hope in the furnace.

Three months ago yesterday, I moved back to Tallahassee after what felt like the biggest crash-and-burn of my life.

Today, I look back over these past few months and stand in absolute amazement and gratitude and with a deeper hope than I ever thought imaginable.

It’s not a hope that comes from an ease of circumstances or comfort of life.

No. In fact, it’s a hope that was born out of adversity, and is firmly rooted in my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that’s what I want to share with you today.

I’ve shared on here before how over the past couple years, I’ve felt that my rosy-colored glasses have been taken off. I used to be a girl who saw things in the most optimistic light, but then things in my life happened that flipped my whole world upside down. And for a while, I kept just trying to see the rosy tint. But eventually, I realized it wasn’t there. It was a false hope. Because you see, optimism without real hope can’t last. Once the glasses are gone, you see things how they really are.

That sounds so depressing–but hang with me!! This is not a wollowy self-pity post. I’m just trying to pack in this gigantic lesson I’ve been learning into one post!

At the beginning of May, I left my Disney College Program two weeks early. I began having panic attacks and anxiety up the wazoo while I was there, and I literally could not finish the remaining 19 or so days I had left. I felt as if something in my brain had broken, and that if I stayed I would break it even more. I don’t know that that would have been the case, but I’m glad I didn’t stay.

I had my first panic attack at work in mid-March. At the time, I didn’t know it was a panic attack, all I knew was I almost passed out in the middle of the break room, my heart was beating like mad, and I literally asked the guy in the ambulance if I was going to die. I guess maybe they’re not really allowed to totally assure you you’re not gonna die, so he didn’t say anything, and to that, I thought “welp, see ya in a few, Jesus.” I joke, but it was really a scary experience. I had never had panic attacks before. It was then that I went home to recover. While there, I contemplated leaving the program then, because I knew there was a bigger issue below the surface. I had a sense that something was fractured–not literally, but the picture I kept seeing in my mind was a fractured ankle. When you fracture an ankle and you’re a runner, YOU DON’T KEEP RUNNING ON THAT ANKLE. You have to rest it and take some time off from running to let your bone heal. I felt that sense about my brain, that something needed to be rested and healed. But I’m not a quitter, I told myself.

So I pushed on.

I made it another month or so in the program before I started having panic attacks again, and this time more of them. The last week of the program, I barely slept. I knew then that I had to go. This wasn’t an issue that I could just brush off anymore.

Lesson #1 I’ve been learning) You are not quitting if you hit a mental stumbling block and need to remove yourself from the game. Don’t ignore it and think it’ll go away. It’s going to keep resurfacing in other areas of life.

This really isn’t entirely about the DCP, I just haven’t written about that on here. Bottom line: I left there feeling scared and shattered in pieces.

I moved back to Tallahassee still feeling more broken than I’d ever felt. I was thankful to be back in a place of familiarity, but I felt different.

One of the first weeks back, a couple of my friends and I decided to have a pizza and wine night. That night, we sat around the table and chatted about each others’ lives, what  our goals and plans were for the summer.

That night, I decided that I wanted so desperately for this to be a summer of healing.

And God is so faithful, friends. He’s taught me so much about healing, and I just really want to encourage anyone who’s struggling with a healing journey of their own.

Last night was August 12, 2019. Last night, I was excitedly researching graduate schools and getting excited about my future in the field of nutrition. I sit here today so excited about life because  Now rewind to May 12, 2019.

May 12, 2019–I packed up Trudy (my gold minivan that has no air conditioning) and moved back to Tallahassee. One of my roommates and I moved back on the same day to spend the summer in Tallahassee, so we chatted for a little about the previous semester and the summer. I just remember feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I just started crying in the kitchen with her, feeling honestly just not excited about anything in that moment, depressed, and desperate. I was in emotional survival mode.

There would be too much for me to write every little detail of this summer, but the biggest thing that I want to emphasize is that I actually got WORSE before I got better. I know a lot of people say this, but it is true. Healing requires surgery, and surgery must inflict a wound!!

For me, that looked like going to a therapist, who helped me dig deeper into the thoughts and feelings I had about my circumstances and, in turn, helped me discover the roots of my anxiety and depression. Lesson #2 I learned about myself) I have a tendency to minimize HUGE things in my life, thinking “oh, it’s not that bad.” (Again, going back to the rosy colored glasses). I didn’t even recognize that in myself until my counselor told me, “From a therapist’s perspective, what you just told me would be considered a pretty traumatic experience.” YIKE.

Then at the end of June, I fell even deeper down the spiral of depression. There’s evidence that shows that emotional pain and physical pain lights up the same area of the brain. I just remember in that chunk of time, I felt an overwhelming amount of emotional pain, like I was in the middle of a dark tunnel and couldn’t see an end in sight.

I felt like something in me had broken, like a part of my heart had shattered and would never be the same again. I felt like this was my new normal, and that scared me.

I’ve never longed for heaven more in my life. That also sounds super depressing, but I actually believe it’s a very real feeling that people are too afraid to talk about because of the stigma surrounding mental health. But the thing is, I actually think that’s a totally VALID feeling–we live in a really messy world where pain is inevitable, of course we long for the day when we will live in a place where that is no more!! Literally Paul talks about this feeling to the Philippians; “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”  But while that is a valid feeling, I was scared because I felt like in my weakened mental state, that something might snap and I would do something that was uncharacteristic of me.

Here’s where I get on my nutritional soap box for two seconds: don’t restrict your diet too much unless it is a legitimate health concern. Like, really, now (i.e. when you’re dealing with mental health struggles) is not the time to be trendy. During that time, not only was I trying to wade through massive hurt that was weighing on my heart, but I also decided to go vegetarian, in addition to already trying to eat gluten, dairy, and refined sugar free, while also cutting caffeine. No freakin wonder *slaps forehead*. I’ll be the first to admit that I did a dumb one there. Now I’m not bashing eating a vegetarian diet–I’m just saying that there is also research that have found a correlation between vegetarian diets and mental disorders. I did my research, and I decided that it’s not for me. It was then that I decided to go back to eating meat, as well as the other things, in moderation. Additionally, I started taking vitamins again, and BOY did things start to honestly improve just from there! But this is a whole different topic for another time, so I digress.

In this deep, deep despair, I sobbed to my therapist a lot. But she always told me, “if you can’t cry in your therapist’s office, then where else can ya cry?” I’m so thankful for all the tissues and reassurances that I wasn’t losing my mind. Really, I felt so much unlike myself that I actually thought I might have been having a mental breakdown.

There was a point where I actually considered stopping going to counseling because I felt like it was making things worse. I felt like I was in more pain than I was before I started going to counseling.

BUT THAT’S THE KICKER. The only way out was through. When you’ve been numb to feelings for so long, and then have to start feeling them, it HURTS. It’s like frostbite. But it’s also SO HEALTHY. If you are in this boat right now, PLEASE don’t stop going to therapy. It only means you’re on the road to healing even more!

Towards the end of June, when I was experiencing that really low point, I remember sitting on my bedroom floor crying to God. Asking for healing. I just wanted something to give me hope.

Then I cracked open my Bible, and I started flipping to Ecclesiastes. I wanted to find the verse about there being a season for everything, and while I was flipping, I saw Ecclesiastes 7:13-14,

“Consider what God has done: who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made one as well as the other.”

I had to reread that a couple times! He’s sovereign over EVERY OF THE TIME. (Really hope someone gets that reference). And as I began to think about that truth, I had this picture in my mind of me standing on the shore of an ocean. I could see the waves rolling and crashing in. And in that moment, as I watched the waves, I thought to myself, “no matter how hard I try, I can’t get the waves to move the way I want them to. It just doesn’t work like that.” Then I pictured myself surfing in the waves, and I don’t surf. Literally wouldn’t know the first thing about riding a wave. But as I was in the middle of one of the waves, I pictured a dude ride (ride? I don’t know surfing terms?) up to me on his board. It was Jesus. He said to me, “I know you don’t know how to ride this wave and you’re scared. But just follow my board. I know this wave–just stick by me. You’ll probably get some salt water in your eyes and it’ll sting, and you might fall off, but I’ll turn around to help you get back up. Just follow my board, trust me. Shaka brah.” I’m literally laughing out loud as I write that, that I pictured the God of the universe shooting me a hang-loose-hand-signal. But no kidding, I found myself shaka-ing (also probably not a word, but I don’t know how to make shaka a verb? Maybe it is a verb? Hahahahaha) whenever I was feeling a big emotion or a difficult situation, and it reminded me that I can’t control the wave, but I can follow His board.

Things began to slowly improve, and I started seeing how the skills I was learning in counseling were helping me to walk through the difficult things I was facing.

It all kind of culminated this past week, when I had a conversation about hope with my brother. He pointed out the hopeful outlook I have on certain situations, and in the moment, I accidentally attributed it to my optimistic outlook. But after the conversation, that felt like a really bleak thing to say. Because that would imply that my hope came from within myself, and seeing where I was for the past few months, that would have essentially meant I whipped it out of my ass. And the hope I have is not just a “oh yeah it kind of just came out of nowhere” or a “search deep within yourself” kind of hope.

Nope. Like I said, this hope was tested through the furnace of adversity. This is a hope that is not from this world, and the best part is, IT’S FOR ANYONE. Jesus invites anyone who would believe that He is Lord and that He loved them enough to take the punishment for their sins so they wouldn’t have to.

The next day, I happened to read Romans 15:13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that hope flows. It’s a hope that isn’t in people or circumstances. It’s a hope that is stronger than that.

Another verse that caught my eye was Romans 5:1-5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And that hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured our His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us.”

YES AND AMEN. On my way to counseling today, (yes, I still go even though I’m not struggling like I used to, because you don’t have to be struggling to go to counseling!!) I thanked God for this journey He’s taken me on, because through it all, I’ve come out with a REAL sense of this hope that does not disappoint. I’d read that verse many times before, but today I really GET it. And while it took a hell of a lot to see it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, truly. To know that I have this hope that has withstood the test of a fiery, fiery furnace just strengthens my trust in the Lord even more, because literally nothing can overtake Him!!

And looking over all those moments where I cried out for healing, I can now see He was. It was a process, but He never let me go in all of it. Healing takes time, and sometimes it hurts more than you thought it ever could.

My therapist told me one of her favorite testaments to God’s faithfulness is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It’s her favorite because after they’ve been thrown into the fire by the king, they come out unscathed, and not even smelling like smoke. But while they were in the fire, the Lord was in there with them.

I love that, because today, I can stand here and say I was in the fire earlier this year. But in this moment, on this afternoon of August 13, 2019, I can also say that God was with me in that fire.

And I don’t even smell like smoke.

 

*there’s so much more detail I could go into, but that would be a whole book I think. If there’s anything that resonated with you and you want to talk about it, or have any questions, please feel free to reach out. I couldn’t have made it through this without the help of people, specifically therapists. I know it can be scary to ask for help, but I promise that there are people who want to help you.*

Rejoicing with tears+shaky knees.

Howdy,

I’ll probably make this one short and sweet, but this is something that the Lord has continually been laying on my heart in the season of life I’m in, and I wanted to share it with you.

Yes, you. The beautiful soul reading this at this very moment.

First, I want you to be real with yourself. How are you feeling? You don’t have to give the rote “I’m good.” Here, you can be utterly honest. It is absolutely valid to say, “I’m not really doing ok.” Because sometimes, life is really hard.

Happiness is something that all humans, whether you believe in Jesus or not, desire. It feels good to be happy. It’s sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes really scary, to feel sad. But this is important–BOTH HAPPINESS AND SADNESS ARE EMOTIONS. They are not ultimate truth. I don’t know about you, but I go through just about every general emotion there is in a day. I noticed it yesterday–I was excited in the morning for a new day, then became anxious in the afternoon, which then made me feel really down, and then I spent some time with friends that was really refreshing, and I felt happy.

Emotions change. A LOT. They can’t be clung to in the midst of a storm. Here’s what happens when I’ve tried to.

When I try to cling to happiness in the midst of a breaking heart, I look back on days when I felt happy and a wave of nostalgia washes over me, leaving me feeling bitter for where I am now. I believe this lie from the enemy that I did something wrong to get to where I am now, and that I need to try with everything in my power to get back to being happy. For me, sometimes that means running away from my pain in the name of “adventure,” looking for something to soothe the ache in my soul. Sometimes it looks like retreating from the people I love because I also fall prey to the lie that I need to figure it out myself, even though its with the people I love I feel the most safe.

We have a very real enemy who loves to see us hurt. He’s crafty as heck–it’s difficult to recognize his lies because he knows how to make them sound so much like truth that we believe it. One of those lies, I believe, is that to be joyful means to be happy–that if you’re not happy, you’re not rejoicing in the Lord. That if you’re not ok, you did something wrong to get there.

I believe this is why so many people, myself included, are afraid to be truly honest about how they’re doing. Because when you’re hurting and say you’re feeling blue, and are met with out-of-context bible verses about being joyful (interpreted as happy), it only creates shame for not meeting the (nonexistent) mark.

I’d like to make clear a very important distinction: happiness and joy are NOT the same thing. I don’t believe they’re synonymous.

When I was in Orlando doing the Disney College Program, I started seeing a counselor (which I HIGHLY recommend to ANYONE, regardless of where you’re at. I once heard a therapist define trauma as “anything that wouldn’t have happened in the Garden,” before sin and brokenness entered the world. We all bear wounds and scars). One day, on my way home from counseling, I was crying as I talked to God. I told him how I wanted to feel joy again, how I didn’t want to feel as broken as I was. How I wanted to feel happy again.

And then Hebrews 12:2 came to my mind;

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”

And while I was sitting at a stoplight in Orlando, I felt Jesus’ love+a connection to Him in a way I never had before.

Jesus did not go to the cross skipping and laughing and smiling. He was in DEEP pain, and He didn’t try to mask it with a fake smile. In fact, before going to the cross, He asked God, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done…And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42, 44). I just did a little research on that, and basically, Jesus was experiencing a medical condition called hematidrosis, which is a rare condition where, under extreme mental distress, small capillaries in the sweat glands actually burst, literally causing one to sweat a mixture of sweat and blood. All that to say, JESUS WAS NOT EXCITED ABOUT GOING TO THE CROSS. But He knew it was the price for our adoption into the family of God, and that was the joy set before Him–that God so deeply loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to endure that pain for us. But Jesus DEFEATED the grave. He rose in victory. The joy set before Him was the knowledge that by His blood, the sinners in front of Him would be loved by God the way He was loved by God.

A few days after that, I was actually trying to find the Hebrews verse (because I couldn’t remember the reference), and while I flipped through pages, I stumbled across Philippians 3:10-11.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead.”

I froze when I read that. I was actually stunned. This was EXACTLY what I felt in the car at that stoplight.

It was then that the pieces started to connect. Jesus invited me in to that feeling, that I could know Him better, and to remind my weary soul that HE IS STILL GOOD+HE IS STILL VICTORIOUS. That even when I’m not “happy,” He is still at work molding me more and more into His likeness, because Jesus wasn’t always “happy.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Joy can look like laughing and smiling and dancing, but it also can look like continuing to press on in a difficult emotional journey. It can look like crying over things that are genuinely sad. Jesus wept!! Don’t forget that!! Sadness is a God-given emotion, too. 

I believe it’s that in all things, we can firmly cling to the hope that the Lord is a God of restoration, a God of making all things new, a God of healing. A God who deeply loves His children and is making each one of us a new creation, molding us more and more into His character, into His love.

It’s this that we can rejoice in–no matter the circumstance, He has the victory, and we can rest in the God who fights for us, even with tears in our eyes+shaky knees.

photography of woman surrounded by sunflowers
Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com

 

A reintroduction.

Hey there!

I’m back! Holy moly. You know that feeling when you haven’t seen someone in a really long time and you almost don’t even know what to say because there’s so much to say? That’s me right now. So I guess I’ll kinda just go for it and see where we end up 🙂

There will likely be many more blog posts where I’ll go deeper into things (I have nine months of life to fill you in on, and I can’t do it all justice in one post!) so stay tuned!

First and foremost, I hope to be back more regularly. I kind of fell into a rut over the past nine months, and frankly, I started believing the lie that I had nothing to say. I felt I had nothing to say because the way I would write now is not the way I sound in my initial blog posts.

I used to own a pair of sunglasses that I absolutely LOVED. They were rose gold aviators with pink-tinted lenses. Basically, when I’d wear them, it felt like everything I looked at had the cutest pink filter, like a photo edited with just the right exposure and contrast and tint and white balance…etc. Then I misplaced them. Right about the time of my last blog post, oddly enough. To be honest, I don’t know where they went, I just know I don’t have them anymore. I have other sunglasses I can wear, but I miss those pink ones. 😦

I owned and lost a literal pair of rose-colored glasses. And I think that’s kind of where I was at–figuratively–during my absence.

Now I really don’t want that to sound like a pity party. It’s just that I’m not the chipper, three-exclamation-points-after-all-the-rosy-stories-of-freshman-year Shannon that I was when I started this blog.

For nine months, I WAS AFRAID OF THAT.

I was afraid that I couldn’t be the person I used to be. That my writing would somehow be inauthentic.

In the past year, my life has changed a LOT.  Lots of really awesome things (aka I’m taking a semester off of school to do the DISNEY COLLEGE PROGRAM and WORK AT THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH!), but also lots of not so super ideal things.

And for whatever reason, anxiety decided to join in on the party. I mentioned it in another post, but I’ve struggled with anxiety when it comes to social situations almost my whole life, I just never wanted to admit it to myself. The only time in my life when I felt almost completely free of it was my freshman year of college, when I started this blog. For the first 7 months or so (out of the 9 I’ve been gone), I’d sometimes go back and read my old posts and think, “oh Shan, hold on tight. How could I be in such a different place now??” And because insecurity’s a bully (or another b word, but I’ll keep it professional), it made me believe that something was wrong with me for not being in that place. Like I needed to figure out how to get back to that place. But the thing is, that’s the past.

I found myself living in this mentality when I moved back to do a second year of the student ministry internship that I did in Summer 2017. I felt so inadequate and so broken. I felt emotionally drained, like I had nothing left to give anyone else. I’m a type 9 on the enneagram, and I tend to want to avoid conflict at all costs to maintain an atmosphere of harmony. But 2018 kind of gave me no choice but to face some of life’s conflicts. I tried so hard to maintain that rosy filter on everything–my relationships, my life, my mental state–because I didn’t want to see the raw image. I cried a lot. I experienced a lot of anxiety around people because I almost felt too broken that I couldn’t remember how to be normal (or, what I envisioned as “normal”). I felt like I was failing at my job because I felt I wasn’t giving my all; in actuality, I was comparing myself to the younger version of me, the Summer 2017 version of myself that had just come out of an AMAZING season of growth freshman year. I hadn’t gone through the things that Summer 2018 Shannon had. I forgot about GRACE.

The sweetest words one of my bosses spoke to me were, “We didn’t hire freshman Shannon, though. We hired sophomore Shannon.” GRACE. I had massive expectations of myself, and couldn’t accept myself for where I was. But they could, and they reminded me that ultimately, God does. God used them to remind me that the current version of Shannon Kelly Hoey is JUST as lovable as the younger one.

That was about 7 months ago that I did that internship, and God has been working MASSIVELY on my heart since then, too. To be honest, I think it might have been a good thing that I didn’t post anything during the past nine months, because I feel like a lot of my posts would have come off as angry or bitter (something that I really wrestled through with God last semester–again, story for another blog post 🙂 ).

But now I’m HERE. And I am Shannon, the same one, but STRONGER. BOLDER. And truthfully, I don’t want to go back to the way things were–the rosy, filtered way I saw the world. Because now, I feel more real and in tune with who I am than I ever did before. I have wrestled through things with God that have only strengthened my trust in Him, not weakened it.

Around New Year’s, I like to write down lessons I learned in the previous year, and a vision for the next. I write down broad goals and truths that I want to really focus on for the following year. This year, I rang in 2019 in Arizona. One afternoon, I decided to go to a Starbucks and spend some time with Jesus and do just this.

Some goals I have for 2019:

  1. Write! Not only to write, but to write with PURE HONESTY. Something God really taught me in 2018 is that I have a heart for talking about things that need to be said, but are rarely talked about. I want this to be a space of some good old heart-to-hearts, ya feel?
  2. Maybe expand this puppy to YouTube?? Sometimes, there are things I just want to share my actual, legit voice on, not just my writing, ya know? So we’ll see…maybe now that I’ve put that thought out into existence I will actually do it haha!
  3.  Fun fact: I used to be a dietetics major. I dreamed of being a dietitian since I was 15, and I wrote a research paper my freshman year of college–for a basic English class lol–on the relationship between diet and mental health, and actually found that SO FUN! Not gonna lie, I let fear hold me back. I switched to psychology (which I LOVE, by the way, and can totally see how what I’m learning can apply to a career in the field of nutrition!), and am now thinking of pursuing my master’s in nutrition; I still wanna chase that dream of becoming a dietitian!  Chemistry, I’m coming back and better than ever. With that said, I really want to start sharing recipes, “what I eat in a day” type posts, and all things healthy lifestyle. Not necessarily because I’m an expert, but because I’m just an average gal who values health and am figuring out how to make health+fitness a part of my daily lifestyle 🙂
  4. I want to laugh and smile lots! I believe there is something smile-worthy in every day, even on the worst. I want to keep my eyes peeled for God’s goodness every day, because I know it’s there. I want God to give me eyes to see His kindness throughout each day.
  5. I want to be expectant on the Lord to do some really mind-blowing things. Ephesians 2:10 says,

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God has prepared every step I take. He has walked me through some dark times, but also some really triumphant ones to teach me more and more of His character and His purpose for my life. I love that about Him. He doesn’t let me wander aimlessly. Everything I go through in this life is leading to the bigger picture. Ephesians 3:20-21 says,

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 the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

I fully expect that God will blow my mind in 2019. Throughout most of 2018, I questioned, “what the heck are you doing with this, God? I don’t want this anymore.” But it’s now, as I am looking forward to 2019, that I my mind is being blown.

Which brings me to…

6. That I would remember that Jesus is VICTORIOUS, and that spirit that rose from death is ALIVE IN ME. I may have been wounded this year, but I am not down-and-out. The wounds only made me stronger and more reliant on HIS STRENGTH. I felt defeated in 2018, but now I’m starting to see. I get to claim Jesus’ victory as my own, because He won it for me. I will never be left to fend for myself in the battle of this life. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). You and I are not swallowed up by death+pain; no, death has been swallowed up in Jesus’ victory. HECK YES. Heck to the freaking yes. That’s what I am so pumped for in 2019. I want to tell of my Jesus’ victory in my life, because that’s what brought me back here after nine months.

You know, as cheesy as it may sound, as I was sitting there thinking about victory, I realized where I was, where I welcomed 2019. Phoenix, Arizona (actually a suburb of it, but very close). Phoenix–the bird that rises from the ashes. Maybe just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but smile a little because I believe it.

I believe that 2019 just might be my phoenix year.

 

 

The war.

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Hey, friend! It’s definitely been a while.

I’ve missed this–writing and pouring out my heart. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. I have. I’ve had a ton of ideas swim through my head, and I’ve got notepads to prove it. But something’s been holding me back. You want to know the truth?

I’VE BEEN FEELING LIKE A FRAUD. 

Backstory. I’ve always battled a little bit of anxiety when it comes to social situations. I’ve never been diagnosed or anything, but there are times I can hardly tell my anxious thoughts to shut up for long enough to hold a decent conversation. It’s so freaking annoying, too, because too often I’m too anxious to even admit that I’m anxious. I guess that’s how it works. Hahahahaha, dang it. So often, fear gets the best of me.  Now, that’s not to say this is the case for me all the time, but this year has been a struggle with it. When I’m anxious about other things, it just kind of happens naturally. (I can write another post all about mental health, etc. if you’re interested. Actually, I probably will, so stay tuned…).

Don’t worry! There’s hope a-comin’ later in this post, but I’ve gotta get through the muck first, or the story won’t make sense. You feel?

So here’s the deal. I’m an INFP, but also sometimes an ENFP given my environment. Either way, I’m always straddling the fence–like 52% I/48% E or vice versa. It comes in seasons–waves, I guess. I love people, but sometimes I have this annoying insecurity that keeps me from jumping all-in on a conversation. Like I can’t be fully myself because I care WAY TOO FREAKING MUCH about what the other person is thinking. Bleh.

So to tie it all together, I started believing this lie in my own mind that this blog was fraudulent. Because when I write, I say whatever the heck comes to my mind. I have confidence to say what I mean and mean what I say. But in person, I get scared. It’s my weakness.

BUT. But. I have something to share with you that absolutely blew my mind this afternoon that gave me the eyes to see that I was believing that dangerous lie–a lie that was draining me of my joy and kept me from doing something I loved–sharing my thoughts on how JESUS IS AT WORK IN A 20 YEAR OLD GIRL’S LIFE. Is that not the ultimate goal of the Enemy?! Lol, he thought he was winning on that one–forcing me into my shell with no outlet. But SIKE–Jesus wins every time.

So I was flipping through 2 Corinthians, trying to find the verse about demolishing arguments, etc. I finally found it, but I needed some context. I flipped back to the beginning of that chapter and began reading.

“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you–I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!” 

WHAT. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME. I had to go back and reread that again to make sure I read it right. Surely, I thought, Paul, like, THE Paul, basically one of the most influential human beings in Christian history (besides Jesus, because without Him, Paul wouldn’t have any credentials, ya know?) wrote this? Slash felt this way? DUDE, ME FREAKING TOO, I thought. So I looked up some commentary because I was so absolutely blown away by this. Turns out, the Corinthians accused Paul of being bold in his letters, but reserved in person. He was accused of backing out of face-to-face confrontation, but would be intense in his letters. In that moment, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Holy nuts. I’m not the only one.”

The Corinthians criticized Paul for being hypocritical–that this dichotomy between timid and bold, mild and spicy, meant that he lived just like everyone else, like he’s not special.

NEWS FLASH. Paul was, in fact a human dude. You’re not wrong, Corinthians! He struggles just the same as you do! He’s not Jesus. He’s a straight up human, just like y’all.

But Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” THAT’S the difference. The armor that Jesus provides Paul is literally the only difference.

The armor that Jesus provides.

Part 2 of my story. This morning, I was trying to find a verse on kindness, to try to prove something to myself. I was trying to justify something in my mind. But my eyes caught Colossians 2:13-14,

“When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

There was a part of me that didn’t want to acknowledge the truth that grace is so overwhelmingly simple. I literally thought to myself, “well, isn’t there a lesson I should learn from this?” And I realized, for me, sometimes grace is the hardest lesson to learn. It’s not complicated, but I often make it. Grace isn’t earned, it’s just simply given. Jesus gave it. After I read that verse, I finally found that other verse I had been looking for earlier.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

It’s like we’ve been given a whole new wardrobe (metaphorically). A beautiful one, too. Sometimes, it feels like I’m not worthy of wearing kindness or patience or humility–like I’m a fake for wearing them. These aren’t mine.

It feels weird because I’m so used to my rags. They’re butt ugly, but they’ve become frighteningly comfortable to me.

But Jesus says,

“Go for it. I died and rose again SO THAT YOU COULD WEAR THESE. They’re mine, but I love you and really wanted you to be able to wear them too. I love you more than you can even comprehend.”

He said this to Paul, He says this to me, He says this to you. Yes, we live in flesh. Sometimes, we’re tempted to change back into those unflattering rags because those are OUR clothes. Being a Christian isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable and confusing. But you know what that discomfort is?

It’s Jesus growing you to fit into His clothes a little better. He’s molding and shaping your character to look more and more like His, because He’s just that kind.

I ended that journal entry with, “I love you, too.” I’ve never added “too” before, but today, something just clicked. We say “I love you, Jesus” because He said it first. He always says it first.

And He’s promised that He’ll never stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOLD.

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Happy 2018, my friends!! (We’re now 3 months in but it’s fine, 2018’s still pretty young.)

So this is a pretty big year, I guess. I turn 21, which is really not old at all, but last week I told the kid I nanny that I was born in 1997, and after he did the mental math, he says, “so, Miss Shannon, you’re…um…eighty…six–no–seven?” I mean, 21, 87, close enough.

With a new year comes CHANGE (thank goodness). I am such an adventure junkie–I feel like I’ll probably live in every state in the country at some point (and out of the country).  While I’m not physically in a new place, I’m feeling a whole new adventure in my heart.

Last year, I wrote about my “word” of the year. My word was VULNERABLE. That certainly became a theme of my 2017. It had it’s fair share of trials, but I learned to finally open up about them and to invite other people into the joys + struggles I was facing. It was a huge lesson in freedom to share my heart with other people. I feel like in 2017, I experienced the deepest, most fulfilling friendships I’ve ever had in my life. I witnessed old friendships grow deeper, and new friendships that inspired + encouraged me + revealed to me a depth of community that is definitely not of this world.

This year, I wanted to have a “word” again. Around the time of New Year’s, I began praying about it, that God would direct my thoughts. I made a list of goals I had for the year, and long story short, I felt there was one word that seemed like it just fit: BOLD.

So over Christmas break, I watched The Greatest Showman a total of 4 times (well, 3, then I saw it again once I got back to Tallahassee). After watching it, I just wanted to go tackle every single dream that entered my mind. I thought to myself, “this is gonna be the year where I start pursuing my dreams and adventure like nobody’s business! This will be my year of ‘yes’ and of taking risks and of FREEDOM!!” And it very well could be. But in the past 3 months, I’ve been learning a different lesson in boldness, one I never knew I needed. And so our story begins.

January 8, 2018. The start of a new semester, the start of a new job, all with a fresh and bright outlook on life. See, fall semester of my sophomore year was riddled with anxiety. Feelings of inadequacy, like I wasn’t enough for everyone. Family tension. Over the summer, I was confronted with my tendency to please people, no matter the cost. It left me worn out, bitter, and confused as heck. So coming into the next semester, I thought those insecurities would be gone, like the change of schedule would wash it all away.

But on that first day of spring semester, I broke. I shadowed at my new nannying job, and I was swallowed up by my storming thoughts. I could think was, “I’m not good enough for this.” I felt this intense fear of not being able to measure up to my perception of what people wanted/needed me to be. I came home that night, sat for a while, and then FELT.

I felt fear. Anger. Frustration. Confusion. Helpless.

With tears rolling down my cheeks, I grabbed my journal and a pen and wrote. (I write out my prayers, so I can one day go back and see how God has been at work in that area of my life.) I clicked my pen and dug into the page as I practically carved my feelings into the page. Then, you know what I did?

I screamed at God. 

Through tears and heaving sobs, I held nothing back as I let Him know how I was feeling. I even said at one point, “singing songs about your goodness is just rubbing salt on a wound right now and I don’t wanna hear it.” At the end of that journal entry, I etched in, “Please God give me your strength BECAUSE I HAVE NONE RIGHT NOW” (Didn’t even use punctuation–ain’t nobody got time for punctuation when you’re upset.)

I was supposed to go hang out with some friends that night to watch the Georgia/Alabama game, and I had two options:

  1. Stay home
  2. Show up with puffy freaking eyes regardless

I knew my time with them would be life-giving, so I mustered up the energy to change my clothes at least and headed over.

Then, the most ironic yet most beautiful thing happened.

I parked my car and took a deep breath. My eyes were a puffy mess, and my mascara was basically everywhere but my eyelashes. At that point, I owned it. I didn’t even care. I walked into my friends apartment and I knew that’s exactly where I needed to be in that moment. After saying hi to everyone, I sat down on the floor across from the people sitting on the couch. And this is where God slipped me a little note of encouragement. One of my friends said to me, “Shannon, your makeup looks so good! Are you wearing eyeshadow?” I actually laughed out loud and explained, “haha, nope, just basically had a breakdown and cried a lot.” And now, looking back, it clicked.

That night was a tangible reminder that there is beauty in brokenness.

I never realized, but I had always kind of “cleaned up” before I talked to God. I never bared my soul like that. The beautiful thing is that God wants my messy. He calls me to come to Him when I’m burdened, and HE ALONE WILL GIVE ME REST. He wants my joy in joyful moments, but He also wants my pain, my hurt, and my anger. And He doesn’t want the cleaned-up version. “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) 

My definition of boldness changed after that night. It’s not just “pursue your dreams, you can do anything you set your mind to, etc.” Those aren’t bad thoughts, they’re just not complete. What happens when the bottom falls out?

Isaiah 48:9-10 says, “For the sake of my name I delay my wrath, and for My praise I restrain it for you, so as to not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”

At first glance, that verse might seem harsh, but I then went on to look up what “praise” meant in this context in Hebrew. Turns out, there are 7 DIFFERENT MEANINGS OF THE WORD PRAISE. Now I’m not Bible scholar, so definitely don’t quote me on this, but I found one particular word interesting. “Yadah” is the Hebrew word for praise with lifted hands, with surrender, and in one website I read, like a child reaching his/her hands up to his/her father. You know what that means?

GOD INVITES OUR HURTING HEARTS. He straight up promises He’s not going to cut you off if you yell at Him. He’s not going to get butt-hurt, I promise. That’s what Jesus came to gift us with–the freedom to a real, beautiful, raw relationship with the Creator of our hearts. That same Jesus that sends Roman soldiers to their knees at the sound of His “I Am” is the same Jesus that hung on the cross crying out to God so that we could, too. Isn’t that kind of amazing? I mean, pain sucks. It really freaking does. But in that pain, I’ve realized a deeper level of the love that Jesus has for me.

And I’m learning to boldly walk in my relationship with Him in confidence–your heart and your feelings (ALL OF THEM!) are WANTED by the Lord.

BUT IF NOT, HE IS STILL GOOD. 

 

 

 

 

Waiting: Seasons of Singleness

pexels-photo-41073.jpegAll my single ladies, putcha hands up.

I have been wanting to write on this topic for over a year now, no joke. Remember that list of blog topics I mentioned in my last post? Well, this one was in my top three. I’ve just been too nervous/didn’t know how to put my thoughts into words. So I’m hoping that something–even one little thing–will stick with ya/offer a new perspective/give you hope+joy right where you’re at. Also, just in case nobody’s told you yet today, YOU ARE RADIANT + LOVED BEYOND MEASURE. You really are.

I’m not really in a position to be giving “dating” advice, so I’m gonna take it from a  different angle. Instead, I hope to give some “single” advice/share my heart + thoughts on the matter. DISCLAIMER!!! This is heck-to-the-actual-not a pity party, nor am I trying to prove that one is better than the other (dating or singleness, I mean). I just want to share my heart, because I know for a fact that there is power and healing that happens in those moments of, “wow, me too. I thought I was the only one.”

This past semester offered some pretty sweet experiences. It had its share of tough ones too, but gaining new friendships and growing in old ones highlighted the past five months. I can think of one night in particular where I got the chance to just hang out and talk about life with a group of girls on Panama City Beach. Among all the stories shared, one comment struck a chord in me. One freshman girl made a comment something to the effect of “I thought coming into college that everyone had had their first kiss/date already.”

WOAH. I then realized I’ve gotta just get over myself and share this facet of my life.

It seems that there’s this pressure in our culture to be in a relationship, or if you’re not in one, to be looking for one. It may not be outwardly spoken, but it’s certainly implied. I remember being in my 7th grade geography class and talking with the girls at my table about this very issue (we were BARELY teenagers, man). They were all sharing their first kiss stories, and they looked honestly shocked when I said I hadn’t had mine. I remember feeling so insecure about it then, like I was doing something wrong. Am I not pretty enough? Do guys think I’m weird? Those were the kinds of questions that flooded my mind. My thirteen-year-old self was already insanely self-conscious about way too many other things. My heart was far too vulnerable. And the thing is, the pressure just builds as the years add on.

I turned twenty a couple of months ago, and I STILL have never had my first kiss. I’ve never been on a date in my life. Maybe that’s not common, but that’s not the point. Or maybe it is exactly the point. Why is it that the older you get, the more difficult–and I would argue uncomfortable–it is to share that you haven’t experienced what seems to be such a huge milestone in life?

I have a few observations.

  1. There’s a weird stigma surrounding the topic of sexuality. It’s a tough area to navigate. And you know what? The Enemy is lurking at every corner. If you’re a virgin, he’ll try to make you feel ashamed and insecure. If you’re not a virgin, he’ll try to make you feel ashamed and insecure. The Enemy’s main goal is to make us feel like we don’t deserve the goodness of God, and the title He gives us. Guess what, gal. No matter which you see yourself as, you are BEAUTIFUL + WORTHY OF HIS LOVE. And that is absolutely NOT contingent on your past or your future.
  2. It’s almost like it’s an expectation that every woman will get married. People joke about it–you come home for Christmas and Grandma asks if you have a “special boy,” when are you getting married, etc. When you get married–like it’s a guarantee. I have a Pinterest board called “One Day,” where I’ve put together a collection of super stunning rings and elegant dresses and cute couple wedding photos, and recently, it’s gotten to a point that my feed consists almost exclusively of wedding related items. Last semester, singleness was a freaking struggle for me. It seemed as though every other photo on Instagram, someone was getting engaged, shared a cute ice skating couples pic, or got married. It felt like a slap in the face.
  3. Kind of going off of both 1 and 2, our culture has elevated sexuality almost right up there with food, water, and shelter. Like we NEED it to survive. Now, I do think the human heart NEEDS love. But love≠sex. Love=patience, kindness, it’s not full of envy, nor is it boastful, nor proud (in the selfish sense). It’s not rude, nor self-seeking. It’s not easily angered and it doesn’t keep track of how often you do something wrong. It doesn’t find pleasure in injustices, but is JOYFUL when the truth wins. Love ALWAYS protects, ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, ALWAYS perseveres (even when the going gets rough). LOVE NEVER FAILS.

Our hearts are like jars. They are meant to be filled with something. I hear the expression, “we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts.” But I actually beg to differ, because that implies that God can’t fill our every need. Rather, I believe that we all have a God-shaped heart. His love is meant to fill every crevice of it. What happens to a jar that is full? Anything else that is poured into that jar makes it overflow. Likewise, when our heart is filled to the brim with God’s love for us, any other relationship (whether a friendship or dating relationship) that enters into our heart will experience the OVERFLOW of joy and love that Jesus already gave. (Hoping that made sense.)

I think it’s also super cool that your needs have been PERFECTLY + UNIQUELY CHOSEN + CRAFTED for you, by God, to match up with His riches and fullness in Jesus. It’s like your need is the square hole, and Jesus’ riches are the square peg. The world is constantly bombarding us with triangle and circle pegs, but no matter how hard we try, those pegs aren’t gonna fit. My prayer is that all of us, gals, will experience even a tiny portion of that richness and fullness. Because I think when we experience that, we experience joy right where we are, that our need is fully + completely met.

My last observation: in seasons of singleness, we can be tempted to think that our standards are too high. Or we can be tempted to think that guys only want one thing and that can make us feel hopeless, like good guys don’t exist. But I want to point something out. Early on my freshman year, I happened to be reading in Matthew about the birth of Jesus. In it, I found a golden nugget of truth. You know what, I kinda forgot about Joseph. But Matthew 1:24-25 gave me a pretty sweet perspective. So, backstory, Joseph found out Mary (whom he was preparing to marry) was pregnant with a baby that wasn’t his. Now back in those days, if something like that happened, she could have been stoned to death. But Joseph wasn’t about that. Instead, he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace, [so] he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19). Joseph was a GENTLE, KIND MAN. This woman wasn’t even his wife yet, but he showed her honor and respect. He didn’t want to shame her. But he didn’t want to be married to her, either. But then, God told him in a dream that that baby definitely wasn’t his, but it was His. And that He chose Joseph to be the earthly father of His Son, and that he would be the one to declare the child’s name to be Jesus–Immanuel–God with us. What a calling! Now once he received that message…

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

Joseph was married to Mary. Mary was his wife. He totally could have done what husbands and wives do. But he waited on God. He waited for Jesus to be born, for God’s promises to be fulfilled. That blew me away.

My pastor made a really great point (talking specifically to the guys in the audience), regarding the whole “test-driving relationships” thing. He said, “if someone offered you a Lamborghini, you’d think nothing of signing on the dotted line, even if it needed a new engine.” You wouldn’t need to test drive it because you know it’s worth A LOT.

Ladies, you are worth A LOT. Like, A LOT A LOT. If God brings a guy into your life, I hope that he only reaffirms what is already true, and that he would also realize the individual worth and value that God gave him. You’re not beautiful BECAUSE a guy says you are. You’re beautiful because God–the CREATOR of beauty–made you a unique and personal brand of beautiful, and He’s always thought that you’re a freaking stunner.

Waiting.

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Sometimes, things appear crystal clear. It’s like, without a doubt in your mind, you know exactly what to do. Things fall into place perfectly. Things make sense.

And then other times, you’re in a position where you think to yourself, “what am I doing here? Why is this happening? What am I supposed to be doing?” Things make about as much sense as 2+2=5.

This semester has been a 2+2=5 season of my life.

Moving back to FSU this fall, something felt different. What frustrated me the most was my inability to put my finger on the issue. I couldn’t place the feeling; it was unlike anything I had ever felt before, and I wanted answers. I wanted to know why I was riddled with anxiety for the first month of college, which direction was I supposed to take major-wise, why singleness suddenly became something I cared so much about, why I was the actual worst budgeter on planet earth, will I ever be comfortable in my own skin, would I ever find a job, why why why…

On October 27, 2017, my answer found me.

Way back in August, I had purchased a ticket to see Bethel perform in Tallahassee on the night of October 27th. When I bought it, I thought, “this will be a fun time to spend with friends and hear some good music.” But as the day began to approach, I debated selling the ticket to pad my savings account that I had frittered away (what a weird word lol. I just wanted to be able to say that I have used it in a sentence before. That is all.) But thankfully, I decided to go. I thought, eh, $27’s not that much. It’ll probably be a great experience.

YEP.

During the whole first half of the concert, I was wrestling. Wrestling with this looming feeling that was holding me back. This nameless fear and confusion and pain that felt like it was draining something out of me. I brought it to His feet daily, and I was becoming discouraged.

“Lord, I want to lift my hands to you and sing with joy, but I just can’t right now. I want to, but this fear is holding me back. God, I want to give this to you, but it almost feels like you keep giving it back to me. Lord, help me to trust you right now. I’m struggling. A lot.”

Amidst this war zone of my mind and heart, I hear the vocalist sing these words.

Take courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul. He’s in the waiting. 

And it hit me.

2+2=5 is also equal to my understanding+my emotions and feelings≠His ways and His thoughts. In other words, I don’t have all the answers all the time, and I am never guaranteed a quick fix. Sometimes the answer is that yes, life is confusing.

Sometimes, the answer is the waiting. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it can cause fear and anxiety. Yes, it will make you question how in the heck is God using this. But hold on to this hope, that HE IS RIGHT THERE IN THE WAITING. He’s not waiting for you on the other side, for you to catch up to Him. He’s right there next to you, waiting with you.

This is my season of waiting. In autumn, leaves turn beautiful colors, and slowly begin to fall. In winter, they disappear, and the tree is left barren. But in all the history of the earth (as far as I know), the leaves grow back in the spring. The winter wasn’t a waste of time though. Did you know trees actually have a mechanism that keeps all of its living cells from freezing so that it can bear fresh, renewed foliage in the spring? They don’t completely die. Though they may look hopeless in their barren state, hope is right there in the waiting. Those cells are still LIVING inside of them! Like the trees, it seems like my leaves were falling this past semester. But even in the past month that I’ve been on-and-off writing this, I am feeling new leaves blooming. And I have this hope that I am growing because of it all.

There have been a lot of areas of waiting that I’ve been faced with this semester (hence the somewhat vague post), but I’m certain I’m not the only one! So I’m considering trying something new; I’m thinking of writing a series on Waiting. I would love to write on topics that you, the lovely soul reading this at this very moment, would like to hear from me! If there is a specific area of your life that you feel that you’ve been struggling as you wait for answers–whether it’s where to go to school, depression or anxiety, singleness, friendships, you name it–don’t hesitate to send me a message in the contact section if you’d like me to address a certain topic on the blog, or just simply want to talk about it with someone. Even if I don’t know you in person, I’m here for you. We all need somebody to lean on.

Slow down, take time. Breathe in, He said. He’ll reveal what’s to come. The thoughts in his mind, Always higher than mine, and He’ll reveal what’s to come.

 

 

 

 

It’s ok to say it.

Hey friends! Yikes, it’s been a hot minute. Life gets busy and 24 hours isn’t really that long, so I’ve learned.

If you know me, you can attest to the fact that I am probably the most indecisive person on the face of planet earth. Like if I go to a restaurant that only has two things on the menu I will probably still have to tell the waiter that I need a couple more minutes to decide. So, after four months of not writing anything, I looked at my running list of blog ideas (that’s mighty long, I might add) and I couldn’t decide what to write. Then I thought about what’s been going on in my life these past four months, and the unexpected rollercoaster it’s been. Therefore, I’m calling out uncertainty. To my dear readers–especially if you’re a late high school/early college student–I want you to know something.

As a sophomore in college–approaching the halfway mark of my collegiate career and the near end of gen eds (BLESS)–I often feel the pressure to have my ish together. My senior year of high school, I was dead set on going to Florida State University to study dietetics, graduate in 4 years, hopefully get a combined dietetic internship+master’s degree from FSU, and become a registered dietitian. I was so pumped because I thought I had it figured out. I thought I had a passion for health and nutrition. I really thought so.

Turns out, my passion was more of an unhealthy obsession. I battled with a binge eating disorder (I was never diagnosed with a legit eating disorder, but I certainly had disordered eating) and I put an unhealthy amount of time and research into food. It was a comfort, but a stressor. When I would stress, I’d turn to food. See how it’s a vicious cycle? It got to a point where the only healthy things in my mind were hyper-organic, chicken and green vegetables. Everything else would destroy my gut. That’s what I thought.

It took failing chemistry and having to drop the class for me to finally wake up and realize that I wasn’t meant to study dietetics. Well nuts, plan foiled. So in a frenzy, I switched my major to Editing, Writing, and Media, knowing I liked to write. Then came the often dreaded question: “So what do you plan to do with that?” Good question. Your guess is as good as mine.

I finished my freshman year totally clueless as to what to do. I thought about taking a gap year or transferring schools. I just didn’t know what the heck my purpose was.

A few weeks later, I began a summer internship in student ministry. How did I end up there? Honestly I give Jesus the credit 100%. In high school, I always thought to work in student ministry, you had to be super outgoing and funny and have energy like nobody’s business. So basically everything that I am not, I thought. Good, one less career option on my radar, one less thing to choose from. Evidently, God had other plans (a WAY better one, I might add). It’s actually pretty funny to me to look back on how it all fell into place. I’m just so glad that it happened, let me tell you.

Things I learned from an internship I never thought I would ever do:

  1. The body of Christ (the Church) HAS to be diverse or it cannot function properly. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 is titled, “One Body, Many Parts.” The Church is likened to a body, and people to the parts. A body is not made up solely of eyes. If it were, could it move. No. Could it think? No. Therefore, it would be dysfunctional. But the body is not made up of one part, but of many! (vs. 14). “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body” (vs. 15). I found great encouragement and confidence in that. Verse 18 says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” In a world that gives you a list of requirements and standards, it can be so hard to believe that YOU WERE MASTERFULLY CREATED EXACTLY THE WAY YOU ARE. Your personality, likes and dislikes, even your life experiences and struggles were hand-picked for you and you alone.
  2. Sin serves a purpose. It was no accident! I’m in the process of reading Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. (It’s $8.14 on Amazon, I’ve linked it for ya!) The female interns and an amazing leader would meet and unpack this book together on Thursday nights, and it honestly blows my mind. In what I’ve read so far, she talks about how God uses sin for His glory, and how God ORDAINED the specific sin that each person struggles with. Satan literally can’t freaking win. Dang, what a good God we serve.
  3. People need people. We were never meant to do life alone. Like point one, we need people who think differently, who see things from a different perspective. We all were created with totally unique thought processes; therefore, we all need each other. The most life-changing things I’ve learned about myself–good and bad–were pointed out to me by OTHER PEOPLE. You can’t grow without people speaking into your life, affirming your strengths and calling you out and walking with you through your weaknesses.
  4. Do the things you thought you never could. Turns out, I love student ministry. Absolutely love it. This transition coming back to college has been pretty tough because I loved my summer more than I ever thought I would. Doing life with middle and high school students and growing in grace together is such a treasure. The cool part is, now I feel like I have a direction to go in. I feel like my eyes have been opened to a whole new opportunity. Stay tuned…
  5. Love is the answer. 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. 1 Corinthians 12:31 deems love “the most excellent way.” Chapter 13 tells of all the great things we can accomplish in this life, all the things we can surrender, all the faith we possess are meaningless without love at the heart of the matter. Love is patient, kind, is not envious, does not boast, is not proud or rude or self-seeking, is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Check this out; go ahead and substitute ‘God’ everywhere that ‘Love’ is in this verse. God is love! Loving others is a reflection and an outpouring of the love God has for us. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17). Jesus, in His love for us, took our condemnation upon Himself so that we could be free. We have been freed from the condemnation that God had every right to give us, but He loved us too much to leave it at that. How great the Father’s love for us, am I right??

Shoot, man, this list could go on. But here’s what I want you to hear.

You are free to say, “I don’t know.” There is no shame in saying, “I am lost, I am confused, I am upset, I am in pain.” IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK. 

The standard is not perfection or having it all together. We’re all human and we make mistakes and take 10 years to make decisions and say stupid things and hurt people and struggle with depression and anxiety and fall flat on our faces sometimes.

But by the gospel, the standard is grace. God is at work in whatever season of life you’re in right now. You don’t have to have it all figured out, because He’s had every second planned since the beginning of time.

And it’s a beautiful masterpiece to watch unfold.

 

Can I tell you something?

Hi friends. It’s been a while again. Lemme catch you up on the whirlwind that is my life.

So I finished my freshman year of college! WOO. It was an absolute blast and I appreciate every moment of it. I had some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows, but I am so thankful that life is a rollercoaster and not a trolley. Without low lows, the highs wouldn’t be so amazing and thrilling. Change can’t happen without pain. It’s like working out–in order to build those muscles, you’re going to have some pretty sore days. But once that soreness fades, you can feel and see the change in your appearance and it feels AMAZING. Isn’t the heart like that, too? Those trials in life are like an insane workout that’ll leave you sore for a while, but the soreness won’t last forever. Once it fades, you’ll feel a change and you’ll feel stronger and it will feel EVEN MORE AMAZING. That happened to me in ways I never thought possible these past 9 months of college. Remember my last (kinda vague) post about vulnerability? Well, that bandaid was ripped off more than once and IT FELT AMAZING. To ugly cry in front of people as I pour out the pain and struggles of life and how God has so mightily worked on my heart this year was the most refreshing thing I’ve ever done. To have a community of friends who hug you and cry with you and who praise the One who gives our hearts a dang good workout is such a gift.

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Probably my favorite memory of freshman year happened in the week before finals. Early on in the school year, my campus ministry does this thing called “Freshman Connection” where all the freshman in all the different bible studies come hang and get to know each other and worship together. At the end of the year, we freshman decided to get together on Landis Green the Friday night before finals to talk about the ways that God had worked in our lives over the course of freshman year. Like, dang. It was INCREDIBLE. We talked about struggles we came into college with and how God used those to strengthen our hearts and draw us to Him. There were a lotta tears, a lotta vulnerability, and I’ve never experienced such a beautiful picture of community as we prayed over each other and our summers and the incoming freshman class. God is so, so, so, so good, y’all.

So let’s bring it back to the ups and downs topic. I wanna tell you a story. Bear with me, I may jump around but hopefully it’ll all tie together in the end. Welcome to my brain.

So coming into college, I had what seemed like an unfixable health issue with my gut that was triggered by huge amounts of stress in my life that compounded over a few years. I was depressed as heck. Like didn’t want to get out of bed. I sobbed randomly throughout the day. I actually remember saying through a blur of tears, “I feel like there’s no point in getting up. I feel like I’m in a hole that I can’t get out of. I’m losing hope.” I’m just gonna say it straight up. The stress of life had literally worn holes in my intestines–like actual holes–so all that toxic crap (again, literal) that’s supposed to exit the body was stuck in there (aka I was hecka constipated you’re welcome), with nasty toxic waste escaping into my bloodstream.

I actually wrote a research paper on the gut-brain connection in the first semester of freshman year because I knew there had to be something related. Turns out, 90% of serotonin production happens in your gastrointestinal tract and is transmitted to the brain through the vagus nerve. The Latin meaning of vagus is “wandering;” the vagus nerve connects the brain to all of your visceral organs (i.e. your GUT). Ever wonder why certain foods make you feel a certain way? Well, that’s why. You have good and bad bacteria in your gut. When the bad overpowers the good, serotonin production is inhibited. I had a hecka lot of bad bacteria in my gut with all that toxic crap in my gut (this had been going on for 3 years, mind you, and that junk wasn’t movin to fast…).

Needless to say, I was a little afraid to go to college. What was my biggest fear? That I wasn’t gonna be able to go to the bathroom. No joke, you can laugh (like for real, laughing is good for you). I’m not even kidding you, for 3 years not a day went by that I didn’t worry about not being able to go. I was afraid I was gonna sink back into that hopeless depression that I went through over the summer.

Let me tell you something. I genuinely have no other explanation for this other than God. All the anxiety and stress of family life and school and health issues that I thought I could never shake was almost immediately washed over by this ginormous wave of peace that is absolutely nothing of this world. Certainly not of my character at all–if you could tour my brain you’d be like, “dang girl how do you even find anything in here?” I’m all freaking over the place. Peace is not something I can just make myself feel. And here this peace was–completely not what I was expecting. And can I tell you something? I was going to the bathroom (no shame anymore, y’all. I say it like it is). My gut was healing after these long years. Depression? Lifted. I felt lighter than I had in years (I mean emotionally, but I mean I guess I could say physically too–sorry for the TMI). But for real, I was walking through life with pep in my step. Life had this new enthusiasm.

A couple weeks ago, I was reading through John in one of my favorite coffee shops in Tallahassee (shout out to Black Dog cafe you rock) and I came across this verse:

John 5:2-9–Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me get into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The invalid thought the best that could happen to him was to at least get into the pool to help ease his pain–he was willing to settle for that. He probably never in his life thought that he’d be completely healed. He probably thought that was impossible. But Jesus does the impossible. Jesus simply says, “get up, pick up this mat, and walk.” And he walks.

This past year, I never in my life thought that so much growth and healing would happen in my life. Quite frankly, I didn’t think it was possible. I thought I was too far from healing. But Jesus is unrelenting in His pursuit of my heart. That Peace I felt was for a reason–that was Jesus telling me the Truth that healed and is healing me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Get up, pick up your mat, and walk. Watch Him do something that’ll blow your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts.

Hey, friends. Long time no post! Therefore, long post.

This semester totally caught me off guard–it couldn’t be any more different than last semester. I’m a fan of change, so it’s not all bad, but my priorities have been tested big time and I’ve had to reevaluate A TON. One of those mega reevaluations was my major–I am so excited to say that I am now an English major (Editing, Writing, and Media to be specific)!!! It was a decision that took a lot of prayer and consideration and tears and worry and uncertainty, but I took the leap and I haven’t felt a bit of regret. Nutrition is GREAT, but writing has been a passion of mine since I was a kid, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am to see how God uses me through it.

So anyway, after a crazy couple of days this week (aka an exam and a huge draft for a project due within a 24 hour period that left me sleepless in Tallahassee), I had the whole rest of the week to decompress. I logged on to WordPress for the first time in ages *sigh of relief* and found a little new year’s post that never made it up on the blog. Well, here you have it, 3 months later (hehe…).

I’ll preface this by saying not all of my quiet times with the Lord are like this; I long for it, but I’m a human. I can’t make a quiet time life-changing–I don’t have that much power. Only the God who set the stars in place can alter something as stubborn as the human mind.

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking. Thinking about 2017, thinking about the new semester, thinking about my thoughts. Yep, I do that sometimes. My mind was so energized today that I actually had to ask myself, “have I had a single conversation with anyone today?” Well, ya know, some days you just need a little introspection.

Anyways, I was thinking a few days ago about my “word of the year.” I was trying to brainstorm ideas, but nothing seemed to fit. “Faith” and “love” just didn’t feel right. So I prayed about it. I prayed that God would open my eyes to what He wanted me to see. And about a day later, I found my “word.”

VULNERABLE.

When you really break it down, “vulnerable” carries A LOT of weight. It requires a degree of courage that I would argue nothing else in this world demands. It means all shame, hurt, sorrow, joy, emotion must be laid out on the table. It’s showing the deepest parts of your flawed heart and mind to other equally flawed humans that have the capability say words that can cut deep. It means holding nothing back–to bring the shameful, ugly parts of your heart to the surface. It’s putting alcohol on that gaping wound that required stitches from a doctor, but you thought you could heal it yourself with just a bandaid. You just keep putting a new bandaid on it, thinking it’s getting better, but in reality it’s festering and needs to heal. Vulnerability is ripping that bandaid off and admitting that you can’t do it alone. Your wound cannot heal without the help of someone experienced, who knows just what will bring healing to that pain. Whew. Alrighty, now that we’ve gone 0 to 100% heavy, cue the happy music.

That night, I read the intro to my Jesus Calling devotional, and one line really hit me. “God guides our minds as we think things out in His Presence.” So I poured my thoughts out onto the pages of my journal. And right now I’m gonna share it because God is so good and utterly amazing. So, here goes.

“Lord, you’re speaking straight into my heart! Before I opened Jesus Calling, I prayed that You would give me a teachable spirit to absorb what you’re teaching me, and the very first line is ‘Come to Me with a teachable spirit.’ Aghh! After that, You say, ‘eager to be changed.’

That’s what I long for right now, Lord. To be changed. Not a new set of circumstances, or the way I look, or new friends, but the transformation of my mind. Sin is insanely exhausting. It makes me into a person that I don’t want to be around. Fear holds me back from loving people and letting myself be loved. Vulnerability is my biggest fear I think, Lord. I’ve heard a bunch of people talking about their “words” for the year. I feel You’re telling me “vulnerable.””

This is where the most mind-blowing thing happened. Remember “God guides our minds as we think things out in His presence? As I was writing my prayer out on the page, I felt God speaking straight into my heart, right where I was at in my thought process.

Be vulnerable. I bared everything before man and took the punishment for failure.

“WOW. Jesus, I broke down at that. I am SO INCREDIBLY FREE! Whom then shall I fear? You see the deepest and most broken places of my heart. I am a perfectionist–failure is one of my BIGGEST FEARS. I fear messing things up–like one wrong move and it’s all gonna come crashing down on me. I live my life like I’m setting up a house of cards–the slightest wrong move and it caves.”

I Am in complete control. What the world deems failure is such success in the heavenly realm. The times you feel you’ve failed and everything’s gone wrong–I am mightily at work in your heart. I give and take away for My glory. Some people are put in your path for only a short time–don’t feel you’ve messed the relationship up. Listen to My voice, My Spirit within you; if I mean for the relationship to continue, then it will be so. But you, My beloved, do not mess anything up. If you had the power to alter My plans, then I would not be who I say I am, the God of the Universe. You, My dear, do not hold that much weight and power. I want you to know that all the earthly pain, struggles and failure you face are not in vain. I will strengthen and uplift you; I will give you joy in your darkest hours. Because Love, I’ve been there. I took on the weight and pain and struggles and failures of ALL PEOPLE of ALL TIMES when I hung on that cross. Believe Me when I say I know EXACTLY what you feel. I chose to do that for you, so that you could choose to be free. Before I came into your life, you didn’t have that choice. You were a slave to the world and the thoughts of your captive mind. But My Love, I bring you Peace. You have the choice to be utterly free in Me. That doesn’t mean troubles will not happen anymore, but rather, you can feel My presence and peace and strength in the midst of troubles. Your light and momentary afflictions are bringing about something insurmountable in heaven. The pain and suffering you face now is FAR outweighed by the indescribable JOY and PEACE and PERFECTION that awaits you in heaven. But for now, I will fight for you; you need only be still.

“Oh Lord. Such sweet truth. You fill me with such joy! For a second, the thought crossed my mind, ‘what if I’m just talking to myself? What if I’m making an imaginary friend?’ Oh but Jesus, thank you for understanding my neediness and brokenness. There’s just no way. I could never dream up a friend so perfectly understanding. My mind is a war zone. When I’m alone for too long, I get trapped in isolation, which then leads to comparison and bitterness, leading to frustration and impatience that I end up taking people, especially those I’m closest to. I become fearful and anxious and doubtful. I feel suffocated by my own thoughts and insecurities. I don’t like who I become when I’m alone. But Lord, when I’m with You, I love who I am because You love who I am. You’ve intentionally and purposefully created my mind and my heart, and when I spend time with You, I feel Your light shining into the darkness of my heart and You bring healing to hurting parts. Parts where I feel insignificant or defective in the eyes of the world, Your light uncovers purpose. I used to dislike my introversion, but You are lovingly teaching me that You meant for me to be that way. It’s all part of Your grander plan. Since I’ve gone to college, I’ve met so many others who share that introversion, and it’s beautiful to see that Your glory exists and shines through both introverts and extraverts. You’ve set different challenges in our paths and are using us each for different parts of bringing Your glory, but ultimately all of our purposes are to love You, love each other, and be loved by the One who made us worthy of love.

Romans 12:3–Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

“The closer I grow to You, Lord, the sharper my awareness of my need for You is. I need You every hour. Without You, I would be consumed by the sin that so dang easily entangles me and would be utterly trapped. But by Your grace, You’ve provided me a way out; You’ve clothed me with Your perfection so that I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to measure up. I don’t have to have all the right answers and words to say. Any good thing I do is You at work within me, Lord. Hallelujah! I’m not a slave to sin any longer!”

So there you have it. I’ll admit, that perfectionist part of me kept thinking “crap, I know there’s a better word for that,” or “ok stop using the word is,” or I’d think “no, I don’t know if I feel comfortable saying that on the internet.” But like I said, vulnerability is laying it bare, holding nothing back.

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This was the last page of that journal entry. It’s not fancy. I used a plain old pen and messy lines and it’s not strategic and straight. It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. And that’s ok.

Because my God is, and He says to my weary, perfectionist self, “Be still, my power is made PERFECT through your weakness. You’ve got no one to impress, because I love you and all your quirks. I made you just the way I wanted to, and when I hung on that cross, I set you free. You, My love, are completely and utterly free.”

I am free.