B.A.S.I.C. – A Post About Love

“He said come to the table, come join the sinners who have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior now, sit down and be set free. Come to the table.” – Sidewalk Prophets 
Recently, I have been challenged to write a post about love. The challenge came up on Sunday night, as I was talking to a group of friends at church, and one of them mentioned that she had recently read a devotional about love. Thus, she gave me this challenge, when I asked for blogging suggestions: write about love. 
And in that moment, I accepted the challenge.
Initially, I wasn’t quite sure which kind of love to write about (According to C.S. Lewis, there are four different kinds; storage, philia, eros, and agape). My first instinct was to write a post about God’s love, but I had just written about that two posts back, in #RelationshipGoals. My other thought was to write about dating relationships, which is something I’ve been studying lately. But, that didn’t feel quite right for this post either, although I would like to eventually touch on that topic more in the future. Finally, my mom gave me this idea, as I was talking with her the other day.
Write about B.A.S.I.C. – what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ. 
And, as you can see by the title of this post, this is the topic that stuck. 
For as long as I can remember, the vision of every believer being part of the family of God has always captivated me. Growing up as an only child, there were often times when I used to imagine what it would be like to have a brother or a sister. I would watch my friends interact with their siblings, and wonder what it would be like to have a sibling of my own. Thus, when I accepted Christ and read Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:50 that “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”  I was immediately intrigued.
Since then, I have grown to see more and more the beauty of this teaching, and how it directly relates to the real-in-the-now moments of each of our lives. How it changes the way that we see and interact with those around us, and how it gives us a vision of hope and love to live out in a world that seems to grow a little more cold, isolated, and autonomous every day.
Every person that we meet is a person that is, or has the potential to become our brother or sister in Christ. And God desires that each one of us would choose to become a part of this big, diverse, worldwide family. He wants to adopt each one us as His sons and daughters, and wants each of us to turn to Him as our Heavenly Father.
What would happen if each one of us chose to truly live this teaching out to its full? What if each one of us really chose to see each other this way, and treat each other like family? What if we chose to embrace one and other with this kind of radical love in a world that is too often governed by division and hate? What would change in our communities? Our cities? Our nations? Our world?
And how incredible of witness would it be for our faith? 
Right now, the world is starving for something real. In a world of shallow connections, airbrushed images, and competitions for the most ‘likes’,  we are desperately in need of real love, family, and community. One that will be there for us when things get hard and the odds seem stacked against us.
What if we, as Christians, made the choice every day to love?
To love God.
 
To love our brothers and sisters in Christ?
 
To love those who God wants to bring into the family?
What if we made the words of John 13:35 our mission statement? Where Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
What if we chose to become world changers—loving every person that we meEt the way Jesus did, living out the mission and heart of the Gospel in every interaction we have; changing the world through God’s amazing love—one life at a time? 
What if we really chose to be B.A.S.I.C.? 
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Strength In Vulnerability

You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back.” – Barbara de Angelis. 

Vulnerability. Transparency. Openness.

There is a lot packed into these three simple words. Things that are scary for many of us. Choices that make us feel afraid. Decisions that force us out of our comfort zone.

But recently, God has been speaking to me about all of these things, and I feel led to share what I’ve been learning with you, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, it might inspire someone.

So, here it goes…

* * * *

For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been good at opening up to people. I don’t have a specific reason exactly – likely some mix of being a more reserved personality by nature and going through seasons where I’ve been hurt by people – but for as long as I can remember, this has always been my story. I could write and speak about my faith and beliefs, but anytime I tried to get personal—about my life and my own struggles, I choked. It was easier for me to talk about things from an intellectual standpoint than a personal one.

This got a million times worse once I got to college. 

My first year of college, I slowly began to feel like my life was falling apart. First my schedule changed, and than my expectations changed, and than little by little, I began to feel a lot of my friendships beginning to change—until eventually it felt like everything that had come together so perfectly towards the end of high school was gone, never to be recovered again.

My life, little by little, began to turn into something of a to-do-list. 

I got up. I went to college classes. I went to work. I did my chores and daily-tasks. 

And shut down almost 100% emotionally and relationally. 

In some ways, I felt hurt. Why was it so hard to get together with old friends? Why were people changing so much? Where was God in the midst of all of this? I began to fear that if I let anyone else in, I would only get hurt—over and over again. And somewhere down the line, I held back from fully letting God in. On the outside, I looked strong. On the inside, I was a total, complete train-wreck—with OCD and anxiety slowly starting to run my life.

In retrospect, I was somewhat aware that I had a problem—even if I didn’t know how to fix it. But to be honest, most days I was trying so hard to just get through that I couldn’t really see the full picture, and how much I really was falling apart. In my mind, it was all just a part of life that I’d have to get used to. 

But recently, things have changed. And that’s what I want to share with you. 

As some of you know, I’ve started going to a new church, which I wrote about here. It has been an incredible blessing, and I’ve loved going, but I had no idea when I first went how much this church would end up helping me. And how much it would change my life.

My first week there, I was blown away by how connected everyone seemed—and how everyone really seemed to interact as one big, awesome, diverse, beautiful church family—taking the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:50 and putting them into action. The following week, I saw it even more up close and personal, as I went for the first time to the church’s young adult/college group. And that’s when things really started to change.

After taking note of how genuinely nice the people in this group seemed, the second thing that I noticed was how they opened up. Like, really opened up. More than I’ve ever seen people collectively open up in a church group before. And not only did they open up to each other—they opened up to God. Being a part of this church, I’ve seen so many people on fire for Jesus—striving to grow closer to Him above all else. And little by little, I heard God, starting to convict me. 

“You need to start letting people in. You need to start letting me in.” ‘

This has completely changed my life, and my outlook on life. It wasn’t a call to come to Christ—I accepted Christ years ago, back when I was still pretty young. But it was a call to give God all of me. My hopes. My fears. My dreams. My carefully laid out plans. 

And it was a call to start really opening up to those around me.

Slowly, I’ve started doing both of these things. It’s been a process—I can’t say I’m where I’d like to be quite yet, but I’ve made progress, even admitting in front of my whole group that I struggle with OCD and anxiety (which, by the way, has slowly been lessening). And I’ve found that the more that you give God your all, the less you worry about being hurt by other people—giving you the freedom to really open up to those around you. 

These last few years have been a journey—but for the first time in a while, I’m living—not just breathing.

And I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me. 

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#RelationshipGoals

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

As human beings, we’re naturally and innately wired for relationships. 

From the time that we are children, we’re motivated to forge relationships with those around us. No one has to teach us that we need other people. It is something that we instinctively know; whether introverted, extraverted, or somewhere in between, regardless of culture, gender, race, or ethnicity. It is God’s fingerprint on His creation—and one of the clearest and most incredible ways that we are made in His image.

We were made for relationships with other people.

And, even more importantly, we were made for a relationship with God. 

While it is often easy for us to remember that we need to be in close relationships with those around us to flourish, it can often be easy to forget the importance, and life-altering significance of our relationship with God.

Many of us, if we’ve been in the church for a long time, have heard the old cliche ‘Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship’, but in our real, nitty-gritty every day lives, this can be a difficult truth to live out. It’s all too easy to fall into routine with our faith. To read our Bible, go to church, and pray—all while missing the breathtaking beauty of it all. That the God of the universe wants to know us personally, and loves each of us more than any human being on this earth ever could. 

And until we shape our lives around this truth, nothing else will ever be enough. 

The truth is, in my own life, this has often been a struggle that I’ve personally dealt with. Though I know this truth deep down in my heart, there have been far too many times that I’ve tried to place something else where God should be. In some seasons, it’s been an achievement. In other seasons, it’s been a close friendship. Yet in other seasons, it’s been my own struggle with perfectionism. There have been times when I’ve been so focused on what my life looked like on the outside that I’ve totally neglected what was really important—the condition of my heart on the inside.

Sometimes, even really good things can distract us from deepening our relationship with God. Things like pursuing a talent that God has given us, or a relationship with someone God has placed in our life. The problem isn’t always the thing itself, but the weight that we give it. Anything can turn into a negative thing if it keeps us from turning our hearts most fully to the one most important thing.

No matter who you are and no matter what you’ve done, God wants a deep, personal relationship with you. He sees you as His beloved child and friend and would die for you all over again even if you were the only person on earth.

As you go throughout your week, I want to challenge you to fall more in love with Jesus. To see your faith and quiet time with God as a way of growing closer to the One who wants to know you, rather than just a list of tasks. To never stop being captivated by the heart of the Gospel.

To never stop pursuing a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Real Talk About Relationships: A Post For Valentine’s Day

Relationships.

Admittedly, this is a topic that I haven’t talked much about on my blog. It’s also probably the one topic that most people would expect to see on a teen blog. For years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to address this topic here, and have never really come to a resolution.

Nonetheless, lately, I feel very much compelled to address it, and I feel that it’s about time I did a post on dating relationships

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You see, the reason I’ve never posted about relationships on here is because I’ve never been in one myself. And I have always felt sort of inadequate to give advice on such a complicated topic. Throughout high school, I was always heavily immersed in what some have dubbed “the Christian subculture“. Almost none of my friends dated. Almost none of my friends were even allowed to date. So, when I started this blog, I focused on things that I either knew something about or current social issues that could be easily resolved through research.

Needless to say, dating didn’t exactly make the cut.

Considering I barely had a fully formed view of dating relationships in high school, I decided to hold off on this topic until later—when I had more insight into the topic. Admittedly, I’m not much further along than I was a couple of years ago, but I do feel more equipped to speak about dating at this point. In fact, my lack of knowledge serves as sort of a lesson in itself for this post.

Christians need to talk about relationships. 

In the midst of relationship messiness, we as young people need instruction. And most of us, if we’re really honest, are seriously lacking in dating-expertise. 

Speaking on behalf of Christian teens (of which I still sort of qualify, at nineteen years old), most of us half been hit with dating theories left and right. Many, which my friend Emily so apty pointed out, that are born more out of fear than wisdom. We’re bombarded with a billion prerequisites that go beyond the realm of Biblical truth.

We’re expected to know if we can marry them before our first date. We put up so many boundaries that we throw trust, intuition, and normal interaction out the window. We’re encouraged not to “get too attached” or “give our heart away” while on the hunt our soul mate. We’re encouraged to start dating at eighteen, and get married three or four years later, because it would be simply dreadful to end up as an ‘old maid‘ at twenty four.

It’s enough to make you want forget dating altogether and live vicariously through chick flicks and Nicholas Sparks novels. 

Nonetheless, lately, despite my own lack of experience with dating, I have started thinking more actively about dating relationships and what makes for a good relationship—as I’ve discussed the topic with friends and talked about it with my mom.

Thus, I would like to keep it simple, and list some of the basic principals that I believe equal a healthy relationship.

Love, Honor, and Trust.

For many of us, it has been all too easy to grow up with presuppositions about the opposite gender—especially for us gals. I’ve spoken about it previously in relation to male-female friendships, but the struggle is all too real with dating relationships.

Between TV, movies, and offhand comments from well meaning people, girls aren’t taught to hold out for a man with self-control. We’re taught that all men are all basically walking hormones—and within this toxic teaching, we fail to teach girls to wait for someone they can trust. As a culture, we’ve failed to differentiate between normal, self-controlled, imperfect guys with struggles and sexual predators.

Even Christians have often been guilty of making excuses for inappropriate behavior—thus choosing to stereotype our brothers in Christ rather than assume the best about the majority of men. Because of this, too many girls have come to expect the worst of guys, and stayed with toxic, abusive boyfriends—brushing it off as “typical male behavior”. Girls aren’t taught about warning signs to watch out for, and abusive men are often been brushed off as “normal”—creating a recipe for disaster.

As God’s children, fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, we deserve to be with someone who respects us and respects the God that we serve. We deserve a man who will treat us right and honor us. We deserve to know that there are still good guys left in the world, and that we ought not to settle for less than our best.

The Freedom of Not Knowing 

Sometimes, a date (or a courtship) can be just that. A date. Not an engagement; not a marriage proposal. It doesn’t make us shallow or a ‘serial dater’. It just makes us human. It just means that early in the relationship, we might not know if they’re the one. And that’s OK.

Expecting a person to know 100% who they’re going to marry when they’re still getting to know the other person and themselves is asking a lot. True, we should be someone we could potentially see ourselves marrying down the line. And true, they should have our core values and beliefs. But we don’t have to sign a contract on our first date. Sometimes, it’s OK to not know—that’s what the dating process is for. So we can get to know them. We don’t have to book a chapel on our first date, just as long as we treat the other person right, and don’t lead them on.

Listen To The Voices 

Oftentimes, our intuition can be a helpful aid in making big decisions, such as ‘who to date’. While we shouldn’t solely listen to our intuition, we shouldn’t ignore it altogether either. This pertains both to the specific person and to our standards. Do guys who are quick to anger make you nervous? Then stay away. Do you want a guy with certain core values, like honesty and integrity. Listen to that. Oftentimes, problems arise when we refuse to listen to our gut and the Holy Spirit’s counsel and try to rationalize behavior that we know is wrong. Don’t ignore that still small voice in the midst of strong feelings.

In addition to listening to our own intuition, it’s important to hear out what others have to say. Friends and family can provide insight on things that we haven’t even considered. Furthermore, it can be easy for judgement to get cloudy in the midst of a feelings for another person. If we listen to our voice and the voice of others—including God, through prayer and Bible study, we’ll save ourselves from a lot of mistakes and heartache.

Be OK with singleness

Too often, society and the church elevate marriage and dating relationships so much that they isolate people who are single—either out of calling, or for a period of time. Single people are often viewed with suspicion, or as somehow ‘less-than’ compared with their married counterparts.

Nonetheless, both statuses are fully respected in God’s eyes. Whether we eventually marry or not, we’re all likely to be single for at least some period of time. It’s important that we all learn to be comfortable with ourselves before we jump into a relationship with someone else. Ultimately, God is the only one who can give us true joy, and when we replace God with anything else—even a good thing, we will always be disappointed.

How about you? Do you have any relationship advice that you’d like to share? If so, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section! It’s always great to hear your thoughts!

 

 

A Prayer For Christmas

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This Christmas let us remember the reason for the season.

Let us, in the midst of the cooking, the wrapping, and the shopping, take some time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

Let us reach out to others, remembering to put them before ourselves and helping those who are less fortunate.

Let us pray for the homeless, the veterans, those away from family, and all those who have situations much more difficult than our own.

Let us remember those closest to us, and spend some time with friends and loved ones as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Let us never take anything for granted but be thankful for what we do have, as we anticipate a new year filled with hope, resolutions, and promises.

Let us take some time to enjoy the little moments, those small nameless moments that get pushed aside for the glamor of Christmas, because someday those small moments won’t be so small anymore.

Let us remember those we miss, be thankful for those that we do have, and move forward with the hope and knowledge that someday we’ll be see our deceased loved ones once again.

Let us put aside our busyness, our stress, our fear, and our worries, remembering that in the midst of all of the stress of life, we have a Savior who understands, and a peace in the midst of chaos.

Let us deck the halls, enjoy our Christmas dinner, exchange gifts, and surround ourselves with love, because this season only comes once a year.

And, despite the fleetingness and busyness of this season, let us keep its spirit in our hearts, so that in some ways, this holiday may last all year long.

* * * * *

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, see, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:8-14

 

World Mental Health Day

One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

Around 450 million people currently suffer from mental health related problems.

Mental health disorders are among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide (World Health Organization).

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Over the last couple years, the issue of mental health has become a prominent subject matter in the public square. Celebrities have raised awareness for those who suffer from mental illness and websites like Twitter have allowed more people to have a platform to spread information about the importance of mental health. People are starting to realize that mental health is just as important as physical health—and slowly, the stigma attached to mental health struggles is beginning to fade.

Thus, with it being such an important and widely spoken about issue, I have decided that to write a post about mental health for my blog to help raise awareness for this issue.

If you have been reading my blog for a while now, you may know that I’m no stranger to this issue. For years now, I have struggled with OCD and anxiety, which can at times can be crippling—making it difficult to handle situations that most people would be completely comfortable in. I struggle with both stressful, unwanted thoughts and quirks such as not wanting to touch a doorknob and checking my cups to make sure they’re clean.

Nonetheless, over the last few weeks, I have made a conscious decision.

I have made a decision to be healthy.

By choosing to be healthy, I don’t mean that my OCD has gone away entirely or even that I believe it will go away entirely. In some way, shape or form, I’ve suffered with it since childhood. When I was in grade school, I used to arrange my crayons by color and run to my mom whenever I had a thought that I considered “mean” or “bad”.

Nonetheless, I have recently discovered that there are steps that I can take to cope with it and intentionally lessen it; and I believe that many of these things can help those who struggle from other forms of mental health as well.

Pray

To clarify, I don’t believe mental health problems are a sign of a weak faith or not trusting God, as some suggest. However, I do believe we serve a God who cares about the well being of His children. James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” The Bible encourages us to pray during times of trouble, and I believe that if we ask, God will give us peace during our storms—and the strength to get through them

Eat right

Before I tried it myself, I used to think that people who touted healthy eating as the answer stress and anxiety were crazy. Nonetheless, after changing my diet and implementing more whole foods and vitamins, I’ve noticed that my anxiety and even my acne has decreased tremendously. It is obviously not the answer to every problem, but it can help you feel better and more at peace. Eating less processed foods and more foods with vitamins shown to treat anxiety has helped me leaps and bounds in my journey to mental and physical health.

Exercise

I’m going to be honest—I am a complete and utter bookworm. Given the choice, I would much rather read a good book than hop on a treadmill. However, despite the fact that working out isn’t always fun for me, I have begun to take more initiative to exercise. Exercising naturally increases serotonin levels in our brains, which is often something that people with high levels of anxiety tend to lack. Through exercising, we can increase our serotonin levels while staying fit in the process.

R&R

In a world as fast paced and intense as ours, it can be hard to force ourselves to relax and unwind. There’s always something we need to do or that we can worry about. However, God didn’t intend for our bodies to work like this. As finite creatures, we cannot keep going without facing some serious burnout.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, or worried, take some time for yourself. This isn’t selfish—it’s healthy. Read a book. Soak in a bubble bath. Watch your old favorite movie. Do whatever it is (within reason) that helps you relax and calm down. Don’t be afraid to slow down and let yourself rest. If you do this, you’ll be refreshed and ready to face those tasks when you return to your daily to-do-list.

Self-talk

Oftentimes, our worst stress is caused from out-of-control worry and stress. When our minds get out of hand, sometimes it’s best to try to talk ourselves down. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Sometimes we can be nicer to others than we are to ourselves, but according to the Bible, we are called to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:30-31). It’s important that we show the same kindness to ourselves that we show to others, and part of this is remembering that things often aren’t as severe as we imagine them to be.

Talk to someone about it

Sometimes, one of the best ways to stay mentally healthy is to talk to someone—whether it be a pastor, a counselor, or a friend. Maybe you have something you need to work through, or maybe you just need another person to tell you it’s all going to be OK. There’s no shame in seeing a counselor or asking for prayer and advice. We weren’t meant to do this life alone—God has placed other people in our lives and our paths for a reason. Never be too prideful to ask for help. Furthermore, if you feel it is serious, never be afraid to contact a professional.

Note -– If you’re in a moment of crisis and you’re in emotional distress right now, don’t hesitate to talk. Call 1-800-273-8255.  https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

How about you? Have you ever struggled with mental health? And do you have any advice for those who do? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Undefeated

From the time I was a little girl, I’ve always loved stories. I love the feeling of getting inside a character’s head. I love watching them overcome battles and struggles. I love seeing their hopes and dreams unfold at the end—as they get the happy ending we were rooting for all along.

We all have our favorite stories. Some of us enjoy romance movies/novels, where we wait for the guy to get the girl. Others enjoy action, like the Marvel series, where we watch the good guy defeat the bad guy. We each have unique tastes when it comes to stories, but regardless of the various differences between them they all have one very important thing in common.

The protagonist always has an obstacle standing in their way. 

Like these stories, we each have our own obstacles that we face on a daily basis, and as Christians, we have a common villain set on our destruction. A common enemy who wants to see us fail. Most often, the battle is within.

As an OCD struggler, I am no stranger to the reality and difficulty of internal battle. Most people tend to associate OCD with being a neat-freak, but that’s only part of it. The thing that drives people to struggle with this condition is unwanted thoughts that cause nothing but harm. It’s an internal battle, which manifests into controlling the things we can—like obsessive cleaning or tidiness. Nonetheless, slowly but surely I’m learning to gain better control over my OCD and better fight this battle.

Even if we don’t all struggle with OCD, many of us deal with intrusive thoughts on a regular basis—thoughts of insecurity, fear, and worry. All which are lies of the enemy. However, as we have the ultimate weapons to fight against these plaguing thoughts—through God and the Bible. We can’t always control the thoughts that go through our head, but we can control how we react to them.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Meanwhile Romans 8:37 tells us that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us.

We might not be strong enough to face these battles and internal struggles on our own, but through the blood of Christ we are warriors destined for victory. Those anxious thoughts that come through our heads and our hearts are nothing but lies of the enemy, and through God’s strength we can resist those lies and stay strong and courageous. We can take those unwelcome thoughts captive and rebuke them with the truth of God’s Word—God loves us, God is leading us, God has a plan for us, and we are characters destined for a life brimming with purpose. 

We each face trials as we travel through this world—but through Jesus, who has already won the battle, we can live victoriously. 

Defeating any arrow that might be shot our way. 

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4