Redemption. Forgiveness. Compassion.

A few months ago, a movement began. A community was born and it transformed like wildfire into a massive force to be reckoned with in what seemed like just a few days. That group is called #fireworkpeople and every day, I'm both blown away by it and blessed to be a part of it. The best part? Connecting with ladies all around the world and becoming friends with them.

The girl sharing her story today is one of those ladies. I've never met her, never hugged her, never sat down over coffee to talk with her for hours, but I feel like we've been friends forever.

Her heart is huge and bursting with love and encouragement that she spreads to everyone she meets. She's the first to reach out with a sweet compliment or let you know she's praying for you. She never fails to light up your day with her joy, and she's so supportive of the women in #fireworkpeople and each of their dreams and passions. I love that about her.

When I reached out asking if anyone would be interested in sharing their stories, Britt jumped on it. Within minutes, I had an email with almost everything I needed-- it blew me away. I loved her enthusiasm and her willingness to just dive right in and get real.

As someone who has personally fallen in love with stories and with sharing them, I love seeing when other people own their story and boldly declare it to the world. Right away, I saw Britt doing that, and it made my heart so happy.

Even though I would always always always prefer real life coffee dates and conversations face to face, there's still something so special about filling up a screen or an email with the words that are pressing on your heart. Swapping stories in emails back and forth with Britt was wonderful and I could feel our friendship growing and deepening as we shared more with each other than we ever could just on social media.

This girl has a heart of gold and I'm so blessed to call her friend. I can't wait until the day we finally meet and I can give Britt the biggest bear hug ever!

Here's Britt's story.

Brittani Rae Shank, or Britt for short, is a jumble of coffee, kind words, and compassion.  She’s a follower of Jesus, photographer, adventurer, and firmly believes in the power of people’s dreams.  She’s a small town Kansas native and currently resides in Manhattan, KS, where she’s seeking truth where she’s being called.  She’s passionate about joy and community, and desires to know the Lord and make Him known.  Above almost anything, she believes that hope is real.

If we want to get technical, my story began about 23 years and a half years ago, in the same college town that I now call home again.  I was born to an amazing set of parents who will celebrate 30 years of marriage in May, and I have a younger sister who, though she is the complete opposite of me, has taught me more about life and acceptance than anyone ever has. 

I’m from a small town in Kansas, where both of my parents are also from and were raised, and that’s where we landed after my dad got a job offer, which was ideal for us because both sides of my parent’s families are mainly in Kansas.  My mom’s mom and stepdad live 6 miles from my parents, and 5 of my mom’s 6 siblings live within a 20 minute drive from their house.  I’m the second oldest cousin on my mom’s side, but the second youngest on my dad’s.  My older cousin on my mom’s side was my first best friend, and though we have different views on a lot of things in life, that title will never be taken away from her, and she’s one of the most sincere humans I know.  My grandparents, aunts, and uncles have always been my number one supporters when it comes to my dreams in life.  Long story short, family has been something I’ve always known and relied on when things got difficult. 

Despite all of this, my childhood was scattered with difficult memories that still sometimes cause an ache in my heart when I remember the pain I endured.  When I was younger, I wasn’t the kid who had everything and fit in.  My parents weren’t rich, which wasn’t something I ever resented, but luxury wasn’t something I grew up knowing.  I was the smart kid.  I got good grades, I followed the rules, and I chose to be the better person in the situations when I had a choice.  More often than not, though, that led to ridicule, hateful words, and actions that tore me down. 

Most of this began in 6th grade, which wasn’t yet considered middle school when I was that age.  ­When I was about 3 or 4, my parents noticed the way I walked wasn’t right.  They took me to my pediatrician who said that I would most likely grow out of it.  I ended up being the one who “most likely” didn’t apply to that time.  Though not life-threatening, someone who has pes planus, or more commonly known as flat feet, can face difficulties in walking and other strenuous activities when their bones continue to develop as they get older.  I was one of the unlucky ones when it came to this.  In addition to having almost constant pain my knees and hips due to this condition, my feet also turned at an angle when I walked, kind of like a duck.  When I got into middle school, and appearance started to matter more, kids noticed.  I had surgery in December of my 7th grade year to fix my left ankle, and I finally walked normal for once, but that’s when the cruel words were the worst.  Kids would write things on my locker, they’d laugh at me as I ran by them in gym, and I’d go home crying almost daily because of how much it all hurt.  My parents tried to get the school to take action, but they never did.  I worked my hardest just to fit in, but often it wasn’t enough. 

Fast forward to freshman year of high school.  The summer before, my uncle’s girlfriend had had a sweet baby boy named Kaden.  He was the first one that I was actually trusted to watch on my own since I was old enough, so I spent as much time with him as I could.  His mom wasn’t in the picture due to poor life choices, so he lived with another aunt of mine.  He was born a month premature, and though he spent a few days in the hospital, they expected him to be fine in the long run.  Turns out, he wasn’t going to get that lucky.  He ended up getting sick when he was about a month and a half old, and passed away on my first day of high school.  Needless to say, I was wrecked. 

My parents had been taking my sister and I to church from a young age, but for me, it was more of just going through the motions.  My mom was raised Catholic, so we went to the only Catholic church in my town.  When Kaden died, I decided the only thing I could do was be angry at God.  I didn’t know why it had happened, what I had done to deserve it, or how I would ever recover. 

High school continued, and I kept doing what I could to fit in.  I decided to try out for the cheerleading squad, made it, and cheered all 4 years of high school (along with one year in middle school).  Being from a small school though, you could pretty much be involved in anything you wanted and not have to worry about things overlapping.  I immersed myself in music, also.  I learned 3 new instruments in addition to the one I started out on as a 5th grader, and was adored and admired by my band and choir teachers.  This was something I wasn’t used to, but I enjoyed being noticed so I worked my hardest to make them proud. 

I wasn’t ever the kid in high school who wanted to rebel.  I was the first child, the good one, and I did my best to hold that impression in our community.  When it came time in my senior year to start looking at my options when it came to colleges I was interested in, I was overwhelmed, but wanting to make the right decision when it came to what would make my parents proud.  At one point it was a tie between Kansas Wesleyan University and Kansas State University.  KWU would give me almost a full-ride scholarship for music, which Kansas State offered a large college experience, with not as many scholarships.  I was set on KWU up until about February of my senior year, when something switched my mindset and I announced my decision to instead attend Kansas State.  My parents were still thrilled, as this was where I was born, and they’ve been fans of the school and their athletics for much of their adult life. 

When I left for college in August of 2009 after graduating number 3 in my class, I was ecstatic to be on my own, making my own decisions, and living the life I finally had a say in.  I had chosen to be a part of the Kansas State University Marching Band, which is one of the largest in the country with just under 450 members as of this past marching season.  Leaving behind my hometown, religion wasn’t something I was interested in, and I quickly became immersed in the life of a band geek, I joined an honorary music sorority, and I found the people I wanted to call my friends. 

My life quickly turned during the spring semester of my freshman year of college.  Band was over, I was lonely, and things weren’t how I expected them to be.  I hated my major, and often had no motivation to go to class.  My freshman year was the year when I got the worst grades, and is one I never mention when I talk about my college academics.  But early on in that spring semester, I was pursued by two girls who lived on the same floor as me in my residence halls, and we became friends.  They invited me to this thing called a “life group”, in which I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

This was my first glimpse of true community.  The women that partnered and stood with me are still friends of mine today.  They were vulnerable, they loved the Lord, and they showed me what a relationship with Christ looked like.  I was forced to reach outside my comfort zone of Catholicism, and chose to pursue Christianity.  It felt like I finally owned my faith, and I was able to learn more about who I was in the Lord’s eyes, not just who I was in the Church’s eyes. 

Around this same time, my best friend, Taylor, and my sister, Rachel, had come out as being gay.  Not ever having to confront this in the past, I was torn.  I knew what my faith believed, but I also knew what I was called to do.  Loving someone has never been so hard and so easy at the same time.  It took a long time for me to actually tell my friends that I had a sister and a best friend who were gay, and it affected a lot of how I grew in my faith during that year.  I learned how to better love them, but how to also point them to Christ in my actions. 

My freshman year was full of changes.  Sophomore year seemed to fly by.  I decided to quit my sorority, and I had switched from music education to early childhood education to pre-nursing and had finally settled on family studies and human services, where I had some amazing professors who helped me pursue an education in a field I knew I would be able to make a difference.  It was in the college of human ecology at Kansas State that I discovered my passion for people and community – much of which stemmed from the difference my life group had made on my heart during my freshman year. 

I chose to study abroad my junior year of college.  When researching my options, it was between Ireland and Botswana, which is a small country in southern Africa.  Most people would’ve chosen Ireland in a heartbeat, but there was something about Botswana that drew me to it, and that’s where I ultimately chose.  I applied, was accepted, and left the very beginning of January during my junior year.  There’s a moment during one of the trips I went on during that semester that will forever stick out in my mind.  We were at the Cullinan Diamond Mines, just outside of Pretoria, South Africa, and were walking down a festive street with artwork and statues.  There was a bench that had this quote on it, which is still one of my favorites, and one I aim to live my life by: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”  This sentence went on to impact the rest of my time in Botswana, and still drives my heart today.  One of my best friends now is someone I met while studying abroad, and she is one of the most sincere, intelligent, and compassionate women I know.  My experience in Botswana wouldn’t have been the same without her, and she often pushed me to live out this saying and to be a light for the world by showing them Christ in me, and His work in my life. 

Much of my senior year of college was a blur, but a good one.  I was busy with school, very involved in my campus ministry, and spent as much time building relationships with those I loved and held near to my heart.  I decided to take an extra semester to finish school, which also led me to apply to be a life group leader with another one of my best friends.  Had it not been for that very first life group I was a part of, I would not have found my way to knowing Christ, and I most certainly would not have been led to leading other women.  I graduated from Kansas State University in December of 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Family Studies and Human Services, as well as a minor in Conflict Analysis and Trauma Studies, and my parents would probably tell you that the day I walked across that stage in Bramlage Coliseum was one of their proudest moments. 

Speed up time to present day Manhattan, KS – aka “The Little Apple”.  I like to think I was born “for such a time as this”, that my story has a purpose, and my name holds weight behind it.  Though it’s hard to believe on days when my life seems nothing more than an 8-5 job and a post-graduate status who still isn’t sure what exactly being an adult looks like, I know God has plans for me that are bigger than my biggest dreams, and wilder than the wildest things my imagination can come up on a lazy Saturday afternoon.  I am loved, cherished, and pursued by the King who knows me by name, who calls be Beloved, and who desires to use my life for His purpose in His Kingdom. 

And that, my friends, is enough to make any day the best day of your life. 

I spend most of my days now trying to love others the way that Jesus would, and I’ve since forgiven the ones who have hurt me.  My life is not my own, and I know that I am worthy.  He is enough for now and for always.