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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Charlottesville.

When the events in Charlottesville happened this past weekend, I knew right away that I would want to write about it, but I wanted to wait a little while. I wanted to wait and take some time to gather my thoughts and figure out how to formulate the ‘right’ words to put out there for the world to see. Before tonight, whenever I would sit down to write, I could not for the life of me seem to find words that described to the fullest the heaviness and large affect that this weekend had on so many people and on our town. But I realized tonight that it’s not about having the ‘right’ words. There really are no ‘right’ words to say or write when something like this happens, so I’m going to try, to the best of my ability, to share my reflections on this past weekend’s horrific events, in my beloved hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

On Friday evening, when I saw all over social media what was happening down on the campus of UVA, it made me absolutely sick. Just 10 minutes from my house, I have walked the campus of UVA more times than I can count – it is absolutely beautiful, but all of a sudden, there were crowds of people with lit torches walking all over it – people who were clearly filled with so much hate, anger, and rage. The worst part about these people stomping around with torches is that it was only the beginning of what would end up being a horrific day that would impact our town for despicable reasons.

As this, “Unite the Right” rally approached, I knew that that Saturday was going to be ugly, I’m sure we all did, but none of us knew exactly how ugly it would become, or how quickly it would escalate. I certainly never thought that my hometown would become a nation wide topic of conversation, and for such an awful, awful reason. I never thought that I would open social media and see my town’s name all over the place with hashtags and on the news nation wide. Yet here we are, amid the aftermath of something that nobody native to Charlottesville ever thought would happen here. You see it happening in other places all the time, but you never expect it to be something that your own small town is in the news for.

On Saturday morning, my plan was to go downtown and be among those who were down there from various faith communities, but I couldn’t find anyone who was able to go with me, so I opted not to. Instead, I watched live videos on social media, I watched the news, and I read countless tweets and Facebook posts about what was going on down there. I saw videos of the violence that broke out in numerous areas of downtown – the fist fighting, the attacking one another…I saw so much hate and disunity – more than I had ever seen firsthand before in my life.  It made me sick to watch and read about, but at the same time, I couldn’t stand to not keep myself updated about what was going on down there.

Saturday afternoon, I logged back onto Facebook and immediately saw the news about the car that had ran head on into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters on the downtown mall, injuring about 20 people and killing one. A little while following this car incident, I heard about the helicopter that had crashed, killing two police officers who were on duty doing air control for all that was occurring in town. Like most people, I couldn’t help but be brought to tears watching as all of these events take place in my hometown – the hometown I love so incredibly much.

One thing that had these events on Saturday weighing especially heavy on my heart was the fact that I was scheduled to preach the next day. I would be filling in for my pastor that Sunday – the Sunday after all of these horrible events had taken place. Never had I ever been scheduled to serve in a church service, let alone lead one following an event as huge and close to home as this was.

The whole day as tragic event after tragic event occurred, I couldn’t even bring myself to begin brainstorming the words that I would say in church the next day about it all. When I saw videos of that car plowing into the group of innocent, peaceful protesters, I knew I should say something. When I heard about and then saw on the local news about the helicopter crash, and that two more innocent lives had been lost, there was no question that something needed to be said about this in church. Being politically correct was not a concern of mine as it (to be completely honest) has been in the past. To me, this was no political issue – to me, if you are human, these events made your stomach twist. So while I knew that I needed to say something, I was a nervous wreck. I found myself in a puddle of tears trying to think of how in the world I would come up with the ‘right words’ to say following something so terrible. I contemplated calling my pastor and seeing what he would say in the service if he were preaching, but I refrained, and thought, “Na, I got this, don’t bother him.” I had an event to go to in the evening on Saturday, so I left my sermon editing for when I got home, acknowledging that I really needed to sit down and think, reflect, and pray hard about what all I would say come Sunday morning. While I was at this event, my pastor ended up calling me. He informed me that despite him originally having that Sunday off, he would be in church – due to everything that had taken place, he felt he needed to be there. I hung up that phone call and took one big sigh of relief. I would still be preaching and leading various aspects of the worship services, but having the presence of a pastor there to guide the services on that day was what this aspiring pastor needed.

I have never in my life preached with as heavy of a heart as I did this past Sunday. I must say that I am so immensely thankful for the Holy Spirit’s ability to give us words when we seem to have none.

I got home from the event I was at late Saturday night, knowing that the sermon I had prepared for that Sunday was not the exact sermon I should or could preach anymore. I knew that I needed to tweak it, so that I could acknowledge everything that had happened – the loss of innocent lives, the pain our town is in, how we move forward, what can the Church do, etc. I woke up around 5:00 a.m Sunday morning with new words to put into my sermon. New words that I prayed would bring more insight, peace, and comfort to a hurting congregation (and to a hurting me as well). I am so thankful for God’s ability to show up and make his peaceful presence known when we need it most – this past Sunday morning was undoubtedly the most nervous I had been before preaching in a long, long time. But by the grace of God, he led myself and my pastor through those services so that we could lead the congregation, and I was so aware of and confident of his presence there with us – it was a beautiful and gut wrenching Sunday morning all at the same time.

Looking back, I’m so glad none of us walked into that church and acted as though it did not happen, especially because what happened, happened right in our backyard. What happened in town on Friday evening and on Saturday – that was not Jesus. Our churches, communities, towns, and world needs to be reminded of who Jesus was and is. That is why I am so grateful that the sermon that just so happened to go along with the sermon series we’re currently in, was about Jesus’ identity, and in turn, our identity which lies in Jesus. On Sunday, we talked about who Jesus is. We talked about the fact that our identity lies in him which means we’re called to be like him. We talked about how much power there is in his name. We talked about how loving he is, and how love is what we need to show in this world if we want to be more like Jesus.

The hate, darkness, and loss that occurred this past weekend has left our town with a sense of brokenness that I cannot quite articulate to you all. Driving through downtown feels eerie and different right now. Last night I attended an impromptu prayer vigil led by a local United Methodist Church, and the large group of people who came together there to pray, sing hymns, and talk in the very park where so much hate was being spewed on Saturday, gave me a sense of peace, of comfort, and of hope. Following this prayer vigil, I walked with my sister and friend over to where the car came through – the memorial for Heather, where there were countless beautiful flowers, candles, letters, and pictures. Witnessing all of this with my own eyes for the first time was gut wrenching. But I have an incredible amount of hope – I am so convinced that, because of the way that our community has come together following these events, and because of the God we have, there is hope for reconciliation and healing, and that this community has the potential, through prayer and loving one another more than hating, to our come together even closer instead of divide further, despite any of our differences.

The Church plays a very important role in this – when events such as these take place, The Church has work to do. It needs to act. It needs to act because in times of darkness and pain like these, talking about it isn’t enough. There can be prayer vigils, safe places where people can go and process their feelings, thoughts, and emotions following the events, we each individually need to practice communicating with people who have opposing views than us, acknowledging that at the end of the day, our differences only matter so much. But our differences do matter when our differences keep us from loving one another, because that’s when our differences stop us from being like Jesus as we’re called to do. I have never in my life believed so much in the power of these words, that:

Love overcomes hate. Prayer overcomes hate. God overcomes hate.

I know those words may seem like the most cliche in the world, and they will be, unless we ACT as though we know they’re true. We need to love and not hate – we must love those we disagree with. We must pray for these situations. We need to pray for the people involved in these situations – we must pray for the people who have hate in their hearts just as much as we pray for the people who have love in their hearts. We need to carry ourselves as though God has the power to overcome hate. It’s not enough to say it, we have to act, pray, and love as though we believe it.

I pray for the people whose hearts and minds are filled with such hate, anger, and bitterness. I pray that God would work in their hearts in a powerful way, acknowledging that nobody is beyond the grace of God. Nobody is too far out of reach for God to grab onto and change their hearts from hate to love. I pray for these people who may not know any other thing but hate, because they have never been shown the love of God.

I pray for the families of Heather Heyer, who lost her life on the downtown mall when that car struck. I pray for all those who were injured in this car incident as well – I pray for their healing from both their physical wounds and what I can only imagine will be some emotional wounds as well. I pray for the families of the two police officers who died in the helicopter crash. I pray for comfort during this time, and that they would feel God’s loving arms wrapped around each person affected by all of this.

My heart is broken for this beloved town of ours as it grieves and recovers from the hate that plagued us this past weekend, as well as from the pain that resulted from all of this. But as I wrote above, I have hope, and I’ve got that hope for more reasons than one.

To my fellow brothers and sisters here in Charlottesville, we will overcome all of this evil, and we will rise, if we choose love over hate, always.

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.

20 church ministry lessons learned by 20

While I have learned far more than 20 lessons these past 20 years of life, and know I have far more than 20 left to learn, these are a few that stand out to me the most when I reflect on all that I have learned during my time in the Church thus far.

Lesson #1

You can’t pour yourself into ministry if you’re not being filled by the Spirit.

Self care is so, so important. Not selfish – important. I always knew growing up that pastors took one day a week as their Sabbath, but for the longest time, I never thought of myself as someone who should have Sabbath. But friends, Christ did not say in scripture that only pastors or people with full-time jobs should take a Sabbath! We each need to take time to rest, be renewed, recuperate from our life’s work, and be filled back up by the Spirit, so that we can go out into the world and do God’s work. Whether you read scripture or devotion’s in the morning / at night, pray through out the day or before you begin your day, download the Bible app or a devotion app onto your phone – whatever it may be that helps you connect with God each day and be filled, make sure you are doing that. You may have heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” It holds true; so often we find ourselves going, going, going and neglecting to come before God, and it shows – it’s harder for God to bless our work if we’re not resting. If we aren’t resting, we’ll be attempting to do Gods work on empty. We must make sure we are coming before Christ and be filled by him, so that we can then go out and pour ourselves into the ministry we each do here on earth for him, like him.

Lesson #2

People will always think that you are either too young or too old.

I laugh as I write this, because out of everything I have learned in ministry thus far, this one is at the top of the list. I have definitely had my fair share of people look down on me and make comments about my being, “too young,” to do certain things in ministry, and I know that I will have plenty more of such encounters to come. And when I am old and grey, I know full well that I will have people think who will think that I am too old to do certain things. At some point in our lives, we will all encounter people, regardless of our career paths, who will tell us or think of us as being too young or too old. But friends, rest assured that God’s ability to use us, his children, is not determined by our age, gender, race, class, or anything else. God is able to use us just as we are, because he equips those whom he calls. If I’ve learned anything from being told I am too young, it is that you must persevere and listen to God above all else!

Lesson #3

Change can’t be optional. Change is necessary. 

Change is something that the church can be very uncomfortable with. People in general are uncomfortable with change because we as humans desire comfort. But growth does not happen if change does not happen. That goes for us individually, and for our churches as well. If we are not willing to step outside of our comfort zones, we will never grow. And growing as a church does not mean growing numerically; it really means growing spiritually as disciples. Though change within our churches can be difficult to accept, it can be the very thing standing in the way of making disciples. Know that while Christ assured us that he would always remain the same, he never told us that we should remain the same; not us individually or our churches. 

Lesson #4

Women in ministry have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

I am very grateful to be affiliated with a denomination that affirms women in ministry and I am grateful that I was raised in a household by two parents who taught me to be a strong and independent woman, never once discouraging me when I heard God calling me to ministry. However, I know full well that not every woman has had that same experience. So many women out there are still discouraged from ministry because of their gender because of a few select verses taken out of their intended context; while there are so many amazing, powerful, preachers out there who are female, as one of the millions of women who has encountered the pure hate and oppression for being a woman pursuing ministry, I know that we still have a ways to go. I think that it is so important when speaking and writing about this issue to note that restricting women from the role of a pastor or from any role in ministry, is not restricting the woman herself – it is restricting the work of the Holy Spirit. A call from God to go into ministry is just that; a call from God. Trying to prevent women from ministry is attempting to prevent Gods work. While I and many others are blessed to be surrounded by pastors, friends, family members, and various other ministry leaders who empower women in the church, but we need even more of that support through out the country and through out the world, from both men and women…May we continue doing the work that goes into shattering the glass ceiling.

Lesson #5

We must make it our mission, as the Church, to get out into the community.

The Church should not make it about drawing your community into your church more than you make it about actively showing your community Jesus. Doing this requires you – The Church – to get outside of the buildings walls and into the community where your fellow brothers and sisters are located. Opening your church doors on Sunday mornings isn’t enough.

Lesson #6

Inter-generational congregations are what heaven will look like.

I cannot express enough the importance of having a wide range of ages within your congregation. I know a church cannot necessarily control the ages of those who walk through their church doors, but that is why finding a balance is important (that’s a topic for another blog post). Inter-generational congregations are important because the young folks learn from the older folks, and the older folks learn from the younger folks. Having both the younger and older generations within a church also helps to break the stereotypes surrounding millennials in the church and stereotypes surrounding the older generation in the church. I have learned such valuable lessons from people at my home church who are 20+ years older than me, and I have even learned valuable lessons from those who are 10+ years younger than me.

 Lesson #7

Seek wise counsel. You don’t know everything and that is okay.

If I had a penny for every time that I have found myself needing to confide in one (or multiple) of the ministry leaders / pastors in my life for inquiries I had on various things, I would be one rich gal. The amount of times I have asked one of them to read over one of my sermons, answer a theological  question or candidacy question of mine, or confessed a dilemma I had no idea what to do about, are countless. We don’t know everything, we never will, and that is okay. We are always learning. This is why the Bible instructs us to seek wise counsel. To learn from those wiser than us. 

Lesson #8

Be okay with saying “no.” Set boundaries for yourself.

You can’t do everything. We aren’t called to do everything. That is why Paul reminds us that we are one body made up of many parts! We are to discern before we say yes when someone asks us to something. This is something that I admittedly have struggled with in ministry; saying no when someone asks me to do something. Sometimes this is because I don’t want to let anyone down, and more times than not it is because I really want to do it, but I’ve learned that we can’t do it all and we’re not supposed to. If you’re constantly doing, doing, doing, you’ll become drained. Even if it’s something you love, you must set boundaries for yourself so that you don’t become burned out.

 

 

Lesson #9

You can only plan so much.

Something that has become like a reflex now when something doesn’t go as planned in the church, is, “well, that’s ministry for ya.” You can’t control everything. Things will go wrong and not as planned. There will be Sunday’s where your pastor will come up to you five minutes before the service begins and ask if you would fill in for the associate pastor who is sick. There will be Saturday nights where your pastor may call you and ask to help him/her out with the Sunday service. There will be hiccups when trying new things in your church, there will be miscommunication, there will be a lot of improvising to do. So much of the ministry that goes on within the church requires one to be open to ‘change of plans,’ improvising, and filling in for others on short notice –  “that’s ministry for ya!”

Lesson #10

Get young people at the table where decisions are being made – encourage them to lead.

Millennials are not just the future of the church; they are the present and the future of the church. A lot of young people refrain from speaking up about wanting to lead in the church because they feel that they will be looked down upon, or think that they are incapable, which is why it is so vital for those in the congregation to encourage young people to step up and lead. Let them know that they are wanted in leadership and that they are capable with Christ of leading and leading effectively!

Lesson #11

Have solid, Godly mentors who can guide you spiritually, as well as in ministry endeavors. 

God should be our number one go-to guide, of course. However, God is so gracious in that he has also placed people in our lives who we can look up to. I have a handful of people, some who are in the ministry and some who are not, and these people are folks I know I can count on, anytime. Whether I need advice, someone to talk to, someone to cry to, there’s a person I know I can go to or call up. A lot of these people are folks who have more life experience than me, who can guide me through situations they at one point also found themselves in. Everyone needs people in their lives whom they can retreat to when they need help. We were not called to journey through this life alone.

Lesson #12

You don’t have to agree with someone in order to love them.

I’m sure that you all have learned this already, but we are not going to agree with every person whom we meet. That is okay!! Praise the Lord we are not called to agree with every person we meet on this earth! But what we are called to do is love them. We are called to love our neighbors, with no exception. Mark 12:30-31.

Lesson #13

When it comes to your sermons, have the “come and go” message in mind.

This is something I have tried my very best to do since I first started preaching. Every preacher has their own way of going about writing their sermons, so please don’t think I’m trying to tell you how to do it (I’m just a preacher in training) But I know personally I have always been eager to write my sermons in a way that emphasizes the importance of coming to Jesus, then encouraging people to “go,” and repeat. It’s not always spiritually healthy for people to come into church, hear a sermon that makes them feel good and not be encouraged to apply it to their lives when they exit the church doors.

Lesson #14

Church can happen anywhere – even in a coffee shop.

Never underestimate the power of a genuine one-on-one conversation. Know that ministry is something that you do not have to be in church in order to do. I can confidently say that I have had more conversations about God and about faith in coffee shops than I ever have in a church setting. Whether you’re in a sanctuary, a coffee shop, hiking on a mountain, on a walk, in the gym, in a mall, church can happen, because church is not a building, you and I are the church!

Lesson #15

Speaking of coffee…

This is no joke. I truly have learned about myself that coffee is essential in being effective in my daily life as well as being alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic on Sunday mornings. You all know the saying…“I need a lot of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus.” It is possible to be hyped up on Jesus and coffee at the same time. Enough said.

Lesson #16

Humble yourself.

If you’re a leader, I’ve always thought that it is important to let people know that you are not perfect. Of course we all know that nobody is perfect, but often times leaders are assumed to be people who never make mistakes. While leaders in the church and leaders in general are often held to a higher standard, that doesn’t mean that they are immune to making mistakes. I’m one of those people who likes to laugh at herself when she messes up. As a perfectionist, this has taken time and sometimes I’m super hard on myself for it, but it’s healthy to have the humility to know that you are not and never will be perfect (that’s why we have our perfect Jesus!) To give an example, every time that I wear a mic that has to go around my ear, without fail, it gets tangled in my hair and causes my hair to make this giant knot. Last time I preached, I remember looking at my mom as I worked to untangle it and said, “wow – there is absolutely nothing professional about me.” (We had a good laugh). God humbles us in the funniest, smallest of ways. To give another example, one of my friends once suggested to me that, instead of saying “thank you” when someone compliments me on my sermon, say, “praise the Lord.” Every time I say that, it’s humbling because it reminds me and those delivering the compliment that the sermons I preach is never from or about me, but from and about God, through me. Every time we succeed or do good in this world, God deserves the glory, friends.

Lesson #17

Don’t be afraid to talk about difficult topics.

Whether it be mental illness / mental health, politics, homosexuality, social issues, sin, etc. There are topics out there that may make people feel uncomfortable, and I am in no way, shape, or form sitting here today to suggest preaching about our president or controversial issues every Sunday, but also, we as the church need to be real. Whether you’re in the pulpit or sitting in the pews, as the family of God, we all have different thoughts, opinions, struggles, and joys that we should be able to share with one another. The Church should be a place where we can go to feel safe and have open discussions about things that are not the easiest to discuss, but things that need to be discussed.

Lesson #18

Pray: it’s that simple.

I get that prayer isn’t always easy to do or easy to want to do; we get busy, we sometimes feel distant from God, we may feel too ashamed to come before him – whatever it may be, prayer is so vital, friends. It is vital in ministry and it is vital in our daily lives. When you bring yourself to pray and get in conversation and communion with God, it flows right through you. Prayer doesn’t have to be formal, it just has to happen if we want to be in intimate relationship with God. I have learned and been convicted before that I have no business preaching to people whom I have not prayed for. Prayer is number one if we want to be effective in church ministry, and the wonderful thing is the one whom we’re praying to is always present for us. How amazing is it that we have this Father who we can talk to at any given moment and receive wisdom from?

Lesson #19

Have tough skin – try not to take things personally.

You’re going to hear things – a lot of things – that you could have gone your whole entire life without hearing. People sometimes make comments to you that they don’t intend to do harm or make you feel awkward, but it happens, and when it does, you’ve got to let it roll off you like rain. This is something I am continuously learning; we all have feelings and those feelings are not numb to being hurt, but learning how to hear not nice comments and having them come in one ear and exit the other, is so important.

Lesson #20

I would not trade or change this call to ministry for anything in this whole world.

It has been a crazy beautiful journey, full of ups and downs, and man, I love it to death. I know God is just getting started with me, but I know enough to know I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even on the days when I feel discouraged or drained, the Lord is so faithful in reminding me of who he is and why I do what I do. If I have learned anything, it is the simple truth that he is good, that his love for each of us endures forever and ever, and that is enough. That is always a reason to have joy. Friends, whatever sets your soul on fire, do it. Whatever you are passionate about, is likely the very way God wants to use you to build his kingdom. Know this, and run with it, continuously seeking God and his wisdom, guidance, and grace.

jmu journey pt. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But oh, how false that was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen?

2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more lessons 2016 taught me:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“I can’t”

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” 2 Chronicles 15:7

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend something called a candidacy summit, which is an event for those in the process, or,  in the discernment process, to certified candidacy – one of the first steps to discerning a call to full-time ministry.

I went into this event very excited and eager to learn more about this process and about my call.

The first day we were there, we were given a bunch of information about the candidacy process and the different tracts (elder, deacon, local pastor). We talked about requirements and the interviews – a lot of administrative information was absorbed…

Needless to say, after the first day, I was quite overwhelmed.

I went back to my room that night with the mindset of – “I can’t do this. I am not capable. God, you did not call me to this, there’s no way.”

Everything I was hearing in the information session made this whole process come to life for me and it was a lot to swallow – my insecurities seemed to begin showing themselves and I could not stop thinking to myself that I cannot do it.

I was the youngest person at the candidacy summit – not by much, but I was, indeed, the youngest. The men and women there were talking about seminary, scholarships, jobs, appointments, finances – all things I will need to focus on and worry about in the years to come, but meanwhile, there’s me, a sophomore in college, in the midst of transferring schools with not a clue where I’ll be 6 months from now. I was overwhelmed, I was afraid, I was in shock, I was insecure, and I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and hide from all of those negative feelings.

As I was praying that night and digging into the Word to find some type of reassurance (which I did find, as always), God reminded me of something that I often forget, and that is this simple truth –

I can.

Sure, without God, I can’t. But with God, I most certainly can.

I can be a pastor someday. I can transfer schools without falling apart. I can get into seminary. I can afford seminary if I work hard. I can overcome these negative thoughts about my abilities and insecurities with positive thoughts and truths.

What I can’t do is make excuses as to why I shouldn’t persevere. What I can’t do is give up on God’s call upon my life because it looks hard. I can’t give up on my call because certain things about it scare me. I can’t let fear control my decisions. I can’t let the voices of those who told me I “can’t” make me truly believe that to be true. I can’t allow my thoughts to talk me out of doing something God has clearly told me to do.

I can do this.

I know I’m not alone in saying I have thought to myself and verbally told myself numerous times that I “can’t.” I know I’m not alone in saying sometimes, it would be a whole lot easier to give up on something that looks hard, rather than persevering and getting through it.

I also know I’m not alone in saying that in my life, I have had numerous people tell me I “can’t.” I’ve been told I’m not qualified. People have tried to hold me back from pursuing this call. People have tried their very best to prevent me from doing the very thing God wants me to do.

I know you have encountered people such as this in your life.

That is another thing God had to remind me two nights ago, when I was sitting in bed, Bible open and tears flowing. He had to remind me that those voices and those thoughts telling me there’s no way I can do this whole “ministry thing,” are just voices and thoughts that I have carried along with me from the very place I was told “I can’t” for an entire year.

It is very easy to either bottle up painful things you’ve been through, or act like they simply are not there. Neither works. One way or another, those painful experiences, comments, and struggles will show their ugly faces again and it will hit you worse than the first time.

I was so busy being on guard and making light of the situation I was in this past year, I wasn’t taking the time to process the hurtful things that were being said to me, and I was instead bottling them up inside or ignoring them by simply laughing at them.

Friends, it is okay to admit that you are hurting and it is okay to admit it when somebody hurts you.

While I never went up and admitted it to any of these people whose comments hurt me, (simply because they’re not worth my time) I did admit before God that I was still in pain, and he is healing me.

This weekend at the candidacy summit, God opened my eyes to a lot of things, and he reminded me of many things as well.

My eyes were opened to the more ‘administrative’ side of this process I am in towards ministry. This weekend opened my eyes to the importance of self care, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. It opened my eyes and allowed me to meet a variety of different people, all in different walks of life, who have all also felt this call to some type of ministry, and that was a very beautiful thing.

This weekend reminded me of this truth that, with God, I can do this.

This weekend reminded me that it is God’s voice and his call we should be listening to at all times. I was reminded of some reasons as to why God calls people to his ministry in the first place. I was reminded that it is okay not to be perfect – no leader in ministry is perfect, no congregant is perfect, and no person in this world is perfect, and that is okay.

I was reminded of the importance in taking care of yourself, so you can better take care of others. You know, part of taking care of yourself means allowing yourself to experience your emotions, thoughts, and feelings as they come, and not being ashamed of any of them. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to feel pain, it’s okay to admit that you are not okay.

You can do what God has called you to do, but you can’t do what God has called you to do if you don’t take care of yourself. You can’t do what God has called you to do if you’re more focused on the opinions others have of you, than you are on the opinion God has of you. You can’t do what he has called you to do if you’re constantly allowing the enemy to creep in and tell you, “you can’t,” because you can.

So, I have a lot more to process from this weekend, which I am sure will be followed by yet another blog post, but I did want to write this one real quick and leave you with some reminders that you may need.

I know how easy it is to listen to the devil – oh, do I know how easy it is to listen to and actually wholeheartedly believe those negative thoughts that come across your mind, telling you, “you can’t.” I know it’s easy to be hard on yourself and compare yourself to others. I know it’s easy to think that there is no way you can do the very thing God has called you to do, especially if it looks scary or challenging.

But with all of that being said, I also know how easy it is for God to love us and heal us.

Hear this: He takes broken people and makes them new!

I know how easy it is for God to wrap his arms around us and be our Comforter in times of trial. I know how easy it is for him to make a way when there seems to not be one. I know these things because I have witnessed God at work, doing these very things in my own life, and he’ll do them in yours, too.

God knows you can.

If you have encountered somebody in your lifetime who has told you that you can’t do something, especially something that you feel God is calling you to do, take heart and continuously be reminding yourself that it is not mans voice you need to listen to, but God’s.

Be secure in the truth that with God, you can.

There will always, always, always be times in your life where you will find yourself saying, “I can’t.” However, the more you get into the habit of saying to yourself, “I can (because God is on my side)” the easier it will be to tune out the negative voices and thoughts your find yourself and of others feeding you.

In the verse above, 2 Chronicles 15:7, Asa heard these words and was reassured that despite the turmoil that the nation was in, and the trouble that was occurring, their work would be greatly rewarded.

Whatever it is that God has called you to do – whatever he is telling you to do, don’t lose heart. Follow his lead. The effort and hard work you put into pursuing God’s call upon your life, will be blessed and richly rewarded.

Satan can’t win if you show him the great God you have beside you – the God who knows you can.

I know, as an imperfect and flawed people, we will always have doubts, and we will always be way too hard on ourselves. There will be many, many more times in this process and in ministry where I will tell myself, “I can’t.” However, there will always, always be a God who is bigger, stronger, and wiser than I am, and than you are.

There will always be a God who is right there by your side, reminding you that with Him, you can.

This process to certified candidacy that I am in right now is a long process. It’s not always going to be easy. It’s going to bed hard at times. I’m going to get stressed and overwhelmed. That will never, ever change, no matter what your job is.

God is paving the way. He knows I am able. He knows he has called me and I know he has called me. There is no denying God knows what he’s called you to – the tricky part is figuring out for yourself what he has called you to. However, once you have that figured out, God will not stop helping you along this journey you are on. It will be difficult at times, and you will think that you can’t at times, but God will always, always be there to remind you that that is false.

You say, “I can’t.”

God says, “Oh, but with Me, you can.”