In the past few weeks and months, I feel as though I am finally coming to a place where I feel like I can hold the things in my life – my career, my stability, my relationships – all with open hands. A place where surrender is the initial response, rather than this clamoring for control whenever a change occurs or something bad happens. But it’s not as though the journey to this place has been easy – or that I’m necessarily great at surrendering to God’s will all the time.

It’s been a hard fought road to get here. And I’m crazy grateful for the growth, the bumps and the bruises, and the faith that has led me to this place.

When my life was turned on it’s head by a two year season of sicknesses, losses, and significant anxiety – my surrender was only born out of necessity. When life began spiraling out of control, I hadn’t stepped into church in months and was honestly the furthest from God I think I’d been up until that point, but I was in desperate need of something to cling to. I couldn’t control the things that were happening around me and I couldn’t make these terrible things go away but through the nudging and whispers that only God could give, I gradually found my way home to Him.

I’m not the same person that I was back then, but still I fight every day to remember exactly how that season of my life felt. I fight for that, not so that I can wallow in sadness but so that I can be revived each day by the pure joy and peace that God granted me through all of it. Because if I don’t remember how I felt, if I don’t remember the promises that were whispered to me as I stood in the front yard of my grandmother’s home, just 48 hours after she went home to be with Jesus, as the paramedics attempted to resuscitate my Aunt Shelia – than I will forget them. And to forget them is to forget the absolute miraculous way that God moved in my life and in my heart that morning.

We have to remember the way it felt to be utterly and wholly broken before we ever knew what it felt to be healed, fully and completely.

Which brings me to today. The present. If there’s anything that God is using this current season of my life for, it’s to teach me and show me the redeeming qualities of both presence and stillness. The gift of stillness has come primarily through the practice of mindfulness and meditation in recent weeks and has been incredibly grounding. God has shown me the gift of presence that has come in the form of both my active presence in my daily life in this season as well as the presence of specific people that God has sent to me in recent weeks. My cup surely runneth over these days….

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Love + Ashes

There’s something that continually sticks out to me when I read the Bible, particularly when I read the stories of mourning and of repentance and that is sackcloth and ashes. When we read through stories of tremendous grief and sorrow, those two things are almost always associated.

Bible Gateway says this about sackcloth and ashes, “Sackcloth is a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair that was worn together with the burnt ashes of wood as a sign of mourning for personal and national disaster, as a sign of repentance and at times of prayer for deliverance.”

For some reason, the imagery that this practice of wearing sackcloth and ashes in response to mourning and sorrow and in the midst of repentance gives invokes in me this deep-rooted feeling – this deep stirring in my belly that is difficult to put words to but the closest I have is love.

Love + Ashes

It is when we are in deep mourning or deep repentance that we can more fully appreciate the love that is lavished upon us wholly undeserving people. It is when we humble ourselves, die to self, and repent that we can see just how much grace God pours out as a gift we never did anything to earn.

Ash Wednesday falling on the same day as Valentine’s Day could not be more perfectly planned, I think.

At the start of this Lenten season, the ashes that are being spread on foreheads today symbolize to me repentance. They symbolize this incredible sense of humility and smallness and sorrow that comes when we actually force ourselves to confront our sins. When we look at ourselves in the mirror long enough to see all of the ways that culture and society and the enemy have wedged themselves between us and God. And friends, to confront that and stand face to face with this demands our repentance. It demands our grief and our sorrow for all of the ways that we turn from God day in and day out – whether we mean to or not.

But on a day when culture and society are spewing out all of these manufactured tokens of superficial love and spreading guilt and shame to those without “true love” in their lives, Ash Wednesday adds some much needed perspective to the mix that is setting my soul on fire today. When we look at this day and at this season with a Lenten focus and remember why we reflect and repent during these 40 days – this Valentine kind of love just seems so obviously lacking. Lacking in substance, lacking in meaning, and lacking in the perfect love that came at the expense of Jesus on the cross.

The customary practice during Lent is to give something up until Easter and growing up, this was a practice that I truly never gave significant thought to when I was growing up in the Catholic church. My go-to was usually giving up soda or something like that but in recent years as I have grown in my faith, God has really laid it on my heart to consider not just what I could give up to draw nearer to Him but what I could potentially add in order to achieve the same result. That could be adding in the habit/practice of reading the Bible daily or meditating, two things I do already, but I think it also comes down to our posture. Sure, I’m already doing some of the things that can draw us in closer to God but where is the posture of my heart when I do these things? Am I doing them to just check it off a list or am I actively listening and actively quieting my mind in order to be more in tune with God?

As I write this, I’m also reading some excerpts from Pope Francis’ homily earlier today during the Ash Wednesday service at the Vatican and his thoughts perfectly echoes the cry of my heart lately.

”Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift…time with God,” he said today, before continuing with, “Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.”

Silence and stillness have the power to amplify God’s voice and truth and it is my prayer this season that I am able to instill this into my own life. The kind of love that this day marks is not one that can be found on a store shelf or in the boxes of chocolates being passed around. No, it’s not a coincidence that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. May we all draw nearer to the source of the purest and greatest love there is in this season.

2018 Began with a Choice

For me, 2018 began with a choice. The details aren’t necessarily important, but it was a choice that said everything about who God is and who He is going to be in this coming year with me. It was a choice that honestly I was only able to make because of the journey that I have walked with God the past four years. It’s a realization that fills me with so much joy + gratitude.

It’s one thing to make a choice, one that you know without a shadow of a doubt is the right one – but another thing entirely to actually live in that choice though. To live with the results of that choice.

I’d argue that living in a difficult decision is harder than actually making it. Because in the days that follow, you start to feel another voice creep in. One that tries to whisper to you that you chose wrong. That you made a mistake. That the instincts you were feeling from God weren’t really from Him at all.

That’s where bold faith comes in.

It takes boldness to actually commit to something – especially when you can’t see further than where you are in this moment. I know that often, this is way easier said than done.

I get that.

But I feel that no matter where you are in your faith journey, bold faith should be something you are always in pursuit of. For me personally, my walk with God – specifically the past four years – was not always characterized by boldness. But somewhere deep down, I knew that this was what I was striving for. Because when you’ve been simultaneously broken and healed by God, you can’t help but want to throw off any and every chain that was holding you back and run headlong towards whatever He has for you. Because the God that heals and bandages the deepest of wounds also has the most beautiful plans and intentions for your future. And I don’t know about you, but the second that I caught a glimpse of what the future could be when I give up this false idea of control and just surrender my future to the One who is more than capable – I was willing to be as bold and daring as I needed to be in order to make that my reality every day.

Because when He leads you to a certain path, you can’t pull away and do things on your own. You just can’t. What I believe about God is that He is the God that breathed all of creation, me and you included, into existence. And He called it good. He has created things that are breathtaking. Things that are awe-inspiring and beautiful.

I have stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, feeling so unbelievably small and humbled that the God who made all of that was the same God who loves little ole me and sees something that He could make beautiful and call good. Little ole me.

Some decisions are hard and you are faced with making a choice that quite frankly kind of sucks. But bold faith in the wake of that says to God that yes, this sucks and I’m not entirely happy with this but I trust You with my future. I trust You to lead me to a future that I won’t want to hesitate to say a joyful “yes” to.

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.

Brave Surrender

Lately, it seems as though God has laid bravery on my heart. At nearly every turn, whether through messages at church or in books and blog posts, courage and bravery have been at the forefront for weeks.

For the longest time, I viewed bravery as doing something big. Something that no one would ever think of doing. I viewed courage and bravery as being fearless, but maybe that was just my young adult fiction obsession (oh hi, Divergent series) setting in at the time.

I think bravery and courage can look differently for different people, depending on a variety of things. For some, bravery may be taking that job in a new city or saying a resounding yes to a mission trip in another country. For others, bravery may just mean simply surviving and making it through the storm in their life at that moment. No matter the circumstance, I believe that God calls us into seasons of boldness. Seasons of putting our money where our mouths are, so to speak, and actually doing the things that scare us. Actually doing the things that God has ordained for us so deep in our hearts.

Truthfully, I just love the word bold. I love the sound of it and I love the imagery that it evokes in me. To speak it aloud just sounds brave and powerful, doesn’t it?’s first definition of the word is: “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff; courageous and daring.”

I just want to slap that on a Post-It and stick it in just about every area of my house.

But being bold requires faith. It requires trust that is placed in Jesus, not in something man-made or temporary. Sometimes one of the first bold acts we can do is place our hopes, our trust, and our fears in the arms of Jesus. The second is to then go and do. I’m currently in the midst of reading Shelly Miller’s book, The Rhythm of Rest, and in it there is a sentence that reads, “Faith is a brave surrender, an unwavering commitment to trust in a Savior who takes care of the details despite hurdles and hardships.”

I can admit to you that I know this is easier said than done. I believe that God has been bringing this theme and topic to my heart for a reason and not because I’ve mastered it.

I’m nearing the end of a long season of preparation and preparing to trade it for a season of action, a season of doing. Beyond that, a season that I already know will be one of the most bold and courageous things that I have done. I’ve written of it before, here and here. Beginning this summer and through the rest of 2017, I will be spending 1-2 evenings a week volunteering in a local pediatric emergency department with child life and wrapping up the rest of my online courses.

This Fall, I will begin completing and compiling everything I need for the application packets that I will be mailing to the 20+ hospitals across the midwest and eastern parts of the country in hopes to try secure an internship placement for the Fall 2018 semester. Should I receive an offer to intern somewhere, I would then enter into a season of unemployment and unpaid internship life for several months. It will be one of my boldest moves – trusting God with my future, with my finances, and with my security as a whole.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly brave person, but even I have to admit that it takes some semblance of bravery to trust God with every aspect of what I am embarking on. This career path, this journey, is one that I felt God calling me to back in December of 2015, three months after losing my grandmother and my aunt less than 48 hours apart. That experience had grabbed ahold of my heart and shaken me awake. It was, and still is, the moment where I felt God’s peace and power the most profoundly and deeply. I remember like it was yesterday, the way it felt as though Jesus was actually physically there next to me, arms wrapped tight around me and whispering to me that He would use this pain for something bigger. Something more than I could even imagine in that moment.

This time of brave surrender to God’s plan for my life comes from three years of learning who God truly is and who I am in his sight. I know that He is good. He is faithful and loving and powerful. He is my heavenly Father who seeks the best for me just as my earthly father does. My dad used to tell me all the time when I was growing up, “You can be scared, but do it anyway.” I’m sure I laughed at the time, my dad has the tendency to sound a bit like a fortune cookie sometimes, but the words stuck with me into adulthood and have only been echoed by God.

He tells me to feel the fear and the worry that I have, but to give it to Him and go do it anyway.

What I know about God is that he will bring this season to completion and fulfill every promise made to me in the process. There will be hardships and fear and uncertainty but I have experienced far too much with God to start doubting Him now.

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” – Philippians 1:6, MSG

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