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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2017.

And just like that, tomorrow is the last day of 2017.

I know many of you are happy to be leaving this year behind, and I know many of you may be sad or simply content with ending another year and beginning a new one – whatever you are feeling about this year coming to an end, I pray that you ALL enter into 2018 with happiness & health, and make it as great of a year as you can for yourself and for those whom you encounter.

As 2017 comes to a close, I have many thoughts, many reflections, & yes, many resolutions. I wanted to share them in a post to the best of my ability, because to me, it would feel weird to simply go into a new year without first writing about the year we’ve just had. I love that writing can be a way to bid farewell to one year and welcome a new one, and I invite you to join me in doing that. Even if writing is not your forte, simply taking time to pause, reflect, and then prepare for the coming year.

2017 to me almost feels surreal in a way, because so many things happened in my life that I never thought would happen (but am glad happened). It seems God has made a habit of leading me places I never thought I’d go & doing things I never thought he’d do (or I’d do). As absolutely insane as it seems at times & as scary as it can be, I have nothing but gratitude for his ability (and liking, apparently) to do just that.

When I look back on 2017, I see a lot of hurt, many obstacles, a whole lot of joy, and a ton of change. In all of it, I see God.

When I think about 2017, I think about transferring to JMU in January of 2017. I think about the entire transfer process that resulted in my being at JMU, I think about the fear but also the joy,  I think about the friends I’ve made there, the professors I’ve had, the difficult yet rewarding time I had transitioning into a brand new university. I think about the pride I have in being at such an amazing school, and the excitement I have in my heart to have at least three more semesters there.

When I think about 2017, I think about the time I spent in the mountains (because let’s face it – I was there more than I was anywhere else this year). I think about the times I went hiking with friends and the memories made there with them. I think about the time I spent alone there in the quietness of nature, simply being present & trying to listen for God. I think of the times I drove to the parkway just to get away from the noise of the world & the to-do lists I had.

When I think about this past year, I think about the ministry I got to be a part of. The preaching I did and all of the churches I had the privilege of leading through out the year. Those 9 different sermons, 8 different churches, & 15 church services contributed greatly to the joy I had this year, really helping to make this year one that I will never forget. Did I think at the beginning of 2017 that I would have done all that? No way! Am I glad & will I cherish those moments, services, & churches forever? Absolutely.

Reflecting on 2017, I really can’t help but think about God and the many ways in which he worked in my life, to challenge me, grow me, give to me opportunities, and open me up to new things.

JMU, mountains, ministry, people, God.

That’s what I think of when I reflect on 2017, and it’s really stinkin’ cool, because those are the things I want my life to be filled with always.

While my time will come to graduate from JMU, I love learning, and I never want to stop learning, so while I won’t always be a student at a university, I do want to always be a student in the sense that I am always, always learning. I never want to get to a place where I think I know everything, because that will never be true – there is always more to learn.

The mountains are & always will be my place of retreat; where I seek sabbath when I need it and when I think I don’t. I want my life to be full of time spent in the mountains, seeking rest, peace, renewal, and God’s voice.

As for the people – I love people! I love the wonderful people in my life, and I love meeting new people. The goal is to never take for granted the people you have in life — and I want to go a step further and challenge myself to never take for granted the opportunities (given to us literally daily!) to bring light into complete strangers’ lives as well.

If 2017 taught me anything about ministry, it’s that it is more than a career or something to pay the bills. I still to this day get an element of surprise every time somebody hands me a check for guest preaching, because I will never be able to wrap my head around the fact that I’m able & will be able to make a living off of doing something I love so much. 2017 taught me ministry is hard & it can be ugly & messy, but it is beautiful, and I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing with my life than serving His precious children in His precious Church. I am so excited to see what God does with my call to ministry in 2018.

I am so excited to see what God does in general in 2018!!

 

My main prayer for 2018 is that God would take my plans, and wreck them — wreck them completely.

He has done a spectacular job at doing that so far in my 20 years of life, and he has also done a pretty great job at proving why (hint: because his plans are far greater than my own!) I figure, why not go into the year asking God to wreck my plans, instead of being stubborn and fooling myself to believe that my plans are sufficient.

 

Going into 2018, I do also have lots of goals, or, “resolutions”

I know a lot of people frown upon new years resolutions, and that is totally okay! You do whatever floats your boat. But I love to make new years resolutions because I love to challenge myself & see growth from doing so.

So, for a new years resolution, I want to do more things that scare me.

I want my immediate mental response when I think, “I can’t, it scares me” to be “you can – do it anyways” (We’ve all heard that quote, “feel the fear and do it anyways,” well, that’s pretty much this new years resolution right here. I acknowledge that fear has held me back from doing so many things. Heck, it almost held me back from making one of the biggest (and best) decisions of my life (i.e. transferring colleges) I have come to realize that fear has no place holding me (or any of you) back in a life where God is present and holding each of us in palm of his hand every step of the way. So this year I want to give those fears to God & ask that in every fearful moment, he would kindly take those fears and squash them like a bug.

I, like many of you, am entering into 2018 with high hopes & goals, while also acknowledging that life is so very good right now. I don’t want to rush or wish away the time I have right here, right now. I love the beginning of new years because I love the fresh start that comes with it. Though things don’t often feel different, it’s a brand new year and something about that makes me excited.

I do want to say thank you x10000 to each person who read my blog this year (or any year!) I am so very thankful for each of you & pray that God has used any of this writing to speak to you in whatever way He sees fit. I hope you ALL have a safe, happy, & healthy new year, & be prepared for lots more blogging in the new year!!

a guided prayer for the new year

Dear Loving, Holy, and Gracious God,

As this year comes to a close and we prepare for a brand new year, we’d like to take a moment to stop, reflect, and prepare – reflect on all that you have done through out the year we just had, and prepare our hearts, with you, as the new year comes.

*Pause in silence for a time of reflection. Perhaps think about some of the times during which you saw God at work or heard God speak in 2017*

Lord, we acknowledge that to many, this year has been filled with suffering, sickness, pain, trauma, loss, tragedy, and heartbreak. We ask that you would wrap your strong yet tender and gentle arms around those people, who found 2017 to be a year that they would rather not remember. We pray that you would help them to see you clearly and remind them that you are with them always. Help them remember that it is okay to feel whatever it is that they feel from those experiences, and that you love them through it all.

*Pause in silence for a time to remember all those who have lost loved ones, and to remember loved ones whom you have lost in 2017*

We ask that you would take the hardships we endured in 2017 and help us see light in those situations, as well as the strength we gained from those situations. As hard as it is often times, we thank you for the difficult times, acknowledging you did not once leave our side through those darker times.

*Pause in silence for a time to remember the hardships you endured this past year, and allow God to hold you through whatever it is you feel from them*

Lord, we thank you and we praise you for the wonderful and memorable times we had in 2017. We thank you for the joy that we shared with the people we love. We thank you for the triumphs we had and even thank you for the challenges 2017 brought, acknowledging that every triumph, challenge, and even failure we endured has made us to be more like the people you have called us to be.

*Pause in silence for a time to thank God for all the joyous things he has done in your life and in the lives of those around you*

God, We thank you for the endless grace that you offer to us daily. We acknowledge that we do not and will not ever deserve your grace or love, but that you give it to us each day, and for that, we thank you. Far too often we do not acknowledge the presence of you or of your grace in our lives, and for that, we are sorry. We ask that you would forgive us for the times in which we have sought to glorify ourselves instead of you, for the times we have ignored you or turned away from you, and for the times we have neglected to give you praise for amazing things that have happened in our lives that only you could have done.

*Pause in silence for a time to ask God for forgiveness*

We pray for the wisdom to know where you are leading us each day. We pray that you would guide our steps when we are unsure which way to go, and even when we think that we are sure.

Lord, take the plans we have made for ourselves, and wreck them completely. 

Show and tell us of the marvelous plans that you have for us, while helping us to remember that our plans are always insufficient compared to yours.

This year, God:

Take our fears and replace them with your promises.

Take our anxiety and replace it with your peace.

Take our sorrow and replace it with joy.

Take any obstacles and use them as opportunities for growth.

Take any desires to glorify ourselves and replace it with desires to glorify You.

Help us seek You over the things of this world.

God, we pray for growth in this new year.

We pray that you would give to us open minds to talk with people who are like us, as well as with people who are not like us. Help us to remember that we are all Your children, no matter ones race, political party, age, sex, ethnicity, physical, or mental state. We pray for your help in always remembering that no difference between any two people is great enough to prevent us from showing them the love of Christ. We also pray that we would always have open ears with which to listen to those who simply need to talk, may we be present and alert to those in need. We pray that we would have open hearts to welcome into our lives anyone who may need to experience the love of your Son, Jesus. And also open doors, to welcome both strangers and friends into our churches, homes, and lives, for we are all brothers & sisters in Christ.

We ask that you would bless this year of 2018, God.

We pray for the strength we’ll need that only you can provide, to face any challenges that may arise in 2018. We pray for a focus in 2018 that is constantly on you, and when our focus shifts, we pray that you would guide our eyes straight back to you.

We pray that this coming year, you would place in our lives an abundant amount of opportunities to serve in Your Name – opportunities to give our time, money, and love even when we feel we have nothing to offer – opportunities to serve others even when we would rather not – opportunities to be kind even when we’re having a bad day and would rather turn away – help us always choose to serve, and grant us the vision we need to always see those opportunities, and not turn a blind eye as we would often do.

In this new year, God, we pray that we, your servants, would be the hands & feet of your Son, Jesus. And finally, we pray for Your will, in 2018 – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Optional: The Lord’s Prayer written below

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

This marks the end of this guided prayer. If you have any prayer requests at all that you would like to share, please feel free to leave them written in the comments section below.

 

thick skin & ministry

This post is one that I have been wanting to write for a while now, but it is a post about a topic that I am very much still growing in and learning about each day, so, I urge you – instead of reading this and thinking, “Oh, you don’t know the half of it” try reading it with the knowledge that I acknowledge I have far more to learn and experience, and many more thick layers of skin to develop in life and more specifically in ministry. I am well aware that I am, “only 20” 😉

When you are a leader of any kind, you may find yourself in this mindset – you desire so badly to seem strong, all of the time. Especially if you’re young, you may strive for this because people so often look down upon people who are younger. If you’re in a leadership position, or taking on something that requires a lot of you, you may find yourself wanting to seem as though you are tough, all the time, as though you basically don’t have feelings, nothing bothers you, and if it does, it’s “no big deal,” because, “you can handle it.” I can recall numerous times where I have found myself with this mindset in the church setting, sweeping things under the rug instead of allowing myself to feel them and have them make me better. The hard thing about being that type of person though, is that, those things you tell yourself, don’t always work. You’re not as perfect as you want people to think you are. You do let things get to you. You can’t handle it all on your own. You do have feelings, and guess what? Your feelings are valid. The hard part is actually believing that and accepting that. It’s hard to understand that while, yes, thick skin is needed in pretty much every aspect of life, you can’t be strong all of the time. Thick skin is something that develops over time. It’s a process. You aren’t born with the thickest skin that you will ever have, and, the thing about thick skin is that it only develops by going through tough experiences – you get tough by feeling what it is like to endure trials. I think that one of the hardest lessons I have learned thus far since hearing God’s call to ministry and pursuing that call, is learning how to have thick skin, what that means, and what it looks like.

My freshman year of college, I developed a layer of thick skin that I never knew I needed. That layer of thick skin was so that I could handle people’s condemnation of my pursuit to full-time ministry due to my gender. And I can do that now – I can let such comments and rejection roll off me like rain – it’s a piece of cake, because of that whole year spent developing such thick skin. It has helped me more than I could ever tell you, and I am grateful. But as I have continued along in my journey towards ministry, diving into different areas of the Church, and interacting with different people, experiencing it all, I have seen all kinds of sides to ministry – the good, the bad, the ugly, and then some. Seeing all those sides has continuously made me realize my desperate need (for God) and for a whole new layer of thick skin that I lacked; a layer that I am still developing, day by day, experience by experience, hardship by hardship. As I said, it’s a process.

I, like many others, wish that I could look at a mentor, pastor, parent, or anyone older and wiser than me, and have them tell me that it gets easier. I wish that I could have someone who has lived longer than me, look me in the eyes and tell me how, somewhere along the line, it gets easier to have thick skin. But that’s not going to happen. It’s just not. No pastor will ever be able to tell me that and actually mean it, and I know that, because I’ve had pastors admit that to me. But, I did have one pastor say that, “you have to be so deeply rooted in your call that it sustains you through the hurt.” You learn how to handle it all better, but that doesn’t at all mean that it gets easier. You just get stronger, and your skin, thicker.

Now, before I jump into the post, I will admit before you that I am not by any means ‘qualified’ to write a blog post full of “how to’s” when it comes to ministry and having thick skin. Everyone in ministry knows that you need thick skin, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we all have an equal amount of. With my admittance of my not being ‘qualified,’ I do believe that God has used my experiences in ministry thus far to equip me to share these words with you all. I am still very much an amateur, I do not have all of the answers, and I still let things get to me way more than I should – I’m still growing, as lifelong learners do. With that being said, I’m thinking of all of the ministry experiences and encounters with people, both negative and positive, that I’ve had thus far (which I’m grateful for!) and maybe you and I share in some of those experiences or encounters. If so, I want to share some of what has helped me and what continues to help me. These are not nearly all of the ways in which I cope and learn to have thick skin, but nonetheless, these are things that God has helped place on my heart, because, the Lord knows full well that I could not do any of this without him. If I tried, I undoubtedly would have given up on my pursuit towards ministry a long time ago.


Consistent prayer. First and foremost, prayer is key. You and I know both that. When life has you down on your knees because you cannot bear to stand any longer, pray. When you’re sky high on life and all is well, also pray. When you’re struggling and finding that comments, obstacles, or people are getting to your head, and most of all to your heart, pray. I don’t think I have ever fallen before God with my arms stretched out for him to come and pick me up, more than when I am feeling as though I am in desperate need of him and of that thick skin we’re supposed to have. Thick skin is something that I have prayed for and longed for, and while I have it, I’m still developing it. It doesn’t come overnight. And know that God’s answer to your prayer for thick skin very well could be another battle or obstacle. May we learn to be okay with that, and keep ours minds open to that possibility. And do not stop praying.

Don’t take things personally. I cannot say enough how much easier said than done this is. As human beings, our desire and our human nature is to let things get to us. We overthink comments that are said to us, especially the unnecessary and sometimes rude ones. Thick skin is needed if we’re going to refuse to take things personally. ‘Let unnecessary or hurtful comments role off of you like rain’ is some of the best advice that I have ever been given. Similar to likely everyone reading this today, I have had things said both to my face and behind my back in various settings, including Church, that I have let get to my heart – I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not crazy for overthinking that one thing that that one person said to you; that comment which left you feeling offended, discouraged, and hurt. You’re not overreacting. But it’s also important to remember that what people say to you or about you can often be a reflection of themselves and how they feel or think about them, not necessarily you. Remember that. And remember this:

Pray for those who hurt you. This is probably one of the hardest things you will find in this post. I have found myself before God in prayer, literally in tears, because I knew that I should be praying for the people whom I was hurt by, but I just could not bring myself to do it. But friends, God wants to hear about it. He wants to hear about your hurt and he wants to hear that you have the Christ-like love to rise above your hurt and pray for that person who is likely hurting, themselves.

Have a tender heart. I know that we have all heard this quote before: “Have thick skin and a tender heart.” We are all undoubtedly capable of having a tender heart. So train your heart and train your mind to be tender when it comes to tough situations, especially situations that involve a person or persons. And I know that it’s hard. I know that is never what we want to hear. It’s much easier to resent people or situations that make us feel low and discouraged. But again, it’s what Jesus exemplified for us in the Bible. In the Church, doing ministry with so many other people, we have to follow his example, and his example shows us compassion, empathy, and tenderness. He has called us to have those very attributes when it comes to interacting with our fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus did it, and as a follower of him, we can do it, too.

Get used to it. You may have read those four words and thought, “This is awful advice, Ashley.” I debated putting those words into this post, but I wanted to, because it’s something that I’ve told myself, and something a lot of other people have blatantly told me, too, including my own mom, over and over and over again. If I’m ever struggling with a comment that someone said to me, or a tough situation, especially in ministry, being told to, “get used to it” actually helps. You’re always going to have that. Always. That’s a harsh reality. Learn to let comments go in one ear and go out the other. You’re always going to encounter difficult people. That is not limited to the Church. You’re going to encounter difficult people in every job field, in every area of life, everywhere you go. But you’re also going to encounter really beautiful people. If we’re being honest, everyone has beauty in them. So even when you encounter someone you would consider to be ‘difficult,’ show them love. Try to search for their internal beauty. We all have it.

Step back. There is no harm in taking a step back. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need time to process whatever it is that’s testing your thickness of skin (AKA whatever you’re struggling with), stepping back can be good. You don’t want to get burned out. Go have church on a mountain if you’re like me and love to hike and be in creation. Go visit a different church that you’ve never been to before and worship there. Have quiet devotion time by yourself instead of going to Bible study at your church if time alone is what you need. Take Sabbath. Sabbath is important (and I can and will write a whole other blog post on the importance of that). When you step back from a ministry setting, or whatever setting it may be, that’s presenting you with challenge, a hurt heart, or exhaustion, you’re giving yourself time and space for renewal and rest. So, when you’re done and ready to step back in, you’ll be re-energized and ready to take on whatever gets thrown your way.

Pray prayers of thanks & praise to God for tough experiences. These tough experiences that you have gone through, are going through, and will go through – they grow you. They strengthen you. They prepare you for the next tough experience. I know it’s very difficult to sit there before God and say, “Thank you” for trials when what you really want is to look up at him and ask, “Why, God?” But I guarantee you, you will eventually know why, and that ‘why’ will be revealed to you the next time you encounter a tough situation, when you’re able to handle it 10x better than you were able to the last time. I know that it stinks to realize, but yet another harsh reality is that you cannot always dodge crappy experiences. You can learn from them. You can allow them to make you better. When you open yourself to that kind of vulnerability and rise above the hurt in order to have it contribute to your development of thick skin, you’ll thank yourself, and you’ll thank God for the growth it caused.

Seek the wisdom & counsel of those who ‘get it.’ Think about the people whom you trust. Think about your mentors. I encourage you to let go of any fear that you may have of being vulnerable, and seek wise counsel, as the Bible instructs, when you’re in need of some guidance. It’s okay to admit that you do not know everything! Nobody does. But there are people who love and care for you, and who are willing to offer you guidance about how to get by – these are people who understand and have walked or are walking where you are walking now. Personally, if I had a dollar for every time that I have called my pastor or another mentor of mine and straight up said, “I need help” or “I need wisdom” I would be rich, because I am still growing, and when you know you have people who are ‘there,’ you learn to use your resources and seek their help, knowing that they have been where you are and can help you. This has saved me in so many situations; being able to get off my high horse and admit that I need help dealing with a difficult situation or difficult encounter with someone. If nothing else, it helps to know that you’re not the only one who has dealt with what you are dealing with. There are other people around you who have developed thick skin from fighting and getting through exactly what you’re going through. So do not hesitate to reach out, knowing that there is zero shame in doing so.


So friends, those are just some suggestions from a mini preacher who has learned a lot and still has a ton left to learn. I want to note that I am indeed incredibly grateful for the beautiful and messy parts of ministry that I have witnessed thus far, as I acknowledge developing thick skin down will help me later (though that growth will never stop!) And even after witnessing the ugly sides of ministry that have sometimes left me hurting and discouraged, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, because the beautiful parts and the passion far outweigh those negatives. (So, bring it on, world). And while this post itself was geared towards those in the ministry, you can apply these points to really any job setting, career aspiration, or life situation. No matter what you do in life, you’re going to be encountering people. No matter what you do, you’re going to encounter tough situations.

Know that you – yes you – have thick skin, and you are continuously developing thicker skin. Believe that, okay? I know how ridiculously hard it is to believe that and I know how easy it is to think to yourself, “Wow, why in the world can’t I handle this?” But it is in those moments you must pray and talk to God about it. I know that I put prayer in that list three times, and that was intended in order to show the significance of prayer when it comes to ‘having thick skin.’ 

To my brother or sister reading this today, remember: you’ve got this. There is nothing you cannot handle with The Almighty by your side.

Guest Post: “Why, God?” by Jason Stanley

There are a lot of interesting stories in the Bible. And sometimes you are invited to preach about them. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was asked to preach on Genesis 22:1-14 for a church’s midweek service. Genesis 22 is often referred to as “The Binding of Isaac.”

Or, it can be referred to as that time God told a dad to sacrifice his child. (There’s a reason you won’t find this story in a children’s Bible.)

As a dad myself I struggled with this story differently than I had before. How could a loving God ask a dad to give up his son as a sacrifice? What would God ask Abraham to kill his son?

And I wrestled with just how I would preach this text. It is not an easy story. It makes us uncomfortable and we feel anything but safe. It’s not one of those warm and fuzzy children’s Bible kind of story.

And maybe that’s the point?

Perhaps the Genesis writer, who can span generations of families in a single chapter, slows down in the Abrahamic narrative to tell this story (with all the detail) for the simple reason that it makes us uncomfortable – that is causes us to wrestle with it a bit, not unlike how we, from time to time, wrestle with our faith.

And as I wrestled with this text, I tried to imagine what Abraham the dad was thinking. I imagine that when Abraham was chopping wood that day his thoughts ranged from anger to awe. Did he release what anger he had towards God with every swing of the axe? Or did he remember all the times God provided and kept his promises?

I think when crazy things come up in life – like God asking you to sacrifice your child – we tend to search for explanations as to why these things are happening. Why did my dad get cancer? Why did the car break down THIS week? Why does this professor hate me so much?

The problem with seeking explanations, is too often it leaves frustrated because of the answer we get, don’t get, or it leaves us with more questions.

Even though God has asked something crazy and tragic of him, Abraham chooses to be faithful, focusing, not on the explanations – in fact he never asks why –but on the promises of God. Abraham understood that God’s will never contradicts God’s promises.

Our assurance of faith does not stand on explanations; instead it stands on the promises of God.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life, but I imagine that there are days that aren’t as great as others. I imagine that there are some relationship tensions or work place drama that you could do without. There is a lot of crazy going on in our world that may leave us wondering, “Why, God?”

But we must not take our eyes off the sacrificial lamb God provided in Jesus Christ – the fulfillment of promises that God made.

God promises, one by one, are never broken. Unlike the frailty of humanity, God keeps his promises.

When we stand on these promises we, like Isaac, are unbound from the things that hold us down. When we stand firm on the promises of God, we can overcome and weather any trial and test that comes our way.


 

Rev. Jason Stanley is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, chair of the Order of Deacons in the Virginia Conference, and currently serving as the Coordinator for Church Revitalization on the Elizabeth River District in Virginia. Jason is married to Rev. Megan Saucier and dad to Jayne Carter. Jason is also an avid blogger so be sure to check out his blog here and like his blog’s Facebook page here.

childlike trust

This afternoon, I sat nervously in the waiting room of my dentist’s office. If you read my post a few weeks back titled, Clinging tight to You, you may be thinking to yourself, “wait, why were you back at the dentist today – you were just there!” You would be right. I got a filling in one of my teeth about two or three weeks back, and that same tooth had been bothering me recently with major cold sensitivity (literally couldn’t drink water it hurt so bad) so I went back to the dentist today to get it checked out. If you did not read the post that I am referring back to, it is important that I note, as I did in my previous post, that one, if not my biggest fear, is the dentist. So, as I was anxiously waiting there in my chair for my name to be called to get my tooth looked at, a young girl, maybe one or two years of age, came up and sat herself down in the chair right next to mine. Her dad, sitting in a nearby chair, laughed, and watched as her and I made conversation, and by conversation, I mean – me saying things to her, and her giggling at everything I said.

This girls dad said to me, “she is very trusting of strangers – especially women” and that could not have been clearer by how quickly and easily she came up to me, smiled, and proudly (and continuously) showed me the bright blue toothbrush she was holding.

After my encounter with this girl, I thought about this:

How puzzling is it that some young kids can be so trusting of people they don’t even know, yet we, as adults, so often struggle to be trusting of a God we know so well.

The ability to place full trust in God is something that I have definitely struggled with before, like every Christian, and along with that, it’s ironic that before this dental appointment, I had been talking with someone about an upcoming sermon I am going to be writing about Jesus’ call to trust.

Clearly, God has definitely been wanting me to learn the importance of placing my trust in him, and while I never thought that reminder, or lesson, would come to me through a kid who could barely even talk yet, to throw a quote out there, God works in mysterious ways.

This young girl first helped me get my mind off of my tooth that was in pain, and therefore calmed the anxiety I had walking into my appointment, and then, her and her dad, without even knowing it, helped speak a truth to me that I needed to hear. I kept thinking about the father’s words to me, about how trusting she is of strangers.

Man, if only we could be so trusting of God.

If only we could always have that pure, childlike trust in Him.

We read in Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Become like little children.

What does that mean? To become like children. And what does that look like? To have childlike trust.

Well, this young girl I met today paints a pretty great picture of what that looks like.

In my opinion, far too often we underestimate just how much we can learn from young kids. Personally, I like to believe that I learn something new every day, and I would definitely go as far as to say that many days, I learn those lessons from people who are younger than me.

I babysit a lot, and each time, I am so quick to notice how care-free kids are, and how trusting they are of you simply because you are an adult, and you’re supposed to keep them safe for the sole reason that that is what adults do. Kids trust people they don’t know, but we struggle to trust a God we claim to know so well, and follow.

So how do we trust God like this little girl trusted me so easily today?

It’s important to acknowledge that trusting God isn’t easy.

We may never know what makes some kids so trusting of strangers, but why it’s so hard for us to trust God, when we know exactly who he is is the real question we care to venture. We know how loving, caring, and steadfast God is. We know the promises he has made to us in scripture. We know the stories of all the times he has been faithful in the past.

The key, I believe, is to get to know God more.

If you think about it, the more that children get to know a person, the more they trust them. Think of a time you met a kid for the first time, and minutes after meeting them, they already wanted to show you all their toys, all their secret hideouts, and maybe even refused to let go of your hand.

We can learn from that, you know. We should have that kind of childlike trust.

The more you know God, the easier it is to trust him.

So, pray. Pray constantly. Seek God each day. Dive into his Word. Get to know him more and more, acknowledging that you can never know too much about God. He is one great God – he is a God who is available to you all hours of every day. He is there for you to put your whole trust in. He wants you to entrust your whole life into his hands.

If children can trust a complete stranger, you can trust a God who is no stranger to you.

So will you?

 

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.