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

The Importance Of Rest

Let’s be honest—life can be busy.

Between school, work, responsibilities, and trying to keep it all together, it can be easy for rest to fall to the bottom of my priority list—if it ends up on the list at all. We live in an on-the-go society, between fast food and texting. Interstates and highways. A-hundred-and-fifty-character tweets.

Life is meant to be fast, we’re told—so we always have to move just a little bit faster to keep up.

While it’s good to be busy, and God wants us to work hard at whatever we do, we’re not meant to go 24/7 without rest. Even Jesus, who was God-in-flesh often disappeared by Himself to spend time alone and rest. Even God the Father rested on the last day of Creation, after his work of creating the world was finished.

Sometimes, we need to do the same.

Sometimes we need to be still, and hear what God is trying to tell us.

Sometimes we need to unplug from our busy lives, and take time to kick back and read.

Sometimes we need to spend time with old friends, and recharge enough to be at our best for the rest of the week.

Sometimes, we just need to turn on Netflix, and put on an episode of our favorite show.

These things may seem small, especially in a world that tells us things must always be faster and busier, but they’re essential to human flourishing. They’re the moments that God wants us to cherish—as they’re gifts that He’s given us.

There’s no time like the present to open them.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Sanctity of Life

Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.” Jonathan Swift.

From the time that I’ve been old enough to understand the subject matter, I have always considered myself pro-life. I believe that a baby has a pulse and a life ahead of them from the moment of conception and that God has plans for that child—even if the child was unplanned by the baby’s parents.

Thus, most pastors, politicians, and individuals, would define my stance as “pro-life”, believing in the sanctity of the life of an unborn baby.

But, is that all there is to being ‘pro-life?’ 

To me, being pro-life is about much more than that. It’s about standing up for the dignity of each and every person that God created in His image. It’s about taking a stance for the marginalized of society. It’s about bringing hope to the places that seem the most hopeless.

It’s about much more than a political statement on a singular issue. According to Huffington Post, more than forty-five billion people are living below the poverty line—just in America. Furthermore, according to the Christian scholar Ron J. Sider (Just Politics, pg. 124), 438,000 people die every year from smoking. These people are affected in a drastically different way, yet both instances above are clearly issues related the sanctity of human life.

If we’re going to truly call ourselves pro-life, we must care about every life. 

Though this line of thinking has historically been championed by the Roman Catholic church, there is a growing emergence of evangelical protestants in this movement. Even well-known magazines, such as Christianity Today and RELEVANT have begun speaking about issues related to a consistent life ethic. While the two major political parties continue to remain polarized and stuck in less-than-consistent-policies, individuals are challenging the status quo and presenting new ways to go about being “pro-life” in a world rampant with death and suffering. 

Essentially, if we’re going to live out our faith, we must remain consistent. Black lives matter just as much as babies’ lives matter. Those on death row are just as precious to God as those in a church pew, for ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Helping people stay alive while they’re here, through charities and food programs is just as important as advocating for those yet-to-be-born.

Sometimes, being pro-life comes at a cost. It may cost us our time, as we help a struggling mother care for her children. Other times, it may come at a financial cost, as we assure that people are fed and healthy. Yet other times, it may simply cost bearing the burden of another, as we listen and love an unwed mother, a refugee fleeing persecution, or a young person dealing with their parents’ divorce.

Being consistently pro-life comes at a cost—but in the end, we have so much more to gain.

A friend.

A testimony.

A new member of the family of believers. 

In the end, we become courageous—and a little more like Jesus in the process.

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan

How To Disagree Well

A little while back, I did the exact thing that everyone tells you not to do.

It’s the very thing that everyone warns you about, and thing that could potentially get you banned from any dinner party.

I discussed politics with friends.

The good news? We’re all still friends.

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Joking aside, the discussion actually went quite well—despite the fact that one friend was a Republican, one was a Democrat, and I’m sort of right-in-the-middle. We had differences, no doubt about it. Nonetheless, despite those differences, we each listened to each other. We heard what each person had to say and stated our own thoughts in a kind, respectful manner. At one point, one of my friends even noted that this was how politics in America should be—everyone listening to each other without getting into a shouting match.

Truthfully, the more I think about it, the more I believe that’s how discussions about any important topic should go. Regardless of the issue, people are always more likely to learn when discussing things in a calm, and intelligent manner.

Over the course of my high school career, I learned how to do this. My classmates and I were always encouraged to discuss hot button issues in my classes, but somehow, those discussions never led to a major fight or a fallout. In fact, I believe that we actually grew stronger through those differences—something rare in a world that continues to polarized politically, racially, religiously, and in every other way imaginable. And, thinking about it, I believe there are a couple of key factors that we’ve always utilized, making for meaningful discussion in the midst of differences. 

Factors that I believe, if utilized, might help us become a little better at disagreeing well.

Don’t make snap judgements – One of my biggest pet peeves has always been stereotypes and labels. From the time I was young—they have always bugged me to the core. Mainly, because one—they can be offensive, and two—they can keep us from listening. When we begin to see people as caricatures, we cease to see them as humans, and we stop really listening to them. We assume we already know what they have to say and thus, make an idiot out of ourselves. In order to listen well, we must fully understand what they’re trying to say—without stereotypes or generalizations.

Hear them – Maybe, you don’t agree with what your friend is saying. Maybe you don’t even agree with the majority of what they’re saying. Nonetheless, give their opinion respect and value. Do you agree with the broader point behind what they’re saying? Could parts of what they’re saying make sense in a different context? Never shut someone down simply because they’re coming at something from a different perspective. You could miss out on a really valuable conversation, as well as a really valuable friendship.

Try to understand their point-of-view – As an author, this is something that I do on a regular basis. When I create characters, they aren’t always exactly like me, nor do they always think the way I think. In life, like in a story, it is important to understand the people you’re surrounded by. We didn’t all grow up the same way, and we haven’t all had the same experiences. Take this in consideration as you consider the “why” behind the opinions the other person has.

Treat people as Jesus would – As Christians, we’re given the ultimate role model for interacting with the world at large, as well as those closest to us. In Scripture, Jesus was always respectful to people who came from different contexts than He may have been used to. If we follow His example, treating people with the upmost respect, we can never go wrong.

How about you? Have you ever gotten into a discussion with people who have different viewpoints? How did it go – and how do you believe we can better learn to disagree well? Feel free to share in the comments!

One Of The Guys

Ever since high school, I’ve always been one of the guys.

It was never a conscious decision, or something that I “planned” in any way, it just sort of happened, and to be honest, it’s not something I’ve thought too much about. It’s just sort of a fact, similar to the fact that I love hot tea and binge watching sessions of Friends.

Something commonplace and totally normal in my life.

Nonetheless, one day, not too long ago, I actually did happen to think about it—due to the fact that I was going to a graduation with a group of friends to watch three bros graduate. I was naturally nostalgic, as these were people I grew up with, so I decided to google one of those articles on Buzzfeed like “What it’s like when you have a lot of guy friends” or “Humorous things that happen when a lot of your friends are guys“. And, while doing this, I ended up stumbling across an advice column on this very topic.

Long story short, this person was borderline negative at the prospect of having a friend of the opposite gender – accusing it of simply being a way to “get attention from guys”. After, researching further commentary on this topic, I found other articles from similar viewpoints, one calling it an avenue for “confusion and frustration” – even going so far as to call opposite gender friendship a sin!

Sadly, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I don’t believe these viewpoints are all too uncommon in some circles. Oftentimes, both the church and society can become so obsessed with sex and marriage that any kind of platonic interaction between guys and girls is viewed with suspicion.

Even movies, such as When Harry Met Sally, that address the age old “can guys and girls be friends” question typically end up with the two friends becoming a couple. And while I don’t disagree that this can sometimes happen, I personally find it rather ludicrous to say that every guy-girl friendship has some kind of Fruedian undertone just waiting to emerge at the worst time.

Thus, to contrast with an article in support of guy-girl friendships, I’ve decided to list a few reasons why having friends of the opposite gender can be a good and godly thing for us as Christian teens and young adults.

  1. Jesus did – As Christians, Jesus is our ultimate role model. In the 80s, the old slogan WWJD was popularized, and ever since, faithful Christians have asked the famous question, “What would Jesus do”? If we’re going to look closely to His example, we’ll be quick to find that Jesus spent time with both men and women.

In Luke 10, it is clear that Jesus was close friends with two sisters named Mary and Martha, even going over to their house for dinner. Furthermore, in Luke 8, Jesus travels with friends of both gender, and the women traveling with him helped support Him in His ministry. According to www.gci.org, this was simply unheard of during this time era. Nonetheless, it is evidenced that Paul follows a similar pattern later on in the New Testament, and even calls Persis a “dear friend” in Romans 16:12.

2. We learn from each other – I have always believed we grow through having friends who are different than us. Whether it be culturally, racially, gender-wise, or anything else, we understand those who are different than us through relationships. We learn to appreciate each others’ differences while learning that we’re not as far apart as we usually think.

While guys and girls have their differences, we are ultimately all human beings, with individual stories, testimonies, and personalities. Having friends of the opposite gender can help us realize that maybe guys aren’t so much from Mars and girls aren’t so much from Venus—maybe we’re all actually from the same planet earth.

3. It reduces stereotypes – When I was in middle school, I used to have a legit fear of the opposite gender. It sounds crazy in retrospect, but because of some of the stereotypes I was hearing about guys at the time (They’re all crude, they’re only interested in one thing, they have no manners etc.) I used to feel borderline panicky around anyone of the opposite sex.

Nonetheless, once I started making friends with actual guys, the stereotypes began to fall away one by one. No longer did I characterize the whole male species as being somehow dangerous. I began to realize they’re just people, like myself. And, I soon found that a lot of them can actually be pretty cool.

4. It lets you feel comfortable having a feminine/masculine side – According to psychology, no one is all “masculine” or all “feminine“. This doesn’t mean anything strange or that gender differences aren’t important. It simply means that we each have different sides of our personality—and not all of them fit neatly into boxes.

Around my guy friends, I often feel a freedom to let out my sarcasm and joke around in a way that might come across odd with a close girl friend. Meanwhile, I was once talking with a guy friend who confided that most boys don’t like to sit around and have discussions, so it would be difficult trying to sit around and just talk with another guy. With our opposite gender friends, we can feel free to let sides of ourselves show that might not come out otherwise.

How about you? Do you have any close opposite-gender friends? How do you believe they’ve helped you grow? Feel free to share in the comments!

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Just The Way You Are

“You just have to be yourself and go full with confidence and be courageous.” – Gabby Douglas

If you’ve been around the world of the internet and inspirational quotes for a while, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the story of the goldfish. Goldfish, as we all know, were meant to swim. They have the God-given ability to live within water and breath through their gills. Nonetheless, there’s one thing a goldfish cannot do no matter how hard it tries. Fly.

To fly would go against a goldfish’s very design. They have no wings. They’re not wired to fly. A goldfish has wonderful tasks it was created for, but if it’s told it’s whole life that it should fly, the poor fish will eventually get beyond discouraged.

For many of us, that goldfish is relatable—a symbol, if you will. Many of us have spent huge portions of our lives trying to be something we’re not, only to deny the person God created us to be. 

For me, this was a battle that I faced during my early years of high school. During this time, I was on a journey to find myself. Nonetheless, as hard as I searched and as much as I tried to forge my own identity, I always felt like there was this girl I was “supposed to be”. This girl who sat on a bench inside my brain and constantly told me one thing.

Something’s wrong with you.

In retrospect, I couldn’t exactly tell you what caused these bouts of insecurity, or the exact moment it started. Likely, it was a mix of a bunch of things—perhaps partly stemmed from culture and my own perfectionism. I felt like the girl I was supposed to be was different than the girl I was becoming. And this scared me. 

During this time, I did what most young Christian girls in my situation would do. I prayed. I listened to music. I bounced back and forth between trying to be perfect and rebelling in small, retrospectively insignificant ways. I wanted to be myself, and I wanted to be confident in that person. 

Little by little through small baby steps, I slowly began to become that person as I got to my older teenage years. I found a different church to attend with my family. I began to own my faith a little more, and be honest about my thoughts, questions, and doubts. I read a book by Emily P. Freeman called Grace For The Good Girl that impacted me in a big way. I began to find friends and role models who weren’t afraid to be themselves. I started a blog. I sang two songs in front of a crowd senior year—one that I wrote myself and one by one of my favorite singers.

Somehow, through it all a realization hit that helped me find myself and confidence in the way God made me—”Maybe God was OK with me just the way I was”. 

In Psalm 139:13-16, it says “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

God created each and every one of us exactly the way we were intended to be. He created us uniquely, with individual passions, hopes, dreams, and personalities. When we find life in Him, He doesn’t intend for us all to look the same. He wants to use each gift that he’s given us to bring glory to His name, and hope to a broken world. 

We weren’t all created for the same purpose, and we aren’t meant to all look the same, but we do have this one thing in common—we were each created for something wonderful.

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And God loves each of us in the midst of our personalities, our beauty, and our flaws just the way we are.

Fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. 

Some Lessons And Highlights from a High School Graduate

As the year comes to an end, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since I graduated from high school last year. All throughout my teenage years, I was required to write an essay—reflecting on on the ways I’ve learned and grown throughout that year.

Now, even though I’m no longer in high school, I’ve decided to bullet point some of my biggest lessons and highlights from my first year as a college student. Hopefully, with any luck, this will provide inspiration to graduates who are reading this, and nostalgia to those looking back.

Thus, without further ado, here is a reflection of my year!

  • Friendship 

Throughout this year, I have been reminded more than ever of the importance of true friends in our lives. I have written in the past about the closeness of my friend-group and this year, I believe I’ve grown to appreciate my friends on a whole other level.

As I went through some of the more difficult parts of this year, they have been my anchor, as they listened to me vent about everything from crazy professors to my endless job hunt. I have also learned what it means to stay in contact with friends in the midst of ever changing schedules and paths. One of my biggest fears this year was that I’d loose contact with the people who have been like a second family to me all through high school. Nonetheless, I’ve found that with a little effort, a little scheduling, and a lot of texting and phone conversations, it’s not as hard as it seems to remain in touch with high school friends.

Especially if everyone makes an effort. 

  • Faith

I believe that my faith has grown immeasurably this year, as it has faced tremendous pressure like never before from outside forces. It was one of the few things I could hold onto as I made my way through a local college and struggled with more personal issues than I’d care to admit. Before this year, I was used to being in the majority as a Christian. After this year, I realized for the first time the stress of being one of the only Christians in my school open about my faith. Nonetheless, I believe that through it all, I’ve grown closer to God and learned to trust Him more in the process. Life doesn’t always make sense in the moment, but through it all, we can always trust that God has plans for us bigger than any of our wildest dreams. 

  • School

Though I’ve maintained high grades throughout my year, school has been one of my most difficult challenges this year. On top of the frightening realization that I’m officially out of high school and an “adult”, I changed my major, changed my career field, and changed to a school better fit for my career aspirations. I have also faced the struggle of shifting through various ideologies and world views at the local college I attended during the fall semester—deciding for myself what I agreed and disagreed with. Nonetheless, as I’ve begun my first semester with Liberty University online, I have regained a love for learning and feel content with my decision for college.

  • Work 

In addition to the excitement of starting at a new school, I have recently started my first real part time job in retail. So far, this has been an excellent experience and I have found it very empowering to have an official job in the workforce. It took a while to find a job, but now that I have one, I believe that the search has been worth it. In the end, I believe that all of my time spent sending in resumes and applying at various stores in the area has been worth it, as I enjoy both my job and working with fellow employees/managers.

  • Responsibility 

Lastly, I have begun to take on more responsibility. Between working, going to school, and driving more, I finally feel that I’m on my way towards successful “adulting”. I have also begun to make more decisions for myself and take on more responsibility—which I believe has been incredibly rewarding.

All and all, as awkward as this year has been at times, I wouldn’t change a thing, as each step helped me grow to trust God more and become a stronger person. We all face trials in our lives, but the important thing is not our struggles—it’s how we handle them. We each go through different seasons, but the important thing is that God is still God in the midst of every season of life, and He has our lives in the very palm of His hand.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11 

How about you? How do you believe you’ve grown this year? And if you’ve graduated from high school or college, how did that season of life shape you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!