a post for 5 years || recovery

On the 13th of this month, I’ll be 5 years in recovery – a milestone that, in the moments leading up to that day, has me reflecting & so eager to write. I’m almost 5 years in recovery from an eating disorder that had me believing I wouldn’t even get to 1 year. The mere idea of being 5 years in recovery sends my emotions in all different directions, but mostly, it fills me with a kind of joy that I can’t quite articulate. Out of everything in life, I am most proud of this.

Everything that I am able to do today, I am able to do it because of recovery. That is what makes this such an important milestone in my life. That is why I can’t help but celebrate the 13 of every month, but especially, the 13th of February. The things I do today would not be possible without the health and strength that I have gained, both mentally and physically, in recovery, and that is something I know to never take for granted.

Nearing 5 years in recovery means that for 5 years now, I’ve been not only battling but overcoming a mental illness that had one goal, and that goal was basically to take control of my life until there was no life left to control. Its goal was to make me miserable, which, when I was in the very depths of the disorder, it did succeed at. It succeeded at destroying the joy that I am normally filled with. But it didn’t fully succeed. If that had been the case, I wouldn’t be here writing this post today. Praise & glory to God for that.

Every time I write or talk about this part of my life, my goal is to be as raw, honest, and vulnerable as I can be. Those are three things that I try to be each time I post on this blog or on my social media about recovery, because it’s important to me to show people who are still struggling, or people who are just beginning recovery, that recovery is not a perfect thing, by any means, but that it is possible. It’s important to me to let people know that you can recover and reach the goals and dreams that I know you all have. Is it still a little anxiety-provoking to share about something so personal on social media? Of course it is (I’m human!) But if we do not talk about it and normalize talking about it, the stigmas that exist surrounding mental illness will remain; people are less likely to seek help because of those stigmas, and they are more likely to feel alone. I for one do not want anybody who is struggling with an eating disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, to feel alone, because you most definitely are not.

I was diagnosed with my eating disorder back when I was a freshman in high school, and I remember it vividly, because I had had pneumonia prior to being diagnosed. I lost a good amount of weight because I was so sick from the pneumonia, and I didn’t end up gaining back thar weight the way that I should have after recovering from pneumonia. In addition to this, my eating didn’t go back to ‘normal’ after I no longer had the illness, so, those were the first indicators to my parents and doctor that something was not right with me. When I was in the depths of the disorder, I came close to being sent to North Carolina for inpatient treatment, but I ended up doing intensive outpatient treatment. The affects that the disorder had on my physical health, such as my blood pressure and heart rate, and having passed out in school, were all very clear indicators that inpatient or outpatient was needed, and it needed to be intense. I did this outpatient treatment for about 3 years – I had a dietitian who I saw every other week, my pediatrician (at the time) who I saw once a month, a psychologist I saw every week (after going through like, 5 of them before finding the right fit – don’t panic if the first once you see is not a good fit, it takes time). Along with my 3 doctors, I attended group therapy each week that I could. It was definitely an overwhelming amount of appointments for a high school student as I was, but all of it was essential, and I knew that, even on the days I wanted nothing more than to skip them. While I no longer see these doctors, they contributed so much to saving my health, and I am grateful, and will likely never stop expressing my gratitude to them. *Never, ever, ever feel ashamed for seeking professional help – they are amazing & can help save your life.

I was 15 years old when I was diagnosed. I’ll be 21 next weekend, and I am in a great place – a place I most definitely never in a million years pictured myself, but a place I’m so thankful to be in. I have so many people, including myself, to thank for that. I attend what is the most amazing university, have incredible friends, a loving & supportive family, a church I love to pieces (a lot of churches, actually – they all rock). I am so very happy.

I don’t struggle with anorexia anymore, but for the sake of this post being honest & vulnerable, some days, yes – I do have to work a little harder at recovery than other days, and I am learning that that is okay. This is a process; a journey. And no journey in life, whatever it may be, is perfect or smooth sailing all of the time. There will always be bumps and twists and turns, and we just have to keep trekking when we get knocked down or have setbacks.

A very important part of this post to me was to note, for those struggling, that even being years in recovery, it is still something you will find yourself thinking about and having to work at. While I do not suffer from the disorder itself anymore, some days, life happens and I have to actively remind myself of my recovery and be more intentional about staying healthy. Again, that is okay if you have to do that. It doesn’t make you weak or any less worthy of saying that you are in recovery. When you’re in recovery, you get to know yourself really well and you realize quickly what triggers there are out there for you, what you need to do when you find yourself in the face of them, and what outlets help you when you’re struggling. Those are skills & tools you’ll learn & take with you forever. I myself still work on this to this day. For example, stress still can be a really big trigger for me – it is easy for me to resort to not eating when I am stressed as a way to cope, but because stress is everywhere, I’ve had lots of practice using those tools I’ve gained in recovery as coping mechanisms – they are my outlets, and I highly recommend figuring out yours, because they help so, so much. With that, I’ve learned that the bad days, and sometimes, bad weeks, where you find yourself struggling and having to work a little harder at recovery, you are only made stronger by, because those days remind us that even when we struggle, we are still choosing health over the disease.

I like to say, it is one hell of a mental illness to fight. But I’ve found that I am one hell of gal for fighting it, and beating it. 😉

Recovery is a very beautiful & very difficult thing. But gosh am I thankful to be almost 5 years. I will most definitely be celebrating with a milkshake + my favorite meals (lol).

It’s cool – I actually love food. I love food, I love my body, & I altogether love my energetic little self. There was a point (many different points) in my life where I never thought I would ever be able to say those things and actually mean them. So that’s huge to be in that place I never thought I could be (anything’s possible, right?) If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with peanut butter m&ms and that you will never find me without a family size bag of them in my pantry. I also love chicken nuggets and eat them arguably more often than a 5 year old does. I love to see all of the things that my body is capable of doing. Every run & every hike – those hills I run and those mountains I climb. The sermons I write and preach. The blog posts I write, the exams I take, the homework I do, the food I eat, the drinks I drink, the friends I am able to go out & have fun with. All of those things sort of disappeared as I battled with anorexia.

But today, all of those things above are true in my life because of recovery. I am so proud & thankful, because I love doing all of those things. (Taking exams & doing homework, aside, of course).

To me, recovery is a lot of things. Recovery will be a lot of different things to different people. But one thing that is the same for every one is that recovery is worth it & YOU are worth recovery.

By writing about this journey of mine, my hope is that it lets people, even if it’s just one person, know that they are not alone; that they are not the only ones going through this, though they will most definitely feel as though they are at times. I want you, reading this today, to know that if you are struggling, I understand that feeling, as though you are alone. & I understand what you are going through right now. I want you to know that overcoming this disorder is possible, because I did it, and as cliche as it sounds, if I can, you can, too. If you, right now, are in the depths of an eating disorder, or if you are just now beginning recovery, it is possible to get to a place where you love your body and love food, and think about both of those things in healthy ways. It is possible to get to a place where you can look in the mirror and love the person staring back at you. It’s possible to get to a place where you’re not obsessed with your weight, the number of calories you eat, and to a place where you don’t have anxiety at the mere thought of eating. You, my friend, can do this. My prayer is that every man or woman reading this today who is struggling with a mental illness of any kind, will take that truth away from this post, if nothing else.

Finally, I couldn’t write this post without thanking the people in my life who may be reading this, and have played a role in supporting me these past 5 years, in recovery and in life. To those who have helped me get healthy, and have helped me remain healthy, you have no idea the impact that you have made. A huge to the moon & back thank you to my parents (because I know they’ll read this) for being by my side since day 1 of my life, but also since day 1 of my recovery. Thank you for putting up with me (lol), and loving me an annoyingly large (but sweet) amount, as parents should.

To my friends, whole family, my church(es), mentors, pastors, high school teachers, college professors,

Thank you for genuinely caring about me and my progress in recovery. Thank you for loving me even back when I could not have hated myself more. Thank you for always being there to listen to me, whether I was in need of someone to talk to or cry to. Thank you to the people who were there to hold me as I straight up ugly cried in their arms during the worst & darkest moments back towards the beginning of recovery; the moments where I thought that it was absolutely impossible to recover and be happy again. Thank you for sitting with me and being a calm presence, whether you understood what I was going through or not, whether you knew what to say to me or not. Your presence meant and continues to mean more to me than you know. Thank you for never once looking down on me for the disorder I was battling, and instead, loving me through it and remaining by my side through the pitfalls and triumphs, to this day. I could never do recovery, college, ministry, or life in general without you people who have constantly been behind & beside me. Also, quick shout out to the DCOM (even though the odds of them seeing this are slim). When I was in my certification interview for candidacy last month, my history with an eating disorder did come up as it was noted on my psych eval, so, we talked about that, and when I mentioned that I was going to be 5 years in recovery this month, every pastor & lay person in that room interviewing me said “wow, congratulations” and that meant everything to me. It was meaningful to me because pursuing ministry is one of the most important things in my heart, but also, because it reminded me of the fact that no church leader is perfect I am no exception; I don’t need to be perfect to be a church leader and neither does anybody else. It’s impossible. We all carry with us baggage and things to work on. That’s why we need God and his grace, amen? So, to end the post, of course a big thank you to God.

Thanks, God, for giving me every ounce of strength that I have needed to kick the crap out of anorexia. I love ya so much & promise to always dedicate my life to serving you with the little powerhouse of a body you’ve given me. This is part of my story and it’s not something I’ll ever choose to hide, rather, another tool I’m able to use to minister to my brothers & sisters in Christ.

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A Response to John Piper

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard or are aware of John Piper’s most recent podcast about whether or not women should be professors at seminaries. There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding this podcast, and though it may be needless to say, that discussion has not been very positive, nor has it been in support of his stance, rather, the discussion has been in resistance, against his stance. This post that I am writing today is not going to be a “letter to” John Piper, nor is it going to be a list of all reasons as to why I think that he is wrong (although, I do 100% believe that he is wrong). If I’m being completely honest, people like him don’t deserve my energy or finger muscles, at least not right now when I have a sermon to write and then preach on Sunday 😉

I do know full well what it is like to put my energy into debating with people about what women “can” and “cannot” do, and if I’m being honest, I’m sick of feeling as though it is my responsibility to explain to these ignorant men, why my call from God is just as legitimate as any other call. So, this post is more of a response based, not on how listening to this theological disaster of a podcast made me feel, rather, a response on how to move forward, as well as a sincere thank you to the men out there who hold to a egalitarian view, and strive each day to make room for women’s voices when people like Piper try to take them away. I want this response to be one where I thank the men who constantly strive for our equality, and I want to thank, indirectly (and at some point directly), all of the men in my own life who truly give me hope, that the destructive beliefs like the ones Piper preaches so often, will not last forever; not so long as men like you all step up, speak up, and make room for us women at the table, acknowledging that when women aren’t being heard, half the body of Christ is not being heard. God’s love is what will last forever, and these beliefs, I cannot help but write, are not God’s love. In fact, I can’t sit here and believe for one second that trying to prohibit women from doing what God has called them to do, whether teach, preach, or anything else, does not absolutely tear God’s heart right up.

So, without further ado, Piper’s article/podcast is linked here.

If you want to spare your ear drums (and sanity), I’ll give a short summary:

Piper states that it is as unbiblical for women to be professors at seminaries, as it is unbiblical for women to be pastors. Piper quotes the infamous 1 Timothy 2:12 passage, while neglecting its context completely, while reminding us that it is unbiblical for a woman to have authority over a male, whether in preaching or teaching (and probably more than that, which they just have not admitted yet). Piper uses the matter of mentorship as part of his argument – women cannot train pastors (i.e by teaching theological courses at seminaries) if they cannot even be a pastor themselves. Piper’s (and many others’) stance on this is that women should mentor women, and men should mentor men. This is all a very complementarian view, which, if you are unfamiliar with the term, in a nutshell means that women and men have separate roles in the Church, in marriage, etc. I’m sure you could guess this, but the answer, in Piper’s opinion, is no – women should not be professors at seminaries.

People were very shocked by this podcast. I wasn’t, and many folks who are also familiar with Piper, were not surprised by his stance on whether or not women should be professors at seminaries. I’ve found that no matter how many times you encounter people who believe things like this, you’re never not shocked, simply because of how unbelievable the belief is, especially in 2018. I actually lived in this for a year of my life, surrounded by people throwing these complementarian views in my face, and I still run into it occasionally, as do so many other women. It’s a real thing; it may be shocking, and unbelievable, but it’s not new, and it’s not going to go anywhere unless women and men continue to step up, and speak out against it. It genuinely hurts my heart to know that some people actually think this stuff puts a smile on God’s face. This sexism, and oppression, hatred, and fragile masculinity. It’s scary that sometimes it seems as though some people put more of their energy into defending why women cannot x, y, and z, more than they put their energy into spreading the Gospel. Think about that for a minute.

While I remember many of the not so wonderful days that I had as a student walking the grounds of Liberty University, one that I remember most vividly was when I was told by a guest speaker in my intro to church ministries class, that I was committing emotional adultery with any mentors of mine who were married, a male, and oh, God forbid they were a pastor, too. I don’t remember his reasoning behind why he thought this, likely because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I do remember that he had a PowerPoint on it, and when I went up to him after class to question this odd opinion that he had just taught a class of 60 undergraduate ministry students, he told me this remark that is written above.

This encounter with that guest speaker makes me laugh in retrospect, but in the moment, it made me feel so unbelievably uncomfortable – as though I was being talked to as a temptation to be avoided instead of a human being. I never had a pastor who was a woman until I got to college, and many of the people in my life who are my mentors are men, and that’s not by choice, because plain and simple, I don’t choose my mentors based on their sex. I choose them based on their ability to give me wisdom, guidance, build me up, challenge me, and support & love me well in my endeavors. That’s how it should be. One of the many implications Piper makes in this podcast is simply another man (him), trying to control women and what they do and don’t do – and he’s doing so in the name of God, which is scary, friends. It’s actually terrifying that this is seen as God’s love, will, and Word.

This podcast infuriated me, but it did not surprise me. It didn’t surprise a lot of people, and that’s sad. I know John Piper’s work and views well enough to not be surprised anymore, and while that may be okay, I don’t ever want to become immune to it, because when we become immune/not affected by things like this, our incentive to promote change and move forward from these harmful beliefs, disappears, and we don’t want that to happen. We need that incentive and we need to be active in resisting this and speaking against it.

So, with that, I just want to say a quick thank you to the men in my life who aim to do just that; who not only seek to silence but get rid of the inequality all together. Thank you, guys. Thank you for never making me feel inferior, and for never treating me as though I am inferior. Thank you for never making me feel uncomfortable. Thank you to the men who will go to the ends of the earth to give me opportunities to grow instead of telling me my place is with the children and not behind a pulpit. Thank you to the men who don’t treat me as thought I am an object, and instead treat me with respect. Thank you for knowing how to treat a young woman like myself well. Thank you for talking to me like an adult and not like a child. Thank you for making me feel safe. Thank you for acknowledging that I am strong and not inferior, while simultaneously carrying yourself in a way that lets me know you’d gladly beat the crap out of anyone who tried to hurt me. Thank you for not mansplaining (we all know why we’re thankful for that).

Thank you to the men who go out of their way to stand up for women, who treat us as equal individuals (because we are), who fight for women and don’t let this disgusting message be preached without trying to drown it out with your voice for equality in the Church and in the world.

I wrote this post as a woman who has been incredibly hurt, talked down to, taken advantage of, and made uncomfortable by men, but also as a woman who, in my bias opinion, knows some of the greatest men in the world, who fight against Piper’s harmful teaching – my dad, my friends and pastors and mentors who are men, and (some) of the men I have dated… there are incredible, respectful, sexism-destroying, loving, caring, men & leaders, both in the Church, in the community, in the workplace, and in the world, who are using the voices they have, to do good and destroy sexism and the mistreatment and inequality of women. Don’t lose hope. Change is a long a process. But it’s happening.

a thanksgiving post for those in recovery.

I write a post like this one every year to publish on Thanksgiving, because I know how difficult Thanksgiving can be for those struggling with an eating disorder, and for those in recovery from an eating disorder. When I was in the very depths of my eating disorder, I absolutely hated Thanksgiving day – I dreaded it as it approached. I was someone who feared food and got easily overwhelmed by the thought of eating on any given day, so Thanksgiving was like that but on steroids. Because of this, I sought out tweets, articles, and posts by other people who I knew understood the anxiety that Thanksgiving brought to someone struggling and/or in recovery from an eating disorder. So I want to provide something like that for those who may need it today, just as I did not too long ago. Being over 4 1/2 years in recovery now, and someone who loves food, I am excited for Thanksgiving, because cheesy as it may be, I’ve got lots to be thankful for, including yummy food. I do still get some anxiety surrounding this holiday, so because I know the anxiety well, I’m hoping this post can maybe be of some help to you if you’re struggling. These are just some things that I’ve always found helpful that I wanted to write out for you if you find yourself plagued with any type of fear or anxiety about Thanksgiving because of your eating disorder.

First and foremost, please please know that you are not alone in the anxiety that you are finding yourself consumed by. While the people you are physically surrounded by on Thanksgiving may not understand how you’re feeling or why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, rest assured that there are people, including myself, who do understand. The fear you have of this holiday is not a fear that only you have, and it’s not something you have to be ashamed of. It is also a fear that does not have to consume you and steal this day away from you. It does not have to have the satisfaction of stealing away your focus from the things that you are thankful for.

Don’t think that you have to eat a ton of food, just because there is a ton of food present. This is something I struggled with a lot. I would feel such pressure to fill up my plate simply because that’s what everyone else was doing. And yes, you still need to eat, but you don’t have to stuff yourself. You eat what you are comfortable eating (but still eat, please, your body needs food whether its thanksgiving food or not!)

You also don’t even have to eat the Thanksgiving food if you don’t want to. Eat food that you are used to eating on a regular basis if that is less overwhelming to you. I’ve done that on Thanksgiving before! I think one Thanksgiving I had chicken fingers?

Step away if you need to. It’s okay to walk away from the dinner table and take a breather if you need. Go on a walk, write in your journal, take a nap, watch a funny show on Netflix, call or text a friend, pray, open up your Bible and read some scripture. You don’t have to remain in an environment that triggers anxiety for you. You’re allowed to step away.

It is okay to treat yourself!! Allow yourself to eat that slice of pumpkin pie. Have multiple helpings of turkey or stuffing if you want. Eat 2 servings of ice cream or cranberries if you’ve still got more room in your stomach. It is one day. It will piss the eating disorder off, for sure. But that’s really a huge part of recovery – pissing the eating disorder off and doing exactly the opposite of what your disorder wants you to.

Make this holiday more about the gratitude you have in your heart and make it about being present with the people around you. Make it less about the food. I know, so much easier said than done. But Thanksgiving is not about food. Clearly, we humans have made it about food – it’s an excuse to eat an excessive amount of food, right? That’s okay. But you have so much to be thankful for – bask in that!!

Stay away from the scale. Better yet, put the scale away. A scale is not helpful on Thanksgiving day or around this day. Even if you’re eating “normally” and not eating a ton,the scale becomes 10x more stressful around the holidays because of the emphasis on large amounts of food. You don’t need to stress yourself out about your weight, which is really a reminder for today and every day of recovery!

Know that this day doesn’t have to be different from any other day. It will come and it will pass just as any other day does. Try as best you can to enjoy this day with the people around you, difficult as it may be. Be present with the people you’re surrounded by and constantly be thinking about the things you’re thankful for, because this day should be more about that than it should be about food.

Lastly, you can do this!!!!! You’ve made it trough every Thanksgiving meal you’ve had so far in your lifetime, be confident in your ability to make it through this one as well. You are strong. You can do it.

Trust the process

“Trust the process” are three words that I am sure we have all seen posted on social media more times than we can count. They’re three words that I personally have resonated with a lot these past few months, and especially these past couple of weeks.

I am in the process of becoming a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. A mouth full, I know. For those of you who are not familiar with what that is, it’s a process (a journey, really) that one must embark on in order to become a certified candidate for ordination as an elder or deacon in the United Methodist Church. I myself am currently on track to becoming ordained as an elder.

This process is exciting because you are taking steps that get you closer and closer to serving where God has called you to serve, but it is definitely not a perfect journey, nor does it consist of only highs and no lows.

My heart is full of love for God and for the ministry that he has called me to, but just as much as the next person, I, too, have and have had doubts, fears, and anxieties. I have had insecurities about my ability to pastor, preach to God’s people, and lead His church (thank God He’s the one who gives us that ability!) This process has allowed me to really wrestle with my call more than I ever thought I needed it, and it makes your whole future of pursuing your call come to life as you realize the reality of the career you’re headed into – it’s extremely exciting and extremely terrifying all at once (which is basically the definition of God’s call, amen?)

I was having a conversation with a mentor of mine the other day and he talked about this idea of giving myself to the process. 

My response to that was basically, “But I have to have it all figured out before I can trust the process and give myself to that process.” You see, in my mind, I thought that I had to know every single little detail about how I was going to continue on the path to ministry, and have it all planned out before I could put my whole self into the process and truly give myself to it. But then I realized that if that is true – if I really do think I need to have all the answers, I really haven’t even given myself to God, which is something we should all do before giving ourselves to anything or anyone else. We don’t have to have all of the answers in order to take steps forward, which is another thing I was reminded of the other day. Even when uncertainty is present, we have the ability and responsibility to continue taking steps forward, trusting that God will guide us in the way in which we should go. This process of certified candidacy and ordination involves a good deal of uncertainty, and that can be intimidating and scary to some people (yes, myself included) I felt God’s nudge to begin this process, having no idea what it would entail, but I’ve been learning recently the beauty in taking steps forward and being obedient and trusting of God, even when I can’t see every little detail of how I’m going to get to the destination.

When we say “yes” to God’s call, that doesn’t mean we have to have all of the answers in order to continue on the path, it simply means we have to keep taking steps forward in obedience to that call so that we can continue discerning it.

Before we give ourselves to a process of any sort, we must give ourselves to God. Before we dedicate ourselves to pursuing any type of path, we need to dedicate ourselves to the God who is leading us down that path.

When you give yourself to God, you’re letting him hop into the drivers seat, and you become a passenger. This doesn’t mean you do nothing. It doesn’t mean you wait and don’t do anything. It means you let God lead the way, while you pray, do what you can where you are, you work hard, and you seek God in every season. When you give yourself to God, you’re able to give yourself to the process he has you in.

That can be scary because giving yourself to God and opening the drivers seat to him involves giving up control, and we like to try to control our situations. Plus, giving up control means uncertainty, because there’s no telling what God will do, but that’s where trust enters the equation. We trust God in every season and every process this life throws us into.

Maybe the process for you is simply trusting God. That in and of itself is a process – it’s not something we come out of the womb perfect at. It takes practice – God is our Father, he’s perfect, almighty, and awesome in every single way, but trusting him can be hard because we are imperfect people who will never be able to understand the greatness of him.

We’re all in the process of something. We’re all on our own unique journey, headed somewhere. 

What process are you in right now?

Maybe it’s a job transition. Maybe you’re in the midst of figuring out your career path or making your college decision. Maybe you’re in the process of recovering from an illness. Maybe you’re in the process of transferring schools. Maybe you’re in the process of moving to another town, state, or country. Maybe you’re in the process of discerning what God wants you doing and where he wants you doing it.

Friends, whatever process you are in currently, I encourage you to first, give yourself to God. Give your whole entire self to Him. When you do this – when you relinquish control, trust God, and let him hold the reigns, it is a weight lifted off of your shoulders and a weight put onto His; a weight that He can handle better than any of us can.

Give yourself to God, trust Him, then trust the process you’re in. Trust that you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be, doing whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. Trust that if you work hard, give it your all, and don’t give up when things get hard, that it will all work out the way it is supposed to work out. God isn’t going to abandon you. Trust that you will figure it out when the time is right for you to figure it all out (God’s timing, not ours). You do not have to have all of the answers in order to move forward. Just because there is uncertainty does not mean you can’t take steps forward. You may not be 100% sure where you’re going, but rest assured, remaining stagnant isn’t going to get you anywhere. 

Give yourself to God so you are then able to give yourself to whatever process He has you in.

community: gathering around the table

At my university, I am part of a group that exists to make strides in ending sexual aggression on our college campus and in our community as well. This group was created and is run by a sociology professor here at my school; a very passionate man who I had the great privilege of having as my professor for a general education sociology class this semester. Because we are currently amid our very last week of the semester, our group was invited over to his house for dinner tonight, for one last get together and meeting, as well as to say goodbye to one another as we part ways for the summer.

We all gathered around the dining room table in his home, along with his family and about seven members of our club, and we ate. We ate, we talked, we laughed (both with each other and at each other), and we brainstormed what we wanted to see our group do in the semesters to come.

Tonight made me think a lot about the importance of community.

This whole semester the idea of ‘community’ has been so present in my mind because the community I live in now while I’m at school is a rather small town where there are pretty strong social ties and a wonderful community.

Tonight got me thinking about how community is truly vital in each of our lives. Whether it be an academic community, a faith community, a family, a friend group, the city or town you live in – community is important because we were not made or meant to go through this life alone. That is why we have a God who is ever-present, and we have each another –  our fellow brothers and sisters, who make up the Body of Christ.

You and I are parts of the body of Christ. Each of us here bring something into this world, into Christ’s Church, and into our communities, that help the Body be effective in making disciples. There is so much strength to be found within a community because each person brings gifts, talents, and qualities that no other one person can.

Since day one, I have admired how everyone in this group I am in at school is so very different. We all have different interests, different passions, different ideas, different stories, different backgrounds, and I love that. One should never underestimate the greatness and influence of talking with people who are different than them, because it gives you a different perspective on things, seeing as not every person sees things the same way. Forming relationships with people who are different than us helps us to have more grace (something we are all capable of having more of) It helps us understand things we would otherwise likely not understand, and it helps as grow and become more like Christ, remembering that out of all people, we know Christ encountered many, many folks who were unlike him.

Tonight, we all gathered around the table to eat together and be in fellowship with one another, and in the past years, doing that very thing has come to mean so much more than it used to, likely because right there is where some of the best conversations happen, and where some of the best memories are made. I am so confident I have had more heart to heart conversations about life, faith, and God over in your every day coffee shop than I ever have in a formal setting or church. I can only imagine the smile on God’s face when he sees us gathering around the table and forming a community, or drawing in your community by gathering around the table. He loves to see his children interacting with one another as Jesus would interact with them; talking, laughing, being accepting of one another, supporting and encouraging each other.

Jesus sat down at the table. He dined often. He clearly cared about community and therefore wanted to gather around the table and be present with the people surrounding him. Though Jesus was the Son of God, he dined with sinners. He dined with those different than him. He dined with those who were very different than him. But nonetheless, he loved them, and he talked with them. Regardless of who they were, where they came from, each and every one of them made up the community. 

We are one body, made up of many, many parts. You and I are parts of the Body! How amazing? How humbling? It is our job to spread that news to others! Though we know that, and our friends and church families may know that, there are so many of our brothers and sisters out there who don’t know that.

If we remain within the circles we have created for ourselves, and do not venture out into our communities, we are missing parts of the body!

If we remain inside our churches and do not venture out into the community surrounding the church, we are missing parts of the body!

We are missing vital parts of the Body; parts of the Body that bring gifts, talents, and joys that you do not even know your church needs, yet gifts, talents, and joys that God knows your church needs.

Getting out and immersing ourselves in the community or forming a community of people opens your mind, and it gets us realizing that everyone is not like us, and that there is beauty in that. There is so much beauty in such diversity when you realize every person you’re speaking to, makes up the body of Christ.

Jesus didn’t only die for you and me, but for every other person in your community as well. 

The Church in and of itself is a community. It is a community – a family – of believers. Then there is a giant community outside of your church community, and an even bigger community outside of that community – there is the whole world! The whole world, all nations in which we are called to go and make disciples of Jesus in.

There are more people than you think out within the community in which you reside in, go to school in, or work in, who have never ever been told that they are children of God. There are people in your community who have never been told that they have gifts. There are people who have never been told that they, too, are members of the Body of Christ, and have gifts that they can contribute to make that Body more effective in this world.

With that, may we all strive to be the kind of people who are willing to tell such people, that incredible news. That incredible news that they have a Savior who loves them more than they could ever imagine. That incredible news that they have gifts and talents that are needed, wanted, and cherished in this world. That incredible news that they are a part of the Body of Christ, and that that is a big deal.

I encourage you to gather around the table with those from your community, more often. Gather around the table with those who are different from you. Maybe that is not only encouragement to you but a challenge as well. I know that it is a challenge for me, but please know that ‘gathering around the table’ does not have to look like a full on United Methodist potluck meal – you can simply grab a cup of coffee with someone you don’t know all that well, or go grab lunch. Strike up a conversation with that homeless man or woman you always see sitting on the curb. Strike up a conversation with someone, anyone. Be kind to strangers. Pay for the person standing behind you in your local Starbucks line. Get out into your community. Look up from your phone every once in a while and smile at the people you’re passing by. Every person you’re walking by is someone whom God is so eager to work through as a member of the body of Christ – what would you do if you were told that you can be the person to encourage someone in their role in the body of Christ?

 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-14

jmu journey pt. 1

My goodness, it has been a week and a half since I began life at JMU, and I have the utmost joy to report to you all that I am absolutely in love with this new home of mine.

A lot of people have been asking me about how things have been going so far, and while I am always willing to talk about it in person with people, I wanted to write about it as well. This update is long overdue and I apologize to those of you who care, and I apologize even more for the fact that I have not written in what seems like forever! But here I am!!

Before I left to begin my journey at JMU, I was often asked by people, “is there anything I  can do for you before you leave?” Every time I would get this question, without fail, I would reply with, “just pray for me!” Even when I knew people wanted me to give them an answer other than “pray for me,” I honestly couldn’t, simply because I didn’t know what anyone could do for me, besides pray. Truthfully, while I was super excited, I was afraid to begin this new chapter of life, and I believe, rightly so. If you’d like to know now what you can do for me, still pray!! (but also write me letters and I’ll write you back) I also wanted to say that I appreciate all of your prayers, support, sweet texts and calls that I have received from you lovely people since I moved into JMU – I truly have some of the most incredible people in my life and I love each of you – yes, you!

I moved into JMU two Sunday’s ago, on January 9th. I can’t write this post without giving my family a little shout out, because they moved me into my new home but more importantly because I 100% could not have made it here without their constant love, support, and wisdom, or their ability to put up with me and the fact that I have now been to three college’s (lol).

After move in day, Monday rolled around, and so, my first day of classes at JMU began. I was nervous, mostly because I feared I would get lost and be late to all of my classes, which oddly enough, did not end up happening, though the campus sure is a workout! I am glad to say that all of my classes are great, as are my professors, and I am super excited about what I’ll be learning this semester (with the exception of intro to calc which will likely be the death of me).

Midweek of my first week at JMU, homesickness hit me hard, and all I wanted was to be cuddled up with my cat or watching an Lifetime movie with my mom and sister, but, (no offense mom and dad) because I have done this whole, “move into college away from home” thing once before, I kept trekking on and it faded as the days went on (though I still miss my cat every single day).

Something everyone told me, and something I also knew myself going into spring semester, is that transferring mid-year does make it a little more difficult to make friends, but with that being said, everyone here at JMU is so kind – I have yet to encounter someone who is not. (Speaking of kind, my roommate is lovely and we live well together which I am grateful for, because for those of us who have been to college, I think we can all agree that a good roommate makes the experience all the more better). I also joined an Inter-varsity small group, which is a Christian organization associated with the college that meets once a week for small group, as well as once a week for large group. Let me tell you – they are amazing. I’ve only known them a short while, yet I can already tell we are going to make great friends – these women are so fun, outgoing, and love Jesus so much which is something you can see simply by the light they shine everywhere they go, and I am so excited to continue this journey with them by my side.

As far as the school / campus – the campus is huge, you all. So huge to the point where you’re tempted to both laugh and cry a little for the people you see missing their bus, because it means they either have to wait for the next bus or walk to wherever the heck they have to go. Today I had just 15 minutes to walk from main campus to the gym located on east campus for a health class, and while the walk there wasn’t bad at all, the walk back was all uphill – please laugh with me. I don’t work out as much as I should so you can imagine the gasping for air that I was doing. (lol)

So, with all of that being said, my first week of school was great! Filled with many thoughts, emotions, activities, and assignments. Everyone I met was super nice, I have acclimated to campus and know my way around well which is super surprising but also very helpful – I am here thanking the Lord, for this place already feels like home.

Speaking of the Lord, I headed home my first weekend after moving into school, because I was scheduled to guest preach at a church on my district (and a little because I missed my cat). Gosh, what a lovely church family that was that I had the privilege of worshiping with. It was such a joy, after such a hectic week, to be back in church doing what I love so dearly and with great passion. I joke about how I have this double life of being a college student and also doing ministry, but it’s not so much a double life as it is having the privilege to do both at the same time. Even if that means working on a sermon during my study break instead of watching Netflix during my study break, or staying up a little later to finish the homework due Monday morning that I wasn’t able to finish Sunday because I was preaching – it’s all worth it and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing. So, another shout out to the church I had the privilege of preaching at this past weekend, because they were so kind and hospitable, and shout out to The Church for being a place I always feel I belong, where I can live out my call and preach about our sweet Jesus.

Because I was away this weekend, I haven’t visited any local churches yet, however, I have met some pastors of UMC’s in the area and I am SO excited to ‘church hop’ and find a new church home away from home. (Don’t worry, Aldersgate, you’re still # 1) ❤

The second week of life at JMU rolled around (this week), and the first day of the week was spent in complete worry, fear, and doubt. Lame, right? Basically, I had been contemplating my major, even after being dead set on psychology for as long as I could remember. I freaked myself out thinking about how far behind I thought I was going to be as far as graduation goes. (update: not as far behind as I thought I was, and will still graduate on time) so, I started looking up majors that I could possibly do that would not require as many hours, and along with this, I also let the difficulty of this math class psych me out (no pun intended) and I found that my mind was racing in this endless cycle going from psychology, to communications, to religion, and repeat. It was ridiculous. I found myself in a puddle of tears and my stomach in knots, and because the school was closed on Monday for MLK Day, I couldn’t contact any departments to talk it through with an adviser or anything. If you know me, you know that I am very much a futurist, and therefore, I plan for and look to the future, a lot. I kept thinking about seminary and how if I graduated late, that would delay seminary and I wouldn’t be graduating with my friends etc. (note: worrying yourself sick does not help a n y t h i n g)

So, I prayed and I prayed, and I prayed some more. I wanted more than anything for God to just show me the way in which I should go, but he surely is a God who is not always that simple (amen?)

As I was praying about this, I caught myself saying, “I have never been more conflicted before in my life.” 

But oh, how false that was.

As I prayed those words, I recalled numerous times in which I had said those very same words, and also recalled how God had been ever present during those times.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to transfer from Liberty, and when I was trying to decide which college to transfer to, after leaving Liberty, I was just as conflicted, but I made a decision – amid the fear of making the wrong decision and regretting it, God was there.

I was conflicted to the max when I was trying to make those decisions, but I made them, and God has carried me. I woke up the next morning feeling confident about sticking with my psychology, and I am so excited to continue learning. I reminded myself, “Ashley, you love psychology, and it’s going to help you a lot in ministry – it already has.” I can’t read people’s minds like people think psychology majors can, but y’all would certainly be surprised the things psychology can help you with in The Church, and when I say that, remember that The Church is a body of people… 😉 I was so worried about the timeline I was forgetting the reason I’m in school is to learn, enjoy what I learn (for the most part) and get a dang degree, which is a privilege. Once I reminded myself of those simple truths, it is as though a weight has been lifted. But, of course, God couldn’t have pulled me through that little freak out without showing off a little –

I met with my adviser first thing Tuesday afternoon to talk about the next four semesters of my undergraduate career, and after doing this felt much better and much less behind. Though graduating a semester late would not be the end of the world, I was glad for the reassurance. While meeting with my adviser, I expressed to her that I was going to be going onto grad school and told her why etc, one thing led to another and we made the connection that the professor of a psych class I’ll be taking next semester (the psychology of death & dying) is also a United Methodist chaplain and received an M. Div from my top choice seminary, so that was very cool, especially because I am such a relational person, making connections such as this make my heart happy!

It’s little things like that which remind us of God’s superior plan for our lives and his willingness to be present in every season, whether it be a good or stressful season, and that when we make little or big decisions based off pure faith, faithful always, He is.

I am so thankful that I faced the fear of unknown and transferred from a school I wasn’t happy at, to a school I absolutely adore. I am so thankful for a God who has led me to this very place and has continued to be with me in every moment. Before I left for school again, people would ask me something along the lines of, “are you ready for school?” or, “are you excited?” and my response would always be, “I am very excited and only slightly terrified!”

It was terrifying. Just as, if not more, terrifying than leaving Liberty, but I am so grateful for the decisions I have made regarding my academic career, especially the decision to step out in faith and begin the transfer process, because even amid the insane amount of fear I had in doing so, every single one of those decisions have brought me here.

I’m at a school now where I can say my career goal – my call – without fear of people throwing an out of context verse in my face and telling me why I can’t biblically do that career. I’m at a school where people are intrigued and ask me questions when I tell them I’m going to be a pastor, instead of angered and tempted to tell me I’m sinning. It is a joy to walk around being able to say what I want to do, instead of covering it with, “I’m a business major” to avoid being bashed for my calling from God. If you know me you know how much I love God and his call upon my life and how important this call is to me, and therefore, you know the joy this brings me. Having left a school I had known for a year and jumping into the unknown, without a clue where I would go from there, and landing someplace I couldn’t be happier – God is good. God is good and he always will be, no matter where we are in life. How sweet is that?

I urge you to always step out in faith and trust that God will carry you. I acknowledge that that is a whole lot easier to write or say than it is to obey, so I also urge you to remember Gideon (Judges 7), whom God told to drastically decrease the number of men in his army, and while Gideon wondered why this was, God was faithful in that him and his army defeated the Midianites, even with the smaller amount of men his army had.

God is always working, and you may be aware of none of the works he is doing in your life, which is why we must trust that even when we can’t see his actions, he is acting. This year, I told myself I would let God carry me – how about we all, “let God carry us.” Acknowledging that we are going to be hesitant in doing so because sometimes, God is going to carry us to places we don’t want to go, or to places we’re afraid of going, but he will always carry us, holding us up with his mighty right hand, and because of this, we will always be safe. That doesn’t mean we will always be comfortable or fearless, but it does mean we will always be covered in God’s unconditional love.

Amen?

2016.

As I sit here on the last day of the year 2016, I find myself unable to find just one word to sum up the year as a whole. When I think about 2016, a lot of thoughts, emotions, and feelings come with it. Some of the greatest memories I have in life thus far were made in 2016, as were some of the worst. I learned so much this year – so many lessons I never thought I would need, but nonetheless, lessons I will continuously find myself remembering as life goes on. It would feel weird not to share them with you all, as people who have read my blog through this year as well as in years past. Maybe we’ve even learned some of the same lessons this year.

If I had to pick one lesson, it would be to leave your comfort zone. Jump right out of wherever is comfortable and take a giant leap into the unknown. Step out in faith.

In May of 2016, I took the largest leap of faith I have taken in life thus far, by deciding to transfer college’s after my freshman year at a school I thought I’d be at for all four years. I decided to transfer with not a clue where I would go next; I wasn’t even 100% sure that switching schools was the answer when I made the decision. I was facing a great deal of ‘unknowns’ and I was terrified, to say the least. But that’s faith. That’s where my faith came into play, and that decision to transfer taught me what it feels and looks like to step out in faith and trust God fully.

Faith is a lot of things, but something that faith is not always is comfortable. What would faith be if we were constantly only doing things that were comfortable? How would we learn what trust in God looks and feels like? How would we actively show God how much we love and trust his hand in our lives if we didn’t step out in faith and give him a chance to be faithful? Because friends, he is always faithful.

In this upcoming year, I urge you, and myself, to do things that make you uncomfortable every once in a while. Jump outside of your comfort zone and see what happens. Do things that you would never envision yourself doing. That is a lesson I have learned over and over again through out 2016. Many of the plans we have for ourselves involve our own comfort, but more times than not, it doesn’t always work out that way. If a year ago, someone told me that I would be here, where I am, doing what I am, I would have looked at them and laughed, likely followed by some fear because of how crazy it would have sounded. I never envisioned myself transferring college’s. That wasn’t ‘the plan.’ I never envisioned myself ending up at community college for a semester. I never envisioned myself, at age 19, going into interviews and charge conferences to progress in my journey towards ordination. I never thought I would be preaching at local churches that weren’t my own, meeting as many incredible people of God as I have, or building relationships with different pastors and church leaders who would help me discern my own call to be a pastor. I don’t think a person can plan for something like that, simply because it was not my hand that was in this call to ministry, but God’s. He definitely did the unexpected, and much of that occurred after I stepped out of where I was comfortable; God took my giant leap of faith that was transferring from a school I was comfortable but not happy at, and he used it to push me to go even more out of my comfort zone, in order to accomplish things I never thought I could or would. There’s no telling what God has in store for you outside of where you are comfortable. Often times, having faith means doing just that – exiting where you are comfortable and being willing to feel discomfort, trusting that God will guide and take care of you.

That is the greatest, most important lesson that I believe I learned in the year 2016. I pray that those words encourage you if you are in a similar situation, or find yourself in a similar situation in 2017 – if you find yourself facing something that may require you to feel discomfort, I urge you to step out in faith, knowing full well that God will carry you. If you care to continue reading, below here I have a few more lessons 2016 taught me that I thought I would share with you. Thank you so much for reading my blog this past year, and I truly hope that my writing has helped or encouraged you in whatever way you may have needed it to. I am so excited to continue writing in 2017 and am glad to have you reading along with me. I’m grateful for you all, and may God bless you in this upcoming year!

Some more lessons 2016 taught me:

 

Never hold back when it comes to the things that you are passionate about. Whatever it is that sets your soul on fire – do that, chase after it. Pursue your passion every single day and don’t hold back. Live out whatever your call may be, and use it to make this world a better place. Use the gifts and talents which you have been given, and don’t worry one bit about what other people may say. There will always be naysayers. There will be people who won’t believe in you, and there will be people who will believe you cannot do what you are striving to do. Not everyone is going to understand why you do the things you do. There will be times when even your closest friends and family members won’t get it, and they may not always know how to support you. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you or that they don’t want what’s best for you, they just may not always understand, and that is okay. There will be obstacles. There will be days where it will difficult to find the energy to pursue the passions you have. Don’t give up on the things you are passionate about. Whatever your gifts, use them to make yourself happy, make others happy, and make this world an overall better place. Your passion is not weird or odd, it is yours and it was given to you for more reasons than one. If you have a dream, work hard so that you may live that dream. If you have goals, work hard to achieve those goals. Don’t ever give up.

Listen to Gods voice above mans. There will always be people in your life who will try to bring you down to their level. You may not choose to associate yourself with people like that, but you will find yourself amid their presence and they will try to bring you down. As hard as it may be, do not stoop to their level. If anything, strive to bring them up to your level by loving on them and listening to them. Remind yourself that there is more often than not a story behind why people try to bring others down, and often times, they want to be heard. Be that person who helps them feel heard. You’re not here to please man.

It is hard yet oh so possible to love people whom you disagree with. This is something I find hard to forget after spending a year in an environment where way more than half of the people I encountered on a daily basis, disagreed with me. There are so many topics and controversial issues in our world today, you are likely to encounter people every single day whom you disagree with. You don’t always have to react to those people either. You can choose whether or not you make known to them that you disagree. This past year, I frequently found myself sitting with a person or persons and something would be said that I absolutely 100% did not agree with. Sometimes its very difficult to remain silent, but it’s also not always that difficult. There is such thing as healthy debate, but arguing and throwing out profanity doesn’t help prove anyone’s point. We’re called to love our neighbors, so love your neighbors.

Self care cannot be an option; it must be a necessity. You are no good to anyone when you are not well. We’re called to bear fruit. If we’re not healthy, the fruit we bear will not be healthy. Set aside time for yourself. I pour myself into the people I encounter each day, and I love people, but I am an introvert and therefore need time alone to rest and be filled back up – whether it be writing, running, walking, reading, going out with friends, watching Netflix – make sure you’re taking time to take care of yourself. Self care is not selfish. Always, always remind yourself of that.

Listen more, speak less. Have you ever sat with someone without thinking of what you would say back to them, and instead, just sat and listened to the words coming out of their mouth and absorbing them? I love communicating with people so this is something I struggle with sometimes, but you will be amazed how much you can learn about a person by truly listening to them; the way they speak, what they speak about, how much they speak.

Seek wise counsel. It is okay to admit you do not know how to handle a situation. You’re not alone in this life, even if at times, you feel as though you are. You don’t have to have a plan. You just have to trust the One who does. I would need many, many more hands if I tried counting the number of times I laid awake at night trying to figure my whole life out. We can try to make our own plans all we want. Of course the wisest counsel we can seek is God, but there are bound to be people in your life who may also serve as wise counsel when you are confused, conflicted, or distraught about a particular situation. Reach out to the people in your life whom you trust – in my experience, I have found that depending on the issue, I reach out to someone older and wiser than myself. It could be a family member, a family friend, a pastor, a teacher, a professor.

Make your relationship with God your first priority. Not just a priority. I’m human and therefore I neglect my time with God more than I would like to admit. My devotion and prayer time gets cut short far more often than it should due to life’s chaos, and there’s no legitimate excuse for that. I find myself lost if I don’t connect with God at some point throughout the day. Make Him a priory. You’ll be lost without it. I wouldn’t say this is a lesson I just learned in 2016, but it’s definitely something I need to be reminded of.