Monday, November 21, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Thanksgiving

Dear Readers,
I had every intention to write a blog for Thanksgiving. To write about the gratitude I have in my life for all God has blessed me with. And I considered and thought about it for a good week. Then I ran out of time to consider and think. All I got out was an inspired introduction about how important a holiday it is and how it is overshadowed by the consumerism of Christmas. Nothing more came out of it. This is mostly due to the fact that I didn't take into account how busy I would be last week before I would go off to celebrate the holiday in North Carolina with my family. So for that I apologize.

My procrastination and lack of time may have been a blessing in disguise though. I am now feeling convicted to share my heart about gratitude. It is not Thanksgiving anymore. Is in any less necessary for me to have a heart of gratitude? Absolutely not. In fact, I think in this time of year when cases of depression sky rockets it becomes even more necessary. Consider for a moment what robs people of joy the most. Is it not the cloudy vision of negativity? A focus on bitterness, resentment, and hurt. I won't deny that these things exist in vastness in our world, but life would be more purposeful and more productive if we approach every circumstance with a grateful heart and a positive outlook. The cloud of sadness that blinds us stops movement and growth. It makes us afraid to go forward, and worst of all it makes us afraid to love.

This has been a huge lesson for me to learn. I used to suffer from a pretty significant depression. During the coldest of winter weeks or in the midst of constant struggle I still sometimes find myself sneaking back onto that path. And that's exactly what it is: sneaking. If I don't focus on gratitude, those pits of sadness just sneak up on me without warning. That's why Paul tells the Philippians to think on what is pure, noble, and lovely. Even when it seems as though none of those things exist, there is always something. Always. That in and of itself brings peace to my very being. I live in a corrupt and cruel world, but there is always something to think on that is pure, noble, and lovely. So I challenge you think on your gratitude and what you are grateful for on a daily basis if possible. Since I offer up that challenge to you I'll offer up my gratitude as well. Maybe it will spur on some ideas for you as well.

I am grateful for:
God being the direction in my life
Salvation in Christ Jesus along with His promises
Spiritual family that encourages, challenges, and spurs me on
Stephanie Hart, my discipleship partner who walks next to me in this life and catches me when I fall
My home and housemates who are family within a family
Deb Lang, my roommate with whom I share my room and my heart
Leigh Erickson, my best friend and constant supporter
All of my sisters in my spiritual family
Sarah Jones, my sister by our parent's blood and Christ's blood
Parents, I count myself so blessed because of the love that I came from and gave me a heart to serve the Lord
Jade and Matt (and Rachel), the same love that was poured into me was poured into them, and I count myself blessed to have them as well
Evan and Emily because anyone who has nephews and nieces know that joy
Rayne fellowship, my home on Sundays and my family everyday
Khanh Ngo, who is a great leader and my big brother in so many ways
Eric Steffan, who is teaching me what being loved by a man of God looks like and simply brings me joy and rest when I'm with him
Kelsey and Josh Monroe, Jake Harvey, Albert Warner and others (so many) who were there for me in some of the roughest moments of my life and will continue to be there for me from afar
Access to God's Word
God's will for my life
Music and singing
Lessons learned in struggle

There is so much more. I could go on forever. Just listing these made my heart of gratitude grow so much. Try sharing some of what you are grateful for. It's hard to be depressed when you do.
With Love,

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Small Town to City Girl

Dear Readers,
Something you must know about me. I'm a city girl. Not born and raised by any means. I grew up in two different small towns. When you grow up in a small town like Wayland or Mayville one of two things happens. Either because it's what you know you like it, if not love it. Small town living that is. There is something to simplicity and feeling safe. I give it that. Knowing your neighbors and every kid in your high school. But then there is the other side of it. There are those of us that itched to get out. I grew up with wonderful parents and great siblings. Really your classic 1950's scenario. A dog and a cat too. Who wouldn't love that? I really was very very blessed. But the small town got to me. I felt trapped. This was especially true as I got older.

When I got to college I had dreams of running off to New York City. I figured I'd find a tiny overpriced studio apartment in Greenwich Village. I'd work at a diner or cafe as a waitress. I'd struggle to get auditions for the chorus in off Broadway shows so I could work my way to the top. I wanted to be famous among the musical theatre crowd, but not famous enough to get mauled on the streets. It was a perfect dream. I would spend my weekends a jazz clubs and art museums and my days strolling through Central Park.

Now those dreams haven't exactly been realized. I have known some people that have had the opportunity to at least move to New York and love it even though I can't say I know any Broadways stars. However, my dreams have changed a bit. Sure I want to be on stage still. That doesn't go away. But I'd be perfectly happy in community theatre. My real heart's desire is do as the Lord intended for me. To bring His love to those who have an open heart for it.

The fact that I'm a city girl hasn't changed at all even in my desire to serve the Lord. So I'm in Rochester and it's exactly where I want to be. This is the city God has brought me to. And it's the little things about living in the city that I love. For instance, I'm sitting in Starbucks enjoying an egg nog latte and writing in my blog between classes. I love it. You can't do that in Mayville. I also love being in a place that has its own philharmonic orchestra, several Thai and Mediterranean restaurants, and something different to do every weekend. I think the thing I love most about it is the people. There are so many different people all from different walks of life. I'm a people watcher, a trait I proudly received from my mother. And people just make my everyday so interesting. Not to mention there are so many people to love. It's just so exciting for me. I can't say I don't completely love the way and the place I grew up, but I'm so glad to be in this very place now. Exactly where God intended for me to be.
With Love,

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.
I Timothy 6:6

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Saga of the Heart

Dear Readers,
When I was a little girl I had quite a vivid imagination as do many children. I dreamt myself out of this world and into a hundred others on an almost daily basis. I played of course the traditional house and school with my sister and friends, but my favorite adventures were the ones that took place far from this world. If when I was seven years old I had known the word mundane I probably would have used it all the time. That is the descriptive word that defined my perspective of the real world as a child. Don't get me wrong. As a child I was quite blessed. I had a mother and father that cared for me very much. But they couldn't help that real life wasn't set up like the stimulating environment of Walt Disney, Lewis Carroll, or C.S. Lewis.

You would have thought that I was quite a reader when I was little, but I wasn't. I hated reading for a long time. I blame that on the fact that books moved too slowly, and I couldn't live them out. I much more enjoyed playing Little House on the Prairie than reading it. And when I was alone I was the master of my own dream world. I remember pretending that I was a poor pauper girl picking flowers in a meadow when I princess came along and invited me to be her playmate and sister. I pretended that I was a magical nanny for children like Mary Poppins, but I improved upon the story in my thinking because I wasn't strict in anyway, and I didn't pretend that our adventures didn't happen. I pretended I was whisked away to Never Never Land by Peter Pan, and we had our own thrilling escapades. These were merely the exploits of my mind, not including the hours I would make believe with my Barbie dolls.

Sometimes I still long for the escapades of my playful imagination from my childhood. I do love to read now which allows for my imagination to be nurtured, but it is so rare a moment that I am able to. And I don't get to play. Not without some regression and others questioning my mental stability. Why does my head still think this way? Why is my hearts so intertwined in a fairytale? Almost a year ago I got my answer. My church family went over a book called Epic by John Eldridge. The book wasn't the answer. It just directed me. The answer is in scripture. It is in Ecclesiastes 3. God has set eternity in my heart. And because I have chosen to follow Him, I get to be a part of His grand adventure. His epic story. My heart which lives in a "fairytale" is made that way because there an epic story that is going on outside of this world. My heart has connected to this so strongly. The idea is so provocative, but it explains so much. Sometimes I wonder about the part that I play in this story. But all that matters is that I have been included, and my heart has been trying to tell me that all along.

Because I think this way I can't help but see God's epic story in every adventure story ever thought up by man. Harry Potter and Star Wars are two of my very favorites. And to think about it brings me complete joy. I've just started the last book in the Wicked series by Gregory Macguire. I am so excited for what I will be able to see in Oz's great conclusion. This perspective in my life has really made my everyday more thrilling.
With Love,

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pesky Prayer Mneumonic

Dear readers,
I have had a cold for over a month now. It's physically wearing because my chronic runny nose keeps me from being able to sleep through the night, my head often hurts, and much of the time I can't breathe through my nose. I am so sick of taking medications that when taken continually can have problematic long term effects like stomach ulcers, liver damage, and high blood pressure. I haven't had my full singing range in quite some time either because of it. It is really quite an annoyance. In attempt to not sound like I'm complaining I pass it off as no big deal verbally. It's just a cold. I get colds all the time. It's better than getting Walking Pneumonia or Bronchitis or the Flu again. But that's not what I'm thinking. I'm so sick of this cold that on occasion I want to punch the wall. I want to take some magic pill to just make it go away. I think to myself, "Why do I always have to feel sick? Why did I get dealt such a crappy immune system? I know that I'm going to get some more severe upper respiratory infection in the winter because I always do, so why can't I just feel well now before the colder weather kicks in?" I don't know the answers at all, and I wish I did. When I really think about these questions another thought plops right into my head. One that convicts me to my core. "How dare I?"

I'm complaining about a stupid cold. Really? I don't cough up a lung everyday of my life and am only expected to live into my 20's like someone with Cystic Fibrosis. I wasn't just diagnosed with with stage four Lung Cancer. I'm never going to have to worry about Marasmus due to a lack of protein available to me. I don't have a life threatening addiction or am at risk of contracting HIV. I have access to the nutrition I need, medical assistance, and education that puts me at low risk for many preventative diseases. Not to mention that even in the case that I might contract something, I have the support of family and friends in my life that so many live with out. The fact of the matter is that I am one of the lucky ones.

So whenever I catch myself complaining about my susceptibility to cold viruses or the fact that I eat less that so many girls that weigh 125 pounds and I still don't look like a super model or that my back aches really badly I have to stop. I have to stop and think about the blessings in my life. And I think about those who are given a different lot in life, and I pray. I pray that those people would be able to know joy in their sufferings. That they would know God's peace in their hearts. That they would have the comfort of the Father's arms wrapped around them, and that they would be a testimony to those around them.

My whole life I've tried to figure out what my dream job is. I've wanted to be an actress, a restaurant owner, a museum archivist, and a television editor. But for what? Myself. To make me happy. That's not life's purpose, and it never will be no matter how much we try to justify it. Self centered people are the most unhappy. We were made to be in relationship not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others. I want to serve. This is why I want to be a nurse. I want to serve those who can't serve themselves. Who, at that moment in time, are not as lucky as me. And I want to have people to pray for. I will never run out of people to pray for, but why not work in an environment in which I will encounter a new person to pray for everyday, every hour of every day? Then I know I will be truly blessed. That pesky cold won't seem like such a big deal anymore.
With Love,

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Psalm 103: 1-5

Friday, October 7, 2011

Joy at the Breaking Point

Dear Readers,
For many of the people I love dearly this week completely sucked. But it is not my intention to talk about negative issues or problems in this blog. The events of this week will be kept in the hearts of those who experienced it and shared only among them. It gets me thinking though. I want to write a positive uplifting blog, but what about when there is nothing to feel positive about? My thoughts? Not possible. It is absolutely not possible to have nothing to feel positive about. The fact of the matter is that there is always something to be rejoicing in. Though I will not disclose the events of this week it must be known that in it all there is a bright shining light at the end of the tunnel. It is a scary road to walk, but those of us involved are not alone and will never be alone in it. Not to mention that in this week there have been the little joys that have sustained us. For instance, I got some excellent grades in school that were a reminder to me that this is exactly where God wants me to be right now. One evening this week several women were at my sister's house just spending an hour or two talking and laughing. Yesterday I was able to go to my friend Val's house to give her a manicure for her birthday and just spend some time together. And for those of us who in those moments of complete brokenness, but know the promises of the Lord can cling to those promises no matter how dismal the situation may be. It is in the brokenness that the Lord is working in our hearts the most. It is just knowing that even when we feel like we have nothing left to offer, God is still using us to fulfill His plan. That is the joy we can cling to in those moments of desperation. God is never failing and always good.
With Love,

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
1 Peter 4: 12-13

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bumpy Ride

Dear Readers,
One of my best friends is getting married today. We've been friends for over six years now. I've been friends with his fiance for over 4 1/2 years. It's so strange to think back on how we've changed. How we've grown. I'm excited for this journey they're about to take, but at the same time it just makes me think of the journey that's already been taken. I'm such a different person than I was six years ago. My priorities are different. My beliefs have changed. My heart is transformed. Some of these shifts have happened overnight. Some have occurred over time, through heartaches and heart breaks. Through brokenness beyond what I'd ever thought I'd experience.

Six years ago I had a fresh wound from a break up that tore me to pieces. I'd put my identity in a man who never knew how to love me. It was six years ago that I began a roller coaster of mistakes and disasters. I would fall flat on my face just to get back up and do it all over again. I lived in a dream world of musical theater and quasi hippy culture. It took me two years of self destruction before I would finally let go of my past, and be present with the now. I let myself love again, though it was still not as healthy as I know God intends for me. I could be a support to my friends who desperately needed me to be stable. We were growing up, but I didn't have all I needed. At that point I was living a double life. At home with my family I was a good Christian girl that went to church every Sunday and had all the right answers. With my friends I hid my faith, but out came a bit of a rebel. Bars and parties that allowed me to "let loose" filled my Fridays and Saturdays. I remember being so drunk once that I laid out on the front lawn so Jake and my boyfriend at the time, Josh, had to carry me back in the house. I was still broken, but I didn't really know it.

About a year after I allowed myself to move on in my life I began searching. I knew that I had a faith that was falling apart, and I became desperate to put it back together. I began to desire God. Having had an immense church background because of my father's profession (pastor) I decided to take a job as a youth director at a church. I even took a class on the history of Christianity. I knew that these things had to have some effect on my faith. They did, but not in the way I thought they would. I had some strange preconceived notion that these things would make me the good Christian girl again and that I might feel better about myself. But what was about to unravel before me was nothing I could have ever foreseen. God was shaking me out of this idea of complacency, and ripping away a veil that had been in front of my face my entire life. I learned to ask questions. I began doubting things I had always believed in. I wanted to look deeper inside the heart of God.

In early 2009 my sister presented the idea to me that I could move up to Rochester with her. The thought rocked my world. As scary as the thought was, it just made me think that I could start all over. The broken pieces of my broken life would be left in Jamestown, NY. I was planning to move there in May or June, but my world was shaken again. In early April my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Postponing my trip to Rochester, I quit my jobs and moved back home to help her out. I can't say was that I was much of a support, but I was able to babysit my nephew because my mom couldn't lift him. But my own unsorted emotions and living with an adopted sister with a lot of baggage were too much for me to stay long. I found myself falling into a deep depression again. I slept late into the day some days. I was ready to leave, and so I did. I set off on a new journey filled with something I hadn't had in years. Hope. I moved to Rochester with little expectation, but found there something far greater than I could have imagined. New purpose. A life lived for God through the blood of Jesus Christ. On October 28, 2009 I surrendered my life and was baptized into the body of Christ as a new disciple. Of course it didn't end there. A transformed heart takes time to heal and to be built into one ready for God's will to be lived out. And it has been.

So it's been six since the downward spiral that has brought me to the place I am today. A place where I can finally live for something bigger than myself. I have a heart to love like I never had before and a sense of peace that drives my very being. Thinking about the wedding I have today gives me the opportunity to be thankful for my friends who were there for me six years ago to soften the blow of the fall I had taken. And I'm thankful for them standing beside me still today even though we live so far away from each other. I'm also thankful for the friends I made in Rochester who took the time to show me what living for God looks like. It's been one bumpy ride, but in it all I've simply been blessed.
With Love,

"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart"
Jeremiah 29: 11-13

Sunday, September 25, 2011

God's Weekend Plans

Dear Readers,
Just to warn you that I've never been good at this. Keeping a journal of any kind. In my old journals I have entries next to each other that are chronologically several months apart. But I've been inspired and just want to give a try. Blogs are really fascinating. They tell you so much about people. Is she an optimist? What is important to him? They are subjective yet informative. They can be categorized or very general. So why have I decided to write a blog? I want you, the reader, to know my heart. If you're reading then you've made some connection with me. You may have met me or you may have just run across my blog and something caught your eye. Either way we have a connection. So in light of that connection I want to offer you a piece of me. A piece of my heart. So here goes.

This past weekend my dear friend, Leigh, and I visited another dear friend in Akron, Ohio this weekend. Cassie is attending school at the University of Akron in pursuit of her masters degree in music performance. God blessed her with a beautiful talent for the flute and other various instruments. It was a last minute trip for me, and I am so grateful that my plans changed and I had the opportunity to see her. It was so clearly orchestrated by God. My friend Leigh wasn't to find anybody available to go with her. My plans for the weekend fell through early in the week, and I had forgotten that Leigh was planning to go to Ohio. On Friday, seeking something to do on Saturday night, I asked what she was up to the next day. She replied, "I'm visiting Cassie." And it dawned on both of us that I was free the whole weekend. I'm so thankful I was. We had a wonderful weekend with her. We also spent time with Cassie's friend from school. We even studied the Word with her. It was such a blessing. It was so clear to me that this was how God had intended for me to spend my weekend all along. The love I have for my spiritual sisters has grown, and I have met a new friend to love as well.

Lately, I've seen God's orchestration in my life so vividly lately that it is almost overwhelming. How could God even have time for the little details of my life to be worked into His big plan? He's God, that's how! I have truly been in a state of pure amazement lately at God's glory. It is a perspective that I want to hold onto for as long as possible. I can never forget how God has worked in my life in such a way that a veil has been taken off from my face and allowed me to see a new day filled with His promised. That is all for now.
With love,

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:2-3