JMU

From the Story Seeker Archives

Since I'm currently on a two-week road trip across the country and back, there won't be any new stories this week or next. Have no fear though, here are several amazing stories back brought to life from the archives of the past year!


Joy. Freedom. Adventure.

"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."

this story was originally published july 23, 2014


Fire and Ice.

"The reality of the situation, however, (and the reality I had managed to overlook as I struggled with my decisions) is that I never played the game simply to make the NHL. I play for the sound of skates hitting the ice. I play for the smooth, glistening, fresh-cut sheet. I play for the sweat, the soreness, the pain, and the pressure."

this story was originally published october 8, 2014


Learning. Growing. Loving.

"It has now been a year, and we’ve discovered that it is the uncertain, anxious, and expectant waves in our marriage that has taught us to love more than we thought imaginable. In faith, we decided to get married when we did because that’s what we felt God was guiding us to do. Today, we have no doubt about His plan, as He has opened doors left and right for us to continue walking forward in the intention He has for our marriage."


Interested in sharing your story? You'll find everything you need to know here-- drop me an email and let's chat! I can't wait to hear from you.

Learning. Growing. Loving.

I was a freshman at James Madison University and I had just been to my first InterVarsity Large Group where I had signed up to be in a small group. Just a few days later, a paper had been slid under my dorm room door with pictures of Jessie (the cowgirl from Toy Story) and two girls I had never met, with an invitation to dress up like a cowgirl and come to a volleyball tournament.

I went, totally unsure about the whole thing (who plays volleyball dressed as a cowgirl?! I had no idea what I was getting myself into), and met Vianne for the first time. She was bubbly, energetic, so warm and welcoming, and just plain happy to meet all of us, and I remember wondering why in the world this girl was so excited about a silly volleyball tournament. I remember thinking then that she was probably a little crazy, but I also wanted her to be my best friend someday.

As a freshman, I was very closed off to the idea of being close with people (especially girls) having gone through a lot of really painful and hard drama with girls in high school. Now here I was, in a small group of a whole bunch of girls I didn't know. Even though I stayed guarded, kept everyone at a distance, and just gave my perfect Sunday school answers during our discussions without revealing anything personal, Vianne never gave up on me. If I had been in her shoes, I think I would have, but she never stopped seeking me out, never stopped asking me to get lunch or coffee, never stopped trying to get to know me.

Despite all of my best efforts to push everyone away, by the end of my first semester, I absolutely loved Vianne. She was an incredible small group leader with the biggest heart for our little community, a gifted teacher who knew the Word inside and out, a beautiful worship leader with amazing talent, and the greatest friend.

In January of 2011, I wrote in my journal, She has the best advice and the best encouragement and I'm just in awe of the incredible people like her that God has blessed me with in the short time I've been at school. Later that year, I wrote Thank you for Vianne, thank You that her arms are always open so wide to me and that she is so faithful and grounded in You-- she is such an encouragement and a beautiful blessing to me.

Vianne absolutely radiates joy that so clearly comes from the Lord. That contagious spirit of joy was the very first thing I saw in her, and it's one of my absolute favorite things about her. Her heart is so deeply rooted in and intertwined with the heart of the Father. She loves relentlessly, from her big and amazing family to all of us girls in her small group to women all around the world that she's never met. Her heart beats for justice and I've never met someone so dedicated to fighting for it any way she can.

We met almost weekly for most of the three years we were at JMU together, and they were my most cherished times. Everything about her spirit was calming and encouraging and so beautifully authentic. She was the first person to truly invest in me wholeheartedly and walk beside me in my faith day in and day out, and her friendship has forever changed me for the better and shown me more of who Jesus is and how He loves us. 

There was nothing Vianne and I wouldn't talk about together-- from my ridiculous relationship drama to her relationship with Jeff (the kind of relationship every single girl in our small group envied and hoped for), from missions trips and talking about fighting sex trafficking to studying Scripture or homework for our Old Testament class or just laughing together-- the hours we spent in TDU or in coffeeshops are the hours I'll always remember most fondly about life at JMU. They kept me grounded and held me accountable in so many ways.

From the time I met Vianne, she was dating Jeff. He didn't go to JMU, but he would visit on weekends and tag along with all of our wild small group to dinner and Large Group and even to dance parties, and although he was mostly quiet, we all loved him and loved his relationship with Vianne. We saw her light up around him and saw how perfectly they complemented each other, and we all knew from day one that they would get married some day.

And then, at some point during the middle of my three years at JMU, they decided to take time apart. I remember sitting in Java City with Vianne and hearing her talk about it and wrestle with the Lord through so much confusion and a deep desire to just follow His will no matter what that meant, and even then, I never doubted that they would be together forever. Their relationship had grown so steadily from a high school friendship to a long distance college relationship, and they just seemed to be the perfect match.

I saw how both of them encouraged the other in their faith and in the ways they were serving and leading in different ministries, saw them grow so much as individuals and as a couple. Even in the time they were apart (yes, they did get back together-- PRAISE), I always knew the Lord had such an incredible story ahead of them with such a perfect purpose in mind. They just fit together like they were always designed to be two halves of one complete whole.

Vianne and Jeff had the most perfect, gorgeous, joyful, Spirit-filled wedding the fall after all three of us graduated, and everything about that day was glorious. She was stunning, radiant, glowing. I think everyone teared up watching Jeff look at her as she came down the aisle. We all cried, laughed, worshipped, rejoiced and celebrated together as a small group, and it was simply a wonderful wedding. I really don't think a wedding will ever top theirs-- it was that flawless, seamless and fun.

Since they've been married, I've loved getting to know Jeff even better. I've visited them in NOVA, caught up over pizzas in Old Town Alexandria, worshipped with them at the church they're a part of, gotten brunch at The Daily in Richmond on multiple occasions, wandered through bookstores in Carytown together...the list goes on. They are my favorite couple to spend time with, and I love them both and love their love so much. 

On their own, they are both incredible, passionate, Jesus-loving, smart, driven and talented people, but together, they're unstoppable. Their love for each other, their church, their families, their community and their Savior is a force to be reckoned with. I'm so proud of what both of them have done through their educations and careers, but above all, I'm so proud to call them true friends.

I'm so excited to share with you their story of their first year of marriage. They just recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary on September 22, and today, they're sharing their story of the past year.

Here is Vianne and Jeff's story.


Jeff and Vianne are (kinda) newlyweds living in Reston, VA. He graduated from Old Dominion University and she graduated from James Madison University before tying the knot and settling down in the NOVA area. Jeff is currently training to be a firefighter for Loudoun County and Vianne is a technical writer by day, and a strict follower of food blog recipes by night.


We said “I do” at the ripe young age of 22.

During the year that we were engaged, we certainly never considered ourselves prepared for what marriage would hold. Sure, we figured we had a grasp on what it would be like to have a husband or wife. To be honest, after four arduous years of a long distance relationship, we were just excited to live together in the same city. We knew we were young when we got married, but we chose to do it because we sincerely felt God’s hand upon the timing of our marriage—we were just hoping to be obedient to Him. What we didn’t expect was for life to coerce us to learn how to love one another in unfamiliar ways; it would draw us together to find that we had much to learn about the person standing in front of us at the altar vowing till death do us part.

 

J: The first few months started out simple enough, although maybe not in the most preferable circumstances. I was a new husband working a part-time job as a head lifeguard for an unimpressive aquatics program, while Vianne worked a static office job outside of Washington, D.C. With unexciting workdays, we typically rushed home to enjoy the comfort of each other’s company as we binge-watched Mad Men on Netflix in our new apartment. Shoot, how hard could this marriage thing be? We were having a lot of fun making memories in our new home during that time, with no major stressors in our marriage other than the conflict of trying to decide what to make for dinner.

 However, after a couple months, the novelty started to wear off as we both began to realize that we couldn’t keep this up forever. I started to get really weary of my lifeguarding job that was only meant to be temporary after moving to the area with Vianne. It began to impact my self-esteem and morale, feeling the sting of being unfulfilled. It affected how I felt in my role as a husband, in an adolescent job that made me feel useless in our marriage.

 

V: Lazy Saturday mornings drinking coffee and visiting the farmers’ market, snow days trapped inside with squash soup, and stealing away from our routine with just a picnic basket and blanket remain some of my favorite memories during those first couple months of our marriage. Yet at some point, I realized that we had seemed to forget about all of our friends and maintaining those relationships after the wedding. We had become infatuated with spending all of our time with each other and were neglecting our friendships. In addition, I found that after growing up in a family of seven and having just previously lived in a house with eight college roommates, living with just only one other person for the first time in my life was a difficult adjustment. Quickly, we realized that my extroverted tendencies did not always agree with Jeff’s introverted habits. “But I need committed friends around me so that they can know my soul,” I would explain to him over and over again. Yeah, he didn’t really understand me on that one.

 Figuring out how to communicate these feelings, among others, was the most vital piece of our first year together. We were forced to realize a lot about one another. We both learned how to listen, how to discern, and how to be comfortable sitting in silence. Most importantly, we had to learn how to make an unyielding priority in our marriage to push each other toward the things that made the other come alive. I had fallen in love with a man whose life flowed from the passions that drove him. He proposed to me because he saw the life I found when in deep relationship with others. I don’t know why it became easy for us to lose touch with those aspects in our marriage. But we had to discover how to support one another and nourish the things that make us who we are.

 

J: We got connected into a local church community and began to grow in our marriage in unexpected ways as we gave ourselves to others. I encouraged Vianne to start pouring back into her relationships and interests, even to include tapping back into her art as a writer. I began the competitive process of applying to local fire departments, and I eventually got hired as a firefighter for a local county government—which was an amazing opportunity to continue a satisfying career in public service.

 Of course, once we both got involved in our communities and new jobs, this meant way less time we had to focus on one another. My schedule as a recruit during firefighter academy was (and is) extremely intensive, and all of a sudden we found ourselves re-prioritizing to manage time for each other again. We had to learn how to love one another in completely new ways. We are still learning.

 

V: It has now been a year, and we’ve discovered that it is the uncertain, anxious, and expectant waves in our marriage that has taught us to love more than we thought imaginable. In faith, we decided to get married when we did because that’s what we felt God was guiding us to do. Today, we have no doubt about His plan, as He has opened doors left and right for us to continue walking forward in the intention He has for our marriage. We still don’t consider ourselves experts on how to do this thing (read: we still have no idea what we’re doing). Our marriage certainly has not been faultless, but we have grown. We have changed. We have loved, and learned. And we are happy.

Compare. Self-love. Enough.

Meet Kassie. She is 22 years old and living in Charlottesville, VA. She grew up in a military family, which allowed her to travel around the country. Instead of having one hometown, she has six! She graduated with her journalism degree in a matter of three years, before returning to JMU for grad school. Double Duke status! Instead of continuing the pursuit of writing and photography, Kassie has decided to turn to early childhood education (PreK – 3rd grade). Once she finally ventures into the life of an adult, she plans to use the summers to travel the world. Her first passport stamp earlier this year was from Ireland – next stop Germany! 

Kassie

I met Kassie through the very best major at the very best college in America. Here's looking at you, SMAD and JMU! You guys rock. (SMAD means School of Media Arts and Design for those of you who aren't Dukes.)

I'm sure we had several classes together throughout our years in the program, especially since we were both in the journalism concentration, but it was our magazine class in the spring semester of 2013 that we became friends. I remember sitting in the desk next to hers on the first day and being happy to see a familiar face in the class.

When everyone introduced themselves and shared former job experiences, I was so impressed that she talked about working at Monticello-- how cool is that?! She seemed so polished and professional and I remember really admiring her as she spoke. Calm, cool and collected would be a pretty perfect description of how I remember her during that first class. It's crazy how things like that make lasting impressions on us.

We ended up being on the editorial staffs of two different magazines we all produced that semester, so our paths split. Our teams met separately and the whole class only came back together a few times that semester, but every time I saw her, her huge smile and cheerful personality would brighten my day.

We both graduated a year early, so we never really got a chance to get to know each other very well since that class was during our last undergrad semester. When Kassie messaged me that she was interested in being part of this project, I was so excited to reconnect and hear what she had been up to since graduation. She's someone I always wished I had gotten to be friends with, but time had slipped away from us at school.

We met in Charlottesville, an easy hour-long drive from Richmond for me, at a tucked away place called Revolutionary Soup. Over quesadillas and salads on paper dishes in a below-level restaurant, we caught up and reminisced on our school days and talked about our current lives. Charlottesville has such a charming downtown area, and I absolutely love the atmosphere about it on a Saturday afternoon. The farmer's market is always bustling, the restaurants buzzing, the tree-lined streets full of wandering people and dogs on leashes and adorable children with their faces glued to shop windows. It's the perfect place to meet up for lunch, and if you live nearby, make the trip. You won't regret it.

After graduating with her SMAD degree, Kassie stayed at JMU to get a grad degree in education, and I loved hearing how that transition had been for her. I think she's the only person I knew to switch from our major to education, so I was curious what drove her decision to do so. I could tell as she talked about it that teaching is something she absolutely loves-- her eyes were bright and happy and her whole face seemed to shine as she gushed about the kids she'd gotten to know and the other students she had met through the program. We shared so many similar thoughts about our classes and the whole program, and I loved thinking back on those days and realizing how much they shaped where I am in my career today.

I have loved that this project has opened opportunities for me to connect with people that could have so easily slipped into the background of my life, and Kassie was one of those. She is an absolute gem and such a sweet and encouraging friend, and I'm so thankful for the chance to catch up and get to know her better.

Here's Kassie's story.


I have always loved to write, so you would think I would have known my story long before now. Well, to be honest, I never believed I had one. Nothing tragic or dramatic ever really happened in my life. I come from a middle class family, where I was lucky enough to have both parents under one roof. I did well in school and made respectful friends. I never got in serious trouble and worked hard with all of my involvements. But why do terrible events have to be the defining elements of a story?

Truth is they don’t. It doesn’t matter if my story isn’t as compelling or gut wrenching as the next person; it’s still MY story.

By comparing yourself to anyone, it takes away the uniqueness of not only that person, but also yourself. I never realized to what extent I was stripping that away until recently.

I compared my hair,

my body,

my clothes,

my friends,

my accomplishments,

my skills,

my relationship with God

and even my story.

Those comparisons never led to bitterness or jealousy. Instead they were a motivator to better myself.

Yet, I was still asking, “Why am I never good enough?”

 I used to ask this question of other people, but the one person who needed to be asked was me. I was completely unaware that my self-love had gone beyond zero and was plummeting into the negative numbers.

Why should I expect others to respect me, if I wasn’t radiating that energy?

While at JMU I had several individuals take advantage of this low point in my life. I accepted minimum credit for my hard work, I allowed others to walk all over me in friendships, and I’ve even blamed myself for my heartbreak.

Depression entered and then I knew it was time to change.

This summer has been about self-love. I have ventured out of my comfort zone on so many levels as I remind myself every day that as long as I am trying my best, it is enough. Compare less.

Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.” – Galatians 6:4


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 Kassie. You can also read more about the Story Seeker project here.

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.

A Facebook comment and a desire of my heart.

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed today, and saw that an old friend of mine commented on a mutual friend's photo. She said something that I used to say all the time when we lived together back at JMU, saying the girl in the photo was the cutest "human". It was one of those things that other people around me picked up and started saying because I said it so much. I called everyone humans. I'm pretty sure I picked it up from one of my best friends before I started saying it, too.

Seeing that little comment struck me. That little word is in her vocabulary now, it's something she says to other people. And she, on probably way too many occasions, heard it said from me. And I first heard it said from someone else. It became a phrase that came out of my mouth often, without me even really ever thinking about it.

Saying "human" a lot is a really little, insignificant thing. But it became part of my normal vocabulary because I spent time around someone who said it often, and I absorbed it, and it become something I, in turn, said often. And now, somebody who spent a lot of time around me hearing me say that says it too.

That little word doesn't really matter. Life doesn't really come from it. Nobody is really changed by it.

But words can bring life. Words can bring change. I know that the more time I spend in the Word, the more I absorb it and the more it becomes something I talk about often. I hear the words first said by Jesus Christ and they become words that I speak in my life too. I want to speak more words that first came from Him. I want to spend more time around Him, in His word, absorbing His grace and His love and His language so that it flows from me effortlessly and constantly.

I know the more time I spend around my friends, the more we begin to talk like each other, echoing different speech patterns or phrases or little quirks. I know the more time I spend with my Savior and Creator, the more I'll begin to look and act and speak like Him. I'll find His words becoming part of my conversations, I'll hear His truth resounding in my heart, I'll find myself echoing all that He said and all that He was and is. I want to spend so much time in the Word and in conversation with my Father that it becomes so hard to tell where His words stop and mine start. I want to sound like Him. I want to speak His truth. I want to share His love. I want to look and sound so much more like Him than like myself. My words are clumsy, insignificant, meaningless. His words are life. His words are love. His words are perfect, true, powerful. Lord, let my words be Yours.

 

I will wait and hold fast to Your word
Heart on Your heart and my eyes on You.

-"Stay and Wait" --Hillsong

 

 

Endurance and Perseverance.

With endurance and perseverance we must wait for God to make clear what he wants to say through us.

-Brennan Manning

I keep reading that over and over, wondering where to even start. There's so much goodness in that little quote. Brennan, you have quite a way with words, sir. I'm going to attempt to write an entire blog post on my thoughts on your one little powerful sentence there, and it won't be half as pretty or half as true. Here I go anyway.

In this season of my life, it has become very common for people to ask me what I want to do with my life. What job I'm really looking for, where I want to live, what it is that I really want to do, etc. I've graduated college, I've done everything expected of me up to this point, and now people want to know what I'm going to do with my education and my life from here on out. They want to know what I'm going to do next, where I'm going to go next, what my life is going to say next.

Every time someone asks me that question, I answer with my usual set response (that usually goes something along the lines of, "I really want to work with nonprofits and do something along the lines of social media/communications."), but that's rarely what I really want to say.

What I'm thinking when that question is asked to me (probably for the 3rd time that day and the 23rd time that week) is, "I really want to follow wherever the Spirit leads me. I really want to trust Him to provide in all things. I really want to humbly and wholeheartedly serve where He calls me. I want to glorify Him in all that I do, whether big and exciting or small and mundane. I want to stop being obsessed with job hunting and become more obsessed with Jesus following. I want to ignore everything the world is telling me and cling to everything my Lord is telling me. I want to shut out all the voices around me telling me I need a full-time job with benefits and a place of my own and credit cards and a separate savings account for my next car and a husband (what? you don't have a boyfriend? oh sweetie, I was married with a baby at your age!) and everything figured out. I want to be ready and willing to go where He sends me. I want to spend my energy and my time and my resources chasing after the heart and the will of my Creator and my Savior." 

Nobody would know what to do with me if I honestly said that in response to their question. But that's the reality of my heart. 

I just finished reading Kisses from Katie, an incredible story of one girl (who is about my age) and her total devotion to the Spirit's calling to move to Uganda, love people like Jesus did, adopt 13 girls into her family and serve hundreds more every day. With every page, I could feel my heart swell with such an appreciation for her obedience and such a desire for humble and trusting submission to the Lord like that. I was encouraged by her story. Challenged by it even more so. She gave up all normalcy, all convenience, all comfort to say yes to Him. That matters so much more than finding a "real job" and a husband before my next birthday, like come on.

If you haven't read her book, go read it. And afterward, I would encourage you to just sit and listen to the Lord and be still at His feet. I've been trying to really be quiet and listen lately, and while I don't know all the answers and what my next steps are yet, I know that the Lord is working in my heart and my spirit to prepare me for what's next.

With endurance and perseverance we must wait for God to make clear what he wants to say through us.

I don't know where He's leading. I don't know what's next. (If everyone could kind of just stop asking me that, I'd greatly appreciate it. Ask me about my favorite color or something, I'd love to talk about that for a change. I'm just kidding. Not really. Moving on.) I know that I'm striving to wait on the Lord. I know that takes endurance and it takes perseverance. I'm not sitting idly waiting for perfect opportunities to fall into my lap, but I'm also not frantic and stressed out about it. I know His timing is perfect and I just need to wait on Him. He will make it clear what he wants to say through me and do through me, and how he wants me to glorify him with all that I have, and He's showing me how to do that now exactly where I am.

This song has been on repeat lately (shout out to HOPE for rocking it out in worship last week!), and it's so good. Listen to it and try NOT to dance. I don't think it can be done. But seriously, it's good. And it's so stinkin' relevant that I'm pretty sure they wrote it just for me.

I'm chasing You, I'm so in love. Captivated, I just can't get enough. I'll spend my days running after Your heart, Your heart, Your heart. 

Amen. I'm chasing You, Abba. With endurance and perseverance, I'm running after Your heart. Lead me. Send me. Call me. 

If that's to a great job with benefits, I'll go. If that's to a third world country to serve, I'll go. If that's across the country, I'll go. If it's staying in my parents' house and working at the same jobs I have now, I'll keep going. Let my days be filled with less of this world, less of me, and so very much more of all that You are.

 

I've been the dry bones.

I didn't think dry bones and a passage in Ezekiel would be what rocked my world this summer. Not really at all, actually. But, sometimes, God repeatedly opens my eyes and my heart to something He's trying to show me. This summer, it's been this passage in Ezekiel. Give it a look.

Ezekiel 37:1-10

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Cool, right? Ever since Passion 2013 back in January and Chris Tomlin's new CD Burning Lights, this passage has been repeatedly running through my head courtesy of his song "Awake My Soul." Go take a listen, it's good. Lecrae raps that Ezekiel passage in a way that just gets you really hyped up, trust me.

So this passage has been one that I've repeatedly read, sung, and studied this summer. It's been applicable. It's been real. It's been God speaking into the depths of my soul. It's been a summer of a lot of transitions, a lot of hard things, a lot of discouragement and obstacles. It's been a summer where I've felt a lot like dry bones. I've felt defeated and disconnected from God and from community. I've felt like I lost my identity and everything that made me Rachel. Every time this passage has come up, I've related so deeply to feeling lifeless and brittle like those bones in that desolate valley.

This summer's big event was a big (like fifteen weeks later and I'm still recovering kind of big) knee surgery. Talk about dry bones... I'm telling ya, this passage really hits home with me.

I've been fighting all summer after the biggest surgery of my life to regain my strength and build my muscles back from being cut and realigned and worked on. My strength was taken from my leg in that surgery, and all my muscles in my leg atrophied in the weeks that followed as I was unable to walk or work on it at all. If you want to feel lifeless, try being stuck on a couch with a leg that doesn't work while on heavy pain meds for weeks on end. You'll feel pretty much like a dead vegetable. It's not fun. It messes with your head and your heart in the weirdest of ways. It made me feel weak and incapable, and I was. I was dead bones in a lifeless valley of a body that wasn't doing what it was meant to do.

So many times during this recovery process, I've found myself asking God, "Can my strength really come back? Can my knee be okay again? Can I run again for the first time in over 5 years? Can I get my normal body and activity back? Can I ever even climb up a flight of stairs normally, I mean COME ON."

At the heart of it all, I was asking God what He asked in this passage-- "Can these bones live?" Really, God, can they? I'm not so sure.

Every time I read through this passage, I've felt a little bit of life come back to my bones, I've felt breath come back to my lungs, and I've come a little more alive. I've felt the Spirit move in my soul that felt dead, and I felt Him stirring up life, breathing into me, awakening me. He didn't just heal my body, put skin and tendons back on the bones and leave them like that. He's been healing my physical body, and then He's been breathing his true breath of life into my soul, too. That's freaking awesome, and I'm humbled and in awe that my God not only can do that, but has been doing it.

David Dwight, in the middle of a sermon series on God's Questions, talked about this passage, too. He talked about how these people's hearts had wandered from  God. They were defeated, dispersed, they had no hope, and no identity. Sounds a lot like how I felt for a lot of this summer. 

But there is so much hope in this. So much life came from that valley, those dry bones. Something David said in his sermon resonated with me: like Matthew 19:26 says, "with God all things are possible." It doesn't mean that He will just miraculously relive us of all bad circumstances-- He will remake us. He promises that He will make hardships a vineyard of life, not a valley of death.

SO good. Vineyards of life. Not valleys of death. I love that. The hardships of this summer are bringing me to life, to hope, to identity in Him alone.

Abba, thank you for bringing life to the deadness in my heart and my soul and my spirit and even my body this summer. Thank you for remaking me through the hardships. Thank you for not taking the hardships away, even though I know I wanted that so many times. Thank you for being life; real, true, fulfilling, abundant life. Thank you for being hope. Thank you for being healing. Thank you for leading me to more than I could see for myself. Thank you for giving me identity as your beloved. Thanks for bringing my dead bones to life.

What I've learned in a month.

Graduation was May 4. Today is June 4. I graduated college one month ago. What?!

Since I had a major knee surgery just a few days after graduation, I didn't immediately go into a new job or internship or jet off on some awesome adventure. Because of my surgery (and the countless hours on the couch that followed), I've had a lot of time to think and reflect and pray and just meditate on God's word and what He's been teaching me. (A lot of time to watch Netflix too...but that's beside the point.)

Here are a few things I've learned in the past month:

1. I'm powerless on my own. Yes, I learned this in a very real and physical sense, as I was literally unable to move or walk or stand or do just about anything on my own. In the hospital after surgery, I could hardly feed myself, stay awake for a five minute conversation, sit up in bed, go to the bathroom, anything. I was completely dependent on the awesome hospital staff and my incredible parents. I was weak, I was unable, I was powerless. I learned a lot from this. I learned how to be thankful for the attentiveness and compassion of those who were constantly serving me and helping me. I learned humility in a whole new sense. I learned to be grateful for the little victories. I was reminded of how, on my own, I can do nothing and be nothing of any significance. I need Christ, I need His strength, I need to rely solely and fully on Him as my Rock every day.

2. I am deeply loved. I'm a huge fan of love languages. Mine's gift-giving, closely followed by words of affirmation. In the past month, I've received so many letters and cards from so many relatives and friends and small group girls, and it has made my heart so happy and full.  I received flowers from my grandma and one of my girls, and they've been lasting reminders of how loved I am by so many incredible people around this country. My mom's love language is acts of service, and she has poured out more love through serving me after my surgery than I can ever thank her for. I felt so loved by her as she showered me in her love language. My best friends have been so great about checking in on me and encouraging me and reminding me I'm strong and not alone and that I am loved.

3. God will provide. He has provided hours in the day to get all my classwork done for my Maymester courses, He has provided opportunities for me to meet with people who helped me discern more of my calling, He has provided incredible relationships with people I never expected to be close with, He has provided encouragement in so many ways, He has provided ways for me to make money this summer as I start to try to figure out what's next for me, He has provided community for me at church and in the college ministry, He has provided. Abundantly. Constantly. Perfectly.

4. Be thankful for the little things. There have been a lot of big changes in my life in this past month, and a lot of big uncertainties. But throughout all of it, I've been staying focused on the little things, and seeing God in them constantly. My knee is a big mess, but every day, there are little successes that I've held on to and been proud of, and they've given me strength to keep fighting and pushing onward. It has changed my attitude over time to be one full of joy and hope and thankfulness. God is so big, so mighty, so incredibly powerful and sovereign, and He has been wrapping me up in love and light and so, so many beautiful, wonderful little things.

5. Community is everywhere. I left JMU knowing community would be what I missed the most. I lived in a great community in my house, I had an incredible small group that I was a part of, and a wonderful small group I was blessed to help lead. I was a part of a massively awesome chapter of IV. I had a community of God-loving women at work. I was surrounded, everywhere I went and in everything I did, by strong communities of believers. In the past few weeks, I've seen community start to form and blossom here in Richmond. I've connected with so many people at Hope (who knew a huge knee brace and some crutches could be such a great conversation starter!), and found people I know I'll grow closer to this summer. I've reconnected with old friends, and gotten to know totally new people that have come to be so meaningful and important to me. Community isn't just at JMU. Community is in people. Community is the body of Christ coming together, and that happens everywhere. 

 

It's been a month since I said goodbye to my time as a student at JMU, and almost a month since my knee surgery, and I'm so thankful and so blessed that I've had this month to learn and grow and just deeply rest in who God is. I'm thankful for the lessons I've been learning, and the ways in which my heart has been growing. I'm thankful for being forced to slow down and appreciate every little thing, every person in my life, every tiny victory and new step (literally). I have no clue whatsoever what adventures are ahead, but I'm savoring this time of rest and slowness and growth before God opens up new doors.

What's God been showing you this summer so far? I'd love to hear, and I'd love to be praying for you and for what's ahead in these hot and humid months!

A gift of grace.

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I recently graduated from JMU. (Yes, a year early. No, I don't know what I'm doing with my life yet.) It was such a bittersweet celebration of my time at such an incredible university, of the past three years and all the memories and moments that made them so special, of friends and family, of reminiscing on the past and looking excitedly and expectantly forward to the future.

My grandparents came to my graduation since they live only a few hours away, and at lunch after the ceremony, they handed me an envelope. I opened it, found a sweet card, and then a folded up piece of paper inside. I opened it, and my grandpa instructed me to read it aloud.

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I began reading a funny poem in the form of a dialogue between my grandpa and my grandma. As I read, I realized what the poem was for. Here's the background story.

Last summer, I studied abroad in London. I had been saving up, but my grandparents graciously offered to pay for my plane ticket so I could use the money I had saved while I was in London. My grandpa also surprised me (the famous gift-giver that he is) with a credit card with $1,000 on it for me to spend while I was there. And yes, I spent almost all of it. The plan was always for me to pay back the plane ticket, and to pay half of the credit card back while the other half was a gift. So, all in all, I owed them about $1,800. For a broke college kid, this wasn't fun or easy to pay back, but over the past year, I had started to make a dent in it.

Back to the poem. The closing lines (in rhyme, of course) told me that my debt was erased. And not only that, but that they would give me back the money I had already paid them toward it.

As you might imagine, I was floored and humbled and speechless and in awe. This huge weight that had been on my mind for almost a year, nagging at me and looming over me, was all of a sudden gone. I had no more debt to pay.

The whole rest of the day, all I could think about was grace. What a perfect picture of grace this gift was. I had been working so hard to pay them back, trying to save (and failing), taking extra shifts at work when I could, trying to budget and be smart about how I was spending my money. I was working so, so hard to pay it back and make the debt go away, but I wasn't even coming close. And then, in an act of such selfless and undeserved love, it was erased. I know it wasn't easy of them to do it-- $1,800 isn't pocket change. There was a cost to the gift, but they gave it because they loved me and they knew I couldn't work hard enough or long enough to pay it back. And not only did they erase the debt, but they took it a step further, returning what I had already paid back to me. They gave me more than I deserved, more than was necessary, more than I could have imagined. They knew I didn't have much money saved up, and they gave me a way to make that happen, too.

I'm still so humbled by their generosity and graciousness. I'm humbled by the picture that this gift was to me of the abundant grace and love my Savior poured out for me on the cross. I'm humbled by how undeserving I was, but how selfless their love for me was, how perfect and how merciful. I'm humbled by how my Savior not only died for me to pay for the debt I owed in my sin and my shame, but how He took it one step further to bring me into eternal life with him, what He knew I needed but would never have been able to make happen on my own. I'm humbled. I'm thankful. I'm overwhelmed and full of gratitude.

I'm in awe of my God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10), and forever thankful for my grandparents and this gift so full of grace.

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