Y'all know the Taylor Swift song: "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling twenty... three?" 23 doesn't sound quite as good as the number 22, unfortunately. But hey, that's where I'm at. And boy, the year 22 was incredibly eye opening and full of revelations from God. I write in mini journals, and throughout this last year I wrote in a total of 5. I took the time to re-read all of them, pulled out my favorite quotes +inspiring moments and compiled them into a list of things I learned this last year.
1. I have an addiction to bubly waters.
I blame my parents for this one. One day their beverage fridge was full of them and now I drink 5 of them every day. My apartment's recycling bin is full of them. My favorite is peach!
2. Trading in an iPhone for a flip phone can save you money and help control your social media addiction.
I will admit this was an impulsive decision. But boy, was I so ready for this. I had casually mentioned it to a few friends before I just drove to Best Buy one day and paid $30 for this bad boy. Yes, strangers and friends still give me the craziest looks when they see me whip it out and struggle to text someone back.
I'll tell you what, this purchase was great for a few reasons:
a) If I need to drive somewhere I go to google maps and write down the directions on a sheet of paper. It forces me to really focus on the road and be hyper aware of the cities I travel to for photoshoots. Old school folks!
b) It only costs me $10/month for unlimited talk and text. I am saving a lot of money.
c) I am no longer tempted to pull out my phone in a social situation or when I'm bored. I am learning to be even more active in conversation and aware of my surroundings.
3. You do have the option of protesting a speeding ticket, the fine might be reduced!
Confession: I got pulled over in early September after promising my dad I would stop being a left lane cruiser... I just paid the fine and told him later. He, and many others, informed me that I could have gone to court and protest because they usually reduce the fine amount. WELL these are things you should teach your kid before they leave the house. Guess we missed that lesson.
Please call me out if you catch me left lane cruising on i43.
Okay, hope you might have giggled when you read the first three! But now, here's where we get to the deep stuff. Get ready, folks...
4. Be honest, it's OK to say "no".
If you're someone like me that likes to say "yes!" because:
a) it's seems like a fun opportunity
b) you know you'd be great at the task EVEN THOUGH YOUR LIFE IS STRESSFUL ENOUGH AS IT IS, this one is for you.
Please, please, please take a step back and realize that it's OK to say "no". You can't do everything. You will be stretched so thin that you won't have a social life, you will be unable to care for your health, AND most importantly you will no longer have time for God.
Have a chat with God about it and someone who knows you well. Listen to their key phrases like "hm, do you have time for that?" or "but what x, y, and z?"
Those phrases are translated to this: "I don't think you should take on another task right now."
Back in Fall of 2018 I was being pulled in a million directions with school, glaze, my photography business, babysitting, church music... There were so many responsibilities that I felt far from God and could barely hear my own thoughts. I ended up taking a semester off in Spring 2019 and that was one of the greatest decisions I could have made. God revealed so much to me during that time. I had the opportunity to travel, do mission work, save money, and really take time to address the noise in my head. It is OK to take a step back for the sake of your relationship with Jesus and state of your mental health.
5. Quit trying to "be skinny".
For as long as I can remember I have had an unhealthy relationship with food. Sometimes I eat so much it hurts because for a moment it fills an emotional void that could have easily been fixed with prayer, going for a walk, or a chat with a good friend. I would gain weight, be unhappy with my appearance, try this diet, lose the weight, and gain it back again. I would look at my small, skinny friends and dream of being that size.
Well, let me tell you what. It is way too much work tracking and measuring everything. How about this... instead of playing the game of comparison why don't we take a look in the mirror and remind ourselves that God made us in his image?
So yes, go for a run, get sweaty, be strong, get your heart pumping but also just eat. When you decide what to eat, ask what foods bring you joy but also fuels you to live life to the fullest each day? I have come to the conclusion that I need to prioritize being HEALTHY over "being skinny". So if that means that I have a squishy tummy, strong arms, curvy thighs but I can easily run a 5k and eat a donut afterwards? Then yes please!! You relieve an incredible amount of unnecessary pressure off yourself. Stop worrying what the opposite sex will be attracted to or if someone will judge the shape of your beautiful body upon meeting you, because people shouldn't judge you on your appearance, they should know you by your heart. And you too, check yourself that you're truly loving others because of their heart not their size.
Crazy eyes because I love food! This was a Nutella and banana stuffed calzone
that my friend Hannah and I ate together in St. Louis.
6. Why did God allow me to go through so much emotional pain these last 2 years?
Let me set the scene: Summer 2017 I was feeling stuck. I remember thinking that I craved a change of some kind, I wanted to feel like I was growing somehow. A couple of weeks later I found out my boyfriend cheated on me, experienced a horrible breakup, lost a friend to suicide, moved back to my parents house and I failed a semester of college... It felt like everything was crashing down around me and I had no clue how to process it. I remember driving home feeling so so empty. I prayed "God, I'm hollow. Please fill me up."
We ask God to help us grow but complain when it starts raining.
I read this quote months later and knew it applied DIRECTLY to this time of my life. God knew I was so far away from Him. I can confidently look back and see that the only way God was going to win me back was by allowing all of this to happen. I would not be the woman I am without all of this happening to me.
This piece of scripture helped put this time of my life into perspective:
"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings! Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-6 ESV
I would not be as strong today if I hadn't been put through suffering, because that produces the endurance to withstand current and future trials, the endurance now built a stronger sense of character and conviction in my heart for myself, and now I am rooted in the living hope of Jesus , His amazing love for me, and the whole world. I can look back now and see God's hand in every step of the way. I'm THANKFUL for the scars, because they made me who I am and encourage me all the more to live out my life for Him.
image by Joel Nobis
7. Does my lifestyle match my identity?
Starting in February up until now I have been carefully evaluating how I present myself to the world in my everyday and professional life. Is the woman I'm presenting to the world, flaws and all, line up with the faith I profess so boldly on social media? In public and private? More simply put, where is my integrity at?
I can post about being disciplined, loving to others, and reading your Bible everyday but am I truly doing the same? Did the snarky comment I made to a co-worker reflect my faith? When I'm alone am I scrolling on social media, drinking alcohol every night, or messaging a boy for a little attention instead of reading my Bible?
When I'm disconnected from God my relationships and behavior are out of line with my character.
It's more than just your appearance to the world. It's what is going on in the private moments between you and God. That reflects to the rest of the world what your relationship with Him is really like. And I felt God calling me to take drastic and radical steps to make sure we were aligned so I could accurately represent Him.
Romans chapters 7-8 talk about the transformation of the mind. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he..." If my actions are not lining up with my identity then I need to take a close look at my heart and ask God to make it clear to me what needs to change.
"Let the Holy Spirit lead you to kill the things that want to kill you." - Pastor James Hein
(Listen to that sermon here).
The Holy Spirit led me to be take these radical decisions:
a) Detox from social media during the week.
b) Stop drinking alcohol for 1 whole year.
c) Do not date or invest in a romantic relationship for 1 whole year
photo taken by Monica Rae
8. Discipline is part of the training program.
You want to change? You HAVE to cut off the old.
God says very clearly when it comes to sexual immorality to RUN as far as you can from it. That is the same for EVERY sin that hinders your relationship with Him. So when I wanted to take those drastic measures I knew I needed to reach out to a few very close faith-filled friends and ask them to keep me accountable. Because the good LORD knows I like to break rules and fall back into temptation... community and accountability are so important. But more about that in #15.
I'm training for the long run. The journey of faith is a marathon, not a sprint. These issues I'm addressing and probably will continue to revisit the rest of my life are building up my endurance. I want to walk at a pace of grace. It sorta stinks to not be a part of a group of friends at a bar right now or say "no" to my desire to have relationship with a decent guy. But the Bible asks us to have an eternal perspective. I'm willing to surrender or delay comforts of my life here on earth. Be willing to sacrifice for the future. Read Hebrews 12: 1-11. This is all temporary, but I believe with all my heart that it will be WORTH IT.
(Listen to that sermon here).
9. God, do you hear me??
"If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. and this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."
1 John 4:20-21 ESV
God literally will not hear your prayer or enter your heart if you have any anger, hatred, grudges, bitterness, or lack of forgiveness in your heart. Read Matthew 18:21-25. We can beg God for His mercy and He will freely forgive all our debts. But if we can't forgive a neighbor here on earth He will do to us just as He did to the servant that would not forgive his fellow servant.
I cannot offer my prayers of thanks and requests to God if I still have anger in my heart for past hurts, grudges from work, or judgement in my heart because of how someone treated me.
a) God speaks against it and it's the exact opposite of how God loves us.
b) Why would I want to live with all of that "ick" still taking up space in my heart?
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other. Just like Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:32 ESV
"Pay attention to your heart. What makes you angry? It usually has something to do with something you deeply care about. It will never go away unless you have compassion and learn to forgive."
- Pastor James Hein
(Listen to that sermon here)
I took some time to write out what I deeply care about and how that connects to the bitterness in my heart and I asked God for forgiveness. Let me tell you how much peace that gave me. God has also opened up opportunities to ask a few people from my past for forgiveness. I feel my relationship with Him has opened up so much more because I'm seeing people who have hurt me the same way God sees them: humans created in His image in desperate need of His grace. More on this in #17...
10. In order to take control, you have to surrender.
My weight! Grades! Photoshoots! Perfect social media! Co-Workers! My money! My car!
There was an intense moment inside the Prayer Palace in El Salvador when I was fighting the voice that told me to release everything to Jesus... after a good struggle I finally gave in. I broke down crying, confessing it all and letting God have it all. At the same time felt this overwhelming sense of peace.
"God is saying to us, 'If you would allow me to be the one in the center of your situation, I can give you a better way that will not leave you with the consequence of your own actions.'" - Mike Todd
The minute I let it all go and TRUSTED that God will take care of it all, is the minute I understood. None of these blessings were mine to begin with. They were all gifted to me from God through people that have helped shape my life. I am simply a manager. God already knows what will happen, He's got me this far. Whatever comes next I should trust that He is in control, and I need to mentally remind myself to give up that control.
"I found my life when I lay it down" - Hillsong United
This is the lake in El Salvador where I was baptized in April.
11. God is a trespasser.
"He knocks down your walls, the restricted access areas in order to dwell in your heart."
- Pastor Greg Washington
Pastor Greg gave a sermon back in September 2018 based on 2 Kings 4:11-17 that I think about often. (Listen to it here). There are parts of my heart and life that I don't like God in to see. It's messy and complicated. I just want to feel good when I worship and not worry about those parts sometimes. It's hard to be vulnerable. But He doesn't respect those boundaries, because He already knows what I try to hide. He doesn't see it as messy and complicated. He loves every part of my heart and wants to be a part of it all. He knocks down walls because He's searching for me. He doesn't have to be in my life, He WANTS to be in my life. So much so that he laid His life down for me.
"There's no wall you won't kick down, lie you won't tear down coming after me."
12. Be Still.
I didn't know how to do that. I tried it. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Why? Because all the things I didn't want to think about would keep coming up. I couldn't think about it without trying to manipulate past and present situations in my head or make excuses for myself. All God was asking for me to do this whole time is to surrender and let it go. I try to vision and talk big about what I want for my life, when instead God was asking me to simply listen.
"Sheep have awful vision but really good ears for listening." - Pastor James Hein
Once I let it go, or rather, learned that it's easier than I thought, then I could truly be still. Being still can mean sit and be quiet, it can mean read my Bible, it can mean go for a walk! It changes each day. I can tell in myself when I have slacked in finding time to be still, because my anxiousness is higher than normal and I let my sinful nature take over much easier. I've slowly learned to make it a top priority in my daily life.
Now, being still + listening isn't always sitting quiet all alone like a meditation guru. Most of the time being still means simply listen. I like to take my headphones out, put away my phone and open my ears. I pick up every noise I hear around me. Sometimes I eavesdrop on the strangers having conversation on the bus, notice birds chirping above me, or listen to the sound of the barista making coffees. God needs us to accept the noise and find Him amidst it all. We crave more of Him, whether we realize it or not, but we are ignorant to the fact that this world is saturated with God everywhere we look. Find him in a stranger's smile, the beauty of nature in the seasons, the child's laugh, the sound of music... 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to be alert to His word and ways, He's trying to work on your heart.
"Pay attention to what God is doing to your heart in the quiet, humble places." - Pastor Mark Jeske
photo by Lottie Lillian Photography
13. Pay attention to the ways God speaks to you.
"God will bring people in your life that confirm something in your spirit... something that God already planted in you that God used someone to pull it out."
- Pastor Aaron Cole
(Listen to that sermon here)
For me, direct people in my life would include pastors and dear friends in growth/life groups. There was one specific woman in El Salvador named Amanda that spoke to my heart and pulled out something I knew God planted inside of me a long time ago. Honestly, these people and messages were always in an unexpected situation and my initial reaction was to reject it, or be defensive. They spoke to parts of me that were sensitive, it was convicting and lined up exactly with the Bible. That's how I knew it was God speaking through these people.
"Key to process and growth is hearing the voice of God... listen." - Pastor Greg Washington