Brokenness. Healing. Confession. (Originally written on 7/19/2012)

On July 19, 2012, at 9:55PM, I shared the following in a Facebook message to my closest friends and family. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t talk more about Demi Lovato, but at the time, I was obsessed with BarlowGirl, so I felt more connected to them, which is odd, because these days, I feel more connected to Demi Lovato.

 

The Truth About Me (Brittany Willis’ Testimony, Story, and Open Confession)

Growing up, I was very insecure in who I was. I tripped over nothing, dropped everything, and was so scatterbrained you would not believe it. Normally my insecurities would only hit me in spurts and I would be able to push them away quickly, but in 2011, they were coming and coming hard. It felt like everything I did, I messed up and the insecurities soon turned into depression and self-hatred.

It started sometime between late 2010 and early 2011 when I realized that, had I been a junior like I was “supposed to be” rather than a sophomore, I would be graduating the next year. I hated that I was a year or two older than everyone in “my” grade, so I tried pushing myself to get caught up to where I was “supposed to be” in the self-paced curriculum my school did. Unfortunately, instead of accomplishing my goal, all I managed to do was stress myself out. I rushed my schoolwork, and at night when I attempted to do my homework, not understanding what I was doing, I would cry. I thought that because I was a year older than most people who did that work, I should be able to understand it. Boy was I wrong! I was never good at science or math, but that year I felt exceptionally terrible at it. Not only did I not understand what I was doing, I would also “oops” (which meant fail, but be allowed to do it all over again) many of the main tests, even though I only took them when I thought I understood what I was doing… I felt utterly and completely stupid for the second half of that school year and the first half of the following school year. At the end of my sophomore year, I took a science main test for the second time on the last day of school, and oops’d it for a second time, which meant I would have to come back to school and take the same test again. I spent the summer stressed out and feeling stupid because I just wanted to hurry and go back to school so I could take the darn test again. I went back to school and oops’d it yet again. Finally, taking the test again, I barely passed it.

Along with the stress of trying to push myself, came a bad attitude as well. At school and in public I would try my hardest to keep my attitude and stress hidden inside me, then when I would get home, it would just kind of boil over and I would yell and complain about everything. My mom would then correct me on my behavior and I would just yell and complain at her, causing a rift in our relationship. Eventually it came to a point when, if I was at home, my mom and I were most likely arguing and more times than not, it was my fault. I hated sharing my feelings with people, because it made me feel weak and vulnerable, so I would cry myself to sleep at night. Often after arguments with my mom, I would go to the bathroom or my bedroom and all my emotions about everything would come flooding out of my mind in the form of tears. In the privacy of the bathroom or my room, I would be thinking about and listing all the things I thought were wrong with me. In my mind, I was stupid, worthless, annoying, the cause for everything bad that happened, and I must have also been ugly—why else would I not have boys giving me their attention.

Eventually, probably around October-ish, my hatred toward myself took its toll and the “love” playlist that I had made to help me feel better wasn’t helping anymore, because I started thinking about the unthinkable. I thought about self-mutilation. I considered cutting myself. One day, I thought, “Hmm… it’s obviously stupid to cut myself… why don’t I just prick myself with a “safety” pin? That won’t leave marks, and no one will ever have to know.” So, I started pricking my fingers with safety pins until it hurt and bled. The physical pain took the mental and spiritual pain away for a while, then it would come back, and I would do it again. Another day, I was sitting in my bedroom floor crying and thinking thoughts of self-hatred. I picked the keys out of my bag and wondered if they would hurt me. With the Books-a-Million key card on my key ring, I started to rub the rounded edge along my leg (because if it left a mark, at least it would be less visible than my wrists), honestly not thinking it would hurt me. I was wrong; the rubbing started to cut through my skin and instead of stopping, I kept rubbing my leg. The pain really didn’t hurt as bad as the safety pins, but the stinging was more intense. I thought it was a better replacement for the mental pain than the prick, so I grabbed a safety pin and rubbed it along my leg in two other places. I felt a deep conviction that I needed to stop, so I did, but the damage had already been done. I now have three scars on my leg from that day. I continued to prick myself though, because it didn’t leave marks, so I thought, “It can’t be that bad.”

Later that year, I had started doing better in my schoolwork, so I stopped feeling bad about myself and stopped pricking my fingers. Then in December, when Christmas break came, and I hadn’t accomplished everything I was supposed to accomplish for the second quarter, I started feeling depressed again. Coincidentally on the night my eighteenth birthday, I was lying in bed and just decided to write a love letter to my future boyfriend. I still don’t know how, but that somehow turned into a love letter to God, in which I promised to let go and let God. Slowly I started to do pretty well with letting go of most things to let God. I didn’t completely give myself up to God though.

I still sometimes stressed myself to graduate on time though, and with the stress came self-destructive thoughts. In maybe February of 2012, I learned a favorite singer and actress of mine, Demi Lovato, had just come out of rehab for an eating disorder and cutting. Not only was I shocked that she had done a thing like that, especially for so many years, I was shakwn by the fact that if I didn’t completely let go of my depression and stress, I could end up like that someday. I made a new playlist with these songs on it: “You Are More” by Tenth Avenue North, “Broken Girl” by Matthew West, “Indestructible” by Britt Nicole, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson, “Someone Worth Dying For” by Mike’s Chair, “Skyscraper” by Demi Lovato, “One Girl Revolution” and “Not Done Yet” by Superchick, and “We Won’t Give Up” by The Afters. I would listen to those songs nonstop, and mostly it would make me feel really good.

After a couple months though, I realized something was missing. I wasn’t really sure what it was though, until I came across a girl band that I had loved when I first heard them at twelve years old and kind of forgot about—BarlowGirl. I listened to the music I had on my iPod from their first CD and proceeded to download every other song they had. I still wasn’t sure what was missing though, I just knew that when I listened to BarlowGirl I felt better than I had in a very long time. Then while I was Googling them on the internet, I came across their stories. “Average Girl,” “Mirror,” and “Superstar,” and always been my favorite songs of theirs, but when I read and heard their stories they became even more important to me.

I learned that Becca Barlow, the oldest sister and guitar player for the band, had had an eating disorder when she was my age. In her testimony, she shares two things that made me realize part of what I was missing. She shared that God told her she was destroying what He had created; I realized that I was doing the same thing, mostly mentally, but also had in the past physically harmed myself. She also shares that a book that really helped her out of her hard time was, “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer. The name of that book itself spoke to me. I realized that my problem wasn’t what was going on around me, but what was going on inside me. I immediately checked the teen version of the book out at the library and read it. Almost as soon as I started to read it I began to feel better. I am now reading the adult version.

From Alyssa’s testimony, the middle child and bassist, pianist, and co-lead singer of the band, I learned that my major problem was that I was not letting God control my life as I had promised in December. Immediately I decided to completely give my life over to God and start reading my Bible every day. I had already said I would do that at a student convention with my school a few weeks prior, but I did not act on it. I have been reading my Bible every day since that day and have even started a “90 Day Bible Challenge.”

In a video about Lauren Barlow she confessed that she struggled with loving people the way 1 Corinthians 13 commands us to and God used that to make me realize that a lot of my problems also stemmed from not loving the people around me, as well as not loving myself. I’ve been working really hard on remembering ‘love is not self-seeking’ whenever I start to think or act badly toward people. I haven’t gotten to the point where I think it before I act, but I have gotten to the point where I think it while I act and have been able to make myself stop in the act or thought.

Finally, the fourth major thing God has used BarlowGirl to show me in my life is that I have to be totally and completely honest with Him. Often the girls talk about journaling their thoughts and talking to God through writing as well as prayer. Because I tend to speak better through writing, I immediately jumped at the idea of writing my thoughts out to God. I have felt an almost constant sense of overwhelming love and peace since I started doing that. God has used the Bible (which I also go to confirm ideas and things that I get from BarlowGirl) and many other songs and people to touch my life in an impacting and Biblical way, but nothing and no one has left as big of an impact on my life as God has through BarlowGirl.

Now all I can say about my life is that I have not been happier since I started reading my Bible and talking to God like He’s my Best Friend and True Love. I am also extremely grateful that He cares so much about me, that He used something He knows I thoroughly enjoy to speak to me in a way that I can understand and grasp.

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Too Young. Not Ready. Foolish.

“You’re too young.” “You’re not ready.” “Don’t be foolish.” These are statements we overuse. We, the grownups of the world, have a bad habit of telling the kids of the world that they’re too young. Not ready. Foolish. Too young to fall in love. Too young to have their hearts broken. Too young to feel. Too young to form opinions or make a difference. Too young to be human. Who are we to tell anyone they’re too young, not ready, or foolish? Don’t we remember being young and “foolish?”

I was 5 when I experienced my first love triangle. His name was Jonathan. Her name was Rachel and we were best friends. My vague memory says we agreed to share him until I moved away. For all I know, they’re happily married now and taking care of Jonathan Jr.

I was 8 when I fell in puppy love with Austin Phillips. He liked Yu Gi Oh. I did not. But I knew if I asked him to teach me to play, then he would, and I’d be able to spend time with him. Of course, I asked him to teach me.

A few months later, it was Valentine’s Day and I was 9. Our class was creating “mailboxes” for others to leave Valentines in. My best friend convinced me to write a “Check yes or no” card and put it in Austin’s box as anonymous. (We were 3rd graders. It didn’t occur to us anonymity defeated the purpose of asking, “Do you like me?”)

My puppy love burned strong until 7th grade when both of our families left the school. His to go to public school; mine to homeschool.

I was 12 when I got my first love letter. It didn’t go anywhere, because he was only visiting for a few weeks before going home, but I still remember some of what it said! Something along the lines of, “I really like you. So I asked my cousin to give this to you…” and more I really like you’s. Maybe a, “Do you like me too?”

In high school, I and nearly every other girl, fell for the star athlete. My best friend also liked him. It was weird at first, but we made the genuine promise that whoever he chose—we had a feeling one or both of us were options—we would be happy for the other without any hard feelings. When he did eventually choose her, I was mostly over him already, but it still kind of sucked, especially because their relationship kind of caused some drama in our friendship. All is well now though, so that’s all that matters!

When I was 17, I was depressed, anxious, and full of self-hatred and insecurities. I was angry, hurting, and self-harming.

As a senior in high school, I experienced my first (and so far only) infatuation. At the time, I really thought he could be the one. In the back of my mind, there was always something holding me back though. This something had been there since I met him at 13 or 14 and developed a small crush on him. After 4 to 6 years of him being one of my best friends, this small crush turned into a full fledged infatuation! I was falling and falling hard! As every month passed, one thing lead to another until I fell so hard there were only two options. I’d either fall in love or fall to pieces. Due to circumstances out of my control & that I don’t blame him for, I fell to pieces. I was 19 and felt my break for a boy for the first, and so far only time.

When I was graduating high school, I decided not to go to college. When I was 23, I quit a high paying job and went to work at a fast food restaurant. Then, I quit that and was unemployed for four months before starting to work full time for Uber Eats.

I share all this to say, “you’re too young,” “you’re not ready,” and “don’t be foolish” are misguided statements most often used by those too opinionated to mind their own business. Yes, most people use the term with the best of intentions. We most often say these things because we care, but even the best intentions can be misguided. I’m learning and trying to remember this as I navigate life as the oldest sister to teenage and adult siblings and as the youth leader to middle school & high school students. At this time in their lives, they’re feeling all they know to feel and trying to make the best decisions they can with the knowledge and wisdom they have—just like the rest of us are.

At 24, I know now that I was too young for “check yes or no,” too young for a relationship, and too young for the kind of heartbreak to write two of the most heartbreaking songs I’ve ever written. Of course, I didn’t know then that I was too young, because these are the things I was feeling at the time and it was all I knew to feel at the time. I only know now that I was too young, because I’m old enough to look back with 20/20 hindsight and see, “Yeah, I was way too young for those feelings!” And I can see the things I let break me were insignificant, out of my control, and or grossly out of focus. But I also see that skipping college, quitting my high paying job, not working for four months, and now working for Uber Eats have been the best things I could have done for my own mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed I have really bad social anxiety. In the past few months, I’ve realized that has a lot to do with listening to and caring way too much about others’ unsolicited and uninformed opinions.

I’m an over thinker. One thing I normally do well is plan and pray before making a decision. Most of the time, this means I make fairly wise decisions. Perhaps not wise in the eyes of others, but wise based on God’s plan or allowance for my life. Obviously, I’m not perfect, so I do make foolish decisions—like building up credit card debt. Most people don’t know if my decisions are wise or not though. Most people seem to think I’m crazy or foolish. What they don’t see is that I pray about and plan for (most of) these decisions. What they don’t see is that these decisions are based on and are producing spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

When I was 17, I was too broken and unstable to handle being in a romantic relationship. I have a 17 year old brother who, from the outside looking in, seems like he could thrive in a romantic relationship. Even at 24, I should probably hold off on finding a boyfriend. My 22 year old brother is currently happily married with the most adorable son I’ve ever seen! There are several other kids and adults alike who could be ready and others who should maybe wait too. Not going to college and now working a nontraditional job have been the best decisions for my life. Others need/do best with structured jobs that require college. Some people just want to learn and go to college. That’s what is best for them.

College, high paying jobs, and waiting until a certain age to fall in love, get married, and have kids aren’t requirements in life. The only thing that should be a requirement in life is that we follow God’s will for our lives. But even that isn’t a requirement. God gives us a choice. It’s the wisest thing to do in life, and common sense requires it, but God doesn’t.

“Age” is just a number. “Ready” is a made up time frame. “Foolish” can only truly be determined by God. “Too young,” “not ready,” and “foolish,” are not decisions we get to make for others. It’s not our place to tell others if they’re ready or not. When asked, instead of giving opinionated advice we should try giving advice through questions. “Do you think you’re ready? What if this happens, do you think you can handle it? What does the Bible say?” If we’re not asked, then we need to bite our tongue and pray, or ask, “Can I give you some advice,” and only give it with permission. Emotions are confusing enough for adults; they’re even more confusing for teenagers whose hormones working overtime.

So, let’s stop giving unsolicited advice. Let’s get rid of the terms “too young,” “not ready,” and “foolish,” when used to describe others. Let’s love and encourage those struggling with emotions and tough decisions in life. Whether they are kids, teenagers, or adults, love, encourage, and pray for them. If you don’t agree with their decision or feelings, then love them harder and pray for them in overtime. Pray that the Lord will guide them in the way that they ought to go. Pray that God will help us to accept His and their choices for their lives.

Proverbs 22:6 is a verse to parents for children, but I think it applies to any relationship where one person is guiding another. When advising or teaching someone else, we ought to guide them in the way they should go according to God’s plan for their lives. We ought to remember that God’s plan for their lives may be different than our vision for their lives or His plan for our lives. I don’t believe this means telling them they’re too young, even if they are. I don’t think it means telling them they’re not ready, even if they aren’t. I don’t think it even means telling them they are foolish, even if their decisions are black and white foolish in relation to Biblical teaching. I believe it means praying for and with them. I believe it means encouraging them to pray through their feelings and decisions. The heart is deceptive, but that doesn’t mean feelings are always wrong. God gave us feelings for a reason. It’s our job to learn how to use and respond to them. I can’t teach someone else what feelings are right or wrong, but I can teach them how to know which feelings are right and wrong. I can point them to scripture related to their feelings and decisions. And, when I know that their choices are unbiblical, depending on our relationship and the Spirit’s leading, I can, in love, show them the wrongness of their choices. These aren’t the types of decisions and feelings I’m talking about in this post though.

What I’m talking about are the grey areas. “Should I or shouldn’t I take this job? Should I or shouldn’t I go to college? Are these feelings for this person real or not? Is my heart really broken?” What this post is about is the types of feelings and decisions I give examples for. The Bible (2 Corinthians 6:14) says to be equally yoked in relationships; it does not say what age is old enough to be in a relationship. The Bible (Colossians 3:23; Proverbs 6:6 respectively) says to do all work as unto the Lord and not unto men and to work with the determination of the ant. It also says not to love money (Hebrews 13:5) or live in debt (Romans 13:8). It does not say whether I should work a corporate job or be self-employed as a delivery driver.

My challenge to myself and others is three-fold. First, if it’s not a matter of Biblical correctness, then keep your opinions to yourself unless asked. Love and pray. Ask and suggest. Don’t tell and challenge. Don’t question and change course. Second, if it is a matter of Biblical correctness, then follow similar steps. Ask about their story and make suggestions based on scriptural guidance. In kindness, tell them the right steps to take to correct their mistakes and gently challenge them to repent—confess and turn away from their sin(s). Most importantly, love them through their struggles and pray for them to overcome their sins. Third, if, like me, you find yourself listening too much to what people think even when you know what God has called you to, then challenge yourself to care less. In love, let them know why you’ve decided what you’ve decided and ask them to pray for you and accept your and God’s decision(s) for your life.

Ultimately, whether you give the advice or take it, remember that wise counsel is important. Wise counsel can and sometimes should be what makes or breaks a decision. That said, there are a wise and foolish ways to give and take advice. Wise counsel should tell others, “God says,” not “I think.”

*Bonus Challenge* I wrote this post for a very specific reason. I am my own worst critic. More than anyone else who questions whether I am “too young,” “not ready,” or acting “foolishly” in making my decisions, I question and judge myself in the harshest manner.

The five year anniversary of my romantic heartbreak mentioned above is quickly approaching. It will be five years in August since I fell to pieces instead of falling in love and I still shake my head and call myself foolish for breaking my own heart when I knew where my infatuation would lead. What I should do, and what I should have done a long time ago, is move on and accept that I wasn’t ready for a relationship and was too foolish to see that. I moved on from him a long time ago, but I still get stuck on the foolishness of my infatuation and heartbreak.

My challenge to me is to let go and move on from the overthinking of past decisions. Big or small, I let my social anxiety keep my past decisions around way to long.

My bonus challenge to me and anyone else who overthinks is to let go and move on. Once we’ve made a decision, done a thing, or said the words, we can’t change it. All we can do is let go, move on, and choose to do better next time.

Today, at this very moment, I choose not to listen to the critics when I know God has lead me to or allowed me to choose a position or direction. I choose not to critique those who make decisions I don’t agree with if they aren’t biblically unsound. I choose to let go of and move on from decisions, actions, and words I can’t change.

If you’d like to take one or all of these challenges with me, then let me know and we can pray with and for each other.

Darkness, the Unknown, and Surprises

During worship at church a couple months ago, our worship team introduced this song to the congregation. My best friend Shelby was leading worship that morning and reminded us of being little kids who were afraid of the dark until we turned on our night lights and could see enough that things weren’t so scary anymore. Then, she compared the night light to Jesus. Just like the night light, but even better, we don’t have to fear anything, because Jesus is the Light that shines through our darkest nights.

In Harry Potter, Harry and Remus Lupin are having a conversation. Lupin looks at Harry and in the same way he often does, he gives him fatherly advice. He tells him, “It is the unknown we fear in death and darkness, nothing more.” I found this simple statement to be very profound.

In my favorite show, Heartland, the main girl, Amy, freaks out when she finds out her sister, Lou, and their grandpa Jack know her boyfriend, Ty, is going to propose and don’t tell her. The whole thing is completely irrational. She knows that, I know that, and everyone else in the show and who has seen it knows it too. And yet, she still freaks out. She still demands to know why they didn’t tell her he was going to propose. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but not an uncommon reaction.

I grew up with twelve younger brothers and sisters and we only had three bedrooms in our home. One for our parents and the baby, another for the boys, and the last for the girls. With so many little kids in our room, we always slept with a nightlight. Now, as an adult, I still can’t sleep without a light on. Part of the reason is due to habit, but another part is due to my irrational fear of the unknown parts of darkness. When Shelby made the comparison of night lights and Jesus, it really hit home for me. I still sleep with a nightlight, so it was easy for me to see the analogy. Jesus is the much more powerful night light of my life. And thank God for that, because I also totally relate to Lupin’s quote about darkness and the unknown. I can’t stand the unknown.

Honestly, I’m fine with not being in control. I don’t like leading and I’d probably mess everything up if I tried leading my own life anyway. What I’m not always so fine with is not knowing what’s going to happen next or how it’s going to happen. I know God will provide for me. He always has and He always will. I just wish He would also show me the blueprints every now and then. That’s not how God works though and today I realized maybe that’s because He wants to give us a happy surprise. Like Ty, Lou, and Jack, for Amy, God wants me to be happy—not always in the way I think is best, but always in the way He knows is best. Sometimes, me being happy means waiting for Him to surprise me with a gift even better than a diamond ring—though I sure do hope that’s in my future too someday.

A few months ago, the AC went out in my car. It wasn’t that big of a deal, because it was winter, but I live in Texas. More days than not, it’s in the 90’s and feels like the 100’s and my primary job is for Uber Eats so I’m in the car for several hours a day. The problem is, I’ve only just had enough money to pay my regular bills the past several months. I couldn’t possibly see how I would be able to pay to fix my air conditioner. While I was stressing and fussing about how I had no idea how it could be fixed before the worst days of summer, I nearly ruined a beautiful surprise God had for me.

Sunday afternoon, my pastor noticed I had a box fan in my car. Naturally, he put two and two together to realize I didn’t have a working AC. He quickly told me he would talk with the guy who is basically our church mechanic—nearly everyone goes to Him when we’ve got car problems—and said they would take care of it for me. Then, he offered to let me use his mostly unused extra car until it was fixed. At first, I rejected the offer to use his car and kind of wanted to say no to him fixing my car. Part of it was a pride issue—but that’s a post for another time—and part of it was just me being irrational. I was so consumed with wanting to know why God wouldn’t tell me how He would provide for me, that I nearly ruined His surprise fix.

Barely over 48 hours later, I was pulling away from my pastor’s house and these three concepts I’ve been dwelling on suddenly came together. Because Jesus is the Light in darkness, I should embrace the surprises He has in store for me instead of freaking out and fearing the unknown.

*Bonus* Remember, the passions and people in your life are gifts from God. He’s totally okay with you having passions and loving people, in fact, He made you that way. Just be careful to acknowledge Him as the Giver and them as the gift when He speaks through your passions and people. I know He wants to use our passions and people to speak to us because that’s almost always how He speaks to me, but we have to be careful when He does. We have to remember, they are simply the burning bushes God uses to share His presence and power with us.

Serve & Be Served–The Truth about Volunteering at Church

There seems to be a weird stigma around volunteering at church. For some reason, few people seem to want to do it. Every church I’ve ever been to–all two of them–are constantly short-handed when it comes to volunteers. Why is that? We all have spiritual gifts, Paul tells us that very clearly in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and a few miscellaneous verses throughout the New Testament. It’s also taught indirectly through several other passages as God uses people and their natural abilities to serve Him and grow the Kingdom So, why is there such a stigma around serving in the church? We could point fingers and say people are selfish with their time. For some that may be true, but I don’t think that’s the root cause. It could be that it’s not clear to everyone what is or isn’t volunteer work, but that’s not it. Churchs are constantly asking members to serve here or there or wherever help is needed. So, what’s the problem then? I think it’s a few things: a) People don’t know their spiritual or personal gifts. b) People don’t see how their talents could possibly be useful in the church. c) People don’t understand how exhausting it is for the ministry leaders and servers when no one else volunteers. d) People don’t understand how much of a gift serving can be to both those who are served and those who do serve. e) Some other reason I haven’t thought of.

a) People don’t know their spiritual or personal gifts. It’s easy to understand why a lot of people don’t know what their spiritual gifts are. I grew up in the church and went to a Christian school. Even I didn’t know anything about spiritual gifts until I was senior in high school. There are over a dozen spiritual gifts. Mine are mercy, discernment, and encouragement. Basically, that means I’m really good with people. I feel with them, I’m a good judge of character, and I’m good at encouraging them. If you’d like to find out your spiritual gift(s) then I highly recommend you google “spiritual gifts test” and take a couple assessments. It’s always helpful to get a “second or third opinion” because they are man-made tests so they could be wrong. I like to take several personality and type tests, so I always take at least a few to get a more accurate understanding of where I fit. And keep in mind, we can grow our spiritual gifts. It’s not like your born with one it’s the only one you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. God wants us to become as gifted as we can be.

b) People don’t see how their talents could possibly be useful in the church. Even before I knew anything about my spiritual gifts, I knew I loved kids. I’ve always wanted to be a mommy and I have a bunch of younger siblings. Where better could there be for a girl like me to serve than in Children’s Ministry and or Youth? What about you? What are your passions? What are you good at? Are you good at singing or playing instruments? Join the worship team! Do you love kids? Join children’s ministry! Are you a talker? Do you like people? Join the welcoming team/guest services! Are you interested in computers and other gadgets? Join the tech team! Can you build things? Organize? Work behind the scenes by helping set up and take down for various events. Have other talents or interests? Talk to your pastor, the elders, your mentor, or people you’re close to. I’m sure anyone who knows you could help you find somewhere to serve. A lot of spiritual gifts quizzes also give suggestions on where you can serve.

c) People don’t understand how exhausting it is for the ministry leaders and servers when no one else volunteers. It’s possible some (or a lot) of people don’t serve because they think the leaders and regular servers have everything under control. Some may even think it’s not their job, because “I don’t have kids” or “I’m too young” or something else. Maybe they’re insecure for one reason or another. Here’s the thing though, serving on a regular basis can be exhausting, especially if it prevents you from hearing the weekly sermons. I served every two to three weeks in children’s ministry from twelve to fifteen years old. Then, I started serving every week as one of the children’s ministry leaders until I was eighteen. Then, I changed it to every other week for a few months. Took a short break when I started going to a new church and quickly started serving every week again at this new church. I did that for three or so more years until I eventually burnt myself out from serving almost every week for a decade. I wasn’t even the leader of children’s ministry. Can you imagine how exhausted Pastors, Worship Leaders, Children’s Ministry Leaders, Youth Leaders, other ministry leaders and all their family must feel? Leading and serving can be thankless jobs, but they continue to do it, especially when they’re short on volunteers. Maybe you can help relieve some of the stress and exhaustion your leaders and regular volunteers may be feeling by joining one or more of the ministry teams! Whether you do or don’t, try to remember to encourage and thank those who do serve, especially the leaders; they probably need to hear it!

d) People don’t understand how much of a gift serving can be to both those who are served and those who do serve. I don’t have any regrets about taking time off from serving for a while. If I hadn’t, then I would have ended up serving with a bitter heart and that’s worse than not serving at all. God is very clear about how He cares far more about our heart than our sacrifices and service. If we aren’t doing it out of love, then He doesn’t want it. He wants us to want to serve Him and others. That said, a couple weeks ago, my best friend let me know our Children’s Ministry had been looking for more volunteers. She didn’t know this until I told her afterward, but God had been nudging my heart for a couple months at that point that it was almost time to get back into serving with children’s ministry. So, I took that as my cue. I offered to help once a month as a means of dipping my toes in the water before jumping all in. As my life would have it though–because I’m an all or nothing kind of girl–I was asked at the same time to serve, at least for a few weeks, with the youth. Little did anyone know, God had also been urging me to see about serving in Youth with the same kids I had served in children’s ministry two years prior.

Last week, I served in Youth for the first time in years. Today, I served in the nursery with the babies and toddlers also for the first time in years. I knew I had missed it, but I didn’t know how much! I was nervous about getting burnt out again. But both last week and this week, God quickly assured me that He is calling me to serve again. He wants me to help the kids and babies and He’ll be with me at every step. The second I walked through the doors of the youth room and then through the door to the nursery, my heart immediately filled with joy and contentment. I belong with kids and youth. I belong somewhere where I can serve and encourage others. Where people in need and young Church kid hearts are, that is where I belong! I grew up as a church kid, so I know what it’s like and what is needed in these areas. God seems to agree (aka, it’s His plan and He just nudged my heart with it) because that’s where He has me serving.

I can assure you that if you serve and you do it with a heart that wants to serve God and others, then you won’t regret it! Even after I got burnt out on serving for a decade, I never regretted it. I just needed a break. If you can’t serve with the right heart, then I urge you to pray for God to humble and encourage you to have a servant’s spirit. Afterall, Matthew 20:28 says, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” If that’s not encouragement enough for you, then surely, praying for God to guide you will be! 🙂

(also, I totally recommend you go read that whole passage! It’s a good one!)

*Helpful Tip* If you want to serve where you can be a big help, but want to take on a little “less responsibility” at first, then here are two suggestions. If you’re an extrovert, then try the welcoming team/guest services! 🙂 You can chat with people as they come in and be the first smiling face newcomers see! If you’re an introvert, then try the tech team! I’ve filled in a few times when needed and as intimidating as it seems, it’s not too difficult, at least not if you’re just clicking arrows for the slides. Maybe you can volunteer for that and then learn the more complicated stuff?

e) Some other reason I haven’t thought of. Can you think of other reasons people might not serve in the church? Feel free to share them with me! 🙂

The Prayer Contract: Failure and Abandonment

Is this promise enough? Do I believe that Jesus will never fail me? Do I believe He will never abandon me? If I do believe this, then is it enough for me? If each of my friends and family members were to fail and abandon me, then would Jesus be enough?
Today, I was driving to church and this sudden conviction overwhelmed me. I have grown up in the church. I have faced what feels like more than my fair share of hardships. I have had family fail me. I have had friends abandon me. Through it all, God has never failed me; He has never abandoned me. I know and believe with my whole heart that He will never fail nor abandon me. Is that knowledge and belief enough though? A little over a year ago, God convicted me in a similar way about His presence versus my best friend’s presence. Today, it’s time to compare a different pair feelings about my best friend to the same feelings about God.
I have an often unspoken fear that my friends and family will fail me, then abandon me. I have this fear even for my best friend. She has never said or done anything to make me believe she would ever abandon me and I have yet to see her fail me. Yet, I have this irrational fear that she and everyone else will fail and abandon me. Why? I’m starting to realize that this fear comes from my parents and two childhood friends.
When I was growing up, my parents had a beyond toxic marriage that ended in divorce when I was twenty. During my school-aged years, I had two close friends. The younger was my best friend and the older, her big sister, was my honorary big sister. During and after high school, one thing led to another and my best friendship failed and we went separate ways. Her big sister, for whatever reason, completely abandoned me. She had always promised to always be there for me. Then, she unfriended me on Facebook. Now, she acts nice enough, but is closed off on the rare occasion when we’re together.
In the past few weeks, I’ve realized that I have an unhealthy desire for marriage. I desire all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. I want a loving and godly marriage that represents 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5 as God wants it to. That is right and healthy. I desire it because my parents’ marriage was the exact opposite of a 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5 marriage. That is wrong and unhealthy.
I’ve also recently realized that my fears and expectations for my friends, especially my best friend, are unfair. Because my longest and oldest friendship failed, I fear that all my friendships will fail. Because my honorary big sister and role model of over ten years abandoned me, I expect all those I admire to abandon me. This fear is especially true for my current best friend, as she took the role of my best friend and honorary big sister. My fears and expectations for her are incredibly unfair.
My fear is that she will fail me and then abandon me. My expectation is that she will never fail me nor abandon me. She isn’t my former best friend or big sister. It’s not fair to fear that her friendship will fail me the way my first friendship did. It’s not fair to fear that she will abandon me the way my first big sister did. It’s also not fair to expect her never to fail. She isn’t God. While it’s possible she will never abandon me, God is the only One who will never fail me.
So, what now? What do I do now that I’ve realized the reason I desire to get married is unhealthy? What do I do now that I’ve realized my fears and expectations for my best friend, and all friends really, are unfair?
First, my relationship with God must be enough to redeem the broken image of love and marriage my parents showed me.
When I turned eighteen, I wrote a letter to God, and myself, that I call a Prayer Contract. It was a commitment to grow in my self-confidence and, more importantly, in my God-fidence. It was a commitment to find contentment and joy in my singleness. When I turned 23, I followed up on that Prayer Contract, reevaluated where I was then, and wrote a new Prayer Contract. Today, I’ve written a new Prayer Contract. This time, it isn’t just a pen to paper. This time, it is a worship song pouring my heart out to Him and letting Him know that He is enough.

Second, I have to remember that the Giver is always more important than the gift.
Almost ten years ago, my family gave me the best material gift I’ve ever received. I was somewhere between the ages of fourteen and sixteen and had wanted a guitar for years. That Christmas, I finally got one. It was the best moment of my life and I can still feel the smile on my face. Even in the five or so years that I kept it hidden away and never played it, it was my most prized possession.
Now, that I’m older, I know it was a cheap guitar with little monetary value that I can buy on the Target website for only $50. I knew it couldn’t have been worth much. I didn’t even know how to play guitar, it made no sense to spend a lot of money on a beginner’s guitar. Even still, it was the most valuable material item in my life. I now play a guitar worth more than $200 and no longer have my first guitar, but that first guitar still holds more value in my heart than the one I play now. Why? Because I loved, and still love, the givers more than the gift.

What is the best gift you’ve ever received? (My salvation received from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the obvious answer. So, below that.) For years, I would have said my first guitar. Five years ago, my answer changed. I started going to Compass Church SA and God gave me the three greatest friends I’ve ever had. Now, though not a material gift, they are the greatest gift I’ve ever received, because God gave them to me when I was in desperate need of someone to love and accept me.
If a cheap gift like my first guitar could mean so much to me and the givers could mean so much more, then the same must be true now. If the greatest gift I’ve ever received is my best friends, then the Giver must be even more important to me. Surely, three women of God are far more important and valuable than a cheap guitar. Therefore, the Giver of those girls must be more important and valuable than the givers of that guitar.
Finally, I must apologize to my friends for unfair fears and expectations and set them free. For, if they love me, then they will never abandon me.

It’s a cliche quote that we all use, because it’s true and dogs are a man’s best friend, because friends and dogs are very similar. My unfair fears and expectations for my friends, most unfair for my best friend, are like chaining a dog to a tree. If I chain them too tight, then they’ll suffocate. Then, the second I let them loose, they’ll take off. If I let them free, and they’re my true friends, then they’ll never abandon me. They may leave me alone sometimes, which is fine, but they will never abandon me.
So, here’s my new prayer contract. If my relationship with God is not enough to redeem my hope for true love, then may I always be single. If God does not mean more to me than my friends, then may He allow them to abandon me. If I do not release my friends from unfair fears and expectations, then may our friendship fail. These must be my heart’s greatest desires–for God and His love to be enough and for me to trust Him and my friends.

Your Presence is Missed

I’m the kind of person who likes just enough structure in her life that she knows, “Okay, so I’m supposed to be here at this time and there and that time, but I have all this time to do whatever I want or need to do.” I work at a call center where I work a very consistent schedule. I work 4:45 pm to 1:15 am Tuesday through Saturday and I’m off on Sundays and Mondays. Every Sunday I wake up early to go to church and usually come home to take a nap before going to visit my family for the evening. On Monday nights, I go to a horseback riding lesson. It’s a very good schedule for me, because I have at least one thing that is consistently the same every day while the rest of the day is set aside for decompressing and relaxing. If those parts of my schedule are not exactly the same every week, then it makes me feel kind of strange and disorientated. Even if those things are the same, but someone who is normally around me is gone, it’s just as disorienting. I can literally feel their absence, especially if they’re someone I spend a lot of time with.

At work, I have a close friend named Stephanie whose presence, or lack thereof, I can always feel. For a long time, I didn’t even realize it, because for my first year and a half of working there, we shared most of the same work days, so I never really had to miss her presence. Half-way through this year though, we did what’s called a “global shift bid” where everyone has to give up their schedule and reclaim it if they can/want to or pick something new. Stephanie and I both picked something new so now we only work two of the same days. This change happened five months ago and it’s still a bit disorienting to work on her off days. It’s especially disorienting if she’s not at work for part or all of one of the days she and I normally work together.

On Sundays at church, I always see my best friend, Shelby. She’s the worship leader and she’s up on stage 99.9% of all Sundays, so it’s incredibly rare that she’s not at church. I’m not the worship leader, but it’s just as rare that I’m not at church. For the most part, I’ve seen Shelby every Sunday for four years now. When she’s not at church I definitely feel her absence. Today was one of those days. Things were a little different this time though. After I recognized the disorienting feeling, I felt a tugging at my heart asking, “Do you feel this disoriented or strange when you feel the absence of God in your life?” Yikes! Imagine how convicted you would feel to be asked that at home or at work, but to be asked that at church. Yeah, that’s definitely convicting!

I’m not a perfect Christian. Who is? I’m not even a good Christian. Again, who is? I do have a few good practices though. In every day life, when something abnormal happens I acknowledge God. If it’s good, I praise him for allowing it to happen. If it’s not so good, I pray that He in His infinite wisdom will fix the problem or change my perspective. I listen to worship music, play it on my guitar, and/or write worship lyrics on a semi-regular basis. I even tend to present myself in such a way that people around me know that I’m a Christian whether I’ve deliberately told them or not.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also have a habit of not deliberately setting aside moments for God. I try to remember to and most of the time I do remember that I need to do it, but I’m often in the middle of doing something else and then end up forgetting or I get caught up in something else. I pray in the moments when I need something or something exceptional has happened, but I don’t often deliberately sit down to have a conversation with God. Nor do I deliberately take moments out of my day to worship Him.

I’m a writer, a musician, and I like to doodle and sketch. These are three hobbies that are perfect ways both to share my prayers and praises with God. All I need is a journal and pen or pencil or even my smart phone and I can write and sketch my prayers and praises out for Him. My job is not a time consuming job. As previously stated, I work at a call center at night. I get plenty of time between calls that I could use for journaling, writing, and/or sketching. In fact, I usually do use the time between calls to do one or more of these three things. Why not do them still but for the Lord? The same goes for reading my Bible. I have a horrible habit of looking the part and carrying my Bible around with me but not actually opening it. I plan to, I really do, but I get caught up in the conversations between my coworkers, which let’s be honest, I really shouldn’t be a part of at least half the time because they tend to be rather inappropriate. Really. It’s true and they know it, because if they know I’m listening or even joining in, they (mostly the before mentioned Stephanie) try to clean up the conversation or at least apologize for it. I appreciate that, I really do, but she shouldn’t have to apologize, because I shouldn’t be a part of the conversation in the first place. These moments especially are the moments that I could and should be using my time to share my prayers and praises with God and to get answers back from Him through the Bible.

I do have moments when I feel His absence, but it’s often not until I’ve already started to slip into temptation. Like when I’m joining in on inappropriate conversations with my coworkers, or I start to feel anxious, or worried, or those moments when I know I’m about to do something I’m going to regret, but I do it anyway because I think maybe this time it will be okay. Spoiler Alert: It won’t be okay this time just like it wasn’t okay last time! I know, I know, as a Christian I’m “not supposed” to admit that I sometimes deliberately do something I’m not supposed to do, but you see, that’s exactly what Christians are supposed to do. How are non-Believers ever supposed to relate to us or come to know Jesus through us if we put up walls to block out all our imperfections? Last time I checked, there was only one perfect person and He died on the cross over 2000 years ago so that imperfect Christians like you and I could be real with Him and each other and still get into Heaven when we accept His sacrifice, repent of our sins, and try to do what He asks us to do. I’m not perfect, but I do serve a perfect God who loves me and forgives me when I repent from my sins, even the deliberate ones. Anyway, this a post for another time.

The point is, if I feel the absence of Stephanie when she’s not at work and Shelby when she’s not at church, then surely I should feel the absence of God when I’m not spending time with Him every day. If I’m not feeling that absence, then it’s definitely been too long since I’ve made it a habit to spend that extra time with Him. I pray that this will become a “problem” for me. That it will become such a strong habit for me to spend time with God daily that it feels strand and disorienting for me not to spend time with Him. I pray this same thing for you, whoever you are, who are reading this post right now. I want us to feel like something is missing from our lives when we’re not spending regular time with God, just like I feel like something is missing from my life when Stephanie isn’t at work or Shelby isn’t at church. To be completely transparent, I actually felt that way twice in the past five days, because Stephanie left work early on Wednesday and Shelby wasn’t at church today. Do you know how many times I felt like something was missing from my life because I wasn’t spending time with God this week? I’m ashamed to say it, but before this morning when He nudged my heart, I didn’t really feel like anything was missing, at least, I didn’t realize I felt like something was missing.

As often as you think of me, please pray with me and for me to deliberately spend with time. I want to feel like something is missing when I haven’t deliberately spent time with Him. I’ll be doing the same for you! If you made it this far in reading this post, then thank you and God bless you! ❤

Genuine Worship

In the past couple of years, I’ve seen a trend of blog posts about how Sunday morning worship has become more of a performance and show than a moment when a church congregation worships one God together. This saddens me, because I have such a deep-rooted love for music that every fiber of who I am knows that I only sing because God lets me sing so that I can sing to Him. Now, I can’t speak for other churches, and I honestly can’t speak for the hearts of the worship team from my church, but I can say what I see. Every Sunday morning, at Compass Church in Helotes, Texas, I see a worship team that is truly on fire for God. During the service, I hear talented voices gifted to be pleasing to the hears of those in the church seats, not so that can put on a show, though they’re certainly talented enough that they could if they wanted to, but so that these worshippers can truly worship God to the best of their abilities while leading the rest of the congregation to do the same. I see skilled hands stroking the piano keys, strumming guitars, and patting the drum box (if that’s actually what it’s called, idk). I see eyes closed or lifted to the sky in total surrender to the God who allows these talented people to stand (or sit) on stage at least once every few weeks to share their gifts with fellow believers. Sometimes, I see hands lifted in worship and thanks from those worship team members who don’t have instrument in their hands (seriously, our worship is legitimately talented). With eyes opened, sometimes I even see hearts breaking in love, surrender, thanks, and more to the God they worship.

Many times, I have shown up early enough to church to see the worship team still practicing the week’s set so that they won’t mess up during the service. Even while they practice, I see and hear true and genuine worship flowing from the voices and hearts of those on the team. It seems to me, no matter how many times they have to repeat the songs, their hearts are still filled with worship every single time they sing. It’s incredible to me, because even though it’s not a show, they do need to practice the set several times, so it would make human sense that they may not put their full heart into once they’ve done it so many times, but even when I stay for the 11am service after attending the first service, I hear just as much, if not more, intensely powerful worship in the voices and instruments of these churchgoers as I do the first time around.

I have the privilege of calling our worship leader, Shelby, my best friend, so I know that she really does have a heart full of worship. Obviously she’s still human, so I’m sure she has her moments when she’s not feeling “a heart of worship,” but when I see her and talk to her, her love and worship of God seems to flow out of her with no effort at all. I can’t help but think that, whether the rest of the worship team members have this same “worship flow” or not, I’m sure Shelby’s “worship flow” really helps influence the rest of the team to be as full of worship as they always appear to be. Each member of the team is on some level or another also my friend, but I don’t really see or speak to most of them more than few minutes once a week in passing, but when I am with them, they do also seem to have their own “worship flow,” that is only added to by having a worship leader who cares as much about the people on the team as she does about worshipping the Lord herself.

I don’t know if showy worship is a thing at other churches, but unless I’m blind and missing the mark myself, I can say it’s not a problem at my church, and I wanted to take the time to applaud and encourage the members of our worship team to continue doing whatever it is they’re doing, because I never leave a worship service without feeling the spirit flow in me through the voices and instruments and words of our worship members. Thank you, Shelby, Sarah P., Sarah M., Paul, Lilly, Adrianna, Daniel, Dan, and anyone else I’m missing, because I know I’m missing a few, for all that you do to make our worship services as genuine and real as they can possibly be. Though we do it all for God, you do still deserve the recognition for all that you do!