Learning His Heart

Last year, a group started online that brought the most incredible women into my life (so to speak). That group was full of the most fiery, passionate, talented, and brave people I've ever come across on the Internet, and quite a few of them quickly became good friends of mine.  

This girl is one of them. From the start, she went out of her way to not only encourage and pour out love, but to intentionally get to know these ladies (myself included) and connect with them in ways that were genuine and meaningful. In a sea of compliments and Twitter parties, her words held power that was unmistakeable. She stood out because of how she loved-- humbly, graciously, endlessly, beautifully.

She is hilarious (the stories she tells on Facebook about her life will make you crack up, I'm not kidding), she is selfless (she was a nanny like I was to two little ones who she poured heart and soul into day in and day out), and she is gold (she just is). Her words on her blog have floored me time and time again. 

Even though I've never met her or hugged her in real life (but let's be honest, we wouldn't hug because hugs are gross), I am so grateful to call this woman my friend. She has added so much goodness to my life.  

I'm so honored to share Jordan's story with you.  


Hello friends, I’m Jordan. I’m originally from Iowa but moved to Nashville, Tennessee on a God filled whim about three years ago and could not be more grateful for it. I’m almost 25, and absolutely love long talks around the kitchen table about things that really matter. I dream of being a writer and a speaker who isn’t afraid to dive into these hard places but brings armloads of laughter and encouragement in too. Some people might say I have an “unhealthy attachment” to comedic sitcoms, but I prefer to call it commitment. Let’s be real life friends and you can decide for yourself. 

My dad is a really awesome guy. Every ounce of compassion, every heart-beat of service that reverberates in my bones is an echo of the sounds in his. I love my dad so much and I spent a long time wanting to be just like him. His stories of the sweet people he took care of, people with special needs, captivated me as much as they broke my heart.  I never got to meet these people in the stories my dad would tell me. But I grew to love the sound of my dad’s voice when he talked about his people enough that the stories of their lives led me to pursue a degree that allowed me to follow in his footsteps.

But, I haven’t known where my dad was for most of my life. My parents divorced when I was in preschool, and after a few on and off years of my sister and I spending every other weekend with him at our old mobile home, they just stopped. I knew my dad had a drinking problem but I didn’t really understand how drinking something could take him away from me. I didn’t know how those many sips left him unable to keep a job, unable to keep a license, unable to see me and be my dad. I didn’t understand how he could spend all day taking care of these funny people he always talked about, but couldn’t come home and take care of me, too. I didn’t really know what all happened. 

I would often ask questions about the man my father was. I would beg for stories from my tiny years that included him. I tried so hard to learn more about who he was and who he wasn’t. On the days he promised he would call and I would sit beside a silent phone, my mom would hold me close and whisper stories about how loving he was to us when we were babies. How happy they were on their wedding day. How sad he was that he couldn’t stop this drinking, and how much he wished he could be different. We would get a card or two every few years for Christmas and our birthdays. Every once in a while he would break the silence and call or surprise us at our school as we waited for the bells to bring us inside and start our day. On those occasions he never once forgot to tell me exactly how much he loved me and missed me and prayed that things would change. I never left those surprises feeling unloved, but as the sunny glow of the brief reunion faded, the emptiness that constantly hid right below the surface would always come back. As I grew to know that emptiness more than I did his presence, I began to give into that heartbreak and see things through a darker lens.

A couple years went by after the divorce and we were a family of four again. We lived in a blue house on the main street of a little Iowa town, and I walked to first grade every morning with my best friend who lived across the road. I loved to be over at her house because I didn’t always like to be at mine. The man who swooped in with a superhero’s cape, said he loved my mom and had promised to take care of us had revealed his true colors and left us trapped in his home. He told us repeatedly that our dad didn’t want us and left so he could take care of other people instead. He hurt us deeply and tied our minds up in knots so tight, we’re still trying to untangle them all.

After almost ten years we were able to escape that blue house and I entered my teenage years in a brick townhouse. It was our first true home for my mom, sister, and I. A home that held our rebirth of joy, freedom, and laughter. But still, it didn’t hold my dad. As I continued to shake off the years of pain, my mom would lovingly point out all the good things about my personality that were just like my dad’s, and even though I still loved him, I began to fear that I would end up just like him.

For the majority of my life, so many prayers have been said to a God who I could never quite call Father. So many times I would reach out to him with a sinking feeling that I would be left hung out to dry, asking questions that I just knew would always be answered with that painful silence that had taken residence in me. I would read so many promises that the Bible said God had for me, but all I could see through broken pieces of my heart was the son he had sacrificed on the cross. A son who cried out for mercy, was met with silence, and left to die. I believed in this God, and loved him in a way that showed humbled respect, but I was wary of his heart.

When I was twenty my heart began to soften towards my creator. I began to allow myself to explore who he is but only from a safe distance. I started feeling him whisper into my ear and tell me words of love.  I allowed myself to slowly give more and more of my time to him, and begin to entertain the thoughts of him as a father. I started my blog, Trusting Adventure, as a way to write out and process how he’s working in my heart and to trust this adventure he has for me. I slowly moved away from the community I had grown up in and made my way to Nashville. About a year ago, as he continued proving his faithfulness to me over and over again, he brought me to a place to call home, free of cost, two weeks before my lease was up at my apartment and my bank account would hit zero. I moved into a domestic violence shelter and had a chance to speak the same words God had whispered into my ears to women and children with the same rips and tears on their hearts that I had on mine. I continued growing with him and fearing his abandonment less and less. He never stopped speaking into my heart.

He’s brought people into my life that challenge every aspect of him that I thought I knew. He brought me to The Belonging, Co. a church whose practice of their faith allows me to be adventurous and fall much deeper into my own. He brought friends in who love me and care for me like family and speak scriptures directly into my heart. He’s opened doors and walked with me through them and closed them after leading me out. He spoke through my people that twenty-four would be a major turning point in my life and he’s sealing a season of hurting, a season he never intended for me but used and flipped around completely for my good, on my twenty-fifth birthday.

I still struggle to really, truly call God my father. I’ve held a lot of disappointment towards him and have held so much of my heart back from him. Recently the Holy Spirit moved in me to forgive my dad. To release him from the blame of the years in that blue house. To honor the living God who is working in him and love him for everything he is instead of hold what he wasn’t in my hands. I’m so lucky to take after an earthly father who is a beautiful picture of selflessly loving compassion, I couldn’t be more thankful for the ways my heart mirrors his. But I’m even more blessed to have a father in heaven who so sweetly shows me the joy he carries for my dad and has never once abandoned me or left me alone.  Day in and day out, when I call out for him, he answers. When I choose to trust in who he says he is, he blows my mind with his love. When I need his guidance, he lavishes me with wisdom. And all those times when I remember how my father fell short and the pain I still hold from him, when I run away from the truth of who my creator is, he sends his son. The son that for so long I believed was abandoned on the cross. Jesus comes and helps chip away at the hardness surrounding my heart and reveals it’s true, tender nature, speaking life back into it. He reminds me of how his father wept with the agony of what he had to do, and how his very love brought life back to his son’s body, all so I could breathe that same life someday too. And then, even when I’m basking in the power of his love he does more. He fills me with his Holy Spirit so I’ll never again have to feel that empty, aching, pain of being fatherless again. 

Resilience. Hope. Strength.

Last year, something exploded in my life (and in the online world) called #fireworkpeople. Every week, Twitter parties brought dozens and dozens of incredibly passionate and talented women together in a conversation like only the Internet can.

Through #fireworkpeople, I've "met" so many beautiful and remarkably gifted woman that I now call dear friends-- Caity is one of them. I remember seeing her little square picture pop up in those Twitter chats and thinking "that girl is so dang pretty!" Then, I read her words. And I remember thinking, "this girl can WRITE. Holy cow." And then I got to know her and read her story, and I remember thinking, "this girl is so beautiful and brave and has such a courageous heart."

She writes words that just about knock you over with their strength and power. She writes words that give you goosebumps and make your heart swell and linger with you long after you've closed the screen. Now that I've gotten to know Caitlyn a little better, I know her words come from such a true, real place. I know that she isn't just putting words out there for the heck of it-- her words come from the very core of who she is in the most stunning way.

Reading her story when it landed in my inbox was humbling. It reminded me how grateful I am to have a space where I can shine a spotlight on the people I want you to meet. It reminded me how powerful stories are. It reminded me how unique each of our journeys is, especially in faith. It reminded me of what an incredible thing it is to put our lives and our experiences into words, and then to share those words with other people. It's brave. It's courageous. It's meaningful. 

I'm honored to share Caity's story with you.

Caitlyn wants to live in a world where broken hearts are held close, the lattes never stop flowing, and she can sit with you in your hardest places. By day she works at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, but by night she’s crafting words as a creative writer. When she’s not slinging syllables to hold your heart at caitlynhummmel.com, you can find her studying in pursuit of her Masters in Social Work, sipping on delicious craft beers, and loving on her fluffy Pomapoo, Jasper. 

I told Rachel I would write down my story. A scary thing to agree to do – it’s something I’ve avoided honestly because my story isn’t beautiful, or cliché, or tie up with any kind of pretty little bow. Stories like those tend to make me mad these days anyways. Although, sometimes I wish it did tie up ever so neatly like everyone else’s seems to do. But let me start from the beginning. 

I grew up in a conservative evangelical household. One foot held in that world and the other waggled somewhere else where I was trying to figure things out for myself. Faith never came too easily for me – I’ve now realized this is often more to do with personality than much else. I never fully belonged in either world though and like most teenagers I didn’t really have the first clue of who I was, but what I did know? Who I should be. In essence, I should be perfect. Because clearly that is what gives you love in the one world I came from. There are hollow words of grace, but really what is wanted is a perfection no can actually muster up. And heaven help you if you don’t agree with the puritanical views pressed in these realms – especially if you’re a woman, which is not actually an okay thing to be here. (You are not lesser, just different.) But most pretend to be perfect and in agreeance with all the thinly veiled rules so they can scrape along behind their masks. I don’t blame them. 

I went to a large research university and joined a sorority. Most days I wish I had never left. These women let me feel more myself than almost anyone I’ve ever met. Sometimes I wonder what turns I would have taken had I stayed there. 

But then there was an accident. I got minor alcohol poisoning the night of my first formal and the embarrassment was enough to spiral me into a place where I was convinced I needed to uproot everything and change my whole life. I needed to become what I always should have been.

I transferred to a hyper conservative fundamentalist esque Christian college. I already knew the language and could blend as well as I wanted to for the most part. I bended and folded myself into every box they handed me. Submissive. Quiet. Conservative. Modest. Pure. Godly. I attempted every model and five step plan for prayer and the Bible they flashed across the screen in the daily required chapel. I learned all of the right doctrinal answers and I honestly wanted it all to work so damn bad. But it didn’t. 

I could feel myself losing pieces of me as I tried to shed my own skin to put on what was demanded. The invisible rules wrapped around my throat until my lungs were dry. There was no life here only death to hide the hypocrisy. 

And then one day in the middle of a clear July, I panicked. The walls felt too thin and air wasn’t reaching my lungs at all anymore. I knew I wasn’t like them and that even after coming this far I never could truly be like them. My mind stretched taut with the shame and fear, which had fueled my existence and became my undoing. 

The next six months, maybe longer, I’m not sure because I threw out all the journals, passed in a dark storm of racing thoughts, living on the razor sharp edge of hyper anxiety, and then eventually the slow dive into the abyss, which is depression. Because if you aren’t one of them then what are you? Damned. 

I slept to avoid my own mind. To avoid the thing they call Christianity. And it’s crazy, but I found people just like me telling this same story over this journey. The dark doubt that you can’t be it. The knowledge that you are not like the rest. The denied thought maybe you don’t want to be because after all… you know what they can inflict on those who aren’t like them. The shame and fear stitching all together. 

And then I graduated. And my boyfriend of however long dumped me. I moved home anxious, depressed, exhausted. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep living like this. 

I couldn’t read what they call the Word anymore without hearing all those men and Calvinistic, patriarchal, graceless voices impart their monstrous theologies. The words would make my heart thrum and thoughts race. God had been made into a monster and its awfully hard to love a monster, but you know you’re supposed to so you try anyways, and it leaves you emptier than before. 

So I gave up. The reading. The going to church. All of it. And I’m glad. In the three, four years since I haven’t picked up those words or stepped into a service other than the occasional holiday to make my mom feel better. Now you’re probably thinking you never were a Christian, you clearly just got it all wrong, you’re a bitter hater of the church who just obviously did not hear the real gospel.  Well, you’re wrong. 

I am intrigued by and am always drawn to the radical structure flipping man who pushed us all past our comfort edges into a place where we have no idea what to do. I tell myself god is like this too. But that’s hard to remember. I’ve read more theology in the past few years than I ever did while getting a minor in it. I have moved into the progressive realm and hope to fight fiercely for the margins. The ones the church said to love, but always slammed their doors on before they could even toe the doorway. The people I have watched repeatedly get pushed to the edges by those who should be fighting the hardest for them. And I wish I could walk into a church without feeling my heart race and breathing drop shallowly. Yet still, I’ve had my eye on an Episcopalian church with the most beautiful red doors. I love that they honor all people, value the sacred, and allow rhythms to carry them through. 

Three, four years. And I finally feel good, normal, like myself. I feel free more than I ever have. I know what it’s like to know the voice of my own intuition and to trust that my desires are good. I’m not done healing, but I am damn proud of how far I’ve come. How I’ve pushed and pulled until I could stand again even though I’ve fallen down over and over along the way.

I know my story is one of countless. And I’m grateful to the writers who over and over have bled on a page so that I may know I’m not alone in this battleground of deconstruction and healing.  If anyone has read these words and nodded along then I hope and pray you have the strength to keep moving because it can get better friend, it really can. 

You can read more of Caitlyn's words here (you won't regret it). You can also find more Story Seeker posts (and learn more about how to be part of it!) here.

until The End

An incredible thing was born in 2014. It was called #fireworkpeople and it has been changing the world (and my own life) every day since. It's a community of the most creative, alive, on fire women I have ever known, and out of that group have come some of my favorite new friendships.

One of those new friends is Amber. From the very first time I saw her tweets pop into my feed during the weekly #fireworkpeople Twitter chats, I knew I was going to just love this girl. She is an absolute powerhouse-- her words are stunning, eloquent, bold and real all at once and they shoot straight to your heart. I can't get enough.

She makes every single woman she comes in contact with feel seen, heard and loved all within a single second. I've never even met her in real life and I feel like she's one of my dearest friends. She is the kind of friend you want in your corner because she just makes you feel invincible and unstoppable. 

She's a phenomenal writer, and her blog is one of the few I religiously read every single day. She is the most gracious and welcoming of hostesses, in her own life and even online with the link-ups she organizes and runs so wonderfully. She's a beautiful wife who so evidently adores the man she married, and a faithful follower of her Savior. Her heart for building community even amongst people who have never met in real life is so encouraging and inspiring-- she is someone who will pour out everything she is and has to bring people together, and I've seen it make such an unforgettable and lasting impact on so many lives already.

Everything Amber touches seems to turn to gold. She radiates such joy and light everywhere she goes, like she's made of glitter that's just spilling from her bones. I cannot wait for the day I get to breathe the same air as her, hug her so tight, and just talk for hours over huge mugs of coffee somewhere.

This girl is grace and grit all wrapped up in love with a beaming smile, gorgeous tattoos, a heart of gold and a selfless servant's spirit. She's a gem and I cannot wait for you to read her story.

I’m Amber. Born and raised and now settled for life in a small town laying happily under the Californian sun. I'm an adventurer and homebody, a misfit and His beloved, trouble and grace; I'm more contradiction than constant. For years I worked hard to keep my God and my blog separate. Then life fell apart and God brought my many pieces together for one cause: to write for His glory instead of mine. Though my story is flawed and messy and mostly imperfect, His love is redeeming and graceful which affords me the amazing opportunity to share what is great in life: Him.   

I grew up between rose bushes, flowers turned to the sky, thorns prepared to protect and pierce. I grew up snipping thick stems at a diagonal so my mom could display the scarlet, salmon, saffron buds atop her white wooden table. There are chapters, spiny and fragrant, wrapped around those stems, full of those blooms and their soft like velvet petals.

On Sunday mornings, I'd wander the yard from blooming bush to blooming bush, coordinating the colors of the buds until my bouquet's composition felt just right. Rubbing the petals between my fingers, smelling their scent, I fell in love with the yellow roses, my namesake: Amber Queen. I loved their lemony scent, their smiling faces, their small thorns.

I grew up in soccer uniforms, grass stained and numbered, more devoted to the team than to my singular self. I grew up chasing balls covered in black and white octagons, sweating profusely in summer sun and shivering in my sweats come the winter chill. There are chapters, victorious and exhausted, laying on those fields, among the greenest of grasses and sloppiest of mud puddles.

Every weekend spent geared up and laced into leather cleats, tromping wildly like a herd, back and forth, to and fro in the name of victory. Sweaty and exhilarated, I learned there was no I in team, that the individual isn't much without support -for me, ten girls in matching uniforms. Muscles sore from the effort, voice scratchy from the game-time communication, I thanked Him for community in church, life, and teams.

I grew up wishing to be a wife, dedicated and honest, just as I'd seen exemplified by my own mom. I grew up praying with my parents and brother in the mornings before catching the bus and listening to their muffled conversations from my bed in the evenings, There are chapters, tender and care-filled, in those treasured moments, smelling like morning coffee and evening glasses of wine.

Always, from my earliest of memories, I'd notice the small moments within our every day routines, watching them love one another unapologetically. I'd offer silent prayers asking for that kind of love to Him, knowing full well He understood. Following them through life, always aware of their tightly-linked hands, I would wonder what it felt like inside their hearts -warm and happy, like drinking hot cocoa covered in whipped cream in the chill of snow.

I grew up on California beaches, blond hair always bleached white by the sun, skin kissed deep shades of tan. I grew up cleaning sand from my nail beds and sore from time among the waves. There are chapters, beautiful and salty, on those beaches, covered in sand and filled with the entitled caw of seagulls.

If even for just a moments time, I'd still on the shore and watch the tides. In, in, in they'd come, closer and closer to kissing the beach wall. Then out, a retreat, as though shy or scared. The water seemed so in control, so dominant as it tossed those surfers -small and black in their wet suits- to and fro on the waves. I'd stand there and think about what gave the water strength: gravity, a moon's orbit, magnetic forces at play.

I grew up unaware of the chapters, the characters, the differing settings. The way they'd transition in and out of my life, changing my heart, rubbing against my story like two rocks in the waves -slowly softening one another's edges. I grew up sure I was in control, I was making the way, I wrote my tale.

Here I am standing on the shore where six years ago I was on a first date with the man who would be my husband. Reflectively, I roll the strong stem of a yellow rose between my fingers and stare out at the sea. The waves roll in, the white foam reminding me of frothed milk on my morning coffee. The seagulls yell to one another, only rivaled by young girls chasing a soccer ball in the sand. He stands beside me, silent, and I smell his scent, pheromones, on the salty air. And here, the chapters are a cocktail, mixed together intoxicating me in gloriously emotional ways.

The chapters, seemingly separate, blend together as a novel, not yet ending, instead unfolding around me, within me. The characters are alive, the setting transforming bit by bit, the forces of plot ever-moving. And, I decide, this is a tale to be cherished, beloved, shared, until I see The End.

The RADreads Giveaway WINNERS!

A huge thank you to everyone who entered my first-ever giveaway! It was so fun to do a new thing and engage with new people in this little corner of the internet. I'll definitely be doing more giveaways in the future so be on the lookout for those!


Congratulations to Bailey Jean and Katelyn Collison!

I'll be sending Bailey a brand-new and beautiful copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey and Katelyn a shiny new copy of The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan.

Bailey and Katelyn-- shoot me an email at rad@racheladawson.com with your mailing addresses and I'll get your books to you this weekend!

A classic drawing of names out of a hat chose these winners, so it's hilarious that they both happened to be #fireworkpeople! Thank you again for entering, everyone! Have a great weekend full of adventure, rest, and time with the ones you love.

Next week on the blog, I'll be sharing about my #OneWord365 -- selah!

Wild and Free: my first VLOG

Mr. Thomas and Me

This has been a huge week of firsts on this little blog...my first giveaway (open until midnight tonight! you could win a book and it's super simple so check it out here!) and now my first vlog. I'm loving this.

As you have heard (I'm sure), #fireworkpeople rocked my world in 2014. The women I have met through this incredible community are beautiful and brave and full of the very best ideas-- like this monthly vlogging link up hosted by Amber and Annie.

These two...I can't even find words to do them justice. They're on fire. Watch their intro video if you want to get to know them a little bit-- you'll fall in love with them, I'm sure of it.

Here's how this thing works! Every month, on the first Friday, I'll post a vlog as part of the Speak Up link up. You'll get to see my face and hear my voice and get to know Rachel the real person, not just the one behind a screen sharing words, and it's going to be great. 

Within seconds of seeing Amber and Annie on my screen, I felt like I really and truly knew them. I've been reading their words and chatting with them on social media for months, but as soon as I saw their faces and their mannerisms (adorable) and heard their voices, they became real people to me in a whole new way. That's the beauty of this whole thing and what drew me in instantly.

I can't wait to link up with everyone else and connect to even more women around the world as we all share our voices and speak up each month. Feel free to join in this time or next time if you want to be part of the fun, too. Let's hope I get better at this whole vlogging thing with practice...

Anyway, here we go: WILD and FREE is this month's theme. Here's my vlog in all of its glory!

My first-ever vlog as part of Amber Thomas and Annie Wiltse's Speak Up vlogging link-up!

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. 


Thankful: Feeling or Expressing Gratitude

Thankful: feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

I'm thankful for freedom. For the kind that comes from living in a country where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are protected and defended daily. For the kind that comes from being washed in the blood of a sinless Savior who died to release my chains and draw me close to His side forever. For the kind that lets me worship, lets me write and speak and publish, lets me love, lets me live as I do.

I'm thankful for grace. For the undeserved gift of extravagant, amazing grace that washes over me and floods me and changes everything about me. 

I'm thankful for family. For all the people that have known me from my first breath and support me unconditionally. For the memories, the traits and the traditions we all share. For the times we can all be close even though we all live far.

I'm thankful for community. For a church that is vibrant, alive, welcoming, growing. For my small group and how we've grown as believers, people and friends over the past year. For my circle of friends who laugh with me, eat with me, adventure with me, do life with me. For the Rethink guys and The Rising team and all of their persistence and dedication to changing the world through their words and their art. For the #fireworkpeople who light up every day with beautiful encouragement and passion and fire.

I'm thankful for change. For a different life and different goals and different dreams today than I had last year, because that means I'm growing. For new circumstances and new challenges, because they mean that life is moving onward and I'm not stuck.

I'm thankful for technology. For being able to make friends all over the world through Facebook and Twitter and blogs. For a platform I can use to share my heart through my writing with anyone.

I'm thankful for creativity. For museums full of art from centuries past to remind us where we came from, what we saw, what we found beautiful and meaningful. For websites full of words that challenge and inspire and connect us. For crafts and for dance and for murals and for music.

I'm thankful for joy. For giggles from children discovering new things in this world. For laughter shared with friends that brings tears to our eyes and aches to our stomachs. For a deeply rooted freedom that bubbles over in trusting faith and lasting happiness and unwavering belief.

I'm thankful for forgiveness. for redemption. for healing

I'm thankful for unity. for shared meals. for solitude.

I'm thankful for the unexpected. for provision. for protection.

I'm thankful for Jesus. for the resurrection. for salvation.

I'm thankful for life.

I'm thankful for love.

I'm thankful.D

We're Better When We're Together

So much of the work that I do on my little corner of the internet here is work I do alone. I write at my kitchen table with just the clicking of my keys for company, I wander around city streets with just my camera to scout out shots, I doodle and journal sitting on my couch with just a glass of wine by my side.

But this year, I learned something. My work is so much better when I don't do it all alone. Even more than that, my heart is better, my soul is better, my life is better when I don't do it all alone. 

It started with Rethink Creative Group back in January. I found myself on the phone with a guy who lived in Texas who had gotten connected to my blog, and he asked me to join a team of several other men who were using their creative talents to glorify the Lord and change the world. 

I had been a blogger before that, but I wasn't consistent, I wasn't very committed, and I honestly wasn't really very good either. But those guys saw potential in me, saw what my heart was after, and they invited me in to their community and I became part of their family. 

My writing improved dramatically over the months that followed, and it's because I had a team backing me every step of the way and encouraging me to grow as a person and as a writer. I wasn't just writing by myself and putting it on my blog without anyone else looking at it, I was now collaborating and brainstorming and working with other people who challenged my work and made it the best it could be.

Now, as the editor over Rethink's new blog, The Rising, I get to be part of building that community even more and taking it to new places and depths, and it's an incredible honor and challenge and gift. The collaborations of our team and all of its members, with each of their individual hearts and gifts and voices, are unbelievable and so beautiful. None of us could accomplish on our own what we can do as a team.

At some point this summer, I caught wind of something on Twitter called #fireworkpeople. If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen me blowing up your feed with that hashtag every week. Curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked on the hashtag one day. I was amazed at the positivity, joy and encouragement that radiated from the tweets that filled my screen.

I knew I wanted to be in this group, if for no other reason than I wanted that kind of light in my life. I joined the Facebook group and jumped right in to the weekly Twitter parties (Tuesday nights at 9 pm-- just search #fireworkpeople and join us!) 

Now, again, I'm reminded astoundingly that we are so much better when we are together. People from around the world are joining this group of talented, driven, passionate, radiant creatives of all kinds, and the community is growing rapidly. It's not surprising, really.

We are all hungry to be seen, hungry to be heard, hungry to be loved and appreciated and valued. When we are alone, nobody is there to see us, hear us, appreciate us. When we are together, when we join in, when we live in community,  we have people that see us. They hear us. They wrap us up in love and appreciate everything about us.

I'm better because I'm part of these groups. A better human, a better writer, a better dreamer and believer and passion-follower. These people aren't always necessarily like me, I haven't met most of them in real life, they aren't perfect, sometimes I disagree with them...but they're my people.

They're the ones that I share my heart with, share my words with, dream big ideas with, problem solve with, laugh with, cry with, celebrate with, change the world with. They're the ones that remind me every day that life is a beautiful thing and there is always something to celebrate, even in the midst of overwhelming uncertainty. They're the ones that make me laugh (shout out to my girl Ansley!), that make me feel unstoppable (Ashley, the force behind #fireworkpeople, is the best at this!), that free me to dream big and encourage me endlessly (here's to David, the dreamer behind Rethink!).

We are all so much better when we are together. 

In the early days of my writing with Rethink, I wrote a whole post called "Your Art Needs Other Art." I wrote these words then, and find them even more true and meaningful today. 

Let the art of others inspire you. Let it challenge you. Let it refresh you. Let it make your art better.

The work that you do may be work you've always done alone. I get that. But your life doesn't have to be lived alone. You can bring all that you are and all that you do and make and create into community, and I promise it will be for good.

If you want this kind of a fiery, beautiful, life-changing community to call home, #fireworkpeople would absolutely love to welcome you with open arms and big virtual bear hugs. If you are a writer and want to be part of a team that's changing the world for Jesus, The Rising would love to hear from you.

This post is part of the #fireworkpeople blog tour! To see all other posts on the tour, click here.