Stress or Peace? Which Do You Prefer?

I can answer that question easily. I prefer peace. But lately I have been asking myself if I choose peace.

The last week has been stressful. I wish stress could adequately describe the extent of turmoil I have felt, but it does not. Stress takes both a physical and mental toll on me, and in turn it takes an emotional and spiritual toll. It begins in my head when my brain processes a stressful situation and soon it manifests itself with either a raging headache right in the center of my forehead or a stomach ache that makes even sitting down uncomfortable. It then turns emotional because it frustrates me (I tend to cry when I am frustrated and at my wits end), and then it turns spiritual because I can focus on nothing else except the stress. I cannot pray, I cannot read, I cannot journal.

My morning quiet time in the last week has been severely hampered by stress. One morning as I drank my coffee and reclined on my couch with my dog in my lap, I silently cried out to God, begging for focus, but within seconds my thoughts were on my stress once again.

Left with no other choice, I laid my thoughts out before the Lord. “God, I give You my thoughts…” But wait. Giving Him my thoughts and saying a prayer means…what? It requires an action, it means I am going to completely lay all my burdens at His feet in exchange for a few moments of peace.

And the moments of peace began when I lowered my walls and let Him in. It felt like every muscle in my body finally began to relax. Slow, yes, but still making progress. Fighting against the enemy’s discouragement telling me I have to solve all these problems, I had to keep talking to Jesus. In that moment of unfolding peace I had a realization about myself and Christ, and our relationship.

Here it is: I think many people who do not know me very well would say I tend to be a slow person—slow to speak, slow to act, slow to evaluate, slow to process, slow to respond. This is true, I can have an argument with someone that lasts days. But the people who know me well also know that I am action oriented. When there is a problem, I act. I compile my information, I draw up my plan, I execute. Well, in the early morning hours on a weekday there is not much I can do in the way of solving my own problems. And right then is when Jesus wanted my attention the most. I had to choose peace.

God has had me reading the book of Nehemiah lately. In the season I am in it has offered endless encouragement that I have clung to throughout every single day. But it has also taught me more about the power of prayer, and how most of the time it is meant to be the only tool in my arsenal for this season. It is difficult to take such a backseat to solving problems as my flesh wants to choose stress, but this morning I was brought into sweet communion with my Savior because that is what was needed most. It always is.

“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 2:4

Let prayer be your first line of defense today, and choose peace over your stress. I cannot tell you it is easy because it is not. But it is worth it. Challenge yourself in your prayers. Choose to pray for the least of these, choose to pray for your enemies, choose to keep the conversation going with your Savior. You will not be disappointed.

Longing for Security

I like to think I am not shy. I like to think that I know how to open up to people as long as I believe I can trust them. I like to think most everyone can be trusted with something of myself. I like to think I am not crazy for wanting to give people a chance (and in most cases, chance upon chance upon chance) and see the best in them even when they disappoint me.

But all of this requires one thing in order to flourish: security.

Now, security is something I have thought about on a near-constant basis over the last year. It is a need of mine to have security in my life—security in Christ, security in my salvation, security in my heart, security in my relationships. I have put every effort into providing security for those I love.

Security is an interesting need because until the last year I never knew it was valuable to me. But once I realized its worth it became one of my lone pursuits in all my relationships. Some relationships already had security built in, but others needed work. As I gave every ounce of energy and strength I had to foster security and stability, I began to analyze and question exactly what that means to me and exactly why I need it.

At the age of 23 (almost 24) I would say I know myself well. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I know when I am being honest with myself and when I am not. If someone were to put me in a hypothetical situation, I know my first answer or first solution to the problem would be one exhibits strength and resolution, but I also know if the hypothetical situation were to happen my response would likely be something different.

Example: If someone were to say, “Grace, what would you do if an earthquake hit right now?” My initial answer would be, “I would run for the closest door because I want to be outside, and if anyone is in my way I’ll run them over.” But in reality, if an earthquake were to hit, my reaction would be different. If it happened, my response would be to make sure everyone else is okay and stay with them even if it meant putting my own life in danger (that is the fighter and protector in me).

As if I have not led you down a rabbit hole with that whole anecdote, I will now continue with my original point. Back to what I was saying…ah, yes.

I believe security might mean something different for different people, but I know my own definition means that someone looks at me, takes in all my quirks and intricacies, all my soft and sensitive traits and all of my more rough and tough traits, and chooses to not necessarily accept me, but to give me a safe place where I can simply and unapologetically be me.

What does it mean to be yourself in the presence of others, you may ask. Let me try to explain it from experience.

There is a small pool of people I am completely comfortable around—when I do something weird, they never make me feel less than; when I ask my weird questions that pop into my head (I cannot even count the amount of weird questions I have asked in my life), they laugh about it without shunning me; when I need a moment to simply feel all of the crazy emotions in my heart and cry, they offer empathy and encouragement and, many times, silence without any judgment; and many more things. But it all fosters this desire to be comfortable with them because when I am comfortable with them, I trust them. And when I trust them, I listen to them, I go to great lengths to take care of them, I make sure I meet all their needs I am able to meet.

In the midst of a year filled with more pain and change than I felt I could handle, and in the midst of recovering, I have been examining why I need so much security. Is it because I am more of a softy and I need people to understand and appreciate that without taking advantage of it? Is it because I like to give others security so it makes sense to want it for myself? Or is it something deeper, something innate God has placed in my heart and soul?

I think the first two possibilities simply stem from the last one mentioned. God made me (and all His children) in a very special and unique fashion. While we are all the same in that we are human—we have bones and ligaments, organs and skin—we have different character qualities that make up who we truly are. God has graciously supplied me with security in His heart, and gifted me with redeemable love that is always readily offered even in the moments when I turn my nose up at it and walk away. He accepts me fully and as He has grown and matured me through the years. He has ushered in a unique relationship with Him where I can be completely honest with Him because I know His love is never based on anything I do or say. And because I have this amazing gift bestowed on me from His very heart, I know it is something that He desires me to have in other relationships. If security was not meant to be had in all my relationships, then He would not have led Paul to write 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is powerful, and with it we can either supply the ones we love with security, or we can unknowingly hurt them by refusing them security.

Choose wisely. Never be afraid to demand your need for security be met, and protect yourself when it is not. And when it comes time, do not let fear hold you back from being the child who runs full speed ahead to an unknown. God is watching you, securing you.

Two Months Too Long

When you have a passion for something, you want to do it as often as you can. It can make you feel safe and secure, it can make you feel like what you are going through matters, it can make you feel like someone, anyone, is listening to your words and bearing your burdens with you. And in the midst of difficult seasons, comfort brought by spending time doing something you love can be paramount.

My something? Writing.

By no means am I a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist or a New York Times bestselling author, but I know God gave me a way with written words. Throughout the past five years, writing has been such an intricate part of my identity and going without it for long periods of time—as I have done recently—feels like not being able to walk for weeks at a time. So here is a new post for you. I am committing to writing more often since I have missed out on much.

Thinking about what I wanted to write for this update has had me thinking off and on for the past week. I have pondered deep thoughts and shallow topics, and I always came away with the desire to simply be honest. So here goes: I am struggling.

No one can get to young adulthood without realizing that in life there are peaks and valleys, high mountaintops and low desert floors. And here is something I have learned about peaks and valleys in general: they look different for everyone. My struggles, what I am fighting through right now, may not be on anyone else’s list of valleys they have experienced. Nonetheless, here I am. And their mountaintops may not ever be mine. Nonetheless, they are standing high. But down at the core is the truth that everyone, no matter who they are, will experience highs and lows.

While I was on vacation in Gulf Shores in September, there was much going on not only in the United States but all around the world. Hurricane Harvey had just left a huge disaster scene in Houston and the surrounding areas, and Hurricane Irma was on its way to Florida after devastating parts of the Caribbean. There was a small chance my family and I would be in Irma’s path, but by the grace of God it did not turn west. Earthquakes devastated parts of Mexico and London was being attacked and nuclear war with North Korea loomed ever larger (and still does). Yet for one brief moment in time, my family and I were safe, unaffected.

Usually when my entire family is together I struggle to find quiet time to read or write in my journal or spend time in prayer, but I think on this trip God knew I needed some alone time with Him. Every day I woke up at the exact same time—7 a.m., 5 a.m. in California—and I would quietly walk downstairs, make my coffee and sit out on the deck. It was the perfect spot for me. The wind gently blew, the sun was still rising, the view of the street below and the ocean across the street. It was peaceful. In those moments I would reflect on everything in my heart, giving everything I could to Jesus and not holding anything back. One morning I woke up feeling discouraged, like the enemy had literally hung a dark cloud over me while I slept and I woke up feeling frustrated and angry, and even though I did not want to, I opened my Bible app. The verse of the day happened to be from Isaiah 40. Just following my thoughts, I opened the entire chapter and began to read. What a surprise that the title of the chapter in NKJV is “God’s People Are Comforted.”

In my life seasons I have learned so many things about myself, and every single season—whether it be characterized by mountaintops or valley floors—reveals more and more. The season of life I am in right now has taught me that I value honesty more than almost anything else, and I desperately need the comfort of security. I did not realize how much I desired these things until suddenly they were more rare than abundant in my life.

As I read the 40th chapter, I was truly comforted. (Just an honest moment about having a relationship with Jesus. It is not always easy like the pages out of a Christian fiction book. Living a faithful life has thrown me so many curve balls, and every time I find myself on the floor I have to remind myself that it is OKAY to be there for a little bit. God sees me, He hears me. And more important than anything He is comforting me, lovingly catching every tear that falls, and holding me as I endure pain and heartache. He never leaves me. And in my moments of torture, all I want is peace. I want to sing worship music in the hope that it will lighten my heart. I want to read my Bible because maybe it will distract me. I want to pray because then I have someone to talk to. But I would be lying if I said doing all of those things ALWAYS make me feel better. It does not. But on this day, though I had to fight my way through, I was comforted.)

The first five verses of this chapter talk about how Jerusalem is comforted by her warfare ending because Jesus will come. And Jerusalem will eventually be saved along with anyone else who desires to be. That is comfort in the truth of who God is! He is my Savior, my friend, my Father. He is the one who never leaves me, and always comforts me when I feel impossible to be comforted!

The last five verses speak of how great His understanding is. He KNOWS everything about me, and somehow He still loves me. I was on His mind when He went to the Cross and breathed His last while He endured immeasurable pain. He is everlasting, His love is everlasting. There is not one single thing I can do to outrun Him. There is not one single fault or chink in my armor He sees that would cause His love to falter.

Always in my quest to have peace, to heal, to grow, to learn, I come back to this truth: Jesus is my everything. He is everything I desire, everything I need, everything I could ever want. He loves me so unconditionally, and all of the things I desire to receive from other people (unconditional love, security, compassion, honesty) are already offered by Him.

Jesus loves me. I do not need to concern myself with anything else. It is hard to not be bothered, it is hard to outrun heartache and pain, it is hard to surrender to the emotion of the moment when I know there is a hurdle I have to jump over. But there is freedom on the other side of that hurdle, and the opportunity to rest before I get to the next one. Because guess what? God is going to be faithful for the next hurdle, too. It is not going to be painless, ever. But He understands. And He offers all His love and comfort.

Take it.

To My First Friend…

There is a quote that goes around on Facebook sometimes and it goes something like this: “Cherish your cousins because they were the first friends you ever had.”

While I have cousins and I believe this quote is true for many people, it is not true for me. The first friends I ever made were the two people who accepted me as their new little sister, albeit grudgingly on occasion. My siblings, Matthew and Chelsea, welcomed me with open arms, and sometimes it felt like we were the only ones we had.

But this post is about just one of them, as today, August 6, is her birthday.

Chelsea was my first friend in this entire world, and throughout the 23 years we have known each other our relationship has gone through peaks and valleys, and there were more than a few years where all we did was scream at each other—but she will never be replaced as my first friend and one of my best friends.

Chels, do you remember when we would be in the car for hours on end going all over Riverside and Redlands and Loma Linda and every other city in most of Riverside County for our paper routes? And remember how we would always have the radio on a country station? (You know, back when country was actually country and really good?) There was one song that we both really liked by Reba McEntire called “My Sister.” Whenever that song came on we would both get quiet and you would turn the radio up (even though Mom never liked the radio to go past a three on the volume scale) and we would listen to it. And my mind would go years into the future, imagining what we would be like and where we would live and what our relationship would look like.

The song tells the story of one sister calling another and leaving a voicemail. Honestly it is the type of voicemail I would leave you just to annoy you a little bit because I would intentionally just keep going on and on about random things. But at the end of the song, the last few lines reflect what our relationship looks like:

“It’s late and I should go,
But I can’t hang up the phone
Until I tell you what I don’t tell you enough
Even though at times it seemed
We were more like enemies
I’d do it all again
My sister, my friend”

These lines sum up our 23 years perfectly. There are times I feel like I could make way more of an effort and I fail, and there were days when I would pray that we could make it through just one day without fighting, but I would never change anything and I would gladly live my childhood and my teen years all over again.

So, you may be asking yourself why I am writing a long and (maybe a little) sappy post for your birthday. Well, first, because I am not there with you no matter how much I wish I was; second, I think words are powerful. To answer your question: I am writing because I hope to make you feel the depth of love and amount of respect I have for you, on this day, your 27th birthday.

Chelsea, you are the definition of a great sister. You are so gracious, so strong, so encouraging and so patient. I remember when I was afraid to talk to you when I was a teenager because I knew how smart and strong you were (and still are) and I did not want you to be disappointed in me about anything. If I was ever nervous to talk to you it was because I did not want you to think poorly of me or hear how stupid I was for doing or thinking something. Even though those words never left your mouth, your intelligence was always highly respected by me. You saw things and people in such a special and unique way, and it intimidated me. But I grew from having you as my sister, and you are easily the one person who has taught me way more than I thought was humanly possible.

Through your strength you taught me how to not only stand for something but to remain standing for it.

Through your love for people you taught me how to fight for them.

Through your humor you taught me how to have a good time and find humor in pretty much anything. (My friends now know that I will find something to laugh at when we watch movies…even if the movie is far from comedy.)

Through your determination and leadership you taught me that it is more valuable to be an example by being different than it is to simply be like everyone else.

Through your resilience you taught me that even a crippling disease should not and cannot keep you down for too long.

Through your intelligence you taught me that some people will not always know how to act or speak around you but that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Through your respectability you taught what a respectable life looks like.

Through your confidence you taught me how to be a confident woman even in moments of crisis and freaking out about the unpredictability of life, especially life as an adult.

Through your fearlessness you taught me that it is okay to take a leap of faith even when you do not know what is waiting for you when you land.

As you have gotten older, you have grown so much emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I have always looked up to you, but I think in recent years we have learned to look at each other as equals, a sort of looking to the side instead of looking up. I am proud to be your sister, and there are a billion other things about you that I appreciate. You have always been the epitome of what it means to live a determined yet quiet and respectable life even when it does not suit the people around you. And I appreciate how constant and consistent you have been as Chelsea, my sister.

God knew what He was doing when He created us to be complete opposites, which makes sense considering how long it took to figure each other out. But like the song goes, I would do it all over again—I would live every bit of our childhood all over again, as long as you were by my side.

You are and will always be my first friend.

I love you, sissy. Happy birthday!

Dear Dad…

When I was a little girl, I had a picture in my head of what my life would be like when I was older. In particular, I had a picture of what my car would look like: it would be small, purple, and have a “Daddy’s Girl” sticker on the back window.

Everything about my childhood screams “Daddy’s girl.” I spent about an hour yesterday looking through old family photos trying to find one that personified my relationship with my dad. I could not find just one; I found many. But they all had something in common: I was as close to my dad as I could get. Whether it was a picture of the entire family or just the two of us, I was never content to simply be near my dad. I needed to be as close as possible. So we have many pictures of me clinging to my dad’s hand or sitting on his shoulder or with my arms wrapped around his waist as I hid from the world around me. But as I went through all these photos, I started wondering why I always wanted to be as close as I could, and here’s my answer in the form of a letter to my dad.

Dear Dad,

I have been thinking all week about you. There are so many characteristics and traits you possess that I appreciate and admire and aspire to possess myself. But there is one thing that you have that I believe is unique: restraint.

Go with me for a second.

You have a very strong personality. No matter where you or what you are doing, you hold yourself in a way that says you are in charge. Some call it intimidation—I cannot even begin to tell you how many people have said to me that they do not understand how I talk so easily to you because you are so intimidating, they have even asked me if I am scared of you—but I call it respectable.

You practice restraint in so many areas of your life, and sometimes it feels like no other area requires as much restraint as your relationship with me.

Let me explain.

You are a strong personality. Normally people with strong personalities have the ability to make those around them feel as if they cannot be themselves, that they must do and say things that will please the strong personality they relate with. I do not believe this is always a bad thing, unless the strong personality realizes they have this capability and they begin to exploit it. That is besides the point, though. What I appreciate about you is you are a strong personality—as I have already pointed out quite a few times—yet you have never made anyone feel as if they need to change.

For me—your youngest and probably the most odd and free-spirited of your children—this restraint has been a gift. Early on you notice things about people, and I am positive that early on in my life you learned that I would need freedom to be myself. I would need smiles and laughter and almost a hands-off approach otherwise my aim would always be to please you. You did not want that for me, nor do you desire that for anyone you meet. Because you understand that at the end of the day, everyone has to lay down and be okay with who they are. No one has the ability to be okay with who they are when they are only focused on pleasing those around them.

Dad, you know I am a bit of a goofball. Very few things in this life make me laugh as much as annoying you. Remember last month when we took Mom to brunch for Mother’s Day, and while I was driving I was trying to hold your hand? It did not bother me that you did not want to hold my hand because I was having too much fun enjoying the moment! I have countless other memories like this one in my heart where I was free to be me even if it annoyed or bugged you. You knew and understood from the time I was a little girl that I needed you to let me find myself, and let me be the odd bird I have always been.

Dad, I know you probably will not want me to say this, but I am going to anyway: You are an example of Jesus to me.

What I mean by that is this:

One of my favorite qualities of the character of Jesus is His restraint. He was literally God in the bod, which means He had all of the immense power God has, yet He restrained Himself. When He was cleaning out the temple He could have done absolutely anything to teach everyone a lesson, but He restrained Himself, and today we all have a lesson we can learn about making His house a den of thieves.

God has fostered in you a massive amount of restraint, and with it has come confidence, strength, and high standards that you would like to see people live by yet a very low expectation of that desire becoming a reality. But that is the most effective way you love people. You give them the freedom to be themselves.

This is one reason why I always want(ed) to be close to you. Another reason is your protection.

When I was as close to you as possible I knew I would be safe from any harm. There was never a safer place in this world than your presence. And there still is not, really.

And one more reason: your humor. I get my silliness from your silliness, and my humor from your humor. There are very few places that exist in my life where my silliness comes out in full, but one of those few places is with you. No matter what I always know that even an hour spent with you is going to involve plenty of laughter.

Dad, I could spend hours talking about all of your extensive qualities and everything you have taught me, but I am choosing to simply tell you that I love you for everything you are and everything you have ever done for me. Thank you for giving me so many countless memories to love and cherish for the rest of my life. I hope I make you proud.

Now that I am 23 years old, I can tell you I do have a small car, but it is not purple nor does it have a “Daddy’s Girl” sticker on the back. But I can tell you this (warning, sappiness is ahead): “Daddy’s Girl” is and will always be written on my heart.

I love you, Dad!

Oh, Mom…

There is a song I like to listen to. It is called “Love Remains.”

If you listen to country music, you know who Lady Antebellum is. And if you know the names of the members, you know that Hilary Scott released a worship album with her family, and it is composed of old and new hymns and worship songs. And, you guessed it, “Love Remains” is on this album.

It makes me think of my family, the love my parents show me every day. But it also makes me think of my mom. The song begins by talking about how we are all born, and our parents react to seeing us for the first time: “Momma smiles, and Daddy cries.” The song goes on and talks about how a boy will grow up and take a bride: “She stands faithful, by his side.”

When I think about my 23 years on this earth and the constant presence of my mom, I can say I saw her do primarily two things: She smiled (at us and because of us) and she stood faithful (by my dad’s side and by our side).

Over the last couple of months, I thought of my dad a lot. He has so many characteristics and traits (hard working, loyal, sacrificial, consistent, loving, respectable, etc.) and he works hard to make sure his children possess those traits as well. But my mom…I cannot begin to tell you how many of her traits are amazing and precious, and how I desire to have those same traits.

If I could use only one adjective to describe both of my parents, I would say this:

Dad is consistent, but Mom is steady.

I can honestly say that she has been a steady and faithful foundation my entire life. While Dad had to go make sacrifices and take care of the family outside of the home, Mom was with us, providing everything we needed. She is the picture of steady love.

At this point, I just want to write something personal to my mom so I am going to change up this post a little bit, but keep reading.

Mom, I am thankful for our relationship. I remember being a teenager, and if there was ever something bothering me it was rare that I talked to you about it. I was Dad’s girl no matter what. I remember you asked me about it one Sunday on our way home from church. I remember where we were on the freeway (driving under the Nuevo Rd. overpass). I remember what car we were in (the truck). I remember where we were going (Sam’s Club). I had a bad day at church, and I was beyond frustrated, and instead of talking to you about it I chose to sit in the passenger seat and cry. I stared straight ahead and refused to be talked to. You got frustrated because I think I told you I only wanted to talk to Dad about what was bothering me. You were quiet after that. It occurred to me that it did not make much sense that I was not taking advantage of your listening ears or your heart of love, and it hurt you every time I preferred Dad over you. Somewhere in my heart that day I made a commitment to start talking to you more. Our relationship grew from that point forward, and now I am just as close to you as I am to Dad.

And now that I live on my own, the lessons you poured into me have taken root in whole new ways. Dad worked tirelessly (and still works tirelessly) to teach me and Matthew and Chelsea how to work hard and respect people and earn respect in return and defend ourselves and fight for what is right and prioritize others over ourselves and how to make sacrifices and be smart and be wise. He always taught with the right amount of love and strength so we would get it. But your lessons were so soft and subtle that I did not really put much thought to them until recently.

You taught me how to use my time wisely. If there is something that needs to be done and you have a few minutes to do it, get it done. You always told me, “The things you love, you will make time for them.”

You taught me how to plan and how to be wise with the gifts I have been given. Whether that gift is financial stability or time spent with people, it takes a certain amount of organization and wisdom to use them.

You taught me how to be faithful. You have never let me question how much you love me and how deep your love for me runs. And even in those moments when I think I might have reached the bottom of the deep love you possess, you always assure me that there is more to be found.

You taught me how to be quiet and let things play out. I bet if anyone who does not know you could use one word to describe you, it would be “quiet.” You are quiet by choice. You choose the right moment to speak and the right moment to keep your words to yourself, and so much of that wisdom comes from how well you know me.

You taught me how to fight (in all aspects where a fight is needed or required). I still think of how hard you had to fight for me against insurance companies and doctor’s offices, and if you had not fought who knows what my life would have turned out to be.

You taught me how to love in small and detailed ways. Everything you have ever done for me, it has stemmed from the detailed love you show me. You know me well and you taught me to show that same love to others.

You taught me how to cling to the Lord every day of my life, and you taught me that He will communicate with me in a personal way, a way He does not use with anyone else. I am special to Him, and that will show in every part of my relationship with Him.

Most of all, you taught me how to put my characteristics into action. You taught me how to get to know myself, and surrender my gifts to God so He could use them the best way He sees fit.

Mom, the song “Love Remains” makes me think of our family. If there is anything more difficult than being a parent to a toddler, I would think it is being a parent to an adult child. But I think you and Dad have done a good job always showing us that love remains. So for that and so much more, thank you.

Love in Action

Quick note about the picture above: I found a place of peace. A Japanese friendship garden. You could say it helped inspire me to write today.

Let’s get to it.

This one is going to be raw and vulnerable, pretty much a #honestyhour for me.

One thing I always notice about my writing—it is present in my personality and comes across in my relationships too—I can be quick to offer advice or wisdom or an opinion about something, but when it comes to living it out I fall short. I lack the application of my own two cents to my life and situations. Since this topic has been on my heart for about a week now I plan on writing a more in-depth post about it, but right now I want to simply share about myself.

Three separate times this week I was told that I intimidate people. I am generally a quiet person around people I do not know well. This does not necessarily mean I have nothing to say or I have nothing going on in my head; likely, the opposite is true. I take my time with everything, especially people and relationships. My natural desire is to know a person well by observing their actions. What are they doing? What do they believe? How does that faith come across in their relationships and interactions with others? with me? How do they spend their time when they do not have a schedule? Are they more laid back or are they more structured? Do they like to be in control or are they more suited to take the backseat and yield control to everyone else? And how do I better relate to each of those characteristics?

These are only a few of the questions I ask myself when I am around people, whether it be for the first time or the 100th time. They are important questions for me to have answers to because they determine how much I will be able to give of myself.

I give 100 percent, and most times I give even more than that, to the people who matter most to me. I pursue connection—deep, uninhibited, vulnerable, real connection—with people. It is who I am. But I find myself in a season of growth and reflection, a season where all I have is time to lay my heart bear at Jesus’s feet to ask Him examine it. I yearn to hear His voice, I yearn to know His reasons, I yearn to know how to please Him as an individual first and as someone special to another person second. This season is hard, and it is lonely. But it is in my loneliness where God meets me and wraps His arms around me and tells me everything is going to work out exactly how He wants it.

In this season, there is an opportunity to respond, to improve, to be better, to be stronger, to have an even softer heart. This is where the application comes in. The application is an opportunity to commit myself to a set of standards that are pleasing to the Lord. The application is an opportunity to take action and make improvements.

Where do I begin, where do I set my “Start” line? I think the apostle Paul had the right idea:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men (bold added), that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

I want to focus in on verse 22. Paul says he became “all things to all men.” In context, he is speaking about how he had to get down on the levels of all the people he talked to and formed friendships with in order that they would be saved, they would be won for Christ. What an example of love and selflessness!

(Normally I write my posts—an extension of my thoughts and content of my heart—in direct-address form, using the word “you.” This post is an even bigger part of my thoughts and heart right now, so I am writing in the form of a journal entry, simply writing about my life. It is part of the application step of life.)

When was the last time I could truly say I even tried to be all things to all people? The people I rely on most in this world, the small circle it is, do they feel I am all things to them? When they need a listener, not an advisor, is that what I give? When they need a hug, not a smack in the head, is that what I give? Do their hearts trust me? Do they feel closer to Christ when they are around me? Or do I pull them away from our precious Savior? Do I intimidate them into giving me what I want or need? Am I too selfish toward them?

If I asked myself these questions a year ago, two years ago, I would have said with probably a bit too much confidence (maybe a little sass) that even if I failed at doing this, I know I tried my hardest every single day. At the present moment, I do not have that same confidence. I can easily allow myself to spend a good amount of time on my high horse without evaluating my own actions, and there were a few good reasons why I stopped trying so fiercely to love those closest to me. It seemed like every day was an uphill battle and at the end of every day I was happy to simply lay in my bed and close my eyes. But the pain and the frustration turned my heart away from people. I ceased being all things to all people, or at least doing it to the best of my abilities and with the strength I know God lends.

The ultimate question: How can I get better? How can I commit to unconditionally loving all people in my life regardless of if it is given back to me?

First, I commit to relearning how to be a prayer warrior. Instead of being the first to have an opinion or a sassy remark, I will pray. If God tells me it is my place to speak, then I will speak.

Second, I commit to finding what someone truly needs and do my best to fulfill that need the way they deserve to have it fulfilled…not the way I see fit. For the ones in my life who are a bit more vocal, I will be their listener. For the ones in my life who are seeking counsel or wisdom or encouragement, I will do my best to offer those things. For the ones who want partnership, need someone to walk beside them through a storm, I will walk faithfully with them. For those who wish to reciprocate my efforts and be all things for me, I will graciously receive them.

Third, I vow to love as selflessly as I can. For love without action is not much in the grand scheme of things. People hold onto actions. When someone looks back on their life, they likely remember the actions done to them, not the words spoken. I hold onto actions. I will ask myself at the end of every day if my love for others was shown, not simply spoken. When they reflect back, will my actions be something they hold onto, will they state how much they appreciated it?

Fourth, I will give God control of all things, knowing He is sovereign and with Him there are absolutely no coincidences. Everything is for a reason.

I challenge you, my reader, to love selflessly. Evaluate and reflect. Are there areas in your life that need change, improvement, better effort? What small effort can you make for someone else today? Even if it seems impossible, and you think the action might go completely unnoticed, do it anyway. God sees it, sees you, sees your effort. He will honor your choice to love people and to be “all things to all men.” God has your back. Those small acts will pay off. And remember: There is something precious and amazing about someone who reaches across personality quirks and differences to better love another.

Just Be You

Disney movies are powerful. Yes, they can have negative effects at times, but if you look close enough you can find many hidden gems about relationships, individuality, strength and much more. I recently saw two Disney movies. The stories are on opposite ends of the Disney spectrum, but both spoke to me in the same manner about the same thing.

What is that thing? It is the power that comes when you are yourself and no one else. Individuality.

Back in December, I took my 4-year-old niece to see “Moana.” I like to think I have simple taste when it comes to movies, and most of the time I like watching kids’ movies more than a movie for my age group. As I sat in the small theatre in Texas, Moana’s story scrolled across the screen and pulled me in. I felt as if I was in Polynesia. As Moana struggled to find her own way and figure out what she was willing to risk in order to ensure her people’s survival, I realized I am a bit like her. She is brave and adventurous. She wants to make her family proud, but she feels torn between them and what she truly wants to do. She looked at her island dying around her and the food running out, she looked inside herself and heard the call to go find a way to help her island. (Yes, this is where the mysticism and magic components of almost all Disney stories come into play, but the gist of the movie remains the same.) She decides to set off, but she encounters the opinions and instructions and cultural standards and every other obstacle that could have come her way. Yet at the end of the day, she had to stay true to what she felt in her heart was right. She had to go and take a risk, a chance at success. Otherwise she would always be looking back, wondering what would have happened if she had listened to what she knew and believed to be true rather than what everyone wanted for her. (I will shamelessly admit I teared up quite a few times when I was watching this movie; it is somewhat emotional.) She was herself no matter the cost.

This past Sunday I saw another Disney movie, this time with my roommate. “Beauty and the Beast” is one of those classic Disney movies I had not watched when I was a child, and people always seemed genuinely shocked when I would divulge that little detail. (I did not grow up as a Disney kid, sue me. There are many other classic Disney movies I still have not seen, and I am not ashamed.) However, “Beauty and the Beast” is somewhat special because although I do not quite favor the old cartoon, I did love the stage version. When I was a sophomore in college, my best friend and I got dressed up and drove to Hollywood to see “Beauty and the Beast” live on stage, and it was amazing. So obviously I wanted to watch it in theatres since it was made into a live-action film. As soon as I saw the trailer however many months ago I added the movie to my list; I wanted to see it. And then it came out (no pun intended) that the film would have scenes depicting a homosexual lifestyle. Well, I decided to see it anyway; I am glad I did. Belle is portrayed as a fiercely loyal and loving woman, one who would much rather venture out into the world than settle down the way everyone thought she should. She desires more for herself than what everyone in her village was pursuing. She loves her father and sacrifices herself so he can be free in his old age. She is intelligent and loves to read. Even though she is living with the Beast, she never lets his horrible moods and cruel actions determine how she is going to feel or what she is going to do. She is also greatly misunderstood by the people who do not bother to look deeper into who she really is. But she never lets their opinions or criticisms stop her from being herself and doing what is right.

As I sat in this huge theatre on Sunday, watching Belle’s story play out on the equally huge screen, it struck me: People are drawn to Disney movies because almost every story line has a moment where the main character realizes they cannot do anything unless they are true to who they are. You can say these princesses were self-aware (the fancy term people use when they are amazed at how well you can evaluate yourself and your own life). Translated to the Christian life: You cannot do anything if you are not true to the person God created you to be.

Translating this into the present moment, why was I driven to write about this particular topic? Because it is important to know who you are as a person. I am not simply talking about knowing what you like and do not like (movies, music, values, hobbies, jobs, interests, political views and on and on and on). No, I am talking about the reasons behind each of those things. Okay, you like this genre of music and not another; why? You have this political view; why? What are the reasons, the deep reasons, you hold things in your heart? If you have a strong opinion about something, what is the reason?

Without knowing who you are, life is difficult. Without knowing the person Christ created you to be, you wander through jobs, relationships, churches looking for something or someone that is going to give you a purpose, make you feel fulfilled, make you feel on top of the world. And when you cannot find those things, you too easily move on without truly engaging.

Knowing who you are gives you wisdom. I could (and probably will) write an entire post just about wisdom in the future, but right now I will try to keep it basic.

Wisdom is security, wisdom is strength, wisdom is determination, wisdom is faith, wisdom is time. Operating with wisdom at the forefront of your thoughts and words and actions yields nothing but godly results. Wisdom can decide how a situation plays out, how your life plays out.

But what is wisdom’s opposite? Foolishness. I will give you some examples: when foolishness says to act harshly toward your friend who forgot to call you back and forgot about your plans, wisdom says to give them a chance to explain and forgive them; when foolishness says to give up when something gets difficult, wisdom says there is something bigger going on and control needs to be given to God alone; when foolishness says to make a spur-of-the-moment decision, wisdom says take your time.

In my last post, “Lasting Friendship,” I talked about selflessness, how all lasting friendships consist of two selfless people committed to looking out for the other person more than themselves. A huge amount of selflessness, though, can be attributed to knowing who you are and having the courage to simply be yourself. Moana and Belle both had joy in their lives because they knew at the end of the day they did what most people would never have the courage to do: They stayed true to who they knew they were.

Too often in this world we find reasons to compromise. We compromise on our ethics, values, beliefs, opinions, feelings because we encounter people and situations who tell us that what we believe, what we are pursuing, what we want, what we are praying for is not worth it. We take jobs we do not truly desire, we maintain friendships and relationships that only grate on our nerves, we decide to stay home when we do not have anyone to do anything with when really all we want is to be out. Knowing who we are gives us wisdom, which in turn gives us an expanded tool belt when working on lasting friendships. Knowing yourself also lends much self-respect and helps you respect others better. When you respect yourself, others will respect you.

There is something powerful and enchanting about someone who lives their life while staying true to who they are. (Maybe the magic in Disney movies is not anything mystical, rather the way they inspire viewers to simply be themselves.) They exhibit strength and determination different from the world around them. They have peace. They have hope for things everyone else fails to understand. They are the steady people who will walk with you through your storms. They are the people you want beside you.

I am not usually one who encourages people to be like Disney princesses, but be inspired by Moana and Belle. Let their characteristics and knowledge of who they are encourage you to do the same. And remember: The ones who truly love you simply want you to be yourself.

Lasting Friendship

What creates a lasting friendship?

These are my parents. I love them dearly. When you see a couple you do not know well smiling in a photo, it is easy to assume they are happy and enjoying their time with each other. Otherwise, why would they be smiling, right? But when it is a couple you know intimately, a couple you have seen experience extreme highs and lows, you do not simply see just their smiles; you see everything. You see their story written on their faces, you see the struggles that have been overcome in how close they hold each other, you see many years of laughter in the fine wrinkles around their eyes. It is a special connection you have with them that gives you a glimpse into a world most may never see.

Today is my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary. They have known each other since the sixth grade, when they were in the same class in small town Ohio. I realize I am blessed to be able to say my parents have stuck together through everything life could have thrown at them. Every time I get to tell someone how long my parents have been together, pride swells in my heart. It is rare to see people still in love after they see each other at their truly worst and truly best moments.

But there is something to learn here about friendship. Hence the reason why I am writing this. It is not necessarily a congratulatory letter of sorts to my parents on their anniversary. Rather It is about the many lessons I have learned about friendship from the 23 years of their marriage I have witnessed.

So I have a question: What creates a lasting friendship?

You likely already know that opposites tend to attract. There comes a time in your life when you really begin to evaluate yourself, you get to know yourself as a person. Understanding dawns when you realize what you are good at, what areas you need improvement, where you need accountability, where you need encouragement and what special characteristics you bring to the table. And as you see all of these things about yourself and they take deep root in your heart, the evaluation process begins again, this time of the people in your life. The characters in your family and friend group…suddenly their characteristics begin to show. And it becomes outrageously obvious: Everyone has at least one characteristic that is the opposite of what you have.

Differences tend to draw people together. There is something attractive, secure, impressive, amusing, frustrating, intriguing about the other side of a coin when you are used to your own side. Your side is familiar; it is what you know. So when you finally see the other side, it is refreshing.

But think for a second about the people in your life. There is likely a spectrum of people you interact with on a daily basis. Family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances. Usually in that pool of people there are those you get along with 99 percent of the time, and those you can only take in small doses. For those you can only take in small doses, there is a reason for that, perhaps even multiple reasons. And that is okay. But think about why your contrasts with some people are more disruptive with others.

Why does it seem like some people you click with, and some people there is nothing but conflict? If differences are supposed to draw you closer to people, and opposites are supposed to attract, why is it sometimes the hardest thing you can do to form a lasting friendship with those people?

It is at this point I would like to weigh in.

There is something to be said about selfless love. It takes a big amount of selflessness to be able to look at the differences you have with another person, and at the end of the day be able to say your affection for that person has not changed even though you do not agree with what they are doing. For the person who is my best friend, I want to know I can rely on them to love me even when they do not agree with me. I want to know even if I am a complicated person to understand they will still make a solid effort to understand me, and at the end of the day remind me that nothing I do will ever change how they feel about me.

I look at my closest friends and family members, and there are many I would say I am close to. They know me well, and when I do things that worry them or grieve them or make them proud, it never changes how they feel about me.

For example, on the surface and even deep down, my sister and I could not be more opposite. Yet we have a close relationship because we respect our differences and love each other anyway.

The same principles for friendship can be applied to marriage. Marriage is meant to be a friendship that lasts a lifetime. And it takes a huge ability and a certain measurable determination to be selfless—to constantly lay down what you want and need in order to take up what the other person wants and needs—to make a friendship last.

And the most amazing thing that happens when you choose to be selfless in your friendships? The ones who receive your selfless love are better able to return that selfless love back to you. When you truly look out for the other person more than you look out for yourself, it opens you up to the truest form of love that two humans can experience outside of the eternal love they receive from Christ.

So be selfless in your friendships. Listen to what people are saying. Love them for who they are, not what they do. And never let them doubt how much you love them. Christ set the example for friendship when He died on the cross. Follow His example, selflessly sacrificing out of love.

“Friendship without sacrifice is no friendship at all.” —David Jeremiah

We’re all Judas at some point

“The word of God is living and active…” Hebrews 4:12a

In recent weeks, I have noticed something. The early morning hours, when everything is quiet, the sun has not yet risen and the street lights outside my window are still glowing, are some of the best times to seek the Lord and spend time with Him. Lately when I come to Him it is out of a desperate need for peace and direction. And it is in the quiet moments when He shows me something I need to know rather than something I want to know. Continue reading “We’re all Judas at some point”