Refined by Fire

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have abandoned their faith and it would have totally been understandable. Yet, these three men remained faithful, even though they had to go through the fire. Only after they were in the fire did they see His hand through it all. Here is what I experienced when walking through the fire: the intense fire of losing my mom. 

You will not be the same. 

Death had a way of stripping me of my busy life. My motivation dwindled and I felt like I wasted a whole year of my life. 

You will not act the same.

Most days felt impossible to find joy. I searched so hard for anything to bring me any kind of joy that I had in my life before death. Lots of mistakes were made which combined grief with regret and anger. So many things went through my head and it was easier to not care about what I did than have any sort of accountability. 

You will search for familiarity in all of the wrong ways.

I searched for this in old, destructive habits and past relationships. I would do anything that brought me back to the time periods when I had my mom. But, there are so many other ways to find familiarity. Living out her characteristics that I admire. Cooking the foods that she loved. Reading the books she passed down to me. Talking to her friends on the phone. Hanging out with my grandma more. Finding things in an antique store that looks like something she would buy. 

Your memory will suck, too.

This was one of the hardest things to accept. I barely remember this past year at all. My friends would talk about something that we did a week ago and I wouldn’t remember if I was there or not. Pretending that I remembered things became normal. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. 

Your motivation will be zero.

Not just motivation to work or go to class- but very simple things. Motivation to wash my face or go to lunch with a friend. Motivation to journal or listen to music. Motivation to prepare healthy foods or drink water. Motivation to pray and worship. Motivation to drive to the grocery store or clean my room. I had to learn how to ask for help for the most simple tasks.

Your faith will be completely rocked.

For the longest time, I felt completely disconnected from Christ. When conversations would include him, I would get angry. I stopped going to church. I would occasionally pray, but my prayers never felt answered. It was painful. As much of a chore that it seems to stay connected to Him, He was there. I know this now. When I reflect, I see His Hand in everything. He was stripping me. He was recreating me. He was letting me experience steep lows. He knew what He was doing. It sounds crazy, but I am so completely thankful for it now. 

Your health will suffer.

I lost a lot of weight after losing my mom. My hair started falling out. My face was constantly dry and breaking out. I was constantly dehydrated. I was exhausted all of the time but could never sleep. I was always sick.  Doctors prescribed me all sorts of medication in the highest doses- from Ativan and Xanax to Vyvanse and Anti-Depressants. Going from never taking any medication at all to having multiple doctors shoving pills down my throat took such a toll on my body and mind. I quickly became extremely dependent on these medications. I would cry to my friends about how awful I felt and I constantly felt like I was living outside of my body. I had friends crucify me for what I was doing and would tell me to just “stop”- and I had other friends who lovingly helped me, comforted me, and checked in on me. Most importantly I had friends who prayed over me and for me. Gratefully, I walked through this hard part of life. Drug-free. Healthy. Sleeping. Active. Thank you, Jesus!

People will not understand and that is okay.

For some reason, I would get overly frustrated when people would over-compensate to try and understand my grief. On the flipside, I would get just as frustrated when people were not sympathetic at all. I wanted a break, but I also did not want to be treated differently. I didn’t want to be treated like I was fragile, but I was. Even the people in my life who have been through the same kind of trauma cannot completely understand my experience, because it is deeply personal and unique.

You will unintentionally hurt others.

I would hurt others because I was hurting so badly. I was mad when people were happy or when they would talk about their family. My words were used very poorly. My actions were extremely complacent. 

Anger is hidden in all areas of your life. 

I became extremely irritable. I would snap on people at the smallest things. Forgiveness was hard for me, even for little things. I was constantly on edge. Tense. I was completely unenjoyable to be around. 

Every dynamic of your life will change.

Every. Single. Aspect. It happens so fast that you don’t even have time to process what is changing in your life. You don’t have time to adjust. You just have to keep going and learn as you go along. 

Your friendships will change.

The things that used to be important in friendships changed drastically for me. Being carefree, making memories, and being spontaneous were always things I treasured in friendships. However, after the loss, doing things became a lot harder. I felt guilty for having fun. I needed time to process. I started to value friends who would sit with me for hours and just talk. Or who would visit my family with me. I became a lot more sentimental. I needed to be cared for and naturally, I gravitated to these types of people. I learned so much. I learned how to have a healthy balance of different types of people in my life and I value each of them so much. 

You will feel hollow.

Like there is nothing inside of your body. Your chest will feel empty. Your appetite goes away, so there is nothing in your stomach. Your eyes sink. All of it.

Your house will not feel like home. 

Going home was so hard. There was always an emptiness about it. I would cry so much at the thought of going home. Something that used to be filled with so much love and laughter… gone. We all walked around like ghosts. 

You will not know how to accept kind words.

At one point, I had over 400 unread text messages in my inbox. I became overwhelmed. I was so appreciative of people caring about me- but I just didn’t know how to respond. I needed encouragement and love, but the only things I felt was sadness and bitterness for so long. I didn’t want another text message about how “this was all a part of God’s plan”- BUT I needed it. And even if I never responded to your text or call, know that I am more appreciative of it now than ever. Thank you. 

You will feel like you are letting everyone around you down.

I felt so useless. I couldn’t do anything. Hanging out with friends literally felt like a chore. I didn’t have the energy to carry on any sort of conversation. I felt like I had to entertain people. I usually have a pretty outgoing, go-with-the-flow personality, but I felt like a burden. In my head, I felt like people wanted to watch me grow through this experience, but I constantly thought I was digressing. Looking back, I know my friends and family just wanted to be there for me. They didn’t expect me to constantly be making them laugh. I know this now, I wish I knew it then. 

You will constantly think about what could have been.

This was probably the worst of it all. There are so many times that I wondered what it would be like if my mom was here, or the advice that she could give me in certain situations. It made me mad that some amazing people in my life would never know her. Then I would think about other things, like her helping me plan my wedding, or being a grandma, or traveling together. So many thoughts. This hurts the deepest. 

You feel like it will never end.

I constantly thought “Will this feeling ever go away? Will I be like this forever? Will I ever be able to have deep relationships again? Will my memory get better? Will I ever not need sleeping medication? Will I be able to eat again? Will I ever have joy again? Will getting out of bed stop feeling like a chore? Will my relationship with Christ ever grow?” It fades. I think about the crazy amount of strength it took to deal with loss, changes in family dynamics, school work, a job, failing relationships and friendships, guilt, sadness, mistakes, and going through many “firsts” without my mom. 

Listen, there are so many things in this life that can be considered a loss. It doesn’t have to be the unexpected death of a family member. It can be missed opportunities. Sickness. Lost friendships. Life as once known. Graduating from school. Moving to a new place. Divorce. So many things. There are things that will happen in this life that seem extremely unfair. You will compare your life to others. You will be angry. You will feel stuck. 

I want to share with you the very last part of 1 Peter 1:4-7 

“… and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

REFINED BY FIRE. 

Gold is purified with fire. It is actually the best way to completely purify gold and when finished, you have 24-karat gold. Biblically, we are compared to gold. The fire is refining us. It is stripping us of our impurities. What is left is our faith which will withstand any test. Any fire. Our faith is refined and purified. Unlike gold on earth, which will perish, our faith will be of great worth in heaven. The fire comes so we can see the genuineness of our faith. 

Romans 8:37 says this: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

We do not only overcome, but we are insanely victorious. Not only will we win in the end, but the Bible tells us that our trials will last “for a little while”- we have a power within us to conquer our trials now. Satan lacks the ability to take this power away from us. The Holy Spirit empowers us with His strength. We will always be victorious. Our faith stands firm, even when it feels so far away. Know the Word. Know what it says about fighting battles. Know deeply in your heart that your fight will be won. On the darkest days, during the heaviest night, when it feels hard to breathe, and when joy feels impossible- believe what God promises. Rest in it. The valley will not last forever. I’ve lived it and I can attest to it. Joy will be found in the morning. 

Psalm 30:5 ” …but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

I want to thank everyone who has loved and supported and prayed for me and my family this past year. The toughest year. A year I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Your faith, my faith, and our God is constant. He was there. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. 

 

The Process

**disclaimer: this has no central message, a lot of grammatical errors, and sometimes doesn’t make that much sense.  **

The shock effect has not completely worn off, but it has removed itself just enough for horrible flashbacks that come with the emotional journey of losing my mom. I often will be in the middle of a conversation with someone when a vivid picture floods my vision, seeing my mom in the hospital room and feeling like I did not do enough to save her life. You see, a year ago on this day, we moved my mom to hospice. I remember having to sit in a small room with doctors and nurses and being asked to make a decision about how we were going to go about caring for my mom. We had the option to let the doctors perform an operation on her that would most likely be unsuccessful, or move her to hospice and make her comfortable. It was horrible making that kind of decision for someone because they are unable to make that decision for themselves. Those conversations with the nurses constantly ring in my ear, and I always wonder what would have happened if we had “fought harder.” The word “unbearable” does not carry enough weight to describe how badly I wish I could go back in time and change things. By this time, I feel like a part of me should have moved on from that chapter of my life, or, at the very least, be making an impact of some kind in honor of my mom. Every day I wake up and I think the way I feel or the heaviness in my chest won’t be there, but it seems to be quite the opposite. 

Overcoming is such a praised thing. People write books and speeches and make beautiful music about the struggles they have overcome or the hardships they have been through. But it is not so often that people talk about things while they are going through them. I think we feel like we can only talk about things when we know the lesson that comes out of it or when we are on the other side of it. 

The truth is, writing helps me heal. I haven’t allowed myself to write because I feel like the weight of what I have to say won’t have an impact because I haven’t overcome it yet. Or I don’t have anything wise to say yet, or I haven’t gotten the lesson that needs to be learned. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my grief or struggles. I haven’t been able to help others or love others well so much like I felt like would have happened by now. 

But this is my blog, and my space, and my place to allow myself to heal and grow without proof-reading or apologizing. And I want you to know that if you are reading this, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TAKE UP SPACE. I am allowed to take up space in this world and so are you. You don’t have to have it all figured out to feel worthy to speak. Or to just be. You don’t need an explanation to express yourself. Sometimes you just need to feel. The longer you feel unworthy of your words or being honest with yourself, you prolong the process of growth and healing.

I want to document my process so when I see the final product, I can pinpoint what highs and what lows got me to where I am. You deserve to do the same, in whatever way you feel necessary. Every day that you are trying, expressing, and being honest, is a day you have overcome. There is not a final destination for overcoming, and that’s why it is a verb- you are constantly in the process.

So here is this post, completely unedited and completely not proof-read, because that’s just how life is sometimes. Thanks for reading and allowing me to ramble and get my thoughts in writing and for allowing a little piece of me to “overcome” through this. 

Just Not Today

The angry thunder bolts, runs through the ground with its electricity and you can feel the tingling in your skin right down to the very bones that keep you steady in the storm. You close your eyes to hear the rumbling through the sky while imagining the dark clouds rippling in your ceiling. Just when you feel ready to try again, the thunder yells courageously, and you lie on the floor, telling yourself you’ll try again tomorrow when weather conditions permit.

The storm decided what your day was going to look like. Your head tells you that the storm is what is preventing you from living and you seem to have convinced yourself of this. You wake up the next day with every intention of living, doing what you told yourself you needed to do, but it is still storming. You crawl back in bed, almost too naturally, and close your eyes, telling yourself you’ll try again tomorrow when weather conditions permit. 

But what if the storm lasts for days, or weeks, or months. You get used to the routine of waking up to the storm, that it becomes routine to get back into bed and tell yourself that when circumstances change, you will do something. Anything. Everything. Just not today.

The storm starts to become all you know and you find comfort in it. You have a credible reason to stay in bed because there is no use in going outside. It is dangerous. It could hurt you. You imagine every possible scenario that could happen if you walked into the dark, cloudy, loud, ruthless storm. Staying in bed is comforting because you know it is safe and warm. You might not be living, but you are comfortable. And that is what matters to you at this moment. 

When the storm turns into a light drizzle and the clouds start to disappear and a spotlight of bright sun beams through your closed curtains, you get hopeful. But you’ve stayed in bed for so long that your legs forget how to move when you try to reach for the floor. So you tell yourself that a drizzle isn’t worth getting out of bed for. You’ll work on getting your legs to work tomorrow when the sky is worth going outside for. You tell yourself you’ll try again tomorrow when weather conditions permit.

Finally, you wake up and find it hard to open your eyes. The sun is shining brightly through your half-closed curtains. You scrunch your face as you turn away from the sunshine. Your eyes start to water because they aren’t used to looking at the sun and it hurts. You never thought your eyes would forget how to look at the light, so you close them again and wait for another storm. You tell yourself you’ll try again tomorrow when weather conditions permit.

Can Someone Who is Saved Return to Their Old Lifestyle of Sin?

If you were to ask me “how are you doing in your walk with Christ?” around this time last year, I would have joyfully told you that I was doing better than I had been in my entire life. I was fulfilled.

I was joyful because I had laid my old self, the one that numbed every conviction, at the foot of the Cross. I became convicted to invest deeply into all areas of my life. This became possible because I devoted to Christ my best and everything else that required my time fell into place like He promises in His Word. Knowing what it finally felt like to rest in the arms of Jesus was an awakening yet peaceful experience. 

But sometimes hard things happen. And sin happens. And not that going through hard things is an excuse, but it offers context for what I want to discuss with you. 

When hard things happen in our lives as Christians, we expect our immediate response to be to run into the arms of Christ. This is what our Christian leaders teach us. This is the type of example we tend to see in our Bible studies, testimonies, and our churches. This is what we ultimately hope for.

What happens when we don’t think fast enough? What happens when hard things trigger us into our old, sinful ways, apart from Christ?

One thought that happens to people when sin is triggered by hard things is the questioning of their salvation. It can be scandalous to say, but I had many sleepless nights wondering why I was turning to the things that I had once given up in Christ, and why “God” wasn’t pointing me in the right direction or leading me out of my sin. 

“If I was really saved, I wouldn’t be allowing other things back into my heart which pulled me away from God in the first place.” We (Christians) sometimes find ourselves in a routine of sin and sadness, and it seems impossible to get back on track. 

Biblically, it IS hard to get back on track. In fact, one of the hardest scriptures to interpret in the New Testament speaks to this. 

Hebrews 6: 4-6 “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

This verse states something very hard to hear: It is impossible for someone who was enlightened by Christ to fall away and be renewed again. Now, before you stop and get angry by these words, please keep reading. I think this will make sense to you. 

1) Does this text apply to Christians? 

I do not believe the Bible is contradictory, for the Bible states several times why someone cannot lose their salvation.

No.

Matter.

What.

“But Faith, you just told me that I can lose my salvation!” No. No. No. That is not what I am saying.

Let’s start by defining what a Christian is not. A “Christian” is not a person who has been raised in a Christian family. A Christian is not someone who prays. A Christian is not someone who was baptized. In context to Hebrews, a Christian is not someone who was enlightened by the Holy Spirit, a Christian is not someone who has experienced heavenly gifts, and a Christian is not even someone who reads the Bible.

A Christian is a person who has fully trusted in Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior and possesses the Holy Spirit, as stated in the Bible several times.

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Acts 16:31: “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.'”

Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The question remains, “Is it impossible for them [those who were once enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gifts, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God] to be renewed to receive repentance… again? If they had never repented in the first place, why talk about renewal? Does this contradict itself?” 

Can someone fall after being saved? Can someone like you or me return? The answer all the way through the Bible is “yes.”

When you are saved, sometimes you will allow other things into your heart which pull you away from God and it feels impossible to get back.  When I shared the Hebrews verse above, it was not to scare you but to encourage you that if your faith is real and genuine, you will always fall back into Christ. He is actively pursuing you in every season of your life. Our foundation in Christ determines how quickly we can turn around from sin, repent, and accept grace. 

The foundation of our salvation does not lie in the things I stated above- such as a person who has been raised in a Christian family, someone who was baptized, someone who was enlightened by the Holy Spirit, etc. 

2) The TRUTH of the Gospel is that salvation is irrevocable.

I would like to start by using strong examples from the Bible, why I believe the TRUTH of the Gospel is that salvation is irrevocable.

Let’s take Solomon for example. Solomon, in the beginning, was with God. His heart was after God and his commands. He loved God. But Solomon’s heart later was turned away from God due to adultery and following after other gods. (1 Kings)

Peter denied the Lord three times at an extremely critical moment in the Bible, right before Christ’s crucifixion. Yet, he was redeemed, preached the first gospel sermon, and became an elder.

Repentance becomes impossible when a person has been fully exposed to the blessings of God’s people, but falls away through deliberate unbelief and denial of Christ.- Steven J. Cole

Paul consistently tells Timothy to be careful of certain lifestyles and pleasures because it could destroy his faith. When one’s faith is destroyed, it it possible for them to get to where they initially were with God?

The difference between the people referred to in Hebrews and real Christians have nothing to do with their experiences with God. Some people will know everything there is to know about salvation, experience Holy gifts, and never fully accept the grace God gives when they fall into sin. When you do not accept grace, you do not fully believe that Christ died for your sins. 

Salvation = Grace

David fell in his adultery with Bathsheba, but he picked himself back up through the grace of God. He sinned once again by going against God’s command, but again he turned around. NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES HE FELL, HE ALWAYS CAME BACK TO CHRIST and CHRIST NEVER LEFT DAVID.  The reason we remember David as a great king is not the perfection of his life, but the fact that he loved God so much that after the world allured and misled him, he still chose Christ.

How can you acknowledge and test your faith when hard things happen?

2 Corinthians 13:5 says “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?”

Some questions to ask yourself are these:

Are you professing faith in your life but have no evidence of fruit from it?

Do you feel convicted to repent when you sin?

Is your heart hard?

Do you love Christ and others fully?

Are you saddened and dismantled because of the sin in your life?

You may backslide several times. This does not mean your salvation is invalid. Many people in the Bible have fallen into patterns of sin, over and over again. However, if the general pattern of our life is not becoming more like Christ and the Holy Spirit is not leading us to change, these questions are vital in questioning our salvation.

Old patterns of sin will gradually diminish and be replaced with Godly patterns of living. 

We can not lose hope because we still sin.  Sin has consequences, but with the Holy Spirit, we will quickly grow tired and weary from our sin.

God is patient with you and He will complete his work in you.

 

2018: I Am Taking My Life Back.

2017 was the year I became lost. 

The sadness could not be shaken. It would well up in me during the most inappropriate moments. It would create actions and words that I never knew I had in me. 

I lost everything I knew, without warning; quickly and with no time to adjust. Depression roared loud in my ear and crept vigorously into my veins. I ran towards toxicity. I ran towards people I should not have trusted to help me heal. I ran towards the path that felt good under my feet. I became a master at escaping from myself. I wanted out of my life. I wanted to trade. I wanted someone to live in my body for a day and understand how painful and hard it was.

It is exhausting to sugar-coat what grieving feels like. It physically hurts to breath. I breathe more shallow because it hurts less. It hurts to live. Like breathing, it is less painful to live shallowly. Wordly. Not caring. Giving up. Doing anything that makes me feel better. Trusting God hurt. So I trusted God shallowly. So shallowly, that I could not even talk to Him anymore. It hurt to talk about Him. I couldn’t sing worship songs because I could not believe the things that I was saying. I would break down anytime someone would pray or sing. The church became painful. Christian community was painful. Being home was painful. Being alone was painful. Being with people was painful.

It hurt to live. I became shallow. 

Psalm 69:1-3 “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.”

I had a conversation with God on October 3rd. The last thing I journaled before closing my notebook for the rest of the year was:

“God, I do not know how to grieve this. I am pushing away everyone. I am changing. I am different. God, I am making some really poor choices and I can not stop. What if I am taking the wrong path? I know I am being judged for my actions, but I have stopped caring. People do not understand. They treat me differently. I treat people dfferently. How am I supposed to walk through this when I have no one to walk through this with me? God, WHERE ARE YOU. You haven’t answered a single prayer I have prayed in six months. How am I supposed to be a light for you when you are leaving me in the dark. You have forgotten about me.”

Yes. I am utterly heartbroken to start a new year without my mom because it makes her seem that much farther away. Going through traditions without the person who started our traditions feels completely defeating. Eating her favorite foods or listening to the songs she would sing or laughing at a joke she would have made or hearing people say a phrase she would say or sitting in “her” chair or accidentally calling her name or arriving home and knowing she won’t be waiting for me outside of the garage or knowing that everyone around me is sad and there is nothing I can do.

Those things are gone, but I am not. I am not empty.  I am not numb. 

2018: I am taking my life back.

I will not live shallowly. I will not let depression have the final word. I will appreciate the small miracles in my life. I will find deep meaning in the minute things in life. I will appreciate the people who I call family. I will rise out of the toxic cycle of blame and hurt and anger and sadness. I will deeply trust even when it is hard. I will look at others like they are made of magic. I will keep myself healthy by sleeping regularly and nourishing my body with healthy food. I will not deprive myself of nutrients. I will seek optimal mental health. I will write and read to grow my mind and learn more about myself. I will let gratitude guide my life. I will sing loudly. I will forgive myself. I will apologize when I am wrong. I will love Christ first. I will seek Christ first. I will do hard things to honor Christ. I will learn something new about my heavenly Father every day. I will let God lead my life. I will honor my mom. I will be selfless. I will give. I will worship through my lack of understanding. I will understand that I can not understand what He is doing. I will gain wisdom from pain. I will not be silent. I will help others. I will be reliable. I will be a trustworthy friend. I will spend alone time with Christ every day.

Micah 7:7 “But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

Turmeric Skin Brightening Mask

During the winter months, my skin gets sickly dull. I did my research on healthy and natural ways to combat this (so people don’t constantly tell me how sick I look…lol) and I came across the many, many health benefits of turmeric. Turmeric is a strong antioxidant that has many inflammatory properties. What intrigued me most was the many, many positive cognitive correlations it has, such as combatting depression and increasing our memory health. Whether taken orally or topically, I am excited to make this a part of my daily life!

Today I did a turmeric face mask to brighten my skin and it looked a little something like this:

fullsizeoutput_1011

Ingredients

-1 Tsp. Organic Turmeric Powder

-1 Tsp. Organic Olive Oil

-1 Tbsp. Organic Honey

-1 Tsp. Milk or Yogurt

-1/2 Tsp. Lemon Essential Oil

After mixing all of these ingredients together, make sure the consistency is not runny. That means you might have to add more honey or yogurt! Apply to your face, neck, and/or chest. Leave on NO MORE than 15 minutes (otherwise, your face will turn orange).fullsizeoutput_1000.jpeg

I suggest drinking a steaming cup of coffee while you wait.

Make sure to rinse it off completely with water and then a facial cleanser, not a scrub. If your skin looks a little too orange for you at first, then feel free to use a light scrub.

I plan on doing this about once a week during the winter months to keep my skin looking bright and healthy! Let me know what you think!

We Will Not Be Home For Christmas, Mom.

The countless Hallmark movies,

decorating the tree, 

You and this precious family.

This year is a reminder

of everything we are missing

Her

And the carols we will not be singing

The brick in our throats

When we try to go through the motions

But you will not be here.

Opening presents with picture frames of you

We cannot find the words

This is completely new.

Be gentle,

We do not even know what we are going through.

A word does not exist

For that knot in our stomach

When your name is brought up casually

Because you are not casual

You are extraordinary. 

We saved a spot for you at our dinner table

But our conversation was dull

Because of your absence

And laughter seems like a chore

You were always the one to ask the questions that mattered

You were the one to remember the details

Traditions 

They were kept because you taught us their importance

And in this season, loving others well was your primary mission.

Whether it is the gift of quality time

or lunch

or gifts

You knew everyone’s needs so personally

and that is what made you extraordinary. 

We will not be able to be home this year for Christmas, Mom.

But you already knew that

Because you are watching from paradise

We are homesick

Because you are home

And we are not

We are patiently waiting for the reuniting

You are so worth it

And missed

And we love you.

Your first Christmas in Heaven

The contradiction of this being your best Christmas 

And ours being the most excruciating

But a presence that is missed

is a presence that was well-loved

well-thought-of

well-cherished

well-lived

well-remembered.

 

The Alternative Travel Guide to New Orleans, Louisiana

A good friend of mine, Sarina, and I led a group of ten Georgia Southern students to New Orleans for a week of service and social justice education. This is why I like to title this post “The Alternative Travel Guide” because this was a service trip- not a recreational vacation. This was through the Alternative Breaks program at my school. We worked together beforehand to combat the ever-controversial issue of voluntourism. I am excited to share with you what we did, where we went, and all of the tips and tricks in between so you can have a successful volunteer experience while being conscious of the environment, people, and social issues you might be working with.

Our group of ten went to serve at the local animal rescue center, also known as ARNO. We would wake up early in the morning to make ourselves breakfast and coffee, pack our lunches, and to have time together before we would split into different teams for the day. We would arrive at our destination at 9 a.m. and would split into Dog Team, Cat Team, and Chore Team. The staff at ARNO was extremely friendly, helpful, and answered the many, many questions we had about the animals and facility. Our tasks for the day would include cleaning dog and cat kennels,  folding laundry,  doing dishes, sanitizing litter boxes, socializing and bathing animals. 

This was an indoor/outdoor facility, so layering for service was extremely important, especially in December. Temperatures tend to change super quickly during this time. I packed old clothes that I did not mind donating to the shelter afterward (and also made my load a lot lighter on the road trip back to Georgia). It is a good idea to have options on hand- such as a t-shirt, flannel, and sweatshirt on. I would wear thermal leggings with running shorts over them, in case I became hot and needed to take off my leggings. Wearing shorts over my leggings also prevented the animals from clawing into my leggings and ripping them, which was an added bonus. 

After service, we would come back to our cozy and eccentric hostel, “The India Hostel.” This was my second time staying here and I can not rave enough about it. The staff is very friendly and helpful, the rooms and common areas are clean, and the other travelers are extremely personable. The hostel provided sheets, blanket, a pillow, towel, and washcloth in our rooms. They serve dinner there for $5 a plate or you can make your own dinners in the community kitchen (which is what we did most nights). During meal times, the kitchen and dining areas can get pretty crowded- so if you are claustrophobic or get over-stimulated very easily, I would wait until unpopular hours to make your meals. Also, there are two living areas, one with a TV and one with a nice fireplace. This seems to be a popular place to hang-out and talk with others. They have a nice “take one leave one” library and a ton of board games to choose from! The outside area is very quirky with string lights, artwork, and a beautiful garden. Although it was too cold for us to use, they have a nice pool, too.  

Like I said earlier, we took initiatives to combat which I believe voluntourism: using reusable water bottles, recycling, taking public transportation, living cheaply- staying in a hostel or air BnB, and supporting local business in our purchases (we went to Cafe Du Monde, Parkway Poor Boy’s, Cafe Beignet, and Southern Candymakers.)

For our leisure time, we walked around the French Quarter, the French Market, supported local artists by buying locally made items. We took the Street Car Trolley which cost about $3 a day using the RTA app. Overall, have a flexible itinerary- within a big group, it is easy to have very Type A personalities and very go with the flow personalities- make sure both are accommodated for.

I hope you chose to take time educate yourself on the different social issues our communities are facing. Reflecting on the diversity and learning about the type of impact you can make is extremely important. Check out a few of these resources to find out more!

http://alternativebreaks.org/finding-the-power/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pippa-biddle/little-white-girls-voluntourism_b_4834574.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/pippa-biddle/little-white-girls-voluntourism_b_4834574.html

https://www.ted.com/playlists/444/when_your_beliefs_are_being_ch?utm_campaign=social&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=playlist&utm_term=global-social+issues

Not What I Was Planning

1:45 a.m.

If you are wondering why I am up this late (or early), on a school night, in the wee hours before my 8 a.m. exam, I will explain why.

A couple of months ago, I was told I have insomnia. I could go into all the detail about my struggles with this frustrating and discouraging diagnosis, but that will come in another post. 

Just know this- a lot of prayer has been surrounding this problem. I have asked God that if He chose not to heal me now, that He would at least reveal things to me in the restless late hours or to open my eyes to something that would only be revealed to me in my fatigue. 

1:53 a.m.

This past summer changed my life in obvious ways. If you don’t really know much about my family’s story, you can read about it here.

After my mom suffered her heart attack and the word cancer became deafening, I quickly changed what my life was supposed to look like in those months to come. All of a sudden, school work became unimportant. My involvement became unimportant. My social life became unimportant. Not in a way where “unimportant” meant neglected, either. Unimportant in a way where something finally clicked and I realized that these activities in my life were completely habitual. I realized that I was about to step out of normalcy and routine and into the unknown. 

So what matter’s most in the “unknown?”

Love. Patience. Soul. 

2:06 a.m.

Sitting in a hospital room teaches a person a lot about time- or the lack there of. Morning becomes dinner time and the evening is constantly interrupted by beeps and clanks. Tangibly, all my family had was each other to hold onto. We no longer had our busy schedules to keep us distracted. We were forced to face the reality of being present.

Being present with someone who is terminally ill is extremely emotionally demanding. It can feel isolating and draining. Sometimes we crave the normalcy in those times.  Sometimes, we forget to place value on the present. 

There is so much value in stillness.

In love.

In quality time.

In detachment. 

These things are important for our souls… and for the souls of others. 

In the fast-paced moments, remember to take the time to step out of normalcy.

Take the time to be present with others. Each moment we have with them is a special gift.

2:20 a.m.

I’m not going to pretend to understand why God allows certain things to happen. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not angry that my mom was not healed on earth or that night after night it feels like my prayers for sleep are not answered. But Jesus laid this on my heart… and from one insomniac to another… I hope you grasp the real and raw concept of presence like I was able to tonight. 

Covering Your Tracks

I am going to let you in on a pretty dirty part of my soul. This is something I have struggled with ever since I came to college and became a Christian. It’s not pretty. It’s profoundly embarrassing. I never truly recognized it as sin until recently, when a friend called me out on it pretty intensely. 

I denied it. 

Then I was forced to meditate on it. I prayed about it. I was convicted that this was utterly true and stagnating my walk with Christ in an abundant of different ways.

It was crushing my witness.

Whoah. “So what is it?”

I suffer from the debilitating sin of “covering my tracks.”

Let me give you a little background.

I pride myself in being pretty transparent with people. In conversations, I am not afraid to talk about where I have been, what I have struggled with, and how Christ has gotten me through an abundance of trials. I also love learning how I can better myself, love Christ more, and love others well. 

Sounds pretty good, right?

As a Christian, I think we fall into this lie that we are never supposed to be tempted by sin. We might not mentally think that in our heads, but subconsciously, we feel as if certain desires are completely removed from us the minute we ask Jesus into our hearts.

There are few things further from the truth than that statement. 

What happens when we fall into sin and people are looking up to us as role models? What happens when we feel like no one can know about certain sins because they are not “normal” sins that Christians deal with. What happens when you struggle with something way more intensely than your other Christian friends do?

We cover our tracks. Well, at least I do. 

What does “covering our tracks look like?” Burying our sin. Telling people to take down their stories on Snapchat. Having people remove certain pictures from Instagram so people won’t know you were there. Texting that boy and telling him to NEVER tell anyone what happened. Doing it again. Lying to our friends. Pushing it so deep down that it becomes unreal to ourselves.  

When we “cover out tracks,” we are unable to receive the accountability we need from our friends. We are unable to hold ourselves to a higher standard because we become numb to our sins. We are unable to give advice without being a total hypocrite. 

How do we overcome this?

We start by defeating pride in our life. Covering our tracks stems from a place of deep rooted pride in who we want to be, but are not authentically. We need to MOURN our sins, even if we do not feel completely saddened by it because we have buried it so deep. We need to pray for forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

If that seems tough, I am about to give you an even tougher task.

Be honest with your friends. Tell them what you have been truly struggling with. Do not sugar coat it. Be as authentic as you can. Cry. Be angry with yourself. It is okay. Let those buried feelings be unmasked and naked. 

Then you are held accountable. You are finally held to the standard that you need to be held to. 

As Christians, we are called to a life of accountability. But how exactly is this done?

I mentioned earlier that I had never truly been called out on my sin until recently. Christians do not do a good job at holding their friends accountable. Let me tell you why:

Instead of holding our friends accountable, we  need to hold ourselves accountable for our friends. We can not be afraid of their brokenness. We can not be afraid of conflict. It is loving others so much that we are willing to surrender to the task of accountability. Actively knowing what is going on in our friends lives so we can have a deeper intimacy- one that might have a lot of real anger, tears, and brokenness. That is what it means to have a loving friendship.

And to the receiver of accountability (a.k.a. me in this story):

Pride makes us defensive and unable to receive criticism. Pride is blinding. Nobody offers you advice because they know it won’t end well if they do. Be quick to recognize the pride in your life. Be quick to apologize without an “I’m sorry….but…..” Stop obsessing over the opinions of others. When you “be” instead of “do,” your walk with Christ will speak for itself.