Joy. Freedom. Adventure.

Meet Anna. She's 24, a JMU grad with a degree in English. She currently lives in Richmond, VA and works in the development office at Collegiate School. She loves running, hiking, being outside, reading and coaching track. 

I met Anna through a mutual friend at church. It was a friend who is an incredible blogger and someone I had looked up to for a while because of her authentic and pure writing style, so I knew anyone she suggested I meet would be someone I would also love. We were introduced to one another at a John Mark McMillan concert at our church, and it was a quick and hurried introductory chat as I was crammed into their aisle, bumping into the people sitting in the next row. I added her on Facebook later, but that was it.

When I posted the first blog about Story Seeker, Anna responded the same day with an email that made my heart soar. She mentioned she had been following my blog and wanted to get my perspective on writing about life, faith, work, etc. She closed by saying, “The idea of storytelling is so powerful and I’m excited to see where it takes you.” I knew by the end of that email that she and I would be good friends someday.

We crossed paths at the young adult gathering at church soon after, and planned a time to get coffee. We met soon after at Lamplighter Roasting Company in downtown Richmond, a coffeeshop where obscure and loud rap music plays, awesome chai lattes and iced coffees are served with almond milk in mason jars, tattoos cover almost every inch of skin you see on the people around you, and photos and art of bicycles cover the walls next to the flyers of upcoming concerts and events around the city. It has quickly become one of my favorite places. I was there early to write, and from the moment Anna sat down, I just knew we were already friends. She brightened the mood of the room instantly and we connected quickly and easily over talk of our jobs at nonprofits and the things we've learned in post-grad life.

Our conversation never stuttered, never struggled, and just gracefully flowed from one topic to the next. We both went to JMU (go dukes!) but the JMU she knew was so different from what I knew, and I loved hearing about what her life was like there. She shared about her family and what her life is like in Richmond now and her recent adventures, and in every word, I felt more and more like we had been friends forever. She is transparent and real in the very best ways, the kind of way that makes you feel so totally free to be yourself, the way that makes it easy to share the hard stuff and also laugh about the hilarious things and just talk for hours and hours.

Anna makes you feel at ease just with her presence, in an effortless way. I can’t even remember how many times we said “me too!” with enthusiasm and a laugh and a strong sense of knowing our similarities were building a strong bond between us. She’s beautiful and strong and honest and the kind of person you want as your best friend, the kind of person who loves so well and makes you feel empowered and reminded of God’s goodness. My favorite text ever from her said this when I asked if she officially wanted to be part of Story Seeker: “Obviously it would be an honor since I’m just mildly obsessed with the idea.” This girl rocks.

Every text I’ve sent to Anna asking for things to make this project happen has been met with overwhelmingly sweet responses. More than once, Anna has said how honored she feels to be a part of this project, never ceasing to encourage me abundantly even in the midst of my doubting or wondering about how this whole thing would turn out. She has kept me going without even realizing it, and I’m so glad for that. She’s the very best kind of friend, and I’m so grateful for the hours spent late into the night outside of a hipster coffeeshop that kicked off our friendship.

Here's her story.

As I watch the one year mark of my college graduation pass, I’m slowly beginning to realize what a difference a year can make. Although it feels like only a brief period of time has passed, I’ve grown in ways I never thought possible and can honestly say I’m a new person. The girl who stood on the quad at JMU graduation last year had no idea what God had in store for her in the months to come. Things became much more real once I realized that I would no longer be living in the college bubble where decisions were easy and most everything was paid for by my parents. For the first time I am making choices, choices that will affect the direction my life path. In this period of transition, I began to examine not only what I wanted to do with my life but also how I wanted to live my life. This is where my story really begins.

In college I hadn’t made my faith a priority. I went along and lived life on a surface level, not giving much thought to the plans and promises God had in store for me. The first big choice I made as a postgrad was making the switch to a different church. Little did I know that this decision would be a big one.  From this transition I began to finally have the community I had always wanted but had never been brave enough to find. I have met some of the most incredible people through this church, people who love without restraint and truly want to know every part of you. Being around this type of community made me want to reshape my own priorities. What used to be important in college suddenly felt trivial and small in the grand scheme of things. I knew that I needed to give my life over to Christ 100% and live for Him instead of for myself and my own selfish ambitions. In this surrender I finally found peace and relief from the burdens of life. Although it was terrifying to put all my hope and trust in God, it changed my life completely for the better.

I knew that a lot of people in my life might not understand this change and would probably think I was strange. This fear of people’s opinions used to hold me back from living for something bigger than myself. I relied on the approval of people, desperately wanting to be accepted and loved. I knew this would never fully make me happy or whole, but still I continued on a pattern of people pleasing.

My struggle throughout most of my life has been one of self-sabotage. I’ve lived with the fear of being perceived unfairly. I’m a people pleaser. I let the opinions of others define and shape my identity. Instead of truly being myself, I live in fear of rejection which severely limits any sort of emotional or spiritual growth. Why was I so desperate for the approval of people? I knew I could never live up to the standards by which I judged myself, but still attempted to be a perfect shell of a person. This need for control and approval began to manifest itself in my life tangibly my sophomore year of college. Unable to control my own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, I began to control something much more manageable: my eating.  This led to a two year battle with eating and exercising problems.  Becoming physically “perfect” became the idol in my life. I thought about it constantly and soon this obsession began to rule my mind completely. Looking back, I don’t even recognize myself during that time. I was sad, empty and broken. Instead of relying on God, I relied on myself completely. There was no light in my life, no joy, and no satisfaction.

I began to wear myself down mentally and physically until it became very apparent that I could not face things alone. My pride was worn down to the point where I realized that I need someone bigger than myself to help. Only when I was on my own was I fully able to make this switch and realize that I could never have the approval of anyone and instead I should focus on the One who truly matters.

Surrendering my own sense of control is something I’ll always struggle with because it is such a deeply rooted habit. In the past year though, I’ve learned the beauty of total surrender. By putting my trust in something bigger than myself, I’m taking a huge risk. But this risk has completely changed me. I no longer fear risk-taking and putting myself out there. I want to go out and do the impossible. I want to take an opportunity and seize it without thinking twice. I want to be the person I was created to be, not just the perfect shell that the world expects.

The idea of risk taking and making bold choices use to scare me. I played it safe whenever possible, always trying to stay in my comfort zone. This led me to miss out on so many opportunities in college. Instead of going out and making the most out of my time, I stayed closed off from the adventures God presented to me. Now, I look at risks as gifts. I want to live adventurously, and live completely for Christ. This year has been one filled with risk-taking, exploring, and deliberate attempts to leave my comfort zone. Has it been worth it? Yes. It’s changed my relationship with God, myself, and those around me.

I feel a fullness and completeness in my life that I have never experienced before. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made and I can say that with complete confidence. I’ve had to make tons of choices in this past year, but I think it has been this choice in particular that has truly transformed my life and my outlook. Instead of facing the uncertainty of my future with fear, I’m looking forward to another year filled with grace, joy, and fulfilled promises. I’m excited to see where I’m going, because I know the One leading me there has it all figured out, even when I don’t.

Changing my entire mentality has made me happy. It has given me joy. It has made me appreciate things and people in my life in a whole new way. My perspective of life has been transformed. Instead of dreading the difficulties of the day, I wake up looking forward to the possibilities of the morning and the promises that God has given me. I always wanted to be an adventurer and explorer, and for the first time in my life I can truly see that happening.

I want to continue to take risks, both big and small, because I know they lead to the moments where I can most clearly see God at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. I hope to make a habit out of actively seeking new adventures. Each day, my goal is to give up the safety net of the familiar and leap out into the unknown. I will do this joyfully knowing that in my letting go of control, I am finally experiencing true freedom.

Please feel free to comment or send me a message if you want to hear more, ask questions, give feedback, or are interested in connecting with Anna. You can also read more about the Story Seeker project here.