Back to Reality

Between my summer spent in Ireland and an extremely chaotic return to Charlotte for my final year of graduate school, I unfortunately got out of the habit of writing on this blog. Just as a few quick updates on life lately…

Summer: During my three months in Ireland I was incredibly blessed to get to know lots of wonderful people and to be able to serve alongside passionate and caring families. I have three newsletters prepared which were sent out monthly, however if you did not receive one and would like to, please feel free to let me know in some way. They go into much more detail than I will in this entry.

Internship: I began my placement for the following year as a Counselor with Charlotte Rescue Mission for women in recovery from substance abuse. Words fail me – learning so much, and I love my residents.

Reunion: (Shout-out to my Irish friends) I will be returning for two weeks just before New Years, so please mark your calendars because I would love a reunion in which I smother you with jet-lagged excitement!

Feelings: For a lack of a better category, I am summing up my feelings in one run-on sentence: Apprehension over my pending graduation, excitement over seeing the growth occurring in girls’ nights in the (now TWO!) different neighborhoods I help serve in, uncertainty and slight anxiety as to not knowing where I will be living or working, joy in church, missing friends from not only several cities but also several countries, and, overall, whatever you call it when you think you might actually fall asleep at any given moment but you don’t actually have a diagnosis of narcolepsy.

So yeah, that about sums up my life right now!

“Real” blog post to follow soon this week because this is my last day of class, and I have to celebrate by eating pizza while my only source of socialization coming from watching Sherlock re-runs.

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Grateful.

This is going to be a very short post, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for the response I got on my last post on my testimony. It had about five or six times the number of views that I anticipated, and the support that I received was very overwhelming. Thank you so much! I am very grateful for your encouragement.

Currently I cannot give too many details on the situation I am in, as I am in training to go overseas. We are about to learn in the next few days about online security, and what kind of information we can give about the program and our location for safety reasons. What I can say however is that I have learned so much more already in the last 72 hours than honestly even I had anticipated. It’s been really challenging, but in a good way. I am having to pump myself up with caffeine to keep up with the pace, as even sleep is not doing the trick for keeping up with the 7 am – 10 pm schedule : ) But once again, I am very grateful for this experience. It could end tomorrow without the weeks spent overseas, and I would feel like God had already made this experience incredibly valuable.

I am not sure how often I will be able to update my blog. My hope is often, but I will not find out exactly what my duties/activities will be until arriving in my host country. Any prayers you could offer my team, whether in the moment or over the course of the summer, would be greatly appreciated. If you could also pray for me as the leader of that team, as I am learning how to do that piece as well!

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

I Was Baptized Today. (My Testimony)

Today I was baptized for, technically, the second time in my life.

I felt the need to write this post to talk about what convicted me to request this, partially because it was an online testimony that placed it on my heart. So, being a bit vulnerable here, and laying it all on the table!

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I was exposed to the story of Christ as a very young child, as I began going to church nursery school when I was two years old. There isn’t a time that I can recall where I ever doubted this story as being true. Growing up it was simply a fact; Jesus came, died, and was resurrected. I accepted these facts with very little question, and learned how to pray, what hymns to sing, and so forth. Going into my teen years however, I very much wanted to have an understanding of the Bible and all of its promises, but did not feel like I had a grasp of what exactly people meant when they talked about its display of sacrifice and unconditional love.

I differ from some Christians in that I cannot actually pinpoint a day where I gave my life over to Christ. Part of me almost envies those testimonies that really grab people’s attention, as mine in comparison seems rather ordinary. You know what I am talking about? “I had been using crack for 10 years, been in and out of rehab, and was in the middle of my weekly atheist coffee group when I felt a calling from Christ”. Yet that is a very small part of me, as I know that how dramatic my story is makes no difference to God.

For me though it was more of an extended learning process as to what everything I learned in Sunday school really meant; that it meant not just going to church out of habit or because it was “the right thing to do”, but to actually develop a passion for the scripture and all that it teaches. Around the time I turned 14, I began experiencing some health issues that were very stressful at the time. Doctors were pretty inconclusive as to what was going on, and it felt like the pain would never go away. Hindsight, a great portion of the problem was stress that kept piling up that I didn’t know how to cope with. I would ask God why He was putting me through this pain, feeling like I had done something wrong to be feeling like that. I kept thinking “I’m a good person, for the most part. Why is this happening to me?” This is where I really feel that my journey to the point I am now began.

During this time I began reading the Bible more often, searching for a solution. I spent a lot of time alone, and wasn’t sure where to start, but kept reading the New Testament looking for answers. Even though I did not surrender all of my trust to the Lord at that time, it was then that my dependency on His word began to develop.

Fast forward two years later, when I began having more health problems. I had been feeling better for the most part, but suddenly I began having digestive issues that no one could explain. Over the next three years, I lost about 20+ pounds, could barely keep any food down, and had countless tests done. I can’t accurately describe my emotions during this time, and I won’t go into much specific detail over the blog. The medications doctors tried to put me on had bad side effects, and I found myself becoming depressed. Along with simply being malnourished from not eating, I lost much of what little physical strength I had. It got to the point where it would be genuinely painful when someone would even playfully poke me.

Finally, in 2008, I saw a different doctor who was able to determine that I had a rare condition called gastroparesis, which literally means that my stomach is partially paralyzed (it empties about 25 percent slower than the average person). Few people have heard of it, and it is currently not possible to treat or cure. While this is a subject that I could go on about for much longer, my point is that it is something that has shaped my life in many ways. I have had to put my trust in God to lead me through nutritional and exercise plans instead of medicine to take care of me. Don’t get me wrong, I think medicine is a wonderful thing, just for me this was a path that has been able to strengthen my reliance in things unseen.

During this time with my health, I had been dating a boy in high school. At this time unknowingly, I was putting far too much pressure on his shoulders. I expected a great deal of support, and expected that everything would magically work out. In the middle of my freshman year of college, after some on and off again stints, we broke up for good. Again I turned into this pretty pathetic mess and felt like I must have done something wrong since God was not making the problems go away. It is clear now that God has taken these experiences and turned them into something that glorifies Him. Most recently, for example, I led a small group discussion on body image with the girls of my church’s youth group. In that sense, I am incredibly grateful for everything that I went through. While I would not wish it for someone, I am much more prepared than I would have been otherwise to help others deal with their own insecurities and hardships.

I would say the low point for me was in the spring of 2009. It was at that time that I knew something had to change, and clearly whatever I had been doing to cope hadn’t really been working, at least, not for very long. I joined the UNC’s Christian sorority that semester where, for the first time, I met other girls who wanted to serve God just as much as I did. They were friendly, open, and accepting of me, and I found that I looked forward to going to the weekly worship services. I began to grow in my faith again, and started feeling God’s love and forgiveness wash over me. Everything was slowly starting to get better.

Someone once said “It’s always darkest before the dawn” (not trying to quote a pop song here). Since that moment freshman year, my life has become less about me and my wants and more about Christ. I found that I am at my happiest when I am glorifying God through public service. In the last five to six years countless things have happened to continuously reaffirm my faith, and have led to a greater understanding of just how amazing and important Christ’s sacrifice was. It is from these experiences in my past that I have been able to connect and empathize with women and peers I meet. When people twice my age have come seeking my advice, it has been through the grace of the Holy Spirit within me that I have been able to help them.

Ephesians 2:9-10 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has been purely by the grace of God that I have been brought into His kingdom, and not a day goes by that I am not reminded of how much I need His grace, as I could never hope to earn that kind of unconditional love on my own. My mistakes humbled and weakened my heart enough so that I could no longer stubbornly avoid God’s will for me. I was broken down so that God could build me up, and when He did build me, He built a stronger, better version of myself to mold into His will. He was with me in relationships that proved to be less than healthy. He was with me when my sorority had the opportunity to acquire a million dollar house and the project was assigned to me as both housing financial director. And He has been by my side as I have tried to find ways to spread the gospel using whatever spiritual gifts I have, and has given me some of the truest friends I could ever ask for along the way.

One of the most important things I have learned is that in order to really let God have control of your life, you have to pray for the wisdom to let go and let Him in. For years I would desire a close relationship with Him, but when I prayed I would ask for the things I wanted. I did not pray for Him to have His way with my life, but instead for things to go the way I wanted them to. And even if I got what I wanted, it still didn’t work in the end. God knows what is best even if it isn’t clear at the time, and offering your life to Him as a living sacrifice is actually the most freeing and liberating thing you can ever do. One of my favorite quotes is by CS Lewis: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Although I have had many good things happen to me the first twenty-something years of my life, and I am incredibly grateful, I consider my story to be an example this, and each year truly has gotten better than the last.

So, with all of this said, the reason I decided to become baptized again is because I wanted to make the decision when I was mature enough to know what I was doing, and to show that Christ is Lord of my life. While I grew up sort of under the impression that if I was baptized again it wouldn’t really count, since I had already had one as a baby, I now see that that was a misimpression. While my baptism today was not in close proximity to the time when I really invited Christ into my life, it is a symbolic representation of the spiritual growth and journey that I have been on, and will continue to go through for as long as I am alive. I am so grateful for the people who came today: my real family (parents), “second family” (Lara, Ari and Grace), and church family (Pastor David and his family), as well as a supportive and loving family from Calvary, were there for encouragement. The process of being baptized was something that gave me a great sense of peace. I don’t really know how to put it into words. Hopefully I will be able to one day. Despite the fact that there were lots of happy families there swimming, enjoying the gorgeous weather at the lake, I have to say I didn’t actually really notice them when this was happening. It was a very personal experience, and I am so thankful beyond words that it happened.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

The Problem With Living Like You’re Dying

This is a conversation that I have had with friends before. While it isn’t quite as common of a trend now, there were a few years where it seemed like every time I turned on the radio there was some song on about “I’m going to live like there’s no tomorrow”.

Now hear me: I am all for making the most out of the opportunities in your life. Someone once told me “You regret the things you don’t do more than the things you actually do”, which I love. By trying new things and actually taking a shot at doing the things we dream about, we open up entire new worlds that we may never have known otherwise.

So really, I think there can be a lot of good that comes out of thinking this way. But this post is just to present a counterpoint to this phenomenon with “YOLO” that has taken over pop culture.

Starting off by just looking at my own life, I am an ENFJ (extrovert), meaning that I enjoy having lots of noise and people around. While most of my friends actually tend to be more introverted, and enjoy solitude as a way to decompress, quiet stresses me out. I find it impossible to drive in the car without music playing and typically always have the TV on in the background if no one else is around. It is actually the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up, just to help keep me awake. This personality type also tends to mean that I like to be busy and involved. I won’t list everything I have taken on; nearly all of it is very enjoyable, but essentially I have a really busy schedule.

So you may be thinking okay…that’s nice, but what does that have to do with the topic here? Well, essentially, it means that I for one am often in this “What haven’t I done today that I might regret later on?” mindset. It’s led to a lot of really positive things in my life, and I am very proud of some of the things I have gotten to accomplish by God’s grace. But just as some people need some motivation to get going, go pursue their dreams, work towards making things better, others may need to slow down a bit.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” -Psalm 46:10

There are times when I literally sit and realize that I have not gotten to spend as much time in the Bible, decompressing, or reflecting as I would like. Typically during the day I am rushing from work, to volunteering, to one activity or another. I am truly thankful that I am so involved, but sometimes it seems like maybe I am trying to take on too much. When I am not occupied by a task, it has gotten to the point where instead of feeling restful, I get anxious and guilty. I feel like I am wasting my time, instead of taking that time and turning it over to God to fill my mind while I am being still.

I do not want to be so “busy serving God” that I am actually blocking out that time to just sit and remember that I do not have complete control, and am not Superwoman.

So while it is great to try new things, give in to change, and fill time in a productive manner, I wish in some ways that we would become a little less obsessed with “making each moment count” and “living like we are going to die tomorrow”.

I confess that in some moments where I might be a little crankier than normal, and I hear celebrities or musicians make statements like that, I think “Well sure, you have millions of dollars. You can just jet off to Italy tomorrow on a moments notice if you feel like it, really live it up. What about the rest of us?!” But that wouldn’t turn out so well because then I would hurt my finger when I jabbed really hard at the radio preset buttons on my dashboard out of frustration.

So really all I am asking for is some encouragement for everyone. That “Hey, you know what? You are doing the best you can. Maybe there are things you can do more of, maybe there are things you need to cut back on. But do not worry if each day doesn’t look like this picture perfect fantasy of accomplishing everything you want to do. Because friend, that takes time, and God’s timing is not immediate. God’s timing is perfect. Perfect is not immediate gratification. Perfect is having the strength to surrender control to a power greater than just you. And if God leads you to have a day where you just need to lay down with a wet cloth on your head while you read a good book because you are so exhausted, well then sometimes we need those days. Because that is life. This roller coaster of moments where you are full of bliss or despair, and moments that are so ordinary it’s beautiful.”

That is all I want to hear once in awhile: that it is okay to just be still, listen, and be quiet before you act. And those things that haven’t happened yet that you want? Work towards them, but realize they might not be just around the corner, and that that’s okay. God is going to be there by your side regardless of whether or not you have made that skydiving trip yet, and if you desire to work for His glory, things larger than you ever would have imagined will happen!

Tired. Sleepy. Worn.

I’m not sure really what has been going on the last week or so, but I have been exhausted.

It might be something to do with the weather, because I have heard several people describe the same thing these last few days. But regardless of the reason, I have been having a hard time keeping my eyes open.

I saw Zero Dark Thirty for the second time the other night, and you know that when you are struggling to stay awake at 6:00 pm through that movie, that you must need to catch up on some sleep.

But anyway, regardless of this, this got me to thinking about spiritual exhaustion. How sometimes people go through periods, whether its days or much longer, where they feel like they are at the end of their rope. Wanting to pray, wanting to seek support, wanting to be positive and so forth, but not even knowing what more to do. Ever get like that?

Sometimes I think it is these times where God actually winds up speaking to us more clearly, because our minds are less focused on all of the things going on throughout the day. We are more vulnerable and seek out His guidance in our time of weakness.

It might not be right away, it might even take a long time. But I know for me at least that there have been many times where I have been feeling worn down for awhile when all of a sudden, completely unexpectedly,  I have some sort of epiphany about what God is trying to teach me.

Now, for example, my brain is still feeling pretty fuzzy. The last few days I have had random moments where I would think “Oh! That’s a great topic for a blog post.” And now it seems to have gone blank. So if you are reading this you are probably thinking “Great, so why am I spending five minutes reading something that doesn’t have much of a point?”

But that in itself is such a true part of life. There are so many times when we get so busy, sidetracked, or short sighted that we just get worn out on life.

“Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn”
-Tenth Avenue North

Right now when I am having some of those times where I feel worn out, it can be tempting to turn to something like sleeping more than necessary, eating junk food, or watching too much TV, just to get some immediate comfort out of it. But really, that isn’t going to solve any problem. By turning to God though and admitting that I cannot handle all of this that is so tiring on my own, and asking for Him to direct my path, I am acknowledging that I want the control out of my hands.

Part of the frustration as well as beauty of life is that we don’t really know what the future will bring. Things could completely change tomorrow; I could meet someone who will have a major impact on my life, something could happen to my health…you get the point.

The comfort in this is that God knows our tomorrow. He knows where we have been, every thought we have ever had, and every dream we want to make happen. There is nothing that can be hidden from Him, and regardless of what we think we want, God wants what will ultimately bring us the most happiness and peace, which is the path that will bring us closer to Him. So if you are with me on that whole “Can I go nap now at 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday?” boat right now, I encourage you to spend some quiet time reading the Bible, and pray for God to give you energy and the strength to get through the next few days!

“Hey now, this is my desire…”

I am admittedly terrible at keeping a blog.

I have made several attempts over the last ten years or so, and probably haven’t lasted more than a month in any of them. But I wouldn’t know because I have forgotten the links to almost all of them.

Lately however, it has been on my heart to try again.

This will probably just be a random, eclectic mess of my thoughts without a major theme tying them together. This is the song though that has been repeating itself in my head though literally for weeks without stopping, and this is just a small step in that direction:

“Hey now, this is my desire

Consume me like a fire

Cause I just want something beautiful

to touch me

I know that I’m in reach

Cause I am down on my knees

I’m waiting for something beautiful”

-Needtobreathe

While Needtobreathe doesn’t officially consider themselves a Christian band, they have had a number of hit songs on Christian radio charts. This is one in particular that means a lot to me.

(Another thing I should note: excuse me if I ever start busting out the cheese or cliches with my writing. It’s unintentional ;))

Lately I have been asking God to take the control of my life away from me. This may sound strange. You might think “Why not just pray to have the answers, or for things to go a certain way, and hope for the best?” etc. Well, my answer is pretty simple, and that is because my plans for my own life are very small and insignificant compared to God’s potential for me. Instead of stubbornly pushing for my own agenda that typically doesn’t really work out the way that I wanted or envisioned, I made the decision to say “God, you know everything. Relatively speaking I know nothing. It would be so easy for you to write me off and say that I have had countless chances to seek you out with my whole heart and haven’t done it, but instead you have given me unquestioning and never failing grace. I want to see what your plan is for me. Use me however you want.”

I want to be ready now to move forward, lose all fear of the unknown, and see what God can do without my self-righteous fighting for what I want, and what I think will make me happy. God created me. He knows better than anyone, including myself, what will make me happy. One of my favorite sayings is: “God has three answers to prayer: Yes, Not Yet, and I Have Something Better In Mind.” I am trusting that God has something better in mind for me than what I had wanted necessarily a few years ago, even this time last year.

To go on about all of the ways God has already changed my life for the better would take many pages, and I am concerned that it would appear that I am talking more about myself and bragging versus boasting about the Lord. So please do not misunderstand me; anything that is good in my life is a complete gift from God. I have not earned anything, and I do not necessarily deserve anything. Christ paid the ultimate price and gave everything when I contributed nothing so that I could live forever as a child of God. That is His promise to us. Now I am excited to see how He can use me to spread His good news and this promise to the world. I might get one reader on this blog, I might get 100, I genuinely have no idea.

But if any one person can connect with some of the things that I write about, it will be so worth it.

I am not always the best of writers. I get impatient, make typos without necessarily reading back over them, and probably do not always explain myself as well as I could. Please forgive me if anything I say causes confusion! That is not my intention. My intention is to occasionally sit down at my laptop and just free write on whatever it is that has been on my mind lately, and how God has been working in my life. I want to share the good news that was shared with me, and how I can feel the Holy Spirit working in people in my life. This has not been an easy journey. There have been so many wonderful things that have come out of it; far more than I could ever describe. But there have also been very difficult times that I have had to pray for the strength to deal with. I will go into both of these things in the weeks to come.

If anyone has any questions or discussion points though, I welcome you to contact me! I absolutely love talking about the Bible with people, and am very excited about a few projects I have coming up that I hope will glorify God and bring me to even the next level with my faith. I am just thrilled to see where this goes!