Blessings and Struggles of Relationships

They’re hard. I have lost friends over them. They have caused some of my deepest scars. They have included harsh arguments and tears. They have made me feel small. My confidence was lost because of them. They also have made me feel on top of the world. They have provided me with love and support. They are one of the biggest blessings in life. They have ultimately made me stronger and helped me to grow as a person. Relationships.

I’m talking about any and every kind of relationship. In our life, we have relationships with friends. We have them with our significant others. We have them with our parents. The list goes on and on. And relationships have a strong power over us. Who you are associating with usually has an influence on who you are. If you grew up with abusive parents, chances are you’re going to have your guard up in order to mask the pain. If your relationship with your significant other is toxic, you may have a negative self-view of yourself because of words that were said in that last fight. Relationships clearly have such a stronghold on us. However, this isn’t always a bad thing. Since relationships are so powerful, they also have the ability to lift us up, bring us confidence and make us feel as if we are not facing life alone.

I’m taking a class called “Adolescent World” that devotes study to the things in life that influence teenagers. We are looking deeper into the hardships adolescents face and the lives they live. Yesterday we wrote down and discussed all of the things we believe impact adolescents’ perceptions of themselves. As we were doing this activity, something stood out to me. Almost everything that impacts a teen’s life revolves around relationships. Their family, coaches, friends, teachers, and even social media influencers impact hem. Their relationships often define their answer to “Who am I?”. They might believe they are a certain stereotype because of their friend group. They might think they have no chance at being successful in their sport because their coach said so. They may even believe they are a failure because that is what their parents call them. And I believe this doesn’t stop at adolescence. I definitely still let my relationships define who I am, and I have no doubt there are times you do the same.

Personally, I am a very guilt-driven person in my relationships. What I mean by this is if I do anything wrong (or if I feel like I did something wrong), I shut down. There was a very extreme case of this I had a couple years ago. I felt guilty, and it made me hurt deep down all of the time. I was broken to pieces because of all the guilt I felt. Honestly, I didn’t even have much of a reason to feel guilty, but I still felt it. This has been a cycle in other relationships within my life. In my relationship with my parents, my boyfriend and friends. This is something I have trouble with and something that makes me put my guard up. What about you impacts your relationships? Do you let them define you? Think about what relationships really impact who you are and why they affect you. Are you in toxic relationships? Or do you feel confident within your current relationships?

Whether your relationships are great at this moment or not so great, I am going to give you three tips on how to approach relationships.

  1. Discover who you believe you are instead of allowing your relationships to define you.

Really try to discover who you truly are. Get rid of the other opinions for a little bit and focus on yourself. Believe me, this makes all the difference in the world. If we go into our relationships confident in ourselves, things are just better. You will be able to stand up for yourself. Most importantly, you have a better chance at loving yourself despite what that relationship brings into your life.

Going along with this, we need to find out who God says that we are. And God says we are worthy, loved and qualified. We are children of God. With that definition of ourself, we can have a drive to face whatever comes our way in our relationships. God is the only being that can truly define us. So don’t let others define you. Be confident in who God says you are. If someone else says otherwise, know your worth and don’t let them drag you down. Let me tell you, confidence in yourself will make all the difference in your relationships. So try. Try to discover who you are and be confident in that before jumping to the conclusion that your relationships say who you are.

“I have called you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1

2. Build others up!!!

Make sure that you are doing your part in all of your relationships. People need to know that same promise of them being worthy, loved and qualified for what they do in life. SOO let them know it!! Support them in what they love. Relationships are something that could last a lifetime. Instead of shutting people out because you’re always “too busy”, actually try to make time. It’ll be worth it. In order for relationships to be healthy, you have to commit time. It’s not always easy, but it’s vital. How will a person be able to come to you with problems they’re facing if you’ve never taken the time for them? There are many of times when I shut out everybody I love because of the craziness of life. But if there is anything I’ve learned from living that way, it’s that it only leaves me full of regret.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

3. Look out for yourself.

There are some relationships that just aren’t healthy. They break us down, and they take away from our confidence. Instead of these people pouring into us, they are constantly thinking of themselves. It’s important to love these people, but we don’t need to live in the toxicity. Sometimes it’s just better for your own well-being to let go. If there is anything I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that you can’t go into relationships wanting to “fix” people. You can always love people to the best of your ability, but you don’t need to be constantly trying to change who a person is. And sometimes it’s best to love at a distance. Relationships can tear you down if you aren’t careful. Do me a favor, and just look out for yourself. Pray for those who hurt you. You can even send them nice “how are you?” texts, but do not live a life where you have forgotten about yourself.

“For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church” – Ephesians 5:29

I don’t know where you are in your relationships right now. Only you know that. But I do know relationships are a beautiful thing. There are so many good and wonderful things that come through our relationships. But there are also some hard things that come with relationships. However, good things are sometimes very hard. There are days when I’m rude to the people I love most and vice versa. But we grow from those moments. Those moments make us learn lessons and learn how to be better as a person.

Love yourself. Build others. Look out for YOU.

 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8

Not As Bad As I Thought

This past week was crazy. The homework ramped up, and it felt like I had a million things to get done each day. One thing especially I needed to do was practice piano. I was leading worship with my boyfriend, JD, at the First United Methodist Church in Durant. I was playing piano, and he was going to play the guitar. Piano is sort of new to me because I haven’t taken the chance to really devote time to it until this year. I think I can say we were both a little concerned about our preparedness, but we were trying not to worry about it. Finally, Sunday came, and we made it to Durant, Oklahoma. We got there a little early, so we could hopefully get some good practice in before the service actually started. And then things seemed to go south. It felt like nothing was going right. It was frustrating. We were both hoping the actual service would be a whole lot smoother than our practice. However, we felt the service still didn’t go the way we had hoped. We wanted to be able to lead worship to the best of our ability, so the congregation would have the opportunity to connect with God through the music. But JD and I both felt like we were not able to give them that opportunity.

In life, we have times like these. There are moments when it seems like the whole world is against us. I have a habit of always thinking the world is against me. When any little thing goes wrong, I feel that everything has gone wrong. I can be a bit overdramatic now that I think about it. But I think we can agree we all have our moments.

Perspectives change everything. We look back with hindsight 20/20 into a time in our lives when we were going through the absolute worst time, and we miss it. This is because it usually wasn’t as bad as we may have thought it was in the moment. That sums up many of my experiences in life. When I was playing volleyball back in high school, I would tell you it was the worst time. I loved the sport, but I was so overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed with the practice, homework and fatigue from all of the late nights. But looking back, all I can see is the good memories, the fun of the sport and all of the wonderful friendships I had in my teammates. Not to say that any of what I was facing at the time wasn’t difficult, but there was so much good all around me. However, I chose to ignore the good and concentrate on all of the negative. Looking back, things were better than I thought they were at the time.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

There are a few points I want to make through this verse.

  1. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
  • Don’t lose heart!! Sometimes when we are in the present moment, all we are consumed in is the bad around us. This is our human nature. It is proven we have more negative thoughts running through our head in a day than positive thoughts. It’s a little sad, but if you think about it, it is very true. First of all, let’s start trying to see the good in the situation we are in. Second of all, let’s not lose heart. Don’t give in when life gets hard. It’s going to get hard. Instead, use it as a motivator to keep going. Don’t lose who you are when something isn’t going right. On Sunday, I was in a terrible mood. You wouldn’t have wanted to talk to me then… believe me. I was losing heart even though I had a great opportunity to lead worship. Instead of seeing the good in the opportunity, I let every. single. little. mistake eat away at me. Don’t lose heart, and also realize that you are inwardly being renewed each day. Instead of waking up to focus on the bad of yesterday, wake up with a sense of a new beginning. Let’s change the fact that we have more negative thoughts than positive thoughts in a day.

2. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

  • Read this over and over and over again until you feel a sense of comfort and peace. The time you’re in right now might be hard, but your troubles are only momentary. Better yet, there’s an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. It doesn’t just outweigh them. It FAR outweighs them. Where you are is not where you will be forever. There are better days to come. There are eternal days to come.

3. “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

  • All that is in the world right now is temporary. Your failures. Your sadness. Your hardships. They are all temporary. And definitely not in all cases, but in some cases, things may be better in your current place than they seem. It is just human nature to fix our eyes on the bad. You may look back years later only to find this hard time you’re in right now was one of the most memorable moments of your life. This time you’re in is not going to last forever. Take that as comfort, and also take it as encouragement to enjoy the moment you are in. Above all, be reminded that what you cannot see will last forever. Spend time building your relationship with God and spending time with God because that relationship is eternal. It will not come to pass; the situations you are in right now will.

I never finished telling you all about Sunday morning. We listened back to some of the songs in the service, only to find we didn’t lead terribly at all. All of those little mistakes we kept making didn’t matter in the long run, and we were probably some of the only ones in there that heard them. In reality, we were able to lead people with good words that some people in the congregation may have needed to hear. I mean that’s what worship is all about. It’s not about perfection. Through worship, we are able to bring our imperfections to God.

I guess you could say things were not as bad as we thought.

I think you all could read this verse one more time.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Forgiven and Freed

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[l] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” – Luke 8:42-48

This story came up at my church’s high school small group on Sunday. I usually do not help lead this specific small group, but I had the opportunity to help out the other day. This small group has an awesome goal of reading all of the Bible together. They have made it pretty far already! They read everything on their own throughout the week and then come back and talk about all they read. They are getting to read amazing stories because the Bible is FULL of them… and this one always speaks to me. One of the other leaders said that this story always touches her. She said it is an emotional story. I think this is because it has so much power within it.

This woman most likely did not live a great life. She did not only have hemorrhages, but she also was a woman. Women had very great roles within the Bible, but a sickness such as this one would impact a woman’s life greatly. Many women were arranged to be married at a young age, and they were able to build a life alongside their husband. If I were to guess, that is not how it worked out for this woman. She was probably all alone because of her sickness. She had no money because she spent it all on physicians. And she was considered dirty and impure. Life wasn’t the same for her as it was for others. When she reached out to Jesus, you can just feel the longing she has to be healed. She wanted all of the dirtiness and sicknesses that was within her to leave her body. The cool part about all of this is you can tell she had the faith that Jesus would heal her. She trusted in His power. She had faith that she would be free, as long as she touched Jesus’ cloak.

There was a time in my life that I felt like this woman. I felt dirty with my mistakes and wrongdoings. I was constantly sick with guilt because I knew I wasn’t being the person I wanted to be. My mistakes made me feel as if no one would want to be around me. More importantly, I felt that God would want nothing to do with me. I wasn’t physically sick like this woman, but I was spiritually ill. My heart was heavy with all I had done wrong. And I don’t think I’m the only person who has experienced this. If I were to guess, many, if not all of you, reading this have either been in this place at once in your life or are experiencing this currently. You feel as if you’re too dirty to approach God or to be okay in any of your relationships. We know God is forgiving, but does God have limits?? You might ask yourself if there is really an opportunity for you to be healed and forgiven again.

I’ve talked to many people who feel this pain. And those of you who haven’t, it is likely that you will at some point in your life. I’ve talked a lot in my past couple of blogs about new chapters, new opportunities, and new seasons. While these new things can be great, sometimes they do not go as we would’ve planned. Sometimes we get caught up in the wrong crowd. We may fall into an addiction. We may get into a toxic relationship and stay in it, rather than get out. We may make little, tiny mistakes that add up and leave us feeling untouchable. While many exciting things are to come in a new chapter, there are also many hardships that could come with it. We don’t know.

I don’t say all of this to discourage and scare you, but rather, I say this all to prepare you and give encouraging words. The woman touches Jesus. She’s dirty, but she has faith that He can truly heal her. And Jesus feels her touch, through all of the crowd pressing up against him. WOAH! Those are some good words. Think about it. People are reaching out to Jesus every day. There are millions of us on this earth reaching out to Him, and Jesus feels YOUR touch. He wants His power to take over your mistakes and all of those things that make you feel dirty. People here in this world may shut you out, but God never will. God knows you. Jesus knew that woman. Jesus knew that she had been sick, and He loved her so much that He cured her of her illness. Because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus forgives us. Jesus heals us. And Jesus loves us unconditionally. Some of you may not be able to even fathom this idea of unconditional love because you’ve grown up in a situation where you’ve never felt loved. But our God doesn’t stop loving us when we do things that seem unforgivable, or when we are in the greatest places in our life. There is not a moment God forgets about you and doesn’t want to show you mercy and grace.

This story is not the only one that shows Jesus’ healing power. Jesus’ entire life is a display of His healing power. Jesus died for our sins. Our wrongdoings. Our mistakes. The goal of Jesus’ life was to provide a gateway for us to receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus knew He had to be the bridge from life here on earth to heaven, because our sin would have us fall into death. Jesus’ whole purpose was to save you and forgive you, so now it’s our turn to have faith in Him.

It’s time for you to reach out, no matter where you are. Jesus wants you to reach out and touch his cloak because He knows He can end the suffering. He just wants you to have the faith to believe He can. The woman did, and that is why this is such a moving story. It’s not only a display of Jesus’ power, but it is also a display of a woman of great faith. She trusted that Jesus could heal her. We need to take her story as an example and start living it out in our own lives.

It does not matter who you are or what you have done. It matters what Jesus has done and who Jesus is. Through Jesus, you are forgiven and free.

“Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done.
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are.

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I’m calling.
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling.
And You’ve told me who I am.
I am Yours, I am Yours.”

Who Am I – Casting Crowns

I’m Not My Situation

This week my classes all started. To be honest, I thought this semester’s workload wouldn’t be too rough, but I was wrong. The way it’s looking from the first week I’m going to have a big time commitment to my studies. Even though I know it’s going to be a lot, I also know that I’m going to have the opportunity to learn many new things this semester. One thing I especially hope I learn is how to live each day with a willingness to have joy and not let the stress of work get to me. Yesterday was my first day to go to my “Art and Human Values” class, and my professor said something that I felt I needed to share. He told us this class would teach us that “we cannot let people shape who we are”. I don’t know about you all, but there are many times when I let people shape who I am. There are also times that I allow my situation to shape who I am. Instead of being who God made me to be, I allow the world to dictate what I do and how I live my life.

Throughout my life, I have gotten into a bad habit of becoming what I’m surrounded by. If I’m surrounded by a stressful situation, I’m most likely going to be stressed. If the people around me think Taylor Swift is not good at what she does, I may act as if I’m not a huge fan… even though I am. If I feel that people don’t like me for who I am, I’m most likely going to put my guard up and feel lonely. As you can see through all of these examples, the situations and people clearly define who I am. All of these examples also show the world breaking me down, taking one piece of me at a time.

The previous student intern at my church demonstrated well how this process works. She used this demonstration strictly for relationships, so I’m going to change it up a little bit to fit what I’m trying to display. First of all, you take a full piece of paper. Then, let’s say you’ve been in a situation for a while where you’ve allowed your friends to dictate your actions. Because you’ve let part of you be taken away, you need to rip off part of the paper since that’s a part of you that is now gone. Now, let’s say you’ve been really stressed with work and have let that change your persona. You’re not happy anymore and always take all that you’re feeling out on the people you love most. It’s time to rip another piece of the paper away because you lost that joy that people have always loved within you. Let’s say you’re in a terrible relationship and keep telling yourself that you can’t get out. You let the hurtful words of that friendship or romantic relationship tear you apart. Those hurtful words feed lies into who you are, so you put your guard up. Tear off another piece of that paper. Lastly, let’s say you have started a new chapter and you feel completely alone and as if you don’t have any friends. Instead of seeking those good relationships where you can be yourself, you hide who you are in fear that they won’t like the real you. Tear off another piece. You are that paper. At one time, you were full, but now you are ripped into pieces. However, don’t worry. There is a solution to this problem. You can tape the paper back together. And God can tape your life back together. God can help you get back the person God made you to be. Of course, there will still be scars, but we all have to learn to look at those scars and know we made progress. I encourage you all to do this activity and write the things that have taken away from who you are as a person. Dig deep and figure out the parts of you that you need God to help you patch up. What situations have defined you for so long? Have they taken away from who you are as a person? What relationships have torn you down? Or is it a lack of relationships that has left you feeling lonely?

This all reminds me of the story of Esther, which is one of my favorites in the Bible!! In summary, Esther was a Jew and grew up with those of Jewish descent. She was raised by a man named Mordecai. In her story, King Ahasuerus puts out a decree for all the young women in her land to be set before him, so he could choose his wife. Esther was loved by the King immediately, so of course, she becomes the new queen. Within this time, a man named Haman was appointed a position of very high stance by the king. The king ordered all servants to pay homage to Haman, but Mordecai (the man who raised Esther) refused. This made Haman very angry, so he decided to go to King Ahasuerus and tell him to order all Jews in the kingdom to be killed since Mordecai was Jewish. The king did what Haman said and ordered the decree. When Mordecai became aware of what was happening, he was greatly distressed. Esther was also greatly devastated because the Jews were her people. Even though this put great danger upon her, Esther decided to tell the king to put an end to this order. In this time, she could have been killed for going into the inner court to talk to the king. It was not allowed of a woman. However, Esther was brave. She didn’t let her situation make her weak. She allowed a bad situation to aid her in displaying her bravery. There are many more details to this story, but I will skip to the end. She exposed the evil within Haman and saved the Jews by telling the king to stop the decree put out to kill them.

Esther was in a very bad situation. She was practically looking death right in the eye, but she didn’t change who she was. She could’ve let her situation turn her into a fearful human being, but instead, she let her bravery shine. I aspire to be like Esther. There are so many times when I just give in and let the world change who I am as a person. The world takes my confidence, my bravery, and the little things that make up who I am. Are you like Esther who stayed who she was even throughout the bad, or have you gotten to a place where the bad around you has changed who you were made to be? It’s okay if you feel that you have let your situation define you, but now is the time to make a change.

Many of us are stepping into new chapters right now, and some chapters of your life will not be easy. But we don’t need to let the difficult times define us. Instead, we need to face each situation that comes at us with bravery. We also need to let go of all the control and give it to God. If you feel like you’ve given up parts of yourself because of people or the situation you’re in, let God put the pieces back together.

You are so much more than where you are or where you have been. Be you because you are amazing.

“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” – Esther 4:16

Breaking Through Barriers

My little brother is now entering a new chapter of his life. He’s about to be a Freshman in high school. The other day he approached me about sharing my experience in high school and how I grew as a person in that time. Like him and probably most people, when I was a Freshman, I was so pumped for the chance to start over. It was a whole new experience, and the newness of it all felt good. I felt that I could finally change the parts of myself that I had been wanting to change for so long. We all have those times when we truly feel as if we have the opportunity to have a new beginning. That’s how I felt going into high school. My goal was to finally break through my comfort zone and through all of the walls I built up for the longest time. It was time for me step up to the challenge that would make me who I am today.

Many of those who know me now but did not know me in my younger years would be surprised to hear that I was incredibly shy growing up. “Meet Your Teacher Night” in elementary school was my dreaded worst nightmare because I actually had to talk to my teachers… and honestly I usually didn’t. I was too shy for any words to come out, so my parents did all the talking. I was SHY. Just like in elementary school, I was timid in junior high. I was a little better but still knew I had a lot of improving to go. One of my teachers in junior high even had to have a conversation with me about communication. She pretty much told me I had to improve my confrontation skills. In the moment, I wasn’t happy she called me out, but I later found that she was right. I had to step out of the box that I had put myself into my whole life.

So when high school rolled around, I was ready to change. I saw it as a chance to finally get out of my comfort zone. I’d be surrounded by some new people (my high school was a combination of two junior highs) and also by new opportunities that could help me to branch out. And I’m happy to say that I did it. I became more outgoing and pushed myself to overcome the barriers I had faced for so long. The reason I was able to accomplish this is because of my willingness. I didn’t want to stay the same person I was, but instead was willing to change. I allowed myself to be more outgoing in my relationships (or in other words, I finally let my guard down). This gave me the opportunity to meet some of my absolute best friends that are still by my side today. I ran for an office position in National Honor Society (which entailed talking to a big crowd of people). I pushed myself to start leading worship at my church, despite my nerves. I even pushed myself in my sport (volleyball) to be more aggressive and give it my all.

Someone who has a lot in common with me in this chapter of my life is Gideon. As many of you all probably know, back in the Biblical days, Israel was not always great about following God’s command. They would worship other idols and place God on the back burner. Because of this, God would allow trouble to come upon them. When things started going wrong, they’d turn back to God, and God would send them someone who would deliver them from the turmoil. This cycle repeats over and over again throughout the Old Testament. Part of Gideon’s story takes place in this time. Israel was disobeying God, so God allowed the Midianites to take them over. Of course, they cried to God for help, and God decided to send Gideon to protect them from the Midianites. Gideon was completely taken off guard and immediately began doubting himself. The best way to describe Gideon when God called him was fearful. Just like I was for all of those years. Fearful. Gideon even tested God to make sure it was him that God chose. He set fleece on the ground (that was covered in dew) and told God that if the fleece was still dry by morning, he’d believe God’s calling over him. After doing this, Gideon was STILL unsure so he asked God to show him with the fleece yet again. Of course, God left the fleece dry, and finally, Gideon believed. However, my guess is that even with the proof, Gideon was still full of fear. But he did it. Him and his army of three hundred defeated the Midianites.

Gideon’s story is powerful because it’s super relatable. His story speaks volumes by reminding us that we can do anything, we just have to believe. We need to believe in ourselves and most importantly, in God. When I was going into high school, I finally trusted that I could do it. And overall, I trusted that God could do it. We need to quit letting fear make our decisions. Our mind tricks us into thinking that we don’t have the ability to be uncomfortable, but we do. It’s necessary for our lives to be uncomfortable every once in a while. It’ll help us to get out of our box.

When I first decided to step out of my comfort zone, it was a struggle. I faced many challenges. But with now having hindsight 20/20, I can say that the challenges made me into a better version of myself. If your comfort zone consists of remaining to yourself, challenge yourself to reach out to others and let your guard down. It can be really hard, but you’ll thank yourself later. If you want to try new things like sports, do it. You may have a lot of work to put in for that sport, and I know sometimes it will be discouraging. I’ve been there, but I can tell you it’s possible to improve. You just have to work hard.

I wanted to give you all these words because some of you all are starting a new school year. Some of you are starting college!! Some of you may be starting a new job. Some of you all may not have any change coming up, but you still have the opportunity to challenge yourself. Ever since I decided to challenge myself my Freshman year of high school, I have been more motivated to keep getting out of my comfort zone each year. You’d be so impressed with what you can accomplish if you believe in yourself and your Creator.

Quit giving in to your fear. Get out of your comfort zone. We’ve only got one life to live!!

Seasons

We all go through different seasons in life. Some seasons are great while others are just tough. One worship song that has always found a way into my heart is “Seasons” by Hillsong United. This song speaks the truth that God is with us no matter the season we may be in. I don’t know what you are experiencing in your life, but I encourage you to reflect on where you are. Are you in a season of doubt, worry and fear? Many of us are with the pandemic that we are currently experiencing. Or are you in a season where you feel that things aren’t going too bad? We are all in different places, and that’s perfectly normal.

A season that I find myself in quite often is this season of doubt, worry and fear. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who has faced this season in life. My guess is that many of you are experiencing these feelings currently. Within this season, I often times let worry define me. I allow the worry to make my own decisions and put me in a bad place mentally, physically and even spiritually. You see, mentally, all I do is think of the worst possible outcome of every situation, and it’s intimidating and exhausting. Physically, I wear my body down. And spiritually, I give up. I try to handle it all on my own because I think my ways are best and end up feeling distant from God. This season is one of my weaknesses, and it comes around for me way too often. It takes from who I am as a person and always seems to bring out the worst in me.

When I first experienced this season, I remember feeling trapped. I didn’t know how to get out, and I found it easy to shut everyone who cared out. It took me truly letting it all go to God. And it took a while before I was even ready to give all of this to God. When the moment came that I was ready, I broke down. I told God that I couldn’t do it anymore. I told God I was letting go of it all and giving it to Him. After that moment, I felt free. It was even more freeing when I eventually decided to start letting people in. I wasn’t great at it by any means, but I tried to share more of what was going on in my heart, rather than just bottling it all up. When I started letting go is when I began to feel free.

As I’m going to work in the morning, a new found habit of mine is to listen to the “Whoa that’s good!” podcast by Sadie Robertson. If you haven’t listened to it, definitely go give it a go. It offers some great advice that leaves you thinking, “Whoa that’s good!” ;). Last week, the podcast that I was listening to spoke of Sadie’s season of anxiety and fear. Someone had sent her a message on Instagram that asked how she has handled her anxiety and what techniques she uses to calm her mind. Sadie’s answer to this was Jesus. Sadie acknowledged that relaxation techniques, such as learning to breath deep in stressful situations are important, but only Jesus is the one who can truly calm the storm inside. When I heard that, I was taken back. All of these years, I tried to escape these anxious feelings by trying to find anyway possible that could calm me down and take away the anxious thoughts. I tried learning to breathe better, journaling down my thoughts, clenching and unclenching every part of my body, and while all of this helps, Jesus is truly the only One who can clear my mind. In the moments when I let go and give it to God, I always feel like I can breathe again. I’m given a peace knowing that I’m not alone. Someone is fighting this fight with me that’s a whole lot bigger than me.

Last night I was doing my devotional reading when I read over something that caught my eye. It said, “Thank Me for the very things that are troubling you. You are on the brink of rebellion, precariously close to shaking your fist in My Face. You are tempted to indulge in just a little complaining about My treatment of you. But once you step over that line, torrents of rage and self-pity can sweep you away. The best protection against this indulgence is thanksgiving. It is impossible to thank Me and curse Me at the same time. Thanking Me for trials will feel awkward and contrived at first. But if you persist, your thankful words, prayed in faith, will eventually make a difference in your heart. Thankfulness awakens you to My Presence, which overshadows your problems.” This is from the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. What I love about her devotional is how it speaks as if God is speaking directly to us. But oh my goodness, these are such good words for whatever season you’re in. If you’re in a season of anxiety and worry, thank God. Find the blessings in your life because thanksgiving truly does have the power to overcome what you are facing. When you have a thankful heart, you see things from a whole new perspective. You are glad, even in the suffering, because you can see the beauty of life through it all. You have hope when you’re thankful. Try being thankful for even a day, and just see how it changes your life. If you’re in a hard season, it can help you to see the good. If you’re in a great season, then life is only going to get even better. You just need Jesus and a thankful heart.

Right now, I’m in a season of transition. It’s almost time for me to move back to school, and I have no clue what it is going to bring. I could end up moving back home in two weeks if the virus gets any worse. I don’t know. None of us know. This is what I would call a season of MAJOR uncertainty. And for some of us a season of uncertainty brings about another season (the one with a lot of doubt, fear and worry). We truly don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We may end up doing online school. More people may get laid off in the workplace. We may see an increase in the number of cases. We may not. It is confusing and hard, and it can bring out the worst in us. We could be mad at God for letting all of this happen. We could be avoiding Him because of this anger and uncertainty. It’s easy to be upset when our plans don’t play out as we would’ve hoped. I definitely get angry at times. But we need to attempt to remain calm and trust. Remember that God will never leave our side.

I also encourage you all to reach out and pray for people in this time. This is a hard season for all. People are full of fear, doubt and anxiety. People are worried that their plans aren’t going to work out. I know of people who have lost amazing opportunities. Some are in a heavy financial crisis. Asking someone how they are doing could be exactly what they need. We need to be there for one another.

It’s good to remember that in each season of life, the answer is Jesus. Be thankful for where you are, even if you’re in a deep valley. Even a valley can be beautiful. You just have to look for the good.

I can see the promise
I can see the future
You’re the God of seasons
I’m just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it’s worth my patience
Then if You’re not done working
God I’m not done waiting
You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child

Seasons – Hillsong United

Wherever you are, it’s worth your patience.

He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding. – Daniel 2:21

Love Yourself

I’ve always been the type of person that tries to go the extra mile for others. I want people to know that I care. I’ve never really had too much of an issue with putting others before myself. But of course, I do have my very selfish moments. However, most of the time, I’d rather put my own baggage to the side in order to show other people that I’m invested in them. It may sound like I’m bragging on myself, but I’m actually doing quite the opposite. In each stage of my life, I’ve progressively been more apt to leave myself out of the equation of life. I think about others so much so that I forget about me. I forget about my relationship with God. I forget that in order to be there for others, I need to be there for myself.

Relationships come with sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice is offering encouragement and positivity for a loved one who’s struggling even when you’re experiencing the worst day of your life. It could be checking up on others even when they often don’t think of checking on you. Throughout your life, I can assume that most of you will end up making one of these sacrifices or others for your relationships. These sacrifices are amazing. They show character, but they also drain you when you feel like you’re making them every day. I mean let’s be real. It’s exhausting when we’re constantly putting out effort for all BUT ourselves.

This is a struggle I’ve faced in my life on numerous occasions. I get into a low valley where I can’t help but wonder how I’m supposed to do it. How am I supposed to put my everything into other people when I truly don’t feel like I have anything to give? I get worn down and bitter because I feel that I’m the only one who cares. Why don’t they check on me? Why am I always the one who has to remain positive?? I’m broken, but I have to put on the face as if I’m on the mountaintop instead of the valley. If you have felt this way, I hope you know that you are not alone.

There is a woman in the Bible whose story I think of when battling these challenges. This woman is Martha. Martha’s story is often told in a different context, but I want you to consider the lesson that her story can teach us about caring for ourselves.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha and I have a lot in common. I mean A LOT. Just with this little piece of Scripture that we have about her, I can see so much into her character. I can see myself. Usually when I read this story, it’s to remind myself that I need to take a break from my crazy to-do-list and take time for God. But I think there’s more here than what is written. Martha is constantly putting out effort, but not pouring into herself or the most important relationship out there (her relationship with Jesus). If she were pouring into herself, she would’ve been like Mary. Mary took the time to spend with Jesus. Martha was too busy preparing and running around to take that time. If she’s anything like me, she was probably exactly like that within her relationships as well. So wrapped up in others that she forgot about herself. She put aside her relationship with God because all she felt was the guilt. The guilt of feeling frustrated at the people who she poured into that didn’t seem to care for her. The guilt of feeling like she could’ve done more to be there for her relationships. She didn’t even have enough room in her heart or mind to consider herself and her relationship with God. She was too wrapped up in the others around her.

Through my experience as a youth ministry intern and through my experience in life, I find that many people feel this same way. They get so worn down because they can’t find anyone who will pour into them. Many of the people I’ve talked to feel stuck. They feel as if they are not gaining anything spiritually or otherwise in their relationships. This is often when I see people at their worst because they feel alone. They pour and pour and pour into others until they feel that they’re left with nothing. They don’t feel like they have true friendships and relationships, and it hurts.

If I could go back and give advice to these people, it would be to not get stuck. Many people stop in this low place, wondering why know one seems to care about them. But I’d tell each one of them to begin taking a little more time for YOU. Start concentrating on your relationship with God. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbors as YOURSELF. We can’t concentrate on only the “neighbors” part of this commandment. It’s vitally important to our life and relationships that we realize God commands us to love OURSELVES. It’s not selfish to do this. In order to love yourself to the best of your ability, you need to spend time with God. You need to find ways that work best for you to take care of yourself. It could be through taking time every night to put your thoughts down on paper (journaling is the best!!). You could even just let your guard down, and allow yourself to let out all of the emotions you’ve been bottling for so long. God is there to comfort you. God is our Comforter. If you have someone you trust, you could even care for yourself through reaching out to them and asking for help and guidance. There are many different ways we can be there for ourselves. Caring for yourself will even carry over into your relationships!! When your heart is in a good place, it’s easier to care for others to the best of your ability.

You need to be there for yourself. God wants that. Better yet, God commands that. Putting others first is such a great mentality to have, but it can also be toxic if you’re constantly consumed in lives that are not your own. It’s time to start caring for the amazing person that you are so that you truly can be there for others. And while you’re at it, you can seek and pray for relationships that are life-giving to you.

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

New Day… New Beginning

New Years is always known as the time to start fresh and new. When you are on the verge of a new year, it seems like nothing is in your way. You can be whoever you want to be and even change those parts of you that you have wanted to change for so long in the past year. Usually I have New Year’s resolutions that I only accomplish about a month into the new year… and then I fail. And I’m left feeling discouraged. I’m clearly not writing this in celebration of a new year because we are far from a new year. I’m writing this because even though we are far from a new year, we still have the opportunity of a new beginning. Every day you wake up is a day you get to start over. You have the chance to be who you want to be. You don’t have to wait for New Year’s Day to come around.

For me, this mentality is hard for me to have. I don’t usually wake up with the realization that I can start over. I keep going just as I have because it doesn’t feel like I have the chance for a new beginning every day. Honestly, this is something I have wrestled with this year. I seem to make the same mistakes that I made the day before. I say things to people I love that I don’t mean to say. I think negatively about myself and others. I don’t let go of the insecurities that prevent me from being who I am. Sometimes, I don’t even open my Bible or pray to God. Instead, I keep living in my mistakes of yesterday. I try to approach each day with a willingness to make a change, but sometimes I just fail. And it’s very discouraging. If I were to guess, many of you all have faced this challenge within this time. Quarantine has made everything so much harder. It doesn’t sound terrible to take a break from our normal lives. It definitely has had the benefits of bringing people rest and restoring parts of people that have been lost in the craziness of life. But it’s also been hard. It’s difficult to stay motivated. This quarantine has often left me consumed in my thoughts and has brought me struggles that I thought were in the past. I get up in the morning, and it’s even more of a struggle to make the changes that I need to make in my life. It’s almost as if life is a blur right now, and we don’t have the opportunity to start over. We wake up, and every day is just like the last.

But life isn’t only like this in quarantine. It’s always hard to realize that God provides us with the opportunity of a new beginning each day. I’d say it feels like we are trapped in our habits of yesterday. I mean think about it. It’s easy to say you will start reading your Bible more, eat healthier or even treat people with more kindness the next day. But it’s really hard to put it all into action. It can be very discouraging when it feels like we consistently keep falling back into the same hole we have been in for so long. We want to change, it just almost feels impossible.

About two years ago, I was hung up on the word “renewal”. I have no idea why. It just kept presenting itself in my life. It is clear to me now that God was placing this on my heart. I specifically remember a night when I saw that word probably five times while going about my normal night routine. I was reading a book, and there was the word. I was reading my devotional, and there the word was. I opened up my Bible for the verses that went along with my devotional, and there it was. I even had a little calendar in my room that had lessons for each day, and there it was!! It was insane. After seeing this word so many times within the span of probably thirty minutes, I started to look more into this word. The definition is “an instance of resuming an activity or state after an interruption”. It can also be known as “the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken”. This spoke to me because I had been going through a season in my life where I did feel like I was trapped in a “state after an interruption”, and I was broken. I had just faced a battle that acted as a state of interruption, and I didn’t know where to go next. After seeing this word so many times, I realized that God was calling me to repair one step at a time. I was exhausted, but I had to wake up with a mentality of renewal. It was time to repair the broken pieces in life, and get back up. But I remember there being comfort in that it didn’t have to be a fast and quick repair. God was still going to be with me, no matter how long it took for me to change and be okay again. And God was there with me every step of the way. God even placed someone in my life that helped guide me through this season of renewal because God’s timing is perfect. I was not alone. I didn’t wake up and get it right every day, but I tried to approach each day as a beautiful opportunity to take the next step.

It can be so very discouraging when it feels like we can’t take the next step. It really is way harder than one might think to approach each day as what it is… a new day. We get caught in yesterday. We feel the guilt of who we were before, and it’s our nature to fall right back into that same habit that brought about the guilt. But we cannot get discouraged. Even taking the littlest steps in our life can take (what seems like) a good amount of time. That’s okay. Don’t let that make you stop trying. If I would’ve stopped trying in that season I was in, I don’t even know where I would be now. I had to trust God one day at a time. Eventually my heart was able to heal, and I was able to make the changes that were necessary for my life.

The story of Peter’s denial in the Bible came to my mind as I was thinking about this. Many of you probably know this story. Jesus told Peter that he was going to deny Jesus, and of course, Peter said there was no way that could happen. Lo and behold, Jesus was right. Peter did not only deny Jesus one time but three. After denying Jesus the first time, Peter was probably saying to himself, ‘oh no I’m not going to do that again’. And then after the second time he denied Jesus, he probably had the same thought. But then he ended up denying Jesus three times. This story is how I think we frequently feel on a daily basis. We aren’t being who we want to be, but we wake up just to do it all over again. Peter was disappointed in himself, but Jesus forgave him. If I was to assume, I think the disappointment in himself probably lingered on for a while. But our God provides us with the time to change and realize where we’ve gone wrong. This is the process I like to call renewal. So let’s begin that process in our own lives. What is it that you need to change right now? Where is it that you need to heal? Don’t wait until the new year comes around. Begin to approach each day as a new day and begin to make those changes.

Renewal takes time. Don’t be discouraged when change doesn’t happen overnight. We are in a hard time to be living in right now. We have to give ourselves grace and forgiveness when we mess up. I hope you take this journey with me, of living each and every day, one day at a time. We don’t have to live in yesterday’s mistakes. That’s good news!! You have the opportunity to be who you want to be as soon as you get out of bed in the morning.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10

Attitude Is a Choice

I wake up Monday morning looking at a full week of work/school. I drag myself out of bed, getting ready for another draining week. The weekend was nice and relaxing, and I tried with all of my power not to think about the week coming up. It’s the same routine. I get up. I work/have school. I come home. And I sleep. By the time I’m done with all I have going in the day, I’m so unmotivated to do anything but sleep.

Many of times this is my attitude. I’m not afraid to admit it because it’s true. I’m usually just looking to the finish line, when I get to relax. To be honest, I saw nothing wrong with this mentality. Anytime anyone called out my bad mentality, I was offended. How could they?? Do they not realize how hard it is? I don’t stop. I work so hard all of the time, and not to mention, I devote all my time to everyone but myself. It’s not fair.

I got into this habit a long time ago. It’s easy to get into the tendency of throwing daily pity parties. I’d feel terrible for myself because my continual self-talk was all about how bad I had it. I would tell myself that I’d start enjoying life, once all the work and hard stuff was out of the way. But the truth is, right after one season ends another begins. And chances are, I’m going to find something I don’t like about the next season I enter into. Attitude changes our life. With a good attitude, we enjoy life. With a bad attitude, life is always going to be overwhelming. We’re going to have trouble finding true joy through living with a bad attitude. Believe me. I know from experience on this matter.

Within my church, we observe the season of Lent. Within this season, you give up something or multiple somethings for 40 days. Just like Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, we fast something that impacts our life. My sophomore year of high school, I decided to give up something that I knew was going to be very challenging. This was negativity. That seems broad, so I will describe what I mean by this. I wasn’t allowed to talk negatively about anyone. I couldn’t talk negatively about situations. And I had to try to redirect my negative thoughts to a more positive thought-process. Ughhhh talk about hard!! This was way more challenging than I expected it to be. I would catch myself starting to say something negative, probably every hour. Maybe even more often than that. And don’t even get me started on my thoughts. It was terrible how bad of a habit it was for me to think negatively about everything going on in my life. This was one of the first times that I truly realized how bad my attitude was. And I saw that this bad attitude of mine was impacting my whole life. It impacted my sport, my relationships, and even my happiness.

Our attitude can make the worst workload or a time-consuming job a little better or a little worse, depending on the attitude. A good attitude can help us find positive in some of the worst situations. You can find the good in every situation, you just have to be willing to receive it. If you’re having trouble with the environment of people that you are around, take it as an opportunity to show them the love of Christ that is within you. View it as an opportunity, not burden to be around those people. If you are overwhelmed with school work, be thankful that you are being educated to achieve your dreams. If you can’t stand where you work, try to think of one positive thing that happened during the day. That always helps.

God wants you to enjoy your life. He knows you’re going to go through some very challenging times, but He’s there with you to help you persevere. I’ve said this many times before, but concentrating on God and furthering your relationship with Him is a way in which you can improve in many different aspects within your life. One aspect this can improve is your attitude. Actually taking time for God in your day helps tremendously in providing you with the joy from the Lord. The Scripture and your relationship with God provides hope and perseverance which ultimately can lead to a more joyful heart. When you have that joy in your heart, it’s easier to look around at all the good, rather than the bad.

In saying all of this, it’s okay to have bad days, and it’s natural to have a bad attitude every once in a while. There have been so many points in my life where I was just down. While I know I should’ve had a better attitude, it was hard. Some situations in our life are hard, but changing how we approach situations can help. They can provide us with hope and strength to get through the day. But we don’t need to let our bad attitude control our lives. It’s only going to leave us in the valley. And when in the valley, it’s hard to see the mountaintop.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24

You can always go to the Bible for some good advice. This verse says it all. It’s time to say goodbye to our old bad attitudes that have controlled us for so long. Let’s say yes to a new life with a good attitude. It is our unintended desire to be negative. That was made very clear to me my sophomore year of high school. So let’s start being more aware of our attitudes and strive to be better.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Building Character… One Wrong At a Time

Growing up, I was pretty stubborn. It was my way or the highway. And if you would’ve asked me, when I was a child, I would’ve said that I was never wrong. I can still be this way at times, but my parents did a really great job at teaching me the value of admitting that I’m not always right. I’m human, and there are times that I’m very wrong. We all have moments in which we are wrong and where we make mistakes. A hard lesson to be learned in life is the value of admitting that we aren’t always right.

Like I said before, my parents engrained this value into me at a young age… or at least tried to. One reoccurring thing I loved to defend myself on was answering calls/texts/emails. Let me tell you. I was the champion at saying I’d get back with people and not getting back with them. This goes for just holding nice conversations with my friends to even important work communication. I was just terrible at communication (still am not great). Never take it personal if I don’t respond. It’s just one of my downfalls. But I would never admit that I was wrong for not taking up the responsibility to respond to people. My parents would get on to me about it, and I’d argue day and night to prove that it wasn’t my fault. It would’ve saved many arguments to finally surrender to the fact that I was wrong in my actions and needed to work to be better. Admitting your wrong saves you many arguments and honestly just makes you feel better in the end. It feels nice to know that you did the right thing. You’re more respected when you admit that you made a mistake.

As I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life, I’ve seen the true importance of surrendering and finally admitting “I’m wrong” or “I’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry.” . In every kind of relationship, this characteristic is needed. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made within my relationship with my family, friends and boyfriend. But for every mistake I’ve made, I can truly say that a lesson has been learned. But even today, within those relationships, I struggle to admit that I’m wrong. It’s human nature. Let’s go back to the first humans on the Earth and see how they reacted when they made a huge mistake.

Genesis 3: 1-13

1 The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man[a] and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

12 The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Adam and Eve clearly do not want to admit up to their mistakes. Instead, they point fingers. This proves that from the beginning, human nature causes humans to not want to admit up to their wrongs. We like to be right. We don’t like to feel that we have disappointed. Although, the right thing to do is acknowledge our wrong turn and make it right. My mom and I were talking about this topic, and she mentioned something that really stood out to me. She said that within the workplace there is respect that is given to you when you admit your mistakes. Not shame. Most of the time, there is a solution to what you messed up, and your boss is going to appreciate your integrity. That goes with anything in life. God didn’t create you to always be right. God knows you’re going to make the wrong choices. God doesn’t condemn you for that, but He certainly does value you acknowledging your wrongdoings. Once you recognize where you’ve gone wrong, there are reparations that can be made.

Right now, we live in a world that doesn’t like to be wrong. Our world doesn’t even like to admit we make mistakes, and it’s time to change that. In order to improve our character and live more Christlike, we need to start valuing this characteristic.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9