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…

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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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A Life Update And A Lesson Learned

Hey everyone, sorry for the long-time-absence. I promise that nothing has been wrong, other than my sheer busyness and procrastination. Nonetheless, there has been a lot that has been going right lately, and I wanted to share it with you guys.

Recently, I have made a career change and I feel really good about it.

 I have realized that God is calling me to become a teacher. 

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Interestingly enough, this was my original plan all through high school—and truth be told, I’m honestly not sure the desire ever went away completely. I watched shows like Glee and imagined how cool it would be to leave an impact on the lives of others—the way Mr. Shcue does in his Glee club.

I also thought back to my own high school years (which honestly aren’t that long ago) and how much the classes I was in affected the person I am today for the better. I went into high school shy and insecure, but left confident and with a group of friends better than I could have ever imagined. I would love to the chance to play a small part in helping other students grow—and create the kind of classes that they’ll remember for years. Though you can make a positive difference in journalism as well, I realized that as an extravert, I really need a career where I’m around people—as I’m pretty sure I’ll go crazy otherwise.

Since I’ve made this change, I’ve been feeling much better about life and the direction that it’s taking. Furthermore, I realized a mistake that I made for most of my freshman year of college—I realized that you can’t live your life by another person’s script.

Because I was in the midst of such a drastic change, I fell into a pattern of looking to others for what I should do in life. I wanted some kind of direction or path from those who have gone before me.

In doing this, I failed to see the beauty in my own story, and my own unique journey.

I switched to journalism because one of my favorite authors became the successful fiction writer I wanted to be through that career. I was down on myself for not yet having a license to drive on my own—when I was sure I’d be further ahead by now. I felt like something was wrong with me because I didn’t have a boyfriend (or an interest in getting one, for that matter) when literally everyone I knew started dating—even though I was in the process of getting over a really long-term crush.

Now, with that year behind me, and a few lessons learned, I’ve realized that my story isn’t the same as everyone else’s and neither is yours. God has different plans for each one of us, and that’s OK. We should never copy someone else’s path because it worked for them—we have to find our own path, and stay connected to that still small voice in the process.

As much as I sometimes long for a step-by-step checklist, life doesn’t usually work like that—and sometimes we have to find our story one piece at a time—trusting that God is writing something beautiful with our lives.

If we do that, than we might just be on the right path after all.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Back To School Anthem

This year, let us strive to be world changers.

Let us be people who make a difference, one locker at a time.

Let us be the change we want to see, spreading love and hope to those around us,

Let us stand up for the bullied, reach out to the outcast, and show kindness in our actions and words.

Let us live as our best selves, and live this year with confidence and grace,

It’s a new year, a new day,

We cannot live in the future, and we cannot live in the past, but we can live in the present.

Let us choose joy.

Let us embrace every day with optimism, as if we’re looking through the eyes of a child.

Let us hold to our faith, and let it carry us through the changes and trials of the year.

Let us never forget that we’re not alone,

That thousands of people have walked through those same hallways, and that thousands have been where we are.

Most of all, let us love,

Let us love others, through our actions and words and friendships,

Let us love ourselves as we strive to be the best we can be,

And, last but certainly not least, let us love God, the One who will carry us through every joy and sorrow we encounter

Let us make 2017-18 the best school year of our lives. 

Feel free to use this anthem on your own blog – just be sure to post the link and name below. 

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Courtney Whitaker 

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! 

Thirty Day Blogging Challenge Returns: Day Fourteen

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Hey everyone, I’m finally back after a far too long hiatus! 

For those of you who have been wondering, everything is totally fine on my end. There haven’t been any illnesses or catastrophes of any sort—that is, unless you count the absolute frustration of writers block. For a while, I have been completely stumped on the prompt I’m about to answer today. I have had plenty of problems in the past, but I wasn’t quite sure which to use. Nonetheless, after talking with my mom about it, she gave me an excellent idea:

Talk about the transition from high school to college. 

As some of you know, this has been my first year out of high school and I’m currently in the process of transferring to Liberty University—a college that I believe will be the best fit for my future career. Nonetheless, before I decided on Liberty, I was attending a local college near my house—and the year of 2015 may be one of my rockiest years to this date. 

For a while, I have avoided writing about the fact that I was homeschooled on this blog. I wasn’t ashamed of it, but I was worried it would conjure up stereotypes of an anti-social, socially awkward girl in her room doing math problems all day—which is far from my actual experience. Nonetheless, because I strongly believe in the process of being real and sharing your stories with others, I have recently began to write about it—especially since I believe it had an effect on my high school experience and my subsequent transition to college.

Contrary to the stereotypes, I wasn’t raised in a church—but began attending with my mom during late elementary school. Nonetheless, because many homeschool environments (though not all) are run by Christians, I’ve pretty much been in that subculture for my whole life. College was the first time I was ever in a school that lacked faith. 

Because I was well aware of this, my best friend and I spent long hours talking about what college may be like and all-but planning an escape plan in the case of a God’s Not Dead scenario. When graduation night came, I felt more terrified than anything. What did the next chapter hold? What was my life going to look like? From the summer of ’16 all the way through the end of the year, I began experiencing weight gain, acne, and other physical stress syndromes.

During my time at college, I faced both internal and external conflict. I began to think about life after high school, and experience almost paralyzing fears about the future. I wondered if my unusually close friendships would survive into adulthood and if I would end up as the little personification of the crazy cat lady. I also worried about my career, missed my high school classes, and tried to figure out what the heck I wanted out of my life. I had a basic idea, but my career path changed during my time at college from teacher to journalist, subsequently affecting my degree and college choice.

At college, I was faced regularly with dramatic clashes of ideologies. I heard things that never, in a million years would have been taught in any of my high school classes. Friendship and family ties were all but mocked, prayer was seen as unimportant, an obnoxiously loud sociology teacher in the next room over taught that sex was between two or more people, and that rape was simply inconvenient, and I met a fellow classmate who was a self proclaimed witch. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe and all but emotionally shut down. 

Nonetheless, as difficult as this time was for me, God managed to teach me a lot and bring good out of bad. He taught me to depend more heavily on him and open up to wise Christian friends and mentors. The more stressed, anxious, and depressed I became, the more people God brought into my life to help me. It’s easy to follow God when things are going well and you feel like you’re on top of the world, but it’s a lot harder when you feel like everything you know is crashing down all around you. This experience taught me to trust and fully lean into a God who’s a lot bigger than myself. 

I also became more aware and humbled by the fact that everyone has a story—and that sometimes, we have to learn to simply love people where they’re at. It can be so easy to disregard people as some kind of giant agenda or conspiracy, but there’s always more to people than this. I learned that one of my professors, who I had a huge personality clash with had a much more difficult life than I had originally thought, and learned to have compassion through hearing their story. I also learned that the classmate who practiced wicca really wasn’t a “bad person“—just a lost one, who also had a difficult past.

Now, that season is finally behind me, and I couldn’t be more excited to start at the university I believe God is leading me to—but I don’t regret a moment of my time at my first college. I learned valuable life lessons and I believe I’ve become a stronger, more compassionate Christian and person because of it. If you’re going to college this fall for the first time, I’m not going to lie and tell you it will be easy. It will likely be a challenge—a grueling one, even—at times. But you’ll survive it, just like I did. Trust in God, lean into friends and mentors, and don’t let fear control you.

God has a plan for you even in the midst of your hardest battles. 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 

One Semester ~ A Story of Faith Overcoming Fear

Hey guys, sorry I’ve been sort of inactive on this blog lately – I promise to post again soon!

In the meantime, I’d love for y’all to head on over to Emily’s blog at Fearfully Wonderfully Me and check out a guest post that I wrote for her! It’s a reflection post on a specific situation that happened to me at college and I hope you guys are inspired by it! You can click through to the link here!

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Thankful List: 2016

Hey everyone, a year ago I posted a list of things that I was thankful for in 2015. Since I’m the type of person who enjoys frequent introspection, and since I believe practicing the virtue of thankfulness is very important, I’ve decide to turn it into an annual thing. Many of the things I wrote about last year still apply, but there are some new things that I would like to add or update as I reminisce the last eleven months of this year.

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  1. Jesus’s continuous provision and presence – Every year, it seems that God teaches me something new, and this year, there have been tons of lessons that I have learned about God, friendship, and life. I plan to talk about this further in an upcoming blog post, but for now, I would like to take this opportunity to thank God for helping me through this year in the midst of college and the pressures of adulting.
  2. My family My family has been a constant in my life throughout this first semester of college. They have seen me at my best and at my worst and have helped shape me into the person that I am today. They have helped me in my faith journey and I have seen God work in our lives in powerful ways. I am thankful for a stable home life – especially at the times when life feels anything but stable.
  3. My friends – As I’ve said so many times, I couldn’t have ended up with a more awesome group of friends. In my household, there’s only my mom, dad, cat, and I, but my friends are truly like brothers and sisters to me. I’ve grown up with many of them and I look forward to seeing where God leads us in our lives. They are truly like a real-life version of the old 90s show Friends and I couldn’t ask for a better squad.
  4. Lessons learned in college – Though this semester has been a bit of a rocky one for me, I have learned a lot in the midst of it. It has given me a greater appreciation for my roots, helped me grow in compassion, and has pushed me even more so to see everyone I meet through the eyes of Jesus. Oftentimes, it is common to hear stories of people falling away from their faith in college, but I feel that I have only grown stronger through it.
  5. The opportunity to go to Liberty – Though my current college has taught me a lot of life lessons, I am beyond excited to transfer to Liberty online this summer. The alumni is phenomenal and has produced amazing world changers such as TobyMac, Michael Tait, Meredith Andrews, Gabe Lyons, and the members of Anthem Lights. Furthermore, Karen Kingsbury is a professor there and I am beyond excited about the opportunity to take a class with her as my teacher.
  6. That I’m finally starting to feel comfortable driving – Over the past few years, driving has been a major kryptonite for me. When I first started, I was unbelievably scared and admittedly, not the most competent driver in the world. Now, a few years later, I’m driving myself to places with practically no problems and I’m planning to get my license sometime this spring.
  7. The opportunity to vote in my first election – Crazy as this election was, I was super psyched about the opportunity to vote for the very first time. There is something empowering about your voice being heard on a national level and I am thankful for this opportunity as an American citizen.
  8. The chance to blog – I have officially been blogging for over a year now and the experience has only become more rewarding with time. I have met some amazing fellow Christians on WordPress (You know who you are!) and I pray that God is using my humble little blog to impact believers in the body of Christ. Writing has always been my passion and I pray that God continues to open doors in this area so that I can make a greater impact for Him.
  9. The chance to work more on a longtime series – Tying into the whole writing thing, I have had the opportunity to work more on a series that I’ve been writing since I was fourteen and I’m super excited about how it’s turning out. My writing has changed leaps and bounds between my freshman year of high school and my freshman year in college, and I pray that my series someday has the chance to impact others.
  10. My church – I am truly blessed to have my church, which I have been attending for around two years now. The people there are super genuine and I am continuously inspired by the messages. I’m happy to be there and pray that God keeps me there for years to come, where I can continue to grow with my church family.

If you want to see last year’s post, click Here

If you want to share the ways that God has blessed you in 2016, feel free to write about it in the comments section! I always love hearing from you guys! 😘