Monday, September 30, 2013

I can't stay awake anymore.

So, looks like I'll be prepping for a quiz while I eat breakfast.

But when you fall asleep face down while reading a textbook, it's time to call it quits.

My head hurts anyway.

I did pretty well on my test.  We'll see how the grade turns out.  That professor is slow.

Today was a good day, just super busy.  It was good to go back to Protestant Reformation after the craziness on Friday.  But the rest of the day was just nuts.

And that's why I'm tired.  My head is pounding, too.  Awesome.

Good night.  At 1:30 am.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Simple Day

Very little sleep.

Church.  A beautiful morning of worship.

Lots of work.  All day.

Surprisingly no nap.

Preparing for a makeup test tomorrow.

Stressing about said makeup test.

I'm going to try my best to prepare for this test and then go to bed because overworking myself will do more harm than good.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Johnny Football got me thinking.

I feel like I've slammed my head into a wall.  It's fun.  I did get a little work done.  So yay?  Still not enough, though.  Maybe tomorrow will be better.

So let's talk about football. State pretty much slaughtered Central Michigan today, 45-14.  And they got their two TDs in the 4th quarter.  We were up 38 points before they even got on the board.  Then again, their main quarterback is out with a broken collarbone so their QB today was a red-shirt freshman (meaning this is his first season playing, but he's actually a sophomore), so I don't think we can feel too cocky about the win.  I also watched the Texas A&M/Arkansas game since I have several blog friends who love both teams.  Now, I understand why a lot of non-A&M people hate A&M's quarterback, Johnny Manziel aka "Johnny Football."  He is incredibly full of himself and his talent, and you can see it through a TV screen, but the kid is GOOD.  Call him cocky all you want, but he is good.  He's a red-shirt sophomore and the talent he has at 20 years old is just ridiculous.  With a ranked team surrounding him and up against a young team and a new coach at Arkansas, it's no surprise that they won.

But it makes me wonder what is going on in Johnny's mind off the field.  Is he that full of himself in the rest of his life, or is this a persona people see when he puts on that uniform and takes control of the Aggies?  Does he think that this is what he was made for, to play football?  Is this what life is about for him?  I can't believe I'm thinking this deeply about a football player I've never seen play before tonight, but seeing his attitude just got me thinking.  If he puts his whole worth on how many games he wins, how many touchdowns he throws, then, honestly, that just makes me want to pray for him, not hate him.  Because he is missing so much.

And he's not the only one.  We were all made to worship.  The problem is that the only thing worthy of being worshiped is God, The Creator, and all too often, we end up worshiping things He created.

We worship teams and players that we love, just because they're talented, forgetting that there's Someone who gave them that talent.  We worship celebrities, thinking that's who we can model ourselves after, and then get disappointed when we find out they're just as fallible as we are.

We worship our passions and hobbies, music, sports, politics, thinking that if we succeed, we'll find the validation that our broken hearts long for, forgetting that this world is just as broken as we are and thus can't give the validation we need.  We forget that our worth doesn't lie in what we can do.  I sent a text to Ryann after every soccer game she lost when she was here at Campbell, just to remind her that she's worth more than what pops up on the scoreboard.  I wish every athlete had that reminder in their lives, because as her best friend, and knowing several other collegiate athletes, I've seen how blurry your vision can get when you pour your heart and soul into a sport.

We worship relationships, craving a hole inside of us to be filled by people we love and who love us, forgetting that only God can fill that hole and give us the kind of relationship that we seek.  We get scared when they fail us, wondering if they really care about us like they said they did.  We put expectations on ourselves and each other that none of us were ever created to be able to keep.

We worship ourselves.  We fool ourselves into thinking that we were meant to be served by this life and in this world, and get mad when God doesn't act like our fast-food server and give us exactly what we want how we want as quickly as we want.

And the thing is, Christians are just as guilty of this as non-believers.  That's a huge message that I would love to get across to the people I know who aren't Christians.  I know I'm not better than you.  I know that I've worshiped every single one of the things that I just listed up there, I've made every single one of those mistakes.  Any Christian who is going to be real and vulnerable with you will tell you the same.  Christians just don't have to get weighed down by the guilt of our mistakes because we have Jesus, who paid the price for all of it for us, because the God that we serve is a God of boundless forgiveness and countless second chances.

I don't know if Johnny Manziel knows Jesus.  My gut tells me he doesn't, but what do I know?  Watching that game tonight made me wish I could have a conversation with him, find out what he really believes, and tell him that there's something so much bigger out there, something that won't be ripped away if his body starts failing him tomorrow.

For me, it took having everything I thought I knew about my life ripped away, almost losing my chance to go to college, to realize that my world wasn't meant to be centered on my education and my value was not based on my GPA.  I hope somehow, Johnny realizes that this world isn't about football, either, before he has to walk down the same path that I did.

And I pray the same for each of you, too.  Because we all struggle with this, whether we admit to it or not.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Hands of Jesus

When I wrote yesterday that I felt God using Bryce to reach me on Wednesday, I certainly wasn't expecting him to up that by like times ten today.  Today was nuts, but it was beautiful.

So there are maybe 15 or so kids in this Protestant Reformation class with me.  Bryce, and Chris from the College Democrats, are the only two I know.  I don't even know most of the rest of their names.  But today, a whole bunch of them showed me that there's more to the student body at this school than the not-so-nice ones I'm used to dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

About 15 minutes into class, I started feeling like I was going to have a seizure.  So I told Dr. Jonas, and immediately laid down on the ground (tile floor in there, hitting my head would've been way worse than hitting my head on my dorm floor was!).  Dr. Jonas immediately got on the phone to get help, someone got me a wet paper towel, and Chris gave me water.  Then Dr. Jonas cleared the class, telling them it was canceled for today, and I expected everyone to just leave happy that class was being canceled.  Well no. Several of the people said something to me on their way out about how they were praying for me.  Bryce came and sat right by my head, holding my hand and rubbing my shoulder, and I noticed another kid in a gray t-shirt pacing back and forth.  I had no idea what his name was (and didn't until about 2 hours ago), but it was clear he wasn't leaving either.  Soon I realized he was helping watch for the paramedics and get them up to the third floor where we were.

I couldn't catch my breath and my vision was kind of blurry, so I don't remember a whole lot of what happened after that until the paramedics showed up, but I do remember asking Bryce to pray for me, and he did right then.  What surprised me the most was that the first words he said were, "God, I just want to thank you for our friendship and the bond that we share."  It didn't hit me until much later the depth behind that and how much he clearly values me and our friendship.  And he prayed for God's compassion and peace to wash over me, never letting go of me the entire time.  He helped me slow my breathing down and really just keep me calm.  The fact that I didn't ask him to stay, but he did and did whatever needed to be done to help me showed me even more the kind of guy that he is.

Well, not long after that, I went unconscious.  The next thing I knew, Dr. Jonas was in my face shouting my name.  I could see Bryce and the other guy James moving the front tables out of the way as the paramedics were on their way up.  They got there and starting doing their usual stuff, but Bryce and James still didn't leave.  I heard Dr. Jonas tell the paramedics I stopped breathing while I was out (which is unusual), but all I really remember other than that is the 4 paramedics (yes, 4 of them showed up because we were on the 3rd floor and the building's elevator is TINY so the other two came to make sure they could get everything back down to the ambulances, and they were needed) getting me up and onto the stretcher (good thing there were 4 of them).  Then, I looked over and saw Bryce sitting there looking absolutely terrified, so I got him to come over and give me a hug.

And then?  The paramedics wheeled me out to the elevator, and I remembering seeing at least 4 of my classmates (not sure which ones, haha), sitting there on the couches watching and waiting.  Clearly these kids were more concerned about me than class being canceled.

The paramedics gave me fluids and oxygen on the way to the hospital.  My blood sugar was 73 (I'll get to that later).  Thankfully, the guy in the back with me has treated me before (imagine that) and he remembered me and my history and just kept me talking and was very kind.

The hospital didn't seem super slammed.  I got there just before 12:00 and was discharged by 2:30.  Since I didn't fall, they didn't have to run as many tests as before.  The doctor ordered Ativan to prevent another seizure, and they did usual bloodwork and urine sample, and then she sent me to get a head CT because, like always, gotta check the shunt.  Long story short, everything came back normal except my potassium.  That was low again, just like it was 3 weeks ago.  I got up with Mom who was freaking out because they called her out of a meeting (what are we going to do about your sugar?!).  I told her to go back to work and I'd call Stacy, my regular neurologist, when I got back to my dorm.  The doc was in there while I was on the phone with her, and that was when I knew my potassium was low, but that everything else was fine, but she, too, told me I needed to go to my regular neurologist since this has happened twice in 3 weeks.

So I called Stacy when I got back to my room, and I have an appointment there on October 10th (which is thankfully Fall Break).  Basically, there are three possibilities here: a) I just need my seizure med changed, either the actual med or the dosage, b) I need to go on potassium supplements, or c) I get diagnosed with hypoglycemia, which is basically chronic low blood sugar.  It doesn't really matter.  It's going to work out.  Stacy is good.

All I can really think about tonight is that class.  Dr. Jonas, and Bryce, and James, and Chris, and whoever those kids were sitting watching and waiting for me.  I let Chris know when I was back on campus, and he told me to not feel guilty about canceling the class that day, because he knew I was.  Dr. Jonas messaged me on Twitter to tell me he'd been praying for me, and that the whole class cared.  Bryce texted me on and off today, outside of soccer practice, and told me he would've done anything necessary to help.  And James, that kid put so much effort into helping a girl who didn't even know his name until Dr. Jonas told me.  I have to make sure I personally thank him on Monday, because I think that what he did touched me most of all.

It's such a nice reminder of the real heart of the school that I go to.  To see people, some of whom don't even know me, be the hands of Jesus to me in a time of need instead of being freaked out or just leaving to celebrate a free hour really is a beautiful thing.  I am blessed, for sure, and I can't wait to be back with them on Monday.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Surrounded by Love

I got to bed somewhere around 5:15 this morning and then got up at 8:00.  It was grand.  Especially considering the amount of pain I was (am) in.  The good news is, though, that I rocked my presentation.  So yay for that.

But I promised you that I would come back and tell you all the reasons why yesterday was awesome.  And now I can even throw in a few reasons why today was awesome, too.  Let's see if I can remember everything from yesterday.  (2.5 hours of sleep plus a 3 hour nap is so far from adequate.)  I'll save the sweetest one for last.

A guy that I've known for years through College Democrats is in my Protestant Reformation class, and he gave me some perspective and made me feel better/think clearly after things really did not go well in my Model UN class due to some, shall we say, differing political opinions.  I used to think this guy was a pretty big jerk, but people surprise you.  I think he respects me a lot more than I ever realized before.

After Reformation on my way to lunch, I ran into the campus minister who immediately asked me about my health and how I was doing, and I actually really surprised myself because after I explained everything to her, without even thinking, I said, "Well, look at it this way.  When I get my healing, I'll get to tell everyone how I know that it was God's doing."  That is the first time I think EVER that I have said "when I get my healing" instead of "if".  I can feel God working in me, and it's awesome.

After lunch, I got to go to Bible Study and it was such a nice hour of me and these three girls that I didn't even know up until this and Pastor Sean just sitting around a table on the back patio of a local coffee shop (I can literally walk there from my dorm, it's grand) sharing our hearts and talking about the Gospel and how to deal with the non-believers in our lives.  I got to see how these girls and I, who seem so different when you look at us, have some of the same issues that we're dealing with and our hearts are in somewhat of the same place.  And Pastor Sean is such a great leader and mentor.  It's hard to believe I'm coming up on the year anniversary of the day I first walked in the doors of Theater Church.  I genuinely look forward to this small group meeting every week.  It feels safe. :)

Then, Uncle Ed was on campus, and I spent about an hour with him talking about dealing with my grad school applications and the fees for that and stuff.  This man, he is such an angel.  And I tell ya, there is nothing in the world like seeing your 81-year-old uncle cry simply because he's proud of you and because people see what a good man he is.  I wouldn't be in the position I am today without him.

Last night, I took an hour to go to one of my regular tutoring sessions with one of the nicest people I've met on this campus.  This big, masculine football player is so unlike every other member of the team that I've met or run into on campus, it's almost unreal.  He's kind, and humble, and so, so appreciative that I've made it my mission to make sure he gets through this semester and next semester of French since I graduate in May and he has to graduate next December.  :)   I actually look forward to taking time out of my day to help people like this guy.  Plus, he gets my sarcasm and knows I only pick on him because I care. ;)

Today, after IPE and my presentation, I was in such awful shape that the professor I was supposed to have a test with at 11:00 let me postpone it until Monday, and my third professor of the day told me what I'd be missing in class because I was in desperate need of some sleep, not just from exhaustion, but to get away from the pain.  The seemingly endless grace that I find in my professors never ceases to amaze and humble me.  It was a big reminder of just how truly blessed I am to be at this school and in the program that I am in.

Tonight, I just got back from dinner with my sweet friend Summer.  And for once, instead of her listening to me and helping me through stuff, I actually got to give her advice for a change.  I am so appreciative of her friendship and her heart, and we've basically gotten into this routine of having dinner every Thursday.  She is easily the best friend I have left on this campus, and I am a better person because I know her.  She's one of those rare gems that I just feel like she really gets me.  She's put up with a lot from me in the time we've known each other, and I am so blessed to call her a friend.

And last but not least is a bit of a story.  There's this guy, Bryce, I've mentioned him on here before but rarely.  I met him through Ryann in January of last year.  The three of us had lunch together once, but that was it.  I literally did not see him again at all until this semester at the soccer game Paige and I went to.  Turns out, he is in the Protestant Reformation class that I joined (I didn't even know he was a religion major), so we get to see each other regularly, and over the past few weeks, I'd say I can definitely call him a friend, albeit not a close one (which is totally normal, obviously).  I just knew from the beginning, and from everything Ryann had told me about him, that he is just a genuinely good guy, which is a nice change from most of the guys I deal with around here.  Anyway, after class on Wednesday, I told him why I'd missed Monday; I knew he'd noticed because he says hi to me every day when he walks in.  So I told him what was up with the pain issues and I asked him if he'd mind praying for me.  He said of course, and he made me smile and laugh about it all even though I was still feeling awful.

Then, he gave me a hug.  Now, I'm a hugger.  Anyone who knows me knows I'm a hugger, so that was big enough for me, but then as we were walking away from the classroom, something else happened.  We grabbed hands, I don't know if it was he grabbed mine or I grabbed his but it doesn't really matter, and he squeezed it and looked straight at me when he did so.  The power of physical touch is a very real thing to me, and it was like when he did that, I could feel God using him to reach me.  I can't really explain it, I just know that there are very few times that I have had that definite of a feeling.  That little gesture and the other things he said to me in our brief conversation meant so much.  I could tell he really cares, and that was something I didn't expect considering how new our friendship is.

So all in all, I have spent a lot of time the past two days reflecting on just how truly surrounded by love I am.  Some were people I already knew loved me, some definitely weren't, but put them all together and it's almost overwhelming.  I spent nearly every day of my childhood being told I didn't deserve love, and now I have more love in more places than I know what to do with.

God is amazing, and I am in awe.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's past 3:30 am right now.

It's past 3:30 am, and I just finished reading the last third of this Hitler book.

The book is 726 pages in all.

My vision is kind of blurry.

And now I have to write the last third of my review.

And print four copies.

I'm so tired.

But I really can't wait for this stupid thing to be out of my hands and over with tomorrow.

So then I can start getting caught up on all the other stuff I've put off trying to finish this whenever my head decided to cooperate.

But I have a good blog post for tomorrow.  Because today was a very good day.  A sweet day.  A day of reminders of how loved I really am.  Something I needed.

But like I said, that will have to wait.  I have to be up at 8:00.

Yay college.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I don't know what to title this.

So today my body decided that 6:30 am was a good time to start the day.  Which, by itself, is a vast improvement over yesterday's 3:30 am.  But when you take into consideration that that 6:30 came after getting to bed about 12:45 and waking up twice in the middle of the night, it doesn't seem like such a huge change.  At least with the 3:30 am I had slept soundly.

But I survived.  3 classes including a pop quiz, hours of homework, and hours of tutoring, including tutoring a class I've never even taken because Student Services can't find enough people to cover all the hours of the Tutoring Center for that particular course.  That really helped my head.

Yeah, right.

Now it's 11:17 pm, and I'd be going to bed now, except I still have to eat something because I can tell my blood sugar is getting low and I'll be a mess when I wake up if I don't eat now, and then I have to read at least one chapter in my Hitler book.  I have 180 pages to read and write a review on by 9:30 am Thursday.  At least this chapter is only 39 pages, compared to the 78-page one I read yesterday.  That was just loads of fun.

Apparently I'm in a sarcastic mood tonight.

Oh who am I kidding.  I'm always in a sarcastic mood.

Well, I better get on it.  I can't wait to crash.  I'm praying to God I sleep until my alarm goes off in the morning.  Please.  I really am so tired.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

It's worth it.

My body woke me up at 3:30 this morning.  It was grand.  I did get a bit of a nap in this afternoon before work, but my brain is pretty much fried from completing Part 2 of 3 of this Hitler book reading & review, so instead of blogging about how absolutely tired I am or how I can't wait for this stupid paper to be done and out of my hands, I'm going to post something that I posted on The City (Pastor Chris's church's online community) this morning and hope it resonates with someone out there.  And that you'll forgive me for not being more alive tonight.


So it's about 9:30 am here as I'm starting this, and I've been wide awake since 3:30 am.  Sometimes, with this pain, it's better for me to listen to something to use as a distraction so I don't focus on the throbbing pain that feels like it's echoing around inside my skull.  So I listened to the sermon from yesterday, knowing that I probably wouldn't get another chance to listen to it later today.

I'll be completely honest.  "Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?" was probably the most difficult sermon for me to listen to in the 7.5 months that I've been following along weekly with your church.  There have been several others that have moved me to tears, but none have hit me straight in the heart like this one has.  I've got a lot of thoughts rumbling around in my head, so I thought I'd put them out here because, well, why not?

"Suffering is a platform for God's glory to be displayed."  That was the first thing that really jumped out at me.  Deep down, I know that my heart's cry is "THANK YOU!  Thank you, Lord, for choosing me for a story like this.  Thank you for letting me represent you and show people what miracles you can do."  But on days when the pain is really bad, weekends like this where I've spent far more time in bed than out of it and can;t get the work I need to get done anywhere close to done, I can't get to the part of my heart that knows that.  All I can cry out is, "God, please.  PLEASE make this stop.  I don't want to do this anymore.  Pick somebody else.  Pick somebody who's older and wiser and can deal with this better than I can because I just can't DO IT ANYMORE."  I get self-righteous enough to where I think that I "deserve" better as a Christian, that this isn't what I signed up for, that God should be healing me already because I'm SO. TIRED.  But like Chris said, "Good things happen to the God people!...except when they don't."  And this quote from R.C. Sproul, Jr., always puts my conceit in check: "Why do bad things happen to good people?  That only happened once.  And he volunteered."  I have far more now, even with this pain, than I ever deserved to begin with.

As I sat here reflecting on the message this morning, I thought back to the first time I really turned to Chris for guidance on how to deal with this pain and accept that this is the story God has for my life right now.  He led me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to  keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong." (ESV)  And I thought about how I felt the first time that I realized that God is using this pain as a way to draw me closer to Him, to remind me that there is no way that I can make it through this without Him.  And He has been so faithful to send friends alongside of me who remind me of this again and again (and again!) when I get distracted by the pain.

And then I thought about all of those friends, people who know some very ugly parts of my heart and my life, and I remember the first time each of them told me what I had taught them about Jesus.  These people know too well how messed up I really am, yet they still see Jesus in me.

And then I thought about all of you.  People whom I've yet to lay eyes on (but will in less than 12 short weeks!!! :D), yet who have cared enough to invest in my story.  I think about all the messages I have received from y'all, thanking me for my vulnerability and for sharing my heart, sharing pieces of your own lives with me, letting me know what an impact hearing my story has had on your faith and your own walks with the Lord.  I remember the time I texted Chris about something for guidance and prayer, almost too ashamed to talk to anyone else, and he texted back, "Please post that.  You are ministering to my church."  It absolutely blew my mind that I was having a real effect on y'all, that you cared enough to listen to this 21-year-old girl from North Carolina.  You have been an indescribable encouragement to keep sharing my story, to keep showing anyone who will listen the God that saved me and the kind of miracles He can do.

You know, I don't know why God has given me this platform, or why He's given it to me now, when I'm so young, when I've only been a Christian for a couple years, when I know so very little about life and the world.  All I know is that my God is good, even when this valley doesn't make sense to me, and that He loves me.  He loved me enough to send His son to die for this undeserving, broken little girl, and He loves me still enough to give me glimpses as to what He's doing with my story, a story that seems so dark and painful and dirty to the world but, in reality, is a story of redemption.  All my life, long before I ever even considered becoming a Christian, I knew in my heart that I wanted to make a real difference in people's lives.  I didn't know who, I didn't know how, I just knew that I wanted to make someone's life better by being in it.  Now, I know that I have, simply by living out the story that was written for me the best that I can, for sharing my brokenness, for telling people what I know and what I don't know.

I never expected my story to reach a church in a suburb of Austin, Texas, let alone that it would touch people enough to ask me to come visit.  Through the pain and the darkness, God has stretched my story in ways that I never could have dreamed were possible, and even though I hate this pain, I know that without it, I wouldn't have the voice that I do, and I wouldn't be able to serve Him like I can now.  There are so many blessings in the middle of this brokenness, and when I stop to focus on that, that's when I remember that I wouldn't change the life that I have, not for anything, because if this is what He has for me to bring Him glory, then all of it is worth it.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Too tired to stress.

No church today.

Too much pain.

Too much sleep.

Not enough reading/work done for this review due Thursday.

Normal me would be freaking out right now.

This me is just too tired to do much of anything, or feel much of anything other than sheer exhaustion and pain.

Lord, please help me get through this week.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Good thing we're going to the late service tomorrow.

Because if we were going to the 9 am like we usually do, the wake-up call in the morning would be rough considering it's about 2:30 am now and I'm just getting into bed.  But TJ, the guy who gives me a ride every week, has a friend who is getting baptized at the 11 am service, so we're going to that. So yay for 2 extra hours of sleep.

Today was...blah.  My head wouldn't cooperate much as I tried to make my way through this Hitler book that I am super behind on for my review that is due on Thursday, so I sort of read in spurts and took about hour-long naps in between.  I ate when necessary and did my laundry late tonight when no one was in my way.

Other than that, I did take a break to participate in a Google hangout as part of the Jesus > Religion street team.  Members have been getting together weekly to discuss a couple chapters of the book at a time, but I work during those shows, so I can't participate.  Since there were apparently several of us who mentioned we were unavailable during that hour (because really, there's no way to get 150+ people free at the same time), the guys who came up with the whole idea created a "Follow Up" show where people can discuss questions that came out of the main episode and any other ideas that we had.  It was really, really cool.  The people on the call with me were super nice, and we all got to talk, and I was able to share pieces of my story that tied into the main episode from Tuesday, pieces from Jeff's book, as well as just what we were talking about during the chat.  After Josh and Emily, the other two on the call, had signed off, the other girl, Rebeka, and I were able to chat for a minute and she gave me some really sweet advice about life and my family.  It was sweet.  I feel like I'm making friends all across the country through this thing, and we're all just a bunch of people who are trying to promote Jeff's book, but more importantly, make Jesus famous.  It's awesome.

Oh, and in a total "SMALL WORLD!" moment, this week I found out that one of the members of the Street Team is a member of Pastor Chris's church and I'll get to meet her in December!  That was crazy to find out.

Um yeah, that's about it.  I'm crashing now.  Church in the morning, and then back to working on this Hitler book & review.

Yay college.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Hardened Heart

It's Friday, y'all!  

And not just any Friday, but a Friday I've been looking forward to for weeks now.  Nick Vitellaro (I've written about him once before here) released the video for his latest spoken word poem, "The Hardened Heart."

For those of you seeing this via email or a reader who won't see the embedded Youtube video, here's my transcription of the (incredible!!!) poem. (Seriously, it's incredible. You should go check it out.) (And okay, let me clarify - it's my best transcription. There may be a few errors; the boy talks fast!)

"The Hardened Heart" by Nick Vitellaro

Allow me to introduce myself. Some of you may already know me. I don't mean to be rude or intrusive. I just thought it would be fair to give you a warning. We may already be best friends, or you may hardly even know I exist. Either way, let me paint you some perspectives. On my campus, I walk down the halls of my high school, too cool to pray, and too proud to pursue the vision God has called me to. I'll say I'm waiting for confirmation or some kind of sign while I sit back and watch my classmates be blind.  "They have planks in their eyes," I'll say. "I just have a little bit of sawdust in mine." Lord, this was not what I had in mind! I'm trying to be their light, but it's too dark in here to shine. I will justify and rationalize to nullify the pain of watching my closest friends die.

I am the hardened heart of Christianity.  Well, me, myself, and I are doing just fine within the confines of the church property lines. We are seeing more and more come to church every single week and still experiencing defeat out on the city streets. Seven days without Jesus makes one weak. That's why my favorite thing to play is hide and go seek, seeking Jesus at church but hiding the rest of the week. And I am numb to feeling sympathy, passion, a stranger to me, as if doing something about injustice is actually my responsibility. I'm too busy with my own calling and what God has for me than to actually do anything about the call God has placed right in front of me.

But I'm such a good actor, I could fool Steven Spielberg. The performance I put on at church is superb. My script is equipped with mighty adjectives but lacks the verbs. I have won the Hypocrisy Oscar Awards. You see, I learned all the motions until I became a master of disguise, thought I could hide from the Master of the skies, thought my own theories were divine so I disconnected from the vine, telling everybody else where to find Christ, but never allowing Himself to change my life.

But I mean, my salvation is set in stone, right? I mean, I am a Christian by tradition, 'cause after all, I do celebrate Christmas. But these material presents are blinding me from God's presence. Now I'm bitter and restless, and my callousness has brought me to cowardliness. So in the fight to save my family, coworkers, and friends, I have become a pacifist. But I'll sit in church, say I'm getting fed while lacking the spiritual nutrients, starved myself from fasting so becoming well-fed was really becoming sick, refused to partake of the Bread daily so I got anorexic, developed a gag reflex so I spat out the same regurgitated message and expected those around me to openly digest it.

See, I have a confession. I am the victim. I long for redemption. I'm sick of saying I don't hear anything from God when really, I won't listen. I'm tired of these conditions. Side effects are heart-attackin' me, searing the freedom that once pumped through these arteries. They put my heart's dreams into custody, handcuffed my destiny to apathy, cardiac arrest in me when all I needed was a rest in me.  No wonder the leading cause of death is heart disease. But even though these bones have been dry for the longest time, I think I can hear that still small voice calling this sleeper to rise, because where there is death, He breathes life. He says, "I will take your cold, calloused heart and replace it with Mine. Let Me exchange your heart with its original design."

So yeah, they do have planks in their eyes, but you know what? So do I. But Jesus was the greatest carpenter of all time. He could craft destiny out of every lumber found in the eyes of mankind. He enabled Noah to build the ark, Solomon to build the temple, out of the very wood taken from the trees He Himself rooted in the earth. He would even plant a seed that would give birth to the very tree that He would hang on to show you your worth. So I refuse. I refuse to drown in the same waters He walks on. And even though it was locked as the door of my heart, He knocks on it.

So if you identify with any of the hardened heart symptoms, listen. Stop buying into the world's sales pitches and slogans, 'cause they will leave you bankrupt at the cost of your emotion. But Christ is in the business of putting frozen hearts back into motion. He's available 24/7 with arms wide open, and His unconditional redemption gives promotion to every testimony ever spoken, 'cause our cold, calloused hearts are like God's glow sticks. To shine, they must first be broken.

(taken from the end scene of the video)

I think a big part of the reason why I was so excited about the drop of this new poem video was because since I knew what a major effect Nick's first two poems had had on me (I still love to go back and watch, even though I can pretty much recite them by heart, haha!), I was anxious to see what this third poem would be and how it would touch my heart.  This poem really made me see that God does have me on a journey of healing right now, not just from the physical pain I'm dealing with, but more importantly from the wounds both old and new that I either thought had healed or just chose to ignore.  This poem hit on a lot of the same stuff that Jeff Bethke's book did.  But let me start from the beginning.  I promise, I'll try not to make this drag on forever.  I just want to share my heart and how, once again, I see myself and my story in Nick's words.

I'll say I'm waiting for confirmation or some kind of sign while I sit back and watch my classmates be blind.  "They have planks in their eyes," I'll say. "I just have a little bit of sawdust in mine." Lord, this was not what I had in mind! I'm trying to be their light, but it's too dark in here to shine. I will justify and rationalize to nullify the pain of watching my closest friends die.

Nick may have been talking about school and friends and classmates here, but it instantly made me think of my family.  Matt, my best friend, too, but mostly my family.  Especially with my sisters, I spent most of my teenage years focusing on all the things that were wrong with them, justifying any time I felt I had upset my mother with "I'm the good child!  I'm better than them!"  The contempt would drip from my lips like poison, except I was the only one dying inside.  And now, I've gotten to the point where I avoid going home whenever possible simply because it's too exhausting to be there.  Instead of choosing to go where it's dark and dirty and ugly, the kind of place where Jesus would have spent his free time, and show them God's love for them through my actions of love for them, I took the cowardly way out and chose to avoid them altogether.  I've cried at night sometimes, wondering why God couldn't just my already complicated life a little easier and give me a family who were already Christians.

"But I'm such a good actor, I could fool Steven Spielberg. The performance I put on at church is superb. My script is equipped with mighty adjectives but lacks the verbs. I have won the Hypocrisy Oscar Awards. You see, I learned all the motions until I became a master of disguise, thought I could hide from the Master of the skies, thought my own theories were divine so I disconnected from the vine, telling everybody else where to find Christ, but never allowing Himself to change my life."

I've said on this blog before that when I was in the depths of my depression during those six brain surgeries in the fall of 2009, I was a master at making people believe that I believed in God, secretly scoffing behind their backs, or when the doors shut or the emails were sent, that they actually bought the lies I fed them.  I thought it was their mistake for thinking a broken, 17-year-old girl with no solid Christian foundation could be going through medical hell and still have faith and joy.  Really, I was fully convinced that I was going to handle my life, I didn't need anybody else's advice, or their pity, and especially not the God who, in my eyes, was putting me through this torture in the first place.  But when people showed up to check in?  Oh yeah, I knew exactly what they wanted or needed to hear, just enough that would make them think I already agreed with what they wanted to tell me.  I knew what to say, the smile to put on my face, but the whole time the typical Christianese spiel came out of my mouth to pastors, nurses, friends, I knew in my head that I was fooling them all. 

"Now I'm bitter and restless, and my callousness has brought me to cowardliness. So in the fight to save my family, coworkers, and friends, I have become a pacifist."

Again, even now, even when I know what it feels like to have your life radically flipped upside down by the love that can only come from the Father, I've basically...stopped trying.  I hide this part of me, the very core of who I am, because it's easier and less heartbreaking to avoid the awkward and tense conversations that lead to argument.  I ask myself what the point is - they're never going to see it my way, anyway.  So I keep my mouth shut, and I stay away so I don't become the version of me that is what's comfortable for them.  And in my heart, I resent them for not letting me be the person I am without snarky remarks in return just because they disagree with it.

"But even though these bones have been dry for the longest time, I think I can hear that still small voice calling this sleeper to rise, because where there is death, He breathes life. He says, "I will take your cold, calloused heart and replace it with Mine. Let Me exchange your heart with its original design.""

I spent 19.5 years of my life running as far as I could from anything that had "God" or "Christianity" attached to it.  And still, He came after me.  He made me alive for the first time when He forced me to the breaking point where I realized that if I kept trying to fight for myself, it was going to kill me.  He made me alive when He introduced me to The Vespers and planted that question in the back of my mind, Is this what Christians can really be like?  And slowly, step by step, day after day, with a few detours thrown in as I tried to run back to the mindset I'd grown so accustomed to, He pieced my broken life back together and gave me life, real life.

"So yeah, they do have planks in their eyes, but you know what? So do I. But Jesus was the greatest carpenter of all time. He could craft destiny out of every lumber found in the eyes of mankind...He would even plant a seed that would give birth to the very tree that He would hang on to show you your worth...And even though it was locked as the door of my heart, He knocks on it."

Being saved by God, being baptized into Christ, was hands-down the most humbling experience of my life.  It was when I took my focus off judging everyone else, my sisters for being rebellious, the kids at school for calling themselves Christians but purposely aiming to make my life as difficult as they could, that I was able to see that I can be just as hypocritical as the rest of them.  And when I admitted to that, it was like, as Jeff writes in his book, God said, "Okay, now that you're being honest, we can finally get somewhere."  God saw and knew how broken I was inside, and instead of leaving and giving up like what I was used to, He kept pursuing me until I gave in.  And it was the best thing I've ever done.  I opened the door, and I found everything I was missing before, a lot of stuff I had foolishly convinced myself I didn't need.

"But Christ is in the business of putting frozen hearts back into motion. He's available 24/7 with arms wide open, and His unconditional redemption gives promotion to every testimony ever spoken, 'cause our cold, calloused hearts are like God's glow sticks. To shine, they must first be broken."

I met The Vespers about three months after I hit my breaking point.  If I had met them before that, I wouldn't have been ready for it.  I wouldn't have had the guts to tell Bruno my life story in the middle of a crowded dining hall.  I would have missed the lesson that God wanted to show me, that my story can change people, even affirmed Christians.  When God really ripped me in two in the middle of that church in Nashville, I changed.  For good.  People who see pictures of that night tell me I look like I'm glowing.  I started telling my story to complete strangers, to anyone and everyone who would listen.  I can boast about how broken I am because then I can tell people how whole He is.  And I wouldn't have the confidence I have now, I wouldn't have emails and texts saying that I've changed lives all across the country, even from people I've never laid eyes on, if He hadn't broken me.  All of that darkness and brokenness that I felt was because He knew that He wanted to get me here, that one day I would be filled with a burning passion to tell everyone I know about the God that saved me.  And if I'm going to do this for strangers, I need to do it for the people that I love, too.

This video is healing for me.  Healing to let go of the resentment I hold towards others both from my past and my present, the fear that I'll never be good enough for God to really love me, to not hide my faith or my love for Jesus from anyone, especially not from the people I love most.  This journey of healing that I'm on is dirty and twisted and confusing, but it's never-ending, and it's getting me to where I ultimately need and want to be: in heaven, worshiping the One who pulled me through in the first place.

Thanks, Nick.  Glory be to Him!

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Thursday, September 19, 2013


Some days I feel overwhelmed and completely alone, and some days, I, well...still feel overwhelmed, but am completely humbled and baffled by the love that surrounds me.

Professors who could not be more gracious and are far more concerned with my health than the deadlines for their class.

Classmates who give me notes without even wondering when I'll be able to pay them back for the favor.

Memories of my best friend when I run into our favorite professor and how she will do anything necessary to protect me, even from 4400 miles away.

Boys who let me overreact freaking out at them, and then when I apologize, tell me it's fine.

Girls who just sit and listen to me vent when my heart hurts.

Sisters in Christ who text me just to see how I'm feeling today, encourage me, and then send me a music video that they just know I need to hear.

And the singer of the song who tweets me to remind me yet again that I am loved.

Little did this friend (or I) know, but this word "overcomer" would pop up again and again in my life today.  From friends, from professors, in my thoughts as I listen to Sanctuary sing lyrics like "You stay the same through the ages, Your love never changes, there may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning. And when the oceans rage, I don't have to be afraid, because I know that You love me, and Your love never fails."

I am an overcomer, but it's not my own doing.  It's because of Him.  It's because of what Jesus did; victory is already mine, even when it doesn't feel like it.  It's because of the love He has put in my life on all sides, people who push me forward when I feel sure I can't take another step.  It is because of the confidence of who I am in God, and the incomprehensible love that He has for me.

Ryann says I'm changing the world just by being me...I say I'm changing somebody's world because I can't help but let the light that saved my life shine through me.  I couldn't do this on my own, and I wouldn't want to even if I could.  It's because of the community I found by following Jesus that I'm still fighting.  People I have hugged, and laughed, and danced with, and people I may never get to see this side of heaven.  Me, my story, my life, they're all just a part of the bigger picture.  I'm a puzzle piece that fits into the grand story that God has written out for all of time.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll have a legacy that stands after I leave this earth.

I am overcoming this struggle that I am walking through every single day.  Because every single day God is faithful to remind me in ways big and small that He is here and He is with me.  Sometimes I just get so caught up in my own head that I miss those signs.  But there's no way the God who knows the number of hairs on my head would let me be alone in this, even for a second.

Mandisa's "Overcomer" has been on repeat a lot today.  It's helped me get to know all over again the confidence that comes with being a child of God.

I am an overcomer.  But it's by the grace of God alone.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sometimes God makes me laugh.

Like when I stay up all night because I can't sleep from pain,

and then end up having a wonderful conversation with my best friend at 6 am because it's 12 pm in Switzerland and she hasn't gone to practice yet,

and then only get 1.5 hours of sleep before class yet somehow feel very alive and energized,

and then go to Small Group for the first time with my dear pastor and some new friends,

and then I look down at the paper for the week and the selection is titled "A Song For Sleepless Nights."

It's like He knows what He's doing. ;)

And now I am sufficiently exhausted so I am blowing off my responsibilities for the rest of the night and going to bed.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Step Forward

It's been a rough day, to say the least.

Couple the fact that thanks to my head issues, my vision got so blurry in the middle of American Foreign Relations that I couldn't read the quiz that was right in front of my face with the fact that I just had a tear-filled conversation with Holly that ended with me doing something I've known I needed to do for a while now but kept avoiding, and I feel like a complete mess.

I had to lay in bed with my eyes closed for about 5 hours before my vision cleared up and my head eased up enough for me to actually be able to handle having my eyes open, but the bad news is that I am now even further behind on the report I have due next week.  Sigh.  This semester is so totally kicking my butt.

On top of that, something has happened over the past week that I've kept off this blog as I've prayed and tried to figure out what to do about it.  One of the two guys in this post, the one that I said I could "probably never at all" be with, would be Landon.  Despite me practically begging him to stop contacting me a few weeks ago because I needed to protect my heart and my relationship with Holly and talking to him did nothing but make my heart hurt anyway, he showed back up this weekend to pour out what was on his heart...or at least what he said was on his heart.  I only told a couple people about it as I tried to come to terms with everything he'd said, praying that I could manage to keep it a secret from my family.  Another Landon secret from them, all over again.

But tonight I was thinking about it, the more I felt guilty about it.  So I called Holly, and prayed that she wouldn't get upset.  She didn't, thankfully, but made it quite clear that though she has forgiven me for the mistakes I made with/regarding him in the past, she will never approve of me talking to him.  And she told me what she thinks is probably happening on his end, the side of him that she knows, the side I've never been exposed to.  I've had this nagging feeling since I talked to Michal, actually since before then - talking to her just strengthened the feeling, that all of this was a mistake, that I was going to walk right back into a disaster if I kept this up.  And for the first time, Holly and I can have real, open, honest conversations, like "normal" sisters.  I knew that screwing that up would be a mistake I probably wouldn't be able to fix.

So after I got off the phone with her, I did what I've been avoiding doing this whole time, for years now, since before he showed up this last time.  I blocked him.  And I wish I could tell you that it was easy and that I felt this huge weight lift off of my shoulders when I hit that button, but that would be a lie.

The truth is that I'm sitting here shaking.

The truth is I'm sitting here wondering if I'm ever not going to miss this guy that I never should have let myself fall for in the first place.

The truth is that even though I know blocking him was the right thing to do, it still feels like it broke my heart.  How can choosing my own sister, or more importantly, my relationship with God, feel so heartbreaking?!

The truth is I'm sitting here wondering if clarity over who he really is and what this years-long disaster meant will ever come.

The truth is, simply, that I hurt, that I wish I didn't cry so hard over a boy like him, but I did.  And I know that this is small and rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but just like I said yesterday, I put my heart 100% into every relationship that I make, and I did just that with him.  When your emotions get trampled on by life, when you force yourself to choose between the sister you're finally close to and the guy you've loved for so long, there's no way for that not to hurt.

So here I sit, trying to let myself fall into the God whose love is perfect and unconditional, and thanking Him for caring about all the details of my life, even this.

I hope He's proud of me for following His nudging and taking a step in the right direction, even if it was just a baby step and even if it hurt to do it.  I finally swallowed my pride and my selfish desires and did what I knew I needed to do to protect my heart, something I've been trying to force myself to learn how to do for years now.  I feel like with Landon out of the way, my heart is on the track to getting back to being centered on God, which is where it belongs, and for that, I am grateful.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Don't Change

We all have things about ourselves that we don't like.  I know, duh, right, Mal?  That's like saying the sun shines during the day or it's hot in Texas.  Just go with me here, go with me.

Lately, I think I've been spending way too much time focusing on the things about me that I'd like to change that it makes me lose focus on the pieces of me that I actually like.

This realization came to me earlier tonight.  I spent a good portion of the night Facebook chatting with a friend of mine (nobody important, just a guy I met through the CDA Convention last year and have kept in good contact with) who has just been having a really rough couple of days.  He needed someone to vent to, so I was there, at least as much as I could be through class and work and tutoring and stuff.  Throughout it, he kept thanking me and telling me how much he appreciated my support and loved having me in his life and stuff like that.  And I, of course, told him there was no reason to thank me, that this is just what I do for my friends, or really anyone I care about.

Well tonight, when I got back to my room after work, we talked for a bit more before I had to get in the shower because I'm absolutely exhausted and plan on going to bed as soon as I finish this post.  But before I signed, he told me that my encouragement was such a gift and that it meant a lot to him and had really brightened his day, and then he asked me to please never change.

And while I was in the shower, I just got to thinking about that.  (Side note: Does anyone else do their best thinking while they're taking a shower, or is it just me?)  Especially in the past week, I've spent a lot of time beating myself up over things, and tonight I had someone in-my-face call me out on what they saw as a beautiful quality.

And I agree with him.

I love the heart that I have for people.  I love that I empathize so deeply when the people I care about are hurting.  I love that putting aside my own junk to help someone else out feels like the easiest thing in the world to do.  I love that, somehow, saying what is on my heart in my best attempt to comfort and encourage the people I love almost always ends up being "exactly what they needed to hear."

But most of all, I love that I put 100% of my heart into every relationship that I make.  Do I sometimes choose to do that with people who don't deserve it?  You bet.  Does it get me stepped on sometimes?  Yep.  Do words get misconstrued?  Yep.  Do people make something out of nothing and accuse me of things that aren't true?  Yep.  My heart has been abused and bruised more times than I can recall, and broken a few times, too, yet I never stop putting it on the line when I know I care about someone.  A very dear friend told me once, "The fact that you are still willing to put yourself out there with people after all the abuse you've gone through, it's a real testament to the kind of person you are and the heart that you have."

A lot of times, usually in the immediate aftermath of a hurt or betrayal, I find myself wishing that I didn't love people so deeply, but in all honesty, I know in my soul that I was made this way for a reason, and I wouldn't change it for anything.  This heart that I have, I think it's played a big part in bringing me some of the most beautiful and loyal friends I could have ever dreamed of.  It helps me to be there for the people I love in the way that they need me to be.  That's enough.

So from now on, I'm making a pact with myself to not only start trying to focus on the parts of me that I actually like (because we all need a little self-affirmation now and again), but also to stop wishing I didn't love people like I do.  This is a part of me, a gift I can share with others, and I don't want to waste any more time wishing it away.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013


We sang this song in church today.  Somehow, I knew it was going to be this song before the band even started playing or the lyrics popped up on the screen behind them.  It's been stuck in my head all day since, especially after I had a very long chat with a dear, dear girlfriend of mine.

Oh, I need you Jesus
To come to my rescue.
Where else can I go?
There's no other name by
Which I am saved.
Capture me with grace.
I will follow you.

It's an amazing song, and I absolutely love to sing it, but something about hearing those lyrics today just gave me goosebumps.  I wasn't entirely sure why until I talked to my friend Michal today.  We haven't had a good chat in ages, so we talked for quite a while, mostly me catching her up on all the drama going on in my life as of late and her giving me her oh-so-wise perspective, though the roles did reverse for a bit.  I adore this girl.  I can't wait to see her again when I go back to Nashville.

At the end, when we both really needed to go, she prayed over the both of us, like she always does.  But what she prayed for me today hit me like a ton of bricks as I realized how perfect the song from this morning was.

She prayed for God to heal me of my scars.

Scars of loneliness.

Of fear.

Of worry I'll never be loved by a man.

Of heartache from my past, and wounds that I thought had healed but clearly haven't.

Of pain.

Of feeling like I'm not good enough for anyone to love me or desire me, let alone for the Lord to love me and desire me the way that He does.

And those lyrics were running through my head.  I need Him to come to my rescue, and rescue me from the scars that are covering me.  I need Him to come rescue me and wash me new, every single day, because I'm bound to forget it over and over again.

Michal knows that I know that God is the Ultimate Sustainer, but sometimes I get caught up in still being just that scared and lonely little girl who just wants a boy to tell her he loves her and wants her.  I've been working so hard lately to make God the #1 priority in my life, and lately, I've gotten sidetracked by guys in a major way.  Two guys who were already very, very dear to me, and whom I know I've held feelings for for a long time, but two guys that I know I can't be of them at least for right now, the other probably never at all.

I believe that they are good people.  Kind.  Caring.  Protective.  Smart.  Witty.  Humble.  So many things that I would want...except for the fact that they're not Christians.  And I know what the Bible says about being "unequally yolked", and I've had several wise girlfriends remind me of it.  And I know what I need to do if I mean it when I say that God is the center of my life.  As Michal said today, I know those are the facts - that's the easy, black-and-white part of it.  What is so, so very gray is the fact that knowing that isn't stopping me from wanting to be with either of them, isn't making me any more willing to tell them flat out that I can't be with them because they're not Christian, simply because I'm scared of hurting them, of making them think that I think they're not good enough for me.

But this is what I'm most scared of:  in my heart, I'm scared that if I turn both of these guys away, if I don't let either of them keep pursuing me like they are, another one won't come along again.  And you don't need to feed me those lines about how "I'm 21 and I have so much time to find a husband".  I know.  Trust me, I know.  But again, knowing the facts doesn't subdue my emotions in any way.  I'm 21 years old and have never had a boyfriend, I'm watching all of my closest friends, and plenty of not-so-close friends, find the loves of their lives and get engaged and married, and here I am.  Alone.  It's really hard to feel like you're enough on your own when your heart is overwhelmed by the feeling that no one loves you or wants least like that.

I want to be one of those girls who is totally content in it just being me and God, and using this time to just mature as a woman of God, but with both of these guys showing up like this so close to each other, it feels impossible not to want them and to only want Him.  I'm screwing this up so badly.

Jesus, I need you to come to my rescue.  Heal me of these scars.  Help me to believe that I am beautiful and worthy.  But help me to believe that you are enough for this stage of my life, and that your love is enough to heal my hurting heart.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Another day in bed.


I love sleep.

I really do.

But not when it's happening because I'm completely incapacitated, and especially not when I have a very long to-do list

Senior year would be hard enough if I was healthy.  This feels unmanageable, and that makes me sad.

I guess the good news is that I did get some work done tonight, as well as all my laundry, so the day wasn't completely useless.  It's also a good thing that the 9 am services start again tomorrow at church which means I'll get back two hours earlier than usual and, provided I can stay awake, have two extra hours to do work

The time that I have been awake today, I've had these lyrics, also from "Like a Lion" by Daniel Bashta, in my head.  I love what a comfort music is to me, no matter what situation I'm facing.

Oh, I'm lost in your freedom,
This world I'll overcome.

Amen.  Because of Jesus, I will overcome.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Another one of those days.

I didn't wake up until 7:30 today.



And my head is still killing me tonight but I am trying to force myself to at least get through the stuff from this past week that I got so behind on and then go back to bed so that tomorrow I can jump full force into stuff for Week 5, this coming week.

I want to cry.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

My God's not dead. He's surely alive.

Oh man, tonight was awesome.

First, I got to have an hour of girl talk with my sweet friend Summer.  This is the first time we've gotten to spend any real time together, as we're both so busy that we've only seen each other in passing (usually in the library, since we both work there) up until now.  It was grand.  And we finally got a picture together!

She is, hands down, one of the best and most precious friends that I have made in my time here at Campbell.

We talked all the way until we got to work, where she had to go to the Reference desk, and I had to go up to the third floor for the tutoring center.

I spent the first two hours of my shift (7-9, actually a little more than that because I got there early), working with four different athletes on Algebra.  Two were guys, one of whom had me cracking up the whole time, and the other actually ended up working with another tutor because the two girls showed up and the athletics person had specifically told them to come to me, so I felt like I had to help them, but I still had to help him because the other tutor was stumped on some stuff.  It was tight time-wise, but still fun.  I like this job.

For the third and last hour of my shift, no one showed up at all, so when those two girls left at 9, I spent the next hour talking to the only other tutor in the room (the Wifi is STILL having issues, so a couple were in the computer lab with their students).  In literally less than 3 minutes, I went from introducing myself to this girl to telling her my whole testimony for Jesus.  And it turns out, she said she really needed to hear it because she's going through a tough time right now.  Try and convince me God wasn't in the room through that whole conversation.  (Not gonna happen.)  It's conversation like the one that I had tonight with my new friend that reassure my confidence that God really can use my messed up life for something awesome, something bigger than I can even picture.

We talked right up until the very minute our shift ended, and I walked straight from that into the computer lab to listen to Sanctuary.  This is, no doubt, my favorite time of the week.  And for the first time I think since the night I was there and got baptized, their entire set list was compiled of songs I'd never heard before tonight (including the one that tonight's title comes from).  I was tweeting lyrics from each that jumped out at me, because I wanted a reference to go back and look them up.  It was such a sweet hour, as always.  Only 9 more weeks until I'm there in person!!!

And then, I check my email after work to find out that my ticket to Austin in December is officially booked and paid for.  But get this.  Along with the forwarded emails of all the flight information, I had a private message from the ticket donor thanking me.  They just spent a few hundred dollars on me and then thanked me because "I gave them an opportunity to serve their God."  Seriously.  The body of the Christ just astounds me.

So this is my song tonight.

My God's not dead.
He's surely alive.
He's living on the inside,
Roaring like a lion.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11: We won't forget.

Today was an interesting day.  I talked more about 9/11 to more people than I have on any anniversary at this school.  We even spent a good portion of my Model UN class discussing what we all remember from that day.

I don't remember a lot.  Probably the amount that most 9-year-olds remember.

The "lockdown" message coming over the intercom (living 20 minutes from the largest Marine Corps base on the east coast means no risks).  Knowing I couldn't leave school, and my mom couldn't leave hers to come get me.  Not knowing when we would get to go home.  Staring at the news all day, our young minds trying to process what was happening.  Getting home and watching the news all over again, the same pictures being rotated.

Taylor wrote this on Twitter today, and I loved it.  "Watching people jump from those 100+ story burning buildings still haunts me today.  Our childhood abruptly ended right there."  I wholeheartedly agree.  Anyone who was old enough to remember had their childhood stolen that day, just like kids today who were in Sandy Hook Elementary, at the Boston Marathon, and watched what the world really could be like.  It steals your innocence, that moment when you realize as a kid that some people out there are determined to cause harm to anyone they can reach.  The Newtown and Boston attacks didn't make the news until they were already over, but people nationwide witnessed that plane crash into the second tower and simultaneously destroy every feeling of inherent safety that came with being an American.

We watched as the towers fell.

We watched as the Pentagon burned.

We watched as the breaking news came in of the crash in the field in Pennsylvania.

So even from hundreds or thousands of miles away, whether anyone we knew was a victim or not, we were all a part of the tragedy that day.

And because of that, we won't forget.  We can't forget.  Not only because that was perhaps the defining moment in American history for my generation, or because we can't let the lives lost that day and the sacrifices made in the 12 years since go in vain.

But also because, if you're anything like me, you have photographs of that day imprinted into your brain, and they won't go away for anything.  I can't tell you anyone who was in my class that year, but I can tell you exactly what the TV looked like when that plane blew into the second attack, or the color of the soot that covered people as they ran screaming from the buildings as they fell.  I can tell you what it felt like to hear the screams, or to watch people choose to jump to their deaths over being buried or burned alive.  I couldn't forget the memories of that day, even if I wanted to.

And you know what?  I'm glad that I can't forget that day.  Because even in the midst of the sadness and darkness, that was the day the heart of our country changed.  That was when national pride flew higher than any flag.  And the memories that I hold are my constant reminder to never take for granted the country that I live in, to look past political differences and party lines to see people who love this country as much as I do.  We are Americans, and we are one.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jehovah Jireh

For those of you not well-versed in Hebrew, that title means "God Our Provider" and my oh my, did He provide today.

And for the record, I totally had to Google that.

I knew way back at the end of December that my communication with Pastor Chris was not going to stop there.  What I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined was the day when he asked me to join his church's online community, or when these strangers started contacting to tell me that they appreciated me, were praying for me, loved me, and that my story had changed and affected them.  I joined that community in early February, and by mid-April, I had this deep and longing desire to visit that church and those wonderful people one day.  In fact, I just looked it up, and the first day that I mentioned that desire to Pastor Chris was April 21.

I'll be honest.  One of the biggest struggles that I have in my walk with God is that I have no problem being absolutely certain that my friends' prayers will be answered, but I have a brutal time trying to believe that mine will.  In fact, it almost never happens, that I have a feeling of certainty right off the bat that God is going to give me a desire that I have.  But I told God from the very beginning that if I was meant to go to Austin, He was going to have to make it happen.  Not only did I know I didn't have the money for a plane ticket on my own, I just decided that I wasn't going to force this one.  But I kept on praying for it, and I told a few of my friends to pray for it, too.  Ironically, one of those people immediately responded, "Oh girl.  You're going.  End of story.  No doubt in my mind."  She just knew.

All of that to say, I got what is possibly the biggest shock of my life tonight when I opened my email about twenty minutes before I was due to leave for work to find a private message from one of the members, one whom I have rarely spoken to directly but whom I know has followed along with every post I've made in that community.  This is what it said:

Hi Mallory,

Since about 4 months ago (4 months!! Just WEEKS after God laid the desire on my heart!), God is telling me that you need to come to Austin.  I told Chris about it and we both prayed for that.  I didn't know how to tell you, but when you mentioned that you would like to come to visit us everything made sense for me.  I really want to support you with your air ticket, but please don't tell anybody.  Let me know when would you like to come to Wells Branch and I will take care of your air ticket.

"It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus, and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others." (Ephesians 2:10 LB)

How incredible is that?!?!?!  I seriously sat there staring at the screen speechless for about three minutes before my mind could even process what was happening and how to respond.  It's all I've thought about all night.  I knew I had to talk to Pastor Chris, and that it had to be some time during my Christmas break, and he told me all but one of the weekends was good.

So I decided why prolong the impatience?  I finish the semester on Monday December 9th, and I'm flying to Austin on either Wednesday December 11th or Thursday December 12th and returning Monday December 16th.  I still feel pretty much in shock about it all.  I never imagined that I'd be writing in the community asking for a pet-free place to stay (the donor of the ticket has a dog, otherwise they'd host me), I really didn't expect it, especially not this soon.

But I really should know better.  The God that I serve loves to blow all of our human expectations out of the water.  And because of His amazing goodness, three months from now, I'm going to get to meet, hug, and personally thank so many people who have prayed for me and loved me for months without even knowing me.  My Jehovah Jireh came through in a major, major way today.

Thank you, Lord.  May I praise your name always.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Only at CU.

Alternately titled: I'm pretty sure this is when you reach "epic nerd status".

So every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I check my Twitter as I walk from class to the dining hall for lunch at 11:00.  Today, I saw that on Campbell's university Tumblr, they were talking about how one religion professor, Dr. Jonas, has his students in his Protestant Reformation class (a 300-level course, so they're all upperclassmen, and all but one are religion majors) live-tweet quotes from the class.  I was amazed that this was happening at this school, and I'm interested in the Reformation, so I went to check out the hashtag that all the students use in their tweets for easy access and following.

It looked absolutely awesome.  So tonight, I sent Dr. Jonas an email asking if I could come sit in and observe the class on Wednesday just to see what it was like.  Don't get me wrong, I love being a political science and French major, but with having two majors, all of my elective credits were used up really quickly, so I didn't have the opportunity to take many classes in other areas that interest me like most students.  I've also heard fantastic things about Dr. Jonas from several people, so I wanted to see what he's like.

Now, get this.  I've never met the man, yet within an hour I had a response: "Hey Mallory.  That would be just fine.  In fact, you could be our official Twitterer. You can add to the tweeting!" (Gotta love his word instead of "Tweeter") So just like that, I went from asking to sit in on one class to jumping into observing a class every day from now until the end of the semester.  But hey, I get to sit, listen, learn, and live-tweet, and don't have to do any of the work, and it's on days that I only have one class anyway?  Sounds like a win for me!

Life's surprises are such a blast sometimes.  And to boot, I have a friend in there that I'm going to love surprising come Wednesday.  I'm so excited for this.  I love this school.  I really don't know of anyone else that could say this would happen at their university.

Yes, you can call me a nerd if you would like.  I fully accept the title.

Oh and PS:  Fun fact about Campbell?  The majority of the Religion department professors are Democrats, including Dr. Jonas, who another friend of mine has told me is "not shy about it at all".  As well as every upper-level member of the administration.  At a Baptist-affiliated university.  Gotta love the irony.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Jesus > Religion {A Review}

First, just to be on the up and up, yes, I did receive a free advanced PDF copy of the book as part of being selected to join the street team in preparation for its launch coming next month, but that in no way affected what I am about to tell you.  I have been anxiously awaiting this book for months, and I know that I would still be writing this post even if I had had to wait until next month to read it.  Just to make that clear.  All thoughts that follow are 100% my own genuine excitement.

Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough

Jefferson "Jeff" Bethke is not a pastor, or a theologian, or a Bible professor.  He doesn't have a degree to make him "qualified" to write a book like this.  He makes it explicitly clear from the start that he is just a regular, messed up, twenty-something guy from Washington who accidentally got famous from a poem he put on YouTube, and he's taking advantage of a platform and an opportunity he's been given to tell anyone who will listen to him about Jesus.  As he writes in his introduction, A crooked stick can still draw a straight line, and a messed-up dude like me can still write about an awesome God.  I've tasted grace and can't help but tell others about it.  That's one of the first things that attracted me to Jeff; he doesn't try to make you think he's anything bigger or greater than he is, and he earnestly doesn't want the attention he gets to be about anything other than the God that he serves.  Jeff fills this book with personal stories on his journey of coming to know Jesus, letting every reader know that he sees himself on the same level as you.  As for that line in his introduction, it jumped out at me because it reassured me that I can also take advantage of the (much smaller) platform that God has given me to tell my story of how God saved me to show people how good God really is.

What fascinated me the most after reading this book about Jeff's writing is that even though a lot of it does seem geared towards unbelievers and those who don't know Christ, there were still so many lines that hit me right in the heart.  I've been told over and over again that I overthink things, that I always try too hard, and that's a piece of me that runs over into my relationship with God.  I often catch myself worrying that the mistake I made this time was too big, getting mad at myself for failing God again, wishing that I could just get it right this time and be like those Christians I see who seem to just have it all together.  Thanks to Jeff for giving me one good figurative smack in the face:  his book reminded me, and should remind all believers, that none of us have it all together.  Jesus wasn't about celebrating with the good ones.  In fact, he called the religious people whores!  Jesus was about teaching the most broken people in his society that there was enough grace to cover their brokenness.  There is always enough grace.  I particularly loved when Jeff referenced the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.  The first person who learned that he was the messiah was a prostitute, a Samaritan, and a woman, three things that kept everyone else in Jesus' world from even speaking to her, yet he showed her favor and privilege and grace.  There is grace for her, and there is grace for me, too.

One of the biggest reasons that I would love to thank Jeff for taking the time to be this vulnerable and write this book is because, even though he doesn't know it, he touched on old wounds I've held from my youth and my hometown church.  For new readers who find this, I was kicked out of  my hometown (a very small town, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone) church at the age of 14 because people believed that I was faking my medical issues, particularly my seizure disorder, for attention.  That was pretty much the beginning of a downward spiral into depression for me, running as far away from God as I could.  It took me years to realize that even though Jesus loves the church (the final chapter in the book is even titled "Why Jesus Loves the Church (And You Should Too)), Jesus is not the same as the people in the church.  He is so much better!  People are broken; Jesus is whole and perfect.  Not only did Jeff's words on the people in churches help me to gain a new perspective on what happened back then, they changed my perspective on the wonderful church family that I have now.  No matter how much I love them, or any Christian brothers and sisters in my life, they will inevitably fail me at some point.  That doesn't mean they don't love me; it means they're just as human as I am.

Over and over again, Jeff reminds us that God is out to woo us, that that is why the Bible calls believers the bride of Christ.  We are loved so passionately and so deeply by our Creator that he'll chase us down to win our hearts!  I know that's exactly what happened with me the night I got baptized.  Love like this, it's unavoidable.  It's all-consuming.  It truly is life-changing.  Jeff says that the Bible is God's love letter to us, and I absolutely ADORE that.  Who doesn't want to receive a love letter?!  And who better to receive it from than the One who loves you more than anyone else ever possibly could?

But here's what I quite possibly loved the most about this book and Jeff's heart displayed throughout it: he doesn't spend the entire book simply focusing on how much God loves us.  He gets dirty, and radical, and calls out American Christianity as a whole for being too clean, too safe, for watering down what the Gospel is really about.  As he writes in Chapter 1, titled "Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up?" (emphasis mine):  We've lost the real Jesus, or at least exchanged him for a newer, safer, sanitized, ineffectual one.  We've created a Christian subculture that comes with its own set of customs, rules, rituals, paradigms, and products that are nowhere near the rugged revolutionary faith of biblical Christianity.  In our subculture, Jesus would have never been crucified - he's too nice.  Ouch.  

In fact, in my opinion, Chapter 1 is probably the grittiest, most radical chapter of the book, and I love it!  Jeff gets to the heart of the matter right from the start.  Later on in the same chapter, he tells us what the real Jesus is like: He isn't safe.  His words, his life, and his cross completely destroy the notion of him being safe.  His grace is dangerous, ferocious, violent, and uncontrollable.  It can't be tamed.  I LOVE that.  As a young woman, I can tell you that that's the kind of love I've always yearned for; it's exactly the love I spent my whole childhood searching for, unwilling to admit that it was waiting for me in the place that I was most terrified to go.  Jeff calls each reader out, almost daring them to figure out what it is they truly believe.  Towards the end of the first chapter is the perfect example of this:  When Jesus comes back the second time, he isn't coming to sprinkle love dust on everyone.  He's coming to make war on sin and rebellion.  Do you believe in that Jesus?  I don't know about you, but reading that definitely made me do a double take.

There's one more major way that Jeff and his book really helped me and touched me.  For about the past year now, I have been on a journey of dealing with constant, severe pain that no doctor has been able to understand, let alone cure.  And as I've stated on this blog, recently, I went through a period where I really did grapple with God and my faith, wondering where exactly He is in all of this.  I get self-righteous enough sometimes that I think this kind of life isn't what I "deserve" as a Christian.  But Jeff spelled it out for me - God does have a great plan for my life, but that doesn't mean it's going to be pretty.  He writes that people like to use verses like Isaiah 40:31 and Jeremiah 29:11 as "proof" that God wants good things for them, but they forget that those verses were written at a time when most Christians were enemies of the state, and some were fed to animals in gladiator games.  He writes (also in Chapter 1), So the next time you quote those verses [Isaiah 40:31 and Jeremiah 29:11], remind yourself that they were just as true for the people having their flesh ripped apart by lions as they are for you.  Would you be down with God if that was his plan for your welfare?  This being what my life looks like right now does not in any way change the fact that God loved me enough to die for me.

I sent out this message on my Twitter minutes after I finished reading this book this past Thursday, and I still believe it with my whole heart.  This book could change my generation.  It is known that we are the most "un-churched" generation in history.  We are fleeing the church in droves, angry at prejudice that we find.  Jeff reaches out to the people who have been burned by the church, or who are hostile towards the church, and lets them know that he gets it.  With this book, Jeff displays in 200 pages the lesson it took me so many years to figure out on my own: Jesus loves the church, but the people in churches are not Jesus, and sometimes, they're not even true examples of Christianity.  If I thought I could convince him to read it, I would give this book to my best friend Matt, who is not a believer, because I truly believe that it could help him to understand why I love Jesus, why I call myself a Christian, and that not all Christians are the same as the image he has in his head.  If enough young people read this book, I think that American Christianity could radically change over the coming years, that you would find a generation totally on fire for Christ instead of a generation full of people who think Jesus is for the "good kids."  I want to tell everyone I can about this book because, like Jeff says, Jesus is SO much greater than religion.  And the world needs to know that.

Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough by Jefferson "Jeff" Bethke releases on October 7, 2013.  You can pre-order it on Amazon here or at Barnes & Noble here.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wolfpack pride!

Oh, Wolfpack.  You drive me insane sometimes, but I love you always.  A win is a win.  Hooray for Niklas Sade!

We won tonight.  Just barely, though.  23-21 thanks to a field goal that Niklas Sade, our amazing kicker, made with 33 seconds left on the clock.  Good thing, too, because Richmond is not a big-shot team and it would have been kind of embarrassing to lose to them by one point.  We deserved the anxiety, though, considering there were at least 3 times that we were within easy touchdown range and totally choked.  Not to mention our defense was totally slacking.  But like I said, a win is a win!

It was really cool to be there tonight.  I love the atmosphere, and the stadium, and cheering on my team until I'm hoarse.  So much so that taking this picture has become kind of a ritual for me every time I'm there.

Truth be told, I think of my dad every single time I walk through those gates.

The band was spectacular as usual.  I couldn't help but catch a short clip of their entrance, especially now that Instagram has video.  Haha!

Halftime was where it got really cool, though.  It was Military Appreciation Day, which meant something extra to me this year because my cousin Mike (my dad's oldest brother's son) is currently over in Afghanistan.  We're not close by any means, but it's never cool to have family deployed, especially considering Mike has a wife back home waiting for him, and they're due to have their daughter next month.  So I want him to return safely for them more than anyone.

Anyway, they had ROTC members from every branch at the game today, as well as some wounded vets, some current members who went out and did the pushups every time we scored (gave Mr. Wuf a break for the night!), and tons of veterans in the stands.  Well at half-time, the ROTC members carried out a field-size flag.

It was so beautiful, especially with the sun set, under the stadium lights, and the crowd chanting "USA! USA! USA!" over and over again.  I even caught a little clip of them waving the flag up and down.

And after that, they had parachuters!  It was awesome to see!  One guy was doing flips the whole way down.

There were some other humorous highlights.  We were right next to the Student Section, and there was one guy right on the edge closest to us who was so spirited and such an instigator getting the rest of the crowd into stuff; he started the wave, and when it went around the stadium 3.5 times, he about lost it - oh, and he had orange shorts on with his red shirt, which was bizarre and awesome.  There was a little girl who liked to do the running man while the band played.  Really ditzy girls stood behind us for a bit and knew so little about football, they couldn't even tell if we were winning or losing or how many quarters there were in the game...Yeah.  That's all I can think of right now.  Mom and I are perfect game companions because we're both equally excited and dorky the entire time, so we had each other cracking up the whole night.  The highlight of the whole night, though, was definitely the field goal so close to the end.  I think my hoarseness is solely from screaming so loud after that.

In other sports news, Wolfpack basketball landed a major recruit for next year, so yay for that.  And Campbell won its home opener in our renovated stadium!!!!  The students stormed the field to celebrate Coach Mike Minter's 1st win (he's a vet of the Carolina Panthers, having him here is a big deal).

Oh yeah, and to top off the night, since I finally got to see Mom, I finally got my hands on this.  It's official!

And I actually really like that picture of me.  Icing on the cake.

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