wholehearted dependence || senior year.

Somehow, here I sit — a gal who has just completed her very first week of senior year – how crazy! I feel as though I was JUST moving into my freshman dorm room yesterday, and now, I am sitting here in my house, which conveniently sits right across from campus, and I am unable to stop thinking about how crazy it is to be in my fourth year of college already. Those years have flown by, but I suppose that is a post for another day.

This past week, I began my senior year of college! The week was long, difficult, & stressful, along with every other synonym for all of those words. I am enrolled in five classes this semester, all psychology, and I am so excited for them! The classes consist of abnormal psych, psych of leadership, counseling, diversity issues in psych, and sensation & perception. They all seem so interesting, and I love learning, so I cannot wait to see what more I’ll learn about psych at the greatest university on the planet (I do apologize in advance, though, to all of the people whom I encounter on a regular basis, because I will undoubtedly be analyzing you and trying to diagnose you in my head).

Along with my classes this semester, I am applying to seminary. As many of you know, I am in the process towards becoming a pastor, specifically, an Elder in the United Methodist Church, and one requirement for that process is to pursue and earn my M. Div. So, slowly but surely, I have been creating my accounts, opening and starting my applications, drafting my written statements, asking for recommendation letters, and figuring out the various deadlines for each seminary I am applying to.

There were many times throughout this past week that I thought to myself, “yep, this is impossible to handle.” And I’m sure there will be many more occurrences throughout the semester in which I will think that to myself. But two words that I’ve been clinging to that I think really sum up what having God in my life means, especially during these crazy stressful seasons, is wholehearted dependence. Just last night as I was journaling, some of the words that flowed right off my heart and onto the page were, “I can’t see how I’m going to handle this semester, because I am not the one handling it — we are — You and me, God.” 

I feel like I don’t even have time to be sitting down right now to breathe and write this post, but first and foremost, self care is still important, no matter how busy you get, and secondly, perhaps you need to be reminded to have this wholehearted dependence on a God who is always faithful, in every season and in every moment.

This week seemed like just about the longest week I’ve had in a while, and perhaps that’s because it began on a not so high note. I got back into Hburg this past Sunday, and I was super disorganized beforehand, because I only had 1 week after getting home from Cuba to pack all of my stuff and uproot myself to Hburg for the semester. I basically unpacked and then repacked and by repacked I mean I threw everything into suitcases and then into my car and called it “packed.” And of course, my move back to this town for my senior year wouldn’t be complete without a little excitement!

On Sunday, I left church with the worst pain and irritation in my right eye. It was as though somebody was taking a toothpick and poking my eye with it continuously. I walked out of church after the church and someone in the parking lot asked me if I was okay, because they thought I was crying, due to how my eyes were watering uncontrollably from the pain, and would not stop twitching. The pain did subside once I had sat in my car for a few minutes, so I began to drive home from church, but when I was about three minutes from home, it began again. I pretty much had to drive with one eye shut, which was stupid on my part, but, I will never do it again, I am alive, and so is everyone I passed on the road. I got home and bolted out of my car to grab my mom and ask for her help, because I thought for sure something was in my eye that I just could not for the life of me see. My mom and sister were planning on coming back to Hburg with me anyways to get me settled, which worked out well, because while I thought I would be able to drive, when I arrived at the gas station before getting on the road, my eye pain, twitching, and watering started again, and there was no way I was going to drive over a mountain like that. I hate driving over Afton mountain even with 20/20 vision, I was not about to do it with an impaired right eye. So, my awesome sister drove my car, my mom following behind. My eye twitched and watered and hurt the entire hour long drive back to my house at school. I was miserable, felt nauseous, and began to get a headache. So, they took me to urgent care once we got back to Hburg, where I got a a bunch of eye drops and found out that I had a corneal abrasion. The provider gave me an antibiotic ointment to put on my eye lid 4 times a day for 5 days (I’m now done with the antibiotics and feeling much, much better!) If you’re wondering what caused the abrasion, I’m afraid I don’t have some cool crazy answer for you. The doctor seemed to think that I originally did have something in my eye, and when I went to try get it out, I scratched the cornea. But anyways, that’s how this week started. I coincidentally do not have class Monday’s or Friday’s, so, Tuesday rolled around, and sure enough, it gave me yet another story:

All summer, I had been waitlisted for a class that I need in order to graduate. I was seventh in line to get into the class, which meant that it was pretty positive I would not get into it this semester. So, I began looking for a back up. Well, pretty much everything I would ever be interested in taking, was full (remember: 20,000 students go to this school). I need at least 15 credits this semester and 15 next semester in order to graduate with enough credits, because of how transferring worked out for me. My back up class ended up being a diversity issues in psych class, which I do not need, but I needed another class in order to be enrolled in 15 credits. Well, I was on the waitlist for that class, too. I was confident that I would get an override if I just showed up to the class and asked the professor for one, considering that I was the only person on the waitlist. However, when I showed up on Tuesday, I went up to the professor at the beginning of class to ask her about an override, and she told me that she does not give overrides because she wants the class to be as small as possible. So I left after she told me that, practically in tears, and I went to my department building to try to find another class online. Right when I sat down at my computer and logged into my university account, I saw that I had been enrolled in the class and off of the waitlist for that class — that class I had just been told I couldn’t be in because I was on the waitlist.

“Okay, God…I see you!”

The entire time I was waitlisted in that one class over the summer (the first class) I wasn’t worried about it at all. I trusted that it would work out one way or another. I am so close to graduation — I knew I would be okay, which doesn’t mean that I can just not work and expect God to have everything fall into place for me, rather, it means I was at peace while doing all that I possibly could to make it all work out…one way or another. Because when I think about it, that’s how it has always worked. God has always made a way, even if it wasn’t the ‘best way’ in my opinion, it was the way in his eyes, and it has always been better than any plan I could’ve had for myself. So rather than worrying myself sick about something that I ultimately had zero control over, I chose to believe it would work out…one way or another. All of that stems from my vivid memory of my first semester here at JMU — one night I paced back and forth outside of the library sobbing on the phone to my mom about how I thought I was going to fail calculus and never graduate college let alone graduate on time…………and here I am. God has gotten me this far. He has taken care of me. He will take care of you. He will take care of us, always.

When I got off that waitlist and into the class, I was hesitant at first because it was not my first choice, but after pausing in my tracks for a second, I thought maybe that was God saying to me, ‘hey, go for it — this is me taking care of you, again, as promised’

This week, while I have been going, going, going, and while crawling into bed has been the most satisfying thing in the world, every night, I haven’t let myself go to bed without reminding myself that God has me — that I am taken care of by him, today & always. He will be with me as I stress about classes and as I get all of my seminary applications and documents submitted by each of their deadlines. He will be with me while I take my exams, embrace this last year of school with my friends, and he will be with me when I find out if I’ve gotten accepted or rejected from these seminaries. He will be there, and he will have me in the palm of his hand, no matter what. We’re so lucky to have a God like that. This past week, I got to share at my church here in H-burg about my time in Cuba, and it reminded me of 2 things, including that, but also,

(1) The world is so much bigger than we see it and (2) I am called.

Cuba opened my eyes in many different ways to many different things, and I’m still processing what all of those different things are. But I miss it so much, and I can’t wait to go back one day (soon!!!), which reminds me that this world is so much bigger than school. It’s bigger than the view we have of ourselves and of life right now as students in college.

(2) I was reminded that I am called to minister. I’m not called to school, I’m not even called to seminary — those are steps on the path that I need to take and am excited to take, in order to get to my goal and call to become a pastor, but school is not my final goal nor should it cloud my vision from the opportunities I have right here, right now, to minister. I’m called to serve wherever I am. I’m called to love wherever I am and whomever I’m around. I’m called to show Jesus to people who know him already and people who do not. I am so excited to continue pursuing God’s call upon my life, here, where I am now, at the greatest university on the planet, as well as in the future, in seminary and beyond.

This semester is going to be difficult, and stressful, and filled with lots of coffee and probably some mental breakdowns and crying sesh’s here & there, either in my church’s sanctuary or on the phone with my parents. But I will always get back up. I have wonderful people surrounding me all of the time, I live with 5 of the greatest gals I know, I have amazing friends, family, and mentors loving and supporting me, near and from afar. And I have the greatest God, who I know has me in the palm of his hand.

I really appreciate any prayers you have to offer for this semester that is before me, and please let me know how I can be praying for you! & Remember to have that wholehearted dependence on our God — He is faithful and steadfast always!

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Cuba 2018 || the people.

Its been four days since our team got back into the States after 10 days in Cuba, and I am realizing, through my talking about it & reflecting on my time there, that no words will ever be sufficient. I kept telling myself that I would write a post about the trip when I had, “the right words,” but there are no ‘right’ words to sum up or describe the 10 days we spent in Cuba the way it deserves – in a way, I think that is actually pretty special. Words are so powerful, and for a mission trip to be so powerful that not even words can fully grasp it, is pretty amazing to me. I think maybe it can only be understood and grasped through living & experiencing it, and I am forever thankful to have done just that. I realize it doesn’t help me much as a writer or blogger, to struggle to find words to encompass what those 10 days were to me, but I couldn’t not write about it, so here I am, just typing and seeing where the words go.

I am still reflecting on this trip each day, letting it all sink in, and taking away lessons from my experience there — I think my time in Cuba impacted me more than my mind & heart are able to grasp and realize right now, which is why I’m sure there will be many more than just 1 post. Firstly, how a mission trip affects you is something I feel you can never quite fully prepare yourself for — you can plan, you can pack all of your necessities, you can talk about it, you can have a (very) tentative itinerary, but there is a lot that you will not know until it’s happening, and a lot that could happen that you simply cannot plan for. From the very beginning, since the day I said, ‘yes’ to this opportunity, I was most excited about the people — the relationships that would be built, both with my teammates and with our brothers & sisters whom we would meet in Cuba. That was what made me most excited, and as I sit here, 4 days post-Cuba, I can confidently report back that the people are what made this trip what it was; the beautiful, beautiful people of Cuba were a part of the trip that I most certainly could have never prepared myself for.

The relationships we built with those in San Juan de los Yeras over the course of a short five days continues to leave me in awe. Before I even met any of them, I would so easily refer to them as my brothers & sisters, because God kept reminding me that they are my family — that we are all one in Christ, and wow, what a difference that makes when it comes to our perspectives and view of others — when we remember that we are all part of God’s family, & that no race, ethnicity, nationality, or language changes that. They are our brothers & sisters, and they inspire me — they persevere, they are tenacious, they are innovative, they are kind, they are generous, they are passionate, you won’t find them complaining or looking at themselves as victims, they love the Lord with all their heart & mind & soul & strength, and they rely on him to the extent that I am still striving to rely on him. And the people I got to call my teammates, who I grew such a deep love & care for over the course of 10 days makes me grateful every day. One of my favorite things to do is to truly know people; to know their strengths, their gifts, their likes, dislikes, and watch them be lights for God. I got to do that on this trip, whether they realized it or not, they each taught me something about themselves and about God and I just love that.

Beth and Kevin are two of the most intelligent individuals I have ever met on this planet. I had the pleasure of sitting in the same row as them on the airplane all four flights, and I found that while everyone else was watching movies, sleeping, or listening to music, Beth & Kevin would sit there and pass the time by doing crossword puzzles or studying a Spanish textbook. Kevin also has a wonderfully unique and simply astounding singing voice. Mary Kaye sings also, and when she sings, the type of sound that exits her mouth is one which you may imagine hearing upon entering the gates to Heaven — I am pretty positive my jaw dropped to the floor and remained there every time she would sing. The presence she has when standing before large groups of people is confident & lovely, as is her spirit, in general. She is so great at connecting with people, which is something I got to witness so well in Cuba through her interactions with the people there. Larry is so subtly hilarious, and also wears many hats — he is a preacher, a bus driver, great at speaking Spanish, and I bet you didn’t know he also has his own bank, “The Bank of Larry — open 24/7.” Paul is remarkably kind, a wonderful pastor & pal, he is always encouraging others, has great wisdom to share, he listens intently to what you have to say rather than simply thinking of how to respond while you’re talking, and is also so, so great with children. Gary was our ‘doctor’ throughout our time in Cuba, and he carried out the title well. He is a calm presence if I’ve ever known one, he checks in on you, and he is a BOSS at the game UNO (but he’s not as great as Pastor Gaspar, sorry Gary). Gary also let’s people pick on him (but not without dishing it right back to you). Joanna is a painting pro, she is so fun to be around, she loves well & cares for people well, she is full of energy, and always up for anything. I do wish I had a penny for every time the words, “where is my wife?” came out of Paul’s mouth — but the answer is that she was always off enjoying herself & taking awesome pics of the beautiful places we journeyed to! Also, the love between those two is #MarriageGoals. Viv – Viv is one of the sweetest individuals you will ever meet. She goes with the flow, never has anything negative to say about anything or anyone, & you will never heard a complaint come out of her mouth. She is the definition of optimistic and I strive to have that amount of optimism! Meredith has the best personality and a spectacular attitude about life & about whatever circumstances she finds herself in, especially on this trip, where she fell down not one but two times. She also so easily formed bonds with the people, especially 15 year old Diana. P.J. is the definition of free spirited. She’s like a little kid in the best possible way, she is super fun to be around, and is always so excited about everything which I LOVE. She was cracking everyone up the whole trip. Kerry has the best work ethic – he sets his mind on a task, he problem solves well, and he helps gets the job done. He is independent but also simultaneously works so well with a team. He has the softest heart, is great with children, and with being relational in general. And when he leads a devotion, or prayer, or communion, he speaks in such a calm manner that one can only attribute to the Spirit.

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Those are the people I got to travel with, and I have to say, traveling with an A+ team like them and then meeting even more amazing people during our time in Cuba filled & continues to fill my heart in a way I really cannot express in writing.

I would go as far as to say I was convicted on this trip in that I did not realize how much more I really need to be showing the love of God through my own actions, until I met the people of Cuba, and was shown so vividly how Jesus loved with his actions. Way before I left for Cuba, I was talking to a friend of mine expressing some concern because I barely know any Spanish, and she told me, “on the mission trips I’ve been on, I’ve found that God’s love always overcomes those language barriers.” I had no idea just how true that statement would play out to be. God’s love is something that should be shown more than merely talked about. I witnessed, experienced, and received God’s love on this trip in ways I had never before. I received love & generosity from people who are more rich in it than I have ever been, and I’m thankful for that conviction. I’m thankful for the love I was shown and thankful for the presence of so many beautiful people all in one place for those 10 days (especially the 5 days we spent in San Juan). I was so content being surrounded by these beautiful people, listening to them, laughing with them, playing UNO with them, worshiping with them, sharing meals with them. And it’s funny, because I’m an introvert, so while I love & adore people, I need my time alone to gain back energy I pour out eing around people for long periods of time, but on this trip, I was constantly around people, and not once did I become anxious and tired of being around people. Id be lying if I said I was anxiety-free the entire trip, but never any anxiety about being around so many people so often. To me, that was God giving me the energy, strength, and fuel he knew I needed to be my happy self and be present on this trip, with the people — my brothers & sisters. That was a common theme throughout those 10 days — God doing what only God can do.

The verse I clung to during this trip was Psalm 4:3,  “the Lord takes personal care of the faithful (CEB).’ It’s the first verse I opened up to in Psalm when I was preparing to lead devotions our first morning in Cuba (Saturday, the…). Every single person on our team was there because they were faithful to God’s call to ‘go.’ I was comfortable outside of my comfort zone, and I think that so describes what life with God is — he calls us out upon the waters, literally out of where is comfortable, and he takes care of us the whole time –  never fails. I never in a million years would have seen myself going to Cuba on a mission trip, or preaching in another country with a translator, but I said to God, “here I am,” and so there I was.

& I will be back. I knew the moment I got there that it would not be my only time in Cuba. The people — they, I believe, make Cuba the place it is. The country is beautiful, the old cars are neat, the history is fascinating, sad, difficult to understand, & yet powerful, but the people — you know the beauty of Cuba when you know the people. I cannot wait to go back.

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This picture was from Wednesday evening worship — we were each gifted with straw hats which we had no idea about…there were many hugs, tears, and smiles.

5 1/2 years||recovery

The 13th of August is actually the day that marks 5 1/2 years, so I am posting this a little early given that I will be out of the country on the 13th & likely without access to the blog. (but will I still carry myself extra joyfully & maybe do some cartwheels around Cuba to celebrate? it’s likely). I wanted to be sure I wrote & published this before I left because over the past few years it has become somewhat of a tradition for me to write a reflective post whenever I hit a whole or half year anniversary in recovery, and doing so is important to me for 2 reasons. First and foremost, I know there are people who read this blog solely for the posts surrounding mental health, eating disorders, & recovery, and I want to share whatever hope I can with them. While writing about such an important & vulnerable part of my life still makes me a little anxious, I think in our society today, it’s important to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, especially as a means of breaking stigmas. I know that back when I was first beginning recovery, I would seek out people to talk to who I knew could relate, and I would always find myself reading articles or blogs online that could help me navigate it all. So now that I am where I am, its become important to me that this blog serves as that source of hope for people who may need it, just as I did. I also write these posts to keep track of this journey for myself, because my recovery is & continues to be the reason that I am here today, and I think that’s something to celebrate, both in writing & in life.

As I approach 5 1/2 years, I think one of the biggest things I’ve been learning recently is that being in recovery is not a weakness. As open as I’ve been about this part of my life, the whole ‘recovery does not indicate weakness’ concept is a fairly new one to me, and it’s something I’m still working on believing entirely. I am a perfectionist, and while none of our lives, realistically, are perfect, having struggled with an eating disorder and being in recovery is a part of my life that stands out to me as ‘imperfect,’ and my mind likes to remind me of that. But what I’m learning is that it’s okay to be in recovery and not yet be fully recovered, and that it’s not a weakness.

I had this belief in my head that I could not simultaneously be in recovery and also be an effective leader in ministry, or an aspiring pastor. When I interviewed with DCOM for my certification interview, we talked about this a lot, and I had no idea walking into that interview that along with being overjoyed about becoming certified, I would also be encouraged in my recovery by the nine or so laity & pastors, including my DS, who interviewed & certified me. It stirred up in my head this crazy idea that maybe this isn’t the end all be all — that I can excel in life and in ministry while also being in recovery. While there is no doubt in my mind that I will be fully recovered one day, it is a beautiful thing to know that I will be supported by those both in my professional and personal life until that day comes. I don’t think the members of DCOM will ever understand the extent to which they reassured me of this truth — that it’s okay to have crap to go through and that you can struggle and still lead well & effectively in the Church (and anywhere else!) Given that my recovery and my call to ministry are two of the most important things in the world to me, believing this has been a life changing thing. In retrospect, I can’t believe I ever let myself think I couldn’t continue in the process towards pastoral leadership unless I no longer had a figurative mountain to climb, or that I could not be in the process of recovery without failing miserably as a leader. But the reality of it is, we all, at some point in our lives (more than once) will have various mountains to climb, because we’re human beings! But that does not at all make us incapable of doing anything, especially not what God has called us to do. That is a truth that sunk in even more for me the day that I sat down in a church one Sunday and listened to a pastor preach about their recovery from an addiction. To hear that being preached from the pulpit & to see someone stand before me who is in recovery, and also a pastor was so helpful in my walk. It was reassurance that I think I needed in order to begin believing that it’s okay to not be perfect, cliche as that sounds. As I sat there, God was like, “hey, you don’t have to choose between being in recovery and being a pastor, you know.” And that is just one of the many examples of how I did not come to this realization all on my own. Along with God I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get this ingrained into my head. The mentors, pastors, & all of the people in my life who I look up to, I once did everything in my power to hide my recovery from, for fear of coming across as weak — but now? They’re some of my biggest supporters in recovery. Not too long ago, I was tagging along on hospital/house visits with one of my pastors, and it was about lunch time and we hadn’t finished our visits yet, so they said, “we’re going to get lunch out, unless that makes you nervous,” and I’ll never forget being taken aback, in a good way, that someone I look up to would be conscious of something like that. Comments like that still make me step back in awe because it rips apart my belief that this is something people will look at me differently for, treat me as fragile or weak for, or something that nobody could ever be ‘normal’ about. But those are lies. Instead, these people who may not even begin to understand what recovery is, still pray for & with me, they listen, they let me vent or cry, they check in with me, & they willingly hold me accountable – these people are nothing short of a blessing from God. It may have taken me 5 years, but I am grateful to slowly but surely be getting over seeing my recovery as some sort of weakness, and instead, seeing it as something that could actually make me a better person, leader, student, friend, & future pastor. We all have crap to go through, amen? Even those whom we think so highly of, or deem perfect. But that crap that we go through doesn’t deem you or me incapable of excelling, or incapable of being used by God. Whatever your mountain is, whatever challenge you face, remember it does not have to stunt your ability to thrive, and it does not make you weak. These obstacles you face aren’t supposed to hinder you, deem you weak, make you ashamed, or discourage you. They’re supposed to help create you.

Personally, it’s not that often that I say out loud the 6 words, “I am in recovery from anorexia” but in my mind, they’re words that carry with them strength, when they used to be words that carried with them shame. I remember when I wasn’t in recovery, still in the very depths of the disorder, and how miserable I constantly was. But now I see where I am in recovery — 5 1/2 years in — and I see how happy & in love with life I am. 5 1/2 years is a long time, and its been hard work, and still is hard work some days and some weeks. But it is beautiful. So don’t lose hope. You’ll get there. Remember recovery is a process more so than it is a choice that you make just once. I say and I write that all the time but it’s a truth that I don’t think can be acknowledged too much. Recovery is a choice you make day after day after day, meal after meal after meal, and sometimes, moment after moment after moment. I am able to have a healthy relationship with food & eat all of the peanut butter m&ms and ice cream I want, I am so very happy with where I am and where God is calling me and am able to exercise because I genuinely love it and want to make my body strong. I am so much better off than I was 5 1/2 years ago, & in every possible aspect of life — mentally, physically, emotionally.  But eating & food? It’s still a struggle some days. And on those days, I just have to fight a little harder. That is the reality of recovery from an eating disorder, or recovery from any illness. It’s not a perfect road. It’s a process, and it’s not one that you can rush. But it’s worth it — more worth it than I could even begin to write here. If you’re struggling, I want you to know that. I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggle and also want you to know that you are strong enough to fight. It’s going to be hard, so you’re going to need to fight like hell, and I know it feels impossible, but it’s not. Remember that having a mental illness of any kind does not make you weak. It’s just something you’ve been handed to combat and overcome, and you are fully capable of doing just that, so do not let yourself believe otherwise, and don’t let anyone else make you believe otherwise, either. You are strong, and you are capable. Study those words until you believe them, and never let yourself forget them. I didn’t, I haven’t, and it’s why I’ve reached 5 1/2 years. I believe in you!

weak enough to lead?

This year at annual conference, as I was scanning the Cokesbury section, I came across a book titled, “Weak Enough To Lead” by James C. Howell. The title jumped out at me in such a way that I didn’t even need to read the summary on the cover before snatching it off the table and heading up to the register to purchase it. The book jumped out at me because its topic was one which I have wrestled with a lot in life, feeling as though weaknesses somehow deem me incapable of leading, especially, leading in ministry and as a pastor someday. At times, I have found myself plagued by this feeling of defeat, as though I was too weak or ‘not cut out’ for what God has called me to do. I have always been a perfectionist, always set high expectations for myself, and am hard on myself if I ‘fail’ or don’t reach my goals at the very time that I had planned. I don’t like to complain or dwell on bad things, and admitting struggle or weakness is something I am not great at. So, perhaps, after stating all of that, it’s not too hard to imagine this book being one that I just couldn’t pass by. As I have read it more and more, I have found that it addresses every single thing I have listed above, and more.

Many times, I have thought to ask myself, “am I too weak to lead?”

But never once have I thought to ask myself, “am I weak enough to lead?”

That is the very question this book examines:

Am I weak enough to lead?

My recovery is something that I am very open and honest about in my conversations with people and in my writing, which many of you know. I am almost 5 1/2 years in recovery from anorexia, and I’ll actually be on a mission trip in Cuba on the 5 1/2 year mark, but you better believe that I am still going to jump up and down a few times out of joy and celebrate the accomplishment it is to me. Something I am not so open about, however, is the fact that recovery is a journey more so than it is a one time decision, and like any journey, it has bumps, detours, obstacles, highs, lows, and everything in between, and for the sake of being honest and at the risk of being vulnerable, I do still struggle at times with my recovery, and it is for that very reason that, at times, it has made me feel as though I am somehow too weak or too incapable of leading. This isn’t because I see my recovery or the fact that I have struggled with an eating disorder as a weakness, rather, it is something about my life that is not perfect, and as a perfectionist, one can see how that could affect my confidence in my leadership abilities. It wasn’t until recently that I came to the realize and truly believe that being a pastor and being in recovery are not mutually exclusive. I thank God for helping me realize that, and I thank him for continuing to assist me in believing that.

My recovery and the ministry I am called to are two of the most important things in my life, and God knows that full well. He knows that I am in recovery – heck, he has been with me every single step that I have taken since day 1 of being diagnosed, to day 1 of beginning recovery, all the way up until now, and he’s still trekking along beside me, behind me, and before me.

God also has called me to be a pastor. He has called me to a life of ministry for him, in service to others. God knows I have weaknesses, and in fact, he knows those weaknesses inside and out, better than even I do. Even so, that doesn’t diminish his confidence in my ability, through him, to pursue his call upon my life to be a leader in the Church.

I don’t personally think for one second that God looks at us and thinks, “she is strong enough for this” or “he is strong enough for this.” God doesn’t call only people who have no weaknesses or no imperfections, because if we’re being honest, those people don’t exist. This book has made me think about the possibility that, rather than calling us based on our strengths or how equipped we are, God looks at us and says,

“She is weak enough – I will give her the strength she needs to lead and I will use her weaknesses for the benefit of my kingdom.”

“He is weak enough – I will give him the strength he needs to lead and I will use his weaknesses for the benefit of My Kingdom.”

Brothers and sisters, it is normal – innate, even – to have weaknesses. There are many differences between you and me and everyone else in this world, but something we all have in common is that we all have weaknesses. We all have brokenness. We all fall short. We all have pain. We all endure hardships. We all sin. We all mess up. We all fail. We are all imperfect. No leader is without any of those things.

I am thankful to have not only a hand full, but two hands full of mentors, pastors, and simply amazing leaders in my life, and one of the many things I respect most about those leaders is their willingness to acknowledge weakness, to be vulnerable, to show emotion, to admit when they don’t know something, to acknowledge their imperfections, to admit their faults, to talk about their fears and their challenges, and let people know that being a leader doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still human. I pray to embody that authenticity as an individual and as a pastor someday. I have more distrust than I do admiration for leaders who try to portray themselves as these perfect individuals who are never weak. Because that’s fake. We all have weaknesses so to portray yourself as though you have none is inauthentic and misleading for those who look up to you and those whom you are leading. Having weaknesses and being a leader are also not mutually exclusive. If anything, they make you a better leader.

I am preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you when I write this, but do not be ashamed of the things that you consider to be weaknesses in your life, especially when you have a God who is eager to use those weaknesses! Don’t cover them up, rather, embrace them. I know that is easier said than done, but God can actually use them and perfect his strength in those weaknesses. Our weaknesses do not deem us incapable of leading. We are weak, but God is strong. We have flaws, but God is flawless. We are imperfect, but Jesus was & is perfect. I encourage you to ask the question: Am I weak enough to lead? & What does that mean to and for you?

To close out this post, I wanted to leave you with a quote to contemplate from the book I just have mentioned above (I strongly recommend picking up a copy!!)

…Is it that God uses our strengths? Or is it even truer that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness? (Howell, 2017). 


 

Loving and gracious God,

Thank you for using our weaknesses, perhaps even more than you use our strengths. Thank you for being present in our lives as a stronghold and rock, so that we don’t ever have to rely on our own strength. We pray that when we feel incapable or weak that you would remind us that yes – we are incapable and we are weak but you are strong and you are capable. We pray that you would fill us with spirit and enable us to go out and lead, and serve, in your Son, Jesus’ name. We pray that we would be weak enough to lead. Take our pride, God, and take our desire to be perfect and replace it with humility and peace not only in who you’ve made us to be but in who you are. We pray all of this in your name –

Amen. 

 

loving all our neighbors.

About six weeks ago in my psychology & culture class, we were assigned our groups for a project that we would be doing which focused on topics relating to social justice. For this project, each group would need to partner up with an organization either in our local community or on our university’s campus, in order to fulfill the project’s goal of helping spread awareness & education on these various topics.

My group of six partnered with our university’s Muslim Student Association, and the topic we chose to focus in on was religion, specifically, religious minorities and the stereotypes & misconceptions associated with Islam. Through out the course of this project, we attended meetings, as well as a couple of events during Islam Awareness Week, which occurred this past Tuesday through Friday. The events my group attended included a hijab workshop, as well as a talk given by a professor about the Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Yesterday, my group visited a local mosque to attend & observe a service consisting of prayer and a sermon, or, “Khutbah,”  followed by a Q&A.

This psych & culture class in and of itself has opened my eyes so wide & taken me out of my comfort zone all semester in ways I never expected a class to, and yesterday was no exception. As much as I would love to sit here and write that my decision to go to this mosque was one that I came to easily, that would be a lie. I wrestled a lot with my decision to go or not to go, mainly because, honestly, it made me uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a headscarf, feeling as though doing so would be conforming to an aspect of a religion I don’t personally believe in. I was uncomfortable with the idea of going & being in a house of worship that I was so unfamiliar with. I was uncomfortable getting so up close & personal with a religion that I don’t practice & know so little about. These thoughts and feelings made me feel like a horrible person, but I’m not going to invalidate those thoughts & feelings or leave them out of this post, because it was all part of the process of me deciding to go. Though I understood all along that wearing the headscarf would be out of respect for their faith & that I would never even begin to think to be a guest in somebody else’s house of worship only to be disrespectful by not wearing the appropriate attire, and I knew that going wouldn’t somehow make me stop believing in Jesus or make Jesus mad at me. etc, the idea of going to a mosque simply just made me a little nervous. My initial thought was “I’m Christian – why would I go?” And that very question was the one I wrestled with the most, along with “why wouldn’t I go?” Something in me would not let me just say no or yes without first wrestling with the possibility of both. And so, I prayed, I talked with a couple friends, & I reached out to a pastor of mine. Because going would be pretty far out of my comfort zone, something I had on repeat in my head was a saying he told me, which was to, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Welp, that was exactly what I did yesterday. And honestly? There was not one ounce of comfort involved, so, aI simply chose to bask in the discomfort, and I am glad I did.

While my anxiety was vicious & I wish I could say I felt peace which surpassed my understanding as my pastor graciously prayed for me to have, I didn’t feel much peace, but that’s okay, and the reason I think that’s okay is because I realized, the whole time I was waiting to feel peace and comfort about going or not going, I was neglecting to remember that that is not at all what the Christian walk is about. It’s not comfortable. In fact it is seldom comfortable. I look down everyday and I see this bracelet that has not left my wrist since making it back in January, and its purpose is literally to remind me to ask God to take me and use me, whether it’s comfortable or not. Therefore, I have no business getting upset when he does just that. I’m allowed to be scared, but I need to try to do it scared. And so, I did.

 

cubablogg

I kept my nerves and my hesitancy to myself around my group members, but before we got out of the car upon arriving at the mosque, one of them expressed to me that he himself was nervous, in which I simply replied, “same” (while I, of course, was internally jumping for joy at the fact that someone else was feeling what I was feeling).

We walked into the mosque together as a group and were warmly welcomed and told how their Friday services usually go. We then placed our shoes on the shelf and entered the room where the prayer & sermon would take place. Upon entering that room, the women were directed to the back right of the room, behind a tall curtain, and the men were directed to the front of the room. We, the women, were then given headscarves to put on, and those of us not participating in the prayer were asked to sit towards the corner, so as not to get in the way as they carried out their prayer(s).

Was I comfortable? No. But I went & stayed through the service, through that not so fun feeling of discomfort, and left the mosque feeling glad to have gone, and eager to process it.

See up until an hour or two before we left for the mosque, I still was not sure I wanted to go, so, it goes without saying that I definitely wished that I had had somebody there to tell me Ashley, just go or Ashley, just don’t go, but I’m smart enough to know that none of my friends or mentors are dumb enough to tell me that & make it that easy for me, no matter how much I want them to. However, I think God did nudge me a little to go, through one of my group members. Our group met up before the service to go over our PowerPoint presentation for Monday, and during our meeting, we got to talking about the religions that we each individually belong to. After talking about that for a bit, one of my group members looked at me and said, “You are the only open minded Christian I have ever met.”

I thought to myself, “Alright God, I see you.” Also, “No pressure or anything.”

By this group members words, I was reminded of my call as a Christian, let alone as a future pastor, to be a witness for Jesus and who he is. I can’t effectively do that if I am around people who are similar to me all the time. I can’t do that if I reject people who belong to various different religions and I cannot love all my neighbors if I dismiss a select few of them for what they believe or don’t believe. If God put me in this group in which I am the only Christian, and in this class in which I am 1 of 2 Christians, that’s an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus by being like Jesus and showering them with the love of God — not an opportunity to add to the hypocrisy or hate or close mindedness that they have already experienced enough of from Christians. I know full well that I am no perfect embodiment of what a Christian is supposed to be like & I probably makes God roll his eyes at least 5 times a day, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to imitate Jesus around everyone I encounter, but especially in the presence of people who have lost hope that such a Christian exists. I took this group members comment seriously, even knowing that I am not as open-minded as I should be or as I want to be someday. I also took it as a reminder of my responsibility to imitate Jesus more than I try to imitate a religious person who shoves a set of rules down people’s throats to follow.

So yesterday, I went, & I went for a lot of different reasons. I went to educate myself, to see with my own eyes how those of Islamic faith worship. I went in hopes of maybe helping to eradicate this belief that all Christian’s are intolerant of hearing beliefs different from their own. I went to face my feeling of discomfort for the sake of growing & having my mind opened. I went to show as much kindness as I could to those there, whether they worshiped Allah, Jesus, or no god at all.

I am not going to sit here and try to act as though my faith is really not all that different from that of my Muslim brothers & sisters, and I do not know everything there is to know about their faith, or my own faith for that matter, but I do know that my faith teaches me to love my neighbors – that means my Muslim neighbors, my atheist neighbors, my Christian neighbors, my neighbors of all races, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic status’. If I can get just one thing right in my walk with Christ, I pray that it would be that – loving other people unconditionally just as Christ himself did.

I am finding that the more I learn, the more questions I have. And I like to think that’s a good thing. I’m so lucky as to have people in my life who are willing to either answer those questions that I have, or simply wrestle through them with me, and I really urge you reading this today to find people in your life who can do the same for you, because it’s really nice to know you’re not alone in the confusions, frustrations, and questions you have.

I could definitely write more about this experience, but I am still processing my visit and am still processing this project and class as a whole, so that is all of the writing I’ll leave you with (for now). My hope & my prayer would be that as a society & as a world that consists of different cultures, individuals, and religions with similarities and with differences, that we would be able to reach a place of seeing one another for who we are, differences and all, and being okay with embracing just that, understanding that differences do not have to equal division. I am as guilty as the next person for allowing differences and my discomfort with unfamiliarity to stand in the way of embracing all people the way I should. We’re all imperfect & are going to mess up, but that’s no excuse not to try. So I’m preaching to myself just as much as I am to you when I say, go out of your way to learn about someone different from you. Educate yourself. Do your research. Expand your knowledge. And get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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.