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Dirty Little Secret: I’ll Do It Tomorrow

June 1, 2016

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I am a major procrastinator.

I’m the queen of “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

I always pack for trips the day before I leave…and end up staying awake half the night to get it all done.

In high school, homework was not done and papers were not written until the night before.

In college, it was more like the morning of.

I once waited to get an oil change until I was 1,000 miles overdue.

I’m the girl who will pass a dozen gas stations, but wait until my tank is empty and my gas light comes on to actually stop and fuel up.

I often put off getting groceries until I have practically no food and have no choice but to finally stop at the Kroger I drive past every. single. day.

I’ve been living in Nashville for almost a year now and I still haven’t gotten a Tennessee drivers license or license plate.

 

If I’m honest…I can be a little lazy. (…orrrr maybe a lot lazy…) When something needs to be done, I can think of a billion other things I would rather do at the moment that don’t involve me thinking, speaking or moving. (And by a billion I mean Netflix.)

And the funniest part? I’ve even procrastinated writing a blog post about procrastination.

I sat down to start writing this a week ago, feeling really great about myself for being ahead of the game and not waiting until the last minute. But before typing a single word, I of course had to get a snack. Then I downloaded some new music to listen to while I worked. I checked all the social medias…ya know, get it out of the way so that would be one less thing I’d be tempted to do once I started writing. I went upstairs to get something, forgot what I’d gone up for, and came back down to my computer.

Focus, Chelsea, focus.

I got hungry again. I made pizza. I unloaded the dishwasher. I called my mom. I danced around the kitchen, loudly singing songs from various musicals, while waiting for water to boil so I could make tea. I took a bathroom break (though what exactly I needed a “break” from, I’m not sure). I checked social media again (I had to have missed something at this point). I remembered what I wanted upstairs, so before I could forget again, I went back up…to get nail polish so I could paint my nails. I thought about watching the two episodes I have left to finish 30 Rock, but quickly decided against it because, well, I didn’t need to get myself distracted… (HA!).

By the time that was all said and done, I had to leave for work…and that document I had opened on my computer two hours ago was still blank.

But now, here I sit, the day I’m supposed to send my post to Heather and Nina for editing, and I’m completely focused. Typing away. Zero distractions.

I don’t know what it is about the last minute that triggers an unbreakable focus that I can’t seem to find any sooner. I don’t like it. It only causes stress and usually lack of sleep. Let’s just say you start taking your time a little more seriously when you pull an (almost) all-nighter to write a paper, then sleep through your alarm and don’t make it to class to turn it in. Not a good feeling. Trust me. So I’m working on the self-discipline to prioritize better and do things in a more timely manner. Maybe I’ll get a planner or something…maybe if I “schedule” time to do specific things I’ll actually stick to it…maybe I’ll buy one on my way home from work today…

Eh, who am I kidding, I’ll do it tomorrow. 😉

Community, Forgiveness, Relationships, Your Story

Be There in 5 (aka 15)

May 18, 2016

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So I’m addicted to Veggie Straws, I have warts on my right knee, my husband says my hobbies are grandma-like, and I was once entirely convinced that I was going to marry Nick Jonas (Don’t tell me you weren’t too. YES, he was WAY cuter than Joe. Kevin was taken. End of argument.)

And girl, I am always late. Not by two hours, but almost always by two minutes. Sometimes I can make it up by running instead of walking or taking a few liberties with the speed limit, but I hate even typing that because I try SO HARD to be on time. Maybe it’s due to my lack of navigational skills driving and constant wrong turns or my desire to do five million tasks in 5 minutes and obviously never getting it done, but somehow, the clock always revels the unfortunate news that I’m late. I can usually get to work right on the dot and not one second too soon, but any casual appointments just don’t happen right when they’re supposed to.

I’m the girl you tell to be there 5 minutes before you are planning on hanging out so that I’ll actually be there around when we say we will be. Oh goodness! I don’t mean to be rude or inconsiderate or too busy! Thank you, Lord, for forgiving friends and a patient husband.

 

Being late causes rushing that I also despise.

Rushing makes me blow past people.

Rushing causes stress.

Rushing decreases my work’s quality.

Rushing makes me frustrated.

Rushing is dumb.

 

Last week, I pulled one long and wiry grey hair out of the side of my head. WHAT THE HECK?! Hello little hair follicles, are the organic veggies and magical sulfate free shampoo not enough to help you keep up your game? I’m trying here! Give me a few more years! Is this inevitable? Can I just make the hard-switch to total grey hair?

Being fully prepared, traveling to a destination without going exactly six miles per hour over the speed limit, and arriving with a few minutes to spare is just the BEST feeling. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out. When teleportation and time travel is a thing. For now, just give me my own time zone.

The Friday Overflow, Your Story

AGLM Likes and Links

February 26, 2016

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As we come to the end of Your Story Matters series, we want to leave you with some fun likes and links by each of us that also gives you some insight on what we enjoy and are doing right now!

Allison:

1. This website for makeup tutorials. I am going out tonight with my girl friends and I love trying new makeup “looks” when the occasion calls. :)

2. I am so in love with all Anthropologie’s home and decor items. I can’t afford to buy them but I got to be a part of an Anthropologie styled shoot. And I am hosting TWO wedding showers this weekend, one for my best friend, and one for my sister in law! Ah!

3. I subscribed to Yummly for awesome recipes sent to my email. I love trying new recipes for dinner, and it’s easier than spending time looking through Pinterest.

4. I have been drinking hot tea every night. I recommend Pomegranate White tea or Spiced Chai tea from Trader Joes. Add Stevia and it helps me stay away from dessert for the evening. :)

5. More to come later about a book I’m writing, but I have been writing a lot, not just in preparation for AGLM but also on my own blog, The Nook Girls that I started with my bff the beginning of the year!

 

Nina:

1. Lauren Daigle’s “How Can it Be?” record is amazing.

2. Currently reading Jen Hatmaker’s book “For the Love.

3. I have been learning about growing flowers on this site called Floret Flower.

4. My favorite chemical-free lotion in all the land Here!

5. I have been learning about new varieties of veggies and flowers before I plant my garden this year on this site called Rare Seeds.

 

Chelsea:

1. I love journaling. Writing is therapeutic for me, so I end up going through a lot of journals. These deconstructed journals from Barnes and Noble are my favorite.

2. I have been obsessed with Amanda Cook’s album “Brave New World.” I’ve been listening to it for months and it just never gets old.

3. I’m a big snacker…my current addiction is Trader Joe’s partially popped popcorn. It sounds weird, I know. But it’s delicious.

4. The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson. In a season where I’m trying to figure out where my life is going, I am reading this book right now for the third time. It’s that good.

5. I have always been a huge Full House fan…and now IT’S BACK and I feel like all is right in the world.

 

Ashton:

1. Sometimes you just need that perfect cookie recipe for no occasion at all. Here are THE best chocolate chip cookies you will ever have! Follow the directions, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.:)

2.  If you have the desire to travel for the mission of God, here are some amazing missions organizations that offer incredible trips for all ages/experience levels. Going through your church would be first priority but these are great options too! Pioneers, Global Frontier Missions, World Venture

3. I am a lover of coconut oil (usually from Trader Joes) and love how many different ways you can use it. It’s not only beneficial for your health to use it in cooking and baking, but it works wonders on your hair and skin! Click HERE fora fun hair treatment that you can try.

4. If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, you have to visit the Palace of Fine Arts. Even though I am from the bay area (and there right now visiting my family!), Hank and I stumbled upon it on our first date. Not many people know about it, but it’s beautiful and so romantic!

5. My husband helps me expand my Christian music horizon. I love Lecrae and Andy Mineo, so if you like them or any hip-hop, R&B, check out Mali Music: “Mali is…” album.

Family, Relationships, Your Story

16: A Driver’s License and a Future Husband

February 24, 2016

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Nina’s Story 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, Family, Forgiveness, Redemption, Your Story

Redemption even when hopeless

February 19, 2016

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Written by one of our readers:

My story begins 6 or 7 years ago. Not because that was when I was born, but because major stuff has been happening in my life since then. You see, my parents separated when I was 2 (I’m 26 now), and my mom raised me and my younger brother as a single parent. Growing up we spent a considerable amount of time with our dad, but we lived our day-to-day lives without him.
About six or seven years ago, my dad and I had a huge fight- a fight big enough that it has kept us apart all these years.
I was hurt, angry and upset not just for this one incident but for a lifetime of hurt and pain that had been bottled up or excused away my whole life. I told myself I would never let anyone else treat me that way ever again. So I began to isolate myself and slowly gained about 150 pounds.
Long story short, I had a very personal encounter with the Lord. He made Himself so real that I just couldn’t ignore it, and it was also then that I heard His voice for the first time. So I made a commitment to follow Jesus. I went from not caring about myself or how I treated my body depressed and hurting, to having the motivation to become a healthy person both physically and spiritually.
Fast forward to last year. I found out that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Not from him but from my brother who heard it from various family members. I was so hurt that he wouldn’t just call to talk to me I decided then and there that I didn’t care anymore. I was not going to waste my time and energy on someone who obviously didn’t want me there. The problem with my way of thinking is that God wasn’t done with him yet.
My uncle called and left me a message last week. “If you have anything to say to your dad, you need to come now”.  I felt the Holy Spirit say to me that this was it- I needed to go. So Friday last week one of my best friends offered to make the 4.5 hour trip with me to see him.  We get to the hospital to see him, and I cannot explain the level of peace that I felt in that room. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but it sure wasn’t peace. My dad and I sat next to each other and talked for the first time in years. He held my hand the entire time, and just could not stop looking at me.

Before I left I looked at my dad and asked “Hey, can I pray for you before I leave?” “Sure.” he said- and I did. I did what I thought I could never do. I prayed for peace, mercy and love to overtake him. I prayed healing over his cancer-ridden body. I held his hand and made eye contact with him for the first time in years. I also remember putting my hand on his face and saying “I just want Jesus to become more and more real to you.” His response was “He becomes more and more real every day.”
I never thought I could do it- and I promise you if it were up to me I wouldn’t have.  This is the beauty of our God- He chooses and transforms even the most unlikely of people. But these are exactly the kind of people that Jesus looked at and said, “Come. Follow Me.”
I got into the car and I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of me. The memory of the last awful confrontation I had with my dad years ago has haunted me every day since it happened. I got saved, joined a church, went through Freedom ministry, conferences, personal ministry sessions, and even went through processing my feelings and thoughts with people I love and trust who love me unconditionally.  I could not break free of this memory. It kept me from feeling like people really love me; like I am good enough…it even affected me being able to fully realize the Father’s love for me.

It was not until the Holy Spirit in His perfect timing told me clearly to go that it changed. Now the last memory that we have of each other is good and peace filled.  But here’s the crazy part. I had to get up and go. My father was never going to make the first move. But what if it was never all about me? Sitting in that hospital room, I found that there were some things that I had to apologize for. My selfish and self centered attitude for one. You see, I had made this entire situation about what he did to me- my anger and my pain and hurt took over and I allowed those thoughts to distance me from him. That day, it just wasn’t about me.
Here’s an even cooler epilogue to the story- remember the peace I talked about? The peace I felt in the room that I couldn’t understand? My crazy awesome Jesus loving friend who went with me said in the car- “I bet your dad had an experience- that’s why you can’t explain it.” I thought to myself, well maybe he has…I’m not sure.
I arrived at my mom’s house the next day and was telling her how the visit went, and how I was able to lay hands on my father and pray for him. She said “well, you know he’s had a lot of people go in and out of his room praying for him…you brother said when he was there yesterday one of his old co-workers stopped by, had your dad kneel and led him through salvation.”
YOU GUYS. I’m not sure there are enough words to convey what I am feeling here. In my mind, this could never happen. This is a man I was convinced was too far gone… and he’s wasn’t. Jesus still came and was with both of us the whole time.
I want to encourage anyone who feels like there is a relationship that is past mending- I promise you it isn’t. If we let God write our story, it will turn out more beautiful than we could ever have imagined.

 

*Ashley’s Dad passed away this past week, just a few days after Ashley wrote this post for us. We are so thankful that she let us into her story. We love you, Ashley. -AGLM

 

photoMy name is Ashley Garza. I am 26 years old and have been following AGLM for the last 3 years.

 

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, Identity, Your Story

Embrace who God created you to be

February 12, 2016

 

 

Written by one of our readers:

Hey girls! Can I just say how excited I am to be writing to you all?!? My name is Shanna, and I’ve been following AGLM since 2012.  I am so thankful for this blog; God directed me to it at a very vulnerable time in my life.  As a shy eighteen year old fresh out of high school, I was in desperate need of a community that could pour into my questioning heart.  As I pondered just what I wanted to share with you ladies, the Lord brought this phrase to mind “Embrace the person God created you to be.”

Some of you are saying, what does that even mean?! Good question!! At eighteen, I was thinking the exact same thing.  Now at twenty one, I’m still searching for the answer, but I have a better grasp.  How many of you have spent weeks, months, even years etc.  trying to figure out just what you should do with your life? Or maybe you have an idea, but you don’t know how to achieve it.  Or, you could be like I was, fully aware of what God is calling you to do, but terrified of doing it.

You see ladies, this is a hard thing for me to admit, because I wish it wasn’t true, but I spent the first 18 years of my life denying one of the gifts God gave me.  I had a heart for worship and singing that God had been cultivating in me since I was a little girl.  But fear had a tight grip on me. My confidence in who I was as a person was so depleted, that I couldn’t even fathom the idea of singing in front of five people, let alone a congregation at church.  I refused to use my voice to serve God; the very thing he had gifted me the voice for!

My first year of College was a whirlwind of change.  I watched many of my friends head off to Universities, while I stayed home and went to a local community college.  I said goodbye to familiarity that year, and walked uneasily into the season of change that God was bringing.

Lonely, insecure, and confused, I found myself praying for two things; a Godly friendship, and for the Lord to give me a deeper desire for him.

At a time when I needed it most, God answered that prayer. I met my very best friend, Ashley, at church.  We had so much in common; it was like hanging out with myself!  As our friendship grew, I felt the weight of insecurity fall from my shoulders.  I firmly believe that God brought that friendship in my life to bring us both closer to him! I also really began to hunger for God’s word, prayer, and worship.  As I pursued the things of the Lord it became clear to me, God was saying “Embrace the Person I created you to be.”

The closer I became to God, the more secure I was in the person he made me to be.  My identity was no longer my own, I found my true self in Christ.  By the end of that first year, with the encouragement of Ashley and my family, I finally did what God had been asking me all along, I gave him my voice.  I joined the worship team and never looked back.

God has changed my life through worship.  The moment I gave that part of myself to God, fear left me.  I realized that I had nothing to fear; worship is not about me or being heard; it’s about glorifying and pouring out my heart to the one who saved us all.

Being obedient to God and true to who he made you to be is one of the greatest acts of worship you could ever offer.

Think about this, God knows the deepest desires of your heart.  He is familiar with all of your ways.  God loves you as you are.  You don’t have to deny or suppress the dreams and desires that lay dormant in your heart.  God put them there! He created you in a special way, with a unique purpose.  Not only is it okay to pursue the things that God has put on your heart, it is his will!

God’s word says it all.  We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the greatest creator.  Our “inmost being,” the very essence of who we are, was crafted by God.  It is God’s Holy Spirit within us that directs our hearts. (Psalm 139)

Ladies, I still don’t have it all figured out.  I’ve only scratched the surface on God’s plan for my life.  There is one thing that I’m absolutely sure of though, it’s not going to take me another 18 years to listen to God’s call.  If you’re in that place of uncertainty, cry out to God.  Ask him to reveal his will, to make his desires your desires too.  If you have sought God’s word and prayed to him, and you know what he is calling you to do, then it is time to follow his lead.

Change your college major…..become that missionary in Africa…..sell your paintings…..lead worship…..whatever it is God is calling you to, do it for him.

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Shanna is 21 years old and a resident of Portland, Oregon. She loves going to concerts (Switchfoot is her all-time favorite).  Creating art, playing the guitar, cooking, singing on her church’s worship team, and spending quality time with family and friends are some of her favorite past-times.

Faith, Family, Fear, Relationships, Your Story

Trust Me

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