Humble Beginnings/Restarts

I made a few decisions in the past year that I am not proud of. I negated the strong choices I made for my life as a youth and growing Christian. At that time, I was listening to the wise counsel around me and absorbing all that I could. But as I grew calloused to those words and my heart wasn’t being fed with Truth, I stepped away from those choices.

One of those choices came back around the other day and revealed to me how much of a hypocrite I was being. I knew I was but I didn’t want evidence to prove it. And there it was, in full color. Dang.

The past 9 months have been an insecure time for me. I didn’t like that I felt so alone and I also wasn’t trusting God with my future. Part of me figured I needed to go look for the man I was supposed to be with. The most stupid part of this was that if I hadn’t made the decision to go on the first date, a lot would have been avoided. The hurt, the insecurity, the pushing farther away from the only One who could heal my heart.

I remember giving tidbits to my dad as I explained how frustrated I was with my dating journey. I felt like I had let him down. He shrugged it off and said, “Ashley, I was praying for you, especially this season in your life. And I just felt like God was saying He was protecting you from a lot of men who didn’t have good intentions.” Part of me agreed, and part of me scoffed but boy, was he right! As he began to talk about his dreams for my future husband, the knot in my stomach tightened. “I can be happy without a guy..” I began, spouting off what I had already known but had yet to hear someone tell me as I pushed onto the path of “Do-it-myself.” Believe it or not, that was the moment I knew I was done with dating. No more playing with fire. I didn’t need it or these Bosos that kept trying to butt into my life.

So here I am, a humbled 22 year old girl, a little wiser, a little hurt. I found out someone I was seeing had a girlfriend – while we were dating. I immediately grew furious. Then I took a breather and said, “Wait. You lied more than he did. He didn’t fess up to the truth, but he mentioned and you ignored it. He asked if you were friends or more and you hesitated. You knew in your heart friends but you didn’t want to lose him if it wasn’t what he wanted. Once again, you changed yourself so someone else would like you. You’re the hypocrite. For saying you would stand tall and then crumbled when the actions called to be taken.”

I began to get discouraged. I felt like how I imagined Samson felt after he looked back at some of the stupid decisions he made. “I set myself apart for something better! I made God-honoring decisions to only throw them away later! How do I get that honor back? How do I stir up my hunger for God again when I feel like I have been so distant for so long?” I could have let the enemy defeat me right there but then I remembered something I read in Craig Groeschel’s book, Fight. (Later realized it’s a guys’ book, but hey, we’re all warriors. And it’s Craig Groeschel! Win win.) God graced Samson with his gift, even after every time he dishonored God. What does that tell me? That each time I turn back and say, “God, I was wrong. Those actions didn’t honor you and I don’t like what was in my heart. Please refine that part of me and make me more like you.” He gives me grace and mercy, erasing all memory of my mistakes and renewing my blessing and call to serve Him. One of Groeschel’s deep thoughts continued, “Samson gave into his emotions instead of God’s leading. He lunged after immediate gratification instead of obeying God. And he lost sight of his blind spots: which ultimately cost him his sight. (Judges 14:8-9) The only reason Samson kept making mistakes was because he kept going back to where he shouldn’t be.

 

So where are you supposed to be? Do you know?

I reflected on this for a while and remembered the vows I had made about how I wanted to live my life. I was in awe of how God protected me from it all but I didn’t know where to start taking steps back towards Him. So I picked up my Bible. I talked to God (even though it felt so hard!) I began to check out Christian books from the library, whatever I could get my hands on. I reached out to community groups in my church, to build a network of other believers around me. These decisions didn’t fall into my lap, they were steps I chose to make. Just like the ones I regretted, but these had passion and conviction behind them.

I hope my story encourages you. Those people who spoke wisdom into your life that you’re ignoring? Don’t ignore it. It will save you a lot of pain and time. Those vows you made? Stick to them. Even when they seem out-of-date with the choices everyone else around you is making. We get knocked down, but we get up again. Each day, God makes us new. The old is gone. The past is the past, but God is calling us to a higher standard. Christians = Christ-like, right? How are you reflecting Christ to others?

The Battle For My Heart

“He wanted to take your pride away. He wanted to put you to the test and know what was in your hearts. He wanted to see whether you would obey his commands.” ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭8:2‬ ‭NIRV‬‬

In every season of life God commissions us to guard our hearts and minds- an action we cannot do on our own. Our very next breath depends upon the strength of Christ. When we pull away from Christ, we feel the separation (whether subconsciously or physically) and the joy and light once held in our heart begins to dim.

All too often, we settle for what we feel satisfies us in the moment. While grieving the loss of a loved one I found myself searching for that love in a different capacity. This misplaced trust in myself and the choices I made only resulted in more hurt. This is a message to myself, a reminder of what I know in my heart but can lack the courage at time to act out at times. Take away from this what you will. 2016 has been a journey of healing and I hope to share with others who may be going through the same!

“The eyes of the Lord are toward the [uncompromisingly] righteous and His ears are open to their cry.. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their distress and troubles. The Lord is close to those who are of a broken heart.. Many evils confront the [consistently] righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. The Lord redeems the lives of His servants, and none of those who take refuge and trust in Him shall be condemned or held guilty.” Psalm‬ ‭34:15-19, 22‬

How did I become dissatisfied with a priceless gift that I did nothing to earn? I misplaced the essence of my identity. I began to trust the very fears I had fought through to follow my faith. God was relentlessly pursuing me, regardless that I was pulling away.

“..left the place where they belonged, they do whatever their instincts tell them so they bring about their own destruction. Trees in autumn that are doubly dead, pulled up by the roots.” Jude 1:6,10,12

So how do we keep fear from uprooting our faith?

“THE Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life; He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him–not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort meSurely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭23:1-4, 6‬ ‭AMP‬‬

I was rooting my identity in something entirely separate from his presence. I had been entertaining my wants, needs, and emotions but lost sight of my calling. Drawing close to the wisdom and comfort in His words, I tried to re-center. I needed to pull strength from the creator rather than from the relationships I was surrounding myself with. There is rest in His presence. Strength and courage to make the right choices. I couldn’t let His word soak in until conviction opened my eyes. In desperation I sought him, seeking comfort, and finding truth. Finally, a passage that mirrored how I saw myself and thought God saw me:

“There will be people who don’t take these things seriously anymore. They’ll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts. These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves. There’s nothing to them, no sign of the Spirit! But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of Jesus. This is the unending life, the real life!” Jude 1:19-25 NLT

Then it hit me.

Grace.

You can’t earn it, work for it, and you don’t deserve it.

 

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions – it is by grace that you have been saved. God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can burst.” Ephesians 2:4-9

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I knew I wasn’t making choices that glorified God. I wasn’t happy or proud of where I was at. But God still offered me everything. And I wanted to give my all to Him. So what was holding me back?

Selfishness. The dissatisfaction that undermined my hope and trust in Christ? It arrived because I took my focus off of Him and put it on myself. Rather than looking to the one who knows the future I said, “Where am I going? What am I doing to further myself?” Introspection is important but too often we over analyze till we deem ourselves the controller of our lives. As Christians, we have surrendered to Christ and his plan. My life is not my own.

As the Lord was working on my heart, a guest speaker shared a word the next day at church. He spoke about grace and I felt like I finally began to grasp the concept. Grace is given freely, a gift you were born with (through salvation, our inheritance) you chose when to unwrap it. How are you using that gift? Or are you simply waiting for the best time to unwrap it? There is no “perfect” time or season and even in the biggest successes, we still need grace.

He expanded further from the gift of grace and posed this question, “What are you doing with the little bit of heaven Christ has given you?” How are you using your worth, talents, and treasures? At the time, I had thrown them away, gave them to people who didn’t care. I mistook their company for commitment because I wanted to invest in others. No harm in that. Except when those “others” are tearing you down. I needed to give my everything to Christ and focus on that one relationship. I needed to heal and grieve, something I hadn’t let myself do. The wheels were turning in my head and my heart.

Where do I look when dissatisfaction undermines my hope and trust in Christ? How do I step out what my heart knows, but I lack the courage to act out?

“Yes, God is working in you to help you want to do what pleases him. Then he gives you the power to do it.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:13‬ ‭ICB‬‬

This takes surrendering your all to Christ. It took a lot of prayer and a few bruises to find myself back on my knees. I had to fight to get there, but I knew only in that place I would find my healing.

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:28-30‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Scripture after scripture, I clung to, standing firm through the highs and lows. It was not an easy fight but it wasn’t a fair one, either. God had already won. It was a matter of holding onto His victory.

“For I resolved to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus and Him crucified. And I was in (passed into a state of) weakness and fear. So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and has not entered into the heart of man, [all that] God has prepared (made and keeps ready) for those who love Him. Yet to us God has unveiled and revealed them by and through His Spirit, for the [Holy] Spirit searches diligently, exploring and examining everything, even sounding the profound and bottomless things of God [the things hidden and beyond man’s scrutiny]. For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord so as to guide and instruct Him and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:2-3, 5, 9-10, 16‬ ‭AMP‬‬

Christ has called us to bury the desire of our hearts and follow him. In Christ’s presence our hearts find worth, joy, peace, purpose. Let this last scripture be a call to action, your daily challenge to accept victory over the world through Christ.

“Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:43b, 57-58‬ ‭NLT

Still Waters Amidst the Chaos

 Grieving at any point in life is difficult. Only someone who has gone through it can accurately describe it. It’s like wading through a dark, swampy forest, longing for the sun to rise and burn off the thick fog you’re trying to escape from. You don’t know where the sun will rise but hope its different from any other time before. The memories comfort yet suffocate you. Searching for relief, you’re exhausted.

Recently, my grandfather passed away 3 weeks after he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The circumstances came and went like an unforeseen tragedy, leaving us drowning in the wake.

He was the first grandparent and father lost – just two weeks away from Thanksgiving. Not one person felt normal or complete. The season’s joyous spirit felt superficial at a time like this. Some eventually accepted this as the new reality and busied themselves, absorbing others’ Christmas cheer and attempting to pass it on. The rest were left seeking whatever could be found to keep the reality settling in their heart.

God urges and reminds us our choices (no matter how seemingly small) have a lasting impact on our future. What are you running to for fulfillment? What substance(s) are you using to drown your sorrows?

“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly.. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” Ecclesiastes‬ ‭2:1, 3, 10-15 ‭ESV‬‬

If it had not been for the prayer warriors hedging me in during my season of grieving or the friends that simply took the time to listen and invest in my heart; I would not be writing this. I too, sought outside fulfillment in my brief period of grief/denial.

Everyone grieves differently. Ecclesiastes 3 encourages us there is a time for everything. Weeping, praising, searching, mending, and stillness.

Many in this generation have become fixated on social media, often causing them to entertain the meaningless. Through some’s time of grief they may bury themselves in other’s lives, longing for their friends’ highlight reels midst their dark hour. Others are left pining for the love they lost, seeking from those not worthy to capture their heart. Both of these circumstances point to a haughty heart: one too proud to submit to Christ in their moment of weakness, fear, and hurt.

“Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is? You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:21-23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In every season, there are times to feel weak, angry, and sad, but in that storm Christ calls us to say: “Through it all, you are still good.” This is easier said then done. How do we focus on the still water when ensued by chaos?

Locked on Vulnerability

LockedA comment from my last post: “Yes, we act on insecurities and/or assume that others think like us – both self defeating in many instances. The key (I believe) is to keep an open heart. You are well on your way of figuring this out, it is never an easy path. I admire your introspection, honesty and openness on the topic. You are brave pioneer!”

How do we keep an open heart in a world that offers confusion and pain? If I wall myself up from everyone and everything, am I denying myself the opportunity to live life and the purpose of it?

These past few months have not been a walk in the park. Many changes have occurred and with a few around the corner, well, let’s just say they are crashing over me like a tidal wave and I’m being carried out to sea. While parts of being an adult feel natural, others areas leave me drowning.

A couple of months ago, the reason I moved to Chicago shifted gears. I knew I was no longer going to be along for the ride, but it was an awkward transition and I was hurt. I didn’t understand everything (nor did I need to) but when something that becomes so much of your identity leaves, you kind of feel like you’re walking around with a blank name tag. It was like I was walking around with “I don’t know who I am anymore” stamped on my forehead.

That’s when the “check heart priorities” light came on and I knew I needed to hit the floor. (figuratively, of course.)

You see, I had let my identity become something else other than God. I had every intention of honoring God in the ministry I was doing but I had shifted my focus off of Him. After this recent life change, I had allowed my heart to harden. Subconsciously, fear whispered, “You can’t trust working for a ministry. All people will ever do is take advantage of you. Working for a secular job would give you better pay anyways. They’ll respect who you are.”

When we begin to rely on ourselves because we feel we can no longer trust others, our focus has shifted. Having an open heart is not being dependent on yourself. Having an open heart is when you trust someone else with your heart and are secure enough in your own identity to love them anyway. I don’t know about you, but I am not that secure!

I do know someone who can protect my heart and never let me down, though.

God. 

Your Label Doesn’t Define Me.

A cute guy passed by me today. When we made eye contact, he spoke a smiling hello as he passed by. My heart stopped for a second and two things went through my mind: “he actually noticed me!” and “he probably notices the 4 kids in the stroller, too.” I nodded a shy, “hi” and returned his smile but walked away a little defeated.

Why had I assumed his impression of me was disappointing and let it hold me back? What was it that kept from flashing my pearly whites and returning a flirty smile?

Just as I was pondering my predicament I saw a man cross the street. His high buttoned collar, suit, tie, and big glasses immediately left me assuming he was a nerd. O U C H! We all crave to assign labels onto others. None of us are without fault! 

Who am I

Why are we so quick to judge? What’s the end goal?

Our desire to label and categorize each person we see displays how close minded we have become. How can we change that? After digging deep into why I was feeling this way, I realized it was rooted in insecurity. When I’m not grounded and standing firm in my beliefs, I tend to hold my real personality back.

The struggle begins where we allow our thoughts to go. I’ve recently started reading “Crashing the Chatterbox” by Steve Furtick, thanks to my good friend Cori, and the wisdom of scripture and perspective has radically reshaped how I spend my time and what thoughts consume me. Here are two highlights from the book that I’ll share in today’s blog:

                “When we allow our thoughts to go unchecked, a steady drip of lies cements the wrong patterns within our minds, building a Berlin Wall of bad beliefs.”

                “When lies are not confronted, callings are not fulfilled. How many contributions that God created you to make for His glory are still wrapped in your good intentions because they’ve been neutralized by spiritual hesitation?”

This book is full of lines that challenge and inspire you, saturated with thirst-quenching wisdom.  I don’t have all the answers but I do know that the more of God’s Word I drink in, the more of the world dispels from my thought life. What are we feeding ourselves? Is it negativity and judgement of others? Is it world-wide acceptance and oblivion? Or is it Wisdom and Love that encourages our true, special identity in Christ? 

In the opening story, my habit of judging others was projected on someone before I even met them. I automatically assumed they thought like I did. If my thinking was loving and open-minded, I could have made a friend that day. What is holding us back from our true potential?

Do you know how God, your creator, sees you?

How I Lost 30lbs Accidentally: Lifestyle Choices

Once I moved from overseas to America, I hit the gym as soon as I recovered from jet lag. My Mom became my personal trainer and I pushed through the frustration of re-gaining ground I had lost. 

When I set foot in Chicago on my own, I had no car and walked over a mile a day. Running up flights of stairs every day to catch a train took its own toll.  I made the resolution when I moved out on my own not to have junk food in the house because I saw the weakness I had towards mindlessly eating. Eating out was a rarity since my budget didn’t allow it and I purposefully chose low-in-fat recipes.

I accidentally lost weight by setting standards for myself. I didn’t intentionally workout and kept eating out to a minimum. It’s not a magic pill, it wasn’t easy, but it made ground that I was able to continue going harder after weight loss and the fit image I had for myself.

I am in control of what I put in my body. Choosing healthy foods to consume rather than eating out every week is a choice. I don’t eat organic but I always eat a home-cooked meal. Packing my lunches also keeps me from over-eating or over-indulging. It’s about the small steps. Working out keeps my body fit but eating well keeps me healthy.

  Once I discovered how much weight I was losing, I reconfigured my budget and joined a gym. During my consultation the physical trainer gave me the most haunting advice that I will never forget. “The fat on your body is from unhealthy, processed food you’ve consumed.” You know what that told me? I am responsible for what I put in my body. I am not controlled by what I eat. Or how I look. Or how I feel. Once the weather warmed up, I began to ride my bike to work, a 12 mile trek. That was hard at first but it soon became something I craved! Weight training at the gym continues to build the muscle I need and the cardio I do during the day provides the necessary exercise.

Waking early in the morning ensures I work out and making it a priority has been a huge lesson in discipline for me! I don’t work out to fit a size; I work out to stay fit and healthy. 

In my first post in this series I talked about how my mom was my inspiration to start losing weight. I had thoughts of insecurity and was upset about how my mom was going to be smaller than me. There is nothing wrong with that. The thought was a subconscious revelation of the jealousy I felt at how happy I saw my mom had become. She was no longer controlled by her desire for food, or to be skinny! She was simply living healthy and working towards being fit.

Going through photos of myself and discovering my journey through pictures was hard. We all love the before and afters but what about the durings? Seeing my low valleys and high mountain tops saddened me a little. It was hard to see and remember how I had felt: so uncomfortable in my own skin because I had already seen my potential. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to lose weight and accounted it to not being able to go to the gym.

If you’re just starting this journey or my story has inspired you to live a healthier lifestyle, take baby steps and stay firm.  Allow cheat days and if you’re not ready to go it alone, bring a friend! Most gyms allow guest passes and LA Fitness gives ten of your friends a two week membership at the gym for free! Don’t get discouraged and keep an accountability partner to kick your butt in gear when you fall a little off track. 

How I Lost 30lbs Accidentally: Photoshop Couldn’t Fix Me

After going from a size 14 to a 6 in less than a year, I started my Junior semester of High School in great shape. As my schedule filled, staying fit became less of a priority. Hanging out with friends every weekend resulted in junk food consumption and I slowly lost my ground. Every summer I’d hop back on the fitness train but it was never truly a priority.

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When I moved to South Africa for an internship, I couldn’t drive but was required to work out. I became inventive with what I could use to burn calories: volleyball, swimming, lifting bricks (I’m serious!) and what I absolutely despised: running. My commitment was on and off and I became bored and unmotivated. Discipline was dwindling and as the year drew to a close, I became more homesick. Homesickness resulted in snacking on popcorn and Nutella which resulted in a pretty significant weight gain.

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Working out at a gym every day during Christmas break, I developed habits and routines to help me stick to it when I went back overseas. Discipline began to decline once again 3 months in as I became busier and less active; I started to put weight back on again. This did nothing for my confidence. I could Photoshop my hardest for those photos on Facebook, but I couldn’t hide how gross I felt at times. I was craving an outlet of control and was using food verses working out.

Tune in next week to see how I accidentally lost 30 pounds and how I’m keeping it off!