A Vision for 2014

About a week or so ago, I was in a team prayer meeting at my church. The girl who leads it was talking about how while many people make resolutions, she listed out very intentional, specific things to pray for and then a detailed reasoning as to why she wanted to see God work in that way. Even if it was something that seemed obvious, like for someone’s health to improve, it was a way to really examine and think about the meaning behind what she was praying for and expecting to see happen this year. 

This is my version of that. Last year, I intended to write a full goal post following the Making Things Happen format – I didn’t really do as well with that as I had hoped. I think in the past I made goals based on things that I wanted to do purely because I wanted to see it happen. For example, if I wanted to lose five pounds it was perhaps because of an insecurity, not from a desire to be more physically strong and healthy. There were things that I wanted to do that were more for the sake of being able to say that I had experienced them, or really, let’s be honest, I wanted to post them on social media as points of pride and excitement. 

I decided that for this year, I was going to follow Lara Casey‘s goal settling process much better and effectively than I did last year. Last January, a lot was still going in my head where I didn’t really know what I wanted for the year. Around March or so I think was when I really (in my head) made more of my intentional plans and progress. But that’s okay, better late than never! 

So without further ado….

Step 1: What worked in 2013?

2013 was an amazing year, possibly even the best one yet. It started off a little rough with some difficult decisions I had to make, but once that faded away, it cleared up time, energy, and my thoughts to be able to focus more on what matters and less on what I felt like I should be doing for reasons that I didn’t really know. Having the courage to create boundaries in friendships or other relationships gave me more freedom to be able to focus on the changes that I needed to make in my own life. I had an amazing housing situation with three of my closest friends. We made countless memories together and laughed til it hurt on many occasions. Living in Carrboro, working and saving money while still being in my college town made the transition after graduation back in 2011 a lot easier. 

I joined a church in June of 2012 that wound up being a huge support system for me. I had kind of been “church dating” throughout my college years, never really feeling super plugged in to any one place in particular. At the time, I put more energy and time into my Christian sorority and campus small group versus a church. This wasn’t really a conscious decision looking back, but just that way things happened. Once I went to Calvary however, I felt like I could connect with…really just the whole package. The messages challenged me in a positive and necessary way, and in the spring, I decided to get baptized for the second time. My baptism was one of the greatest things from the last year. 

To be honest, if I wrote out everything I was grateful for from this past year and what worked, it would fill up an entire book. Here are just a few things therefore that I would like to celebrate, even though there are certainly more that I am grateful for! 

-I was fully funded (ahead of schedule!) to do a five week trip to Nice, France to live with and learn about overseas mission work and leadership. 

-In January, I stumbled across a YouTube video for the Urban Eagles, which was immediately placed on my heart. The staff in the neighborhoods were in my prayers a lot. Little did I know that two months later I would find myself led to moving back to Charlotte to get my Masters of Social Work (another celebration!) and, upon my return from France, began volunteering in the Forest Hills neighborhood with their young girls group. I love Jessica and Emily so much, and they have been wonderful co-leaders and friends the last four months! I still remember coming the very first week, and trying to conceal at least a little bit how excited I was to come back in case I came across as too eager and they didn’t want me to return because of how weird I was : ) We have since begun both an older girls Bible discipleship group as well as a fun girls night for all ages to make crafts and pray together. 

-I continued to develop a close relationship with Lara, Ari and Grace, and said my VERY bittersweet goodbye to them in May. I am grateful though that we have remained close despite being three hours apart, and love getting videos from Gracie saying “Hi Ms. Sue! I love you!” 

-I pushed myself to be more bold in my faith, and shared my testimony publicly on more than one occasion. The first time speaking in front of people, I know my face was bright red and I was shaking uncontrollably, but perhaps that made me more real (?) Haha, anyway, continuing to get comfortable with public speaking is something that is on my heart. This also included discussing my faith one on one or in small groups (which I am way more comfortable with!) in both religious and non-religious settings. This was something that was huge for me, as in the past I have often been weighed down by a fear of either coming across as condescending or just overstepping someone’s personal boundaries. 

-I did the contentment challenge for three months where I did not buy any clothing. To some people this probably sounds like not that big of a deal. It is a lot harder (at least for me…) than it sounds!! There were a few occasions where I did go to Ebay or a thrift store to buy a few things that I genuinely did not have that I needed for France (who knew you could get capris for three dollars?) but for the most part, I was really good. I am contemplating doing a stricter challenge for this spring in regards to more than just clothing. 

-Towards the end of my time in Chapel Hill, I began listening to Steven Furtick’s sermons on the Elevation podcast. I had read his book Greater, and really wanted to check out what was going on with Elevation’s church in Charlotte. While certainly people have their own personal preferences in regards to traditional versus contemporary services, I fell in love. I had been praying for months about finding a church when coming to Charlotte, and automatically got plugged in with a Bible study and on a volunteer team. I am a Next Level member, which means that I am who people come to when they need someone to pray over them (cancer/health scares, divorce, and drug abuse are the most common) or (even more often) when someone makes the decision to accept Christ. When they make that decision, they come to me and talk about their past and what they are feeling, then we talk about what accepting Christ means, and I lead them through that prayer and give them a Bible. It’s been unreal. I am technically only supposed to have to volunteer every other week, but I show up as often as I can. People think I am weird for looking forward to getting up at 6:30 am on a Sunday to volunteer for 7 hours. I take it as a compliment. : ) 

Step Two: What didn’t work in 2013?

This is actually a harder one for me because even the things that didn’t go like I had wanted or expected to probably in actuality turned out for the better. That just goes to show though that it isn’t so much about the events or the actions as it is the attitude. Really, everything that I felt like didn’t work can be boiled down to just two words:

Complaining – The words that I say and think do huge things. I don’t think I even realize how big they are. I recently read a book (as well as listened to the corresponding sermon series) by Craig Groeschel (my new favorite author) called Soul Detox. It was all about the ways in which our thoughts and words essentially contaminate our perspectives, outlooks, relationships, actions, decisions, and so forth. When we speak words of life, we build things or people up. When we criticize, self-doubt, complain, whine, or question God’s purpose or ability to provide for us, we basically just spin around in circles or tear things down. Complaining really never gets anything accomplished. 

-Comparison – “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.” I love this statement…and it is so true. Sometimes I feel like every feeling of defeat or sadness stems from comparison. This doesn’t even just happen with the more materialistic things like houses, vacations, bank accounts, clothes, nor with relationships, like the “If one more friend announces they are engaged or pregnant I am going to Ben and Jerry’s every day for a month” thought pattern. Comparison leads to discontentment. Every season of life has a blessing, and every one has a struggle, even if it is not visible to others on the surface. If the grass is greener on the other side, water your lawn. It also happens with what I personally call the “Christian comparison”:

My ministry isn’t as widespread or noticeably powerful as theirs. Am I doing the right thing? Am I supposed to be doing something different? 

Why am I not getting as much praise or attention as this other person? Why am I not being recognized for my leadership skills?

Wow…he read the entire Bible in 60 days. I am on the year plan. Is he more committed or passionate than I am?

Just like complaining, essentially, comparison is worthless. Also like complaining, it basically does nothing but question whether or not God has provided you with enough to be able to do His will, or if He has blessed you enough.

Are both of these things bound to happen? Probably every day. Are either of them helpful or productive? Nope. I want to focus on doing both of them less, and if that means that I have to give up social media etc altogether, then I want to be that extreme for awhile! I’d rather work my way back in to the online flow rather than be half-there-half-not in terms of commitment to changing my thought patterns. Also, when people use Facebook or Twitter as a way to vent or be mean to each other without having to be accountable, it stresses and tires me out. 

Step 3: Get Visual

This step I am actually skipping because I do not use Pinterest : ) But if anyone reading this does, once again here is the link to Lara’s goal setting steps if you’d like to do your own!

Step 4: What did you learn from what worked?

This one is a little hard! I think the biggest one really is just trust God. There were times when I was support raising (a lot of times, actually) when I kept thinking of my “Plan B”. My “this is how I am going to pay for the remainder of what I don’t support raise.” There were a lot of times where my “what if’s” would get the better of me (you can read that blog post here). I would have these what if’s over where I should go to grad school, if I was supposed to go to France, if I should leave Grace, Lara and Ari and my housemates, church and friends to move to Charlotte, if I should live with people I had never met before, if I should take out student loans or use savings, and so on. There is always a new what if, a mental breakdown of all of the backup plans for what to do in case of emergency if things don’t go well. While I do like to plan, and certainly encourage responsible decision making (!!) I feel like things this past year have taught me that God has a plan, and the best way that I can see those plans and lessons happening around me is if I just surrender my need for control. God can do whatever, whenever, but I can make decisions that will either make myself a greater part of that plan or distance myself from it. There have been things this past year that, if I over-thought them too much, I may not have done; I may have just taken the safe route. But there were things that God placed on my heart to do that I didn’t want to ignore. I want to continue to grow in my obedience. 

Step Five: What did you learn from what didn’t work? 

I didn’t realize until I just typed this step that what did work and didn’t work actually taught me the same thing! The challenges, failures, mistakes, successes, joyful moments, and new relationships all directed me back to the same point which is acknowledging that God is:

Faithful

Gracious

Loving

Forgiving

and that He is far too creative to tell the same story twice through a person’s testimony. 

I did, however, learn more about my own frustrations and limitations through what didn’t work. It emphasized to me how much I need grace, and also how much I don’t want to come across to people like I have it all figured out or am totally put together. I always appreciate encouragement or compliments from people (I am beyond a doubt the “Verbal Affirmation” love language person) yet at the same time, I want to make sure that I am being honest, genuine, and real. I want people to respect me for my weaknesses as well as my strengths, and to have all of them point back to the glory of God. I don’t want to forget that God is changing me every day, and that His opinion of me is the only one that matters. 

Step Six: What fires you up?

-Seeing people respond to a message or testimony inviting Christ into their lives. This was our Christmas experience. (I was one of the people in the black shirts passing out the Bibles. I was so fired up that night. About 250 people at my location alone stood up. Tears were necessary : )) 

-Witnessing baptisms (also these videos NEVER cease to make me cry. I got to be a part of the Raised to Life experience this August). 

First Video – I Have Decided

Second Video – Raised to Life

-You have probably noticed from my video posting that anything creative fires me up. Bright colors, sense of humor, dance, music, photography. I need it around me. 

-Laughter. When it is late at night especially. These are the times when the littlest, dumbest, most random things can make me cry I am laughing so hard. According to my housemates, this is also when I get really philosophical, and start initiating deep conversations that they like to tease me about later.

-Pretty dresses. Anything that twirls. Anything that is lace. Silly, I know, but it’s true. 

-Seeing people I love truly happy. 

-Working in the Urban Eagles community, my social work field placement, and just being in that environment of remembering your blessings constantly and talking about the love and grace of Jesus with kids (and adults of course, but kids are usually more entertaining. They help keep me going sometimes. And they also ask questions harder than ones on a seminary exam). 

-Traveling. It never gets old, especially when I am blessed enough to be able to leave the country. 

-Receiving and giving words and actions of affirmation and praise. 

Step Seven: What is your 2014 vision?

The funny thing is….this was the whole point of the exercise really, and yet this is also the biggest question mark for me.

-My first one is a little vague. I want to not be afraid to ask for big things. In the past when I have prayed, particularly when I was in my teens and early twenties, I would ask for things that I thought were “feasible”. Things that I wanted to happen. Things that people asked me to pray for for them. I didn’t really go above and beyond in this area. Reading books that talk about praying audaciously, as well as books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, have challenged me to re-think the way that I talk with and ask for things from God. There have been certain situations where I just accept something as the way it is, and probably always will be, and then formulate my prayers and actions based on that. Instead of that mindset, I want to ask for big things. Things that seem impossible, improbable, and so forth. I want to make preparations for the big things in life that I expect God to do (for His glory and not my own selfish ambition) versus what could happen (in my mind at least) by my own effort and hard work. 

-My mission is to share the word of God through my prayers, lifestyle, actions, and words to others. I am hard on myself when I fall short of this, which is often. I believe that often I am better at extending grace to others than to myself. These are things that I want to push myself on this year, not to the point of exhaustion of course, but to the point where I am just slightly uncomfortable. I want to be vulnerable for God to use me in situations that I would have been more timid or passive in in the past and just love on people. 

-This is still the very, very early stages, and I have not made the official announcement yet, but before I had even left France I was corresponding with my mobilization agency about opportunities to serve overseas this coming summer. More on that very soon, but that is one of my main visions right now. 

-I want to see the members of my small groups, my Next Level team, the girls in my UE discipleship group, and my friends all become more confident in who God made them to be (I am including myself in this obviously as well!). There are still insecurities that I work through because of things in the past, but I want to see them be transformed. I have so much faith in my friends and love them to death, and want to see them feel more secure in God’s love as well this year. I also want to be aware of showing them more gratitude for being in my life.

-Even more so now that I am back in Charlotte, I want to focus on being a better daughter, sister, cousin, and granddaughter. I am blessed to have so much family (and all healthy, no less!) within a very short living distance, and I want to be more intentional about spending quality time versus distracted time with them.

-Finally, I want to be more appreciative of the season that I am in right now. As a girl in her mid-twenties with no income, a year and a half MORE of school (wasn’t I supposed to be done?!?! I remember throwing my cap and everything…), who has just moved, thrown herself into becoming involved in a new community, church, school, and peer group, I have experienced a lot of unknowns and changes in the last year or so. Most have been very positive, however I also find myself occasionally looking at the life events of other people and imagining what my own life would be like if I was going through the same thing. Envy is not pretty, flattering or useful. As I said earlier in this post, every person is fighting a battle, and I want to appreciate all of the positive aspects of being in my situation, age, and so forth. 

Step 8: What are you saying NO to in 2014?

I am saying no to:

-Limiting my expectations and goals

-Becoming easily frustrated with the actions or complaints of others

-Caring about criticism for things I am passionate or care about

-Becoming discouraged when things do not go the way I had hoped, and instead acknowledge that something better is ahead. 

-Wishing that I was already done with school so that I could do my field work 5 days a week instead of just two, and make the most out of the experience. 

-Being lazy and sleeping for too long.

-Wasting time by half-working, half-relaxing.

-Excessive time spent on social media. 

Step 9: What are you saying YES to in 2014?

-Blogging more as a way to communicate my thoughts with people. Being more specific about topics, and setting a goal for myself of writing at least every other week. 

-Spending more quality time with friends and family. More face to face, or at least google hangouts : ) and less texting.

-Continuing to develop my ability to let God use my in instances such working on the Next Level team and praying over people.

-Eating healthy. I bought a juicer a month or two ago, and loved it, but the holidays have sort of gotten the best of me with having so many sweets around. Too much sugar, not enough vegetables. Need to kick start myself back up again!

-Exercising. I know that a lot of people have weight loss goals, but for me it is really just about the way that I feel and how much energy I have. I am at a clothing size already that I am perfectly fine with, and want to improve my endurance as well as continue with my strength training. One thing that I did this year was go through a few months of boot camp, where Lauren lovingly and affectionately kicked my butt. In an awesome way though. I would like to see if I can make time for that again!

-Random acts of kindness. Coming up with ways to show love to strangers creatively and anonymously. 

-For that matter, intentional acts of kindness. Coming up with ways to develop relationships in deeper ways through a bunch of laughter and, really, probably food will be involved as well. 

-Seeing how God can work in any situation no matter how depressing it may seem. 

-More time reading the Bible- I am on a YouVersion plan, and need to be held accountable!! (Anyone want to volunteer?) 

-Having fun and enjoying my blessings. 

Step “Bonus”: My word for 2014:

If I had to use a word for 2013, it would be Praise. I really wanted to focus on praising God and rejoicing in all circumstances. For 2014, I want to use a word that I have already used several times in this post: Intentional. I want to be more intentional with my time, words, actions, everything. This isn’t to be confused with controlling or obsessive. I don’t want to have everything planned out. I just wanted to be more focused on making things that matter happen instead of just seeing what comes my way. 

Step 10: Plant seeds

What seeds can I plant in others lives? One of the reason that I love volunteering so much is that it gives me the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t normally get to be a part of. Recently I have done work with Habitat for Humanity, Operation Christmas Child, Project Lunch Bag, The Dream Center, and a few others. I love getting to be a part of a greater vision. I love the idea that just my super small snippet of work is able to keep a project or goal going to become achieved. But mostly I think it gives me the opportunity to work with and hear from people who give these organizations and missions their all day in and day it. They inspire me. They help me focus on what my own passions are and what I want to do with my life and where I want to see God take me. By taking part in these activities and goals, I can plant seeds that others will reap the harvest from. 

Step 11: Define Your “Radical”

For me, picking one thing to do “radical” is a challenge, because I like pushing myself in as many areas as I can. I tend to take on a lot of things, and don’t really have one particular area of my life right now that is a large obstacle. There are many smaller things that God helps me jump over, but nothing specific that is just really weighing on me. I think in that sense, radical for me is just growing to become less dependent on things. Those things are:

-the opinions and feedback of others

-material items, clothing, makeup, and so forth

-the need to please people

-my own ambition

-money

and so on. I want to give away more, invest my time wisely, and live my life in a way to where some people question how I do it. 

Step 12: Sing a Song

I couldn’t help but laugh as I read that I would need to select a song for this year, because recently I have gone on a major music binge. I have collected dozens of CD’s from the library to put on my iTunes and just constantly listen to. I love music. 

If I ABSOLUTELY had to pick one….and by one, obviously I mean two, because I have to do a “get fired up” and “get emotional” song. 

Get Fired Up: Tell the World – Lecrae (Live version from Passion 2013. Better than the CD version. Chills.) 

Get Emotional: Burn Away – Meredith Andrews

So many more. Just in case you are looking for song recommendations, the ones I have on repeat right now are:

Awake My Soul – Chris Tomlin ft. Lecrae

When Mercy Found Me – Rhett Walker Band

Oceans – Hillsong

Set a Fire – United Pursuit

Love Does – Brandon Heath

We Believe- Newsboys

Restless- Switchfoot

Step 13: Review

First of all, I can’t believe I have been working on this post all in one sitting, in one position, with my laptop on my legs. I think I need some water or to run around or something! I am worn out! But this is good! I am being productive with my time : ) 

I am reviewing this all in my head, and…..

OKAY! LAST STEP!!

Step 14: Set Good Goals

1. Finish my book – This has been a LONG time coming. I began writing a devotional book when I was 19, and now, after several rewrites, I am almost done. It is nearly 400 pages, and I have no idea what will happen with it, but I am choosing to continue to edit, and rewrite, and edit more, because I feel like God is going to do something with it, even if only five people read it. I am choosing to believe that if I continue to work and put my time into it, that God will give me the words, even when I feel like I am being repetitive. Pray for me on this! My goal is to be done this month, and I am so close I can taste it haha. 

2. On that note, try to get it published – I have the opportunity to self-publish through Amazon, which may be the best option anyway, but I want to try my best to see what I can do with it through other agencies. I feel like other agencies could provide greater resources to get it in the hands of more people, and really, I am not looking to make much (if any) money off of it. This is just something that has been on my heart for a long time. 

3. Eating right and exercise – I explained this already in an earlier step, however I want to be able to be more physically strong to be able to volunteer with certain organizations and just not get tired so easily. What I was eating had a huge impact on how drained I would feel, and I want to go total opposite of that. I want to be able to use my energy and time physical strength to bring God glory, and whether that is through sports ministry, manual labor, or whatever, I want to be prepared for that. 

4. Commit to making the most out of my field placement. – I have been interning for course credit with A Child’s Place, and have loved it. I want to continue to be resolved in learning as much as I can from both my supervisor and from my own experience so that I can be more competent and well-rounded in the field of social work. 

5. Pray about leading a Starting Point class at church. – I have been going through a Starting Point class at church, which is essentially a small group for new believers, in order to learn more about it and be able to share what it teaches with people I pray over. I have really enjoyed the discussion and topics, because even though it is formatted for people who are very new in their faith, the questions and conversation of course never get old no matter how much you know about the Bible. I would like to move into a greater leadership role in my church, and want to pray about whether or not this would be the right opportunity to partner up with someone to lead. 

6. Take more pictures. This is one that I feel like I say every year in theory, and it just never happens. Instagram has helped slightly, but I really want to commemorate memories and experiences by taking pictures in order to reflect on special times. I have a camera as well as a smartphone, so I really have no excuse to not do this! 

7. Read the Bible more. I want to have read the entire book, cover to cover, by the end of the year. This is a goal that I want to finally make happen!

8. Donate more things – This past year I made a lot of donations, as my clothing size went down some and also just because I felt it was necessary. There are still so many things though that I could give away. While I want to be sure to keep and value gifts, I want to be more aware of the things I buy and keep myself. 

 

Overall, I feel that my other specific goals were listed periodically throughout this post, rather unintentionally! 2013 was an amazing year, but the best is always yet to come. I am excited to start a new beginning with a New Year, and am excited to see what God brings in my life. 

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#52 Days: Explanation and Reflection

So for my social media friends who have been looking at my “52 days” hashtags and have been confused as to what in the world I am talking about, but haven’t wanted to ask, here you go! I am explaining it for you. (You’re welcome).

At church, there was a sermon that was turned into a two week series called 52 Days of Thanks and Praise. Our church attendees were challenged to post pictures, tell other people, and so forth of things we are grateful for with the hashtag “52 days”. There were 52 days until the end of the year when the message was preached, and in Nehemiah 6:15, it took just 52 days to finish a task that had been incomplete for years. Basically, it is a way to finish out the year by being especially focused on giving God praise for all of the blessings that He has given.

A really good point was brought up in this message; a point that has been brought up often before, and to be honest, I have probably needed to hear it every time. “You don’t have to feel it to do it.”

You don’t have to wake up super pumped up to get out of bed and go to work in order to know that you need to do it.

You don’t have to feel like you have little stress weighing down on you to be grateful.

You don’t have to have just received good news in order to be thankful.

You don’t have to be pleased with another person’s actions to show them love.

You don’t have to see God’s plan unfolded before your eyes to praise Him for the works He has done in you.

I would describe myself as a very creative and emotional person, so while I don’t necessarily show it all the time, I can be a bit of an “emotional thinker”. This usually means that on any given day I typically will feel both happy to the point of bursting, and also may take criticism or negative situations very personally. I think I also tend to be better at giving others grace than giving it to myself. This means that sometimes while I am not actually upset or angry with God, so to speak, I am so distracted by thinking about things I can/could do to improve or make things better that I begin to focus more on the progress than the praise.

I think progress is really important, and love the feeling that I am growing in my trust and confidence in God. There are moments though when I get the impression that He is gently trying to tell me “Hey. Slow down, relax. I’ve got this covered. You just sit back and watch it happen, and offer praise and gratitude.”

This series came at such a good time. Thanksgiving is coming up, but typically this holiday is centered on being thankful for the big things: family, friends, health, shelter, food… All wonderful things to be thankful for. But what this series has challenged me to do, even though I am not very good at remembering to take pictures (nor do I have the space on my phone due to the fact that I am a bit obsessed with music), is to focus on small things that can often go unnoticed.

I am grateful that my shower can get really hot.

I am grateful that no one can hear me when I sing in the shower, for that matter.

I am grateful that I have people in my life that I love enough to think about their circumstances throughout the day.

I am grateful that my car is always, without fail (…knock on wood…) able to get me from Point A to Point B.

And so on, and so forth. It has been so, so helpful for me to see people on Instagram and Facebook who have shared their own images of gratitude and thanksgiving during this time when so many are stressed and anxious. I have loved seeing statuses filled with praise, pictures of loved ones and beautiful views and sunsets, and gratitude for whatever God has provided them with.

I am grateful for the testimonies of others (you can read mine here) that have inspired me to share mine more openly and without fear. But most of all I am grateful that, as one of my all time favorite song verses goes, I can have no guilt in life or fear of death.

12 Years a Slave and the Bible

Last night I went with a group to go see the movie 12 Years a Slave. I had seen the previews a few months back, and was very excited to see what the whole product was. I had heard it was difficult to watch, and was prepared to see some horrific things on the screen.

But what I felt both during and leaving were much more powerful than I think I was expecting.

This isn’t meant to be a review of the movie at all, even though I think it was wonderfully done- I truly hope it gets the credit and awards it deserves. But there were several themes in the movie, one in particular, that I just can’t get out of my head. I remember when the movie version of Les Miserables came out last December, it was stated on the radio that there was one line of the whole movie that was stuck in everyone’s head (and out of 2.5 hours of singing that is saying something): “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Ironically, this was the quote that I posted right after seeing the movie myself. But anyway, similar to this experience, there was one scene in particular that really, really impacted me.

No spoilers or anything, but for those who don’t know, the film is based on the true story of a free Black male, Solomon Northup, in the mid-1800’s who was tricked, kidnapped, and sold into slavery down South. As the title says, he was a slave for 12 years. The very first scene after his kidnapping, it shows him chained up and bewildered. He hadn’t done anything wrong, anything illegal, nothing of the sort, and was desperately trying to tell the men who he was. They didn’t believe him, or rather, they didn’t care. There was then a very extended scene where it just shows them mercilessly hitting his back with a paddle over and over and over again. It seems like they are never going to stop, even when the paddles break from the force. Solomon is crouched over on the ground, crying out in agony.

During this scene though I had one really, really strong visual that came to mind. It was basically the same thing happening: this angry, hateful man representing the bad that exists in all of mankind beating a man, but this time that man was God. And instead of being crouched on the floor alone, He was laying over me saying “No, no no. This one’s mine. You can hurt me but you won’t take her. I’m not going to let anything happen to her.”

That’s when my eyes really started welling up. I think before that I was experiencing a lot of emotional pain thinking of how many people really did endure this kind of treatment not all that long ago, and how many still endure it today. But suddenly when I thought about how there are things in all of us, certainly myself included, that place attacks on love, grace, and purity, it sickened me. I had a sense of disgust with all the times when while maybe I haven’t hit another person or screamed obscenities at them, I have held on to anger towards them or acted out of my own pride and well-being. But just as I had these feelings of disgust, I had a sense of overwhelming gratitude that in spite of all my flaws and past mistakes, that I (and everyone) am so loved by the God who created the whole universe that He was willing to undergo public humiliation, unspeakable pain, feel the weight of every single person’s sin on His shoulders, die, and then overcome death. He overcame death so that not one person would have to ever experience it if they call on His name.

It was also difficult to see how the Bible was taken so far out of context during that time in order to justify slavery and treating other people like dirt. The word “property” was thrown around a lot in reference to the men and women who were slaves- aka, “less than animals”. But at the same time it gave me so much joy to see how even though the angry men were practically beating people over the head with the Bible screaming about superiority, punishment and abuse, those in slavery were singing songs of praise and hope from the gospel and what they were hearing preached. They sang of their souls receiving redemption, and the promises of freedom. They were able to listen to words of the Bible and look past the tone and image that man was giving it, and instead see God’s actual purpose. It made me think about how this is often still the case today: how some use the Bible as an excuse to be hateful, vindictive, or lazy. There are others who use it as a book that tells the greatest love story ever told. I pray that the second group remains faithful to that message. I pray that despite my failures I can be a faithful, loyal member of that second group. It can be so easy to look and see the people who claim that God is unhappy with this population, or this phenomenon, or whatever, when they are taking one line out of context of an entire book, message, theme, you name it, that is actually centered around love. When you know that God loves you no matter what, and that you can be guaranteed to go to heaven through no actions of your own, you can’t help but love others. But instead, so often we hate the sinner, instead of the sin.

That’s my prayer for the future, and for every day- that even just one more person today will come to know the love of Christ, and not what people so often make Christianity out to be.

Where Do I Go From Here?

So today, in honor of the fall break from my grad school program that I have through tomorrow, I have been working on a project that has been ongoing for quite a number of years. I was making some notes when I wrote one sentence that actually stopped me from continuing:

“Where do I go from here?”

Without thinking about it, I had written one of the most fear-ridden questions that people ask themselves every day.

I have done _______, so now what?

Is this all over?

Will I ever see this person again?

What does this mean for our friendship?

When I was leaving my mission field this summer, this was the main question that everyone was constantly talking about. Our leader wanted to know if we had any goals for ourselves once our team returned to the states. A huge part of the debriefing process in Orlando with Pioneers was connected with this question of, essentially, “So…now what? Is it all over?”

A few weeks later, in mid-August, me and about 45 other people were hit with that question again as we started a grad school program in social work. “Congrats! You got through the application process. Welcome to the university.”

So…now…where do we go from here? What specific area of social work are we going to be doing? It felt weird being back in school again- I had apparently gotten used to having income and free time! (strange, right?).

I have found through my experiences though that the largest things that can cause me to let fear creep into my mind does not really concern my circumstances, environment, or even my future as much as the people who are in my life. Going back to this summer again, when I left for France I had moved from Chapel Hill, where I had spent the last five-six years, back to my hometown of Charlotte just two days before my flight left for training. I arrived overseas, in addition to being jet-lagged and disoriented “mourning the change”, so to speak. And by leaving this place that for years had provided a sense of security, friendship, and support through my church, I wasn’t just going to a different city; I was going to a different country, language, peer group, and so forth. If I wasn’t ready to leave Chapel Hill yet, I was certainly going out with a bang.

“So…what do I do now?” definitely ran through my head. More than once. I won’t attempt to count the number of times, actually, but it is a safe bet that it was well into the double digits. This sudden immersion of not necessarily knowing how to communicate with people combined with me just plain missing my best friends and job led to me not really quite being myself for the first few weeks.

I have already summed up my experiences in France in former blog posts, so I am not trying to reiterate the past constantly here. But the question of “Where do I go from here?” is something that has constantly weighed on my mind.

Something that going from living in three different cities in the span of a few months did for me though was help me to realize how sometimes you are taken out of your comfort zone to grow in your dependence on God. There are questions that I have about my future where if I could just ask God “Hey, when is this going to happen, will I ever get married, where am I going to be working” and so forth, and then receive an answer, I would be a lot more content internally. Things would certainly be a lot easier.

But that approach, even if it was possible, does not require any faith. It is just me impatiently demanding for answers.

When I ask “Where do I go from here?”, I have found more with time that instead of a clear answer, I meet people, have conversations or go through experiences that slowly shape my decision making and future in a way that I would not have understood had I even been able to see the future.

What can be taken from this is that my confidence doesn’t lie in where I am going, or even how I am getting there, but who is leading me along the way.

Reflections on Baptisms…

Instead of going into all of the things going on in my life right now however, I want to just free write on a subject that has been a big topic of conversation lately: baptisms.

Many of you readers know that I was baptized this past spring- you can read that entry where I wrote out my testimony here. It was so nerve wracking for me to publish. Openly sharing things that I would often prefer to just forget with people who I had never met made me feel very vulnerable, but in a good way. It was an opportunity for people to see a little bit of how I got to where I am now, and I wanted to take the risk that some people might be critical or skeptical for those who would find it meaningful for making decisions in their own lives. It was someone else’s online testimony that inspired me to write my own, and I wanted to continue the chain reaction. To date that entry has something like seven or eight times the views of my next “most popular” entry, which blew me away!

After I was baptized, which for me was a public declaration of who exactly it was that I belonged to, I was quickly affirmed (as in probably like, 5 minutes later) in something that I have since heard time and time again: baptism doesn’t actually make you do things right, or even better, for that matter.

I think a lot of times people fall into this misimpression, often without even being aware of it, that after you make that decision and go through the act of becoming baptized, suddenly you will become full of the Holy Spirit and be kinder, more loving, get rid of perhaps any addictions or constraints, and just generally be full of freedom. At Bible study recently (I am so happy to have already found one in Charlotte!) we discussed the baptisms that are currently going on at church (see footage here– it was amazing to witness in person how much joy there was!) and what our own (if we had done it) meant to us.

This was something that was so good for me to both hear and talk about without even knowing it. I loved hearing others’ testimonies, sharing in the sense of relief and peace that they felt coming out of the water, and how despite the fact that baptism did not actually change their current struggles or perhaps the number of mistakes they made in a day, that it represented how none of it mattered when their past and future was washed clean.

When the old self is drowned in the water, and instead you have something new come out.

Something that will live forever, long after the world is gone.

This seems to be the point that some cite when they say they do not know yet if they want to take that next step to become baptized. Sort of a “I need to get my life more together before I can take that step. I need to be more progressed in my faith,” and so forth. It makes me wonder about all of the different ways in which people perceive baptism. Whether it’s just something ceremonial, or whether it really is something that can mark the day for you when you made the decision that it was time for a change.

I wasn’t even close to perfect when I got baptized. Let me just say that I am fully aware of that right now. I am sure there are people who will vouch for me. Probably a lot of Duke fans. (just kidding… bad joke.)

But despite the fact that the act didn’t actually make me a better person, or wash away the consequences of maybe mistakes I had made in the past or things that I was still in the middle of working out, it was a moment that I knew nothing could take away from me. And from talking to the other young adults in church who made that same decision, it sounds like we are on the same page there.

Here is my attempt at an example, despite the fact that I have no practical experience as a wife.

The act of getting married doesn’t mean that your love has peaked, everything in your relationship is perfect, and you have 100 percent faith that it is going to hold that same level of perfection for the rest of your lives together. But it is a symbol saying “I choose you”. It is making the statement and declaration in front of the world that they now know who you belong to in that context, and that you will not pick another man or woman over your spouse. Your relationship will, however, continue to change, grow and develop over the course of your entire marriage.

This is the best way I know how to describe baptism: something that is not the end, and in some ways even, not the beginning, as there are many people I know (and I was one of them) who accepted Christ awhile before they were actually baptized. People fall in love before they get married, too. And likewise, exchanging rings doesn’t mean that suddenly you or the other person will become a better partner in that relationship, or even that things will change at all from that point forward.

It is a public announcement of your love and commitment to another person.

Baptism is a public announcement of your love and commitment to God by knowing who you are in Jesus Christ.

Who are you in Jesus Christ?

Loved

Forgiven

Chosen

Someone who has their whole past, and future, wiped clean of mistakes

Fought for

Cherished

Just to totally top off my analogy here, I am pasting the lyrics to a song I love by Tenth Avenue North called “Beloved”, which is written as if it were Jesus saying his wedding vows to us:

Love of my life
Look deep in my eyes
There you will find what you need

Give me your life
The lust and the lies
And the past you’re afraid I might see
You’ve been running away from me

You’re my beloved
lover I’m yours
Death shall not part us
It’s you I died for
For better or worse
Forever we’ll be
My love it unites us and it binds you to me
It’s a mystery

Love of my life
Look deep in my eyes
There you will find what you need

I’m the giver of life
I’ll clothe you in white
My immaculate bride you will be
Come running home to me

You’re my beloved
lover, I’m yours
Death shall not part us
It’s you I died for
For better or worse
Forever we’ll be
My love it unites us and it binds you to me

You’ve been a mistress, my wife
Chasing lovers that won’t satisfy
Won’t you let me make you my bride
You will drink of my lips and you’ll taste new life

You’re my beloved
lover, I’m yours
Death shall not part us
It’s you I died for

For better or worse
Forever we’ll be
My love it unites us
and it binds you to me
It’s a mystery

44 Reasons Why I Love My Generation.

This is a post that just hit me as I went out for a run. I was out mulling over a lot of thoughts, blasting old Switchfoot songs on my iPod, having a party in my ears and all that good stuff, when I found myself back at my old elementary school. Suddenly though, things just started coming back to me.

I saw the field where I played soccer every day at recess with the boys instead of talking on the swings.

I saw the jungle gym where I first learned about (and briefly became hooked on) the Spice Girls.

For whatever reason as I was looking at a place that had been in my life so long ago, I started thinking about what I thought my life might look like now versus what it actually looks like. It made me think about my generation in general: the most common dreams we all shared, the things we grew up with, the things we were taught were right and wrong, and now the good and bad that has come out of it.

I am/was a child raised in the 90’s. I grew up with Boy Meets World, Barbies, the Disney Princess Obsession, NSYNC (my first concert), Giga Pets, All That and Pokemon cards. And I am perhaps realizing now, more than ever, the stresses that are being put on our generation.

We are expected to save the economy, solve racism, abortion, world hunger and gay rights, discover new technology and yet not let it take over our lives, be politically aware and globally informed, yet not have a superiority complex, and figure out how to balance gender roles in the work force.

Not saying that similar pressures were not put on former generations, but I am just stating what it feels like to be a “millennial” right now- namely, it can be a bit…exhausting.

This is largely because at the same time that we are hearing all of these expectations, and how the Baby Boomer generation has such high hopes for us, we are getting slammed in the face by articles like this:

“The Me Me Me Generation”

“Are Millennials Lazy Entitled Narcissists?”

“Understand the Myths to Retain Millennials”

But really, this issue constantly comes up, and I am not saying there is no truth to it. I certainly see how social media, technology and so forth have affected people’s lives, social skills and relationships. There certainly have been a lot of negatives.

But there are also a great deal of positives that are, while not unique to our generation, at least worth pointing out.

And because I for one just don’t want to read another article about how we are supposedly going to lead to the end of the world with our sense of entitlement, I would just like to take 20 minutes to write some things I really love about this generation in general.

So here we go, finally: 44 things I love about my generation. (All images are from Google. I don’t actually know any of these awesome, featured people.)

P.S. Please don’t get mad if any of these generalizations don’t actually apply to you. You get my general point.

1. We are not actually out to completely do away with the concept of marriage and having kids all together like it may appear:

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2. We will take just about any job just to get into the field we are so passionate about that we spent years studying for:

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3. Improvements in photography have made it possible for us to have adorable pictures like this:

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4. We are alive to experience really incredible movies:

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5. Memes like this one are made for the sole purpose of making someone smile:

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6. While countless movies that make people overall really depressed about the world come out, these little guys overwhelmingly make everyone’s day better:

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7. Regardless of any disputed opinions over the outcome, thousands of youth want to support the mission behind this movement:

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8. We see couples who were together and happy as long as they were and our hearts completely melt:

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9. Women’s rights in society are more significant than ever:

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10. Kids are raised not to discriminate or make judgments:

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11. We put more of an emphasis on being respectful to the planet:

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12. We are in love with celebrities who are this adorable:

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13. Especially when they hold dogs:

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14. Apparently graphics designers think that the best way to represent us is to make us look like the cast from Men in Black:

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15. We are progressing towards greater international agreement and unity in regards to public issues:

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16. We offer loving support and condolences to our parents who put even more emphasis on Facebook games than we do:

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Ok…so maybe not always supportive…

17. The importance of education for all, not just those who can afford it, is being stressed more and more:

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18. Mediocrity is not an option when it comes to motivation:

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19. Quotes like this are constantly used and shared to inspire others:

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20. There is some really good food from every country, and it is becoming both more well known and accessible:

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21. We take lower paying jobs in order to help others, or provide for our families when perhaps no other options are available:

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22. We live out what we value with joy:

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23. We aspire to be the change we wish to see in others:

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24. We dream big:

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25. We take time to stop and enjoy what is around us:

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26. We like to take pictures of us jumping no matter where we are:

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27. In the midst of devastation, we try to spot the helpers, and focus on them:

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28. We give really good advice at necessary times:

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29. We love animals:

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30. We give respect to people who can pull off awesome hats:

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31. We appreciate it when opposites attract:

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32. We have childhood sweethearts who we still can be friends with on Facebook:

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33. We experience moments of pure freedom:

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34. We don’t just use the internet for entertainment, but for philanthropy as well:

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35. We try to stay politically active and informed. (Side-note: I fully admit that I sadly do not fall into this category.):

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36. We love personalizing interior spaces with as much color and personality as we can cram into it:

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37. We travel and experience different cultures as much as possible, preferably for long periods of time:

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38. We love expressing ourselves creatively:

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39. We love getting involved in the community through outreach, and bringing our friends along as well:

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40. We speak out for what we believe in:

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41. We try to keep our work life separate from our personal life:

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42. We are fun loving:

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43. We love finding the others who share our passions:

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44. We love and respect our troops, but at the same time hope for peace:

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I realize once again that these do not apply to everyone, and there certainly are a lot of things that need to be worked on for the future. But for anyone reading this who perceives the millennials as greedy, materialistic, lazy youths who do not value hard work: give us some time, please? We are working on it!

Final Week in France

This post is rather belated…

The last week, upon my return to the United States, has been full of blessed time and conversations with people. I am not going to lie, I was not a very happy camper to get on the plane(s) from Nice to Florida last Monday. I really can only imagine how it must have felt for the other girls who had been there almost all year to leave.

Upon my arrival in Orlando, I was really fortunate to able to spend about three days just talking to people, catching up on sleep (in what felt like the most comfortable bed in the world, at least compared to the airplane :)) and talk about my experiences and where I want to go from here with staff members of the organization, as well as fellow workers who had been on similar trips all over the world. The girls were really helpful, and I loved hearing about everything they had done (there were three different continents represented in my room alone!). It was a really great time to thank God for all of the blessings He’s given us! Then these last few days my dad and I worked our way through the entertainment options that Orlando has to offer, haha! We went to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure (including Harry Potter World…awwwweeesssooomme) and snorkeling with manatees. Pictures to come later, but it has been a blast!

In terms of the end of our time spent in France however, I keep going back over certain moments in my mind. There are a few things from that last week more than anything else that happened that month that would be near impossible to forget. Once again if anyone is interested in hearing about my trip and more specific things that I was involved in, I would really love to talk to you about it! It has been a lot harder than I had originally anticipated to discuss everything over a blog, and it would make my day to take you out for coffee (I learned to like it overseas actually…haha) or have a skype or phone date. It is just too hard to put everything into writing!

Our team was also fortunate enough to have been able to take a day trip to Cannes, which you can see from my Facebook pictures was a lot of fun. Ironically it was on the 4th of July, so we celebrated America’s independence in a different country.

Perhaps even more-so the last few days in France I spent a lot of time praying. On the bus, on the train, on the plane, in the car (yes…lots of traveling haha…I hadn’t actually intended to list all of that out) but at random times during the day as well when I would be in the middle of something. I left Nice finally feeling like I had gotten my routine down in terms of actually kind of knowing my way around (it was the first time I ever gave someone directions haha!), feeling confident when having spiritual conversations with people, and a dozen other small things that you don’t realize add up so quickly. I left very much feeling like there were a lot of things that I wanted to continue to pursue now that I had become so much more comfortable, and feeling a little confused as to how to go about doing that. You realize how short a time a month really is, even though it sounds long in the beginning.

Going back to debrief, when we arrived back in Orlando, was tremendously helpful. The staff was amazing, and I spent the whole three days feeling really positive and encouraged. I was actually a little sad all over again when debrief was over because even though I felt like everything had been discussed, I just enjoyed the people so much that I wasn’t quite ready to leave! : ) But I was really excited about all of the things I had to look forward to coming up.

My apologies for this being a bit of a vague post, but just to reiterate for the 17th time, I’d love to talk to you if you are interested : ) Thank you so much to everyone who has texted/emailed me welcome home messages and words of encouragement! I love you all more than words.