Life

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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Eight Years

Last Friday, The Vampire Diaries ended its eight year run on The CW. Why am I writing that here? Because the show’s ending is actually very bittersweet for me personally.

(Which does seem a little funny and almost embarrassing to admit, truthfully.)

The Vampire Diaries played an important role in my life. I came upon the show not long after discovering the Twilight series and both franchises helped to alter the course of my life, believe it or not.

Full disclosure, admitting my fangirling nerdiness to you in this moment feels very strange, but bear with me.

As I think back to the past eight years that I was a fan of this show, it’s truly incredible to think of the ways in which I have changed in that time. At the time, I was a freshman in my first year of college. I was naive about the world and thought that I had my future mapped out. I was a freshman education major who was obsessed with pop culture and yearned for a career in journalism – covering my favorite celebrities, books, and films. It wasn’t much after this that I stumbled on the world of fansite blogging and found the way that I could write articles on the things I loved while also keeping myself on the more realistic path of teaching.

It opened the door for me to learn and fall in love with writing and blogging. Through Twitter, I found other women who loved the same books, movies, and TV shows that I did and our friendship has lasted through marriages, pregnancies, and endures still today.

After joining a Twilight fansite as a contributor and learning as much as I could, I launched a site that centered around The Vampire Diaries. It was short-lived, but it was a stepping stone towards launching my second site for the Divergent series. From there, I found myself running headlong into a life that was glamorous, exciting, and wholly unexpected.

I visited film sets, attended Hollywood premieres with a press badge, and interviewed celebrities in the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. I became obsessed with social media notoriety, with the names of those that followed me on social media, and finding a way to make this life my reality for as long as possible.

Throughout all of it, I pushed God out to the wings and kept my distance. I didn’t want to ask Him what my future really looked like because all I saw were the bright lights and glamour that I thought could keep me satisfied. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in mass communication and I thought I was set. Until it all came crashing down when I entered a season that led me to lose six family members in two years.

I’m not the same person that I was eight years ago.

And I have God to thank for that.

I do feel incredibly honored that God would allow me the chance to live out my dream like He did over the past eight years. He didn’t have to. I wasn’t even in the practice of communicating with Him at the time back then, but He still knew my heart. He knows all of my hopes and dreams. Though a career in journalism or social media marketing never quite panned out, that time still represents a period of my life that I will never forget. God granted me the opportunity to live the live I had always wanted – and then led me to the life that would sustain me far better than the other ever would have.

Uncomfortable

In life, I think it’s safe to say that we like to be in a relative state of comfort, am I right?

Uncomfortable

We don’t particularly enjoy being pushed too far outside of our comfort zones and we don’t care for awkwardness. I totally get it. As someone who is super socially awkward (#homebody), I totally understand the appeal of living within my comfort zone and staying in my own little bubble. But every so often, I find that I am reminded that this isn’t necessarily the way in which God calls us to live. He calls us to both love and live life boldly for Him and for His kingdom.

All too often, I find that I can be quite stubborn and set in my introverted ways. Maybe some of you might feel this way as well. My current reality is that I am working full-time as a public school teacher while also taking classes online part-time. Soon, I’m going to be adding volunteer work on top of both of those things. So basically I’m an introvert and a workaholic. For most of my formative years in the church when I was younger, church was basically something I did on Sundays and really sort of just went through the motions. For far too long, I viewed community as something that needed me to be open and vulnerable around others and that just didn’t seem like something that would work for me. But then, just over two years ago, I felt the Lord whispering to me that He wanted me to take not just a step outside of my comfort zone, but a giant leap outside of it.

He told me that He wanted me to leave the comfort zone of the church in which I had attended since I was three years old. I wasn’t in the habit or practice of regularly praying or speaking with God at this point, so truth be told, that whisper was probably a bit more like a yell. I had been deaf to the voice of God for a long time, but I heard Him then. And I listened. I obeyed….

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Faith

For some time now (as in, the last two weeks), I have been reflecting, wondering, and praying over what my “word” for 2017 would be.

Now, I know choosing a word for the year is a very blog-y and social media thing, but I truly love the idea behind having a “theme” to help set your focus and intention for the year ahead. It can be hard to remember and to fully live according to that theme throughout the year, but it’s definitely something worth striving for.

Last year in 2016, my word was abide and I think it fit me well for where I was at this time last year. I was coming out of 2015, a year that completely changed my life from the losses of my maternal grandmother and aunt less than 48 hours apart to my decision to take my career in a new direction. I was in the midst of a season in which I felt the indescribable peace and joy of Jesus’ presence in my life so deeply and abiding in His undeniable presence and love in that season was such an incredibly beautiful place to be.

But as I’ve written in the past few weeks, I began to realize towards the end of 2016 that things start to look and feel different when you’ve “come out” of that immediate season of grief. While I certainly am not “over” the six losses that I experienced, the grief and the pain have gotten significantly easier. Now that life has returned to a sort of state of equilibrium, how then do I continue to root myself in God and abide in Him?…

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