Our House Is Not Our Home

“Leah! Come look at this,” she shouted from the other room. I looked around where I stood there in the tattered, worn and dreary space. We were upstairs in the old two-story building where our friends were starting an Eleos Coffee House.

Though the main floor where coffee and fellowship would be looked fantastic, the upstairs apartment space was in a disheartening state. The paint was coming off in chipped slates, made of toxic lead. The floors were stripped and they bowed due to water damage and neglect. The old frames of the ceiling and walls were exposed. Dust danced in the daylight casting shadows on broken glass and rusty nails. The place was in desperate need of TLC, and we were there to clear out wood, glass and other forgotten or random objects.

I carefully made my way to where Sierra’s voice echoed. Immideately upon entry to the tiny space, a window with bars encasing it caught my eye. She was pointing to something that rested against the windowpane, tucked behind the rusted and tired bars.

There in the window sat a bird, perched on a branch with different shades of green leaves and flowers surrounding it. The bird looked very regal, staring off and to the left as if he were posing for us. He was encased in a flimsy frame that was discolored and worn, with a decorative emerald green striping pattern outlining the piece. The art itself was made entirely of feathers.

I knelt down and took a few photographs of this unique beauty that was oddly placed, being surrounded by cobwebs, rust and remnants of what had once been.

My heart sank as it suddenly became clear to me that whomever had been hulled up in this space had tried their best to make it somewhat of a home. “Squatters”, as they were called, left behind this and a few other possessions before abruptly leaving for whatever reason.

…..

Detroit, Michigan. It was a place I had honestly never really thought much about before the trip. I vaguely recall random tidbits about the crime and desperate state of the city, but I never truly knew or understood.

Never once did I think that there could be such desperation in my own backyard. Nor did I explore in order to see for myself, not because I didn’t want to but because it had just never occured to me.

Driving from the airport to where we would be staying with a couple from Abundant Life who had moved there previously, my eyes scanned my surroundings… and my breath caught in my throat.

I have never seen so many buildings crumbling and abandoned, overgrown and forgotten.

As we walked the streets of Detroit, we passed many houses that were beyond repair. What surprised me was how entire streets could look this way, void of life save for the plants and animals wondering around… There would also be streets lined with absolutely gorgeous homes, the architecture stunning and still in great shape. The home we stayed in was beautiful.

Beautiful architecture; this lovely abode was our home for the week.

There were many streets that would have beautiful homes like this, with abandoned homes speckled in between.

The people of Detroit surprised me even more than their surroundings. While we walked the streets, going house to house passing out flyers for the carnival we would be throwing, we met all kinds of folks. The kids I passed would be so respectful towards me, replying with, “Yes ma’am! ” after asking them a question. People would be gathered on their steps or porches, talking as we walked up. They would stop and smile, shake our hands, and strike up a conversation with us. It didn’t matter our skin color or that we weren’t from around there. We were welcomed and accepted.

They were so excited about the carnival and what Eleos Coffee House was doing in their community. Many expressed their sadness about the state of their city, having lived through the booming ages and now seeing businesses being boarded up and homes deteriorating as people leave. A city that once had such promise and was made to house millions now stands in ruins, diaregarded and undervalued… forgotten. The school systems and even the school buildings themselves not nearly adequate enough to provide their kids what they need. The businesses that are left make people feel less than, with thick glass prohibiting human contact.

McDonald’s; speaking through the glass to order food, grabbing food through a turn table so as to keep the workers and customers completely separate.

It was completely different from what life is here in Missouri. For example, when a church goes through certain neighborhoods here, people close their blinds, lock their doors, and pretend not to be home. Most wouldn’t dare answer the door. We don’t live behind bulletproof glass. If there are issues with our school buildings, people jump to fix it. No children here would go without a gymnasium due to water damage completely warping the floor. No children here would go without school books and proper learning standards.

It’s as if they’ve been given up on.

300 people came to the carnival that week. Different individuals thanked us and couldn’t stop smiling. Some told me that this was their first carnival, which at the time seemed strange. When we see carnivals, we experience thrill rides, gobs of games and prizes, shows, booths with random merchandise, and delicious (and unhealthy) foods.

Our little carnival had a dunk tank, face painting, a few games, a bouncy house and food. It was no where near as extravagant as the things we usually see. However…

They loved it.

Blake, the pastor, decided to taunt the kids and they enjoyed it! He was the perfect “villain” to dunk.
All the kids lined up to get some art on their skin.
Food in the backgound; sweet little ones playing games in the foreground.

So many people kept asking, “Why? Why here? Why us?”

My answer always went back to God. His heart hurts for the broken. And Detroit is in a very broken state. I hugged many necks and shook many hands that day, both the frail and the supple. Many expressed their excitement and gratitude, and I made sure they knew just how much God loved them. He hasn’t forgotten them. In some cases, those who had sorrow in their eyes suddenly lit up and overflowed with tears of mixed emotions. In others, I saw the hope in their expression.

God is working in this country. It may not be as noticeable to some, but I see it. I’ve experienced it.

Even amongst all these crumbling buildings amd desperate situations, there would be snippits of beauty… which reminds me of God’s love. There will be hardship in this life, in which pain and suffering will be the norm. But God reminds us that we have hope in Him:
“… Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

I have found that even in the midst of pain, He is there. He has never once left us to our own devices. He hears our prayers and cries. He sees the suffering and it grieves Him. He never wished for such suffering for any of us…. but because sin entered the world, we will struggle. Not by God’s doing, but our own.

There is such tragedy and suffering in today’s world, and many are wondering where God is in all this mess. Famine, rape, mass shootings, sex trafficking, slavery, injustices and pain surround many cities and countires. Terror and maddness seem to reign rather than love and sanity.

Yet…

Despite the pain and suffering, there are moments of bliss. Newborns being held in their mother’s arms, the parents bawling together after having tried for well-over ten years to have children. Moments of kindness strewn through the hatred, like people dressed as angels guarding the funerals of the young men and women shot down in cold blood in Orlando from Westboro protestors. A black young man stopping a white police officer on the street just to pray with him. A Christian woman walking into a mosque in Kansas with sweets for the women, showing love and acceptance rather than hatred and fear.

I see the brokenness surrounding me, and my heart breaks. I may only be one voice among a sea of many others, but I believe my generation and those behind me can be the change we so desperately need.

Do not let your age stop you. Do not let the judgements of others keep you from getting out there and loving others. This world needs more individuals who are willing to go out on a limb and be there for someone, regardless of ethnicity or upbringing.

We are all human. We all have heartache and many of us have suffered through so much in this life. The thing we need to know is that we are not alone. There are so many individuals surrounding us, strangers and passerby, that are going through something. Even those who seem to have it all together have a struggle they deal with. So many around me in my life currently share some of my same struggles! And because I have opened up about my story, conversations have occured and change is happening. Hope is happening.

I want to keep caring, loving and serving those around me. Too often, we forget just how human we are, and we stuff our emotions and refuse to reach out. You are not a burden! Nor am I. We need to wake up and be there for one another in these tough times.

The things that have been happening in the past two weeks keep reminding me: this house is not our home. We are merely passing through, and we need to take care of our temporary homestead and neighbors while we are here for the time given to us. Life passes by quicker than we’d imagine…. Let’s make each moment count.

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Broken for good

It’s hard to focus on my safety net once I’ve placed myself somewhere without the “normal” I am blessed enough to have. After experiencing the loss and lack of hope, what have I to complain about? How can I do more to help those around me where I’m at? Why can’t I relax? Mayhaps God is calling me to keep moving. The mission doesn’t end in Detroit. It’s here in our own towns and communities.

Mission Minded Mama

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“Back and broken?”  That was the text I received from my sister.  Yes, broken…

A broken heart.  Broken by the people of Detroit who have no hope.  We walked around an inner city neighborhood for two days inviting all to our community carnival on Thursday. Then showered them with love on that day.  And a few of the responses were “Why? Why us? Why here? Do you know where you are?” That hurt..

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Those living in the inner city have been made to feel less than, that they are undeserving.  That hurts… 

I woke up the next morning, headed home, replaying the conversations, tears streaming down my face, wondering, what more can I do?  Why aren’t we doing more?  This hurts…

Some children didn’t even look me in the eyes when I talked to them, head down the whole time, that hurts…  I was able to make many smile. Looking…

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I went to a strip club

This is what serving should look like. Reaching out of your comfort zone to reach those who need to know there is hope beyond what they can see. Jesus didn’t stick around the healed- He served the broken. He loved on those some of us would spit on or ignore.
How shameful that some churches claiming to love and serve Jesus would send hate mail to those who are just as broken as they are- or once were.
I only hope that I could have the same courage to step out, reach out, and allow God to touch others’ lives through me.

just a jesus follower

strip clubA while back I was asked by a group of pastor’s wives to go with them to strip clubs.

That sentence alone sounds strange. But hang with me.

At first I was a little hesitant. And not for reasons you might think.

I love people. Especially ones who are broken; it’s part of my calling. But, given what I’ve walked through, I know how fragile broken people can be.

And I know how insensitive the church can be.

And I was uneasy.

But, these weren’t just any pastors wives.

They had a vision.

One that longed to love on women that society had thrown aside.

It reminded me a lot of Jesus.

So, I jumped on it.

Their plan was to visit these clubs once a month to deliver a meal and gift baskets. I joined them the first night and I’ll be honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect.

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Brimming With Blessings

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime- until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”  – Isaiah 46:4

Sometimes, I find myself wondering why God hasn’t answered my prayers. Do you ever feel that way? As if we are entitled to an answer- as if we are worthy of getting what we want whenever we desire it. We may as well snap our fingers and demand that God peel us a grape.

It’s a ridiculous thought, isn’t it?

There are moments in life where I just want to stomp my feet and have things go my way. We all have been there:

“If you would just give me this job, Lord, then everything would be perfect!”… “If I just had more money, then none of this would be happening,”… “If I could just get that guy to notice me, I’d feel better about myself,”… “If I could just be thinner, life would be going more smoothly for me,”… The scenarios are endless.

As it turns out, our way leads to more destruction than production. The very things we crave and desire more than anything can become our imprisonment.

For example: I have been without a job for about a week and a half now. It was my doing because I didn’t exactly think things through, so now I’m having to deal with the consequence of the dreaded job-searching and penny-pinching. My yearning for the “perfect job” landed me in my own little self-afflicted prison. I was so stubborn and thought I had things planned out perfectly; I told myself that once I quit the two jobs I had, God would immediately open the door to Commerce Bank and that would allow me to serve Him fully with more time on my hands.

Oh how silly of me! To put a time limit on the Creator of the universe? To demand that He work quickly as I will it rather than in His timing?

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” -Romans 8:28 

Note to self: God can use me no matter where I’m at in my life! His timing is absolutely perfect and always works for my good! It doesn’t matter if I have a job or not, nor does it matter if that job has the perfect schedule, salary or environment. He can use me exactly as I am right this minute- jobless and poor.

“May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.” – Hebrews 13:21 

He meets us right where we are in life. Why? He doesn’t call the equipped- He equips the called.

I felt the pull to dive in and serve where I attend church, and I got a little overzealous. In my mind, I couldn’t properly function if I had a job that demanded so much out of me in regards to time. If I wanted to be on the Worship Team, I would need to be available! And if I wanted to serve at Paradigm, I would need to be free during service times, maybe even more than that. My solution? Rushing God and acting too quickly on my own.

Honestly, I was frustrated at first. Here I was, without my jobs literally taking a leap of faith… and God didn’t move.

Or so I thought.

I realize now that God is always on the move. Even now, He is working in my life to make things happen that I haven’t the slightest inkling of yet. His movements aren’t always visible to us. Sometimes He works behind the scenes, be it through others around us, different opportunities and situations, or orchestrating a big change without our noticing til much later (hind sight is 20/20). His works are often that way, in my experience.

God opened a door for me to serve in June on a mission trip to Detroit, MI. It would be my first mission trip, and I was eager to go. I hadn’t thought of the final deadline being May 8th. I was quickly running out of time. The trip is $500 in total to cover the cost of airline tickets, housing and other things, not including food. I have maybe $6.00 in my personal bank account, and had only been able to pay the $150.00 deposit towards the trip. I have 3 days left.

Last week I was encouraged to ask for help, so I wrote a letter explaining what we would be doing in Detroit, asking for prayer and support. After sending out just over 23 personalized letters, God showed just what putting my faith in Him can do.

Two days ago, my Aunt called me over to her house before leaving for Paradigm that night. I was able to visit for a little while with her, and upon entering her home she gave me a check. I did a double-take at the amount written on the line and immediately was overcome with emotion. I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t the FULL AMOUNT of the trip. God had spoken to her heart after receiving my letter. At first she didn’t think the full amount was appropriate, but God kept urging her to put $500.00 on the line.

So, after prayerfully considering it… that’s exactly what she did.

As of today, I have $1,050.00 for missions trips, accumulated in less than 5 days after sending out those letters- and the week isn’t over yet.

God has been working behind the scenes in this, even when I was worried that He had abandoned me to living with no income and no way to possibly fulfill the deadline in time. At one point, I know the enemy put thoughts of doubt in my head, telling me that God didn’t want me to go to Detroit. “Maybe it’s just not meant to be,” a voice whispered in my ear. “Otherwise, God would have given you the means to earn the money yourself.”

I didn’t believe the voice… but I was getting anxious. I kept praying and delving into His Word, which helped to give me comfort. I knew He wouldn’t leave me or forsake me. If it was His will for me to serve, He would work out the schedule and finances. He would equip me so that I could bring Him glory.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”   – Ephesians 3:20

He spoke through my Discipleship Mentor, Lona, to encourage me to write those letters. He moved in the hearts of those who have helped me financially and prayerfully. He went above and beyond what I could have ever imagined- I now have enough funds to not only go on this trip but also save for another opportunity.

“With each new thing I learn about You… With each new verse that speaks truth into my life… With every sermon that touches my soul… With every answered prayer… With every change and with every blessing, Lord… You amaze me.”

– Prayer Journal Excerpt from Tuesday, May 3, 2016

God is good. He is mighty and all-powerful. Majestic and pure. My Lord and Savoir is KING! He is sovereign! Lord most high! My Creator is marvelous in all He does- His creation is vast and grand in all of its splendor! He is my Father, full of compassion and unfailing, unconditional love. He calms the storms in my mind and in my life. His comfort is unlike any other. King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He is the light of my life! He is worthy of all praise!

May every part of my life worship Him, be it through my music, art, writing, actions or words. He never ceases to astound me. I am in awe of His works and the love He has for us!

My cup runneth over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterglow

“Here on this earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”       – John 16:33

I awoke surprisingly early to the sound of my fan whirring and birds chatting. My room was still dark, and I had to blink a few times to gain my bearings. My sister was still asleep on the couch in the living room, my parents and our dog snoring in odd harmonies in their bedroom.

My bed creaked and groaned as I sat up to plug in my Christmas lights and grabbed my Bible and prayer journal. I winced as I nestled into a comfortable sitting position, my bed still trying to alert the neighborhood to my movement.

I glanced at my phone: 4:15 a.m. In a few hours, I would be on my way to Emporia State University to speak at an Out of the Darkness Campus Walk. This event was and still is extremely important to me. These walks are set up by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). They raise awareness and funds to not only help prevent suicide but provide comfort and healing to those who have been affected by mental illness of any kind and suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, 42,773 Americans die by suicide. On average, there are 117 suicides per day.** It is a very real and very sad issue that we have in the world today. As many who follow my blog know, I was almost a statistic added in to the death by suicide totals. So, I support these events and love to be involved in any way that I can. I was honored to be asked to speak at this one.

Did I mention I would also be seeing my… ex… boyfriend* for the first time since we parted ways in February?

I began my own personal Bible study and pondered what God was trying to tell me. In Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha had Jesus in their home. Martha flit about, distracted by appearances, whereas Mary sat at Jesus’ feet intent on listening to him. When Martha asked him to tell Mary to help her get things ready, Jesus replied, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (v. 41-42)

At the time, I thought God was telling me that I needed to learn how to sit at His feet and be silent. Now, looking back, I realize that He was trying to comfort me. I was so anxious about the day ahead and all of the various details involved. Seeing Joey, speaking to a crowd about my story which happened to also include my testimony and the gospel… I was feeling better about it all than I had five days prior, but I still couldn’t shake all of the nerves.

God was trying to tell me to breathe and to just trust Him. Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet over fretting about the details. Jesus was there in her home! Why would she want to ignore Him and clean!? Worrying over details won’t really help any situation, it only succeeds in making you more anxious! It’s very counterintuitive.

I spent quite a bit of that day praying. Of course I wasn’t just sitting in silence 24/7, but I would be in constant contact with God, asking Him to give me courage and strength, and most importantly to speak through me to these people who were hurting. He knew what was on their hearts much better than I did. He knew what they needed to hear.

Thankfully, God showed up as I knew He would. When I was introduced to to crowd, I gathered myself and my notecards, said a silent prayer and walked up to the microphone.

“We all have a story. Every single one of us are here because of that story. Some of you may feel broken. Others may be feeling bitter, angry, confused, lost… or even empty. Some of us are still trying to pick up the pieces. Today, I’m here to tell you that you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. I am one of the many people who are struggling with anxiety and depression. Here’s my story…”

I can confidently write my introduction and my bullet points for you because notecards helped keep me organized and on track. As far as writing my speech word-for-word? I can’t.

You see, I prayed that God would speak to those people- over 300 people to be exact. And He did. I cannot remember what I said, and I know that’s because God spoke through me. He comforted them, reassured them, and ultimately loved on them through my words.

I am SO GLAD He showed up, because before April 2, 2016, I had not truly shared the gospel with anyone. I was able to do so twice: once during the car ride to Emporia, and once during my speech. God prepared me in ways I didn’t fully expect, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Of course, I was feeling slightly awkward in regards to seeing Joey. I was so used to being in some form of constant contact with him, or both of us being overjoyed to see one another, so that day was…  unfamiliar.

I am thankful to those who came with me that day, because they were able to keep me distracted. Brianna, who is basically the closest person to being my sister, kept a watchful eye on me. She noticed any time I seemed downtrodden and lightened the mood, or simply gave me a knowing smile. I would watch Joey as he ran about, volunteering for this and that, always aware of his presence. I felt a warm sense of pride and gratefulness as I watched him. He was as much a part of the event as the coordinator. It made me so happy to see that. I don’t believe he was doing it solely for me, but for himself and the many who struggle as well. Mental illness and suicide share a role in both of our lives, individually and together.

It was painful, I can’t lie about that. Our encounters were mostly shortlived. However, it was very therapeutic to watch him from afar. I could tell that he was just as anxious to see me, but that he was doing okay.

During the walk itself, he walked beside me and we had the longest conversation of that day. He told me how he was doing, and it eased the pain to know that he now had an accountability partner whom he had Bible study with and that he was going to counseling. God was speaking to him and teaching him, and he was growing. That in itself reassured me that this “break” was the right decision.

    I still love him, and I told him as much after asking if it was still appropriate to say such things. Of course, he replied, “I know,” in true Han Solo fashion. We shared a laugh at that and it felt so good to hear his chuckle. It’s still one of my favorite sounds in this world.

I gave him his class ring and a few other things before parting ways again. I also handed him a letter that was filled with thanks and all my love hidden between the lines and within each word. I hope he caught on to that.

Our last few hugs were the longest of the day, which I was thankful for. Our words may have been few, but our smiles and eyes said everything. He whispered in my ear, telling of how proud he was of me and that he could see the change in me both physically and spiritually. He could tell that I truly was happy, and that I was different. I let him know throughout the day and even then how proud I was of him.

Knowing that my friends and I were going to eat and explore Emporia for a bit, I invited him to tag along. Understandably, he had things to do. It hurt slightly, because I was so used to him being with me while I was visiting his college town. I smiled and nodded. As tradition, he walked away but stayed to see me off. As we drove away, he waved goodbye.

The entire day was filled with emotion for me. I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my story and my joy in Christ with others. And I am thankful for the closure I had in my interactions with Joseph. I understand now that he never really was mine. He’s always been God’s, and I was holding on way too tightly to realize that. I had to let go completely so that the both of us could get back to what truly matters- our relationship with God.

No matter what happens in our lives, I will always be thankful for Joseph. For his generosity. For his support and comfort. For his gentleness. For his kindness. For his love. For his laughter and sense of humor. For the nights he would sing me to sleep. For his way of smithing words so eloquently. For his warmth and cuddles. For his acceptance. For his geekiest moments. For his forgiveness.

For everything.

   Until God moves, I will bask in the afterglow of the multitude of moments we shared. To an extent, I regret not having God first and foremost in our lives during our relationship. However, we may not have learned so much without every event leading up to this point in time. I am thankful for our trials, now more than ever. One tends to find God in the midst of suffering and heartache.

   Mayhaps that was the point, after all.

 

 

* It’s still very hard for me to see him as my “ex”, and I rather loathe the term entirely. It just sounds so negative and hateful.

** Source: http://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

Embracing the Dreaded Change

“Change – n. the act or instance of making or becoming different.”

     I’ve never really been the type of girl who enjoys change. I distinctly remember drawing a very solemn Stitch on my whiteboard during the last few days as a freshman in college. Those who I considered to be my life-long brothers and sister were gathered in my dorm room for one last hurrah before summer break. In that moment, among various others, I could emotionally connect with Hermione when she asked the guys, “Everything’s going to change now, isn’t it?”

I didn’t want things to change. I was perfectly pleased being as we were, filled with anticipation for the coming years and still consumed by laughter with enough time for one another. No one felt neglected. There were no mixed emotions or awkward feelings between us. We were easily excitable; our future seemed so easily obtained that there were few worries between the five of us.

Everything changed, as things often do, and it took time for me to cope with it. There were rifts and emotional turmoil, as well as heaping doses of worry, stress, and reality thrown into the mix. Difficult lessons were learned, and through all of it somehow there was growth.

Now, three years later, I have a completely different outlook on change.

Despite the fear and worry that can come with it, we shouldn’t run away from change. Yes, it’s understandably intimidating! At the same time, it is fantastically interesting and absolutely necessary. To look back over one’s life and see the how behind the metamorphosis is riveting. The clarity we now have as we delve into our past gives us a better appreciation for what we have been through.

For example, when I began my freshman year of college, I had this… well, honestly this uncanny confidence in humanity. I genuinely believed that every person was good and had no ill intent towards me or anyone else. However, I was playing with fire concerning an older man who, I believe, had every intention to take advantage of me. He was kind and flirtatious when I complied to his tastes… yet the instant I showed signs of defiance or an inkling that I had my own voice or opinion? I suddenly became unfit of his attention or time. This lasted even after I withdrew from college! Granted, I gave him a few years of silence after receiving a threat from him. He made contact with me through Snapchat and I reluctantly agreed to see him. Needless to say, after attending a meeting with him one night and being humiliated and manipulated, it finally donned on me that I was merely a plaything to him. He did not respect me as a woman or as a human being, and thankfully I finally realized that I was worth more than how he made me feel.

Even though I would never wish that kind of experience on anyone, I am thankful for it. Oddly enough to some, I look back on my life and can’t think of any situation that I would erase or alter even the slightest detail in.

You see, I am no longer a naive young woman without a voice of her own. I used to have others handle my conflicts because I feared it so much. Even though I still dislike it, I am able to stand my ground and respectfully and lovingly handle conflicts. How is that possible? Growth. Change. What I’ve been through allowed me to learn, which lead to growth and maturity, ultimately changing a few aspects of who I am as an individual. This may seem obvious to some, but I know many who still hate the possibility of change in their lives, regardless of the positive effects.

I used to be one of them: “I like things just the way they are, thank you very much! Who needs change? Why would I want to lose what I have right here and now? The future couldn’t possibly offer me anything better than what today has given me! Tomorrow scares me. What if things change and can never go back to how they were? I can’t handle that.. I can’t risk that.”

I understand, trust me! I hope you understand that to stay in one place in time ultimately stunts your growth and the growth of those around you. “How can that be,” you ask? Well, think of it this way: A baby needs to be able to fall in order to learn how to stand back up and get going on her little wobbly way again. She also needs to learn how to go to sleep on her own, eat solid foods and go to the bathroom like a big-girl. Could you imagine a 22 year old woman who still needs to be picked up by someone else when she falls, tucked in and checked on every 10 minutes at bedtime, eats mashed peas and carrots and still wears diapers?

“Well that’s just ridiculous,” you say. Yes, it is. Don’t you realize that you’re stunting your own growth by trying to stifle necessary changes in your life? You could be potentially hurting those around you as well, like your children, family members, friends or even co-workers. I don’t know your exact situation but I can tell you from experience, change is essential for life to be lived.

I have certainly been through many changes, other than the obvious puberty and whatnot. I have lost quite a bit in life, and each loss taught me how to appreciate what and who is still with me. I have been hurt by many people, yet I still have hope in others and I have learned how to forgive as I have been forgiven by God. I have come close to death myself, and now I greatly value the life I have been given. I have lived selfishly and out of God’s will for my life, and now I can’t imagine going back to the misery and emptiness I once had. I have experienced what life is like while running away from God, and can rejoice in the beauty and JOY I have now that I spend each day running towards Him. I have lived silently, battling things on my own… now, I cannot imagine going through this life alone and without hope or help.

I am not who I once was. And I am perfectly pleased with who I have become and am anxious to see who I have yet to be.

Change doesn’t have to be gloomy or petrifying. Sieze the opportunity that change provides! It may open up a door for a better job, an adventure or two, romance, new life… the possibilities are endless.

Don’t let the fear of tomorrow keep you from living. You can do this. Just breathe, and take that next step. We’re all right there with you, trying out best to follow suit, one baby step at a time. We may fall down, but the best part is that we can get back up. Be thankful for what was, find joy in what is, and have hope for what may be.

Taking the Leap

Prayer Journal entry from Sunday, February 28, 2016:

God, I felt your Spirit.

I felt you in the wind as I spoke, and I know you helped me speak directly to his heart.

I felt my flesh fighting against you. I wanted so badly to leave things out and to just hold him… the pain in his eyes was enough…

Yet, the gift of the Holy Spirit within me kept me going. It urged me to go on. The inner turmoil was unlike anything I have yet to experience in my life.

Lord… you know our hearts. You see our souls. And you understand our pain. I pray that you help he and I lean on you and soak up your love and mercy like a sponge. Help us prepare for your will in our lives. Teach us. Feed us. Grow us. Lead us. Mold us and make us into the daughter and son you would have us be.

Help us to accept whatever happens. 

Help us mourn… help us heal.

Wrap your loving arms around us, Lord. Watch over us as we sleep…. Keep us grounded throughout the day. 

I will continue to give him to you daily. 

I’m letting go.

Have you ever had a gut feeling? One that repeatedly came upon you, causing you to either accept it or consciously ignore it until it became so persistent that you could no longer continue as you were?

I suppose the pull of the Holy Spirit is kind of like that. And usually, it is most wise to heed that “gut feeling”, or gentle (sometimes not so gentle) prodding.

This time, I definitely did not want to do as I was told.

I had been with a wonderful individual for three years, almost four this October. I still consider him to be one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Not only was he my best friend, but he was my confidant, counselor, and so much more.

You see, therein lies the problem: he was so much more to me than just my boyfriend. From the beginning of our relationship and throughout, I had put him on a pedestal. He was my everything. I even put him before God! I looked to him for my self worth, my beauty, a cure for my depression and anxiety… he was the one I ran to for everything. 

God was never at the center of our relationship. Instead of trusting in God and putting my faith in Him, I poured all of my issues into my boyfriend. And that, my dears, is too much pressure for one man to handle.

The only one who can fix me and restore me to my fullest potential is God. I am still very broken. And I need to be whole and steadfast in God’s love before I can pour my love into someone else. I relied on my boyfriend for my happiness and joy- things that are fleeting to humans. He could make me happy for a moment, but pure joy? That comes from God! Though he is a fantastical and marvelous human being, he is not the one who can make me whole. Another sinful human being cannot complete me. I need to find completeness in Papa God.

I didn’t realize any of this until about six months-in to attending this young-adults group called ParadigmKC. Through this group, God began speaking to me. He used various outlets to do so, whether it was a sermon, a song, community group or through a new and trusted friend, He slowly and surely got to me.

One Thursday night before community group Bible study, I had dinner with two wonderful ladies- my best friend and someone from our childhood that God brought back into our lives via ParadigmKC. We talked about many things, and eventually the subject changed to my relationship. At first it was fun gushing about the love of my life to them, until the childhood friend confidently voiced her concerns.

Here are a few of the hard questions she asked me:

Question: Does the person you’re with currently make you fall more in love with Jesus?

I know. That one is kind of a toughy. And it hurts to think about. Especially when you love this person so dearly. However, I urge you to think on it just as I had to. It is extremely important. 

Question: Do you see fruit in your significant other’s life?

This is also a difficult question. I have learned the hard way that it isn’t our place to judge others. My walk with God is my own, and so is yours. However, according to Galations 5:16-23, the Holy Spirit is supposed to guide our lives. Furthermore, you should be able to see the fruits of Christians. That being said, I do know of many believers that are definitely saved yet bear no fruit. A friend explained it to me as, “having one foot in the World and one foot in the Kingdom,” or “luke-warm Christianity,” which God does warn us about in Revelation 3:15-17.

Question: Is he a leader? 

Basically, she was asking me if he led me to Christ and wanted us to grow in God both together and individually. God calls the man in the relationship to be the leader (Ephesians 5:23-24)! If he is not leading you, something is amiss.

She also pointed out that even from the outside-looking-in, our relationship seemed to be unequally yoked. Whether he was saved or not, we weren’t on the same page, and that’s a very dangerous thing.

Dating, to me and to many other Christians, is for marriage. If I choose to date someone, I want it to be for the long haul. To be unequally yoked is a very scary thing if you’re considering marriage. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 tells us how dangerous it is to “team up” with a nonbeliever. It can cause MANY issues later on in marriage, and it can ultimately end in divorce.

Dating is also for edification and observation. You want to observe how they are in all situations, how they treat others and you of course, and how on fire they are for Jesus. You also want to edify one another; because if you should not work out in the end, both of you should be better for having been together (for example, baggage and insecurities are significantly less than when you first met). Basically, whomever is blessed enough to be paired with either of you will be extremely thankful to your past relationship for helping you to grow and work through things.

After that conversation, I spent over a week digging in to God’s Word and asking Him questions about my relationship and where to go next. I went without speaking to my boyfriend, mainly because I was afraid. I didn’t know what to tell him! I didn’t know what God wanted me to do, so I withdrew and spent some time with God to gather my thoughts before presenting whatever the plan was with my man.

There were sermons and messages that certainly hit home with me in that time of fasting, praying and delving into His Word. A few key points I discovered were:

1. You don’t need to get married to be loved- you already are! No one will ever love you better than Jesus! Until you are fully satisfied in the love of Christ, you can never be satisfied in the love of another.

2. Your mate is not meant to complete you- only compliment you! You are completed in Christ already!

3. Do NOT follow your heart! Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. TELL your heart where it should go! Treat it like a GPS- you need to input the destination manually. Don’t trust such a fickle thing!

4. Our way is usually the wrong way. Proverbs 14:12 says that there is a way that seems right to man, but that way ends in death. If you’re not doing it Jesus’ way, you’re doing it the wrong way!

5. Don’t worry! Philippians 4:6-7 tells us not to worry about anything! Matthew 6:25-34 says not to worry- if God takes care of even the smallest of creatures, don’t you think you’re much more valuable to Him and that He will take care of you?

6. We can rejoice even in the storms. The storms are not just hard times! They serve a purpose. Romans 5:3-5 shows us that these storms in our lives develop endurance and strength of character. In turn these things lead to our confident hope of salvation. We can praise God in hard times and good times, because it all works out for our good and His glory!

So, with all of this knowledge and hope, I prayed that the Lord would guide me. I did not want to break my boyfriend’s heart, nor did I wish to start a debate. Honestly, I wanted to find another way around what God was leading me to do.

My heart and my flesh were yearning for this pain to be over. The subject of being unequally yoked had been visited and revisited over and over and OVER again. And as I thought on it and looked back at past conversations, I realized something:

God had been trying to get my attention the entire time.

I had been holding on to my relationship and the fantasies of a future with this person so tightly that God couldn’t get a word in edgewise. My grip was so tight on my boyfriend, that my flesh was running the show rather than my Spirit.

I was so intent on having things go my way that God took a back seat in my life and relationship.

And that is where I failed.

I planned a meeting at a park with my boyfriend this past Sunday. My best friend was there for moral support, without which I’m not sure I would have made it afterwards. She prayed for us as she sat across the park from where we sat.

The conversation was an emotional and lengthy one. I felt the inner turmoil of my desires and God’s will fighting against one another as I spoke. The wind that day would calm and suddenly come in gusts as I said certain things.

I felt God with us that day.

He took over my speech. I cannot honestly recall everything I said to my boyfriend. I know now that it’s because God was speaking to him through me.

He wanted my boyfriend to know just how loved he was. That this “break” was not happening because of anything he had done- we were already forgiven for our mistakes and failures.

No, God wanted him back.

It was as if He was saying to both of us, “You have been away for far too long, my child. Take refuge in ME for a time. Find your worth and your joy in abundance in my presence! My love is sufficient for you! It’s time to let go.”

After a while, I picked up two leaves from the ground. I gently took his hand and walked him to where there were no obstacles to block our way.

“What are we going to do with these,” he asked as he held one leaf in his hand, “crush them?”

I smiled and shook my head. “No, honey,” I murmured gently as I held out my hand away from us. “It’s time to let go.”

His face twisted in pain and he looked away for a moment to compose himself. Then, he held my gaze.

“Okay,” he said with pain and understanding in his eyes.

“One…” He lifted his arm out to match mine.

“Two…” We steadied ourselves, breathing in deeply to prepare for what was next.

“Three…” The wind swelled around us immideately and took our leaves on their own individual journeys.

Obedience is hard. Whether it’s to your boss, your teacher, your parent or God asking you to do something. We want what we want. And we live in a world that is 100% okay with living life our way.

Though this was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through thus far in my life, I firmly believe that it was the right thing.

How can I be so sure?

Not only did I approach the situation with a desire for God’s will to be done in both of our lives, but I have found reassurance in His Word and in my community.

Most of all? I have His peace.

Yes, I am still aching, and my heart breaks to know that this person I had wanted to grow old with is in pain… however… God is blessing me with peace. Pure peace. He is guarding my heart and helping me through this, just as I asked Him to do.

It will not be easy to wait on the Lord. Yet I have confidence in His promise. And I’m learning that taking the leap of faith is worth it in the end, because good WILL come of it. His ways are always good! So I know that we will be okay.

I truly hope that my words and experiences can help someone through a hard time. Please don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions. As always, you are not alone in this. Together, we can make it. Because you can’t do life alone.

“If We’re Honest” – Francesca Battistelli

It’s the Little Things…

At this point in my life, it is extremely important to find things to be thankful for each day.

For example, I may be living with my parents for the time being, but I have a sanctuary of a room to come home to that my parents worked so hard on out of love for me. A loving support system that is here for me as I slowly get back to myself. This home may be miniature in comparison to those around it, but it is full of love, life, and hope. The hope of a better tomorrow keeps us moving forward. And we do so together.

Since I am still on the search for a job or two, here lately I have been a bit of a hermit. Which, for those of you with depression and anxiety, you know that it’s super easy to just stay in your pjs all day and maybe binge watch some Netflix shows. So, the mere fact that I got out of bed and out of my nightgown in general is “Huzzah!– worthy.

Not only did I get dressed (woo), but I actually made myself breakfast before noon! And no, not my usual bowl of cereal. Since I have also started a new healthy lifestyle, I have been cooking waaaaay more than the college-aged girl inside of me wants to. I like lazy- laziness is what’s comfortable. Pizza rolls and ranch all the way, man! Or cereal for dayyys- I used to eat cereal as though my life depended on it, but that’s a different story.

No siree. This morning, I took to the skillet and fried some bacon, scrambled an egg, and even chopped up some red pepper, sausage and fresh avocado and put that in the mix. Sprinkled a tidbit of cheese to top it all off and mmmmm- mmmm- mmm! Deliciousness.

I know. To some, it seems so pathetic to be celebrating these small tasks. And I get that. I used to not understand, either. Now, after living it, I can tell you that sometimes these “mundane” tasks are quite the challenge.

And, to top the charts today, I was able to spend some time with my Lord and His Words. For me, that’s a rather rare thing. I know… tsk tsk! I’m trying to be better about getting into the Word every day. Today was Day 1 in that journey. You’ve gotta start somewhere, right? It’s also nice that my accountability partner has me taking pictures of the scripture I read each day.

And, finally, the weather outside was GORGEOUS. Not that I noticed it all that much because I opted to stay inside.

That is, until my Dad came home, humming the Smurfs theme to himself. If I ever refer to him as Papa Smurf, you’ll understand why.

He sensed my downtrodden mood and made me put on shoes and walk our little furball. During our walk, we had blissful sun and subtle winds to enjoy, as well as some deep father-daughter discussions (I use “deep” lightly there- he was keeping things lighthearted in order to get some smiles and giggles out of me, which is always his goal).

After the walk, I did feel better. My thoughts hadn’t gone away, but the cloud over my head definitely had. There is something to be said about sunshine and depression; my psychologist recommended getting at least 20 minutes of sunshine a day, preferably with some physical activity such as walking. And if you can’t bear to leave your home, which can be an issue with severe anxiety cases, look on Amazon for a Happy Lamp. It’s supposed to mimic sunlight and improve overall wellness. They can be a bit steep, so search elsewhere if need be for something in your price range.

He and I then cooked dinner together- grilled chicken and zucchini, and homemade mashed cauliflower. We watched Flash together as we enjoyed our delectable masterpiece.

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is just how much happiness is hiding between those dark and desperate moments. I could have looked back on today with a negative view and had absolutely nothing to write about. Instead, I made myself seek out the lights in the darkness that had been surrounding me.

It’s the little things. (:

 

Let’s Be Honest

Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually my favorite days of the week. During the times of 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, I am blessed enough to be surrounded by a community of individuals who are in the same boat as I am.

Or, at least, some of them are. And if they’ve upgraded their boat to mayhaps a ship or completely settled down on a nice, safe island away from the disastrous waves, then I can at least take comfort in knowing they have been in my shoes…. or boat…

I suppose my metaphorical journey is more of a dingy at the moment; tossed to and fro by the waves, yet never quite getting so beat up that it sinks.

During last night’s Bible study, the ladies and gents were split up to have some deep conversation about a fairly awkward topic when it comes to church-like atmospheres.

You guessed it! Sex.

Now, as a Bible-believing Christian, I am an advocate for saving oneself for marriage. Because God designed sex to be between a husband and wife in a married bed. In this culture, my views are waaaay off base, and many would argue with me, but that’s another topic entirely. Stay with me, here.

Even though I am a Christian who is trying to save herself, I am not perfect. I am open and honest about my story with many walks of life, and sometimes I get a gasp or an odd look in return. Who I was 5 years ago and who I was yesterday are still past versions of me. So sometimes it’s difficult to understand, I suppose, from the outside-looking-in.

Amidst other nervous ladies, I decided to divulge some of my deepest, darkest secrets…

Which gives me the courage to tell you.

Beautiful as imperfection can be, it can also seem like a burden. To be a Christian with such a tainted past? That’s super embarrassing to admit to anyone, especially your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes, it’s hard to admit things to yourself as well.

If you have read my story, you know a smidge about my past, mainly more recent things.

Let’s be honest:

Sex is an addiction. Obvious to some, sure. But did you know that sex is more than just sex? I hadn’t ever thought much on it until I came to my current young-adults group.

Sex is not just a physical action. Sex is honestly more powerful and more permanent than a tattoo. It leaves a mark!

Did you know that God talks about sex in the Bible (Song of Songs, anyone?) and that He tells us of the bond that occurs between a man and woman when they have sex? (1 Corinthians 6:16 says “… And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, ‘The two are united into one.'”)

Science backs God’s Word, actually. They’ve finally caught up to what God has been saying all along. That “bond” mentioned previously is what scientists today call sex glue: the powerful bond when a man or woman gives themselves to one another. As we experience orgasm, our brains produce oxytocin to bond us with whatever we happen to be looking at!

Basically, sex is physical, emotional and spiritual superglue. And God designed this phenomenon to bond you and your spouse- not you and your one night stand and certainly not you and the 2D image of pornography.

Personally, I never imagined that oral sex, kissing or merely touching someone else could be so powerful and leave such a lasting impression.

Well. It most certainly does.

Sex, for me, is a dangerous and addictive thing. If you’ve ever heard Skillet’s “Monster”, it definitely resembles that. She threatens to take over whenever I get the tiniest bit excited.

By the tender age of 15, I realized why. The trigger was flipped when I was very young due to sexual abuse. And sexual attention became a vice for a little girl who should have only been concerned with barbies and tea parties. And as a 22 year old young woman, sexual attention remains a trigger.

In my past, I was addicted to sexting random strangers on the Internet via Omegle and any chat forums I could get into. I sent scandalous photographs to these people. And my devious side had no qualms when it came to gender, either. I saught out pleasure from both sides of the spectrum. I was addicted to lesbian pornography, and went so far as to create a dating site for a one night stand. I let boys from my hometown touch me and fell for “crushes” and their charm, all to wind up parked half a mile down the gravel road from my home on more than one occasion. I let them talk me into touching them, even though I was absolutely disgusted with myself and their genitalia. I honestly couldn’t look at them. I had a phobia, and to an extent I still do (sexual abuse has many lasting qualities).

I have had issues with masturbation, toy play, and got so caught up in the excitement of sexual pleasure that I almost bought into selling sex toys for a living. Because sex sells.

My relationship suffered because sexual intimacy became a key factor over anything else. We fell into the trap of “if it feels good, do it” and listened to friends’ advice, which lead us down a path that is extremely hard to turn away from. We basically did everything but the actual act of sexual intercourse.

I have more of a handle on my “monster” nowadays thanks to God and some outstanding support, but she is always just beneath the surface, waiting for a weak moment.

I am not sharing this because I am proud of what I have been through, much less what I have done. I am ashamed, honestly. However, I know for sure that I am not the only human being to mess up and feel miserable for her past choices. I would say that I wish I could go back and change things.

….. but I really don’t.

I know that seems odd, but I truly don’t want my past to change. Not in the slightest.

Why?

I would not be half of the woman I am today were it not for the trauma and experiences I have had. I have met so many wonderful and encouraging women and men who have shared their stories with me. They have left a lasting impression on my heart.

I would not have learned the vast amount of valuable lessons were it not for the connections I have made during sermons, conversations and even reading articles or books. I have gained so much knowledge and understanding of not only myself but also a better understanding of my past. It’s quite empowering.

This life is full of unexpected tragedy and heartache. We have all had our share of pain. But isn’t it the least bit comforting to know that you are not alone in your struggles and suffering? That others have been right where you are, and there is hope of escaping the vicious cycle you’re caught up in?

That’s why I want to be as open and honest as I can. I want to share my experiences and my story with others so that they might learn something of value. At the very least, know that they are not alone.

So, let’s be honest with one another, shall we? You never know who might need to hear your story.

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