What to Do When God Throws You A Curveball [And You Didn’t Even Want to Play Baseball]

{By Lindsay Chilton}

Have you ever been caught in a tropical storm that seemed to come out of no-where and the wind is blowing so violently you have to focus on staying upright, the sky is yellow, the rain comes pouring down in sheets, and all before you can even find shelter it disappears and leaves clear skies?

For weeks I had listened to sermons about perseverance in faith not thinking much of it.

Our church spoke on perseverance in spite of disappointment, my father in our Bible Study taught on it, my daily devotional happened to be on the same thing and I even joked with my mom that I should be on guard because God was obviously going to hurl something at me soon.

For months now I’ve been planning on serving in Colorado at a Christian camp in the mountains. I’ve never been to the state but after randomly finding the camp on the internet (thanks, Google) and applied, everything lined up perfectly. I could feel God’s hand on it, which excited me even more.

I ecstatically planned on what to pack, I researched more of the camp and fell in love with the mountains after just seeing pictures. I was ready to go.

plans mesed up camp counselor

And then, on a random Wednesday morning a week before I’m supposed to leave, I collapsed.

I don’t mean just tripping over something and falling (which is embarrassingly quite normal for me), I mean full on blacking out, falling to the floor, hitting my concussion, the full sha-bang (pun fully intended). The next day I found myself at the doctor’s where they ran test, took blood, and then told me I needed to visit a Neurologist. All of a sudden all of my beautiful plans were on hold and I was frustrated with what God was telling me. Just a couple of months ago He had told me to go serve in Colorado and now He’s telling me that I might not get to serve at a camp at all.

I was angry with God for about 30 seconds and then He gave me a reality check by reminding me of Joseph from Genesis. At the beginning of Joseph’s life he was full of promise. He was his father’s favorite, he was educated, and he had a cool coat. But then he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, was wrongly accused for a crime that he didn’t commit, and was sentenced to twelve years of prison where he watched men who were rightly incarcerated be set free. Through all of that Joseph had absolutely no idea what God was doing with him and I’m sure he felt useless and abandoned. It would’ve been so easy for him to question what God was doing with him and to despair.

But he constantly praised the name of Yahweh and persevered. Luckily for us we can see the entire story unfold and we know that God was molding him for a position that would save the Egyptians and the Israelites during a famine. But Joseph didn’t see this during his time in prison.

And we don’t see what God is doing while we are in our own “prisons”.

It sucks having your detailed plans thrown out of the window by God and thinking, “But God, I could’ve served You so much better if you let me do this!” He’ll politely listen to you say this but then He answers you like He answered Job in Job chapter 38 when He reminds him that He is the One who is in control and who plans everything.

It’s sometimes impossible to see the outcome of something while you’re in the tropical storm and in the middle of the whirlwind. But while we might not see the outcome we can always see and focus on God and persevere in faith.

 

Update: At this moment, Lindsay is in the Colorado mountains, serving God by being a camp counselor! 

 

 

Why Are Stories the Foundation of Our World?

{Guest Post by Austin Griesinger}

Since the beginning of history we have had stories. Since God first created man stories have been passed down generation to generation. Stories that were true, historical events and stories that were nothing but myth or legend. Some stories that were meant to intimidate others. Stories have been the foundation for every society since the dawn of time.

Stories are the glue that has held the world together.

how stories affect us

Whether historically accurate, works of fiction, or even pieces of poetry some stories are told and retold time and time again. Since man was first created we’ve had a desire to remember and recount stories, even unimportant ones. Why is that?

Why do have an almost compulsive need to tell and retell stories, even untrue stories at times?

Stories are what compose everything in this world, to the point that our reality is essentially based off of them. So to communicate one effectively is something humans love to do and can have a very powerful impact.

Every word, thought, and deed is part of the story that you’re telling about yourself.

Everything we see in our daily life is a story. Some are important for us all, while others have no meaning to you but are everything to someone else. Literally everything that goes on in life is a story waiting to be told. Which might lead you to wonder why some stories become incredibly popular and some are ignored entirely.

The truth is, only good stories really make it. Stories that make us feel something or make us want to do something. We cherish the stories that have a profound effect on us. The stories that make us feel, make us hurt, inspire us, and uplift us. Tales that cause us to observe our world in a new way, or open our eyes to things we’ve been blind to. But we disregard stories that have no impact on us, stories that can’t do those things.

From crude paintings on cave walls, to the cinematic brilliance of modern film.

From the beginnings of humanity when tribal elders would pass down tales to the children, to the modern theatre. From the first written books of the Bronze age, up until the mass produced novels of today. It’s all evidence that humanity is unaccepting, even terrified, of a world without a recounted history.

We are terrified of a world without stories.

This is the reason that it’s one of the largest industries worldwide. Billions and billions of dollars every year are poured into movies, books, and the theatre. We are absolutely transfixed by these entertainment sources because, in many cases, they give us hope for a more exciting, more dramatic, or even a more unrealistically romantic lifestyle. In many ways, famous stories are so loved and so held on to because they offer an escape from a mundane day to day existence.

This is the way in which we can mistreat the idea and the inspiration of stories. They absolutely should not make us feel like we live a mundane life. We should let them encourage us to live a life worthy of a story. A full, rich life. One that can be passed down to posterity and have a positive influence on future generations.

Perhaps this is the true reason we aspire to write stories, and the reason we so love to hear them.

They remind us, sometimes subconsciously, of our Creator.

The Creator of the universe is the best author who has ever lived. He has been writing your story, my story, and His-story since beyond our comprehension of time.

And if you know Him you know our story has a happy ending.

Why You Need to Be Holy (And It’s Not What You Think)

{By Alexandra Presley}

A wise man once said that if he knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, he would still plant his apple tree today. Why?

Why care enough to get on your hands and knees and bury a little seed into the ground of this messy world?

What good is the hope of future apples when everything is falling apart?

Wouldn’t it be a holier thing to be reading important books or thinking important thoughts, instead, if we knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow? Something about gardening just sounds too. . . physical. Too fleeting. Too unimportant.

But I don’t think it is.

Sometimes, maybe, you have to wonder what’s the use of loving a place that is so dangerous, and dirty, and wicked.

Sometimes the best thing seems to be stepping grandly up above all the material muck of this world to avoid getting ourselves tainted by any of it. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine we’re in league with all the more spiritual things – like lofty words, and lofty thoughts, and general, perfect immaterialness. Those things are clean and bright. And distant.

Distant because our lives are bubbling over with imperfect things, dingy things, loud and inconvenient things.

how to be holy

Distant because, actually, what we have to realize is that materiality is not the opposite of spirituality. True holiness is not distant. It’s screaming in our ears and pulling at our hands and scraping off our pride.

God doesn’t hate earthly things. In fact, He loved the earth, in all it’s wild glory, so very much that He put a physical body on His precious Son and sent Him down into the middle of the mess to redeem it. If God hated physical things, He would never have gone to the trouble.

“Don’t knock materiality, God invented it.” Robert Farrar Capon.

He did invent it, and so first there was the trouble of creation; the wonderful trouble of making a wildly spinning round thing and then filling it up with everything that hadn’t ever existed before, like dragonflies and dirt, sunrises, cherry blossoms, hedgehogs, and bird songs; the trouble of making a perfect man and making a perfect woman; the trouble of watching them so quickly lie and blame and disobey; the trouble of sending them out of the beautiful place He had made for them; most of all the trouble of loving them enough to die just so they will come back home again someday. All of it – all of His story – involves real, broken people in a real, broken world. We have to embrace that gritty realness because it is us.

Indeed, some of the most spiritual things we could imagine turn out to also be the most physical things of all: like His  broken body and His bloodshed.

Like doubting fingers feeling inside the real, wounded places where the physical nails held innocent physical hands to a physical cross. Like a little girl who heard with her physical ears the physical voice of Jesus whisper marvelous life back into her body. Like a healed blind man who realized, for the first time, the glory it is to be looking and also seeing. Like a child being born in real, awful, beautiful pain. Like a gentle hand to hold onto, and the saltiness of warm, repentant tears on your cheeks, and all kinds of loud, wonderful voices, singing together. Like planting things with the dirt stuck all up under your fingernails and the sun browning your arms and neck. Planting trees.

Those things are real and glorious and disorderly all at the same time. They’re holy things. Marvel at them.

There’s so much wrong here with us, but there’s still so much that’s right. You can yearn for our garden home with all of your aching heart, while at the same time living this broken life with all of your feeble might. Because there is this hope: He’ll make every damaged thing beautiful in it’s time. And there is this truth: that it is more marvelous to be broken and redeemed by love, than to have always been safe and guiltless.

Without brokenness there is no redemption. Without the rain things never grow. Don’t resent the realness of it all. Don’t be afraid to love this earth. Our hands are for giving, our lungs are for laughing, our hearts are for loving.

A seed in the ground is for the hope of a future apple tree.

 

What are your thoughts? Are sacred and secular two different worlds? Comment below! 

5 Things I’ve Learned from Getting Engaged

{By Samantha Nicole}

Drumroll, please. I’M ENGAGED, Y’ALL! Say what?!

Yep. Paul popped the question a little over three weeks ago and I said “yes”! (Well, I almost didn’t, but then he reminded me that I had to stop hugging him and answer his question.) There are so many emotions that have been swirling around in my little 5’3” frame these few weeks, and I’ve learned a couple of things from this experience.

what you need to know when you get engaged

Remember, I did just get engaged, so some of my comments in the following paragraphs may be super cheesy, just roll with it, OK?

1. You’re never ready.

Paul and I had discussed engagement on many occasions during the months leading up to his proposal. I had a pretty good idea that it was coming soon, but I wasn’t 100% sure when/where/how he’d actually do it. Long story short, I figured out what was going on the day he proposed. I was attempting to be really cool and all “act like you don’t know because you don’t want to ruin it”. I thought I was pretty chill about the whole thing … That is, until he actually pulled out the ring and got down on one knee.

I totally lost it.

My stomach has never ceased to be a stomach that quickly in my entire life. There was a solid mass of tempestuous tidal waves in my diaphragm and all coherent thoughts flew out of my mind. Here I was being all “cool” and “ready” and I couldn’t even calm myself down enough for him to “say things” as he so eloquently put it.

Lesson #1: don’t think you’re ready because, trust me, you’re not.

2. You don’t have to have answers.

Everyone and their brother’s second cousin’s aunt’s friend is going to want to know your date, your colors, your venue, the color of your dress, and who your bridal party is … Less than twenty-four hours after your engagement. Not even kidding. I was in no way ready for the bombardment of questions from people I even hardly knew. And guess what… I didn’t have answers. Paul and I didn’t have a date when we got engaged. But it doesn’t matter. It’s OK to answer that you don’t know, people understand. And then when you do know, you just get to be all giddily excited all over again!

Lesson #2: Have patience. 

3. Engagement is a magnifying glass.   

Remember that annoying thing your boyfriend did? Yeah, it’s going to be a million times worse when your fiancé does it.

Any communication issues to even the way he combs his hair are going to seem amplified. Just calm down and look at things objectively. And talk about them. Don’t just slide things under the rug. And if they keep getting worse, start premarital counseling. Now. Go call your pastor. Figuring out that you have issues that may not be able to be resolved or compromised upon while dating is bad enough, it’s so much worse after you’ve decided to marry that person. As horrible as breaking off an engagement can be, it’s way better than putting off something that could wind up undermining your marriage.

Lesson #3: Communicate well.

4. Becoming bridezilla is terrifyingly easy.

I’m a very laid back person who can catch balls out of left field pretty well. Then I got engaged and, all of a sudden, I wanted to be this raving wild woman who had to have everything done her way. Like, what?!

I found myself whining about the color “true red” versus “burgundy” and complaining about needing a venue NOW.

I had to take a step back and realize what I was doing. When I took a few moments to analyze my behavior, I was shocked! I’m not that kind of girl! I did a whole lot of soul searching in those moments and apologized to my poor fiance. Besides, letting my mom and future mother-in-law and my sister handle things takes so much pressure off of my shoulders.

Lesson #4: Don’t lose your mind, it scares people.

5. Be a couple.

Just because you’re engaged doesn’t mean you get to forget that your significant other exists and start dumping your life into tulle and frosting.

Take time to still do “your” things as a couple.

Read Scripture and continue to build your spiritual relationship as a unit, go out on dates, and have “wedding free” nights.

Remember that this is a stepping stone to a future of “oneness”. Your foundation has been laid, now it’s time to start on the walls. Build them neatly and securely together. Imagine how awful you’d feel if you became so caught up in the wedding craziness that you forgot about your marriage. Make time for each other, because after the champagne has been toasted and the sparkers die out, you’ll be sitting next to your brand new spouse. And oh how joyous that should be.

Lesson #5: Be the couple that you both love.

I’m sure I still have a ton to learn about being engaged, and I can’t even begin to fathom everything marriage will teach me! However, with the insanity of life falling upon me, I must bid adieu to all you lovely readers. I have been so blessed to have had this monthly ability to share my life with you, but I now have a wedding to plan and husband to invest in. I may pop in as the editor allows (hehehe!), so look for my new adventures occasionally!

And remember that “life is a mess and a miracle, so pick up a broom and dance.” – Jennifer Trafton

What are your thoughts? Comment below to let Samantha know how much we love her!! 

8 Things I Would Tell My 16-Year-Old Self

{By Ellery Sadler}

A few key things to remember during the complicated years of high school.

8 things i wish i had known at sixteen

1. Love is Later

Yeah, I know that crush has you on cloud nine or that girl who broke up with you has you driving with the music up loud. I know the tears are real tears. And the feelings are real feelings. But most of the time true love comes later than early teens. I’ve been there. It’s really hard and can be incredibly painful or incredibly amazing. But love isn’t just a fluttery feeling or a flirty text. Love is commitment. Love is faithfulness. Love is sacrifice. And that comes with maturity.

2. No Matter What God is Good

Life can throw anything (literally anything) you’re way. From the death of a family member to a best friend’s betrayal to a move across the county and through it all, God is good. It takes time to realize this, but while you’re going through a hard time just stick a note to your mirror or save it as your screensaver on your phone: God is good. Always. Even when it doesn’t feel like it.

3. Relax, Life Isn’t A Race

It is so easy to be caught up in the race for success. Who has the best boyfriend/girlfriend? Who has the best summer job? The best resume? The coolest friends?

For me, the race was always in regards to writing. At 14 I wanted desperately to be a published author. At 16 I was even more desperate. And today, I’d still like to get published. But I’ve learned that excellence takes time. And I’m willing to wait. Even if I don’t get published till I’m 50 or I never get published at all, that’s ok, as long as I know I’m doing what God wants me to be doing.

Really, life isn’t a race. It’s ok if you take a little longer to finish school or become famous or write that book or take that trip or start that business. Life is meant to be savored – not wolfed down as fast as possible.

4. Challenge Yourself, Invest in Yourself

Don’t just glide through school. Don’t just slide along on the team. Don’t just read the required reading over the summer. Challenge yourself. Dig deeper.

If you already are the best on the team, that’s great. But be the best you can be.

If you already do great in school, that’s awesome. But learn the most you can learn. Don’t just study to ‘get by’. Study to invest in yourself. And as you are investing in yourself, you are investing in the people around you, because the knowledge you acquire can be passed on to them.

5. You Are Young

Maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but seriously, sixteen is not the new twenty-five. So it’s ok. Enjoy being young – invest in your family, in your friends, in your education. And embrace where you are in life. This is the time to be experiencing and enjoying – not worrying. Don’t take life too seriously.

6. Girls, Girlfriends Are More Important

When you are sixteen, a guy is not worth giving up a girlfriend for. Girlfriends come first. In 5 or 10 years when you’re married, you’re not going to have a group of super ‘close’ guy-friends. But you will want to have a circle of good girlfriends. Don’t ditch or backstab or ruin a friendship for the sake of some guy who will probably move on and out of your life within a year or two. Having good, solid relationships with other girls is one of the biggest blessings in life.

7. Guys, Guys Come First

While media, movies, and everything else may tell you otherwise – right now, guy friends are actually the most important  in your life. Girls are fun to talk to and fun to be with and pretty, but your focus should be on making good, solid friendships with guys. Create deep and meaningful relationships with other guys of all ages, especially older guys. You have so much to learn from older men who understand what it means to walk as a man of God and live with integrity. Invest in those friendships.

Of course, its great to have good friends-who-are-girls too. Just be aware that in the end, you’ll have one special girl in your life. You don’t need twenty.

 8. Forget Yourself

As the very wise C.S. Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” While this holds true for all of life, I think it is especially important during your teenage years.

A life worth living is lived for others. 

Don’t get so caught up in your own thoughts or your own self-made drama that you forget about the outside world. There are so many people who need a smile today, a hug in the hallway, someone to sit with at lunch. Listen. Open your eyes to the people in need around you and then have the courage to do something about it.

I think life was never meant to be a solo, introspective journey. It is a trip, an adventure. And adventures are best when they’re shared. Otherwise they’re just scary.

So lose yourself in bringing joy to the lives of the people around you.

Bonus 9. Learn to Laugh at Life

Life is hilarious. Learn to look for the humor and make sure your laugh-lines are always deeper than your fears.

What do you wish you had known when you were sixteen? Comment below! 

Dear Self, You Need to Find Your Own Wave

{By Samantha Roose}

How to find peace emotionally in a control centered culture. 

Dear Self,

I know you’ve been struggling.  I understand, very well, the overwhelming emotions you are that are consuming you, because, after all I am you.  They crash upon you like a tidal wave, stealing your ability to breath, striping your control, and pressing you into its swirl.  You don’t know which way is up and even if you did you don’t know how to get up.  So, before you freak out and lose it for the fifth time this week and scare your family to death let me remind you of a conversation you had with God.

Jesus,

I don’t want to explode and lose control emotionally. It doesn’t glorify you.  It’s not healthy for me physically.  And, it sets a bad example for my siblings. Lord, how do I not become out of control?  I know I will still experience emotions but how do they not control me?  

“Samantha,

You are always controlled or directed by something.  The question is: what thing?

Who or what are you going to give authority in your heart, mind, and soul?  Your actions will be what be consistent with what is most important to you.  Just like Peter, your actions will always follow your beliefs.  As long as Jesus was Peter’s most important focus he walked on water.  The moment he took his eyes off Jesus, and the reality of science and probable sinking became his focus, he began to panic and sink.

Surfers have a goal: to ride the waves. But they don’t ride just any wave that comes at them.

They jump through some and wade through others waiting for the most important wave.  The wave frosted with foam. The wave that the will bring them in to shore, soaring.  When that wave comes they take it and ride it in.  But, remember, it wasn’t any wave and it wasn’t someone else’s wave. 

It was their wave. The right wave. The wave that they chose.

when your life is out of control

Similarly, you can’t ride any emotion you feel. Emotions are merely the thermometer of your soul.  They are not red, green, and yellow lights, telling you when and how you should go.

Truth is your traffic light.

Before the day begins you need to know which waves you are going to ride and the truth you are choosing.”

Remember these truths:

You are a child of the God (1 John 4:4)

You are an overcomer (1 John 4:4)

Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4)

God will not give you more than you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God is for you, NOT against you (Jeremiah 1:9)

Ultimately, you are without excuse. The Spirit of the Most Powerful God lives in you. The same God is for you, trailblazing the way before you. He made you His own, giving you a wonderful inheritance. The old has gone and the new has come. You are a child of the Most High God, the Overcomer of the world, the Final Truth, and the Prince of Peace. He is greater than everything you can and will encounter and by His strength all things are possible – even not loosing control emotionally.

Instead of losing yourself to a tidal wave of emotions, master the art of losing yourself in bringing God praise.

Choosing God’s authority,

Yourself

Is Criticism Killing Christian Community?

{By Ellery Sadler}

I stared at the screen. They had to be kidding me. Someone did not really pour their heart and soul and time and money into this film.

But they did.

What I was watching was not just a bad production with stilted lines and poor camera angles – this was someone’s baby, someone’s dream.

And the same is true when we listen to a pastor’s sermon or read a writer’s book or view the creation of any artist. The thing we see is part of them. A tiny slice of their soul on display.

Criticism can kill community like nothing else. Partly because it is usually wrapped in the guise of honest opinion or it’s the superior advice of a self-proclaimed expert or the higher morals of the person in the next pew.

Vulnerability is the essence of art itself. And criticism can bury deep.

criticism and christianity

Christians are some of the most critical people on the planet, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

We judge the tattoos and earrings, almost as much as we judge the ankle-length skirts and long hair. We judge the rampant immorality portrayed in a Hollywood film, almost as much as we judge Kirk Cameron for smoking a cigarette in Mercy Rule. We judge the gay guy, almost as much as we judge the pastor who has a drink with dinner.

I was reminded of all this when an article from Focus on the Family’s Boundless blog wrote a piece pointing fingers at an article a friend of mine wrote a couple months ago.

Thomas wrote an article outlining why courtship wasn’t working for some people, and his thoughts on how we could change that. What surprised me most was not what he wrote, but the intense backlash he received from multiple people in the Christian community. Why is it when we disagree, we can’t seem to disagree in a compassionate Christian way? In this case, why do we have to revert to calling his ideas ‘naïve’ or ‘unbiblical’ or ‘offensive’? His article is just one out of countless examples where we tear each other to pieces over something that is not a moral issue.

Somewhere along the line we gave ourselves the authority to criticize. We’ve set our personal opinion up like it’s God’s opinion and squelched many an artistic soul or new idea in the process. We’ve become the most cut-throat, critical section of society and I don’t think it’s accidental.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. You know that. I know that. And you can bet that the devil knows it too.

What better way to cripple the church than turn Christians into cannibals? We devour our own.

But there is a different way.

Should Christians be gullible, overly-optimistic people who never offer differing opinions or love all art simply because it’s art? No. Badly made movies really are painful to watch. Poorly written books are hard to sludge through. Sloppily thrown together work is, well, sloppy. I’m not saying we should excuse laziness or little effort. But I do think that we could scale back on our criticism.

Excellence is worth striving for.

Laziness shouldn’t be tolerated. And each person should create to the best of their ability, as unto the Lord. For some, that means painting a picture that will hang in the Louvre one day. For some that means finger-painting with a two-year-old. For some that means studying photography or finance or medicine. Whatever talents you’ve been given, use them. And use them well.

Whether you reach fame and fortune isn’t important. God didn’t put us here to be famous. He put us here to be fabulous.

I think each of us has an inborn ability to make and create beautiful things, to think of new ideas, to explore, to invent, to blaze new trails. Because we were made by the Ultimate Inventor.  We are His crowning creation and to be honest, we are pretty cool. But fabulous for you may not be the same as fabulous for me. And before ‘Warning: Relativism’ flashes on your screen, I’m not talking about morals. I’m talking about creativity.

Creativity isn’t confined to artists. Every single person on this planet is an artist. All you have to do is find your canvas.

So just because you think you could make a better movie or write a better book, doesn’t give you the license to crush someone else’s creation. We need to respect the effort a little more, honor the work that went into it, and appreciate the piece of the artist’s soul that was poured out on the page.

We need to hold off on the rules for improvement and encourage the hearts of the people creating. I think there is incredible power in excellence. But there’s also power in a community where people are allowed to try and fail and try again and be encouraged on the journey.

Let’s create that kind of Christian community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can You Handle Peace?

{By Ellery Sadler}

Somewhere between sipping piña coladas and munching French fries and drifting in an ocean that looked like some newbie photographer over-saturated it, I stumbled on a truth.

Peace is hard to handle.

I hadn’t thought much about peace before, because honestly, in this crazy life, there isn’t much time for it.  School and friends and church and background music and TV shows and books and writing have crowded my time to such an extent that I couldn’t even remember the last day I spent doing nothing.

There is a strange seductiveness to busyness. We’ve been raised to equate busyness with fulfillment. But there is nothing further from the truth. You won’t find fulfillment in being busy. Being busy doing good things is a good way to spend your time. But you also need time for stillness. For finding peace.

A distracted person can hide the truth with phone calls and deadlines and commitments. But a still person has to face the music. (Or in this case, lack thereof.)

There is nothing more torturous for a frantic soul than peace.

how to find peace in chaos

I’ve found this out because unconsciously over the last couple months, I’ve become one of those frantic people. Worried about school. Worried about after school. Decisions to make. Texts to reply to. Friendships to keep up. Stories to write. People to see.

And then I left. The country, my house, my computer, my schoolwork. Our family sailed around the Caribbean with no cell service, no Internet, and almost no people. It was blissful, the most relaxing experience I’ve ever had.

The islands teach you lots of things. The people down there move at a pace about twenty times slower than people in the USA and they smile more readily and always say hello to strangers. They are slow. Their lives are slower. Two weeks down there feels like two months up here. And I think part of that is the inherent peacefulness of the land. There is ocean stretching as far as the eye can see, dotted only occasionally by green mountain islands. There are no big skyscrapers, no Wal-Marts, no Wi-Fi. And it’s amazing.

But it also forces you to think. You have to face your own thoughts, your own soul, because there is nothing left to distract you.

Who do you want to be?

What do you want to be known for?

Why are you doing what you are doing?

Why do you live where you live?

What is the purpose of your life?

Even for just an hour or two, I would challenge you to find a place where you can just be. And think. Don’t be afraid of your thoughts or your questions.

Finding peace is a journey, and it doesn’t happen all at once.

It’s a gift. I think of it kind of like a scavenger hunt.

You find a little bit here and a little bit there. Each time you take peace closer to your heart, you become more like Christ. Yeah, it can be boring with nothing to do for an afternoon. But it can also be transformative. It can give you insight into your real motives, your real character, your real purpose.

Pray for personal peace. And find some time for thinking.

Can you handle peace? Can you stand stillness?

 

 

What A Serious Case of Cabin Fever Taught Me

{By Lindsay Chilton}

Henry David Thoreau was famous for living in solitude, away from everyone, and also loved winter.

After being snowed in on and off for weeks on end I’ve come to the conclusion that he was either insane or lying about enjoying being alone for so long.

At first the snow was pretty and a nice change of pace. For about two days. Now, the Elsa jokes have been made, we’ve all made snowmen and instagrammed the perfect snowy sunrise and now it can melt and we can all go on with our lives. Except the snow seems to have taken a liking to the East Coast and is thinking of building a summer home here.

The snow has ceased to be charming and is now the relative that has over stayed their welcome.

living in the present, slowing down, snow

It’s an inconvenience, it ruins our plans, and I’m tired of looking like Randy from “A Christmas Story” every time I step outside. But the snow has caused me to slow down. Way down. It’s caused me to stop almost completely.

With classes, spring sports, and various activities my word of the month became “busy”. All of a sudden I found myself with little to no time and I seemed to always be going somewhere or catching up on schoolwork or cleaning the fish tank, or working on a costume, or getting fingerprinted, or going to the doctor’s office. All of these things had to be done and they were my top priority.

God has a sense of humor when He knows that we’re not making Him our top priority and sent me three weeks of snow to draw my attention back to Him. (But please don’t blame me for all of the snow). All of a sudden all of my classes were canceled, I couldn’t get anywhere, and I was stuck inside. At first I twiddled my thumbs and tried to find something fun or productive to do. After about five days I was succumbing to cabin fever and decided to take a walk and after wrestling on about seven different coats I grabbed my boots and headed outside.

The first thought that struck me was that our Lord is the ultimate artist.

Everything looked so pristine, calm, and beautiful. The second thought was one that I think He’s been trying to communicate to me for some time and I just wasn’t receptive.

Be present.

I’ve been looking forward to my future and constantly planning for so long now that I’ve forgotten the present. I had also been so busy wishing for sunshine and warmer weather that I had forgotten to look around and revel in the beauty of the winter too. Now, it’d be incredibly foolish to never plan for the future so don’t think that I’ve just given you permission to not study for finals or to do something insanely stupid. However, I am giving you permission to plan for the future but not constantly fret and waste time over it. God has it under control. He’s given you one life and I believe that we should be constantly living in the present and working to further His Kingdom. We can’t accomplish this if we’re always worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Today, instead of cursing the snow and making plans to move to somewhere where they don’t even know what snow is, take a moment to go outside and thank the Lord for forcing you to stop and focus on Him.

Even if it took an entire snowstorm from Siberia to get you too.

What forces you to slow down & focus on God? Comment below! 

Why You Need to Fail

{By Taylor Turner}

Imagine with me, if you will: you have just spent over 800 hours of your life during the past six months studying 5 books that collectively totaled over 1,000 pages.

All detailed information that you will be tested on in a day of two, four-hour sessions of 120 questions each. Now after two months of waiting, the day for results has finally arrived. As the minutes and seconds countdown, thoughts run through your head “Did all this work pay off?”

An email pops into your inbox. You open it.

You begin to read: “We sincerely regret to inform you that your score was not above the minimum passing score.”

How would you respond? Grief? Frustration? Just plain mad?

This is not simply a random, imaginary situation: these feelings of anticipation and failure are something with which many can empathize, especially students. Moreover, this is not a random instance with random numbers I concocted: I found myself in this very situation only a couple weeks ago. Yes, I failed: I did not pass. Yes, it was a let down. And yes, I wish I had passed. But let me tell you something:

At certain points in life, failure may be the best thing you encounter.

how failure is a good thing

Failure is a good thing? Yes, and for very good reasons.

We all have to deal with failure at some point in life. And our culture is more than glad to provide their perspective. But let’s be honest: culture (i.e. main stream thinking) doesn’t have wonderful suggestions in general – and their advice in situations of failure is no exception.

Just take participation trophies, for example. I am not saying they are all bad: they are just all completely and utterly terrible.  I know it’s cute and sweet to see little Johnny with his trophy after playing on the local little league baseball team.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as much a sucker for cute kiddos with trophies as the next guy. But it;s not some innocent idea: ideas and actions have consequences. Johnny didn’t win; but even if he did, a trophy for everybody only dilutes the weight of true success.

Culturally, we have postured our attitudes to a “safe” area: we don’t take too much personal risk for fear of messing up. From participation trophies to multi-billion dollar, Wall Street banks that are deemed “too big to fail”, everything is insured from the harsh realities of failing. We don’t like to be told that we failed at something. We really just want everybody to be a winner because hearing the words “you failed” does not make us feel “warm fuzzies” or evoke thoughts of cute puppies (a newborn chocolate lab sleeping on a pillow in front of blazing fire on a cool winter night – yes, that level of cuteness).

 “Experience: the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” – C. S. Lewis

And the experience of failure is no exception.
You will most assuredly learn discipline and humility – or lack thereof.

I know that I certainly have been shown my lack of humility as a result of my failure(s), but that lesson was all worth it. Your discipline will also be tested: are you going to cowboy up and get ‘er done or just throw a pity party? Failures will draw this out of you more than anything else in life.

This was the biggest test of my life (so far) and I failed.

If you do what everybody else does, which seems to be avoiding failure, you will get what everybody else gets.

Culture is “safe.” This year, take risks: the worst thing that can happen is that you learn, which really is not bad or you might succeed. But beware if you do succeed, you may realize the culture has been dishing you baloney for most of your life.

Your first big failure is only the first step on a life-long journey of invaluable education.

Take risks and create big goals for yourself: you will not regret them . . . and you might just succeed.

How To Live Your Best Story

{Guest Post by Alexandra Presley}

 “Do you dislike your role in the story, your place in the shadow? You have been born into a narrative, you have been given freedom. Act, and act well until you reach your final scene.”

– N.D. Wilson

Living is a messy thing.

how to live life well living in the moment

Every new stage of life unfolds a new assortment of troubles. And with every new trouble, it’s easy to start wishing away life itself. You’re just waiting to get to the next thing, the next week, the next month, the next year. That’s not living. That’s existing.

And be careful. You can exist for an entire lifetime and forget to live.

Stop telling yourself that around every corner, every paycheck, every new stage, there’s something better than what you have.

Right here in this day, this moment, this life, you have been given something amazing and it’s called “now”.

Maybe you can’t wait to be done with school so that you can just get married and have a family and get on with real life. Guess what. Once you are married, you’ll still find plenty of life to wish away if that’s the way you decide to see things. Stinky diapers, long hours for your husband at a job he doesn’t enjoy, potty-training, whining toddlers, not enough sleep, messes to clean up over and over and over because every time you turn around they make another one.

But, one day you’ll have to turn and look back and you’ll see how glorious it all was. You’ll see how blessed you were and you’ll miss it. So live this chapter with relish. With pizazz. With a flourish.

Live yourself out until you have nothing left to give.

Only when you have been all used up will you find true peace right where you are. I am slow to learn and even slower to remember. I often catch myself thinking this stage I’m living is temporary. I catch myself just making it through a day and not making that day count. I have to stop and realize that this day could be my last day. We aren’t promised tomorrow. This is a sober thought, but it’s also a freeing one. I don’t have to fret about the future.

I just have each moment. I have one choice, one word, one smile, at a time.

All truly great authors write stories in which every sentence counts. The greatest Author is the ultimate example of this. Everything that’s in His story is meant to be there and if we skim over any bit of it, we’re not really reading what He’s written. If we skim over any bit of our lives, we’re not really being, or doing, or learning what He’s expecting. And we’re going to miss out on so much.

If I live in all the tomorrows, I’ll miss every single today.

“A story,” wrote Flannery O’Conner, “is a way to say something that cannot be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what it means.” It takes every trial, every stage, every day, in your life to be a full life.

You have been born into a Story. Live it with all your heart and live every word.

What do you think about living in the moment? Share your thoughts by commenting below! 

 

alexandra presley Alexandra is a 19-year-old homeschool graduate who lives in South Carolina on a farm with her wonderful, crazy family. She believes in amazing grace, and in a God who became Man, and in death turned backward. She dreams of writing books (you can check out her blog here), growing herbs, raising chickens, and of getting married and having a house filled to the brim with strong children who can laugh in the face of evil. She strives to see this world with eyes full of wonde

 

A Journaling Challenge for Easily Distracted Millennials

{By Lindsay Chilton}

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 7.38.26 AM

I’ve never been able to keep a journal no matter how much effort I put into it.

I just wasn’t interesting enough to document everything that happened to me. Most of my journal entries were something along the lines of: “Woke up, brothers ate the last of the Lucky Charms so I had to have plain cheerios (ugh), did school, pet the cat, went running even though I didn’t want too, ate some mac and cheese for dinner, drew some pictures, moved the cat off of my bed, got ready for bed, went to bed.”1

This isn’t very interesting and I doubt anyone else would read it and want to find out what happens next (Spoiler: Usually the same thing but with different foods and different levels of moodiness). I would continually fail at journaling because, let’s face it, in fifteen years I’m not really going to care about the teenage angst that my past self was feeling.

Not many of us can boast to live such an exciting life that we can write exciting things such as, “Found the stolen jewels in a suitcase in an apartment building on the 40th floor, and because the thieves were chasing me, I had no choice but to jump out of the window and use my emergency parachute that I always have with me. After returning the jewels to the museum, I bought a sandwich and took in a show before going home.” If you can boast of having a journal like this than I am completely impressed and please take me with you on your next adventure.

Most of us, however, live “normal” lives and don’t usually get to write such exciting things.

That’s why this year I’ve started the “365 pages” challenge.

journaling tips for busy people

In this challenge I think of two things that stuck out to me that day. It’s strictly a reflection of what made up that day and what I found to be the most interesting. Doing these forces me not to just scribble on about my feelings and being completely wrapped up in myself.

Some days I write multiple paragraphs and some days I write one line. I do, admit sometimes, have what I’ve come to call my “Watergate pages”. I forgot to write for four days and now just think of them as the missing 18 minutes of my journal. It’s completely okay to have these “Watergate pages” and not feel like a journaling failure. I fell into that trap a lot and felt that because I had missed a couple of days that there was no point in continuing the project. DON’T FALL FOR THIS. I have multiple journals sitting on my shelf that only have a couple of pages filled out because of this trap. The entries were so sporadic that I had trouble figuring out when I had written them and realized that I mostly wrote when I was frustrated or angry.

Venting on paper can be good, but this type of journaling forces us to only center around ourselves. It’s okay to put your feelings on paper and try to figure out what you’re thinking and feeling. In fact, I have an entire journal that if anyone ever found they’d think I was the most dramatic person they’d ever met because that’s where I try to work out what’s going on. Journaling like this all of the time, though, isn’t healthy.

That’s why, with my challenge, at the end of each entry I sign off with the hashtag #choosejoy.

Even if it wasn’t a particularly good day, because they won’t all be, I constantly remind myself that I can #choosejoy, namely Jesus, every day. Over and over and over again.

Now I know it’s already February, but I want to challenge all of you to the “365 pages” challenge. Each day, choose two things that stuck out to you and write them down. Some of your entries will take up pages and some will only take up a couple of inches, but this type of journaling will accurately reflect your life. Good luck everyone! #choosejoy

What are your thoughts on journaling? Comment below!

 

  1. Actual excerpt from one of the 5 entries of 14 year old Lindsay’s journal

3 Types of Friends Every Christian Needs

{By Samantha Nicole}

I’ve been pondering friendship a lot lately. As a young adult, my life is still in its developing stages, and to be honest, I never really know what’s going to be thrown at me next.

It can be hard to deliberately make lasting friends and come alongside sisters-in-Christ.

how to be a good friend Christian friends

Recently, I was reminded of something my dad used to tell me.

“Every person needs three friends: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy”.

No exceptions. Wherever you are, you should be striving to have those three people (big huge note here: of the same gender as you) in your life. They’ll fade in and out and morph over time, but they should always be able to identify them in some capacity.

You Need a Paul.

Nope, not my man this time. (Though, he’ll always be my number one “Paul” *wink*… Yeah, yeah, that was crazy sappy.) A Paul is someone who is a few steps “ahead” of you in your faith walk. They’re the person you find yourself turning to when you need advice or are confused. They’re normally a few years your senior and have more life experience than you do. Your Paul is someone you can be real with and who you trust to keep an eye on you and not let you slide down a dangerous path. Normally they’re the person that when your phone rings you either chat for hours about how God is working in your life, or you’re in tears of repentance after ten minutes… Or maybe that’s just me.

You Need a Barnabas.

Barnabas is your peer. This is probably the easiest one to identify. Who is that person who knows more about you than anyone else? They randomly text you to tell you they’re praying for you, you plan your vacations around their work schedule so you can hang out, and you can’t have a conversation filled with small talk because you’re just bursting to talk about all the things you’ve missed since you chatted last… Yep, that’s your Barnabas.

We also tend to have more than one Barnabas. They’re your best friends, the ones you hang out with on a Friday night. When you think of doing something fun, they’re the girls and guys that you call.

A Barnabas is a person who is in the same place you are in life.

You’re walking the road of experience together, whether that’s first jobs, dating, early marriage, and/or starting a family. They’re the close friends who push you to be the best at wherever you are because they’re trying to do the same thing.

And You Also Need a Timothy.

Timothy is the younger friend that you’ve chosen to invest in. For some of us, these are our siblings, for others they’re our sorority “littles” or the girl our youth pastor asked us to mentor. We’re the cool older friend who takes them out for frozen yogurt or to the Friday night football game. You’re there to encourage them and give them advice from a person who’s just one step ahead in life. You send them “10 Things to Remember Before Going on a Date” lists and pray for them when they have college application deadlines. You meet with them to pray and learn from each other. They keep you young and don’t let you use words like “slacks”, and they remind you what it was like to live with your parents. You’re their Paul, the person they look up to and contact for advice.

Each of these friends, our Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy, help to form us each day. They all add a piece to the puzzle of who we are. And they encourage us in our faith walk in three perfectly unique ways.

 

Who would you name as your Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy?

 

Confessions of a Silent Christian

{By Ellery Sadler}

“Why are you so happy all the time?”

I froze. Words bubbled up. I wanted to refute the premise. I am not happy all the time – no one is. I wanted to have a conversation about where true joy as Christ-followers comes from, and how holding on to that joy is a journey. But the words died in my throat and instead, I just laughed it off. Opportunity missed.

“I’m doing ok, I guess. My son found out his wife was cheating on him three months into their marriage, and now he’s going through an awful divorce.”

Wow. What do you say to that? I look down at my hands full of groceries and try to nod sympathetically. No digging deeper, no offer of prayer, just a quick slide of a slick credit card and escape through the double doors. Opportunity missed.

I didn’t ask how I could pray for him because I was afraid it would sound cliché, that the words would come flat. I didn’t share about Who gives me joy because what if it came across arrogant or insincere?

I have a confession to make.

confessions of a silent christian evangelism witnessing

I have never walked up to someone and ‘witnessed’. I have never ‘evangelized’ or shared my testimony with a stranger.

It’s not because I am afraid of public speaking — I have debated in front of hundreds of people. It’s not because I am afraid I will be arrested or persecuted for sharing my faith, as people in some countries are. No, it is because I am afraid of the whispers, the avoiding eyes, the snickers. I am afraid the words won’t come out right. I’ll freeze when someone asks a crucial question. That I’ll sound preachy, a naive “goodie-two-shoes” from a land of sunshine and unicorns.

And I hate that. Because I have known people so sugarcoated with Christian-speak you never get to truly know them, so thick with platitudes and plastic smiles it makes me want to scream. And I am a Christian. Can you imagine how the non-Christians feel?

So I grew silent. I didn’t stand up or speak out.

The sidelines are a comfortable place to be. Quiet is safe because it seems reasonable and wise. But it’s cowardly at heart. And it’s dangerous. God didn’t call us to seem wise. He called us to be wise.

He didn’t call us to seem reasonable. He called us to be redeemed.

The danger of silence is what it spawns. Silence breeds apathy and apathy breeds ignorance. A complacent people become a weapon in the hands of the enemy. We lose our efficacy when we become satisfied with the status quo. If we never speak up about our principles – if we never share our faith – if we never defend our morals – we forget why we believe them at all. Dulled minds and silence-strangled hearts become our refuge from reality.

Real people are hurting. Real issues cry out for discussing. Real people are hungry for prayer. Real problems need solving. Words have power. Allowing the fear of cliché to silence that power is devastating to the furthering of Christ’s kingdom. 

Maybe thousands will never gather to hear you speak, maybe generations will never read the ink you put to paper — maybe it is only one. But if God placed that person in your path, and you speak, and they hear, and a seed is planted – that is enough.

That makes words worth speaking.

The fear of sounding cliché is deep-rooted in our fear that we will never be enough. Never good enough, smart enough, cool enough, knowledgeable enough. But what if the reason we are given these opportunities to speak is not because God chose us so we could impress someone with our knowledge or awe them with our skill, but so that we could touch them with our authenticity?

I doubt I will ever be a renowned evangelist. I don’t envision myself passing out tracks at metro stations or witnessing on sidewalks. But I can do things. And when people notice what I do, I can speak. Actions speak louder than words, but actions don’t exclude words. They have asked, and your identification as a Christ-follower obligates you to answer. The fact that you bear His seal requires that you also bear His witness. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Silence is deafening. It’s drowning out opportunities, it’s passing people by, it’s destroying the generation grown up in the church.

Coming from my own season of silence, I believe one of the best things we can do is listen. Listen. The simple act of listening is a witness. Then, once you have paused and listened, act in a way the world finds unbelievable. Love in a way that forces people to look twice. And when they ask, give an answer.

It’s not about our words coming smoothly. It’s about the God who prompted us to speak the words. It’s not about perfect prayers. It’s about the One we pray to.

It is time to end the silence.

 

5 Game Changers for Your Prayer Life In 2015

{By Ellery Sadler}

If you only set one New Year’s Resolution this year, let it be this.

5 game changers for prayer in 2015

I think prayer is one of the most overlooked sources of power in Christianity today. Prayer is the key to closeness with Christ. It’s the key to changing a culture. It’s the key to changing you.

But I’ll be honest, prayer is confusing and hard and often makes me sleepy. So, what’s the solution to groggily whispered prayers before you sink into sleep or a desperate “Please make me get an A. Please. Please. Please!!” after you submit a final paper?

I decided last year that I was going to commit to writing in a prayer journal every day of 2014. This year taught me a lot about prayer. But even more praying has taught me about God. 

So here are 5 ways to improve your prayer life in 2015.

1. Make Prayer Not About You

It’s easy to get focused on yourself and your own problems. And while I think it is critical that we do ask God for wisdom and guidance and feel free to talk with Him about ourselves, prayer shouldn’t be solely me-centered. If you continue day after day, to focus your prayers on yourself, you will be drained unbelievably fast. And you’ll find yourself quickly wrapped up in your own head. It’s almost like the power and joy you pray for slips through your fingers the harder you grasp for it. Let go. Let God. Just count how many times you say ‘I’ or ‘me’ in your prayers – see what I mean?

I once heard in a speech of a man who died in a car accident (I think) and in his wallet was a tiny slip of paper that simply said “God first. Others second. Me third.” It was his life motto. I don’t remember the rest of the speech, but that part stuck with me. I think we could use his motto in our prayers as well as our lives. Focus on getting to know God first. Listen. Embrace the silence and quiet your thoughts. Praise Him. Worship Him. And then pray for others. If you don’t know who to pray for, check out Voice of the Martyrs and their daily prayer app. It will change your perspective.

2. Write It Down

Finding time to pray is hard, but actually staying awake to pray is even harder. I love to write (as you probably know by now), so I decided to start writing down my prayers in a journal. This is an amazing way to keep a record of your conversations with God. One of the greatest benefits, I think, is being able to look back on your requests and see how He has answered them. Choose a few people to consistently pray for and watch how He works in their lives. Plus, writing it down will keep you awake.

3. Enemies

Got enemies? Start praying for them. And no, I don’t mean calling down fire and brimstone. I mean really pray for them. Pray for their faith. Pray that God would guide them. Pray that He would strengthen them. The boyfriend that dumped you? Pray for him. The friend who rejected you? Pray for her. The boss you hate? Pray for him. The co-worker who stole your idea? Pray. It’s amazing how your heart is tied to the people you pray for. 

4. Be Consistent

Easier said than done, but incredibly important. I think consistency is one of the most often overlooked virtues in Christianity today. We want big and bold and fast. We want answers ASAP. Like right this second. But prayer is more than that occasional frantic whisper. God rewards diligence and consistency is key for change.

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude.

~Walter A. Mueller

5. Pray With Your Hands

Words are wonderful. They are powerful. But get up and pray with your hands. Do something. There is infinite power in prayer, but God is also looking for someone who will be an example of His love to a dying world. This doesn’t mean you have to hop on the next plane to Africa. This does mean you should smile the next time you hop on the metro. It means you should let every aspect of your life be defined and decided by love for Christ. Take your prayers further than mumbled words and translate them into action. 

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