Salt And Light

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16 

If you’ve been in church for a while, it is more than likely that you’ve heard this passage before. You’ve probably also heard variations of it – with faith-based tee shirts and song lyrics by Christian bands and artists. But what does it really mean to shine your light? What does it look like to impact people for Christ at your school, work, or area of influence? 

In short, shining a light means being bold. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and letting others see that you’re a Christian sold out for Christ. It means being open about your faith, and sharing it through your actions and words with those around you. It means offering to pray for a co-worker who’s struggling, sharing your story to encourage others, and being aware of the needs of those around you—even when you feel as though you are at a deficit. It means daring to be brave through God’s grace and strength in us.

This has been something that I’ve been thinking about and praying about a lot over the course of the last couple of months. It has been one of the many things that God has been speaking to me about and something that I’ve been striving to make more of an effort to do—both in my writing and in my day-to-day relationships and interactions with the world around me. Little by little, I’m learning how to be more bold—stepping out in faith and being brave for Christ in my actions and words.

It can be so easy to get caught up in the status quo. To get so caught up in the things of this world that we loose track of the one thing that we are ultimately chasing after. It’s easy to stay quiet—and keep our light hidden under a bowl. But as Christians, we are called to something greater than this. Something big, and scary, and wonderful, and amazing all at the same time. We are called to boldness for Christ. We are called to take risks in sharing our faith for the sake of His Kingdom. We are called to look a little crazy sometimes, as we seek to live to change lives through the power of the Gospel.

And as Christians, we are never in this alone. 

In John 14:15-21, Jesus says, If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, to give us courage, peace, and bravery as we seek to live for God. He does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves—He is always with us. And if we continue to press into God and seek His will, the Holy Spirit will lead us in ways that are beyond our wildest dreams. He will bring us closer to who God intended us to be and guide us towards living confidently for Him! And He will help us to be bold for Christ and make an impact on the lives around us.

We don’t know everyone’s story. There’s an old quote that says, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” There’s another quote that says, “You may be the only Bible someone ever reads”. There are so many people in this world who are hurting and broken. There are so many people who are looking for hope—and something to hold onto. There are so many people who have the wrong idea about Christianity—and feel that they can never be good enough for God.

In a world filled with the wrong voices, we are called to be a bold voice of love. We are called to show people what it really means to be a Christian. That it’s not a list of rules and orders. It’s not a contract with an impersonal god. It’s not a life without joy. It’s an invitation to a table where everyone is welcome. It’s a joy beyond reason. It’s a a heart for the broken, the outcast, and the marginalized. It’s a love that changes our lives.

This world will someday fade away, and it will take with it our possessions, our accomplishments, and awards. The one thing that will never fade away is the souls of the people around us—and the difference that we make in their lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to invest my life into something that will matter. I want to make a difference and leave a legacy—something lasting, that moths and rust can’t destroy.

I want to shine with my life. I want to be bold for Jesus. 

And, I want to challenge you to do the same.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 

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The Power Of Words

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” – Proverbs 15:4. 

“You can’t sit here.” 

I still remember the first time I ever heard those words. I was in a Christian girl scouts group in the 6th grade. I was a gawky and awkward preteen. I was also painfully shy. I remember being partly in shock; why was it that this girl was refusing to let me sit with her, when as far as I could tell, she wasn’t saving that seat for anyone? I had never done anything to make her not like me—I didn’t even know her! I also remember feeling hurt, unsure what I could have done to make her respond the way that she did.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with more incidents like this. Incidents where I was forced to sit by myself in a classroom. Incidents where the ‘cool girls‘ refused to talk to me. Incidents where cliques and girl-politics abounded. I also witnessed friends deal with this. And sometimes, it was what wasn’t said that spoke the loudest. 

Like many teenagers in high school, I’ve dealt with my share of being-bullied and being on the outside. I’ve dealt with my share of loneliness. I’ve dealt with the creeping feeling that I don’t belong. I am grateful to say it was never as terrible as what some have experienced—with constant torment or physical abuse. But words can still hurt—and our words and actions can carry a lasting impact on the lives of those around us. 

However, because of my own personal experiences with words, I have become more aware of their affect on the lives of those around us. I have become more aware of those on the fringes, and have made a promise to myself that whenever possible, I would use my words to uplift, encourage, and include. That I would never use them to make a person feel less-then or to tear someone down Today, I am determined to never make another person feel the way that I felt back in jr. high school. 

Because if there’s one thing that I’ve also learned over the years, it’s that words of affirmation can make an impact too. An encouraging word, a prayer over a friend, and a decision to befriend someone who’s new all have the potential to turn someone’s whole year around. And every day, we have the opportunity be this person to someone—whether it be at school, work, church, or the local grocery store down the street. We have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and show others the amazing love that He’s shown each one of us—shining a light for His Kingdom and reaching out to those who are hurting and broken.

John 13:34-35 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

No matter who you are or what your life looks like, you have people in your sphere of influence who are watching you. Who know that you’re a Christian and are looking to you to see what it means to be a follower of Christ. Whether your the head cheerleader at your high school, or the shy girl hiding behind the safety of a textbook, your life and your words matter. And you have the chance to impact those around you with your words.

We hold within us the power to touch lives in our conversations and the choices that we make every day. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (NLT). As we go into this new and upcoming school year (whether you’re still in school or not), let us make a conscious effort to let our words be a light, and a city on a hill that cannot be shaken (Matthew 5:14). Let us reach out to those who are hurting, and stand up for those who are being bullied.

Let us love with our words and with our life. 

Let us never miss out on a chance to speak life and shine our light for Christ. 

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“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:8-11

When Worlds Collide: Some Thoughts On Christian Dating

I’m going to be honest. I have a serious weakness for romantic comedies/dramas. 

Like a lot of people, I love movies like Sweet Home Alabama, A Walk To Remember, and Sleepless In Seattle. Not to mention pretty much every Christmas movie that they play on Hallmark in December.

I love seeing both characters grow through their relationships. I love seeing the thrill of first love. And of course, I love happy endings to a perfectly fitting soundtrack.

But, if there’s one thing that most of us know, it’s that love isn’t always as simple as it is in the movies, is it? There are bumps in the road. There are complications. There are a lot of Taylor Swift songs. And there are a a lot of really hard decisions to make, forcing us to ask, “What is God’s will in the midst of all this?

Since I’ve graduated high school and started college, I’ve seen more and more friends move into relationships and ask really good questions. Questions about knowing if they’re ‘the one’, navigating fights, dealing with emotions, and establishing boundaries. Even as a single girl, it has become pretty clear to me that relationships can be hard. And, if we don’t come at them from God’s perspective, they’re only going to be ten times harder.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t claim to know everything about this. I’m not an expert and I certainly don’t have any kind of relationship-certification. But as Christians, we do have two things that we can always turn to with our questions: God and His Word. If we continuously go to God with our questions about this, He’ll lead us in the right direction. And, as I’ve been seeking to better understand God’s will for relationships, I’ve come across some advice that I believe is a good starting place when it comes to dating.

The first thing, which many of us are familiar with, is to be equally yoked. I can’t stress enough the importance of this one. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” This is not to say that we should never interact with unbelievers, as Christians we are called to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:16). But, our closest interactions should be with those who share our values. And in dating, our boyfriend or girlfriend should always share our core beliefs and convictions. 

The second, is to pray about the person that you are dating (or, the person that you would like to potentially date). Ask God what His will is for your life and ask Him to reveal it to you. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Here’s the thing guys, God has a plan for your life. I don’ t know what it looks like, but He does. And if marriage is part of His will for you, than He’ll reveal the person that you’re supposed to be with when the timing is right. In the meantime, trust Him with His perfect timing.

The third thing is to look at their character. What kind of person are they? What do they care about most? Do they love God? Are they kind to those around them? What kind of father (or mother) would they be (assuming you want to have kids)? These are all vital questions to ask yourself when you like someone. A love for God, a love for people, and a desire to live life God’s way are some of the most important qualities to look for in a person. These things will all affect how they treat you and how they treat those closest to you. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” These are all important qualities to consider when you’re looking to date (or court) someone new.

The fourth thing is to understand their personality and yours. As human beings, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image (Psalm 139:14). We were each made for a divine calling and purpose. And we are all given different strengths, gifts, and personalities. And more than likely, your boyfriend or girlfriend is not going to look exactly like you. Thus, it is so important that we take time to understand the other person. Are they introverted, or extraverted? Do they make decisions based on logic or emotion? Do they like to have a schedule, or are they more spontaneous? With personality, there is no ‘wrong’ way to be, but it is important to understand both yourself and the other person in a relationship. Romans 12:6-8 addresses how we are all created differently, with different strengths, as it says “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Fifth, listen to the input of your friends and family – Oftentimes, our first instinct is to be defensive of the person that we like, and ignore the input of others. However, as Christians, it is so important that we listen to what our friends and family have to say about the person that we’re dating, because oftentimes, they can see things that we can’t. I would even advise asking common friends about them before going out with them, asking if they see anything that could be a potential red flag in a relationship. Proverbs 16:20 says, “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.” The people closest to us will always have our best interest at heart, and if they see a lot of red flags in the relationship, than it is best to listen to them.

Sixth, work on the other important relationships in your life – There is so much more to life than romantic relationships and dating. And though there is often pressure from society (and sometimes, even other Christians) to get into a relationship, it is totally OK to be single! Singleness is not a curse or something to be ashamed of – Paul was single and so was Jesus! And whether married, dating, or single, it is important that we make our relationship with God our top priority! It is also important that we maintain strong relationships with our family and friends. Not to mention, grow in knowledge, faith, and compassion as human beings. Marriage temporary, but our relationship with Christ is eternal. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

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How about you guys? What advice would you give about relationships and dating? And what do you believe are important qualities in a potential spouse? Let’s start a conversation about this in the comments section below!

 

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…

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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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#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

How To Have With A Crush (Without Going Insane)

It happens to all of us, doesn’t it? The first butterfly. The sinking realization. The late nights agonizing over them.

The person who has suddenly taken up space in our mind and left us with one-too-many love songs on our playlist.

The person who it could never work out with, yet who leaves us with shreds of hope that someday, somehow, maybe it could.

The whole thing can be absolutely maddening sometimes. 

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We’ve all dealt with the agony of a crush at some point or another. It’s one of the few experiences we as humans deal with that’s nearly universal. It has been the topic of songs, books, movies, and TV shows. Ross’s crush on Rachel (Friends). Corey’s feelings for Topanga (Boy Meets World). Practically every Taylor Swift song ever. We have dealt with the pain of an unrequited crush.

Nonetheless, as stressful as it can be, I do believe there are some things we can do to make the whole thing a little less agonizing.

  1. Talk To Someone – One of the worst things we can do when we have a crush is to keep the whole thing bottled up inside. Oftentimes, talking with a close friend can help lessen the intensity of the situation, giving you the chance to talk through it and get some of those bottled-up-feelings out in the open. It is not always wise or feasible to confess your feelings to the person you like, but it is smart to have someone to confide in, who can help you walk through the very difficult and awkward situation of having a crush.
  2. Pray for them – One of the best way to deal with feelings that you don’t know what to do with is to channel them into something productive—and what’s more productive than prayer? It can also be wise to pray for yourself, and ask God to lead you through your circumstances with wisdom and guidance. He’s always someone we can confide in and though He may not magically make the crush disappear or bring you to a relationship with this person, He will make the whole thing easier to deal with.
  3. Trust God – God knows the entire course that our lives will take before we’re even born. He knows how many hairs we have on our head and He knows each and every one of our hopes and dreams. He also has plans for us when it comes to relationships—whether it’s a marriage and family or a call to celibacy with lots of close friends around, both which He will equip us for and give us the strength to live out. If it’s God’s will for you to be with this person, He’ll orchestrate things for you guys to be together. If it’s not, trust that He has something better for you down the road. No matter what path life takes us down, God always has our best interests at heart.
  4. Be their friend – As hard this can be when we have strong feelings for someone, sometimes it’s best to just be their friend for the time being. As much as the ‘friend-zone‘ is bemoaned as the worst situation to be in when you have a crush, I believe it is still better than nothing at all. It gives you the chance to get to know the other person on a deeper level, and if the circumstances someday allow it, it creates a great foundation for a future relationship.
  5. Don’t loose focus – One of the most frustrating things about having a crush is how distracting it can often be. It can be so easy to spend time wallowing in self-pity, watching movies, and listening to dramatic songs on replay, but it’s important to stay focused on other aspects of your life besides your crush. You have and always have had more in your life besides just them and it’s important to remember this fact. Go out with friends, accomplish some goals, and read some good books. You still have one life to live to the absolute fullest, crush or no crush.

“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? Do you have any on dealing with a crush? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!