Getting to Know Me, Part Three

Read Part One and Part Two of Getting to Know Me!

When I look back on the things that have refined and changed the person that is sitting here writing to you today, I can only be in complete awe of the strength and the grace of God.

I may not have had this wild and crazy past, but nevertheless I was once far from God and little by little, He drew me back in. He knows exactly what we need and when we need it, something that I believe wholeheartedly.

In the weeks and months following the deaths of my maternal grandmother and Aunt Shelia, I tried my hardest to really press in and use that time to get to know God. I began to write, both in a journal and here on my blog.

The immediate aftermath of those losses was a time of great reflection for me as I worked to process all that I had experienced and endured. About two months later, we would learn that my paternal grandmother’s health was declining. She was 93, so we began to prepare ourselves for another loss.

Four months later in January 2016, my father lost his mother two years after losing his brother and sister. His family was now just a family of two with him and his youngest sister Margaret. Two weeks after my paternal grandmother’s death, we received word that Nellie – my maternal grandmother’s cousin – had too passed away. She was truly one of the sweetest women that I had met and had always loved my grandmother. She had told my mom’s brother, Kenneth, a few days before my grandmother passed that she would be happy to be their mother/grandmother for whatever amount of time that she had left on Earth. She once told my sister and I that she used to pray that God would give her children of her own until God one day told her that she already had children in the neighborhood children and young family members that would flock to her house.

For me, losing my paternal grandmother and Nellie so close after my other grandmother was difficult but I fully recognize that I was probably in the best position to face something like that again. I truly felt closer to God than I ever had, though I couldn’t really make sense of it. The predominant emotion that I felt in that season was joy, but so often I found myself critiquing how I was feeling and coping. No one should feel joy after losing so many people that meant this much to them, I would think to myself.

Now when I hear and read about peace and joy that surpasses all understanding, I smile.

I smile because I’ve experienced it. There’s not always a logical explanation for things when God is involved. He’s bigger than all logic.

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Getting to Know Me, Part Two

Read Part One of Getting to Know Me!

October 2014 was a month of change.

It was the month that I received a new student in my classroom that would challenge everything in my life. I had allowed my identity as a teacher to be completely rooted in my students and the perceptions of those around me and when this student began to struggle behaviorally, I took it so personally. As a new teacher, I didn’t know how to handle what was happening in my classroom and it very much broke a piece of me at the time. I felt weak and inadequate. Within a few days of having this student in my classroom, I began to feel the nudging and hear the whispers from God that were calling me home.

I don’t think I would have been able to hear Him had I felt that I still had it all together. No, I was broken by my perceived inadequacies in the workplace – all while things were changing at home. October was also the month that my father began to get sick.

For weeks, we would watch as his body would become riddled with chills and exhaustion caused him to spend nearly every minute that he was not working asleep in his recliner. Doctors appointments and lab results weren’t providing any clear answers and I found myself worried that it was cancer. After all, it runs in his family. Pancreatic cancer took his father at the age of 71, just two years before I was born. And more recently, cancer had taken both his brother and sister – nine days apart – on December 25, 2013 and January 3, 2014.

I was surrounded by uncertainty and it was making my eyes open to the fact I truly couldn’t do this life on my own. I had done some cool things with blogging and I had shown that I could sort of juggle working two jobs, but it had cost me my foundation. What I hadn’t realized until life began to change was that I lacked a firm spiritual foundation and I was far from being rooted in God or His word.

My father was ultimately diagnosed with Vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the small blood vessels and in his case, it was attacking his kidneys. Though his kidney function is still poor and may require a kidney transplant in the next couple of years, he is doing well and is actually considered to be healthy in nearly every aspect except his kidneys.

Hindsight where this time of my life is concerned would show me that God was every where in those early days of my faith. He was in the uncertainty, the worry, the anxiety, and the fear as I realized that He was calling me not just closer to Him, but to a new church home.

Though I had attended church regularly since I was a toddler, once I got to my teenage years, I grew very complacent and withdrawn from things at my home church. In high school, I had chosen not to attend the high school youth group that was there and truth be told, that was what sparked my sort of downward spiral. My mind was anywhere but on the word of God on Sunday mornings. I was basically another body in the pew and never gave much thought to this God I said that I believed in and what He meant for my life.

But in this month when I truly think that God had enough of me trying to do life on my own, I found myself reflecting on the state of my faith more and more. I certainly had never really stopped to do that before. Then, I noticed myself paying more attention to these road signs that were stuck in the grass at a particular intersection that I drove through everyday to get to and from work. The signs were “advertising” a church that had a campus not far from where I live. After a few days of looking at these signs as I sat at this intersection waiting for a green light, I decided to check out their website once I got home.

The church was a nondenominational church that was very contemporary in comparison to the traditional liturgical experience I was used to. It was night and day from what I knew. I worried for weeks about what my parents might say or think, though they were ultimately very supportive once I did talk with them. I just knew that I still lived at home and I worried that it would be awkward to go to a different church from them on Sunday mornings. (It was for awhile, but it’s better now!)

For the next ten months, I immersed myself in this new church home and committed myself to learn more about God and establishing a relationship with Him. I joined a small group and began to befriend some of the young adults there.

I am truly so grateful for that ten month period. Although I had grown up in the church, I was very much a “new believer” in a lot of aspects and that season allowed me the opportunity to discover my faith and begin to cultivate a relationship with God that was deeper than anything I had experienced so far.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that God wasn’t finished changing my life. Sure, He had gotten me out of my shell and gotten me to be more aware of how far I was from Him. Looking back, I can see where those first ten months at this new church had gotten me out of my comfort zone and rooted in His word but it was all a little superficial. Yes, I had experienced the grief of losing my aunt and uncle so close together in 2013/2014 and the stress of my father’s illness and had even faced the anxiety of my job as a teacher but I hadn’t experienced anything that forced me to lean solely on God.

Until September 2015.

In the span of a week in September 2015, everything I knew about my life came to a screeching halt.

It was late on Friday night, September 11th, and my Mom got a call from one of her sisters, my Aunt Kay, that they had taken my Grandmother, who I grew up calling Grandmommy, to the hospital with pneumonia. This had happened once before, almost exactly three years prior, but something about this phone call felt off. None of us wanted to really dwell on that feeling, but it seemed to hang in the air all around us. Three years ago, they had almost lost her.

For the first day or so of her hospitalization, things seemed to be holding steady – not really declining or improving – but there was a lot of hope. My grandmother was still talking and aware, but after about two days things started to decline. My mom had stayed with her siblings up at the hospital (which was two hours from our house) but when things began to change, my dad and I drove up to be with her.

On Thursday, September 17th, my sweet grandmother went to be with the Lord – surrounded by six of her ten children as well as my sister and I.

It was the first time that I had lost a close family member, but in a strange way, I really felt okay about it. We all missed her terribly, of course, but my primary thoughts were of how I had no doubt as to where she was. I knew she was in Heaven with Jesus. My grandmother was a devout Christian and had lived her life in such a way that I knew that was exactly where she was. That was truly a blessing and it for me, it helped with the grief. We were sad, but there was still joy….

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Getting to Know Me, Part One

I hail from a small town in North Carolina, just over the Catawba River from Charlotte. Most people have never heard of this little town, so I usually just settle for telling people I’m from the “Charlotte area.”

I was born and raised here. In fact, I still live in the house that I grew up in. North Carolina is my home, but I consider myself kind of a blend – of cultures, ethnicities, and stories. A mixture of East and West.

My roots run deep not just through this North Carolina soil where my maternal side of the family have farmed since before the Revolutionary War, but also through the dusty, desert lands of California and New Mexico where my paternal side of the family settled after coming to the country from Mexico in the early 20th century.

I’m proud of the diversity in my heritage, I believe that it is an interesting foundation to my story.

Words have long since been my preferred method of communicating. As a child, this was expressed mostly through my obsession and fierce love of books. A love that continues today. Once I got a little older, this transitioned into an interest in journalism that never really panned out in terms of college plans.

For most of my teenage years, anytime that I thought about what I wanted to do with my life I usually went back and forth between journalism or teaching. I’m not entirely sure where the journalism came from, but my Aunt Kay was an elementary school teacher and I spent a lot of time with her growing up and I always liked kids. My senior year of high school, though, I was selected for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a scholarship program that provided roughly half of your college tuition in exchange for teaching in North Carolina for four years post-graduation. I kind of applied for it on a whim, but found myself being selected for a regional interview shortly after completing the initial round of interviews at my high school (only 500 students get picked for this program each year from across the whole state). Believe it or not, I applied for the scholarship with the intent of majoring in Spanish education but that only lasted until my second day of college (seriously) and I realized I was much better suited for the early childhood world.

Once I headed off to Appalachian State, I placed the desire to write and pursue journalism on the back burner. I never actually thought that I’d have an opportunity to do anything with it until the Fall of my sophomore year of college.

In the Fall of 2010, I first discovered the world of blogging. Twitter had only been a thing for about four years at this point, but in my circle of friends it hadn’t quite hit it big yet. I had created my account sometime in 2009, but since I didn’t know anyone with a Twitter account other than my best friend at the time, it was basically just another vehicle for the two of us to communicate for awhile. Though it causes me some embarrassment to admit this now, it was during this time of my life that I was a complete fanatic about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I absolutely loved the books, the movies, and my pop culture-obsessed self was all about keeping up with the cast of the series.

I remember seeing a tweet from Team Twilight, one of the leading fansites at the time, that was welcoming a new writer to their site. When I saw this, I paused – struck by the realization that regular people could actually write for sites like this. This was nearly seven years ago now, but I still remember the giddy excitement that I felt. Maybe my dreams of writing could be more than a dream, I wondered.

I inquired about writing for the website with Lindsay, who ran the site (and still one of my good friends to this day!), and shortly after I officially became a blogger.

Seven months later, towards the end of May 2011, I read Divergent by Veronica Roth and my life began to change. The book had only been released about two weeks prior but had already been optioned for film by Summit Entertainment and many people on Twitter and other young adult fiction fans were raving about the book.

For the next week or so after I finished the book, I was in a state that many book lovers know as the “book coma”, also known as the period of time following the completion of a really good book in which you feel lost and basically don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. During this book coma, I kept mulling over the idea of creating my own fansite that was centered around this new series. After some research, I realized that there were only a handful of other Divergent sites out there at the time and if I were going to start one, now would be the time. So in June 2011, I took what I knew about blogging and fansites and Divergent Nation was born.

For the first few months of Divergent Nation’s tenure, the only posts that I was able to generate were various book reviews, fan art, and various updates regarding the publication of Insurgent, which was due out the following year. Slowly but surely, with more and more readers discovering this series, my site began to grow.

In April of 2012, about a month before the sequel Insurgent’s publication, I was contacted by the team at Harper Collins, the series’ publisher, about collaborating on a fun internet campaign to promote the book. I, along with 50 other blogs, were selected to participate in the campaign that involved being divided into five factions and creating various fan challenges and activities to receive the most traffic. These blogs were a mix of Divergent fansites as well as generic book review blogs and the faction that earned the most traffic would receive a personal thank you from Veronica Roth. Divergent Nation was assigned to the Dauntless faction and I was sent an early copy of Insurgent as part of being a participant.

Although Dauntless was not the winner of this competition, it was still an incredible thing to be a part of. Because of our involvement with the campaign, the names of every administrator of these blogs were listed in a special acknowledgement page in the back of the hardcover edition of Allegiant, the final novel in the series. Being involved in blogging and fansites in general would prove to be a totally surreal experience, but having your name printed in the pages of a New York Times Bestselling Novel was so crazy to me and I ate it up.

I was beginning to get glimpses of that glamorous life that I dreamed of in high school, and I just knew that I wanted more of it. …

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Homegoing

On Saturday, my family and I got to go “home” and by home, I mean to the part of North Carolina that my extended family has called home since arriving in this country in the 1600/1700s. Homegoing, indeed.

Caswell County in North Carolina is a rural place. It is place where it isn’t so hard for me to picture what it must have looked like back before the roads had asphalt and the homes had electricity. It’s a place where time seems to slow and a special sort of peace sets in, far away from the distractions that more urban environments harbor.

Back in the Spring, a distant cousin invited our whole family (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) out to the home in which my great-grandfather Joseph Ezra built with his own two hands. The home has fallen into disrepair and will be demolished soon, but he wanted to invite all of his descendants out to see it before that happens. There is an inherent tie that I feel to this area of North Carolina anyway since it is where half of my family has lived for so long, but to stand on this piece of land, looking at a home that one of my relatives actually built – that was truly special.

Homegoing

This is the home that my great-grandfather brought his new wife home to after their wedding in February 1907. More than 100 years ago. They would go on to be married for 70 years until my great-grandmother’s death in 1977. In every picture I’ve seen and every story I’ve heard about them, they were the cutest little couple around and I am so grateful that I am their great-granddaughter.

Around the back of the house is a fig bush that is actually the same fig bush that my great-grandmother would pick from when making her fig preserves.

Homegoing

This walk down memory lane and through my family’s history meant the world to me and I am so happy to be able to soak up as many experiences like this as I possibly can!

Fall Update

Well hello, friends!

It’s been way too long since I have posted anything here, which seems a little crazy to me! Once upon a time I was a semi-regularly posting blogger and now I’m lucky if I find the time to even think about writing.

The first official day of Fall is this Friday and I could not be happier, even though my house has looked like Fall since the first week of September. Fall is truly my favorite season and I am just ecstatic to have football on TV, leaves falling down, and temperatures (slowly) beginning to drop.

Something I’m super excited about this Fall is the start of community groups at my church! Since I first started attending this particular church in January of this year, I really haven’t been able to devote a ton of time to cultivating a sense of community there. Each and every Sunday I just feel at home and so grateful that God brought me there so when they announced new groups were starting this Fall, I jumped right in! And guys, God has been everywhere in this group…and it was only the first official week!

Truth be told, I’m usually somewhat hesitant to be in a position where I might need to share some of my personal journey of faith. It’s not the neatest of stories and is filled with loss and grief but also grace upon grace upon grace poured out from Jesus. This past week, our first official meeting together, I found myself sharing a snapshot of my story – the two losses that I experienced two years ago this week. Soon after I spoke about it, I found myself sitting there in my chair overthinking all of what I had just shared and began criticizing myself for speaking up. I think I have the fear/worry that others might think I share my story to get pity or to have others feel sorry for me which couldn’t be further from the truth – but there I was thinking it.

A few minutes later towards the end of group, we were asked to reflect on what we thought God was saying to us and showing us through the week’s sermon and our reflection of it. One of the other women in the group spoke up and shared how she enjoyed hearing the stories of the other group members and how it was encouragement to her given that she and her husband were in the midst of a very difficult year. In this year alone they had lost three close relatives and I was just momentarily awe-struck by God’s work in that moment. It was then that I realized that it was things like this that make it so important for us to share our testimonies and our journeys with those around us, especially when they are so full of God’s grace and love.

There I was second guessing myself for sharing some of my story and experiences when what I shared was actually having an impact on someone else going through something very similar. She spoke of how encouraging it is to hear from someone on the “other side” of this when she clearly is still in the deep throes of grief. I nearly teared up right there and the entire time that we prayed together as a group to close out our time together I just found myself thinking, “Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God for bring all of us together in this group.”

And so today, on what is actually Gratitude Day (Sept. 21) I just felt like I needed to share that experience with you all. In Colossians 2:6-7 we read, “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” (CSB)

That couldn’t be more descriptive of me lately – “overflowing with gratitude.”

God is able to produce the most amazing stories and testimonies out of some of the messiest of circumstances and that is something always worth praising and rejoicing over. I can’t look back at the 2 years of losses and hardships any other way but through joy-filled eyes because I know exactly where Jesus was in every moment of those experiences.

Amazing grace, indeed.

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