Faith without Limits

In the final week of my 21 days of prayer and fasting, God validated and confirmed what He spoke in the beginning. I began to understand quiet confidence in a deeper way, and developed a deeper trust in God’s timing. When we press in, God moves. 

Day 15: Constant + Unconditional  

“‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:7). 

When I began the 21 day of prayer and fasting, I was worried that my relationship with God would feel different. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to move past the feeling that I had disappointed my heavenly father. I was worried that my faith would no longer feel personal since I struggled to trust myself; however, the very nature of God is that He is unchanging. There is something so healing and personal about experiencing the consistent and unconditional love of Christ in our variable and changing seasons. God’s love does not change. God’s pursuit for my heart does not change. God’s plan for my life does not change.  

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (Malachi 4:2). 

Day 16 and 17: Faith without Limits  

To end the last few days of prayer and fasting, I decided to read through the book of John. When I was first saved, I was encouraged to read through John to kick start my personal walk with Jesus. Sometimes we must reconnect with the joy of our salvation. Later that Tuesday night, I had clinicals on a labor and delivery unit. While assisting a post C-section mom in the PACU, she began to exhibit signs of severe complications. I was the only one present at her bedside, and was forced to respond quickly despite feeling extremely overwhelmed and over my head. Thankfully, both mother and baby are now healthy. As I left clinical that morning, I felt a little annoyed at God to be honest. I had been praying for an easy and smooth clinical experience. I declared peace and joy over the night despite how much I struggled to enjoy this clinical rotation. Unfortunately, I also made the mistake of praying that God would use me (what was I thinking…lol). As I left, I felt God saying He was proud of me. I realized how tame my anxiety was during the crisis. I grew in confidence and developed important skills for the nursing field. Despite my lack of training, I was able to respond in a way that possibly saved this mother’s life. And then I felt God challenging me in my faith. 

How often do I want God to use me to build His kingdom, but then place limits on what I think I am capable of being used to do. I limit my faith to my current level of confidence. I limit my faith to the labels I have received from others. I limit my faith to how I am feeling. When we limit our faith to what we can do, we never experience the full extent of the miracles and wonders that God can do through us. I want to live a life of faith without limits.  

“For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limits” (John 4:34). 

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). 

Day 18: The Door Looks Different 

Day 18, March 5, 2020, is a day that will remain very significant in my spiritual journey. It was a day that God validated and spoke a very clear message to my heart. As mentioned in my previous blog, I wrote that I felt like God had prophesied Haggai 2:9 over my year. Fast Forward to the next Thursday night, I got a call from my work saying they were overstaffed and didn’t need me to come in. I quickly decided to attend the Young Adult service at my church since I now had an open evening. We had a guest speaker, and I was excited to attend after weeks of being unable to due to work. The guest speaker opened his message by revealing that he felt like God had asked him to change his message that morning. He felt that someone attending needed to hear this new message. He then asked us to open up our Bibles to John 7. My bookmark was literally already on that page, as that was exactly where my 21 days of prayer and fasting reading had taken me. I immediately felt God’s nudge in my heart. He then shared the verse Haggai 1:9 which says, 

“‘You expect much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with your own house.’” (Haggai 1:9). 

Sometimes, the areas in our life where we feel that we blew it were really blown away by God. Doors don’t shut on their own. Sometimes God calls us away from opportunities that are outside of our purpose. We do not have to prove our potential. We have a God given purpose that will come to fruition in its God given time. This message validated exactly what God had already been speaking to my heart. 2020 will be a year of slow growth on good soil, and the new house God is building will be more glorious than the former. 

Day 19:  Fragrance of Sacrifice + Surrender

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). 

As I continued my journey through the book of John, I was captivated by the imagery in this verse. I love the idea that our spirit of sacrifice and surrender can fill the space around us. Generosity and servitude can be contagious. It creates a beautiful aroma that is refreshing in a world filled with selfish ambition and greed. I am reminded to never doubt that power of putting yourself second. I pray that I can have a spirit saturated in the fresh fragrance of sacrifice and holy surrender.

Day 20-21: Jump into the Water   

“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him and jumped into the water” (John 21:7). 

As I read this verse I was reminded of the story of when Jesus walked on water. Peter demonstrates an eagerness and confidence in John 21 that wasn’t present in his previous encounter with Jesus on the stormy waters described in Matthew 14. . 

“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus” (Matthew 14:28-29). 

While the contexts of the situations and the conditions of the waters are very different, the most important factor is consistent: Jesus. In Matthew 14, Jesus appears to the disciples on dangerous, rocky waves. The conditions were dangerous, and they were a considerable distance from land. Also, Jesus appears…WALKING  on the water. Based on all human logic and understanding, it can’t be Jesus because that is impossible. Peter requires reassurance before he will walk towards Jesus. I imagine he slowly and cautiously exited the boat. As the story continues, we learn that Peter began to sink as the fear of the wind and waves began to overwhelm him. Jesus reaches out and catches Peter from sinking in the water, and He asks him: “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”. 

Fast forward to where we find Peter in John 21. He is about 100 yards from shore in his fishing boat. The water is tame and the fishing is slow…until Jesus shows up. When Peter discovered Jesus standing on the shore, he didn’t ask for reassurance. In fact, it says in John 21 that none of the disciples asked who Jesus was…they just knew. Peter jumped into the water and ran towards Jesus. It’s important to remember that this encounter occurred after Jesus was crucified and resurrected. It was the third occasion that Jesus had appeared to the disciples. Despite Jesus’ presence on the shore defying logic and reason, Peter jumped into the water and ran. Talk about a demonstration of faith. 

I love seeing Peter’s growth. It reminds me that God is not finished with me yet. My confidence and trust in Christ will continue to grow. My hesitation and fear will not always hold me back. I pray that my Spirit will have an eagerness and confidence to always take a leap of faith (without hesitation) towards wherever Jesus calls me. 

 

The Scandal of Grace

Recently, I have found myself amidst conflict. As someone who hates conflict and tends to avoid it at all cost (sometimes to an unhealthy extent), I have been experiencing extreme anxiety, confusion, and unrest. I have been nauseous and unable to sleep as I attempt to untangle the unrest in my soul. My typical go-to coping mechanisms of binging on carbs and buying gifts for my dogs to cheer myself up vicariously through them have been ineffective (which is probably a good thing since both are unhealthy coping mechanisms…but hey, I’m human). So, in the messiness I am reminded that the only answer is Jesus ( oh how easily I forget this). As I have been prayerfully processing my thoughts and emotions in this conflict, I felt God challenge my heart. God directed my attention toward His grace. I realized that in this conflict,both sides have explained that they have felt that they have extended grace to the other side; however, neither side expressed feeling that they have received that grace. This revelation really challenged me in my understanding of God’s grace. How often do we hear from people who are not plugged into a church that they feel judged by the church despite the church believing that they are sending out a message of grace? Where is the disconnect? How can we be better at carrying the character and culture of Christ? As I  sat uncomfortably in the confusion, I found myself crying out to God in prayer, ‘What do I not understand about grace? What am I getting wrong/missing’. As I leaned into scripture and the correction I felt from the Holy Spirit working in my heart, this is what I learned:

1) Grace saves you a seat. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and yet he saved him a seat at the dinner table. Judas attended the last supper (…and I thought my family dinners could be tense lol…). Is anyone else questioning Jesus’s judgement/choice of friends? It doesn’t make sense…but THAT is grace. Grace doesn’t make sense. Jesus did not cast judgement on Judas, because He knew that not only was Judas limited by his “human-ness”, but He also understood the significant role Judas was playing in God’s story. He celebrated with Judas. Jesus loved Judas, and he never stopped…God is love. And the other 11 disciples were not without their own faults. Jesus also saved a seat for Peter who would go on to deny him three times. Jesus knew that the people closest to him would disappoint him, but he embraced them unconditionally.

“Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'”(Matthew 26:27). 

 As I read this verse, I am reminded how thankful I am for Jesus. If I had been in Jesus’ shoes, the verse would read something like this” :

“Then she took a cup passive aggressively saying to them, ‘Drink…especially YOU Peter (makes direct eye contact and mumbles, you liar). This is my perfect, faultless blood which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins which you all desperately need. And you’re welcome, I’ll be praying for you..;” (the book of Abbey 26:27)

If I was in Jesus’ shoes I would be spilling tea not pouring communion. Jesus saved a seat for Judas and Peter and forgave them before they betrayed him.  As I read through this verse, I felt God asking me who I needed to save a seat for. Who in my life have I “uninvited” because I have felt hurt. In order to carry a culture of grace, I have to be willing to celebrate the plan and purpose of God with everyone…especially my “enemies”.

2) Grace produces gratitude. Grace is being able to read the crucifixion story without  villainizing Judas. Grace is being able to read the crucifixion story and thanking God for Judas and the high priests’ roles in the larger story. In Matthew 26:27, it says Jesus took the cup and gave thanks. Moments before Jesus would be betrayed, abandoned, and crucified, he was giving thanks. (what?!) Even while he was being wrongfully arrested and prosecuted, Jesus took a stance of humility and silence.  If I were in this situation, I would be defending my reputation and trying to prove to those around me why I was “right”. But, Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t belittle Judas’ character or insist that he had done nothing wrong, he simply walked the path of his calling. So often when we find ourselves in conflict we can confuse the need to feel “right” with the deeper need to feel seen and heard. As Christians, we can carry a culture of grace by learning how to listen and empathize with others. We are all undeserving of grace, yet God sees, hears, and responds with love to our story anyway. For that we can be grateful.

3) Grace requires transparency. Even though Jesus lived a perfect and faultless life, that is not the most important part of the story. God desired a relationship so deeply for us (sinners who are imperfect), that He sent Jesus to take our debt so that we could have an eternal relationship with our father. You cannot share a testimony of perfection and also tell a testimony of grace. If Jesus had spent his entire walk towards the cross trying to convince others of his perfection/innocence, the power of grace would have been lost. Jesus didn’t take a victim stance because he knew he had victory. Jesus was willing to wreck His image, because He fully embraced His identity. Jesus knew who He was, and He knew the heart of God. Personally, I would be heart broken if anyone ever looked at my life on social media and thought, “I wish I was her. I wish I had her life…it looks so fun/easy/happy.” I would hate for others to think I have a “perfect” life because of how I narrate my life via social media. Trust me, you do not want my life. Not that it’s not filled with joy the majority of the time, but I have really difficult struggles and hardships (just like everyone else). Instead, I pray that my vulnerability and transparency on social media and within my relationships would be saturated with a story of grace. I pray that my life would never be about me but would always be a reflection of God in me. When we carry a culture of grace, others feel safe and free to be their authentic selves. They do not fear judgement or rejection. I truly believe outsiders and nonbelievers will be more willing to enter the doors of a building where the transparent walls allow them to see that inside the people are just like them. People are attracted to grace.

4) Grace results in change. This past Easter season, my church encouraged church family to share their story of grace. Each story followed a similar pattern: an imperfect person encountered God’s grace and was changed forever. When we encounter God’s grace, our hearts are changed. This part can be especially hard to embrace. Not only can it be painful to humble out and admit that we need to change things within our own hearts, but it can be even more difficult to be patient in the transformation. So often as Christians when we find ourselves in conflict with others, we are quick to respond in prayer for the other person. But grace and prayer require action. If you are praying for reconciliation, what actions are you taking to see God move in that way? If you are praying for peace, what ownership are you taking over that promise? Sometimes the solution is to stay and work hard on restoring the relationship. Other times, God will call you onto a different path. What is important to remember is that the destination is the same. We are all racing towards eternity, and that requires a lot of grace. The position we take in the transformation determines our destination. For example, we can view separation as division or we can view it as expansion of influence in building God’s kingdom. When we keep our eyes on God’s mission, which is building His Kingdom, we remain unified in grace. CELEBRATE the calling on other’s lives. It is not a competition. Changing the world is a big task, and it starts and continues with the transformation we receive through grace.

5) The object of grace is relationship. God extended grace to us because he deeply desired relationship with us. So, you cannot claim that you are extending grace if your goal is forgiveness, justice, or an apology. The goal of grace is relationship. When we extend grace, we have to be willing to lay down our pride and hurt emotions. If we are holding onto bitterness or expecting something from the other party, then our extension of grace will not reach far enough. Grace often requires sacrifice. As a church, individuals will experience God’s grace when we make real, healthy relationship with them the goal. Where can God use you to heal loneliness? Where can you reach out to bring healing or health to a relationship? How can you be more inclusive in inviting others into your circle? The object of grace is relationship or it’s not grace.

Walking Through The Fire

Recently, God has been doing some major correction in my heart. For the sake of fully processing all that God is doing, I’ve decided to take some time and make some connections via blogging. I hope it’s okay if I get a bit transparent for a moment.

Lately I have been living out of this place of insecurity. One of my biggest fears in life is failure. My perfectionism and type-A personality crave control. Unfortunately, things have been going far from perfect. In March I started my first CNA job, and was genuinely excited to take the next step towards my long-term goal of becoming a physician assistant. Well…things did not go as planned. Long story short, I quit. After experiencing extreme anxiety and panic attacks, I decided that I needed immediate change. While I am the biggest advocate for prioritizing mental health and pursuing peace, it’s not always easy to make big life changes. The relief of leaving a job that was producing severe anxiety and stress in my life was quickly followed by the panic of being unemployed. It doesn’t help that over the past few weeks I have been searching for an apartment to move into at the end of this summer which has made the financial burden of adulthood more confronting.

Prior to my resignation, my short car rides to work ALWAYS consisted of worship and prayer because I genuinely needed God’s strength to help me through my shifts. One day while driving to work, I was praying for God’s presence to provide me with peace and confidence. Suddenly, my soul leaned into a specific line from the song When The Fight Calls by Hillsong Young & Free. The lyric says, “I’ll walk through the fire and not be burned, Pray in the fight and watch it turn”. In that moment, I felt God say, “Abbey, stop being afraid of getting burned.” Wow…suddenly, the chaos in my life clicked. I have been living with this fear of taking one wrong turn and getting burned. Oh how I have been limiting my faith.

You see, I find that it’s easier for me to believe that God has secured and protected my future than it is for me to trust God with my tomorrow. My future is x amount of days/weeks/years away while tomorrow is much more confronting. It’s easier to believe that the best is yet to come, and harder to have faith bold enough to make immediate steps forward into the unknown. Currently, my life is full of transition. I am transferring schools, moving out of the safety of my childhood home, and growing increasingly closer to fully committing to a career path. While I feel confident about certain steps to take in life, I am also constantly battling self-doubt and insecurity. What if I end up hating the career path I chose? What if I’m not smart enough? Even at the young age of (almost) 21, I feel like I am running out of time to meet the expectations of others. What if everyone discovers how imperfect I am?

*Cue God’s healing truth. I recently started reading the book Grace not Perfection by Emily Ley, and this statement has quickly become my mantra for 2017. It’s so simple, and yet it can be so hard to fully embrace. Grace gives me permission to feel complete in my brokenness. Grace gives me permission to present my messiness to the world and still confidently declare that I am enough. God is with me. God is for me. I can handle this. I will not get burned.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 NLT).

The reality of living with a fear of getting burned is that it roots from a pride issue. Why am I so afraid of admitting that I don’t have it all together? God has really been calling me to humble out and trust Him. Walking a faith-filled life means walking through the fire with my head held high. I refuse to question my path when I feel the heat. I refuse to be so afraid of getting burned that I prevent God from refining my heart in the fire.

“Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.” (1 Peter 1:7 MSG).

Today, I am declaring that I can handle the heat. I am refusing to let the enemy posion my path with fear or doubt. I will not be burned.

 

The Dream Center

It’s been almost a month since I had the privileged of visiting The Dream Center for a five day mission trip. As I have continued to process and reflect on all that God did in such a short span of time, He is still revealing new things to me. It truly was a life changing experience. I’m not sure I can adequately compress all the individual stories and miraculous moments into one coherent and concise blog post (which may be why I’ve been holding it off), but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try…so bear with me.

Day 1

Our journey to The Dream Center began bright and early. Actually, make that just early. We beat the sun to the airport at 5:30 am so that we would be ready to board our 6:10 flight. Within minutes of getting “comfortable” on our flight, the pilot came over the speaker and announced that this plane was in fact staying in Kansas City due to mechanical issues. Honestly, I immediately felt God’s blessing on this trip. Over the last 7 years, I’ve gone on 3 mission trips and a handful of retreats….there has LITERALLY never been a trip that didn’t involve some sort of car engine/car battery issue. My very first mission trip in 2009 involved a death trap bus that imploded, but 20(+) people were also saved that week. I’m a firm believer that resistance and hiccups are just signs of the enemy’s attacks…and the enemy loves to attack when God is doing big things. So with a refreshed sense of expectation and empowerment, I switched over to the new plane that would be (safely) transporting our KC crew to LA! When we arrived in LA, we had time to explore and bond as a team. In the early afternoon we visited Manhattan Beach before getting settled in at The Dream Center. In the evening, we hiked near The Observatory. Throughout the day, God was creating an atmosphere of comfort and love within our group of 22 unique individuals. As we bonded over good food, beaches, and somewhat unsafe hiking trails…God was creating a spirit of peace and safety that would prepare us for the challenges that we would face in the following days. I knew that I had support from everyone on the trip, which encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone. Despite not doing any mission work on day 1, the atmosphere and bonds created were crucial in preparing us for the uncomfortable and challenging circumstances we would face.

“So let’s do it-full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on” (Hebrews 10:22-25 MSG).

beach

 

Day 2

Woohoo..Day 2! I was excited to finally dive into serving the community, and I was also eager to feel God’s strength in moments that required more than I had. The first service project I helped with was The Dream Center’s clothing drive. Our Cause group had been assigned three different tasks for the morning, so I joined 6 others to help sort through donated clothes. We divided clothes into bags based on whether they were good to keep or were too damaged. We worked for a couple hours, and lined the walls with clothes. Once sorted, the clothes were taken to be cleaned before going into the thrift store/clothing drive. Even though we accomplished a lot, there was still quite a bit to be done before the clothes ever entered into the hands of the person in need. Sorting clothes was such a cool illustration of how God works. Each step had been planned by God from the moment they left the donors hands to when they entered into whomever would receive the clothes. And, although we did not get to witness a life being changed…our part was still significant and vital to God’s plan. Planting seeds can feel discouraging when we don’t see the fruit that is produced, but a Kingdom perspective trusts that each step is crucial to God’s plan.

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After lunch, our entire group got to pass out hot dogs and flowers on Venice Beach. It was such a simple yet impactful way to bless the people there. One girl I met, who received flowers, shared that it would have been her mom’s 65th birthday. She sent the flowers she received out into the ocean as a gift for her mother. God’s timing is perfect and personal, and I love that He used a team from Kansas City to deliver a simple gift to this woman. The smiles, laughter, and songs shared on Venice Beach refreshed my spirit and reminded me how powerful simple acts of kindness are.

A few days before the trip, we received an email from our team leader asking for five volunteers to help watch kids on Wednesday (day 2) evening. In January, I decided that 2016 was going to be a year of “yes’s”, so I volunteered without much hesitation. The five of us who volunteered got to watch kids at Angelus Temple while their parents went to the Celebrate Recovery group. While waiting on the kiddos to arrive, we listened to a testimony from a man who struggled with addiction for 40 years before finding healing and freedom. He spoke of his transformation through Christ, which really inspired and resonated with me. Having recovered from an eating disorder, it was amazing to hear him speak of God’s healing love in the same way I have experienced it. Truly, “recovery” is just a behavior modification while true transformation is a heart/identity change that comes from receiving God’s personal love. Hearing his story provided clarity into my own journey, which I never expected to receive when I volunteered to watch kids that Wednesday night. Again, God’s timing is perfect and personal.

Day 3

“Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove” (James 2: 18).

Thursday morning, a handful of us walked to a cute coffee shop before starting our day. There is something about the Holy Spirit mixed with caffeine that makes one unstoppable! By 9:00 a.m, our team was loading food trucks with fresh produce to be distributed throughout the community. Once at the designated sites, we then bagged the food so it would be ready to hand out. Loading the trucks, driving to the sites, and bagging the food was physically taxing and took a couple hours, while handing it out took only about 30 minutes. Once again, God was highlighting the importance of preparation in the process. As we passed out the bags of fruits and veggies, we also offered to pray with each person. Reaching outside of my comfort zone and relying on God’s bold love, I asked a woman by the name of Georgie Anne if there was anything I could pray with her about. With surprise and gratitude, she expressed that no one ever asked to pray with her. So often we get distracted by the homeless’ physical needs and circumstances, that we forget how powerful and life changing prayer is. As she shared her story with me, I was reminded that her need was far greater than just needing food. Her needs were outside of what I could provide, but I could join her in bringing them to God. I could remind her of the hope we have as children of God, and provide reassurance of God’s plan for her life. Georgie Anne was already a believer, and hearing her passion for the power of prayer was a humbling moment for me. Faith and good deeds must work together to have lasting, world-changing impact.

food truck

In the afternoon, our team visited a local neighborhood to host a Kidz Jam. Kidz Jam is basically a sidewalk Sunday school where volunteers play with kids before leading a short bible lesson. Pouring into these kids emphasized the importance of planting seeds in the next generation. Many of these kids come from rough backgrounds where they don’t have accurate representations of God’s love in their life. Loving on these kids has the potential to stop generational sin cycles. On the mission trip, I was most surprised by how much my heart stirred for these children. I’ve grown up working in children’s ministry; however, years of constant exposure had made me unaware of how passionately I desired to see these kids feel noticed and cherished. I believe God is refreshing my spirit and stirring something new in me.

La Kids

In the evening, we went to a church service at Angelus Temple. During worship, they played the song No Longer Slaves by Bethel. Over the last 8 months this song has been my anthem. When I committed to recovery, I decided to set some mantras so that I could reset my thought patterns. My main mantra was “I am a child of God”, which was partly inspired by this song. Learning to embrace my identity has empowered me to pursue the promises of God in ways that I never could have imagined. Allowing God to redefine me with His love provided healing and breakthrough that I never believed was possible. So, when this song began to play, I felt reminded of how personal our relationship with God is. Throughout the trip, we all experienced very individualized encounters that were specific to our journey. It’s amazing how grand yet personal God’s plan is! I’m overwhelmed and humbled by moments that remind me that God does notice and love ME!

Day 4

Day four can be best summed up as Skid Row day. Our team visited skid row three separate times; however, we were divided up the first two times so not everyone went three times. While the morning group did out reach on Skid Row, I was a part of a team that helped to clean the kids building at Angelus Temple. The kids zone building was INCREDIBLE! The number of kids they serve weekly is outstanding, and the resources they have are surprising (in a good way)! The majority of the toys and furniture in the building were donated, and then each week different volunteers help to maintain and clean the rooms. God provides! It’s amazing how much The Dream Center does, while never sacrificing the integrity or excellence of what they do! It’s absolutely inspiring and mind-blowing!

In the afternoon, I joined half of our Cause crew to pass out hot dogs on Skid Row. Once there, they asked a few of us to stay back in the veteran’s center to watch our things. I volunteered since it is the year of “yes’s”, despite being bummed that I wouldn’t get to do outreach on the streets. In all honesty, I was worried that I was going to miss out and felt limited by the walls of the veteran’s center. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that God was able to use me and speak to me through the people in these walls. Not only did I get to pray with and encourage quite a few people, but I also met a handful of people who inspired me. A man named Dallas shared his personal story and praised how good God is. His joy and hope despite his current circumstance spoke encouragement and clarity into my heart. I’ve said it twice before, and I’ll say it again…God’s timing is perfect and personal!

Now, after the majority of our group had visited Skid Row and witnessed the pain and extreme poverty, we decided we all needed to process before heading back in the evening. We were emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally drained. As our team debriefed, it became very evident that we were not equipped in our own ability to serve the people on Skid Row; however, God SO loves every person on those streets and He was calling us back to serve there. It was in our honest moment of doubt/insecurity that God began to empower our spirits. As we pressed deeper into God’s strength and love, our fears began to fade. That night, I witnessed the most beautiful moment I’ve ever seen.

We walked in small groups (4-5 people), and passed out popcorn and water to the people. I was in a group with our mission trip leaders. Earlier in the day, they had expressed their hesitations in returning while acknowledging their need for God’s help. That night, I witnessed these two individuals come alive with God’s bold love in conversation and prayer with the people we encountered. It was a beautiful illustration of how God was equipping them to effortlessly impact lives. Witnessing this spirit of transformation will stay with me forever. It was overwhelmingly beautiful to see these individuals flourish in ways that contrasted how they felt just hours before. Honestly, as I witnessed this, I had a moment of feeling inadequate. I began to wonder if I needed to talk more or pray more or do more, and my insecurities and perfectionism started to convince me that I was failing. And then, I felt God asking me to shift my focus. I felt God asking me to stop worrying about everything I was doing, and to take notice of all that He was doing. The enemy wants us to keep our eyes on ourselves, but God asks us to keep our eyes on Him. It was when I shifted my focus that I felt free from insecurity. God was using me to amplify His love, joy, peace, and victory. He was moving mountains that night on Skid Row, and thankfully it wasn’t only through me. One of the greatest things about pursuing the mission of Jesus, is that it requires a team. Each person’s role is equally significant. It’s not a competition to see who can change the most lives; it’s a celebration that lives are being changed for the kingdom of God!

Day 5

On the last day, there was only one service project planned. On Saturdays, The Dream Center visits around 15 different locations to host an adopt-a-block. They pass out food, play with kids, and love on the people. Throughout our five days at The Dream Center, the consistency of their outreaches really inspired me. It’s through the relationships they are building by visiting each site multiple times a week that they are able to bring transformation in their city. And after five incredible days at The Dream Center, it’s easy to say that my life has been changed. But how? Change isn’t a feeling…it’s an action. So, I decided to create practical ways that I can allow this experience to truly change me.

  1. Be consistent in my prayer life + relationships. Consistency is hard. Honestly, I planned to workout for the 6 weeks that led up to the mission trip and made it 10 days before busyness became a distraction. Busyness will kill dreams, so I’ve decided to be more intentional about keeping consistent in my life. Consistency is what produced lasting transformation, not just temporary change.
  2. Be more conversational. Conversations are hard for me. I tend to fear that I’m going to be a burden or annoying, and so I unintentionally create space. However, we were created for community! It’s who we are. So, whether it’s a more authentic conversation with a friend or a small but meaningful conversation with a waiter, it always feels good to be heard and noticed.
  3. Keep planting. I’m so quick to quit planting seeds in my life if I don’t see immediate results, and our part in God’s plan doesn’t always involve reaping the fruit. But, living with a kingdom calling requires me to do my part at the best of my ability knowing that God is at work.
  4. Small and Significant. Often, I feel discouraged that I’m not doing enough. I focus on the things I’m not doing to convince myself that I am a bad “Christian”. I hold myself to these high expectations that I’m realizing I can never achieve. Satan loves to convince us that we are inadequate, so that we will feel unworthy of our calling. But, God doesn’t expect perfection. God doesn’t expect for us all to be missionaries in high risk countries. I can’t allow the enemy to minimize the impact a smile or positive attitude can have. Living with impact means believing that everything I do has an impact. It’s with that bold belief that I will feel empowered to live out my God-given calling.
  5. Embrace how God created me. Growing up, I’ve always believed that my lack of a loud, bold personality would inhibit me from being used by God. I was convinced that my soft and quiet personality was a bad thing. BUT HELLO… GOD CREATED ME THIS WAY!!! I don’t have to change my personality or force myself to be louder to be used by God. God has given me specific qualities that are perfect for my calling. I can love boldly and live with a quiet confidence that encourages others to seek God’s love!

 

 

A Year in Review

It’s hard to believe my freshman year of college is complete. It’s even harder to believe just how much has changed in the last 12 months. If I had to choose three words that sum up the past year, I would choose destruction, restoration, and growth. I have experienced joy and peace in the most genuine yet illogical ways. I have seen mountains move in my life, and have witnessed God’s personal love like never before. This past year has been simultaneously the hardest and happiest year I have ever experienced, and I am humbly reminded of God’s grace and goodness as I reflect on all that has occurred.

Rewind to one year ago (May 2015), I had just graduated high school and was intimidated by the opportunity that stood before me. I had learned to define myself by my own success, and feared that I would fail in this new season of life. I was overwhelmed, stressed, and fearful of what the future would hold. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of being more independent. Fear and doubt poisoned my spirit, convincing me to retreat into pursuing the one thing I knew I could control: food. My life began to revolve around counting calories, losing weight, and focusing on food. My eating disorder became a distraction from life’s stress. Physically, I was weak, exhausted, and dying. I was convinced that dying from the success of an eating disorder was better than failing at “life”.

In July of 2015 I began working part time as a bank teller, and in August I became a full time student. Working 30 hours a week, taking 15 credit hours in school, and attempting to manage an eating disorder were becoming too much to handle. I wanted to succeed in school and work, and being malnourished was inhibiting me from achieving my potential. My heart was yearning for change, but the thought of giving up control and gaining weight prevented me from fully committing to recovery. Logically, I knew I needed to change; however, my heart was far from being motivated to recover. Finally, I decided to step out on a limb and write my prayer request on a connect card at church. I wrote out my situation/prayer need, and kept the connect card in my purse for a few weeks before finding the courage to turn it in on a Sunday. Not only was it hard being so vulnerable and risking judgement, but I also wasn’t convinced I could get better. In some ways, it felt pointless asking for prayer. A few weeks later, I got a call from a woman in my church who offered to pray for and encourage me. Her simple texts of encouragement throughout the week reminded me to refocus my thoughts on God’s truth.

I can’t fully explain the chain of events that occurred over the next month. But, I can say that prayer is powerful. Healing starts in the heart, and I truly believe that the prayers I received over my connect card were the catalyst to my recovery. It definitely was not in my own ability or desire to see myself achieve my full potential. My heart just started to transform  and my perspective on the world changed. In October, God started nudging on my heart. I felt Him reminding me that I am not a victim to my circumstances. For years, my eating disorder had been my escape from undesirable/stressful situations. But, I felt God heavily weighing the words peace and joy on my heart. I felt challenged to seek for the miracles in EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I was no longer content with barely surviving. I desired to see God move in my mundane moments. The more I seeked God’s peace, joy, and victory, the more peace, joy, and victory I felt. 

Also, it was in October that I was confronted by the unglamorous and embarrassing reality of what years of malnutrition and purging will do to your body. After avoiding the dentist for months, I finally had to get a decaying tooth checked out. I was hoping that a simple filling would fix the problem. Unfortunately, when they went to do the operation they discovered that the damage was too close to the root of the tooth, and they decided that a root canal was the best option. I remember feeling slightly betrayed by God. When my dentist started operating, he mentioned that if this was unsuccessful, a root canal would be necessary. In that moment I prayed wholeheartedly for restoration and healing. Part of me was praying out of embarrassment. I didn’t want a root canal to taint my image. If my tooth would just magically heal, I wouldn’t have to face the reality of how sick I was…but that didn’t happen. Within minutes of working on the filing, my dentist stopped and declared that the damage was too deep. I needed a root canal.

I defeatedly got in my car to drive home. I was ashamed. I felt judged by my dentist, and was nervous to reveal the news to my mom. No one ever verbally said that the purging had caused this; however, the connection was unquestionably understood. In a moment where I began to question God’s goodness, He showed up. While driving home, a song began to play on the radio. The song was “Restore” by Chris August. Even though the song is about restoring a marriage, the chorus spoke exactly to how I was feeling. The chorus sings about God’s healing love and his ability to bring restoration. I had literally been praying for restoration as I sat in the dentist’s office, so when I heard these lyrics I knew God was speaking to my heart.

In that moment, I felt God reminding me that His healing isn’t some temporary filling. His healing love is a root canal. In order to find restoration in our life, we have to dig deep into the parts of our life that have suffered decay and remove the toxic roots. The root canal was the restoration my tooth needed, even if involved taking a hit to my image. See, I thought that if I whitened my teeth and used enamel strengthening toothpaste then I could fool my dentist. As long as my teeth looked clean and shiny on the outside, then the inner damage would go unnoticed. Clearly that wasn’t the case. After the root canal, I had to schedule another appointment to get a crown that would take the place of the old tooth. The crown looks like the tooth that once occupied the space in the back corner of my mouth; however, it is much stronger than the old, decaying molar. From the outside, the change is unnoticeable; however, the strength of the crown is much more reliable and usable.

God wants to place his heavenly crown on us. He never asks us to remove the dying parts of our self without replacing it with new life! In fact, usually he starts to root his love in us before we even begin to remove the decay. It was in late October/early November of 2015 that I found a new passion for my calling. I finally believed I was “usable” by God because of who HE is. When I started recovery, I created an Instagram account to track my journey. I wanted to be a light of encouragement to those who felt hopeless, lost, and beyond repair. I wanted to be an example of God’s powerful healing and personal love. Over the last 8 months of this account, I have been humbled by God’s ability to use me to encourage others. I feel privileged to receive daily messages from people all over the world asking me about who God is, and how my faith has helped my recovery. I get to spread God’s love to others, and be a voice of empowerment in declaring victory over the enemy.

2015 was a year of destroying who I thought I needed to be, and allowing God to restore my damaged parts. I embraced my image as a child of God, and allowed His love to transform my life. 2016 began with 21 days of prayer and fasting my snooze button. God spoke so much clarity and truth into my life over those three weeks, and that has set the pace for my growth thus far. My main prayer for this year has been that I would get more rooted at my church. Over the last several months, I have witnessed God answer the deepest desires of my heart. I have joined amazing teams that allow me to serve each week, I have gained so many valuable relationships with the kindest people in Kansas City, and I have been blessed with an opportunity to go on a Mission Trip to the LA Dream Center in three weeks.

Honestly, 12 months ago I had began to subtly say my goodbyes. The instability of my declining health made me uncertain of my future. BUT PRAISE GOD THAT THE TRUTH OF HIS PROMISE IS THAT WE HAVE A FUTURE OF HOPE AND PROSPERITY. I cannot adequately express how thankful and humbled I am by God’s kindness and love. As God transformed my heart and equipped my spirit, I found confidence and courage to pursue my calling. I have experienced abundant peace and joy despite my circumstances, and have found freedom in declaring the promises of God into my life. This last year has made me very certain of a few things:

  1. God’s plan is (wayyyyyy) better than my plan.
  2. I am a child of God.
  3. I have a God-planned and God-protected calling.
  4. There is power in community.
  5. Pray intentionally and boldly for God’s promises.          

“I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your leaders as in days of old, your rulers as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.””‭‭ (Isaiah‬ ‭1:25-26‬ ‭NIV‬)

God reclaims and renames the city with its true identity, despite the contrast of an unfaithful and unrighteous past. This is what I love about God! He doesn’t look at our past/present and call us unfaithful, broken, and flawed. He only calls us by our identity. I am a child of God! I am complete, whole, worthy, valuable, and loved always! 

Part 3: So Fresh and So Clean

With one day left of the 21 days of prayer and fasting, I am more re(fresh)ed and eager about what 2016 will entail than ever before. If you missed part 1 or part 2, you can click the links to go back and read about all the miraculous and encouraging moments leading into week 3! God’s love moves mountains.

Day 14: Answered Prayers

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God of Israel and that I am your servant” (1 Kings 18:36).

Sunday morning’s devotional really reassured a passion that God has placed on my heart. Over the past few months, I have really felt God emphasizing the importance of each and every today. In the mornings while I drive to my 3 hour chemistry lecture, I pray for God to equip me for the day, making me aware of each need. I also pray that God would fill me with His peace and joy. It’s in these mindful moments that I can escape my anxious personality, and find peace and confidence. The more loved I feel by God, the more I am able to trust in Him.

Now, as Day 14 kick off, I began to reflect on all the prayers God has answered just over these past few weeks. Each morning I write in my prayer journal, and then at night I under line the prayers that have been answered. When we are intentional to pray and seek answers, it’s amazing how reliable God is. So often, I begin to doubt God’s reliability when one of my frequent, largely desired, prayers does not get answered. If things don’t align with my timing, I get impatient and uncertain. But just because we don’t see an immediate answer to one prayer, doesn’t mean God isn’t answering our other prayers. The more aware I am of what prayers are being answered, the more my heart’s desires begin to align with His calling for my life.

On Sunday night we had a guest pastor from Hillsong NYC come and preach on when seasons change, God doesn’t. During Diego’s powerful message, I felt God reminding me to expect change, but not to change my expectation. God’s promises do not change so we can expect Him to answer those prayers. For 2016, I have big, mountain-moving, expectations that God is going to use me to accomplish some world changing things.

Day 15: God’s Goodness

God’s goodness has been undeniable in my life. Only 4 or so months ago, I was battling my most severe relapse into my eating disorder. I was exhausted, very unhealthy physically, and in many ways hopeless; however, because of God’s love for ME, I am experiencing freedom and healing from the illness like never before. I’m actually excited about my future. As successful as I have been, I begin to wonder what had made this attempt at recovery so different. As I reflected and praised God for His healing, I felt Him speak something very heavy on my heart. He reminded me that in my past attempts at recovery, I had always been motivated by guilt and shame. I felt bad for putting my family through so much pain, so I would convince myself that recovery was the necessary solution. I knew the eating disorder was wrong, so my transformation was built on a foundation of guilt. It was in that realization that I felt God place this phrase on my heart:

When you seek transformation that’s rooted in guilt and shame, it will chain you. But when you seek transformation that’s rooted in God’s personal love, it will change you. 

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I used to find myself feeling guilty after reading this verse. My new life didn’t look all to different when compared to my life before I was saved. My old life is suppose to be gone, and yet I’m struggling with the same battles. But, guilt and shame come straight from the enemy. The more we feel unworthy of God’s love, the more unworthy we feel to be used by God. Guilt and shame is an attack on our identity and calling. When I read this verse now, the phrase “belongs to Christ” stamps boldly into my heart. I am a child of God. It was only when I began to allow God to love me with His personal love, that I was able to see how vital of a role my life has in His story. I began to crave this new life God promises. God’s love will change you.

Day 16: Provision

With only a few days left of the fast, I began praying specifically for a word or a group of words that would guide me in 2016. I am confident that God will provide; however, I am not always confident that I will be aware enough to let Him. I know the doubt comes from the enemy, but it’s still a struggle I have. So, as I prayed I was looking for some clarity. Three words/phrases that I felt God emphasizing in my heart were: for your glory, servant, and last. After receiving these words I decided to go back to God to see if this was his final answer.  Initially, I had kind of been hoping to hear words like: straight A’s, success, new relationships, and maybe something that would affirm my direction in school/career planning. Servant and last aren’t really the most desirable or glamorous words. So, I thought I would just double check with God that he didn’t think I was Morgan, one of my identical triplets sisters, because people mix us up all the time and servant seemed much more fitting to Morgan’s needs (I’m kidding…I’m kidding). Either way, God had locked down his answer in my heart. 

“‘But if you come back to me and do what I tell you, I’ll gather up all these scattered people from wherever they ended up and put them back in the place I chose to mark with my Name.'” (Nehemiah 1:9).

I’m realizing that being a servant of God means living in His home where you are protected and cared for while building up His family. I don’t want 2016 to be another year of seeking my own heart’s selfish desires, just to end up empty handed. As a college student, I tend to worry about how I will provide for myself as I transition into starting my own life and career. There is a lot of unknown. God has been reminding me that when I commit to serving Him and allow Him to lead me by His love, He will always provide. I cannot fail when I pursue my future that is planned and protected by God.

Day 17: Blessings    

A few weeks (or months??) ago, Pastor Kyle said, “There are always blessings after the battle,” during one of his sermons. I reflect on the encouragement of this statement daily. I think it’s important to expect God to bring His calming presence into every storm. God doesn’t intend for us to live miserable, exhausting lives. At the same time, He doesn’t intend for our lives to always be easy and without pain. It’s in the contrast of blessings over battle, calm over storm, and victory over defeat, that God is elevated.

In 2016, I am expecting some non external blessings from God. I am expecting to feel peace like never before, even during finals week. I am expecting to feel God’s love in deeper ways, even when I feel hurt by friends or family. I am expecting to feel victorious, even when I am losing according to the world’s standards. Sure, I will have moments of pain, sadness, heart-break, anger, and frustration; however, because of God’s promises I can always declare His blessing over my life. I want to walk with praise for the miracles that are yet to come, and to truly live like God is not finished with me yet. I want to walk into scary, uncharted territory towards the blessings I cannot see. I want to be inconvenienced and brought into battle, so that God’s victory can shine through my spirit.

Day 18: Guidance    

“‘I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest-everything will be fine for you.’ Then Moses said, ‘If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me-on me and your people-if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the Earth.’ The Lord replied to Moses, ‘I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorable on you, and I know you by name.'” (Exodus 33: 14-17).

Transition is a scary season in life. I hate change, even little change. I always joke that I am still stuck on Microsoft 2004, so switching to Google Docs has not been an easy adjustment for me. In order to avoid falling into a severe mental break down as I pursue this new life during and after college, I have learned to take life one day at a time. I find peace in knowing that God has a secure path set for me as I walk towards knew things, but it’s still overwhelming at times. God’s guidance is much more manageable when I isolate it to smaller moments each day. I don’t need to know my whole life’s map, I just need to know when to turn next. Every morning as I drive to school or work, I pray for God’s guidance to use me in each location/moment. So, Day 18 my prayer was simply, ‘Use me’.

At school that day, my lab partner in Chemistry began to reveal to me how tired she was of “the church”. She had encountered too many broken churches (ex: a pastor who had an affair), to try again. During class time I was able to share a bit of my journey in how I found The Cause. It took two years after leaving the church I had grown up in for almost 13 years, and trying multiple churches for different periods of time to finally find a church that felt like home. It was frustrating at times; however, it really allowed me to take authority over my own faith. Talking with this girl reminded me of how twisted God’s name and love can get in this broken world. I believe God is using me to plant seeds of refreshment and new interest in this student’s life because that’s how much He loves and cares for HER.

Then, as I entered work, I noticed we had a new employee helping out just for that day. I felt God giving me His nudge of guidance to speak with her too. Pretty quickly, she revealed to me that she really wanted to find a church to get connected in. Thankfully, I have close to a million The Cause pens hoarded in my purse, so I gave her one so she could remember the name and look more into it, and invited her to church. Cause pens make great little “business” cards.

Both conversations started without me explicating saying anything to urge them to talk about God or church. I believe God had planted seeds in their heart long before our conversations, and I was just one person who could help water that seed. Sometimes God just guides us to encourage and love on the hurting, and sometimes He guides us to have bold conversations about faith, God, and church. God knows his children by name, so my relationship and walk with God will look different than everyone else’s. God calls us to be set apart by His presence. My heart is not one of always trying to say and do the right thing; it is one of being willing to respond to God’s desire to love the world through me. I want to be so rooted in my identity as a child of God that God’s guidance begins to feel like a natural part of my day. I don’t want to feel pressure to look and act like a child of God, but I just want it to be who I am. When I pray, I want to let God guide me to His answer instead of trying to convince and guide God to mine. I want to strive to be set apart, instead of always striving to fit in.

Day 19: Promotion

 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so that I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 15:20).

When I began the 21 days of prayer and fasting, it seemed like the common thing to fast was social media; however, I felt like God wasn’t calling me to fast my social media. I began my recovery in October, and I also started a recovery Instagram at the same time to document my journey. I feel like God is continually calling me to encourage others with my story. When it comes to mental illness, there are so many myths and misconceptions about healing. I felt like God was calling me to bring hope. I post about God’s impact in my life and recovery, while also attempting to not glamorize the process. Recovery is not easy or painless, no matter how motivated you are.

Over the course of the last three weeks, I have been amazed at how God has been able to use me to love others. I receive messages almost daily from girls and guys who need hope and advice. In these conversations, I am able to share and plant seeds of God’s amazing and personal love. I’ve even been privileged enough to have people message me simply about who God is. It’s been amazing to watch God use me and my story to help bring hope and healing to others. Having thousands of people follow along on my recovery and life journey has been humbling, and it has been an incredible platform to share God’s love for each and every one of his children.

It’s been in the success of this account, that I have felt God really call me to write a book. I have an overflowing passion to share the message of identity in an image based society. In image is something that involves tirelessly striving to do more, while identity involves just simply being who God created you to be. There is so much power and rest in learning to let God love you with an intimate love.

The last three weeks have been incredible, and I am eager to allow God to stretch me in 2016. I have gained more insight and clarity about my calling for 2016 than ever before. God’s goodness will never cease to take my breathe away. 2016 is going to be a world changing year!

Part 1: So Fresh and So Clean

img_7202 To kick off the new year, my church is participating in 21 days of prayer and fasting that we call “So Fresh and So Clean”. The idea is that by turning down the noise of the world, we would all hear God speak. As someone who has just recently found success in my recovery from an eating disorder (praise God!) the word “fasting” sounds all to familiar to my vulnerable ears. I knew that fasting any type of food was a bad idea, and would defeat the purpose of starting off my new year growing closer to God. After some thought and prayer, I decided to fast my snooze button. I have always loved long, slow mornings. It is the time in my day when I find the most peace, and the energy of my morning is capable of setting the pace for the day. Chaotic mornings tend to lead to chaotic days. With that being said, I don’t always feel that way when my erupting alarm disrupts my peaceful sleep. I tend to overuse my snooze button in response to the weariness I feel each morning. Before I know it, the clock reads 10:00. So, fasting my snooze button seemed perfect for me. It was a sacrifice I could make (even when it’s really hard!!) to allow God to set my pace for the day, and God has shown up big time! I’m up between 5:00-7:00 am, and I immediately read my devotionals/Bible, listen to worship music, and then pray. The point of waking up early is to use that time to focus more on God. As the first week of So Fresh and So Clean comes to an end, I feel overflowing with God’s goodness. When God speaks to the heart, it demands to be repeated.

Day 1: Forgiveness

I have never participated in a fast, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I woke up, slightly motivated by the adrenaline of starting a new habit, eager to spend time with God. The intention of the day’s prayer was forgiveness. Each morning, I write in my prayer journal, expecting God to answer them throughout the day. Before starting the fast, the idea of living life one day at a time had been pressing heavily on my heart. In the Lord’s Prayer it prays, “Give us today our daily bread”. God is a moment-by-moment God. He equips us for each day, and He answers our prayers every single day. He may not answer every prayer, but He answers the prayers for today. On the first day of the fast, God reminded me of this.

One of my best friends (we’ll call her J), really struggles with the idea of accepting God’s forgiveness. Knowing that God has forgiven the world of sin, and truly feeling His personal forgiveness don’t come in the same package. As I went about my day, J called me with guilt in her voice. She explained to me that she was worried about losing a relationship over a mistake that she had made, and wasn’t sure what she should do. I listened as she explained a thousand reasons why she didn’t deserve forgiveness. She waffled between the idea of pushing the conflict under the rug, or admitting her wrong and asking for forgiveness. The tricky thing was that the only solution that could bring healing, also risked the complete opposite reaction: the destruction of a friendship. As I listened, I continued to reflect on the time I spent in the morning focused on God’s forgiveness. I had no doubt that He had equipped me for this exact moment; He had given me my daily bread. I was able to encourage because God had encouraged my heart earlier that morning.

After spending hours on the phone, J finally found the courage to confront the issue. By the end of the night, J had received full and loving forgiveness from the friend she had hurt. Not only did her friend forgive her, but her friend responded in a way that was rooted in the forgiveness God has for his children. God’s forgiveness is unconditional and doesn’t keep score of our wrongs. He forgives because He values our relationship more than anything else. God is not a father that responds with, “I’m not mad…I’m just disappointed” (because we all know we would rather see our parents angry than to let them down). His forgiveness celebrates with open arms when we walk into the truth.

Through this messy moment, God revealed so much to me about the purpose of this fast. First, I was reminded that sacrifice isn’t about what I can get out of it. I’m not denying myself of the luxury to sleep in for 21 days so God will bless my life. It’s not about me. God is equipping me to encourage and bring life to others. Through these moments, my heart is filled and my spirit refreshed. I went to bed feeling humbled by God’s perfect timing. I was also reminded that we don’t serve a “big-finale” kind of God. We don’t have to endure 21 days of sacrifice for Him to answer a prayer. God’s love and eternal invitation to be adopted into His family is a gift. He answers prayers every single day. Every day there are miracles. (Did I say every day?). We serve a moment-by-moment God.

Day 2: Salvation

After feeling so humbled by God’s goodness after day one, I woke up nearly dancing feeling eager to be apart of God’s plan for day two. The intention of my day: salvation. Truthfully, once I read what the focus for the day was, I felt a little uneasy. Salvation is a heavy word.

“anyone who wants to approach God must believe that He exists and that He cares enough to respond to those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Do you ever read a verse and think, “Has that always been in there? How have I missed this!?” Because same.

Hebrews 11 recalls times in history that people showed faith. It lists Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. One thing that all of these people had in common, was that their faith was represented through action. Faith is action. They didn’t just believe in God, but they believed that God believed in them. Wow. One of my biggest struggles is believing that I am usable. I believe that God can do the impossible around me, but struggle to believe that God can do the impossible through me. That morning, I prayed to have the same passion that my 7th grade self had after I was saved. Two names were placed on my heart that morning, and by the end of day I had extended encouragement to both. There weren’t tears or major revelations; however, seeds were planted and I was able to feel God’s unwavering belief in my imperfect ability a little deeper. I am learning to squash my self-doubt with the belief that despite how small my gifts and talents are, I am capable of achieving the impossible by the power of God who lives in me.

Day 3: Mercy

Maybe it’s the fogginess of waking up at 5am, but again I woke up unclear on what to think about the day’s focus. What does mercy even mean?

“but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself” (Luke 18:14).

I find so much relief in this promise. I spent years of my life so NOT content with who I was. I thought I was the exception to God’s perfection… he had created me full of mistakes. One of the clearest messages I have felt God place on my heart is the idea of wrecking my image. I feel so obsessed and passionate with this idea: Wrecking my Image to Embrace my Identity. God has planted a message on my heart and called me to encourage by sharing my story. Day three was a reminder of this.

That  Wednesday night I had bible study at my church. As my sisters, best friend, and I left, the weather had become quite icky. I pulled out of my parking space to leave, and totally (and I mean TOTALLY) ran over the curb that separated the parking spot from the street. It was hard to see outside, and I forgot how close the curb was. The car was completely fine, and the only thing damaged was my pride. Immediately, I felt the need to defend myself. My sisters and friend had just witnessed me make an embarrassing mistake, so I quickly reminded them of my “flawless” driving record. I have never been in an accident or received a ticket. (Truthfully, that should read, “I have gotten lucky on numerous occasions and have never been caught speeding.”.) That day God gave me a deeper understand of His mercy. Mercy is accepting that despite my mistakes as a driver, God still trusts me to drive. When I follow my own path and ability, I tend to run into a lot of curbs; however, when I let God be my guide and I give him control of the direction of my life, I find myself on a beautiful journey. Mercy is accepting His embrace even when I fall. It’s living in constant awe that God chose me, and He can use my imperfect self.

I think there is this misconception that when we become Christians we let “Jesus take the wheel” (cue music). I disagree. Being a Christian is very active. We still have free will, and can choose what path we take each day. If Jesus was at the wheel, life would be MUCH easier and a lot less bumpy. He’s a perfect driver. Instead, being a Christian is about letting the Holy Spirit be your GPS (sorry for the cheesy comparison but analogies and metaphors are kind of my guilty pleasure). Being a Christian sounds a lot like this:

GPS (aka Jesus): Turn left in 800 ft.

Driver (aka Abbey): I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong way. I’m not suppose to turn this soon. That can’t be right.

GPS: Turn left in 400ft….100 ft….50 ft…turn le-

Driver: Do you even know where we are? Maybe this is outdated. You probably didn’t see that they recently added a round-about. I’m going straight.

GPS: Recalculating…

No matter how many times the GPS has to recalculate because I choose to go the wrong direction, I am reassured by God’s mercy that despite my many mistakes God’s destination for me never changes. He always recalculates. I don’t have to know where I am going because God’s guidance is enough. The destination is set.

Day 4: Faith

“‘How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this?… You’re not taking God seriously,’ said Jesus. ‘The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle'” (Matthew 17: 17,20).

Ouch. I can feel the annoyed eye roll as Jesus speaks. The crazy thing is that Jesus isn’t annoyed that people are coming to him for miracles. He’s annoyed because his disciples don’t understand that they have the authority to preform the same miracles through the Holy Spirit. I felt God convicting me about my prayer life…again (my prayer life clearly needs some work and that’s okay). First off, I need to believe that God can do the impossible through me! Not only can God move mountains, but God can use ME to move mountains. I think sometimes I fall into this category I like to call “prayticipating” when I should be participating. “Prayticipating” is when we like to solve problems and pains by responding with, “I’ll pray for you/the situation/etc”…and then waiting for God to do the real healing without our active participation. We wait for God. Participating is when we take authority over our individual part to move mountains. Prayer is a great gift, and we should always bring our troubles and triumphs to God; however, when it comes to the promises of God, we have the authority to declare them over our mountains.

For example, I would never have found freedom from my eating disorder if I just prayed for freedom and waited (I know this because I tried it many times). I wasn’t going to wake up one day suddenly feeling free because I prayed for it. Freedom is already a guaranteed gift and promise from God (John 8:36). It wasn’t until I declared my God-given freedom over my life that the mountain moved. I had to take authority over my part in moving the mountain, because God had already done his part.

Day 5: Temptation

Every morning when my alarm goes off, I am tempted to go back to sleep. In the moment, my thoughts are centered around the weight of my eye lids and the comfort of my pillows. I don’t push myself to get out of bed by telling myself I’m not sleepy. I roll out of bed each morning because 1) it’s my “fast” for the 21 days of prayer and fasting and 2) I am genuinely excited to spend time in God’s presence. Somehow, He knows how to turn my painful crawl out of bed into an energetic dance in the matter of minutes. Even when I wake up doubting that I’ll have the energy to read my devotionals without turning my book into a pillow, within 20 minutes I am surprised by my wide-eyed worship at 6am.

Day 5 reminded me that attacks from the enemy are not a matter of if but a matter of when. The enemy is crouched waiting for us to be vulnerable; however, we don’t defeat temptation by preparing for the battle. We overcome the enemy by declaring and preparing for victory. God is not sin-focused. So, it’s silly to try and defeat your temptations by putting your focus on the problem. Instead, our eyes must be fixed on God’s power over sin. When I’m tempted to hit snooze, I don’t focus on not falling asleep….I focus on waking up. Overcoming temptation is about running towards the promise and plans of God. As I enter into 2016, I’m equipping myself with the word and truth of God. I’m focusing on my inherited victory as a child of God.

Day 6: Fear 

Day 6 is today! (The day I am writing this blog post). I wasn’t sure if I should include this day in part 1 just for the sake of trying to avoid writing too much; however, when God answers specific prayers…I cannot help but share His goodness!

This morning in my prayer journal I wrote, “God I pray for your spirit to speak through me this morning as I blog and write”. I had planned on going to Post Coffee to blog all week. I love coffee. I love blogging. Why not mix the two? As I was putting on my shoes to leave I felt God speak to my heart this message, “You don’t always have to be the bold initiator, but you are equipped to respond boldly.” I am not an initiator, and boldness is definitely not one of my strengths; however, God has given me a desire to build up my boldness. So my daily prayer is to be boldly confident and confidently bold. I feel a desire to lead and encourage others by sharing my story. Either way, I am a work in process. This morning God reminded me that He is with me through the process. He created me perfectly for TODAY. So, even though I desire to be someone who can boldly initiate conversations of encouragement…today I didn’t feel quite there. Now, I truly believe God can transform us in the moment, and loves when we step far out of our comfort zone; however, he also knows our heart and our spiritual gifts. God created me. He’s not surprised when I tell him boldness is not my strength.

Today at Post coffee while working on this blog (it has taken me three locations and a couple of hours to complete this), a girl slightly younger than me approached me just to appreciate and acknowledge the fact that we were both reading our Bibles. We should celebrate and feel united when we encounter other believers. We began talking and sharing a bit of our stories. We both found encouragement in hearing each other’s hearts, and exchanged numbers to stay in contact. Wow. The movement of God was undeniable. The reassurance He placed on my heart earlier that day was equipping me for this exact moment. When we go to God everyday for our daily bread, He’s there waiting to answer our prayers.

“I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” (Isaiah 43:1).

We are not called to live fearless lives just because God is big, strong, and can win every battle. We are called to live fearless lives because God is personally equipping us for our specific battles. Jesus did not die on the cross just so He could have victory over the enemy. Jesus died on the cross for YOU!  His love is personal. He equips us for each day specifically! His strategy is personalized to YOU! The enemy cannot create. He can only kill, steal, and destroy. His strategy never changes. Today I was reminded that God created me and knows more about me than I know about myself. He is personal, loving, caring, and protective. I live fearlessly not just because I know my God is strong, but I live fearlessly because I know my God is strong for and in ME!

The coolest thing about God is that his love is limitless. His goodness is limitless. It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey, or how “mature” of a Christian you think you are (or are not)…You can always go deeper. I don’t know anything about what tomorrow brings, or if I will even be lucky enough to get a tomorrow. But I do know that God doesn’t hold back or save his best for our “best”. He’s a moment-by-moment God, eager to bring the best out of each and every moment.

 

 

 

What Christmas Has Taught Me About Christ

My very first post on this blog was centered around Mary’s role in the Christmas story (See here). Basically, I felt God asking me if I would be willing to wreck my image for His greater plan. Well, this post has become even more relevant over the last few weeks. As Christmas quickly approaches, I am overwhelmed with everything I need to get done and all the Christmas movies I need to watch. For some reason we limit the jolliest time of the year to about a month depending on how early/late Thanksgiving is. Despite my bitterness for society’s under appreciation of Christmas culture, I have also been thinking about more important things. The story of Christmas in the Bible is so rich with lessons on how God’s plan works. We are all a part of God’s plan, and I hate how seasonal the “Christmas story” (aka birth of Jesus) has become. While I suppose I can suppress my love for Christmas lights and Christmas cookies at the end of each year, I refuse to box away the value of the Christmas story. The more I read it, the more I learn about who Christ is and what that means for my life. So, what has Christmas taught me about Christ?

1) I am qualified and chosen by God.  From the outside, Mary was the least qualified to mother Jesus. She was not married and had never been a mother before; however, she was willing. More recently, I have felt God asking me to stop limiting Him. I tend to use my own definition of love to limit the unconditional and unfailing love He has for me. I also tend to limit how useful I am to God by focusing on all of my weaknesses. I think I am too shy to share The Gospel to those in need, or that I am too socially-awkward to speak of God’s love in a captivating and accurate way. God doesn’t ask us to be experts or professionals, he only asks us to be willing and to trust that His strength and spirit will compensate for any weakness we have. You don’t have to feel qualified to be called by God. It is not our own strength or ability that makes us useful to God’s kingdom. In fact, it is in our inadequacies that we see how powerful God is! Being able to overcome our own limitations illustrates how limitless God’s plan for our life is, and how He is capable of making the impossible, possible. What qualifies us is His seal of love and ownership for each of His children. God chose YOU and ME to be world changers!

2) Christ never promised comfort. I think sometimes we subconsciously expect Christianity to be comfortable and pleasant all the time. We expect God to pour His blessings into our life so that we won’t have to struggle through this corrupt world. But, Jesus was born in a STABLE WITH ANIMALS! I just imagine what Mary must have been thinking….like, “Sure God I will be the earthly mother to the SON OF GOD! That sounds pretty epic…but wait THIS is where you expect me to have this child…in a stable. But you’re God. Can’t you magically make a comfortable room and bed appear??” Mary must have felt mislead or even betrayed. It amazes me that God allowed his one and only son to have a less than glorious birth. I mean, if I was God there would have been like soft pillows, the best midwives, and some soothing music all ready-to-go for the birth of Jesus. I think sometimes we commit to do the parts of God’s plan that sound exciting and life-changing, but when we see the stable we feel mislead. We hear that God’s calling for our life includes blessings…so then we decide what blessings we think we deserve. I think sometimes we expect luxury, when God only promises stability (get it…. a stable pun…heyyyyooooo). God has and will continue to bless His children. But, sometimes the blessing looks more like baby Jesus than like a perfect environment. I think sometimes we focus more on the stable God brought us to and forget the fact that he also gave us Jesus! We cannot always look short term or at how comfortable we feel today to see how good God is. I believe that the minute Mary looked into the eyes of a healthy baby Jesus and saw the people coming to worship, her own personal comfort became the least of her worries. I believe that in that moment she saw the bigger picture, and she saw just how good God is to His children.

3) Jesus is enough. Often, Christians get caught up in what they can get in return for following Christ. The greedy and selfish part of Christmas culture that focuses on the gifts being received has infected how we view the gift of Jesus…or maybe our greedy Christianity has infected Christmas(?). Matthew 2:11 says,

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (NIV).

I think sometimes as Christians (myself very much included),  we worship God and then wait to see what we will receive. We think, “Okay God, I’ve been praying and reading my Bible….bring on the blessings. I am ready…anytime now.” The way that the wise men approached Jesus illustrates how we should approach Him in our everyday life.  First, we should follow the stars God plants in our life even though we cannot see the destination. The wise men walked confidently toward where God was guiding them not because they knew where they were going but because they knew the star was from God. They had faith. Second, never miss an opportunity to worship first. The very first thing the wise men did was worship. They did not spark conversation with Mary or allow their thoughts to be distracted by the fact that Jesus was just born in a STABLE WITH ANIMALS (maybe it’s just me, but I find this to be so crazy). They arrived and then worshiped which speaks to how focused they were on God’s plan. When we truly realize the significance of what it means to live out God’s plan (key word being God’s… not Abbey’s) the destination becomes less important. The wise men were worshiping the fulfillment of God’s promise…and when we see God’s promises being fulfilled our first reaction should always be to worship! Lastly, after humbling themselves in worship, they gave. If we are truly humbling ourselves in worship, then we should never feel focused on what benefits we will receive. Our question should always be, “What do I have to give back? How can I give more?” The wise men did not journey to the stable because they wanted Mary to pull some gifts out from behind the manger and bless them. They came to the stable because of Jesus. Jesus was/is the blessing. Jesus is enough.

While there is so much more I could write, I will end this post here before it gets too long. God’s master plan is glorious, but it can involve a lot of unglamorous details. Our life story is only one detail in God’s big book, just like the birth of Jesus is just a brief part of God’s master plan to save mankind. It is all significant, but on its own, it is incomplete. I urge you all to think about how each person in the Christmas Story contributed to God’s greater plan, and what that means for you as you enter 2016.

An Open Letter to my Eating Disorder

Dear Ed,

I want to hate you. I want to hate you like my friends and family hate you. I want to hate you so much that I cannot stand to be in your presence. But I don’t hate you, and I’m not sure why.

You have taken more from me than you ever gave, but you did still give. You gave me comfort when the world became too much to handle. You gave me an escape and an obsession that I could use to distract myself. You gave me a feeling of mastery when I watched the number on the scale decline. You gave me answers when all the world could give me was questions. You gave me a feeling of accomplishment. You gave me an out when obligation bound my hands and taped my mouth. Even when the relationship was abusive, I still woke up in the morning hoping to feel your presence by my side.

For all of that, I am thankful. I am thankful for the experiences, regardless of how miserable I was. Saying goodbye to you feels like mourning the loss of a close acquaintance. Because of you I have grown wiser, tougher, and more disciplined; however, there is no longer room in the relationship for me to grow. Like a tree planted in a flower pot, what once provided stability and guidance now suffocates my roots. I need to branch out and ground my roots in a more stable foundation.

You are not good for me. You have taunted me with false promises, and 10 years later I am empty handed. You made me a puppet, unaware of all the strings that yanked me in a million directions until I was too weak to dance on my own. You disguised happiness in a blanket of false hope, and manipulated my thinking to match your plan. Looking back over the past few years, it’s hard to know what was me and what was you. You blurred the lines so thick that not even hindsight can sort through the mess you made.

I still find comfort at times when I hear your words on a quiet night. I still see you in memories distorted to seem good even when I know otherwise. But I no longer see you when I close my eyes. I have different visions of my future where I wear purpose and passion instead of shame and guilt. I no longer find peace in pain. I am ready to blossom, because a powerful oak tree was never meant to be delicate rose. I will never say goodbye to you, because you will always be a part of my story. Not in the chapters or words, but in the font and punctuation. I am more loving, gentle, and encouraging because I know that not everyone can advocate for themselves.

Overall, I cannot change what was done, but I can choose who I become. I am not a victim or survivor because you do not define me. I am on a journey. You are not the only enemy I will encounter. I choose to live a life defined by my savior not by my sin. I choose to love God without saving any room for hate for the enemy. The enemy has been defeated and victory is mine. I choose to celebrate my God-given victory, even when I do not feel victorious. I choose to wear my gold-medal even when I feel like I am losing, because freedom in God is not a destination but a team.

oak tree wisdom

How Much Does My Faith Cost?

The Apostle Paul was awesome. I am blown away and slightly intimidated by the life he lived. One of my favorite characteristics that Paul had was that he knew his identity. In the letters Paul wrote, he opens with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” or some variation of that. If only we all lived like that, crediting God for the calling he placed in our life. What if we let God define us? “Abbey, a student/friend/daughter/etc of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Knowing who we are allows us to pursue God with a fearless and confident passion. Paul was willing to sacrifice everything because he knew that God was with and for him. In his letter to the Ephesians he wrote,

“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.”- Ephesians 3:12-13

Paul was in prison at the time for preaching the gospel to the Ephesians. He was willing to sacrifice comfort, time, freedom, and his own selfish desire to glorify God. He did not care how much it cost him, as long as God’s love and good news were being spread. How much am I willing to sacrifice to spread the gospel? How much does my faith cost?

If I were to answer these questions honestly, I would say that I’m willing to go as far as my comfort zone reaches. Right when I begin to feel uncomfortable or let fear creep in, I freeze. It’s not that I doubt God calling me to a situation, I just fear judgement or failure.

“‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.”-Matthew 4:19

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow Him, he made their calling personal. He spoke to their hearts by using their passions to glorify Him. Jesus did not ask them to build a nation. They were not carpenters. He did not ask them to teach about God’s love. They were not teachers. He asked them to fish for people, because Peter and Andrew understood and loved fishing. At once, Peter and Andrew followed Jesus.

God’s calling for our life is personal. He plants passions in our heart, and asks that we use them to glorify His kingdom. We must be willing to break past our comfort zone knowing that God will walk with us. Our faith is nothing if we are not willing. Faith is not believing that God has a plan for our life…Faith is pursuing that plan.

So when I think about how much my faith costs, I realize how little faith I have had. I tend to live in my comfort zone. It’s safe. It ‘s easy; however, it is very limiting. I truly believe God has big plans for my life, but I lack faith. As I enter this new chapter in my life, I vow to give God control. I vow to allow him to direct me outside of my comfort zone and into His greatness. I vow to live a life that is not limited by my fear of judgment or failure. I vow to have faith.