an encouragement from 2018

As we were entering 2019 and I thought back on the past year, I was plagued with the thoughts of the many darknesses that immersed me. I think that 2018 was just a difficult year for myself and for many of my friends, and it was easy to stay focused on the dark times. I was taken aback as I was completely forgetting about all of the blessings and gifts that the Lord had given me and the lessons He had taught me. In this, I thought other people needed to be reminded of this fact too. So, I prayed and prayed, I felt I was to invite others in, and I reached out to some of my friends whose names were placed on my heart. In typical voice memo fashion, I asked if they would share some ways that they vividly saw the Lord work in their lives over the past year. I didn’t give any structure to this and allowed them to share freely what they wanted to share. Because of their willingness and courage, the feedback was more tremendous than I ever imagined. I am so overwhelmed by the power and beauty in their words and stories. So here they are: encouragements that are from people in all different stages of life. Some are long, some are short, some are simple, some are complex. Feel free to read through some or all, but what a celebration it is that these are all backed by the Truth that His goodness shines through the darkest of times.

Enjoy this long post : )

 


 

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“As I was asked to write about my life recently and what God has been
teaching me, I realized that is a very loaded question. When most twenty-one year
old kids are told that Christmas break is here and you get to go home to spend time
with your family, they’re chomping at the bit to get in their car. I, on the other hand,
have a slight hesitation in my step. This is not because of what I am going home to; I
love my family, my home and all the wonderful lights that greet me in my driveway.
The reason I have a pause when the holidays are mentioned is because of what is
missing from my home, my father. It has almost been two years since my dad’s
death from Leukemia and even though my home will always be my home, it will
never be the same. So as I am called to celebrate Christmas by my faith, my culture
and my family God has placed a different feeling of praise during this time in my life.

Recently I have been reading through the book of Job, which I have actually
been avoiding during my grief because of how close to the subject the writer keeps
it. A story I have heard time and again about how to still praise God during the hard
times, but I don’t think I have ever fully grasped the deeper message in this story,
one that hits home more for me. Job encountered terrible tragedy and death and
even though he still clung to God during this, he was never the same. This is how I
have been feeling since the two years since my daddy went to live with Jesus. The
life I live, the way I feel God’s presence and interact with His people will never be
the same. This became clear early in my reading of Job from one word in verse 20 of
chapter 1, it says that the last thing Job did in his reaction to God’s test is
worshipped. I think in all the times I have read this, I have glossed casually over this
word and painted the image of Job lifting his hands and singing some famous
Christian song as we would do every Sunday during worship time.

I see now because of the pain in my life that worshipping my God has forever
changed for me. The story of Job has shown me that worship is not just happy
dancing with your arms raised and a big circle of friends, but that it is also an
intimate and cherished audience with the King of the universe with you bringing
only your tears and confusion. God has been teaching me that I have walked
THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, not that I am stuck in it. And now being
on the other side of that valley, I am forever changed. But here’s the thing, I do not
believe that this change only applies to how I feel about heartache and hurt, but
joyous news and passionate relationships. Now my eyes have been opened a little
more in my young age to what change really feels like. Because even though my
father’s death has changed me, it cannot even scrape the power of the change that
occurred in my heart when I said yes to being saved by Jesus. All the changes in our
lives, both bad and good, God uses to shift our eyes to biggest change that there will
ever be, when He changed the ending of our stories from shutting down at the
garden but to being complete at the cross. My dad’s death may have changed my
temporary home, but Jesus’ death and resurrection has changed my life for eternity.”

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“There is one word that has been a common thread in my prayers this past year: enough. Smart-enough. Captivating-enough. Interesting-enough. Christian-enough. Beautiful-enough. Struggling with “enoughness” convinces you that you’re falling short in everything it touches, like you can never get a breath of fresh air. I never felt like I was enough for my friends, for family, for myself, for Jesus. And my God it is exhausting. I sought out all sorts of things to make me feel complete, unknowingly digging the gap deeper and adding extra “checkpoints” to measure myself by.

The enemy was so cunning and clever in this — he took hold of my heart for community and began to chip at it. He reversed the success of the ones I love into the feeling of my own failure. The job offers, the coffee dates, the sweet things the Lord was teaching them in their time with Him — their gains all felt like my own loss. And this is what pulled me away. He told me to remove myself — the less I was around them, the less opportunities for comparison, less moments to feel less than. And my fickle heart believed it. I hid myself away and put a wedge between myself and the ones I love.

This lie carved so much distance between me and Jesus. I could never understand His love for me, I couldn’t grasp it. I didn’t feel like there was any reason for me to be deserving of it. I knew the truth of His nearness, but He felt so, so far. Not feeling like I was enough convinced me of the false reality was I wasn’t enough to be loved. I wanted to feel worthy enough of what I knew Jesus was so freely wanting to give me.

I hit a breaking point where I couldn’t pretend anymore, and I spilled out my heart to my best friend. She listened intently, she literally wiped my tears as she spoke so much truth over me. This moment broke chains for me — I learned the Lord’s intention in community — and I felt Him begin to shift the posture of my heart. 

I wish I could sit here and write about how easy it is now, but that simply isn’t true. I’m in a season where my heart is looking to its muscle memory — still striving to be enough and looking to other things to make me feel complete. I am consistently forgetful of who He keeps reminding me I am — I am a daughter of the King, I am redeemed, I am worthy to be loved (better yet, I cannot grasp how much I am loved!!). Not only has He reminded me of who He has made me to be, but He has sweetly and patiently helped me unpack the baggage. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, but He so kindly sits with me, time and time again, and is freely handing me His love and grace in my moments of brokenness.  And that is the beauty of this reality — am I worthy of this love, to be loved? No. I am a broken, hurtful, searching child who doesn’t grasp the weight of my Father’s love. But man, am I loved more than I can grasp or ever deserve. Jesus came down to our broken world, stepping into flesh and suffering the pain from my sins. And because of Him, I can step into His shoes and be enough.

Sometimes shaping comes in the form of suffering. There are seasons of faith that are really hard, but there is peace in knowing He is nearer than you know and He is molding you to be more like Him.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and empowered in love, may have power, together will all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide & long & high & deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” -Ephesians 4:17-19

“The Lord your God is in your midst,  A mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you in gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” -Zephaniah 3:17″

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“What has been the most painful year of my life has simultaneously been the most beautiful. In February of 2018, my husband and I found out we were going to have a baby, and quite honestly, I was terrified. I was 21 at the time. I was still in college. This was not our plan for right now. (Funny how our plans work out). About halfway through the year, I felt that God was giving me a characteristic of Him to focus on.

His faithfulness.

He kept reminding me this word through scripture and worship songs. At the time, I was believing that He would be faithful to provide a home for us because we would soon be moving out of our apartment. I was believing that He would be faithful to provide for us financially. I was believing that He would be faithful to give us strength in parenthood and prepare us where we lacked. I was believing that he would USE this pregnancy and the timing of it all for His glory. My pregnancy was perfect and truly enjoyable. We loved this baby.

It was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced, but at 39 weeks we found out our baby no longer had a heartbeat. We discovered later that our sweet baby passed due to a triple wrapped umbilical cord. These days were painfully hard and my whole being ached for this child, as it still does. After a week or so had passed, we began to try to settle into our uncomfortable new reality.

That’s when God reminded me of that word again. That one word that seemed a lot easier to believe in when I was just a little uncertain of the future. Faithful. That my God is faithful even now. He was faithful on October 16th when we delivered our stillborn baby. He has been faithful to fulfill his promises from the beginning of time and He will continue to do so until the end. I am STILL believing that he will use this pregnancy for His glory and that he has mighty plans for our baby’s life.

I have learned multitudes this year, and in ways I would have never chosen, but I know that my God keeps His promises. I know that God does not leave my side and He is always with me. When the doctor’s told us that there was no longer a heartbeat, I imagined Him sitting on the hospital bed with my husband and I, grieving with us. He knows this pain. Though I wish I was a mother to a baby here on earth and I long to fulfill that purpose again one day, I have more fully understood that my FIRST purpose is being God’s vessel here. I have experienced on a new level just how broken and unfair the world can be and I yearn for heaven in a way I never have before. And I really am grateful for that. The days are still hard and we are still in the valley of this, but my soul has hope and truly knows that God is good. I will see and hold my baby again in a perfect heaven!

Great is thy Faithfulness!”

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“At the beginning of year, I was feeling great but my identity was in different things than the Lord. I misplaced my identity in idolizing a boy, my body, and my grades and positions. As the semester continued, everything that I was proud of myself for or found my joy in did not last (because they are NOT eternal). It ended up that the boy burned me, I started gaining a lot of weight, and started failing classes. In this time of my life, anxiety crept in bad. I felt hopeless and in a hole, I was running from activity to activity so that I didn’t have to deal with everything that was flopping in my life/the emotions I was feeling. This led to even more anxiety because it caused things to get even worse. I sunk deep into this hole and by the end of the semester I had zero hope and felt very depressed and anxious. During this period, I had not felt the Holy Spirit in a long time. I was at a girls night for Breakaway and that is where the Spirit wrecked my heart. I got home and in my brokenness cried out to the Lord begging and asking of Him to help me understand why I was feeling so sad. The Lord told me to read Lamentations 3:17-23. It talks about being broken of sin but how the Lord is still faithful. The Lord spoke to me that I needed to use my upcoming summer to get myself back in order and soak in time with Him. This is NOT what I wanted to do, I saw this as lame, being a loser, or not being “successful”. That summer was one of obedience, restoration, healing, and growth. It was difficult staying home in a restful home environment. But I started going to counseling and the Lord WORKED in my life!!! I fell back in love with the Lord, worked through old hurts that weren’t completely healed, had cool conversations with my family about God, restored my identity in the Lord and Him speaking to me of who I was in Him. I was able to restore my grades and restore my heart. Coming out of that summer, I felt confident in Christ because I knew my identity. It was the most joyful semester filled with opportunity and peace knowing how the Lord had been faithful in the past and how He will be faithful in the future!”

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“The Answer to My Semester

2018. Twenty – Eighteen. Two thousand eighteen. 2. 0. 1. 8. The year of my life that brought me exceeding comfort, fullness of joy & life in Christ.
I’m just going to lay it out there, my Fall 2018 semester was extremely difficult for me. I only had class on Tuesday & Thursday – every college kid’s dream. It turns out that this schedule did not work for me.

With all this newfound time on my hands, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to apply for new organizations. I desired to have an answer to the age-old question, “What are you involved in?” You see, I fell into the lie that as a college student, I must be involved in organizations to be fully known. Before continuing, let me caveat this by saying that organizations are a phenomenal opportunity for people to find community and grow in fellowship with others. For me, Fall 2018 was not a semester where I needed more organizations to fill my time. The answer to Fall 2018 was Jesus. I walked into the Fall semester full of pride. People recognized what great things I was accomplishing in this season of life. In that time, it became all about what I was doing, and not about what Jesus was doing in and through me.
Upon moving back to College Station, I neglected my pursuit of Jesus. I felt as though the spiritual high I had experienced over the summer could carry me. I became complacent in my walk with the Lord. This lie was something that Satan used to pull me away from the truth we find in scripture. For the first month of the semester, I found it difficult to get into the Word. In this time, I started battling lies that I thought were completely behind me. I became frustrated that I was battling all of these old struggles. I began questioning God; however because of my pride I was not letting anyone know these thoughts and feelings.
In this time, I learned that God has a funny sense of humor. You see, God works in His timing—not our own. Remember that organization I said I applied for? I did not get in. That single situation completely flipped my semester upside down. My first thought upon hearing this news was “Ok Lord, I know you are sovereign, I know that everything is in your timing—but are you kidding me? What am I going to do with all this time on my hands?”. At this point it was already October, and the semester was half way over. I was still keeping things in. I was vocalizing my frustrations to the Lord; yet, I had so many people around me who knew nothing about the struggles I was facing. In that moment of despair & frustration, God brought a faithful friend alongside me for this journey. We sat in the car for 2 hours one night and I just let all the frustrations out, It was incredible to see how God used a faithful friend to remind me that my identity is in Christ and not the lies that Satan wants me to believe. He challenged me to combat lies with truth, to press into the word, and to not let my deceptive feelings rule my time with the Lord.
This fall semester I struggled with feeling alone. I had to fight to have healthy alone time. I battled spiritual warfare this semester. Each morning I had to wake up and choose to pursue Jesus, to take my thoughts captive, to recognize the lies and to combat them with truth. Most of my mornings for the rest of the semester were spent alone at coffee shops for 5-6 hours as I battled lies and spoke truth over myself. This semester the Lord had my best in mind—just as he always does. He used this semester to teach me what it looked like to be completely satisfied in Jesus instead of seeking satisfaction from people.
What I thought was the answer to my semester was not. My answer was to become completely captivated by Jesus in the midst of suffering. I learned this semester what it looks like to suffer for the sake of Christ. The Lord used scripture to transform my heart and realize the fruitfulness of this season. The passage that was at the forefront of my mind this semester was Philippians 3:7-11 “7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” These verses vividly depict how we are called to live.  that —whatever gain we may have that we would count it as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus more. The Lord taught me that there is nothing more in this life that matters than knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him.
This semester I spent a lot of time alone, and I truly came to know what it looked like to be completely satisfied in Jesus. I learned that through moments of suffering and frustration I am being refined as I begin to more fully reflect the character of Christ. In those moments it is key to remember that He is right beside you walking through every single second of your day. It dawned on me this semester that in moments of silence or in the midst of the chaos, that Jesus is still the same, and He is not changing. He taught me that in the midst of suffering, He is there with me, He taught me that in any situation I can be content because of who He is and the sacrifices that He made so that I may live life abundantly.
My prayer is that no matter what season you are walking through at this moment that you would be able to step away and recognize that the Creator fully knows you, fully sees you, and is fully walking with you. This perspective has the ability to completely change the way that you live out your walk with the Lord—just as it did mine.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the answer to my semester.”

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“As I look back on this past year, trying to put words to experiences that sometimes cannot be formulated on this side of eternity – my fingers keep coming back to the keys that construct the phrase “He was in the midst.” It may sound vague, it may not even make sense, but through the triumphs of this year as well as the days met with tears and heartache, I have seen the Spirit of God move in ways that can only point back to his faithfulness, beauty and grace. Though Jesus has been in the midst of all three hundred and sixty-five days of this year, there are three specific time periods, which revealed his presence ever more tangibly.

The first of these three points brings me back to March of this past year, as I packed my bags and headed to a place that has grown to feel like a home. Nicoya, Costa Rica – the city that Jesus used to soften and transform my heart seven years ago.  I had no intentions of being on this trip, because financially I did not think it was going to be possible, but little did I know that Jesus had such different plans. Through his power, he was able to do it – from the start; I could see that He was in the midst, even in fundraising. As we made it to Costa Rica, my hands were forced open as we walked into a week with little planned ahead. Little did I know, that this exact openhandedness is what allowed the presence of God to manifest itself in the moments that came from the unplanned and unexpected. One of these favorite moments occurred in the middle of the week, as our mission team had plans to hold a community soccer game with the youth and people of the city. We headed by bus to the soccer fields but our plans were halted as another group of people were using the fields we had planned on using. Instead of throwing away our plan completely, we invited the youth and people from the community on the bus with us, and embarked on a journey to find a new soccer field. For at least 30 minutes, our bus driver drove through small villages, dirt roads, and left us passengers confused at his intentions. As the sun began to sink, my heart did also, believing that we were running out of light and time. Yet just as my heart fell from doubt, it was met with wonder as the bus pulled around the final village road into the most beautiful field I had ever seen. The kids ran out of the bus and began playing soccer, dancing around, and picking the fruit off of the trees. I can still see it now, the golden hour hitting the faces of the children that had changed my life seven years prior, their joy and giggles flooding my soul, and in that moment it was as if the spirit of heaven and earth meshed together and I came face to face with a piece of eternity. As I watched the community dance, laugh and play I was reminded of Our Father’s childlike heart, his glorious kingdom and just how present He is – even in the midst of a community soccer game.

            A few months after leaving Costa Rica, I turned on to County Rd 414 and entered the gates of TBarM Camp Travis for the summer. I had spent two summers at this place prior, but this was my first full summer, as well as my first time being a photographer. I still remember the nerves I felt as campers came the first day, worrying if the lighting was correct in a photo, if the battery was charged, or if the lens was the right one – little did I know that through that camera lens I would come face to face with the Spirit of God. I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday. For those that don’t know much about Camp Travis, every week they hold a race on Wednesdays, which campers compete in around the entire property and end at a finish line at the heart of camp. My previous two summers, I had always enjoyed seeing the faces of my campers run across the finish line, most often hand in hand cheering each other on. I thought that I knew the beauty of that finish line, but it wasn’t until I stood firmly behind the finish line as photographer – capturing every single human that crossed the line, cheered a friend on, or ran alongside them that I was met with the utter joy of running home. As I would sit at my desk every Wednesday evening, editing and sorting through the photos from the day, tears would stream down my face. These tears were in response to the words that The Holy Spirit would speak through the images, the words of,  “this is what you- yes YOU, my daughter look like as you limp homeward towards your Heavenly Father.” By the middle of the summer, through exhaustion and the process of editing becoming more mundane, I found myself losing the wonder of the photos. I became more focused on the lighting or quality of the photo rather than the story that Jesus was trying to speak to me. It took me going away for a week to Canada, to remind my heart that God didn’t bring me to Camp Travis as the photographer because I was a professional (because I surely am not), he brought me because he wanted to teach me how to be still, get away, and listen for his voice. I can still hear his voice, reminding me that he’s been there all along, in the photos, in the tiny creatures, in the people I was surrounded with. Overall, camp was hard; it was really hard – because I’m a human that was bound to fail, and man, hear it from me first – I Failed. I failed my co-leader, I failed my co-workers, and I failed my boss even – yet through it all, I was reminded that the Lord is full of INSTEADS that flip the mundane and dead to give us LIFE and fullness of His Spirit. My summer at camp reminded me that he gives us a new name, a new song, and calls us to listen ever so closely for his voice, because as he speaks we can remind ourselves of the veil that was torn in order for this side of eternity to collide with next.

The third point that I think of when I look back on this year, is actually a season that I am still currently walking in, which is a season of engagement. It’s taken me the longest to put this part to words because honestly, engagement is kind of hard. It is beautiful. It is a gift. But, it is also hard. Beautifully hard. I still remember meeting my fiance a little less than 6 years ago, and knowing that there was something special about his heart. Little did I know, that a random guy from a mission trip meeting would one day be the man who I choose to do life with forever! My heart smiles at the thought of JUST how faithful our Heavenly Father is for orchestrating such a thing. Fast forward to April 8, 2018 – when he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife! I always assumed that in that very moment I would be hysterically weeping, but it honestly did not hit me until later that day, when I sat awestruck thinking of high school me who believed that relationships with guys and lust could fill the void in her heart- and that INSTEAD of that, Jesus was standing in front of me giving me a double portion. Instead of any shame or fear that I once wore on my sleeves, I was met with grace and freedom that is only found in knowing Jesus! All summer I had the joy of getting to speak to girls about “the power of instead,” found in Isaiah 61, during the year of the Lord’s favor,

“I will give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:3)”, and “instead of your shame there shall be a double portion”(Isaiah 61:7).

Getting to speak about the double portion that The Lord had given to me through my relationship was such a gift, and has continued to reveal just how loving the heart of the Father truly is! After returning to school, I have continued to remember the power of instead that is found in this season of engagement, but have been met with many instances of my humanity. I begin to forget His promises, and focus on the sinful nature of my fiance and myself. Through struggling with being fallen in nature, and doing life so closely to another human- I continue to be reminded that he is going to fail me and I am going to fail him. My head and heart continue the struggle of connecting that the only thing that will ever fill the void in my heart is the love, grace and joy of a relationship with Jesus Christ! It has revealed the need I have for forgiveness, grace and Jesus. But- alongside the four-letter word of hard is a ten-letter word, which reads beautifully. Throughout the refinement of this season, the Spirit has fully been in the midst of this process towards marriage, reminding me of the gospel day in and day out, which has transformed it to be utterly beautiful.

So, overall the past year has been just that, beautifully hard. Yet, in that- He was in the midst. Yes, it’s hard leaving Costa Rica every visit, summer camp is filled with imperfect humans, and engagement brings you closer in intimacy with someone who is going to fail you. BUT- I get giddy every time I see a pink flower in HEB, because it really just reminds me of the hundreds of vibrant blooms down some of my favorite Nicoya streets, I get teary eyed thinking of the campers that ran through the finish line of a race at camp as if they were running into the gates of heaven, and I am filled with the utmost joy when I think about getting to worship our Savior, start a family, and pursue passions with my best friend. 2018, thank you for revealing the character of Jesus more and more, and I pray that 2019 is full of even more of his love!”

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As for me, well, I was beaten down and built back up repeatedly this year and one of the things that the Lord did in me that wrecked me the most was learning about wheat. Sounds silly, but seriously cool to think about! In Luke 22, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you all as wheat.” When I read this one day in October, I was like “Wait what? Satan asked you that??” and then as I continued to think about it, I realized that Jesus allows Satan to sift us. I wondered why He doesn’t choose to stop it because He is much more powerful and I mean He loves me doesn’t He???? But then I realized that God never lets the enemy to have full control because what the enemy means for evil, God means for good. He lets these things happen because it allows us so grow, learn, and build. It is one of the hugest acts of love that He can give to us actually. So wild to think that even in the midst of darkness and Satan trying to get us, God knows exactly what He is doing and has a rein on all that is going on. Jesus continues to Simon, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.” Difficult times come, the enemy attacks, but Jesus wins. He always wins.

 


 

I want to give a shout out to all of the incredible humans that I get to be friends with that shared a little something about their lives — I am so honored to even know each of you — thank you so very much for buying into my crazy idea and making it truly come to life. You are SO loved!

I hope that you were able to get a little something out of this post. I pray that whoever is reading this walks away feeling encouraged and spurred on due to the miraculous things that the Lord did this past year. I challenge you to take some time to reflect for yourself and that you will be reminded of ways that you saw the Lord vividly in your own life.

2018 was a memorable year. He is so stinkin’ good.

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