again… the hurts and the memories and the people and the places are all tangled up together in this mess of emotion.

I don’t think it’s a surprise or coincidence or even that poetic to be deeply hurt in places where I once felt most at home.  I don’t think it’s a mistake or incredibly unjust.*

I think this world is fallen and we are broken.
I think this in not our Eden.
I think the places our hearts are most vulnerable are the places at most risk of being deeply hardened.
And more than that- I believe we are a culture more concerned with finding a cure for our hurts than healing from them.

Today, and every day, you have permission
to not be tough.
to cry if you need.
to question and doubt and be confused.
to have an extra cup of coffee and sit with Jesus.
to seek more than just a cure.

There is grace enough for your hurts at the cross.
And there is grace enough here for you!

Healing will look different for each of us, and it will take a different amount of time, but the same Christ.  I love you girls, and so wish I could sit with you through the hurt and heartaches.  I wish relationships were easier and childhood memories were always innocent.  But I pray healing will come so fully and so deeply that you will be even more yourself at the end of this journey than you are today.  I pray for peace and courage that surpasses all understanding to surround you today.  I pray your own Church and Church Camp places will be restored.

“I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.” ― Wm. Paul Young

*note:: if you are being abused or neglected, physically, sexually, emotionally, or otherwise- please seek immediate help and shelter from someone you can trust.  this post was written from the perspective of hurt feelings, mean girls, and people who just say the wrong things sometimes.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Faith, Spiritual Life, Suffering

Trudging Through The Mud

June 24, 2015

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I learned recently that in between winter and spring exists a season referred to as the “mud season.” It’s the time when the ground is slowly starting to thaw just enough for the snow to melt, but not enough for new life to spring forth. The moisture from the melted snow collects on the ground creating a layer of mud everywhere. It’s messy, ugly, and hard to drive on. As long as the cold remains, the mud season stays. It’s only when the sun begins to warm the earth and the ground fully thaws that the mud will recede and spring makes its way. Kind of depressing, I know.

For the last six months I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in my own personal mud season. This period of in between. Not the deadness of winter, but not the new life of spring either. I’ve felt aimless and hopeless. Lonely and lost. To tell you the truth, it is probably one of the darkest seasons I’ve ever walked through. And to get even more real, I’m not handling it well.

Six months ago I had plans. Plans for what this year was going to look like. Big dreams filled with big projects and great hope that God was going to use me this year for something amazing. That all the crumminess I had dealt with the year before would now be put to use to build up Jesus and His people and bring me that joyous harvest for all the previous year’s hard toiling. Wrong.

I found myself two months into this new year being asked to do something I didn’t expect. I was asked to let go. To let go of everything that made me feel like me. Ministries, passions, dreams, desires- all of it was to be handed over to God. Of course being the stubborn human I am, I fought back. I pushed and clawed. I sought new and different paths to get to where I wanted to go. Each time I did, God would slam the door close, reminding me once again that He was in control and what he wanted was for me to surrender to the mud. To embrace the season of the in between.

I wish I could tell you my immediate response was obedience and joy. I wish I could tell you that I was hopeful and expectant. But that’s a big ol fat lie. Instead, I threw a pity party. I cried for days on end. I stopped reading my Bible. I stopped talking to my friends. I got angry and bitter. If God was going to make me live in the mud season, He was going to have to drag me through it. And that’s exactly what He did.

One morning I was having breakfast with Kelly (you remember our lovely Kelly, right?) and she said something really impactful to me. She told me, “Maybe God is giving you this season to show you that even if your hands aren’t to something, you still are valuable to Him.” I knew she was right. I had built up so much of who I was based on everyone and everything around me that I thought as long as I had those things, as long as I was _____ kind of person, then God would love me and see me as valuable. But maybe, just maybe, He had to take it all away to show my how precious I was to him simply because I was me.

The idea felt simple enough, but is still a hard lesson to learn. Because as I moved forward, I didn’t know who “me” was. Some mornings I’d be picking out the clothes I was going to wear and I’d just start crying. I was so unsure of myself that even getting dressed was a struggle. Things I once loved didn’t seem to be as thrilling. Passions I once had began to fade. The me I had known no longer existed and I had no idea who this new Heather was. As time went on, it felt as though the proverbial mud was getting more dense and instead of walking through it, I was simply stuck.

Two weeks ago it all came crashing down. I had reached a point of exhaustion in this season of mud where I just didn’t want to go forward. Again, I found myself crying for days. Angry at God for keeping me here. Angry at my friends for not calling me to hang out or reaching out to me to see how I was. Angry at Jeff for getting to do something he loved. I had resolved that although I knew God was good, His goodness had run out when it got to me. He didn’t love me, because if He did, He’d get me out of the mud.

As Jesus would so lovingly have it, I happened to get a call from the one person who knew what I was feeling- my brother. He’s been in a mud season for almost three years now, and if anyone knew what it was like, it was him. After pouring out my woes to him through sobs, he laughed. Not because he saw my pain as funny, but because he knew something I didn’t. He told me that some days, it’s ok if all I can muster up to God are the words grace and strength. It’s ok if there are days when my legs are so tired of walking through the mud that all I can do is be drug through it by God. I just have to be willing to hold on.

Like I said, my brother is still in his mud season. But something he’s learned that I am working on, is moving from knowing to believing. I know God is good. I know He has a plan for me and that it includes me moving out of this season. I know it. But I don’t believe it.  Because when I believe that God still loves me, still has good for me, and won’t leave me stuck here forever…I begin to have hope again. I can begin to trudge through the mud, letting my legs get stronger as a result, able to run and embrace whatever lay beyond the in between.

I’m slowly coming to see that it’s in these moments when are at our greatest discomfort, feeling the least like ourselves, that we can fully see God for who He is and who he dreams for us to be. Sometimes it just takes us walking through the mud.

If you find yourself like me, trudging through your own season of in between, sister, you are not a lone. I see you, I ache alongside you, and I too am silently whispering moment by moment to God to just give me grace and strength for today. Together, let’s keep holding on to Christ, working to believe that spring is coming. Until then let’s embrace the mud, and with each step, find hope that whatever is next is just around the corner.

 

Faith, God, Spiritual Life, Suffering

Get Over Yourself

February 4, 2015

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We’ve been friends a while, haven’t we? We’ve walked through life together, sharing our secrets, our hurts and our joys. So, because we are friends, friends who love each other, it’s time to start getting real with one another. You ready friends?

It’s February. By now you’ve had enough time to make resolutions and not keep them. You’ve had time to set goals and miss them. Time to seek freedom from sin only to be lured back into its tempting grip. I can imagine that for those of you who are in this place, you’re probably telling yourself things like this:

“How can God ever forgive me?”

“Why can’t I get better?”

“I’ll always be stuck like this.”

“I should just give up. God has totally abandoned me.” 

I get it. You’re in a dark place. You feel like you’re at the bottom of a deep well with no possible way out. You want hope. You want a way out of this place and into a better life. For those of you who might be feeling this way, as your friend, I have something to tell you.

Get. Over. Yourself.

I know that sounds harsh. I know that it’s not the flowery, grace-filled, sunshine and roses affirmation you want to hear. But listen my sweet friend, it’s the truth.

In order to move forward, move past and move on from whatever it is that is keeping us from freedom and a closeness to Christ, we first have to learn to get over ourselves. We have to realize that we are not the exception to the rule. When Christ said that he died for ALL mankind, you are included in the all. When he said that His death has granted us freedom from the stronghold of death and sin, again, YOU are included in that. Stop thinking like you aren’t.

When we begin to tell ourselves that our sins are too great or too big or too bad for God to ever forgive, we minimize Him and make much of ourselves. We are saying that God can’t overcome our strongholds, because we are just too messed up for the almighty Savior of the world to redeem. It’s not in humility that we say that God could never forgive us, but rather our pride.

Listen closely, you’re not at war with God. The moment He took His last breath on the cross and broke the chains of hell and death was the exact moment that the chasm caused by sin was filled and your battle with Jesus finally found peace. Live in that peace. Stop telling yourself that your chance for freedom is too far gone. Stop looking to yourself and focus on Jesus.

Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:1 that “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Did you hear that? You are FREE. So as Paul says, stand firm in that freedom and don’t make yourself a slave anymore.

Ladies, let’s make this the year we finally learn to get over ourselves. The year we stop glorifying our guilt and not Jesus. Let’s be women who stop making much of our our sin and instead live in how much we are loved by the Father. Let’s not just say we want to be free, but instead live as the free people we are.

Remember how I said we’re friends? Well friend, get over yourself and I’ll do the same. And together, as friends, we can make this new year one of hope and peace.

Identity, Spiritual Life, Suffering

Keeping Up Appearances

September 17, 2014

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“You have no idea who I really am. No one does.” 

These were the words that poured out of my seventeen year old mouth one night while sitting on a curb with my best friend. And I meant it. No one really knew me. At least, not the real me.

You see, I grew up in an environment where I believed that good or bad, you always put on a good face. To be weak was to be the unbelieving and faithless Christian. So I faked it.

I had the smile, the giddy personality and the super “I love Jesus forever and ever” persona down to an art form. I was the poster child youth group kid. On the outside, it looked like my life was perfect and I was lovin every minute of it. Inside, I was screaming. Hoping that somehow, someway someone could see through the facade. See me.

Fast forward to three days ago. Husband out of town, one sick kid, one wild preschooler and one worn out, stressed out, plain done mom. I wasn’t in a good place. I yelled at my kids when they didn’t deserve it. I swore to the heavens. I lied to my kids. I was lazy and disconnected and wanted nothing more than to just crawl into a hole and hide for a week. I was a mess.

Sunday came and I was barely able to muster the energy to take my kids and I to church. But I made it, all the while making sure they looked spotless, smiling and happy..and I did the same for myself. I smiled. I sang. I shook hands. Hugged my kids and greeted my friends with a smile. I put on my good “face” because that’s what I thought people wanted to see. But it wasn’t what I feeling. Not in the least.

Masks don’t take away our pain and struggle..they just cover it up. 

I think I believed that if I tried hard enough to keep up the appearance that my life was good, somehow it would magically get better. But it didn’t, and I always ended up feeling worse because I felt hidden. I felt like no one knew, and even worse, that no one cared. But how could someone care for my pain if they never knew it was there in the first place?

Girls, I know some of you are desperately hurting right now. Your pain is kept locked up deep inside your heart as you fake your way through your day with a smile on your face. But that is no way to live. We both know that.

Showing our pain is hard. It’s vulnerable and exposing and scary. It let’s everyone know we don’t have it all together and maybe aren’t the pillar of strength everyone thought we were.

Pain kept hidden kills the soul. Pain revealed sets the soul free. 

There’s a reason addresses pain so much. Because it’s real. Because we can’t escape it. And because we are never ever ever meant to walk through it alone.

“Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2

Let’s break the chains of keeping up appearances. Let’s set ourselves free from the expectations that we have to be happy and perfect and good. Let’s show and share in one another’s hurts. Let’s cling to Christ and one another, reminding ourselves that we are never ever alone in the fight.

I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.  ~ Elizabeth Elliot

What are you hurting from today? Hold my hand and let’s walk into the storm together.