I’m terrible at endings. While we’re at it, I’m pretty sure beginning any kind of story or article or blog by immediately talking about the end is probably against several writing rules I’ve spent the… More
I am currently sitting on a couch in a big, empty house that is not my own in a city where I barely know anyone.
Why, you ask? Good question. I’m still trying to fully figure that one out myself.
Here’s what I can tell you so far:
I spent half a year worrying about finding a summer internship only to have one basically dropped in front of me in March. My job at the TimesDaily, the local newspaper in Florence, Alabama, has been an incredible opportunity and a great learning experience already, and I’ve only been here for four weeks. I’ve already had seven articles published and am working on four more, and I am so thankful to be able to write this whole summer for them. Not only is this job paid, but it is also in the hometown of my roomie Bailey. The house I’m sitting in is her parents’, which they so graciously let me move into for the summer.
Meanwhile, Bailey is up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, working hard and having wonderful adventures as a finance intern for HOPE International. I absolutely love her family, but I miss my best friend terribly, especially when I snicker at the baby photos of her I found hidden in a closet. As a major (and I mean, can’t function without social interaction) extrovert, being here without her and without the friends who know me inside and out is hard.
I am incredibly lonely some days without my friends close by. The people in my life in Florence – Bailey’s family, my coworkers at the TimesDaily, the random people I’ve been introduced to here and there – have been so welcoming to me, and I can’t thank them enough for that. But gosh, it is hard to make new friends when there isn’t some sort of structure set up for you (like say being forced to spend hours a day with other students in high school or working at a summer camp with other college kids).
The second week I was here, I was so restless that I called the local college’s campus ministry who gave me the number of a random church in town with a college gathering called The Well. Which I then showed up to that night for their first summer Bible study not knowing a single soul there. That is extrovert commitment right there – and I was still terrified. But it turned out to be another example of God providing ways for me to feel comforted here. After all, I know this is where I am supposed to be this summer.
So why am I still trying to figure out why I’m here? I guess it’s because apart from my job and potential activities and friends that will keep me somewhat busy during this summer, I know God is also stirring my heart to change and grow through these challenges.
Let me tell you a little story…
Two weeks ago, I decided to drive back to Tuscaloosa for the night on Friday after work. I had made the effort of going to the church group that week, but I honestly just needed some quality time with friends who knew me. As soon as I pulled my car into the parking lot of my apartment complex, I was bounding up the stairs to dump my overnight bag and bounce back down the one flight of stairs to Jen and Kelly’s apartment. I hadn’t told them I was coming so I knocked loudly, covering up the peephole to prolong the surprise.
I huffed over to double check for their cars before calling Kelly’s phone. She was knee-deep in packing for a mission trip in her back bedroom, but came quickly to let me in. Her first comment after wrapping me in a hug that made my lonely heart almost burst was, “Gosh, I thought something was wrong when you called.”
That’s when my heart stirred a little more. That’s when another piece of this puzzle of God’s lessons fell into place.
To be such a people person, sometimes I’m really terrible at keeping up with people. Hard to believe, I know. I complain about loneliness, and yet, my friends pretty consistently tease me about being one of the worst texter-backers (is that the correct term?).
And they’re right. I can keep conversations going pretty regularly with a few people, but most of the time, I get distracted and tend to respond somewhere between 2-12 hours later. Worse than that, I try my hardest to remember to send a text to check on friends’ test results, personal struggles or general well-being, and around three texts in, I get distracted again and kill the conversation.
I’ve really taken for granted having my friends close by all my life, and I’ve rested on the option to send an “oops, I forgot to respond. I suck, I know!” text or just wait until I see them again far too many times.
I have been the kind of friend who only calls when something is wrong.
Sending an apologetic texts hours later isn’t enough to be intentional, to be a good friend. And being complacent in the way we handle friendships is not good enough – especially when you are several hundred miles away from people.
See, friendship is about listening. It’s about remembering that their mom is sick or when they have a big interview coming. It’s about knowing what makes them happy and their favorite ice cream flavor. And true friendship, Godly friendship is about supporting one another through the small things and the tough things, celebrating with one another and loving one another with a selfless kind of love.
“A friend loves at all times.” – Proverbs 17:17a
That means when you’re close by or far away, having the time of your life or fighting against feelings of sadness, in times of chaos and in times of peace.
That means being a Godly friend even when I feel distant from everyone.
As I start my senior year of college in the fall, I know that a lot of things will change very soon, and that includes not having my best friends in the next room, down one flight of stairs or a short drive away. And I really think God knew I needed this time of struggling to give me these lessons in being intentional.
God has given me the most wonderful friends, who I have really taken for granted. And He has so many new friendships for me to form as I continue on to the next phases of life – friends for a moment, for a season and forever.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17
We need each other. God knows that. He made us to be social creatures (even you introverts – though I do not understand you and your solitary ways). He uses us together to help us grow and learn about Him.
So I am learning the value of maintaining deep friendships. I am learning to reach out and open up, to pick up the phone and call someone instead of just mindlessly texting. To seek out new friendships and the joy and comfort that they will bring. To accept and give advice, to have meaningful conversations. To pray for my friends when I can’t see or talk to them.
To show the love of Christ in my relationships and to be the kind of intentional friend I so desperately crave.
This week I had a dangerous thought. Finals week is coming up, and the final project for my art class was due last Thursday. My project was below satisfactory to say the least, but with three other assignments due on the same day, I had slowly let it slip to the bottom of my priority list.
I was standing in the critique room, shrinking against the wall as my classmates took turns presenting their projects, when I found myself earnestly thinking, Please just let someone’s be worse than mine.
Wow. Did I really just wish for someone else’s failure because of disappointment in my performance?
It’s such a common human tendency – our desire to be better and our propensity to be jealous. There have been so many times I’ve heard people (myself included) assess their performance based on others.
“I stumbled over my words a little during my speech, but it’s okay because the girl after me was so awkward.”
“Why does she have a boyfriend, and I don’t?”
“I got a B on that paper, but at least I did better than the guy next to me. He got a C.”
“Gosh, she’s so pretty. My life would be so much easier if I looked like that.”
“Why does he have a job, and I can’t even get anyone to call me back for an interview?”
Comparison is such an ugly temptation that can steal our joy and peace if we let these kinds of thoughts creep into our minds.
Because here’s the thing – there will always be someone more successful than you, someone who gets that job you wanted. Someone who is smarter, prettier, skinnier than you. Someone who just seems to have it all.
But there is One who loves you for you.
And when we compare ourselves and our lives to someone else, we are essentially saying to God, I don’t want the beautiful, perfect life you have planned just for me.
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14
While this beautiful truth should give you unending peace and confidence in Jesus Christ, it’s not simply about making you feel good about yourself.
It should humble you that the creator Himself chose to create you, and it should call you to action. God made you for a specific plan for your unique life – and that plan’s ultimate goal is to bring Him glory.
My heart should leap with joy when others beside me bring God glory or receive His blessings in their lives, as I continually encourage them to be obedient to God’s call.
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” – Hebrews 10:23-24
So as I continue on the path God has set out for me, I am praying for discipline to not look to the right or the left with jealousy, to thank Him daily for the life He has called me to live, to use my words and thoughts to uplift others instead of tearing them down.
And most of all, to be forever satisfied by the fact that Christ loved me enough to die for me.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5
God, I pray that I assess my life through Your eyes, not the eyes of the world. Thank you for forgiving me from the sin that so easily entangles me, and seeing me for who I can be in You. Amen.
“I wish you would update your blog.”
This is the text message I received on Friday night from my friend, Courtney. Court is pretty much always this blunt about what she wants. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, and she’s been calling me out since about 2006. She’s also one of my biggest supporters, and when she found my blog two months ago, she immediately posted the link on her Instagram. I haven’t posted in months, though, and I guess she sensed I needed a push to get back into the swing of posting things.
But as much as I appreciated her encouragement, I still used the I’m oh-so-busy excuse and put writing back down on my priority list right before vacuuming my room (which fun fact, I irrationally hate doing) and just after finding a new pair of white sandals. Obviously, my list needs some rethinking as far as importance goes. Now, all six of you people who read my blog are probably wondering why it struck me as such a big deal that I wasn’t posting something new, and I’ll tell you that I didn’t really think it was a big deal. In fact, I hadn’t given any more thought to the text until this morning at church.
As we were singing songs of worship, my worship leader paused momentarily and just asked us to pray silently about whatever God was laying on our hearts. I’ll be the first to admit that without direction for these short pauses in the service, my mind starts out confessing my thoughts to the Lord and can somehow end up on my grocery list two weeks in advance. I get distracted so easily. But this morning, I began praying fervently about the purpose of my life.
This summer has been a different kind of experience. I stayed in Tuscaloosa to be an intern at a local magazine and also work in the journalism office at the University. Between the two jobs, I work 9 to 5 every day, which I think is a really depressing Dolly Parton song. I can’t really complain because I love both of my jobs, but gosh, it’s tiring being an adult. I have to fight the urge to go to bed before 10 most nights. And after I get home, exercise, eat dinner and catch up with my roomie about our days, I’m not exactly motivated to do much else. Even in all my busyness over the course of the summer, I keep trying to ward off feelings of emptiness.
So here I was, all of sudden praying to God for purpose and for Him to reignite the passion I used to have to do something more meaningful with life. I hadn’t really put my feelings into words until then, but as I prayed, I knew that all of my feelings of emptiness were coming from a place of silent and unknown rebellion to God’s plans for my life. I used to be so on fire to change the world with my gifts, but now I felt like I was just going through the motions of life.
One song later, a guest pastor named Jason Curry stepped on stage, and I picked up my bulletin for the first time that service. The title of the message read: “Dream a New Dream.”
He started with this quote by C.S. Lewis: “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” Jason then said that regardless of where you are in your lives, he had full confidence that God had sent him to Capstone Church that morning to speak to you.
God had answered my prayer in the very same service. This message was for me. If that isn’t a clear assurance of our faith, then I don’t know what is.
I won’t repeat the whole sermon, although it would be worth the read, but you can find the whole audio version of it here in a few days. It came from the book of Nehemiah, which I had actually randomly decided to read through earlier this summer. Nehemiah was the king’s cup bearer, which basically meant he taste-tested all the king’s food and drinks to make sure they weren’t poisoned. Now if anybody was going to write a song about an unfortunate job, it should have been Nehemiah instead of good ol’ Dolly.
Nehemiah was burdened one day with a dream of his own – to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem – and because of his faithful work to the king, he was granted permission to leave and do this. (Nehemiah 2:1-5) This task seemed kind of impossible, but our dreams should be big enough that they don’t seem achievable. Why? Because we aren’t going to accomplish them – God is.
Nehemiah got this. He told the people who were to help him that “the God of Heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding.” (2:20) Our dreams for this life should be God’s dreams for us too. He will give us the strength to achieve the things He puts on our hearts.
But first, we have to discover – and in my case, rediscover – what our wall is that needs building.
A couple of years ago, God showed me what my wall was. I was sitting in my Sunday School class during my senior year of high school answering questions about what I thought faith was. My teacher was moved by my answer and later told my mom that she thought I would write books and devotions later in life.
I love words, and I love using them for God’s glory even more. Somewhere along the road, however, I lost this desire to bring Him glory through my writing. I had become complacent, and instead of running from God’s plan, I simply chose not to move at all. But today, I am moving forward in my pursuit of this dream. I don’t exactly know how to go about writing a book or what God even wants me to write about, but I know that God gave me this desire and because of this, He will help me – whether that’s through a friend, a guest pastor or through the stirring of the Holy Spirit in my heart. All I have to do is be obedient.
“But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.'” -Nehemiah 6:9
Last Friday, I was sitting in my bed drinking my morning cup of coffee and reading through the four accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion before I had to get ready for work. To be quite honest, I really wasn’t expecting to read too deeply into the passages. I have been slowly working my way through the New Testament, and I had been reading in Revelation the week before — which if you have ever read chapters from Revelation, you know this requires a lot of focus and a lot of thought. So this Good Friday morning, I opened my Bible to Matthew and began halfway reading through a familiar passage with my heart not very open to hear the Lord’s voice.
Well guess what, my friends: God’s word is living. By this, I mean that He can speak to us through the most well-known verses in as many ways and as many times as He sees fit. Here I was, kind of going through the motions of reading this first account of Jesus and his crucifixion, and one small sentence brought to light the sin that the Lord has been trying to show me all semester.
Matthew 27:42 — “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
I thought on this verse for a while, and I couldn’t really pinpoint exactly why it had made me linger over it. And then, I saw myself in the actions and words of these people who mocked Jesus. You see, the chief priests and elders who were yelling at Jesus to come down and save Himself had a very conditional kind of belief. IF Jesus saved Himself by coming down from the cross, THEN they would believe in Him. Even though I have shook my head in shame at the people who knew Jesus in the flesh and didn’t have faith, I am not any better. Our world is no better because a large majority of us suffer from this “if/then” kind of faith. We expect Jesus to jump through a hoop we’ve set up or pass a test we’ve designed in order for us to believe in Him.
My problem is trust. I believe in my Savior with my whole heart, yet my trust (or lack thereof) does not display this to Him or those around me. I constantly question why. Why didn’t I get this job? Why is my family going through this trial? Why did that person disappoint me? Why, God? IF you would only work out, THEN I would trust that You are really working for my good.
Here is the realization that the Lord spoke to me through this verse: IF Jesus had saved Himself and come down from the cross so that those people might believe in His power, THEN we would not have salvation and the promise of eternal redemption through Christ as our Savior. Jesus came to be the sacrifice for our sins. Blood had to be shed, and He had to die.
So when things don’t go our way, and we want to direct the Lord to our long list of plans, we are essentially asking Him to change the all-knowing, perfect plan He has for our lives in favor of one we have made with our limited knowledge. That is what the witnesses were doing at the crucifixion. They were asking for something when they didn’t know what was to come.
In the same way, the solutions and plans that we come up with may seem like exactly what we need to happen in that moment, but we don’t know the wonderful things that will come three days later.
God had the most perfect plan of all for Jesus that Good Friday and more importantly, three days later. He knew that Jesus had to stay on that cross.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” —2 Corinthians 5:21
But He also knew Jesus would not stay in that tomb.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” — Matthew 28:5-6
And there is more good news: He has the most perfect plan for my life and your life, too.
So I’ve been back in the real world now for exactly four weeks, and life without camp is weird.
For those of you who don’t know, I worked at an all-girls summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina for 10 weeks this summer. I don’t know if that conjures up any pictures in your mind, but let me just tell you that it consists of a lot of sweat, absolutely no makeup (unless the boys from the nearby boys camp were coming…then all the little campers were fighting over the mirror) and face paint pretty much ever day. Because why not?
Camp is like this little bubble where no one judges you for wearing a T-shirt with a monkey on it for “Wilderness Wednesday” or for wearing that same shirt the next Thursday, Friday and quite possibly the Saturday after that.
God has a funny sense of humor because when I pulled up at the gates on May 29, 2014, I thought to myself, “What in the world am I doing here?” Camp Crestridge is literally built on the side of the mountain and only one building in the entire place has air conditioning, and that’s only to keep the Cheerwine cold for the kiddos.
You see, I’m not the adventurous type. Quite frankly, up until this summer, the outdoors and I…well, we weren’t the best of friends. So you can imagine my hesitation when I drove up to this:
This site caused me unshakeable anxiety three months ago, and now it gives me a longing feeling in my heart that I can’t begin to explain. You see, God knew exactly what He was doing when He sent me through those gates. He showed me in each and every moment of camp that His plan is greater than anything I could ever imagine.
There is no way I could sum up 10 weeks worth of wisdom from God in one blog post so I will start by sharing some verses that God showed me while I was reading my Bible in a rocking chair one sunny morning at the beginning of camp.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Two things hit me right in the heart:
1) No matter what I plan, no matter what I do, no matter how inadequate I feel (and at this point with my first group of little 11 year old girls, this feeling was strong), God is going to do immeasurably more. He’s going to blow my mind with how He works in my life.
When a camper woke me up in the middle of the night because she had a nightmare, He was there.
When we had one-on-one talks with the girls and one of my little ones prayed for salvation, He was there.
When I was unloading luggage from a U-Haul at 6 am, He was there and His power, not my own, was surely there.
And when I needed encouragement through it all, God sent me some of the best friends I’ve ever had to point me straight to Him.
2) To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…forever and ever! This summer wasn’t about me and what I did. I had to wake up every day with the mindset that I was there to be a servant of the Lord. Trust me, this wasn’t easy, and it’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve had to try and transition back to my real life where the world revolves around me again.
Some days I want to brag about how I dealt with disagreements or lack of sleep or tough manual labor or misbehaving campers or just surviving in the woods for that long (which is a pretty big accomplishment) this summer.
But my good deeds are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) in comparison to what the Lord does.
Humility and God’s Power.
There’s really nothing else you need in life. Not even AC.
I’m just going to put it out there that I am single. Sometimes tragically single and other times patiently single, but it all seems to depend on my mood. I came to college with this fairy tale expectation that the man of my dreams would be waiting for me among the 30,000 plus students at the University of Alabama, ready to sweep me off my feet.
Well guess what…I was wrong. I’m two weeks away from finishing my first year of college, and I haven’t been on a single (no pun intended) date.
“Oh, just be patient. There’s someone out there who will love you for you.”
“Well, that didn’t work out because he wasn’t ‘the one’.”
“You have all the time in the world. Enjoy being single now!”
As much as my wonderful friends tell me I’m just as wonderful as the next person, and as much as I appreciate their encouragement, I have come to the point many of times where I want to be that girl who sits on the floor, eating chocolate and listening to angry love songs, asking why I can’t have a Disney-esque happy ending.
(Side-note: I have actually been that girl. Embarrassing? Yes. But hey, just being honest here.)
*Cue Taylor Swift’s ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’*
But no matter how many times my roommates tell me I’m beautiful or someone likes my picture on Instagram or I read a woman-power be fabulously single article online, I don’t feel any better. That is, until I realize that I am already a bride.
I am a child of God, but I often forget another aspect of my relationship with Him. I am the Bride of Christ.
“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth He is called.” -Isaiah 54:5
This means that like a husband gives himself fully to his wife, Christ gave Himself fully to His believers as He died on the cross. (Ephesians 5:25)
How fitting a revelation the Holy Spirit gave me just in time for Easter. While I was wallowing in self-pity, Jesus Christ was patiently waiting on me to turn back to Him to satisfy all my needs.
Because, ladies, as perfect as romance seems in the movies, your significant other will fail you every time. He is not meant to be your whole life or give you unending joy. That is Jesus’s job as our bridegroom.
Being in a healthy relationship is a blessing, and God never promised His blessings on a timeline that we set out in our minds. Even though I think I’m ready to date someone, God obviously has a better plan for my time right now. What that is, I don’t know.
But I do know “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
I know God placed me as a counselor at an all-girls camp this summer in North Carolina. I know He gave me girl friends who have loved me through my highs and lows all year. And most of all, He gave me the perfect man who loved me so much He died in my place on a cross.
I may be single for now. Or for forever. But I have already said ‘I Do’ to Christ, and it was the best decision I could have ever made for my life.
My roommates and I just got back from a “Sunny and 75” weekend in Orange Beach. We sunbathed aimlessly on the sand, ate ice cream and floated around in the lazy river. It was a much-needed getaway, but sadly, we’re back to reality now. Two days ago, I was in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops, and now I’m bundled up as I brace the cold winds on the way to class. Welcome to Alabama, Roll Tide?
The point of that bittersweet story is that while we were there, we got to see two (family friendly) Mardi Gras parades filled with boas, beads and bands. The festivities were tons of fun, but it also reminded me that the season of Lent would be starting this Wednesday.
For those of you who don’t know what that is, Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter that begins on what is called Ash Wednesday. Christians used to fast during this time period, which is why people gorge on food for Fat Tuesday, but now a lot of people choose to give up something in their lives that is taking their focus from God. The tradition was originally a Roman Catholic practice, but many other denominations participate now because it teaches you about sacrifice and discipline.
Disclaimer: I am no expert on the subject so that was my very short and simple explanation.
Last year, I chose to give up Sprite for Lent. Although this wasn’t necessarily taking my focus away from God, I was drinking 2-3 Sprites a day which was very unhealthy. I craved them when I didn’t have one, and I was a little skeptical on whether I had the will power to cut them out. But I made it the whole 40 days, and now I drink maybe one every month. It was an awesome experience as I realized going without something, even as small as a soft drink, teaches you Godly discipline.
This year, however, I really wanted to focus more on the sacrifice. I tried to reflect on what was most distracting me from God, and I realized it was myself and my own vanity. If I wake up late for class, I don’t even consider the notion of skipping fixing my hair or putting on makeup. Instead, I selfishly postpone my time with God for later. I’ve also found myself finding my own self-worth in how I feel about my looks that day. On my “pretty” days, I’m upbeat, social and generally happier. But the one day I feel fatter or get a pimple, I suddenly am miserable, and the world is against me.
I found myself in this position last Sunday when I woke up with a sty on my eye. I wear contacts, and I was horrified when I figured out that I not only had to wear my glasses, but I couldn’t put on eye makeup either. My attitude that day was pitiful. The next few days, however, I found myself in an abnormally wonderful mood. I realized that because I didn’t have to take the time to put on makeup, I was getting to spend more time with God during my morning routine.
What a difference beginning your day with God can make.
Because of all of that, I’m committing to giving up makeup for Lent this year. God laid these verses on my heart (especially when my face broke out right after I decided this):
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” -1 Peter 3:3-4
I have to remind myself daily that God loves me at my best and even at what I consider my worst. He longs for our hearts, and He doesn’t want us to judge our worth by the world’s standards. And we are called to hold each other accountable so if you are struggling with this, join me or ask God to show you what is hindering you from focusing on Him.