God Knows His Characters

Ever stop to think about how well God truly knows you?

Just like the author He is, God has woven a character sketch for every single one of His kids. He knows the ins and outs of our hearts more than well enough. He sees us for who we are, and with all our flaws and pain and scars and joy and triumphs He still loves us. While I know there is pain associated with not mattering nearly enough to other people, that is never the feeling I get from my heavenly Father. He loves me well and I cling to Joshua 1:9 knowing He has written my story, created my character sketch and composed my heart to reflect Him as I walk forward.

There are certain things I need and crave in my relationships. One item at the top of my list is the need to be known, understood, cared for.

To be known is to be able to trust another person with my struggles, with my goofs and corks, with my weird thoughts, with my dreams, with my plans to achieve those dreams. To be known is to be loved. To be known is to hear the words, “I love you just as you are,” and to see those words backed up by actions. To be known is to discern someone has pure intentions toward my heart.

To be understood is to have someone not necessarily agree with me or everything I do; rather it’s about knowing they are trying to agree. Trying doesn’t mean there will be success, it simply means they are putting their best foot forward with pure intention, to let you know that they’re willing to sacrifice their own opinions to understand yours.

To be cared for is to foster true respect and honesty. To be cared for is to be observed to find more and more things to cherish, rather than things that can be used. To care is to give the other person the assurance they are safe.

These are the reasons why I’m happy to be writing this post. God has been teaching me a lot about courage in these areas, and how sometimes the smallest things require the most courage.

Because I so desire to be known by other people, I’m coming to learn that it’s far better to know I’m known by God…and He cares for me infinitely and understands me better than anyone ever could. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter if no one else in the world knows me or understands my heart. Rather it’s become far more important to believe with my all that God loves me completely and unconditionally. And He’s been using a truth found in an Old Testament story to solidify this in my head.

There’s one place in the Bible we can go to and see the words courage and strength multiple times in the same passage. And that’s the first two chapters of Joshua.

Joshua 1:9­—Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

If I’m not careful I tend to think of the Old Testament as if it’s not valuable, at least not as much as the New. So earlier this week I was reading Joshua 1 and it hit me: Perhaps I think there is nothing left to learn from the Old Testament because all the answers in each story have been given. There’s little left to the imagination.

We know God supplied a ram to take Isaac’s place on the altar. We know Ruth and Boaz ended up falling in love and being some of the ancestors of Jesus’ line. There’s so much we know from the stories of the Old Testament that I forget to examine it with a student’s heart.

Joshua challenged me. Because just in the first nine verses alone God shows His heart for the Israelites’ new leader. He repeatedly tells him to be strong and have courage. And throughout the rest of the chapter and on into the second, as Rahab makes her first appearance, He is showing just how well He knows Joshua. He repeatedly offers the encouragement to Joshua’s heart he needs in every single moment.

This encouraged me. It made me realize that I get carried away with the desire to feel like I matter to people, and the subsequent heartbreak when I don’t feel like I’m enough for them. But that’s the completely wrong perspective to have. God loves me and meets all my needs by reminding me to be strong and have courage, to start and end each day with the knowledge that God knows and understands me when no one else does.

Here’s something I’ve done this week to remind myself God knows me and all the other characters He has created: He met my need to be strong and have courage as I had to make a tough decision not long ago. He assured me He was already at, and even past, the hurdle I couldn’t even approach yet. I just had to trust Him.

What can you do this week to remind yourself that God knows and understands you well? Is there something you’re holding back from doing because you’re afraid or fearful? How can you challenge yourself to take action knowing God is already there, even past it?

He Proves His Faithfulness

“Everything’s okay. God’s timing is always the best. He’ll make it all work together.”

Perhaps you’ve had these words said to you. Perhaps you’ve been the one saying them. Regardless of the circumstances or your role in them, these words don’t always provide the assurance needed. At least they don’t for me.

But the moments when things are chaotic and don’t make sense…those are the moments when God is orchestrating everything just to give me a boost of faith right when I need it most.

And there is so much evidence of this being the truth.

I’ll share some examples of this from my own life to show this to be true. There’s no better story than the one you can share with kindred spirits. And there’s power in experiencing similar details that simply prove God is at work.

I’m part of a small group that meets every week. We are studying the book of Esther right now—a book famous not only because it’s main character is a woman but also because God does not play a direct role in the story. He remains behind the scenes. Esther contains gems about integrity, standing up for what’s right, not compromising and the power relationships have.

In my own quiet time in the mornings, I am studying the Armor of God. This week in particular has been about the shield of faith, how it’s meant to be a shield not only for myself but for others as well (as the shield of a Roman soldier could cover himself and one-third of a fellow soldier).

And in the last couple of months alone, God has placed people in my heart and my life to trust and treat well. It’s been like watching the book of Esther and the Armor of God come to active and fruitful life all the time.

The common thread here is relationships. As I get older and learn more and experience more of life, I become more convinced every day that God uses people in profound ways in the lives of others. And things seem so genuinely unrelated—until they don’t, until you have that feeling in your chest or your gut, that lightbulb moment telling you it all makes sense now.

That’s God. That’s His faithfulness being proved to You.

The knowledge that He remains faithful in the midst of so much turmoil is evident when happenstances that seem so unrelated suddenly start to morph into one single tapestry—like a 750-piece puzzle coming together.

One day I can be wallowing in every kind of bad or negative thought about myself, and the next day God has me talk to someone who is struggling the exact same way. When I want so badly to take the plunge, to face a fear, and I find every excuse to back out, I’ll end up reading a testimony about overcoming fear, or I’ll open my Bible app and the verse of the day will be about fearlessness. Or one night I’m recalling some painful parts of my story for the benefit of another and the next day they let me know God used that honesty to minister to them.

It’s difficult to explain the full feeling I get when I know God is walking me through this life. Because it’s not easy and it doesn’t always feel good. Because staying faithful to Him is the hardest thing I have to do every single day. Because at the end of the day it’s still difficult to have faith in a God I can’t see.

At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to be fearless. I decided that if anything ever held me back from following where God is leading me, it wouldn’t be fear. (I’ve shared this commitment on my Instagram previously.) Not long after I made this commitment, I started to get the sense that something big was coming—bigger than I would be capable of wrapping my head around. And that feeling is already starting to materialize. In very small ways, but still materializing.

And just to get to this point of seeing the smallest bit of materializing blessings I had to endure a season on empty.

And thank God I did.

God took my heart, hearing all my cries for a full life. He answered those cries by filling my heart with Himself and giving me new desires, new dreams, new goals to accomplish. And He’s proved His faithfulness time and time again every day since.

Those words I mentioned at the beginning of this post…they don’t always offer peace, but they do offer a glimpse of reality when it doesn’t make sense. Because God is truly and faithfully working things out.

Faith That Stands

I think it’s normal for a young person to adopt Jeremiah 29:11 as their favorite or life verse. I was no different. Until I got to college. My life verse then changed to something a bit unexpected, but it has proven true in every huge moment in my life.

Hebrews 10:23—“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

This verse was written in gold letters on my graduation cap in 2015. And it has been written in ink across my left shoulder since this time last year.

When I got “He who promised is faithful” permanently written on my body, it simply seemed like the right thing to do. Obviously, it’s my favorite verse and I already know God is faithful and keeps His promises, so why not write it down where it can’t be erased? Well, a year later, I now better understand my reason for wanting the tattoo and I know His faithfulness in a whole new way.

Let me explain.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents are both strong Christians and they did everything they could to teach me and my siblings what it means and looks like to follow Christ, have faith in Him, love Him as He first loved us. I took to faith early on in life and it became real for me when I was around 14 years old. Suddenly the old beat up Bible on the shelf that was designated as mine was interesting. Suddenly the words written there were worth reading, the verses worth memorizing and writing down on pieces of paper, sticking them all over my bedroom walls and door. Suddenly prayer was something that came naturally to me. Suddenly I enjoyed going to church for more reasons than the mere fact that I would see friends there.

Time advanced. I grew older. My relationship with Christ grew deeper. I noticed that the world I live in can cause a lot of damage to that precious relationship. I knew I would have to protect it if I wanted it to survive. Scripture (find the right Scriptures) told me faith was the key to everything. Life, with all its challenges and joy and sorrow and happiness and tears, would not make sense without faith in Christ to carry me through.

I went so long without much of a challenge, I got lazy, naively believing that I was untouchable. And then college started. College held the most challenges I had encountered up until that point. I had to learn to be strong and faithful. And through the challenges I learned more about myself, about my Savior and about our relationship. And I knew instinctively from that point on that I wouldn’t be happy in life unless I could somehow combine the importance of my faith with everything else—career, family, relationships, etc.

It had to be the center of my life, the center of everything. Without it, I would be lost.

After graduating I learned that college was easy compared to the real world. During my season of being a recent graduate with next to no real prospects on the job front, I would sit in my room with my Bible open and think, Wow, things are certainly never going to get easier, that’s for sure.

Over the last nearly three years since graduating, God has allowed many different challenges to intersect my path. And these challenges…currently I’m having a hard time believing that anything could top them. It scares me to believe that someday I will endure deeper heartache and pain. So the question I am asking right now is this: How do I strengthen my faith and rely on God, whom I should have faith in, when I feel like I don’t have any faith left? And where does this leave me?

Something I need to keep in mind is there isn’t any way I can know what God is doing right now, or what He had in mind when every single trial began. Furthermore, there’s no way He fell asleep on the job. He didn’t get tired and take His eyes off of me and then suddenly couldn’t find me. And even more important than that, He would never want me to deny the range of emotions and feelings I have right now or the reality that none of them make perfect, complete sense to me all the time. I need to remember that honesty with Him is and will always be important.

So what is my reality right now? The feeling that the deep and abiding relationship I have with Christ is not nearly as potent as it should be. Why? Because I am having a hard time trusting Him. This is a tough conundrum to have because where faith is, usually trust is close by. But while I believe and have faith that Jesus is real, that He came to die for my sins, was buried, rose again, ascended to heaven and is coming back again, I am having a hard time trusting Him with myself.

Now it’s not a matter of believing He hasn’t proved Himself to be trustworthy; He always has, always does, always will. It’s more about the current circumstances I find myself in, the reality that the feelings brimming over in my heart, are so intense and telling me that I need to keep everything close to the chest, even from God.

I am having a hard time believing that He can heal me and redeem me.

As I write this, though, I have come to a few realizations:

  1. God started the redemption process in me a long time ago, and even when I don’t feel it, He’s redeeming me.
  2. For someone who enjoys depending on feelings, it’s hard for me to have faith when faith has no feeling. This is the second season in my life where faith has felt particularly difficult, all because the strong feelings from the previous joyful season have faded and difficulty has taken its place.
  3. When trust is difficult, you have to keep trying and doing it anyway. In the last five months I have had so many new relationships take root in my heart and each one of them has served a huge God-purpose in my story. Without me even realizing when it’s happening or even how it’s happening, God uses multiple people throughout my day to encourage me, to show me that I can trust them, I can trust HIM. After all, He has brought all of these amazing, strong, Godly women into my circle.
  4. Telling my story for the benefit of another is relieving. Multiple times in the last month God has presented numerous opportunities to share my story or simply be honest about something, and every single time the answer has been, “I’m going through that too.” What better way is there for me to work on my trust in God than allowing Him to remind me I’m not alone? What the enemy used to isolate me, God is using to build a community of trust, revealing a bit more of His grand purpose for me every day.

So my conclusion is this: Faith doesn’t always bring good feelings, just like the process of getting a tattoo. Sometimes I’m genuinely down about something, genuinely can’t shake off the funk I’m in, genuinely worried about someone, genuinely trying my hardest to pray with faith, and it’s hard to do. But this feeling of having such frail faith isn’t going to last forever, just like the pain of getting a tattoo is temporary. God continues to teach me these trials and frustrations will make my faith even stronger for tomorrow. And at the end of the day, I have stronger faith and a beautiful reminder of it. Though the trials ahead I’m sure will only get harder as I get older, that’s okay. Because my faith stands.

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.